Friday, 26 February 2016

History of Bala Hissar, Peshawar

Bala Hisar is the High Fort of Peshawar. There are several others of this name. Several times it was destroyed and rebuilt. As to when it was erected, the sources are silent on the issue. For the first time it comes to light in the account of the Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang. He uses the term "Kung shing" in the description of Peshawar City and its environs which means the "walled portion of the town, in which the royal palace stood". So to say, there was a fort in Peshawar when Hiuen Tsang visited it in the seventh century. Attributing its construction to Babur does not appear to be correct as there is no evidence to prove it.

Chronologically the next reference to the fort of Peshawar is found in the Baburnama. With a view to strengthening his rear for his onward march into Hindustan, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, realized the tactical significance of the fort of Peshawar and determined that "The forts of Hashtnagar and Peshawar shall be put into order; part of the corn shall be stored in them and they be left in the charge of Shah Mir Husain and a body of braves".

During the interval of the Sur Empire in Hindustan, the Afghans in the Peshawar valley destroyed the Bala Hisar which was then a Mughal military outpost. In 1552 Humayun found the fort in ruins. After giving an account of the expulsion of Humayun from Hindustan by Sher Shah Sur and a narrative on Mirza Kahmran, Abul Fazal records this point : "As the series of words about Mirza Kamran has now been folded up, I hasten to my proper subject, and record that as the evil Afghans had destroyed the fort at Bigram, known as Peshawar, where His Majesty was encamped, he determined to rebuild it and leaving a body of his well-wishers in it, to proceed to Kabul : — for the completion of this fort would be the beginning of the conquest of India. The officers wanted to get back to Kabul and were unwilling on any account whatsoever to delay in this place. His Majesty Jahanbani (Humayun) set himself energetically to the task and in a short time, had the fort rebuilt. Pahlwan Dost, mir barr, divided the work, according to orders, amongst the officers and it was soon finished. Sinkandar Khan Uzbak was left incharge and His Majesty moved towards Kabul". The head of Khashi Afghan tribes, Khan Kaju, had laid siege of Peshawar including the Fort but it was not successful. "Later on", says Abu Fazal, "the Afghans made a great attack on the fort, but Sikandar Khan defended it manfully, and they were repulsed".

During Akbar's reign, the fort at Peshawar witnessed some vicissitudes. The road through the Khyber Pass from Peshawar to Afghanistan was built by Akbar. Sayyid Hamid Bokhari was the Mughal jagir-dar of Peshawar and was incharge of guarding the road to Afghanistan. He used the fort as his headquarters. He was pressed hard by the Raushanias under their leader Jalal al-din Ansari, known as Jalala. The Raushanias created a hurdle for the Mughals in the routes leading to Kabul. They, therefore, directly came into clash with Sayyid Hamid Bokhari. In 1586, Jalala succeeded in gaining the support of Ghoria Khel tribes and with their help Invested the fort of Bigram. The Mughal Jagirdar suffered a defeat and was killed and the fort was damaged. The Mughals repaired the fort and continued their struggle against Jalala till his disappearance from the scene. In the period under review, by chance fire broke out in the fort and a thousand camel loads of merchandise was consumed. Faridun was then the commandant of the fort. This incident appears to have taken place after the Raushanias' attack on the fort. In 1592, the Afghans again invested the fort of Bala Hisar but Zain Khan was able to relieve the fortress. It was in 1630, when the Roshanias struck again and laid siege to Peshawar. It was, however, successful but lasted for a short duration only.

The fort remained in the possession of the Mughul emperors with varying degree of control. With the arrival of Nadir Shah in Peshawar in 1737, the Mughul governor surrendered the valley to him. Nadir Shah crossed the River Indus and concluded a treaty with Emperor Muhammad Shah, according to which the territory west of the Indus was transferred to him. Peshawar thus passed into the hands of Nadir Shah and became a seat of the governors appointed by him. The Governor, it is recorded, held his court at Bala Hisar. On Nadir Shah's death in 1747 AD, the Saddozai Branch of the Durrani dynasty came to power. Ahmad Shah, the first of the line, made full use of the strategic position of the fort and brought the entire Peshawar valley under his complete control. When Ahmad Shah died, his son, Taimur Shah Badshah, succeeded to the throne and made Peshawar his winter capital. The royal residence was, therefore, shifted to Bala Hisar. Raverty records that Shah Zaman Durrani almost entirely rebuilt Bala Hisar , who added to it a Hall of Audience, Zenanah, and various other buildings.

The Sikhs captured Peshawar on 20th November, 1818. Soon after the occupation of the city, one of the first things that Ranjit Singh did was to set the Bala Hisar on fire, most probably for the reason that it was the seat of the Afghan Kingdom. As regards the destruction wrought by the Sikhs, William Moorcraft, who came here in 1824, records, " in the immediate vicinity of the town (Peshawar) the Sikhs had inflicted more mischief than many years labour could remedy, by destroying gardens and orchards, and demolishing the wells and channels of irrigation. The Bala Hisar, which, at the time of the British embassy, was the occasional residence of the king, and in which their audience took place, was a heap of rubbish, and the only use made of it by the rulers of Peshawar was as a quarry from whence to procure materials for dwellings of their own erection". Thus many magnificent works of Mughul architecture which once existed in the Bala Hisar were a part of the quarry.

The fort was rebuilt, according to Rai Bahadur Munshi Gopal Das, by Hari Singh after the battle of Nowshera, while Bumes notes that it was rebuilt in the time of Sardar Kurruck Singh. Raverty records, that the present fort was erected by Sher Singh, the son of Ranjit, on his father's orders, and in consequence, whatever remained of the old Bala Hisar was razed to the ground. It was built mostly of unburnt bricks, and was rather imposing in appearance, but of no great strength. The re-erection of the fort by the Sikhs appears to be military in nature as in order to control the Peshawar Valley, they raised fortifications at different places. Peshawar being the headquarters of the area, also needed a fortified place for the same purpose, and the site where formerly stood the Bala Hisar was suitable because of its strategic location. The fort, alongwith the valley of Peshawar passed into the hands of the British in 1848 AD. who completely renovated it, both internally as well as externally.


1- Journal "Central Asia" , 1982, pp.21-23
2- Peshawar: Historic City of the Frontier, Ahmad Hasan Dani , p-202
3- The Guardians of the Frontier: The Frontier Corps, N.W.F.P., Mohammad Nawaz Khan, p-49

Runjeet Sing's Fort at Peshawar, 1836. By Godfrey Thomas Vigne

Peshawar fort, 1857's illustration.

Bala Hissar, Peshawar 1878-9. Photo by John Burke

Bala Hissar Fort, Peshawar, c.1880

Peshawar, Fort and Wireless Station, NWFP, 1930

A view of Balahisar fort Peshawar from the then Cunningham Park, 1934

Peshawar Fort, Postcard Photo,1920's

Peshawar fort, 1910.

1910's postcard showing Bala Hissar fort, Peshawar.


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