Monday, August 8, 2016

Abbas Khan Sarwani, an Afghan historian of 16th century

Abbas Khan Sarwani was an Afghan waqia-navis (a medieval royal functionary in charge of news writing) in the service of Mughal Emperor Akbar. He wrote "Tuhfa-i-Akbar-Shahi (Tarikh-i-Sher-Shahi) by the order of Akbar in 1586. It is the history of life and reign of Sher Shah Suri and his immediate successors. Abbas Khan belonged to an Afghan house of pirs (spiritual guides). Abbas's grandfather, Shaikh Bayazid, was a chief of Sarwani tribe and the successor to the noted pir Shaikh Ahmad Kakbur Sarwani.

Shaikh Bayazid, Abbas's grandfather,  paid a visit to Sher Shah Suri at Khushab. Before this visit , he was not sure whether he would receive the same respect from Sher Shah as Bahlul and Sikandar Lodi had accorded to his his ancestors, since Sher Shah had changed the court etiquette for receiving his nobles. His apprehension, however, proved wrong. Sher Shah accorded him the fullest respect , stood up when he came, went forward a few steps to receive him and asked him in Pashto to embrace him. Before taking leave, Sher Shah walked a few steps with him to bid him farewell , and gave him a silk cloth , a lakh of tankas, and the pargana of Ninduna (situated near Jehlum in Salt range of Punjab). But Shaikh Bayazid Sarwani asked for his ancestral lands in Banur, Ambala (Hariyana, India), to which Sher Shah willingly agreed.

Shaikh Bayazid paid a second visit to Sher Shah during the campaign against Ujjain and Sarangpur. This time he gave him two thousands bighas of land (bigha is a traditional unit of measurement of area of a land in several parts of South Asia) in the pargana of Banur and the usual gift of one lakh of tankas. His third visit occurred during Sher Shah's campaign against Kalinjar. According to Abbas Khan, this time Sher Khan promised to grant him Multan, Sindh and the country of the Baluchis after the attainment of victory. The promise seems to have remained unfulfilled as Sher Shah died of burns soon after victory was achieved.

Shaikh Ali, father of Abbas Khan, succeeded Shaikh Bayazid. He visited Islam Khan Suri who continued to show him the same respect as his predecessors, two thousands bighas in Banur as well as the traditional largesse of one lakh tankas remained his . Abbas Khan succeeded to the enjoyment of two thousands bighas of land until the 24th year of Akbar's reign , when he was ordered to be presented to the Emperor and was given a rank of 'five hundred'. But Qazi Ali, a Mughal official, did not, according to the author, submit a true account and did not speak of the greatness of his ancestors with the result that Abbas Khan's land subsidy was cancelled. When Khan-i-Khanan Niazi , an amir of Mir Hamid , came to know of this , he advised the author to seek employment. But Abbas Khan was unwilling to serve an amir , there being no such precedent of service in his family, and he was thinking of going back to his ancestral home. Khan-i-Khanan Niazi in his attempt to dissuade Abbas Khan from returning Roh, made Mir Sayyid Hamid pay a surprise visit to convince him to work for him. As Sayyid Hamid was a descendant of the famous saint  Makhdum i-Jahaniyan , Abbas Khan did not think fit to go against the wishes of such an eminent man and entered into his service for two hundreds rupees a month.

Of his own career in Akbar's time , Abbas Khan says little beyond that he was an ahadi and that he was presented before Akbar the emperor ordered that he should be given a pansadi, which the context suggests should be taken to mean an entitlement to a salary of rupees 500 a month rather than a mansab of 500.  Thus Abbas Khan entered into imperial service. Considering that the ahadis were not ordinary soldiers in that they stood under Akbar's immediate orders , Abbas Khan held a somewhat special post, he belonged to an elite corps.

Abbas Khan named his book Tuhfa-i-Akbar-Shahi but Ahmad Yadgar who wrote "Tarikh-i-Salatin-i-Afaghana" and Naimatullah who wrote "Tarikh-i-Khan-Jahani wa Makhzan-i-Afghani", also call it the "Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi". Thus quite early the original title was changed into the Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi by those who utilized it.

(excerpts from 'Abbas Khan Sarwani and the Tuḥfa-yi Akbar Shahi. A Critical Study', by Rahim Raza)