Friday, September 2, 2016

Cannons of Sher Shah Suri

Sher Shah Suri had a very short rule in the medieval period of India yet he had several innovations in the cannon technology. Sher Shah possessed 4,000 light cannons , each of which weighed 4 mans within the range of 60-74 kg.The muzzles of Sher Shah's cannons are shaped to look like the face of a tiger. Every cannon has Persian inscriptions bearing his name and that of manufacturer and the date of manufacture.

The light cannon or zarb-zan of Babur were smaller replicas of heavy mortars , but the large number produced by Sher Shah's gunfounders (weighing from 132 lb to 221 lb) were of a new design. They had many distinctive features like narrow cylindrical barrels (4 ft 5 in long with the diameter of the bore at the muzzle of 1 in), with a prominent sprout at muzzle, trunnions in the middle o sometimes at about two-fifths of the full length from the breech, and a long handle behind the breech, almost equal in length to the distance between breech and trunnions. This new design economized on copper which may have helped marginally to improve the quality of casting , by reducing the number of furnaces used for feeding molten metal into a mould. The narrowness of the bore suggests that smaller projectiles were used , facilitating a switch from stone balls to the more effective shots made of lead, and a reduction in the quantity of gunpowder used. Not requiring special platforms, these cannons could be easily mounted on ramparts and fired through the battlements by teams of two or three gunners. The new design of Sher Shah's light cannon continued to be popular under Akbar , and a similar transformation may be observed in the those of the Vijayanagara empire.

A number of cannons of Sher Shah are available in different parts of subcontinent. In the Indore Museum, there are two cannons of Sher Shah, one is made of bronze and other by copper. The cannons bear the dates of 948 H (1541-1542 AD). The muzzles of those two cannons is shaped to look like face of tiger. One light cannon of Sher Shah is located at Dhubela Museum (Madhya Pradesh). In Bangladesh National Museum, there are seven Sher Shahi cannons . Sher Shah's cannon discovered in Maldah district of West Bengal are displayed in Varendra Research Museum, Rajshahi, Bangladesh. According to the Persian inscriptions on the cannons there, its manufacturer is Saiyad Ahmad Rumi and it were built according to the command of Khwaja Basharat Sultani, who was Sher Shah's governor of Jannatabad (Gaur)


1-  Gunpowder, Explosives and the State: A Technological History edited by Brenda J. Buchanan
2-  'Pre-Mughal Cannons of Bengal: A Re-evaluation' by Sabikun Naher

Cannon of Sher Shah Suri in Bangladesh National Museum