Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dattu Sarwani, a Pashtun soldier of early 16th century

By Khan Barmazid

Dattu Sarwani was a Pashtun soldier who was eyewitness to the struggle between Pashtuns and Mughals for the supremacy in India in the first half of 16th century, including the monumental events like the first battle of Panipat and the ascendancy of Sher Shah Sur to the Delhi throne. Lataif-i-Qaddusi is collection of anecdotes about a saint Shaikh Abdul Qaddus Chishti Gangohi (1455-1531), written by his son Shaikh Ruknuddin in 1537 A.D. The last 22 anecdotes of that work are recorded by Dattu Sarwani, who was a mureed (disciple) of Shaikh Qaddus. From the anecdotes a fairly detailed but not complete picture of Dattu's military career emerges. The following chronology of Dattu's life can be constructed from the anecdotes ;-

In his youth, he took part in a battle between the Sarwanis and the Farmulis in Punjab during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi (anecdote 90). A year before Babur's invasion, i.e , in early 1925, he was at Badaon (anecdote 89). We do not know if he fought at the battle of Panipat in April 1526 but he describes the disorderly flight of the Pashtun hosts with their possessions , flocks and families appear to have been in the months immediately following Babur's victory (anecdote 91). Dattu Sarwani was from youth in the service of his fellow tribesman Masnad-i-Ali Isa Khan Sarwani , who afterwards had great influence in the Sher Shah's reign. Dattu crossed the Sarayu river with Isa Khan Sarwani , "and all the families of the Sarwani Pashtuns went into the province of Bihar. In Bihar, the Pashtuns regrouped while Babur marched against the Rana of Chitor , and Mahmud Lodi was accepted as their leader. In Dattu's words "All the Pashtuns were glad, because they had been without a King and now a King had come over them." Babur turned to fight them. Dattu was in the Pashtun force near Banaras in 1528 : it melted away before Babur without an engagement , and Mahmud Lodi fled to his brother-in-law, Nusrat Shah of Bengal. Dattu states that the Sarwanis and Nuhanis went to Balapath, where Raja Bir Singh Dev (Baghela ruler of Bhata) assigned villages to them, "and they stayed there for a while" ------ for about two decades in fact (Anecdote 92)

In the next anecdote, 93, there is a suggestion that Dattu Sarwani spent two years with the Sarwani households at Balapath, i.e, from 1528 to 1530. In the first half of 1531, there was a renewed Pashtun offensive from Bihar, led by Miya Bibban Lodi and Shaikh Bayazid Farmuli, which took Jaunpur. Dattu was in this with Mian Bibban because he says in anecdote 94 "From Balapath the writer and Malik Rup Chand were with Miya Bibban. We set out for the country of the fort of Mandu." This must be after Humayun had defeated Bibban and Bayazid at Damoh in 1532. Like many other prominent Pashtuns at this time, Bibban turned to the rising power of Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, who had annexed Malwa, defeated the Rana of Chittor and harbored designs on the Mughal capital of Agra. Evidently Bibban and Dattu were part of the Bahadur's army during the second siege of Chittor, which he took in March 1535 as they were trapped with the rest of the army by Humayun at Mandasaur the following month. On April 25th, Sultan Bahadur fled with a few followers, and anecdote 25, describing the difficulties of his escape from Mandasaur to Burhanpur in Khandesh is one of the most interesting parts of Dattu's narrative. There he was united with Bibban Lodi's force, which went southwards and encamped outside the town of Jalgaon in the Imadshahi kingdom of Berar. There the local governor tried to extract money by imprisoning Dattu, but after three months his ingenuity and fluent tongue brought about his escape, and the Pashtuns packed up their tents went away to Burhanpur again (Anecdote 96) . There Dattu joined Alauddin Lodi, brother of Sikander Lodi, and one of the distinguished refugees at Bahadur's court (Anecdote 97). This must have been in 1535-1536, when Humayun was in Gujarat. Towards the end of 1536, Alauddin Lodi put Dattu in charge of his pargana of Dholqa in Gujarat, which post he deserted (Anecdote 98). He passed through Champaner and Mandu probably in February and March 1537 and came safely back to his family in Balapath. In the course of the year , he visited the fort at Agra and met there his Pir , Shaikh Abdul Qaddus (Anecdote 88). Humayun may have been in residence at Agra at the time, but as many influential Pashtun nobles defected at one time or another to the Mughal court, and then re-deserted with impunity , presumably Dattu had not much to fear.

Dattu Sarwani participated in Sher Shah Suri's second victory over Humayun at Qanauj in May 1540 ( Anecdote 100). Within the next few months , when Humayun retreated to Lahore , Dattu's old patron , Masnad-i-Ali Isa Khan Sarwani was put by Sher Shah in charge of the troublesome district of Sambhal, and Dattu accompanied him , and was sent to administer the Parganas assigned to Isa Khan for salary ( Anecdote 101).  His friend and neighbor in Balapath , Mian Babu, was evidently with him ( Anecdote 106). It can not have been very long after this when the unfortunate event occurred which made Dattu withdraw from active life for five years, and probably put an end to his more active days of soldiering ( Anecdote 102). In a consequence of a medicine for guinea-worm he was severely ill with arsenical position, being almost completely paralyzed for three years and feeble for another two. However he states that after this God restored him to health. Whether this illness began at Balapath he does not say, but if this was not the case he must have been moved back to his household , for at some time during the five years in which he was ill. Sher Shah attempted unsuccessfully to transfer the families of Sarwanis from Balapath to the fort of Gwalior (Anecdote 103). Sher Shah himself died in March , 1545. The next two anecdotes concern a friend to whom Dattu was much attached , Mian Babu : then three are more about himself, his daughter and Mian Babu. The final anecdote refers to his own illness , and the visit that he made after his recovery to the tomb of Shaikh Abdul Qaddus at Gangoh.

In Dattu's reminiscences, there is confirmation of Rajput tradition that ambassadors were sent from Chitor to Humayun's court at Agra to ask for aid against Bahadur of Gujarat : but in place of the chivalrous dispatch of Rani Karmavati's rakhi or bracelet to Humayun he gives the detail that a lakh of tankas would be paid for every stage the Mughal army traversed  (Anecdote 95). Beyond this he gives an idea of how the Pashtuns and established Indo-Muslim community regarded the Mughals. Dattu sees Babur's invasion as a "fierce wind with much dust and darkness from the west,"  (Anecdote 89). While Babur and Humayun took the title of Ghazi for their war against the Rajputs, Dattu sees them as disturbing the foundations of Muslim power, to the benefit of the infidels. "Humayun Padishah is plundering Islam", Dattu's Pir assures him in a dream. "He makes no distinction between Kufr and Islam , but plunders them all.......we Humayun out of Gujarat , so that Islam may have peace and rest" (Anecdote 97).  Humayun's character improved in several ways with his misforyunes, but in his early days was not so merciful to his opponents . After he took Mandu , we are told , he sat dressed in red , the colour of execution , while the streets ran with blood. Dattu represents him as saying before the battle of Qanauj, " If this time i am victorious and the Pashtuns are defeated , i will not leave a single live , even though he were a child (Anecdote 100).

Dattu shows how in their days of power the tribal family remained a well-preserved entity and retained migratory habits , so that , more than eighty years after the beginning of the Lodi monarchy , the tribal host of the Sarwanis was ready and organized and migrate as a group with its women , children and flocks. When he has a vision of the world spread out before him, it is not of a populous city , but of a great encampment , with many tents on a broad plain (Anecdote 102).

In anecdote 95, Dattu describes vividly the conditions of defeated and fleeing troops in sixteenth century India. He sleeps with his head on his knees and the bridle of his horse in his hand , expecting a night attack. After his escape from the Mughals , the tough local peasantry seizes its rare chance and on "every side' and "every day" comes forward to plunder him. He has no food , and his young friend Barmazid gets lost alone in a forest, robbed of his cloths by Mughal horsemen. Anecdote 96 a picture of relations between officials of small Muslim state of Khandesh and between small band of defeated Pashtuns. The Pashtuns had their encampment a mile or two away from the town , and could talk to one another in a language not understood by the Deccani gaurds  , obviously Pashto.


1-  "Dreams and Reminiscences of Dattu Sarvani a Sixteenth Century Indo-Afghan Soldier", by Simon Digby

2- Lataif-i-Qaddusi, Urdu translation

3- See also  Sarwani Afghans and the part played by them in history of India