Friday, October 14, 2016

Roads and Sarais (inns) of Sher Shah Suri

By Khan Barmazid



Waqiat-i-Mushtaqi (completed in 1572) records ;
"He (Sher Shah) built serais (rest-houses) at every kroh (along the highways) from Gaur to the frontiers of his empire in all the four directions. Earthen jars were placed separately for the Muslims and Hindus at the gate of each Serai. At every serai he got a mosque , a house for the king and a well-constructed ; and to every mosque a muazin (crier) and an imam were appointed , while shiqddar was posted in-charge of the serai. They were allotted lands at the same place for their maintenance.

He constructed a road from Gaur to the river Indus. Along this road Serais were constructed , and gardens and shady and fruit-bearing trees were laid out. Another road with gardens and Serais, was constructed from Rohtas to the frontier of Mandu near Burhanpur ; the third road, with serais and gardens, from Agra to Jodhpur. Another from Jaunpur to Bayana and Ajmer. The serais constructed (by his order) numbered up to one thousand and seven hundreds. There were kept two horses ready in every serai , with the result that information could travel up to three hundred krohs in a day." (Waqiat-i-Mushtaqi, translated and edited by Iqtidar Hussain Siddqui, pp-136-137)

Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi (completed in 1586) records;
"For ensuring safety on the roads and for extending comforts to the travelers who had no resting places, he built sarais on the highway at a distance of 2 karohs. He built a road with sarais which commenced from the fort that he had constructed in the Punjab and it ran up to the town of Sonargaon which lay situated on the bank of the troubled water of a river in Bengal. He built another road which ran from the city of Agra to Burhanpur which lay situated in the Deccan. He made another road which ran from the city of Agra to Jodhpur and Chittor. He then built a still another road with the sarais which ran from the city of Lahore to Multan. In all he built 1700 sarais on the roads which lay in various regions and in every sarai he built (separate) apartments for both the Hindus and Muslims. On the gate of every sarai there were pots full of water which were given to the Hindus and the Muslims to drink. In every sarai the Musalman were caused to be settled for attending to the abode of the Muslim travelers and the Brahmins were likewise settled for attending to the abode of the Hindu travelers therein.  They were meant to serve the travelers with hot and cold water, cots, cooked food and their horses with grain. He made rule to the effect: whoever came to the sarai was to be served with food out of government money according to one's rank and his pony was given grain and drink."  He caused the market to be set up in every sarai for the transactions of the sale and purchase there. A village was established around every sarai. In every sarai he caused a well and a mosque , made of burnt bricks, to be constructed and that he appointed one imam and one muazzin in the mosque here . A prefect (sahna) and several watchmen were appointed in each sarai. Every one of these was granted madad-i-maas land (maintenance grant) which lay in the environs of the sarai.  In every sarai two horses were maintained so that the news from the distant places could reach in a day. It had been heard to the effect that in one day Hussain Shiqdar , out of necessity, rose 300 karohs. On both sides of the road he caused plantation of fruit-bearing trees which extended good shade so that the travelers might move under it in the hot wind and thus be able to have ease and comfort on the way while journeying and when they got down in the sarai , they tethered their horses under the trees. (Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi, Eng.translation, Anantalal Thakur, pp-761-763

Tabqat-i-Akbari (written in 1593) records ;
"Sher Khan was renowned for intelligence, wisdom and political insight. He left behind many pleasing remains. From Bengal and Sonargoan to the river Sind , which is known as Nilab river, which is a distance of one thousand and five hundred karohs at (intervals of) each karoh, he built a sarai and in each of these , he dug a well and built a mosque , of burnt bricks and mortar ; and appointed a reader (of the Quran), and an imam , and he had fixed stipends for them. At one door of the Sarai he had ordered that there should be water and cooked and uncooked food for Musalmans , and at the other door for Hindus , and these were always ready. At each Sarai he had two post horses, which in the language of India are known as Dakchauki , so that every day the news from Nilab reached him , (even) if he was in the territory of Bengal.

Along this road on both sides he had planted rows of fruit trees such as mango and khirni, etc ; so that people could come and go under their shade. In the same way from Agra to Mandu ; and on this also at each karoh , a sarai and a mosque were built. And the safety of roads was such , that if an old woman had a basket filled with gold , she could sleep for nights in the desert , and had no need for a watchman. (Tabqat-i-Akbari, English translation by B.DE, Vol-II,pp-174-175)

Muntakhib al-Tawarikh (written in 1595) records ;
"In this year he issued a public proclamation that from the country of Bangala as far as western Rohtas , which is a four months journey, and also from Agra to Mandu , at every kroh a serai and mosque, and a well built of burnt bricks was to be established and a Muazzin and an Imam. A Musalman and a Hindu were also appointed to superintend the supply of water for each. A refreshment house was also kept stocked for the use of strangers and poor wayfarers. On both sides of the road also, large and lofty trees were planted in avenues, so that all travelers might go along in the shade of them. Traces of these still remain in most places up to the present time , though fifty-two years have passed since then. ( Muntakhib al-Tawarik, Eng.translation by George.S.Ranking, Vol-I, pp-472-473)


Afsana-i-Shahan record that Sher Shah Sur had stationed a physician resident in every sarai (Hikayat eighty )

Tarikh-i-Daudi informs us that no charge was made from the travelers for these services.

Recording Sher Shah Sur's service to Islam , Shaikh Nurul Haq speaks of his caravan sarai at Mecca which had become the abode of the Afghan fuqara (religious mendicants) when the Shaikh wrote his account. (Zubdat-at-Tawarikh)

Shaikh Nurul Haq, writing in the reign of emperor Jehangir , says "Sher Khan made the road which now runs from Delhi to Agra , by cutting through jungles , removing obstacles and building sarais. Before that time, people had to travel between the Doab [the tract between Jamuna and the Ganges] between these two places (Zabdat-ut-Tawarikh, as quoted by K.R.Qanungo)

Manucci (1639–1717), an Italian traveler, in his "Storia Da Mogor" says ;
"When he (Sher Shah) became undisputed king , he never forgot to treat his subjects with great equity and kindness. For this end, he sent out orders through all the land to build, at a distance of twelve leagues from each other , saraes, he bought a number of married slaves and appointed them and their wives to look after travelers--- to prepare their food , to provide cool water for them to drink , and warm water for washing their bodies , a bedstead to rest upon furnished with mattresses and sheets ; and they were to wait on travelers just as if they were their own private servants , and provide food for wayfarers on foot at the cost of the king. Of these saraes i spoke before in the eighteenth chapter." (Storia Da Mogor, Vol-I, p-116)



Akbari Serai at Lahore is attributed to Suri period (Reference: "The Silk Roads: Highways of Culture and Commerce
By Vadime Elisseeff"