Sunday, January 29, 2012


Sher Shah was the founder of the Sur dynasty which lasted from 1540 to 1555. His empire stretched from Bengal to the Indus, covering the whole of northern India. Like the Delhi Sultanate, the Sur empire was dominated by Afghans.

Sher Shah was an able administrator and laid the foundation for the strong administrative that existed under Akbar.

The title Sher Khan was given to him because he supposedly killed a tiger with his bare hands.

Background and rise to power

Sher Shah's father was an Afghan jagirdar at Jaunpur. He rose to serve under the king of Bihar, and soon took over the state.

In 1540, he took over the fort of Chanderi, in present northern Madhya Pradesh, by defeating its ruler Puran Mal.

In 1544, he defeated Maldeo at Samel in Rajasthan. He had also conquered Malwa and Bikaner by then; and later took over Ajmer and Jodhpur.

Thus, within a few years, Sher Shah dominated the whole of northern India.

Sher Shah's administration

Establishment of law and order
Sher Shah's biggest achievement was the re-establishment of law and order across his empire. He was severs with robbers and criminals as well with zamindars who disobeyed his government.

Punishments were severe. The village headmen and zamindars were made responsible for losses due to robberies. If they were not able to catch the robbers, they were themselves punished as criminals.

At the local level, village panchayats and zamindars settled disputes and punished the guilty. Above them was the qazi in each state.

Roads and sarais
Sher Shah restored the road running from Sonargaon in Bangladesh to Indus in the west. He also built roads connecting Lahore and Multan, and Agra, Jodhpur, and Chittor with the ports in Gujarat.

For the convenience of travelers, Sher Shah built sarais or inns at approximately every eight kilometers along the roads. These were maintained by the government, out of the revenues of surrounding villages. Here travelers could stay safely.

The sarais also acted as centres for post (dak chowki) and helped keep Sher Shah informed about the happenings in the empire

Encouragement of trade and commerce
Sher Shah built roads with the intention of encouraging trade. Market towns developed around the sarais.

Merchants had to pay taxes only at the border near Bengal and near Indus and nowhere else. After that, they only had to pay a percentage of their sales as duty. They were protected by the officials of the empire.

Sher Shah also tried to make weights and measures uniform through out his empire, which helped trade.

Currency reforms
Sher Shah struck uniform coins of gold, silver, and copper. His silver rupee remained a standard coin for many centuries.

Administrative divisions
A number of villages composed a pargana. In a pargana, the shiqdar looked after law and order and administration, and the munsif or amil looked after collection of land revenue.

Several parganas comprised a sarkar, and several of these made a province.

Sher Shah's administration was centralized. He worked hard and toured the country constantly. But this was one of the weaknesses of his administration because after he and his son died, there was no one capable of leading his empire.

Land revenue system
Sher Shah made his officials measure the land and divide it into good, bad and middling. The rate of land revenue was calculated depended on the crops grown and the kind of land it was. Generally the rate was one-third of the produce produced in cash.

The area, the crops cultivated, and the calculated rate of revenue were noted down in the patta. No one had to pay more taxes than mentioned in the paties. In this way, Sher Shah tired to protect his peasantry.

Sher Shah had a personal army of about 1,50,000. He recruited soldiers directly into the army. Besides the soldiers, there were elephants, horses, and artillery. He set up a branding system for his horses (dagh) to make sure they were not replaced by inferior horses. There was also a descriptive roll of soldiers (huliya) for the same reason.

Architecture and art
Sher Shah built a mausoleum for himself at Sasaram in Bihar, which combined old and new influences.  Padmavat of Malik Muhammad Jaisi was written when Sher Shah was king.

Islam Shah (1540-53)

Sher Shah died preparing for a battle in Bundelkhand in 1545. He was succeeded by his son Islam Shah.

Islam Shah's greatest achievement was codification of Islamic law, paying his soldiers in cash, and controlling the nobles.

After he died, there was civil war among the Afghan nobles who had supported Sher Shah and Islam, which helped Humayun regain power in 1555.

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