Reign of Salim Shah, Successor of Sher Shah Suri

Fortune had befriended Farid Khan, an Afghan of humble origins, greatly, that he rose to the throne of Delhi, after overthrowing the Mughal emperor Humayun. Farid is none other than Sher Shah Suri, the Lion King (r: 1540-1545). After a short but successful reign of 5 years, Sher Shah died on 22 May 1545 in a gunpowder explosion during the siege of Kalinjar.

Sher Shah's two sons were absent at the time of his death; his eldest son, the heir apparent, Adil Khan was at Ranthambore and Jalal Khan, his second son, was at Rewa. A conference was held by Isa Khan Hijab and other great men of the kingdom to decide who should succeed to the throne. They decided in favour of Jalal Khan because Adil Khan was fond of ease and pleasure while Jalal, though minor in years, was a brave warrior, and had always excellently managed the business confided to him by his father. Moreover, Jalal was at a short distance.

Accession to the Throne:


Jalal reached Kalinjar in five days and ascended the throne of the empire assuming the title of Jalal-ud-din Abul Muzaffar Islam Shah (r: 1545-1554) on 27 May, 1545. He is popularly known as Salim Shah. In Mughal records he is mentioned as Salim Khan Afghan or Salim Shah Afghan. After his accession, his first act was putting to death the Raja of Kalinjar.

Salim Shah Vs Adil Khan:

When Adil Khan learned the news of the accession of his brother, he repented of his backwardness. He even sent his son prince Mahmud Khan to Agra and made an unsuccessful attempt to reduce it. Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi were the supporters of Adil Khan, but on receiving a firman from Salim Shah they all offered their allegiance to the latter. Adil Khan sent a messenger to Khawas Khan and requested him to join his party, but Khawas Khan replied that since all the grandees of the empire had placed Jalal on the throne, he would not oppose him.

Salim Shah heard this news through his secret agents, and was greatly rejoiced, because Khawas Khan was the most distinguished general of his father. He wrote to Adil Khan at Ranthambore saying, "Because I was near and you were distant, to prevent disorder in the affairs of the State, I have taken charge of the army until your arrival. I have nothing to do but obey you, and attend to your orders". After writing this letter he proceeded to Agra, where Khawas Khan offered his homage and confirmed his position on the throne. Salim Shah thereafter granted two months advance pay to the soldiers, which gained him the affection of the whole army.

Yet, he could not feel himself secure as long as his elder brother Adil Khan was alive. So he invited Adil Khan to Agra in the pretence of a personal meeting and secretly plotted to assassin him treacherously. Unaware of this plot, chief nobles like Qutb Khan naib, Khawas Khan, Isa Khan Niazi and Jalal Khan Jalu (Jalal Khan Jilwani) assured Adil Khan safety on his arrival at Agra and also promised him the jagir of Bayana.

Salim Shah's plan failed as Adil Khan entered the royal pavilion at Agra accompanied by his followers. In order to avoid suspicion, he was compelled to behave gently with his brother. He placed Adil Khan on the throne and started flattering him. As Salim expected, Adil Khan refused the offer but got up and seated his brother upon the throne. After the meeting Adil Khan was allowed to depart and the jagir of Bayana was conferred on him. Prince Mahmud Khan was left in the imperial service. Salim Shah sent Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi to accompany his brother to Bayana. However, two months afterwards he sent one of his confidants Ghazi Mahali to Bayana to seize and imprison him.

[This was the beginning of all the ill-fortunes of Salim Shah. Moreover, he promoted 6000 soldiers he had in his service while he was a prince. Ordinary soldier was raised to the position of an officer and officer became a noble. This arrangement displeased Sher Shah's nobles, and they became ill-disposed towards him. A series of rebellions and two murder attempts thereafter followed, though he successfully suppressed all of them.]

Adil Khan was alarmed; he fled to Khawas Khan and informed him of the breach of faith on the part of his brother. Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi were enraged hearing this news. Khawas Khan seized Ghazi Mahali and raised the standard of rebellion; and secretly wrote to Salim's chiefs at Agra, and won many of them over to his side. Qutb Khan and Jalal Khan Jalu also promised their allegiance to Adil Khan. A large army was raised; Khawas Khan then marched towards Agra accompanied by Adil Khan and Isa Khan.

When the intelligence of Adil Khan's revolt reached Salim Shah, he was very distressed. He called Qutb Khan, Jalal Khan Jalu and other disloyal chiefs and remarked, "If I have acted towards Adil Khan with bad faith, why did not Khawas Khan and others write something to me, so that I should have turned away from my intention?".  Both chiefs bade him be undisturbed by the revolt, and bound themselves to settle everything amicably. Salim Shah then sent them to Adil Khan to bring about a compromise.

Salim's plan was to retreat to Chunar, where the treasure was deposited, and then raise an army to reduce his brother. But Isa Khan Hijab dissuaded him from flying and advised him to take the field. Salim Shah encouraged by this advice, made up his mind to fight. He recalled Qutb Khan and the other chiefs, who had not yet set out to accommodate matters with Adil Khan, and told them that on reconsideration he was resolved not to place his faithful chiefs in the hands of his enemies.

The rebels reached Agra the following morning. Salim Shah came out of the fort and took the battle field. The chiefs, who had promised their allegiance to Adil Khan, seeing their king in the field, ashamed to betray him, and Salim Shah obtained the victory. Adil Khan fled to Patna. Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi fled towards Mewat. Salim Shah sent a powerful force in pursuit of Khawas Khan and Isa Khan. They fled to Kumaon hills and took refugee with the Raja of that place. Qutb Khan was sent towards them with a large force.

Though he achieved a great victory, Salim Shah became suspicious of his father's nobles. He got a list of men who had joined Adil Khan; and took measures to overthrow them. He put to death Jalal Khan Jalu and his brother Khudadad. This violent action filled the hearts of Sher Shah's chiefs with fear and dread.

Qutb Khan, who had been an ally of Adil Khan, fled away from the skirts of Kumaon hills in great alarm and took protection with Haibat Khan Niazi entitled Azam Humayun, governor of Lahore. Salim Shah sent an order to Azam Humayun, to send Qutb Khan in fetters to court, which Azam Humayun complied. Qutb Khan, upon his arrival, was sent prisoner to Gwalior, with many other suspected persons: including Shahbaz Khan Lohani and Barmazid Kaur. Salim Shah killed them by setting fire to their chamber with gunpowder.

About this time, Shujaat Khan, the governor of Malwa and Azam Humayun were called to court. Shujaat Khan obeyed the order and was reinstated in his government of Malwa. Azam Humayun made some excuses. Said Khan Niazi, a brother of Azam Humayun, being likewise apprehensive of his life, fled away from Agra to Lahore.

Revolt of the Niazis:

At Lahore, Azam Humayun and Said Khan raised a rebellion. Badauni states that Azam Humayun read the Khutbah in his own name in Lahore. Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi also joined them. Upon the receipt of this news, Salim Shah marched his army to Lahore; and the hostile chiefs met him near Ambala.

Fortune favoured Salim Shah once again: Before the battle a dispute arose between Khawas Khan and the Niazis regarding the succession to the throne in case of victory. Khawas Khan proposed Adil Khan, but Azam Humayun claimed the throne for himself. Annoyed by this, Khawas Khan drew off from the field and retreated with his troops.

In the battle the Niazis were defeated and routed. But in the midst of this good fortune, Salim Shah narrowly escaped with his life from a daring attempt of Said Khan. After their defeat Said Khan and his fellow Niazis fled towards Dhankot. Salim Shah pursued them as far as Rohtas; and then sent Khwaja Wais Sarwani with a large force against them and returned himself to Gwalior. Khwaja Wais fought with the Niazis but was defeated. Thereafter, Salim Shah sent a large army against the rebels; they fought another battle at Dhankot, in which the Niazis were defeated. Some Niazi women were taken captive and sent to Salim Shah. He insulted and dishonored them, which annoyed the Afghans, who were all of one tribe and of one mind, so that an intense disgust for him had sprung up in their hearts. The Niazis now took protection with the Ghakkars near Kashmir.

Salim Shah marched in person towards the Ghakkars and carried on war with them for a period of two years; they now became quite weakened and reduced to distress. The Niazis were compelled to leave the Ghakkar country for the hills of Kashmir.

First Murder Attempt: Meanwhile at Mankot, an attempt was made to murder Salim Shah by Iqbal Khan, though it failed. The emperor had raised Iqbal Khan from a very lowest position to eminence. Surprisingly, he spared the life of Iqbal Khan, but deprived him of his high rank and remarked, "I am heartily ashamed to destroy the man of my own training".

End of the Niazis: When the three Niazi chiefs: Azam Humayun, Said Khan and Shahbaz Khan - were slain in one of the engagements near Kashmir, Salim Shah felt that he was now freed from all anxieties.

Rebellion of Shujaat Khan:

Shujaat Khan too became suspicious of the designs of Salim Shah, fled from his court. Daulat Khan Ujala, adopted son Shujaat Khan, was the intimate friend of Salim Shah. Daulat Khan implored for the pardon of his father. The request was granted. Shujaat Khan hastened to the court and offered his submission. He was granted the districts of Raisin, Sarangpur and some others.

Assassination of Khawas Khan:

Sahib Khan got the title of Khawas Khan from Sher Shah Suri, upon the occasion of his elder brother being drowned in the ditch of the fort of Gaur. At that time, he came into slight collision with prince Jalal Khan, afterwards Salim Shah. Khawas Khan urged an immediate attack on Gaur, to which Jalal Khan gave his reluctant consent; but generously attributed the victory to Khawas Khan.

When Khawas Khan left the battle field at Ambala, he fled towards Lahore. Salim Shah appointed Shams Khan Luhani as governor of Lahore. Khawas Khan even made an attempt to capture Lahore, though it failed. He then took refugee in the dominions of the Raja of Kumaon hills.

Salim Shah appointed Taj Khan Karrani to the district of Sambhal, and ordered him to use every means to induce Khawas Khan to come down from the Kumaon hills and put an end to him. Taj Khan dispatched messages to the Raja of Kumaon, but he refused to surrender Khawas Khan.

Salim Shah himself wrote a treacherous message to Khawas Khan saying that he had forgiven him, and that the Rana of Udaipur had plundered several of the royal possessions, and carried off the wives and children of Musalmans; and, all their hopes were now centered in Khawas Khan.

The Raja strongly dissuaded Khawas Khan from going over to Salim Shah, but Khawas Khan complied and proceeded to Agra. When he reached near Sambhal, Taj Khan advanced to meet him and treacherously put him to death. His head was then sent to Salim Shah at Delhi.

Expels Humayun: 

About the year 1552, when Salim was fighting against the Niazis, Mirza Kamran, flying from his brother Humayun, took shelter with him for some time, but due to his ill-treatment soon retired to Sivalik hills. Humayun crossed the Indus and entered Hindustan, pursuing Kamran. Hearing this news, Salim Shah immediately marched from Delhi towards Lahore. Humayun was compelled to retreat to Kabul. After the flight of Humayun, Salim returned to Gwalior.

Second Murder Attempt: Near Antri, a second attempt on his life was made by a banditti instigated by some of his enemies. He seized and punished the chiefs conspirators. After this event, he became extremely suspicious of his nobles; many of them were imprisoned or even put to death on the slightest suspicions.

Some of the nobles meanwhile, conspired together to dethrone Salim Shah and raise his cousin as well as brother-in-law Mubariz Khan to the throne. Salim Shah was informed of this treason and was planning how best he could put them to death. But, in the meanwhile he was taken ill.

Last Days of Salim Shah:

A boil broke out on the King; from which the inflammation spread through all his limbs. A great many medicines and physicians were consulted; but the inflammation gradually increased. He was unable to eat or sleep, and frequently lost his senses. In the moments of sanity, he opened his eyes, and turned them towards Daulat Khan Ujala, and shed tears profusely.

"I had great confidence in my own strength, and I have subdued all men; but this thing is stronger than I am, and I find myself weaker and more helpless than the ant. I now know myself!", said the emperor in his last moment.

Death of Salim Shah - Different Accounts:

"He was taken suddenly ill and confined to his bed in the fort of Gwalior, by a painful retention of urine, and a disease of the bladder. People say that he was afflicted by an imposthume in his privy parts. He never mentioned this circumstance to any one, and cauterized it with his own hand; but by doing this, he injured his health, and brought on great suffering and weakness", Abdullah.

"An impostume appeared in his private part, and he suffered great pain, and his blood became vitiated and he passed away", Nizam-ud-din.

"He became afflicted with a fistula, of which he died", Ferishta.

"A carbuncle appeared in the neighbourhood of his seat, others assert that it was cancer. He was beside himself with pain and had himself bled, but without relief", Badauni.

''He died from a malignant ulcer which formed in one of his lower members owing to the issue of corrupt matter", Abul Fazl.

Salim Shah passed away on 22 November, 1554, after a reign of 8 years and 9 months. His body was taken to Sasaram and buried near the tomb of his father Sher Shah Suri.


He transferred the capital to Gwalior.

The fort of Mankot [Nurpur, Himachal Pradesh] is composed of four strong forts, namely Shergarh, Islamgarh, Rashidgarh and Firozgarh. These forts were built at the time when he marched out to eliminate the Ghakkars, who had given asylum to the rebel Niazis.

Salimgarh fort built by Salim Shah Suri
Water-colour painting of Salimgarh and the Palace at Delhi by Alfred Frederick Pollock Harcourt in January 1866 - The British Library

The fort of Salimgarh was built on the bank of the river Yamuna when Salim Shah came back to Delhi after marching against Humayun. It was built opposite to Dinpanah, Humayun's capital. Salimgarh fort stands adjoin to the Red fort of Shah Jahan.

Sarais: From Bengal to Indus, he built another Sarai between the two sarais of Sher Shah. In these sarais free food was kept ready for fakirs and travelers. He also established dak-chaukis in each sarai.

A Summary:

To sum up, the ruthless and oppressive policies of Salim Shah Suri made him a successful ruler. He was generous and merciful too; he pardoned Shujaat Khan and Iqbal Khan. "A great warrior, an able administrator, an enlightened and essentially modern king, his is a little known figure that ought to attract the attention of new India", remarks N. B. Roy. On his death the Sur empire broke up into pieces.

His wife was his cousin Bibi Bai. He was succeeded by his 12 year old son Firoz Shah.


The Niazis were a tribe of Afghans.
Isa Khan Sur also known as Isa Khan Hijab was the Tambuldar (betel-bearer) of Sher Shah, an office of great importance.


Tarikh-i-Khan Jahani Wa Makhzan-i-Afghani. A complete history of the Afghans in Indo-Pak sub-continent, of Khwaja Nimatullah; Translated by Bernhard Dorn

The Successors of Sher Shah by Nirod Bhushan Roy