Reign of Salim Shah, Successor of Sher Shah Suri (Part I)

Fortune smiled upon Farid Khan, an Afghan of humble origins, to such an extent that he ascended to the throne of Delhi by overthrowing Mughal emperor Humayun. Farid, better known as Sher Shah Suri (r: 1540-1545), enjoyed a brief yet successful reign of 5 years. Sher Shah died on May 22, 1545, in a gunpowder explosion during the siege of Kalinjar.

At the time of Sher Shah's death, his eldest son, the heir apparent, Adil Khan, was in Ranthambore, while his second son, Jalal Khan, was in Rewa. A council, led by Isa Khan Hijab (Isa Khan Sur) and other prominent figures of the kingdom, convened to determine the rightful successor to the throne. After careful deliberation, they chose Jalal Khan as the new ruler, citing his bravery as a warrior and his exceptional management skills in handling his father's affairs. Despite his young age, Jalal had proven himself capable, unlike Adil who was known for his love of luxury and leisure. Moreover, Jalal was at a short distance.

Accession to the Throne:

Jalal Khan reached Kalinjar after a five-day journey and ascended the throne of the empire assuming the title of Jalal-ud-din Abul Muzaffar Islam Shah (r: 1545-1554) on May 27, 1545. He is commonly referred to as Salim Shah. In Mughal historical records, he is also known as Salim Khan Afghan or Salim Shah Afghan. Upon his accession, his first act was executing the Raja of Kalinjar.

Upon hearing of his brother's accession, Adil Khan made an unsuccessful attempt to seize control of Agra by sending his son, Prince Mahmud Khan. Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi supported Adil Khan initially, but they switched their allegiance to Salim Shah after receiving a decree from him. Adil Khan sent a messenger to Khawas Khan, asking him to join his cause, but Khawas Khan refused, stating that since all the grandees of the empire had chosen Jalal as the ruler, he would not oppose him.

Salim Shah, upon hearing the news through his trusted sources, was delighted as Khawas Khan was his father's most esteemed general. Salim Shah 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."

Upon reaching Agra, Khawas Khan paid his respects to Salim Shah, solidifying his position on the throne. Salim Shah's decision to provide the soldiers with two months' advance pay further endeared him to the army, earning their loyalty and support.

However, Salim Shah could not feel secure as long as his elder brother, Adil Khan, was alive. Therefore, he invited Adil Khan to Agra under the guise of a personal meeting, secretly plotting to assassinate him treacherously. Unaware of the plot, chief nobles like Khawas Khan, Qutb Khan naib, Isa Khan Niazi and Jalal Khan Jalu (Jalal Khan Jilwani) assured Adil Khan of his safety upon his arrival in Agra, also promising him the jagir of Bayana.

Salim Shah's plan failed as Adil Khan entered the royal pavilion at Agra with his followers. To avoid suspicion, Salim had to act kindly towards his brother, placing Adil Khan on the throne and showering him with flattery. Adil Khan refused the offer and instead seated his brother on the throne. After the meeting, Adil Khan was allowed to leave, and the jagir of Bayana was granted to him.

Prince Mahmud Khan remained in the imperial service. Salim Shah sent Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi to accompany Adil Khan to Bayana. However, two months later, he sent his confidant Ghazi Mahali to Bayana to seize and imprison Adil Khan.

Salim Shah, in the meantime, promoted 6,000 soldiers who had served under him during his time as a prince. He elevated common soldiers to officer positions and officers to nobles. This displeased Sher Shah's nobles, leading to their growing animosity towards Salim Shah. Subsequently, a series of rebellions and two assassination attempts ensued, all of which Salim Shah managed to suppress successfully.

Adil Khan was shocked and immediately fled to Khawas Khan to inform him of his brother's betrayal. Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi were furious upon hearing this news. Khawas Khan seized Ghazi Mahali and initiated a rebellion against Salim Shah. He also reached out to Salim's chiefs in Agra, persuading many to join his cause. Qutb Khan and Jalal Khan Jalu also pledged their loyalty to Adil Khan. Together, they raised a substantial army and marched towards Agra with Adil Khan.

Upon learning of Adil Khan's revolt, Salim Shah was deeply troubled. 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 Isa Khan write something to me, so that I should have turned away from my intention?" The chiefs reassured Salim Shah, urging him not to worry about the revolt. They pledged to resolve the issue peacefully and amicably. Salim Shah then sent them to Adil Khan to bring about a compromise.

Salim's initial plan was to retreat to Chunar, where the treasure was deposited, and then raise an army to reduce his brother. However, Isa Khan Hijab convinced him not to flee and instead advised him to take the field. Encouraged by this counsel, Salim Shah decided to engage in battle. He summoned Qutb Khan and the other chiefs who had not yet left to negotiate with Adil Khan, informing them that upon further reflection, he had decided not to put his loyal chiefs at the mercy of his enemies.

The rebels reached Agra the next morning, where Salim Shah emerged from the fort to lead his troops into battle. The chiefs, who had promised their allegiance to Adil Khan, felt ashamed at the sight of their king on the battlefield and ultimately sided with Salim Shah, resulting in his victory. Adil Khan fled to Patna, while Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi sought refuge in Mewat. Salim Shah sent a powerful force to pursue Khawas Khan and Isa Khan, leading to their escape to the Kumaon hills where they sought shelter with the local Raja. Qutb Khan was sent after them with a large army.

Despite his triumph, Salim Shah grew suspicious of his father's nobles and compiled a list of those who had sided with Adil Khan, taking drastic measures against them. He executed Jalal Khan Jalu and his brother Khudadad. This violent action filled the hearts of Sher Shah's chiefs with fear and dread.

Qutb Khan, a former ally of Adil Khan, fled in fear from the Kumaon hills and sought refuge with Haibat Khan Niazi, also known as Azam Humayun, the governor of Lahore. Salim Shah ordered Azam Humayun to send Qutb Khan in chains to the court, a command which Azam Humayun obeyed. Upon his arrival, Qutb Khan was imprisoned in Gwalior along with other suspected individuals, such as Shahbaz Khan Lohani and Barmazid Kaur. Salim Shah executed them by igniting gunpowder in their chamber.

During this time, Shujaat Khan, the governor of Malwa, and Azam Humayun were summoned to the court. Shujaat Khan complied with the order and was reinstated in his position. However, Azam Humayun made excuses and his brother, Said Khan Niazi, also fearing for his life, fled from Agra to Lahore.

The Niazi Rebellion:

In Lahore, Azam Humayun and Said Khan led a revolt, with Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niazi joining their cause. Badauni reported that Azam Humayun even read the Khutbah in his own name in Lahore. Upon hearing of the rebellion, Salim Shah marched his army to Lahore, and the hostile chiefs met him near Ambala.

Fortune favoured Salim Shah once more as a dispute erupted between Khawas Khan and the Niazis before the battle, regarding the succession to the throne in the event of victory. Khawas Khan proposed Adil Khan, while Azam Humayun claimed the throne for himself. Annoyed by this, Khawas Khan withdrew from the battlefield and retreated with his troops.

During the battle, the Niazis were defeated and scattered. Amidst this victory, Salim Shah narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by Said Khan. Following their defeat, the Niazis fled towards Dhankot. Salim Shah pursued them to Rohtas, then sent Khwaja Wais Sarwani with a large force to continue the pursuit while he returned to Gwalior. Khwaja Wais fought with the Niazis but was defeated. Undeterred, Salim Shah mobilized a large army to confront the rebels, resulting in another battle at Dhankot where the Niazis were once again defeated. Some Niazi women were taken captive and brought to Salim Shah, who dishonored and insulted them. This action angered the Afghans, who shared a common tribe and mindset, leading to a growing resentment towards Salim Shah. The Niazis sought refuge with the Gakhars near Kashmir.

Salim Shah personally led his army against the Gakhars, engaging in a two-year war that left them weakened and in distress. The Niazis were compelled to leave the Gakhar territory and seek shelter in the hills of Kashmir.

Continue Reading:

Reign of Salim Shah Suri (Part 2)


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