The House Of Sur
A.D. 1542 TO A.D. 1554
Sher-khan, the man who, worsting Humayon, seized on the throne, had no
atom of royal blood in his veins. He was a plain soldier, though of
good birth; but, his father neglecting him, he had run away from home
and entered the ranks. A rough-and-ready soldier, too, who, even in
Babar's time, had not scrupled to tell a friend that in his opinion it
would be no hard task t
"drive these foreign Moghuls from Hindustan;
for though the king himself was a man of parts, he trusted too much to
his ministers, who were corrupt."
The friend laughed; but Sher-Khan was right even in his estimate of
the king who, curiously enough, singled him out unerringly a few days
afterwards, when, at a military banquet, he called for a knife to
carve a chicken withal, and, the servant taking no notice of his rough
order, immediately drew his dagger and coolly used it with
contemptuous disregard for the diversion of his neighbours. Babar's
quick eye caught the incident, and he remarked: "He may be a great man
yet; trifles do not disconcert him."
He does not, however, appear to have been either an amiable or an
estimable person, though he was not vicious, and even his successes as
a soldier are somewhat too crafty for admiration. He knew well when to
attack, when to retreat, and, if imperialist and Rajput accounts are
to be trusted, was not over-scrupulous in his use of the white flag.
Then there is no doubt but that a secret understanding existed between
him and Humayon's brother Kamran; for on the withdrawal of the latter
from Lahore, Sher-Shah instantly pounced down on it, and would have
captured the fugitive king but for his hasty flight.
He does not in truth appeal to one's sympathies, this Afghan of the
House of Sur, though he was by no means without good points. It is,
however, impossible to get up much interest in a man who picks a
quarrel with an innocent Rajput rajah on the ground that he has
Mahomedan women in his harem, and who, after a lengthy siege, induces
capitulation by promise of the garrison being allowed to march out
with their arms and their property: thereinafter, on the advice of a
learned doctor of law (who declared it was a sin to keep faith with
infidels), proceeding to surround the brave band and cut them off!
It is satisfactory to learn that they sold their lives dearly. But
Sher-Shah continued to be diplomatic. He gained his success against
the Rajah of Marwar by a stratagem. Finding himself in a tight place,
he forged treasonable correspondence between himself and certain of
the Rajput generals, which was then so disposed of as to fall into the
generalissimo's hands. The distrust thus sown of his levees' loyalty
caused the rajah to give way; and with disastrous results.
The death of this Machiavel in armour was a Nemesis, for it arose in
consequence of the Rajah of Kalinjasr's refusal to capitulate, on the
ground of Sher-Shah's many treacheries.
In the subsequent mining which became necessary to reduce the fort,
Sher-Shah was blown to bits in an explosion of a powder magazine that
had not been properly secured.
Despite his treachery, he did much for India in the way of public
works. The caravanserais, the wells which still stud the course of the
high road from Bengal to the Indus, are of his building; and the very
trees which shade the weary traveller in the long marching, if not of
his planting, stand in the places of those which he watered with care.
He reigned five years, and left two sons. The elder and rightful heir
preferred obscurity to prolonged battle for the crown, and after a
while disappeared and was no more heard of, leaving Islam-Shah, or, as
he is called by a mispronunciation, Salim-Shah, to follow in his
father's treacherous footsteps. The most noteworthy event in his reign
was the insurrection of the Mahdi sect, led by one Ilahi. The tenets
of their faith seem to have been curiously destructive of each other.
Neither their profession of predestination nor their pure socialism
prevented them from going about armed, meting out lynch-law to all and
sundry whom they deemed to be disobeying any divine law.
They must have been uncomfortable people to deal with, but the faith
spread to such alarming proportions, that Salim-Shah finally called a
Court of Arches to decide whether "Ilahi's pertinaciously
disrespectful manner to the king was consistent with his situation as
a subject, or was enjoined by any precept of the Koran?"
He was subsequently tried on the accusation of presuming to
personate the Great Mahdi--for whose advent all pious Mahomedans
look--condemned, and refusing to abjure his faith, was brought up for
punishment, though at the time suffering from the plague which was
then raging. He died under the third lash.
Almost immediately after this, Salim-Shah himself died, when his
cousin Mobarik succeeded by a singularly brutal murder. Prince Feroze,
Salim-Shah's son, was then twelve years old. His mother, Bibi Bhai,
was Mobarik's sister, and devoted to her dissolute, pleasure-loving
brother, whose life she had begged of the king. Notwithstanding this,
immediately on the latter's death Mobarik entered the harem, tore the
wretched boy from his mother's very arms, and killed him with his own
Fraternal affection with a vengeance. His subsequent career was in
keeping with this initial act. Sensual to a degree and absolutely
illiterate, he set a Hindu usurer called Hemu at the head of affairs,
and contented himself with remaining in the harem, and parading the
city with pomp, surrounded by a body of archers, whose duty it was to
discharge gold-headed arrows worth ten or twelve rupees each amongst
the crowd; the scramble for them amusing the jaded satiety of this
truly Eastern potentate.
He succeeded in A.D. 1552, and for two years the throne was the centre
of a perfect anarchy of revolt.
Hemu, who seems to have had wits, held his own until faced by the
returning Humayon, backed by that splendid old Turkoman soldier, Byram
Khan. Backed also by the son, whom eleven years before he had left
alone with his nurses in the royal camp on the road to Kandahar, and
who now--an extremely youthful warrior--won back empire for his father
by precipitating an action before the walls of Lahore, in which the
Moghuls, "animated by the conduct of that young hero," seemed to
forget that they were mortal.
So ended the usurping dynasty of Sur.