Sher Shah Suri

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For the recipient of the Victoria Cross see Sher Shah (VC).

Image:Shershah.jpg Sher Shah Suri (Persian:شیر شاه سورى) also known as Sher Khan and as The Lion King, was founder of the Sur Dynasty of northern Indian rulers. He was born into an Afghan family in Punjab in 1472.


Early life

His given name was Farid. His father was the jagirdar of Sasaram, Bihar. Ill-treated by his stepmother, he left home at the age of 22 and went to Jaunpur, where he set himself to serious study and there he acquired good command over the Arabic and Persian languages.

Political career

Because of his administrative abilities and vision, he was soon appointed by his father to manage the family Jagir. But again because of his stepmother, he left his father's Jagir and went to Bihar where he later joined the service of Mughal emperor Babur.

In 1522, he served for Bahar Khan then governor of Bihar. His master was impressed by his service and devotion. Bahar Khan conferred on him the title of Sher Khan for having shown gallantry in killing a tiger single-handed. Later, Sher Khan was appointed Vakil (deputy governor) and also a tutor of Bahar Khan's son Jalal Khan.

Jealous of Sher Khan's success, his enemies poisoned his master's mind and he was thus deprived of his father's jagir. He joined the Babur camp where he served from April 1527 to June 1528. But soon, he left Babur and returned back to Bihar and took over his old job as a guardian of Jalal Khan. Jalal Khan being a minor, Sher Khan became the virtual ruler of Bihar.

Rise of Sher Khan

In 1531, Sher Khan asserted his independence from Humayun, Babur's successor. The unexpected rise of Sher Khan made the Lohani Afghans and Jalal Khan impatient. They even entered into an alliance with Muhamud Shah, the king of Bengal. Sher Khan defeated the Bengal king on the Kiul River in 1534. Later, he invaded Bengal and Muhamud Shah handed over him a large sum and territory to make amends. He then became the independent ruler of Bihar and Bengal.

In October 1537, Sher Khan again invaded Bengal and besieged the city of Gaur. Humayun realising the strength of the Afghan, marched to oppose Sher Khan in December 1537, and besieged Chunar. However, the army of Sher Khan baffled all the attempts of the assailants for six months, which gave enough time to Sher Khan for reduction of Gaur, which was achieved by April 1538. In 1539, when Humayun marched towards Bengal, Sher Khan cleverly went and occupied the Mughal territories in Bihar and Jaunpur. In 1539, Sher Khan was able to defeat Humayun in the Battle of Chausa. Again in 1540, he defeated Humayun in the Battle of Kannauj, and went on to capture Delhi and Agra.

Sher Khan built the Rohtas Fort in 1541-43 to crush the Gakhars, who were loyal to Humayun, to whom the fort was finally surrendered by a treacherous commander 10 years after Sher Khan's death.

Meanwhile, in Marwar the Rathores were becoming very powerful. The Rathore king Rao Maldeo had extended his territory to within a couple of hundred kilometers of Delhi. In 1544 Sher Khan attacked Maldeo. Maldeo came with a force of 40 thousand and Sher Khan had 60 thousand. In the evening Sher Khan sent forged letters to Maldeo's camp. In these letters it was depicted as if some generals from Maldeo's army were buying arms from Sher Khan's army. This caused great consternation in Maldeo's camp who thought that some of his generals had crossed over to Sher Khan, and he left with 20,000 men. Later events proved that there was no crossing over by Maldeo's generals. When the Rathore generals Kumpa (his progeny are Kumpawat Rathores) and Jaita (his progeny are Jaitawat Rathores) found out what happened they did not lose their cool, and decided they would not leave the field even though they just had 20 thousand men and had to face Sher Khan's 60 thousand Pathans. In the ensuing battle of Sammel Sher Khan emerged victorious, but several of his generals lost their lives and his army suffered heavy losses. After this he commented that "for a few grains of bajra [a grain crop that grows in Marwar] he had almost lost the entire kingdom of India".

Expansion and victories

Image:Sasaram.jpg Sher Khan continued to expand his empire, subjugating Bengal, Malwa, Raisen, Sindh and Multan. In the Battle of Raisen, Sher Khan attacked the fort of the Rajput ruler Puran Mal. After it became apparent that defending the fort would be too tough, Puran Mal agreed to surrender the fort on the condition that his troops, their wives and children, be allowed to leave unmolested. Sher Khan agreed. But as Puran Mal and his family were leaving the fort they were attacked by Sher Khan's Pathans. The Rajputs of Puran Mal died fighting to the last man.[1].

In a very short time, Sher Khan had extended his kingdom from the Indus in the west to Bengal in the east. He then besieged the strong fort of Kalinjar in Bundelkhand, where he later died in an accidental explosion of gunpowder in May 1545.

He adopted the self-appointed title of Shah during his rivalry with Humayun in anticipation of power, so his name was again changed from Sher Khan to Sher Shah. In his reign, Sher Shah conquered a large portion of India.

Government and administration

Though Sher Shah ruled for only 5 years yet he introduced important administrative reforms, which produced an excellent revenue system. His reforms were accepted by later Mughal and British colonial administrations. His administration was efficient, but somewhat tight. The empire was divided into 47 provinces called Sarkars, and each was subdivided into several smaller districts called Parganas. Each Pargana had its own group of officers called Shiqdar-i-Shiqdaram and a second group called Munsif-i-Munsifan. Every pargana had one military officer, one treasurer, one judicial judge and two accountants, who maintained accounts in both Persian and in Hindi. Sher Shah transferred these officers around every two or three years to prevent any undue influence of officers in one place. He paid attention to improvement of trade, abolishing all taxes which hindered progress of free trade. He built large network of roads. One road ran from Attock to Cacca, second ran from Agra to Burhanpur, third from Agra to Chittor and fourth between Lahore and Multan. Present Grand Trunk Road in India was built by Sher Shah Suri. In order to stay in power, Sher Shah appointed many spies. He was also strict on crime. He even punished his relatives if they were found guilty by the courts.


Image:Sher Shah Suri on stamp.jpg Sher Shah Suri was a visionary ruler and introduced many military and civil reforms. One of his important innovations was the introduction of the Rupayya or rupee coin; the very name is still used for official coinage in South Asian countries. He was the first in India to introduce custom duties, which are still followed up to this day. He undertook extensive repairs of major roads and for travellers' comfort constructed resthouses and places for drinking-water along the road.

Sher Shah Suri was, thus, indeed a great ruler. His administrative policies and other policies were so efficient that Akbar, the greatest of the Mughals, followed almost all of them. So, Sher Shah is rightly regarded as the 'forerunner of Akbar'.

Another reason to call Sher Shah great is because he was the only ruler to have interrupted the Mughal rule, which lasted nearly 2 1/2 centuries.

Important dates

  • 1472 Sher Khan born
  • 1522 Sher Khan took the service of Bahar Khan
  • 1527 - 1528 Sher Khan served the Babur camp
  • 1534 Sher Khan defeated the Bengal king on the Kiul river
  • October 1537 Sher Khan invaded Bengal and besieged the city of Gaur
  • 1539 Sher Khan defeated Humayun at Chausa
  • 1540 Sher Khan defeated Humayun at Kannauj
  • May 1545 Death of Sher Khan


  • Dr. Hussain Khan, Sher Shah Suri-1539-1545 published by Ferozsons, Lahore, Pakistan.
  • The Mertiyo Rathors of Merto, Rajasthan (2 vols.)
Select Translations Bearing on the History of a Rajput Family, 1462-1660 Translator Saran, Richard D. Annotations by Saran, Richard D. Hardcover Edition: Series#:51; Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia (Hardcover) 772 pages Publisher: University of Michigan Press ISBN / EAN: 0891480854
"Later, ancient Bactria, in northern Afghanistan, was joined to India by a 4,200-kilometer road built by Indian’s Maurya dynasty, and was linked to Central Asia and the Middle East by the imperial highways of the Persians."
  • Clive Ponting: World History, A New Perspective, Published by Pimlico 2001, ISBN 0-7126-6572-2, Printed and Bound in Great Britan by Mackays of Chatham PLC.
"When Chang Ch'ien arrived in Ferghana he was surprised to find that a vast array of Chinese goods were on sale, especially silk which was only manufactured in China. These goods had travelled by the route opened in 4th century BCE from China via Schezwan and Yunnan to Burma and eastern India. From there they had been traded along the India Grand Road (built under the Mauryan Empire) up the Ganges valley to the grand trading city of Taxila and then into central Asia." [Page 250]
  • INDIA & Southeast Asia to 1875: Sanderson Beck , Paperback: 775 pages, Publisher: World Peace Communications (December 7, 2004) ISBN 0976221004
"Humayun escaped and went to Lahore while Sher Khan went back to Gaur to destroy the remnant of the Mughal army and imprison a rebelling governor. Sher Khan became Sher Shah and organized his empire while Humayun, unable to get help from his brothers, fled all the way to the Safavid court in Iran. After subjugating Malwa in 1542, Sher Shah invaded central India. He promised to let those capitulating at Fort Raisin go unmolested, but the Afghans treacherously attacked the Rajputs, who killed their own women and children to protect them from disgrace. Sher Shah also used forged letters before defeating Marwar ruler Maldev in a bloody battle in 1544. While capturing a fort in Kalinjar, Sher Shah was killed by a gunpowder explosion in 1545."

External links

fr:Sher Shâh Sûrî sv:Sher Shah ur:شیرشاہ سوری zh:舍尔沙