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Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama

  India's History : Medieval India : First voyage of Vasco da Gama - 1498

Vasco da Gama Arrives in India

Vasco da Gama is famous for his completion of the first all water trade route between Europe and India. Da Gama’s father, Estavao, had originally been chosen by King Joao II to make this historic voyage, but he died before he could complete the mission. It is also said that the opportunity was then given to da Gama's brother, Paulo, who turned it down. The trip needed to be made, and as a last choice, King Emmanuel looked to da Gama to complete the mission.

Vasco da Gama was born in Sines, Portugal in 1469. Being the son of the town’s governor, he was educated as a nobleman and served in the court of King Joao II. Da Gama also served as a navel officer, and in 1492 he commanded a defense of Portuguese colonies from the French on the coast of Guinea. Da Gama was then given the mission to the take command of the first Portuguese expedition around Africa to India.

When Vasco da Gama set out on July 8, 1497 he and his crew planned and equipped four ships. Goncalo Alvares commanded the flagship Sao (Saint) Gabriel. Paulo, da Gama's brother, commanded the Sao Rafael. The other two ships were the Berrio and the Starship. Most of the men working on the ship were convicts and were treated as expendable. On the voyage, da Gama set out from Lisbon, Portugal, rounded the Cape of Good Hope on November 22, and sailed north. Da Gama made various stops along the coast of Africa in trading centers such as Mombasa, Mozambique, Malindi, Kenya, and Quilmana.

As the ships sailed along the east coast of Africa, many conflicts arose between the Portuguese and the Muslims who had already established trading centers along the coast. The Muslim traders in Mozambique and Mombasa did not want interference in their trade centers. Therefore, they perceived the Portuguese as a threat and tried to seize the ships. In Malindi, on the other hand, the Portuguese were well received, because the ruler was hoping to gain an ally against Mombasa, the neighboring port. From Malindi, da Gama was accompanied the rest of the way to India by Ahmad Ibn Majid, a famous Arab pilot.

Vasco da Gama finally arrived in Calicut, India on May 20, 1498. Calicut was the principle market of trade for precious stones, pearls, and spices. At first, the Portuguese were well received and accepted by the Hindu ruler. There was a great ceremony, and da Gama was taken to a Hindu temple. However, this immediate reaction did not last. The ruler later felt insulted by the gifts that Vasco da Gama brought, because they were of little value to him. Da Gama was not able to establish his trading station or negotiate a trading agreement, because the Zamorin (samudrin raja, the Hindu King) did not want to alienate the local merchants. The Portuguese goods that had been well accepted in Africa were not suitable for the prestigious Indian market. The Muslim merchants despised the Portuguese interference in their business and often threatened to not trade with them. Finally, when da Gama wanted to leave, the Zamorin told him that he had to pay a heavy tax and leave all the Portuguese goods as a form of collateral. Da Gama was enraged, and on August 29, 1498, da Gama and his crew departed with all of their possessions and five hostages. Da Gama also took a letter from the Zamorin stating that the Zamorin would trade spices and gems if the Portuguese could get scarlet cloth, coral, silver, and gold.

Vasco da Gama and his crew departed in August 1498 and reached Lisbon in September of 1499. The return trip took so long because many of the sailors died of diseases such as scurvy. When Vasco da Gama returned, he was rewarded with a great celebration. Da Gama was looked upon as a hero, and King Manoel awarded him with titles and a large income.

When Vasco da Gama went out on his second expedition on February 12, 1502, he was prepared for an encounter with the Muslim traders. He set sail with 20 well-armed ships, hoping to force his way into the market and to get revenge on the Muslims for the opposition in 1498. Da Gama killed many innocent Indians and Muslims. In one instance, da Gama waited for a ship to return from Mecca, a Muslim trading and religious center. The Portuguese overtook the ship and seized all the merchandise. Then they locked the 380 passengers in the hold and set the ship on fire. It took four days for the ship to sink, killing all men, women, and children.

When da Gama arrived in Calicut on October 30, 1502, the Zamorin was willing to sign a treaty. Da Gama told him that he would have to banish all of the Muslims. To demonstrate his power, da Gama hung 38 fishermen; cut off their heads, feet, and hands; and floated the dismembered corpses onto the shore. Later da Gama bombarded the city with guns and forced his way into the trading system. This led the way for other Portuguese conquests in the East Indies.

In February of 1503, da Gama returned home. During his final voyage to India, da Gama got sick and died on December 24, 1524. Vasco da Gama's remains were taken back to Portugal, where he was buried in the chapel where he had prayed before his first voyage.

Vasco da Gama's voyages to India resulted in centuries of Portuguese colonialism throughout Asia (Macao was only returned to the Chinese government in 1999). However, whether colonization was Portugal's first intention is a matter of debate. It seems that Portugal, a country formed by its struggles against the Moors, sent da Gama abroad to seek pre-existing Christian nations with which to form anti-Islamic alliances. The lucrative spice trade was further temptation for the Portuguese crown. Eventually, these aims led to religious conversion, inethical trade, and coloniza

Portuguese captures Goa

  India's History : Medieval India : Portuguese capture Goa - 1510

Goa: Alternative for Portuguese

The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, in present day Kerala in 1498. This discovery and the establishment of a new sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope gave an impetus to to the Portuguese who wanted very much to exploit it to their advantage and profit from it. They soon realized that they had to have a permanent trading post established to effectively do so. Repeated attempts to do just that along the malabar coast ( controlled by the Zamorin of Calicut) of India proved difficult and finally they decided to try their luck northwards along the coast.

In 1510 under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque they laid siege upon Goa, then under Sultan Adil Shah of Bijapur. On February 17th he entered the city of Goa for the first time and met little resistance as the Sultan was engaged with his forces elsewhere. Sultan Adil Shah soon came after him with a vengeance and and on May 23rd 1510 Alfonso de Albuquerque had to flee the city of Goa. Determined to win it for good, Alfonso de Albuquerque made another attempt a few months later with the help of a Hindu Chieftain called Timoja . This time his timing could not have been more than perfect. Sultan Adil Shah had just died and the heir to the throne was the infant Ismail Adil Shah. Ela or the city of Goa was under Rasul Khan, one of his generals. After an initial attack on the Arsenal and a quick and bloody battle, Alfonso de Albuquerque victoriously entered the city of Ela, Goa on St. Catherine's Day, November 25th 1510 .

As revenge for his earlier defeat, he massacred and decimated all of the city's Muslim population over the next three days. He however spared the Hindu population and appointed Timoja as his Thanedar. By 1543, the Portuguese were able to extend their control over Salcette, Mormugao and Bardez, thus ending their first phase of expansion into Goa. The territories of Ilhas, Salcette, Mormugao and Bardez formed part of the Portugal's "Velhas Conquestas" or Old Conquests, and formed only one fifth of the total area of modern Goa. By this time, Goa became the jewel of Portugal's eastern empire.

First Battle of Panipat

  India's History : Medieval India : Establishment of the Mughul Dynasty; First Battle of Panipat - 1526

Battle made way for Mughul Dynasty

The first Battle of Panipat gave a deathblow to the Lodhi Empire and marked the end of the Delhi Sultanate's rule in India. It led to the establishment of the Mughal Empire in India. Mongol prince Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad, known as Babur, had promised to help Daulat Khan Lodhi, Governor of Lahore, to fight the Sultan of Delhi Ibrahim Lodhi in 1523 and made many raids into Punjab. Babur, after occupying the whole of Panjab by 1525 AD, marched towards Delhi.

In November 1525 he set out to meet the Sultan of Delhi. Passage of Indus took place on 15th December. Babur had about 12,000 soldiers. He crossed Sutluj at Roper and reached Ambala without meeting any resistance. On April 1st Babur reached Panipat. It was barren wasteland dry and naked with few thorny bushes. Rumors came that Sultan was coming with an army of 100,000 and 1000 war elephants. The Afghan Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodhi advanced from Delhi to meet the invader. Babur had strong artillery, which was effectively pressed into service.

The battle started at six in the morning. Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi advanced rapidly. At about 400 yards Babur's Cannons opened fire, noise and smoke from the artillery terrified the Afghans and the attack lost momentum. Seizing the movement Babur sent out his flanking columns to envelop the Sultan's army. Here the Afghans met for the first time the real weapon of Mongols 'Turko-Mongol Bow'. Its superiority lay in the fact that it was the weapon of the nobles, of the finest warriors. Such a bow in the hands of a Mongol warrior would shoot three times as rapidly as musket and could kill at 200 yards.

Attacked from 3 sides the Afghans jammed into each other. Elephants hearing noise of cannon at close range ran wildly out of control. Ibrahim Lodhi and about 6000 of his troops were involved in actual fighting. Most of his army stretching behind up to a mile never saw action. Battle ended in about 3 hours with the death of Ibrahim Lodhi who was at forefront.

And in place where fighting had been the fiercest, among the heap of Mongols slain of his sword, lay the vain but courageous Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi. His head was cut off and taken to Babur. Ibrahim Lodhi's tomb is still present in Panipat. When Afghans fled they left 20,000 dead and wounded. Losses to Babur's army were heavy 4000 of his troops were killed or wounded. Had Sultan Ibrahim survived another hour of fighting he would have won as Babur had no reserves and his troops were rapidly tiring in Indian mid-day sun. Babur observes in his autobiography, "The mighty army of Delhi was laid in the dust in the course of half a day." In the words of Rushbrook Williams, "If there was one single material factor, which more than any other conduced to his ultimate triumph in Hindustan, it was his powerful artillery." The elephants trampled their own soldiers after being frightened away by the explosion of gunpowder.

Two weeks later the victorious Babur entered Agra where he was presented with the famous diamond 'Koh-i-noor'. Babur celebrated his victory in a lavish manner and occupied Delhi and Agra.

The battle marked the foundation of the so called Mughal or Mogul empire in India - the word means Mongol and alludes to the Turko-Mongol origins of Baburs and his officers, although the majority of his troops would probably have had been of mixed Central Asian descent.

The other significance of the battle is that it marked the beginning of large-scale use of fire arms in Indian warfare.

Medieval India History : Babur

  India's History : Medieval India : Reign of Babur (1526-1530)

Babur - The First Mughal Emperor

Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur founded the Mughal Empire in India after defeating Ibrahim Lodhi in the Battle of Panipat in 1526.

At the age of 14, Babur ascended the throne of the Central Asian kingdom of Farghana. His greatest ambition was to rule Samarkand. He fought many battles in the pursuit of this goal, winning and losing his kingdom many times in the process. In 1504, he ventured into what is now Afghanistan and conquered Kabul.

His position in Central Asia was precarious at best. In order to consolidate his rule, he invaded India five times, crossing the River Indus each time. The fifth expedition resulted in his encounter with Ibrahim Lodhi in the first battle of Panipat in April 1526. Babur's army was better equipped than Lodhi's; he had guns while the sultan relied on elephants. The most successful of Babur's innovations was the introduction of gunpowder, which had never been used before in the Sub-continent. This combined with Babur's newer tactics gave him a greater advantage. Babur's strategy won the war and Ibrahim Lodhi died fighting.

Panipat was merely the beginning of the Mughal rule. Akbar laid its real foundation in 1556. At the time of the battle of Panipat, the political power in India was shared by the Afghans and the Rajputs. After Panipat, the Hindu princes united under Rana Sanga, the Raja of Mewar, resulting in a sizable force. Babur's army showed signs of panic at the size of the huge opposing army. To prevent his forces retreat, Babur tried to instill confidence in his soldiers by breaking all his drinking cups and vessels, and vowed never to drink again if he won. His soldiers took heart, and when the armies met in the battle at Kanwaha, near Agra on March 16, 1527, Babur was able to win decisively. Kanwaha confirmed and completed Babur's victory at Panipat. Babur thus became the king of Central India.

In 1528, he captured Chanderi from the Rajput chief Medini Rao, and a year later he defeated the Afghan chiefs under Mahmud Lodhi in the battle of Ghagra at Bihar. These conquests made Babur the "Master of Hindustan". He was not destined to enjoy the fruits of his conquests as he died shortly afterwards in Agra on December 26, 1530. He was buried at Kabul in accordance with his wish.

The Mughal age is famous for its many-faceted cultural developments. The Timurids had a great cultural tradition behind them. Their ancestral kingdom at Samarkand was the meeting ground of the cultural traditions of Central and West Asia. The Mughals brought with them Muslim cultural traditions from Turko-Iranian areas, which inspired the growth of the Indo-Muslim culture.

Reign of Babur (1526-1530)

Turks were patrons of the arts and education. They often were poets in Persian or Chaghatai Turkish; amateur painters or calligraphers; and singers or instrumentalists. The Turks were fine warriors, capable of handling a sword as dexterously as a brush or a pen. They loved palaces, gilded tents, fine clothing and rich accouterments. The Turks were collectors of books and paintings who eagerly sought out every new luxury.

Babur had attempted to capture Delhi more than once but had lacked the resources to mount a sufficiently large expedition. However, the steady decline in popularity of Delhi's Sultan Ibrahim was a factor working strongly in Babur's favor. Babur seized the opportunity by uniting his followers in an adventure which, if successful, would offer them boundless wealth.

At the Panipat battle, Babur's guns and fine skills as a commander brought him a well deserved victory which changed the course of Indian history. Humayun, the eldest son of Babur, was dispatched to seize Sultan Ibrahim's household and treasure at Agra while Babur, himself, advanced on Delhi.

Babur was unhappy to find no gardens in India like the ones he had known in Kabul. As soon as Babur arrived in Agra, he selected a site across the river, had a well dug and constructed a bath-house. This was followed by a tank and a pavilion. And soon a Persian garden was laid out that reminded Babur of his northern home.

Babur was well organized with a keen eye for natural beauty of every kind. He was a brave man, humble and good-humored. His attractive personality combined a fine sense of taste and style with boyish gaiety and the obvious virtues of soldier and ruler. Although Babur's life was occupied with warfare and physical exertion, he enjoyed the company of artists and writers. Babur, himself, has serious literary contributions to his credit. He left to his successors a legacy of artistic sensitivity; a passion for beautiful, artistic objects; an articulate patronage of Persian as well as indigenous articrafts.

The Mughals were led into India by Babur who had been born in Central Asia in 1483. Babur's victory at Panipat in 1526 established the Mughal Empire and ended the reign of the Delhi Sultanate.

Babur, the new conqueror of Delhi, had been ruler of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, for 20 years. Racially, Babur was a Turk with a thin stream of Mongol blood in his veins; therefore, the term 'Mughal' by which he and his descendants were known in India was really a misnomer. In Persian, the word Mughal, always highly pejorative among the civilized inhabitants of Iran or Mawarannahr, simply means a Mongol. It is clear, however, from Babur's writing that he considered himself a Turk. Although Babur was descended on his mother's side from Chingiz Khan's second son, Chaghatai, it is clear that this Mongol lineage meant less to him than his paternal ancestry which linked him with the great Turkish conqueror, Timur.

Turks boasted high-sounding genealogies from other conquering tribes and clans of Inner Asia, yet they were steeped in Persian traditions of culture and refinements. They delighted in war and the chase; in their skills with bow and scimitar and polo-stick; and in the possession of fine weapons, horses and hunting-falcons.

Humayun’s Rule

  India's History : Medieval India : Humayun succeeds Babur (1530-40, 1555-6)

Humayun’s Rule

Babur was succeeded by his eldest son Humayun. Humayun failed in asserting a strong monarchical authority. He inherited a freshly won empire with a host of troubles; the Afghan nobles, the Rajputs and worst of all, his three treacherous brothers. They caused numerous problems for him. Following his father's advice, Humayun treated his brothers kindly and appointed them to high positions. Kamran was appointed as the Governor of Kabul, Kandhar and later even Punjab. Askari was the Governor of Sambhal, and Hindal the Governor of Alwar. In return, his brothers hindered him at every step and betrayed him in his hour of need. All of them coveted the throne. This was a curse that each successful Mughal king had to deal with. Humayun almost lost the empire his father had fought so hard to bequeath him. In the first ten years of his rule, he faced so many challenges not only from his younger brothers but also from the Afghan General Sher Shah Suri who had served under Babur. Sher Shah Suri defeated Humayun in the battles of Chausa and Kanauj in 1540. This defeat was the first setback to the infant Mughal Empire. He lived the next 15 years of his life, from 1540 to 1555, self-exiled in Persia. Later on, with the help of the King of Persia, he captured Kabul and Kandhar. He was finally able to re-ascend the throne at Delhi and Agra after defeating Sikandar Suri. After recovering his throne, Humayun devoted himself to the affairs of the kingdom and towards improving the system of government. He laid the foundation of the Mughal style of painting. Later on, during the reign of Akbar, a fusion of Persian and Indian style of painting took place.

Humayun's Architectural Legacy:
Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb, Delhi (1528-36)
Imam Zamin's Tomb, Delhi (1537)
Hasan Khan's Tomb, Sasaram (c. 1535)
Sher Shah's Tomb, Sasaram (c. 1540)
Purana Qila, Delhi (c. 1530-45)
Qala-i-Kuhna Masjid, Delhi (1541)
Sher Mandal, Delhi (c. 1541)
Gate of Sher Shah's Wall, Delhi (1540s)
Salimgarh, Delhi (1546)
Isa Khan's Mosque and Tomb, Delhi (1547)
Sabz Burj, Nila Gumbad, Delhi
Bu Halima's Garden, Delhi

Unfortunately, after recovering his empire, Humayun was not destined to rule for long. In January 1556, he met his tragic end by slipping from the famous building known as Din Panah.

Humayun only just managed to regain his father's territories before his death and the accession of his 13 year old son, Akbar, whose 49 year reign laid the foundation of empire, and the development of a new style of architecture.

Sher Shah Suri

  India's History : Medieval India : Sher Shah Suri defeats Humayan - 1539

Sher Shah - The Lion King

Babur's victories at Panipat and Gorga did not result in the complete annihilation of the Afghan chiefs. They were seething with discontent against the newly founded alien rule, and only needed the guidance of one strong personality to coalesce their isolated efforts in to an organized national resistance against it. This they got in Sher Khan Sur, who effected the revival of the Afghan power and established a glorious, though short lived, regime in India by ousting the newly established Mughul authority.

The career of Sher Khan Sur, the hero of Indo-Muslim revival, is as fascinating as that of Babur and not less instructive than that of the great Mughul, Akbar. Originally bearing the name of Farid, he began his life in a humble way, and, like many other great men in history, had to pass through various trials and vicissitudes of fortune before he rose to prominence by dint of his personal merit. His grandfather, Ibrahim, an Afghan of the Sur tribe, lived near Peshawar and his father's name Hasan. Ibrahim migrated with his son to the east in quest of military service in the early part of Buhlul Lodi's reign and both first entered the service of Mahabat Khan Sur, jagirdar of the paraganas of Hariana and Bakhala in the Punjab, and settled in the paragana of Bajwara or Bejoura. After some time Ibrahim got employment under Jamal Khan Sarang Khani of Hissar Firuza in the Delhi district, who conferred upon Ibrahim some villages in the paragana of Narnaul for the maintenance of forty horsemen in his service. Farid was born probably near Narnaul. Farid was soon taken to Sasaram by his father, Hasan, who had been granted a jagir there by his master, Umar Khan Sarwahi, entitled Khan-I-Azam, when the latter got the governorship of Jaunpur. Hasan, like the other nobles of his time, was a polygamist, and Farid's step-mother had predominant influence over him. This made him indifferent to Farid whereupon the latter left home at the age of twenty-two and went to Jaunpur. Thus the Afghan youth was forced into a life of adventure and struggle, which cast his mind and character in a heroic mould. For some time he devoted himself to study. By indefatigable industry and steady application, Farid early attracted the attention of his teachers at Jaunpur and quickly gained an uncommon acquaintance with the Persian language and literature. He was capable of reproducing from memory the Gulistan, Bustan and Sikandar-namah. Being pleased with this promising youth, Jamal Khan, his father's patron, effected a reconciliation between him and his father, who allowed him to return to Sasaram and to administer the paraganas of Sasaram and Khawaspur, both then within the jurisdiction of Sarkar. The successful administration of those two places by Farid served to increase his step-mother's jealousy, and so leaving Sasaram once again he went to Agra.

On the death of his father, Farid took possession of his paternal jagir on the strength of a royal foreman, which he had been able to procure at Agra. In 1522 he got into the service of Bahar Khan Lohani, the independent ruler of Bihar, whose favour he soon secured by discharging his duties honestly and assiduously. His master conferred on him the title of Sher Khan for his having shown gallantry by killing a tiger single-handed, and also soon rewarded his ability and faithfulness by appointing him his deputy (Vakil) and tutor (Ataliq) of his minor son, Jalal Khan. But perverse destiny again went against Sher. His enemies poisoned his master's mind against him, and he was once more deprived of his father's jagir. "Impressed by the complete success of Mughul arms" and with the prospect of future gain, he now joined Babur's camp, where he remained from April, 1527, to June, 1528. In return for the valuable services he rendered to Babur in his eastern campaigns, the latter restored Sasaram to him.

Sher soon left the Mughul service and came back to Bihar to become again its deputy governor and guardian of his former pupil, Jalal Khan. While the minor king remained as the nominal ruler of Bihar, Sher became the virtual head of its government. In the course of four years he won over the greater part of the army to his cause and "elevated himself to a state of complete independence". Meanwhile, the fortress of Chunar, luckily came into his possession. Taj Khan, the Lord of Chunar, was killed by his eldest son, who had risen against his father for his infatuation with a younger wife, Lad Malika. This widow, however, married Sher Khan and gave him the fortress of Chunar. Humayun besieged Chunar in 1531, but Sher Khan had taken no part in the Afghan rising of that year and saved his position by a timely submission to the Mughul invader. The rapid and unexpected rise of Sher at the expense of the Lohani Afghans made the latter, and even Jalal Khan, impatient of his control. They tried to get rid of this dictator. The attempt, however, failed owing to his "unusual circumspection". They then entered into an alliance (Sept., 1533) with Mahmud Shah, the King of Bengal, who was naturally eager to check the rise of Sher, which prejudiced his own prestige and power. But the brave Afghan deputy inflicted a defeat on the allied troops of the Bengal Sultan and the Lohanis at Surajgarh, on the banks of the Kiul river, east of the town of Bihar (1534). The victory at Surajgarh was indeed a turning-point in the career of Sher. "Great as it was as a military achievement, it was greater in its far-reaching political result... But for the victory at Surajgarh, the jagirdar of Sasaram would never have emerged from his obscurity into the arena of politics to run, in spite of himself, a race for the Empire with hereditary crowned heads like Bahadur Shah and Humayun Padshah." It made him the undisputed ruler of Bihar in fact as well as in name.


Sher had an opportunity to increase his power when Humayun marched against Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. He suddenly invaded Bengal and appeared before its capital, Gaur, not by the usual route through the Taliagarhi passes (near modern Sahebganj on the E.I. Ry. Loop line), but by another unfrequented and less circuitous one. Mahmud Shah, the weak ruler of Bengal, without making any serious attempt to oppose the Afghan invader, concluded peace with him by paying him a large sum, amounting to thirteen lacs of gold pieces, and by ceding to him a territory extending from Kiul to Sakrigali, ninety miles in length with a breadth of thirty miles. These fresh acquisitions considerably enhanced Sher's power and prestige, and, after the expulsion of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat to Diu, many of the distinguished Afghan nobles joined their rising leader in the east. Thus strengthened, Sher again invaded Bengal about the middle of October, 1537, with a view to conquering it permanently, and closely besieged the city of Gaur. Humayun, who on his way back from Gujarat and Malwa had been wasting his time at Agra, in his usual fashion, realized the gravity of the Afghan menace in the east rather too late and marched to oppose Sher Khan in the second week of December, 1537. But instead of proceeding straight to Gaur, by which he could have frustrated the designs of Sher Khan in alliance with the Sultan of Bengal, he besieged Chunar. The brave garrison of Sher Khan at Chunar baffled all the attempts of the assailants for six months, while Sher Khan was left free to utilize that time for the reduction of Gaur by April, 1538. Sher Khan had also captured the fortress of Rohtas by questionable means and had sent his family and wealth there. Baffled in Bihar, Humayun turned towards Bengal and entered Gaur in July, 1538. But Sher Khan, cleverly avoiding any open contest with him in Bengal, went to occupy the Mughul territories in Bihar and Jaunpur and plunder the tract as far west as kanauj.

Humayun, who was then whiling away his time in idleness and festivities at Gaur, was disconcerted on hearing of Sher's activities in the west and left Bengalfor Agra before his return should be cut off. But he was opposed on the way, at Chaunsa near Buxar, by Sher Khan and his Afghan followers and suffered a heavy defeat in June, 1539. Most of the Mughul soldiers were drowned or captured; and the life of their unlucky ruler was saved by a water-carrier, who carried him on his water-skin across the Ganges, into which he had recklessly jumped. The victory over the sovereign of Delhi widened the limit of Sher Khan's ambition and made him the de facto ruler of the territories extending from Kanauj in the west to the hills of Assam and Chittagong in the east and from the Himalayas in the north to the hills of Jharkhand (from Rohtas to Birbhum) and the Bay of Bengal in the south. To legalize what he had gained by the strength of arms and strategy, he now assumed the royal title of Sher Shah and ordered the Khutba to be read and the coins to be struck in his name. Next year Humayun made another attempt to recover his fortune, though he could not secure the co-operation of his brothers in spite of his best attempts. On the 17th May, 1540, the Mughuls and the Afghans met again opposite kanauj. The army of Humayun, hopelessly demoralized, half-hearted and badly officered, was severely defeated by the Afghans at the battle of the Ganges or Bilgram, commonly known as the battle of Kanauj, and Humayun just managed to escape. Thus the work of Babur in India was undone, and then sovereignty of Hindustan once more passed to the Afghans. From this time Humayun had to lead the life of a wandered for about fifteen years. The sons of Babur failed to combine even at such a critical moment, though Humayun went to Lahore and did his best to win them over. Their selfishness triumphed over common interests and Sher Shah was able to extend his authority to the Punjab also. The Afghan ruler marched, with his usual promptitude and vigour, to subdue the warlike hill tribes of the Gakkar country, situated between the upper courses of the Indus and the Jhelum. He ravaged this territory but could not thoroughly reduce the Gakkars, as he had to proceed hurriedly to Bengal in March, 1541, where his deputy had imprudently rebelled against his authority. He dismissed the rebel, "changed the military character of the provincial administration and substituted a completely new mechanism, at once original in principle and efficient in working". The province was divided into several districts, each of which was to be governed by an officer appointed directly by him and responsible to him alone.

Sher Shah next turned his attention against the Rajputs of the west, who had not yet recovered fully from the blow of Khanau. Having subjugated Malwa in A.D. 1542, he marched against Puran Mal of Raisin in Central India. After some resistance the garrison of the fort of Raisin capitulated, the Rajputs agreeing to evacuate the fort on condition that they were allowed to pass "unmolested" beyond the frontier of Malwa. But the Afghans fell furiously on the people of the fort as soon as the latter had come outside the walls. To save their wives and children from disgrace, the Rajputs took their lives, and themselves died to a man, fighting bravely against their formidable foe, in 1543. The Raisin incident has been condemned by several writers as a great blot on the character of Sher Shah. Sind and Multan were annexed to the Afghan Empire by the governor of Punjab. There remained only one more formidable enemy of Sher Shah to be subdued. He was Maldev, the Rajput ruler of Marwar, a consummate general and energetic ruler, whose territories extended over about 10,000 sq. miles. Instigated by some disaffected Rajput chiefs whose territories had been conquered by Maldev, Sher Khan led an expedition against the Rathor chief in AD 1544. Maldev, on his part, was not unprepared. Considering it inadvisable to risk an open battle with the Rathors in their own country, Sher Shah had recourse to a stratagem. He sent to Maldev a few forged letters, said to have been written to him by the Rajput generals, promising him their help, and thus succeeded in frightening the Rathor ruler, who retreated from the field and took refuge in the fortress of Sivan. In spite of this, the generals of the Rajput army, like Jeta and Kama, with their followers opposed Sher Shah's army and fought with desperate valour, but only to meet a warrior's death. Sher Shah won a victory, though at great cost, with the loss of several thousand Afghans on the battlefield and coming near to losing his empire. The Rajputs lost a chance of revival and the path was left open for undisputed Afghan supremacy over Northern India. After this success, Sher Shah reduced to submission the whole region from Ajmer to Abu and marched to besiege the for of Kalinjar. He succeeded in capturing the fort, but died from an accidental explosion of gunpowder on the 22nd may, 1545.

A brave warrior and a successful conqueror, Sher Shah was the architect of a brilliant administrative system, which elicited admiration even from eulogists of his enemies, the Mughuls. In fact, his qualities as a ruler were more remarkable than his victories on the field of battle. His brief reign of five years was marked by the introduction of wise and salutary changes in every conceivable branch of administration. Some of these were by way of revival and reformation of the traditional features of the old administrative systems of India, Hindu as well as Muslim, while others were entirely original in character, and form, indeed, a link between ancient and modern India. "No government-not even the British," affirms Mr. Keene, "has shown so much wisdom as this Pathan." Though Sher Shah's government was a highly centralized system, crowned by a bureaucracy, with real power concentrated in the hands of the King, he was not an unbridled autocrat, regardless of the rights and interests of the people. In the spirit of an enlightened despot, he "attempted to found an empire broadly based upon the people's will".

For convenience of administration, the whole Empire was divided into forty-seven units (sarkars), each of which was again divided into several paraganas. The paragana had one Ami , one Shiqdar, one treasurer, one Hindu writer and one Persian writer to keep accounts. Over the next higher administrative unit, the sarkar, were placed a Shiqdar-I-Shiqdaran and a Munsif-I-Munsifan to supervise the work of the paragana officers. To check undue influence of the officers in their respective jurisdictions, the King devised the plan of transferring them every two or three years, which, however, could not be long-enduring owing to the brief span of his rule. Every branch of the administration was subject to Sher Shah's personal supervision. Like Asoka and Harsha, he acted up to the maxim that "it behooves the great to be always active". Sher Shah's land revenue reforms, based on wise and humane principles, have unique importance in the administrative history of India; for they served as the model for future agrarian systems. After a careful and proper survey of the lands, he settled the land revenue direct with the cultivators, the State demand being fixed at one-fourth or one-third of the average produce, payable either in kind or in cash, the latter method being preferred. For actual collection of revenue the Government utilized the services of officers like the Amins, the Maqadams, the Shiqdars, the Qanungos and the Patwaris. Punctual and full paying of the assessed amount was insisted on and enforced, if necessary, by Sher Shah. He instructed the revenue officials to show leniency at the time of assessment and to be strict at the time of collection of revenues. The rights of the tenants were duly recognized and the liabilities of each were clearly defined in the kabuliyat (deed of agreement), which the State took from him, and the patta (title-deed), which it gave him in return. Remissions of rents were made, and probably loans were advanced to the tenants in case of damage to crops caused by the encampment of soldiers, or the insufficiency of rain. These revenue reforms increased the resources of the State and at the same time conduced to the interest of the people.

The currency and tariff reforms of Sher Shah were also calculated to improve the general economic condition of his Empire. He not only introduced some specific changes in the mint but also tried to rectify "the progressive deterioration of the previous Kings". He reformed the tariff by removing vexatious customs and permitting the imposition of customs on articles of trade only at the frontiers and in the places of sale. This considerably helped the cause of commerce by facilitating easy and cheap transport of merchandise. This was further helped by the improvement of communications. For the purpose of imperial defense, as well as for the convenience of the people, Sher Shah connected the important places of his kingdom by a chain of excellent roads. The longest of these, the Grand Trunk Road, which still survives, extends for 1,500 kilos from Sonargaon in Eastern Bengal to the Indus. One road ran from Agra to Burhanpur, another from Agra to Jodhpur and the fort of Chitor, and a fourth from Lahore to Multan. Following the traditions of some rulers of the past, Sher Shah planted shad-giving trees on both sides of the established roads, and sarais or rest-houses at different stages, separate arrangements being provided for the Muslims and the Hindus. These sarais also served the purpose of post-houses, which facilitated quick exchange of news and supplied the Government with information from different parts of the Empire. The maintenance of an efficient system of espionage also enabled the ruler to know what happened in his kingdom.To secure peace and order, the police system was reorganized, and the principle of local responsibility for local crimes was enforced. Thus the village headmen were made responsible for the detection of criminals, and maintenance of peace, in the rural areas. The efficiency of the system has been testified to by all the Muslim writers. "Such was the state of safety of the highway," observes Nizam-ud-din, who had no reason to be partial towards Sher Shah, "that if any one carried a purse full of gold (pieces) and slept in the desert (deserted places) for nights, there was no need for keeping watch."

Sher Shah had a strong sense of justice, and its administration under him was even-handed, no distinction being made between the high and the low, and not even the near relatives of the King being spared from its decrees. In the paragana, civil suits were disposed of by the Amin, and other cases, mostly criminal, by the Qazi and the Mir-I-Adal. Several paraganas had over them a Munsif-I-Munsifan to try civil cases. At the capital city there were the Chief Qazi, the imperial Sadr, and above all, the Emperor as the highest authority in judicial as in other matters. Though a pious Muslim, Sher Shah was not a fierce bigot. His treatment of the Hindus in general was tolerant and just. He employed Hindus in important offices of the State, one of his best generals being Brahamjit Gaur. "His attitude towards Hinduism," observes Dr. Qanungo, "was not of contemptuous sufferance but of respectful deference; it received due recognition in the State." Sher Shah realized the importance of maintaining a strong and efficient army, and so reorganized it, borrowing largely the main principles of 'Ala-ud-din Khalji's military system. the services of a body of armed retainers, or of a feudal levy, were not considered sufficient for his needs; he took care to maintain a regular army, the soldiers being bound to him, through their immediate commanding officer, by the strong tie of personal devotion and discipline. He had under his direct command a large force consisting of 150,000 cavalry, 25,000 infantry, 300 elephants and artillery. Garrisons were maintained at different strategic points of the kingdom; each of these, called a fauj, was under the command of a faujdar. Sher Shah enforced strict discipline in the army and took ample precautions to prevent corruption among the soldiers. Besides duly supervising the recruitment of soldiers, he personally fixed their salaries, took their descriptive rolls and revived the practice of branding horses.

Sher Shah is indeed a striking personality in the history of Medieval India. By virtue of sheer merit and ability he rose from a very humble position to be the leader of Afghan revival, and one of the greatest rulers that India has produced. His "military character" was marked by "a rare combination of caution and enterprise"; his political conduct was, on the whole, just and humane; his religious attitude was free from medieval bigotry; and his excellent taste in building is well attested, even today, by his noble mausoleum at Sasaram. He applied his indefatigable industry to the service of the State, and his reforms were well calculated to secure the interests of the people. He had, remarks Erskine, "more of the spirit of a legislator and a guardian of his people than any prince before Akbar". In fact, the real significance of his reign lies in the fact that he embodied in himself those very qualities which are needed for the building of a national State in India, and he prepared the ground for the glorious Akbaride regime in more ways than one. But for his accidental death after only five years' rule, the restoration of the Mughuls would not have been accomplished so soon. As Smith observes: "If Sher Shah had been spared, the 'Great Moghuls' would not have appeared on the stage of history." His right to the throne of India was better than that of Humayun. While Humayun had inherited the conquests of a Central Asian adventurer, who had not been able to create any strong claim, except that of force, for the rule of his dynasty in India, Sher Shah's family, hailing from the frontier, had lived within India for three generations. Further, the latter's equipment for kingship was exceptionally high, and had achieved a good deal more than the mere conquest of territories.

During his reign Sher Shah gave a new vigourand trend to the early Indian postal system. So in 1970 India released a special postage stamp honouring the memory of this great and popular ruler and one of the early pioneers of a nation-wide postal service. He was born about the year 1472. He was an outstanding administrator. He introduced the new silver rupee-coin "Rupiya" based on a ratio of 40 copper-coin pieces (paisa) per rupee. On his earliest Bengal coins, he inscribed his name as "Sri Ser Sahi" in both Devnagari and Persian scripts. Sher Shah was also a great road-builder. The longest road built on his orders known as the Grand Trunk Road (Shahrah-i-Azim) - now known as National Highway-2. It was during the reign of Sher Shah Suri that the foundation of a well-organised nationwide postal system was laid. The design of the stamp is vertical and depicts a portrait of Sher Shah Suri.

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13.1 Introduction

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