Sher Shah & Second Afghan Empire (1540–1555)


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The first Afghan kingdom under the Lodis was replaced by the Mughals under Babur in 1526. After a gap of 14 years Sher Shah succeeded in establishing the Afghan rule again in India in 1540. Sher Shah and his successors ruled for 15 years. This period is known as the period of second Afghan Empire.

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Rise Of Sher Shah Suri

Farid, who later came to be called Sher Khan and subsequently Sher Shah, was son of a Jagirdar under the kingdom of Jaunpur.

His father Hasan Khan Sur held the Jagir of Sasaram in Bihar during the rule of Lodis. Sher Shah helped his father in the administration of his Jagir. Later he developed differences with his father and left him.

He served under Afghan nobles. After the death of his father in 1524 he was given his father’s Jagir by Ibrahim Lodi. He had to enter into conflict with his family to take possession of the Jagir. He very effectively managed the Jagir of his father. He also acquired great military and administrative skills. His capabilities made him the leader of Afghans.

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Sher Shah’s Expeditions

Sher Shah wished to establish himself as the undisputed Afghan leader.

He gradually increased his influence and defeated Sultan Mahmud Shah of Bengal. He emerged as the most powerful military commander in the eastern provinces. Sher Shah continued consolidating his position in Bihar. He had to enter into a number of conflicts with prominent Afghan nobles in Bihar and ruler of Bengal. He finally succeeded in establishing himself as the most powerful Afghan chief in Eastern India.

He invaded the Bengal army and defeated them in the battle of Surajgarh (1534). Sher Shah could extract quite a wealth from Bengal which helped him to raise a bigger army. Now he started attacking Mughal territories of Banaras and beyond. Sher Shah captured Gaur (1538) the capital of Bengal.

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Sher Shah & Humayun

Humayun was quite suspicious of Sher Shah’s ambitions but failed to estimate his capabilities. He asked his governor of Jaunpur, Hindu Beg to check the movements of Sher Shah. While Humayun was moving towards Bengal, Sher Shah took control of route to Agra making communication difficult for Humayun.

On the other hand, Hindal Mirza, brother of Humayun, who was supposed to provide supplies for his army, declared his independence. Now, Humayun decided to return to Chunar.

When he reached Chausa (1539), he encamped on the western side of the river Karmnasa. Sher Shah attacked Humayun at the bank of the river and defeated him.

Sher Shah declared himself as an independent king. Humayun could escape but most of his army was destroyed. With difficulty he could reach Agra.

His brother Kamran moved out of Agra towards Lahore leaving Humayun with small force.

Sher Shah now moved towards Agra. Humayun also came forward with his army and the armies of the two clashed at Kannauj. Humayun was defeated badly in the battle of Kannauj (1540).

After defeating Humayun, Sher Khan took control of the Mughal Empire and became sovereign ruler in the year 1540 and assumed the title of Sher Shah. This led to the foundation of Second Afghan Empire.

Sher Shah followed Humayun on his flight till Sindh in the North West. After expelling Humayun he started consolidating his position in Northern and Eastern India.

  • He defeated and conquered Malwa in 1542 which was followed by Chanderi.
  • In Rajasthan he led campaigns against Marwar, Ranthambhore, Nagor, Ajmer, Merta Jodhpur and Bikaner.
  • He defeated rebellious Afghans in Bengal.

By 1545 he had established himself as the supreme ruler from Sindh and Punjab to whole of Rajputana in the West and Bengal in the East. Now he turned towards BundelKhand. Here while besieging the fort of Kalinjar he died in 1545 in an accidental blast of gun powder.

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Administration Under Sher Shah

During his brief rule Sher Shah introduced very important changes in administration and revenue system.

The system of tri-metalism which came to characterise Mughal coinage was introduced by Sher Shah.

  • The term rūpiya had previously been used as a generic term for any silver coin; during his rule the term rūpiya came to be used as the name for a silver coin of a standard weight of 178 grains, which was the precursor of the modern rupee;
  • Gold coins called the Mohur weighing 169 grains;
  • Copper coins called Dam were also minted by his government.

Sher Shah built monuments including –

  • Rohtas Fort (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Pakistan);
  • Many structures in the Rohtasgarh Fort in Bihar;
  • Sher Shah Suri Masjid, in Patna, built-in 1540–1545 to commemorate his reign.

He built a new city Bhera of Pakistan in 1545 and inside the city built historical grand Sher Shah Suri Masjid.

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Sher Shah was succeeded by his son Islam Shah. Islam Shah had to face a number of conflicts with his brother Adil Khan and many Afghan nobles. He died in 1553. The Afghan empire was substantially weakened. Humayun saw an opportunity and moved towards India. He again captured Agra and Delhi in 1555 and established himself as the emperor of India, thus marking an end of the second Afghan Empire.

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Bibliography : NIOS – Medieval India

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