The Sur Empire

The first half of the 16th century AD witnessed the Afghan- Mughal contest for power in the Sub-continent. After defeating Humayun, Sher Shah Suri emerged as a powerful Pashtun Afghan ruler and established the Sur Empire. The Empire’s strength lay in the great administrative capacity and reforms of the ruler, aimed at the benefit of people. The Empire boasts of extremely well thought of governmental systems and policies as well as great architectural marvels.
Created On: Dec 13, 2017 12:28 IST
Modified On: Dec 13, 2017 12:26 IST

After Ibrahim Lodi was defeated by Babur in 1526 AD (first battle of Panipat), the Afghan chiefs who were still powerful, gathered together under the leadership of Sher Shah Suri to mark their discontent against the alien rule. As a result the Sur Empire of Pashtun origin (the tribal house of Sur) came to power and ruled a massive territory of Northern part of South Asia from 1540-1556 AD, with their capital as Delhi. The empire’s major strength is in the fact that it disturbed the hold of the Mughal Empire under Humayun.

The Sur Empire

The Sur Dynasty controlled the major territories of Mughals east to west, from current day’s eastern Afghanistan to Bangladesh. Establishing a strong hold over the throne for nearly 17 years, the Sur Empire also systematized administrative reforms, promoted economic growth and created a trustworthy relationship with the public. However, when their rule ended with the reinstitution of the Mughal Empire, the Surs belonged to the sub-Groups of Ghilzais.

Military Achievements of Sher Shah Suri

1. Encounter on the fort of Chunar and Sher Shah’s diplomatic surrender.

2. Battle of Chausa with Humayun and Sher Shah’s victory.

3. Batttle of Kannauj and Sher Shah’s decisive victory over Humayun. With the victory at Kannauj, Sher Shah became the ruler of Delhi. Agra, Sambhal and Gwalior etc., also came under his sway. This victory ended the rule of the Mughal dynasty for 15 years.

4. Battle at Surajgarh (1533 AD): He defeated the combined forces of the Lohani chiefs of Bihar and Mohamud Shah of Bengal at Surajgarh. With this victory, whole of Bihar came under Sher Shah.

5. Invasion of Bengal: He plundered Bengal several times and by capturing Gaur, the capital of Bengal, forced Mohammad Shah to seek refugee with Humayun.

6. Conquest of Punjab (1540-42 AD): He immediately conquered Punjab from Kamran (Brother of Humayun) after his accession to the throne .

7. Suppression of Khokhars (1542 AD): He suppressed the turbu­lent Khokhars of the northern region of river Indus and Jhelum.

8. Conquest of Malwa (1542 AD): The ruler of Malwa had not helped Sher Shah in his struggle with Humayun. Therefore he attacked Malwa and annexed it to his empire.

9. Conquest of Raisin: He attacked Raisin – a Rajput principality and besieged it. Rajput ruler Purnamal entered into an agreement with Sher Shah that if he surrendered, his family would not be harmed. However Sher Shah did not honour this agreement.

10. conquest of Multan and Sind (1543 AD):  Sher Shah conquered and annexed these provinces into his empire.

11. Conquest of Marwar (1543-1545 AD): He brought Marwar under his control by forged letters and sowing dissensions in the army of Maldev, the ruler of Mewar.

12. Conquest of Kalinjar (1545  AD) and death of Sher Shah:  He launched a fierce attack. He won but lost his life when he was grievously injured by the blast.

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Central Administration

The Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi (History of Sher Shah), by Abbas Khan Sarwani, provides detailed citations about Sher Shah's administration. As a skilled and proficient administrator, Sher Shah divided the empire into provinces, but held the central authority of administration with him and he exercised the power for the benefit of the people.

1. Each administrative branch was in Sher Shah's personal supervision. He held all the threads of policy and civil and military command in his hands.

2. His ministers had no authority to initiate any policy or propose a change in ways of transactions and administrative setups. They were however in charge of the routine work of administration on a daily basis.

3. Like the Sultanate period, Sher Shah also appointed four important ministers which are given:

I. Diwan-i-Wazarat:  Financial Department
II. Diwan-i-Ariz: Military Department
III. Diwan-i-Risalat: Department for royal orders, and
IV. Diwan-i-Insha: Department for religious matters, foreign affairs and judiciary

4. Sher Shah's re-established law and order across his empire with severe punishments for criminals, robbers and also the Zamindars disobeying his government.

Provincial Administration

1. The empire was divided among 47 separate units called Sarkars which were further subdivided into Parganas.

2. Officers included the Munsifs- for revenue collection, The Amirs- to hear the Civil Cases, The Qazis or Mir-i-adals- heard the criminal cases and the Muqqadams- to chase and arrest the culprits.

3. The administrative structure of each pargana included its individual law-keeper called Ami, treasurer and account keepers.

4. The Sarkar (higher administrative units), had officers like Shiqdar-I-Shiqdaran and a Munsif-I-Munsifan who supervised the work of the paragana officers.

5. Rotation of officers across Empire was planned to keep a check on their performance. The rotation would occur every 2-3 years.

6. Important places of the Kingdom, under Sher Shah were connected by excellent roads for smoother military and trade movement. The longest of the roads, was called the Sadak-e-Azam or the "Badshahi Sadak" (which the british renamed as "Grand Trunk Road") and exists till date.

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Local Administration

Sher shah improved the law and order situation by making the local people responsible.

1. He appointed two persons with equal rank at Paragana and Sarkar levels, which divided the supervisory functions and hence ensured the stability of power.

2. At the local level there were village panchayats and Zamindars who were responsible for settling disputes and punishing the guilty. They reported to the qazi in each state.

3. The network of roads restored by Sher Shah includes roads from Sonargaon in Bangladesh to Indus in the west. He also orderd the connectivity of roads from Lahore and Multan, Agra, Jodhpur, Chittor and with the ports in Gujarat.

4. For the convenience of travelers, sarais or inns were built roughly at every eight kilometers along the roads. The government maintained them from the revenues of surrounding villages.

5. The Sarais were also the centres for post (dak chowki) that helped keep Sher Shah in being informed about the minutest activities in the Empire.

Revenue Administration

The head for revenue and finance administration was called the Diwan-i-Wazarat or the Wazir. He also exercised a supervisory power over other ministers. However, Sher Shah took keen personal interest in the abstract of income and expenditure of his kingdom and also made enquiries regarding the finances and dues from the Parganas.

1. Land was classified into 3 categories for calculating the revenue based on the yield and measurement of land.

2. Schedules of rates were put up that fixed the revenue of land in terms of cash. ‘Pattas' were issued to the peasants and 'Qabuliyats' were received from them.

3. He had established a famine relief fund which was maintained by collecting two and half seers per bigha from the peasants.

4. Standardization of the coins of gold, silver, and copper, was done which also introduced standard weights and measures. Tolls were collected twice; once at the time of entry to the country and at the time of sales.

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Military Administration

The empire had a large standing army of cavalry, infantry, elephants and artillery.

1. Soldiers were recruited daily by dispensing their tribal levies.

2.  Set up a system of Dagh i.e. branding for his horses to ensure they are not replaced by inferior horses.

3.  The descriptive roll of soldiers i.e. huliya was maintained for the same reason.

4. He strived to keep his army efficient.

Sur Architecture

Monuments built during the reign of Sher Shah include:

1. Rohtas Fort (UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pakistan)

2. Several structures in the Rohtasgarh Fort in Bihar

3. Masjid in Patna in honor and rememberance of his reign- Sher Shah Suri Masjid

4. A new city of Bhera  was built in Pakistan in 1545 AD which incorporated the ''Grand Sher shah Suri Masjid".

5. A mosque at Purana Quila Delhi called the Qila-i-Kuhna mosque was built in 1541 AD.

6. Humayun citadel whose construction began in the 1533 AD, and was extended, along with the building of Sher Mandal, (octagonal structure within the Purana Qila complex), which Humayun used as a library.

Sher Shah Suri is also referred as Sher Khan or the Lion King administrator of medieval India. His administration included a blend of old institutions and new spirit to serve the interest of the people.

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