The army of Sher Shah Suri

Sher Shah Suri (also Sher Khan) realized the need of a strong army and in his fight against the Mughals he relied mostly on the Afghans whom he invited from different parts of the country and employed them to positions suitable to everybody’s ability. He declared he would kill every Afghan who refused to be a soldier. He was also very careful of his Afghans in action, that their lives might not be uselessly sacrificed. When the

Afghans heard that Sher Khan was eagerly desirous of patronizing their race, they entered into his service from all directions.

Sher Shah always kept 150,000 cavalry, and 25,000 footmen, either armed with match-locks or bows, present with him, and on some expeditions took even more with him. There were also 5,000 elephants in his elephant-sheds. And in every place where it served his interests, he kept garrisons, e.g., in the fort of Gwalior he kept a force to which were attached 1,000 match-lock men. In Bayana he kept a division, besides a garrison of 500 match-locks; in antambhor another division besides 1,600 match-lock men; in the fort of Chittor, 3,000 match-lock men; in the fort of Shadmabad or Mandu was stationed Suja’at Khan with 10,000 horse and 7,000 match-locks. He had his jagirs in Hindia and Malwa. In the fort of Raisin a force was stationed together with 1,000 artillery men; and in the fort of Chunar, another force also with 1,000 matchlock men; and in the fort of Rohtas, near Bihar, he kept Ikhtiyar Khan Panni, with 10,000 match-lock men : and Sher Shahkept treasures without number or reckoning in that fort. . . (Similarly, at Nagor, Jodhpur, Ajmir, Lucknow, Kalpi, etc. ) The kingdom of Bengal he divided into parts and made Kazi Fazilat Amir of that whole kingdom.

Prof. Qanungo observes that to Sultan Alau-d din Khilji belongs the credit of organising the Indian army on a new model.He created an army recruited directly by the central government, paid in cash from the State treasury, officered by nobles of the Sultan’s own choice. Sher Shah introduced Dagh and Chehra system. The corruption was checked by the dagh ( branding ) system. Every soldier had his chehra (face) recorded and his horse branded with imperial sign. Akbar also followed these practices and organized the army on efficient lines with some changes as he introduced mansabdari system.

The armies of the Lodhis were of the clannish feudal type, consisting of the quotas of various tribal chiefs enjoying jagirs for service. Sher Shah revived the system of Alau-d din Khilji and trans- formed the army ‘into a truly Imperial institution. The soldier obeyed his immediate commanding officer, not as his personal chief, but as the emperor’s servant. The emperor combined in himself the functions of the Commander-in-Chief and the Pay-Master-General. l . . In order to take away from the mili- tary character of the administration, Sher Shah took care that in normal times of peace, the military should remain in the background, only as the support of the civil authority. 2

Among the rules which Sher Shah promulgated, is the branding of horses. And he said he ordered Branding of Horses: it on this account, that the rights of the chiefs and the soldiers mightbe distinct, and that the chiefs might not be able to defraud the soldiers of their rights; and that everyone should maintain soldiers according to his rank (mansab) and not vary his numbers. ” For,” said he, ” in the time of Sultan Ibrahim, and afterwards, I ob- served that many base nobles were guilty of fraud and false- hood, who at the time their monthly salary was assigned to them, had a number of soldiers ; but when they had got pos- session of their jagirs, they dismissed the greater number of their men without payment, and only kept a few men for in- dispensable duties, and did not even pay them in full. Nor did they regard the injury to their master’s interests, of the ingratitude of their own conduct; and when their lord ordered a review or assembly of their forces, they brought strange men and horses, and mustered them, but the money they put into their own treasuries. In time of war, they would be defeated from paucity of numbers; but they kept the money, and when their master’s affairs became critical and disordered, they, equipping themselves with this very money, took service elsewhere; so, from the ruin of their master’s fortunes, they suffered no loss. When I had the good fortune to gain power, I was on my guard against the deceit and fraud of both soldiers and chiefs, and ordered the horses to be branded, in order to block up the road against these tricks and frauds, so that the chiefs could not entertain strangers to fill up their ranks.” Sher Shah’s custom was this that he would not pay their salary unless the horses were branded, and he carried it to such an extent that he would not give anything to the sweepers and women servants about the palace without a brand, and they wrote out descriptive rolls of the men and horses and brought them before him, and he himself compared the rolls when he fixed the monthly salaries and then he had the horses branded in his presence. The great Akbar after him attempted system of branding of the horses, but failed, and his secretary Abu Fazal contemptuously observes that Sher Shah sought the applause of prosperity by reviving the regulation Alauddin Khilji of which he had read, but the remark is typical of Akbar’s panegyrist, whose bitterness may perhaps be explained by his master’s failure.

1. Qanungo, op. cit., pp. 361-63.

2, Ibid., p. 353.

Mughal Empire In India 1526 1761 Part I”

sher shah suri


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