Excerpts from Afsana-i-Shahan

Afsana-i-Shahan contains stories of kings, 140 in number, concerning chiefly the rulers of Lodi and Sur dynasties with brief references to Mughal sovereigns up to Akbar and Sultan Muzaffar of Gujarat. Its author Muhammad Kabir Bettani was scion of a learned Afghan family of Jaunpur. His paternal and maternal grandfathers, Shaikh Ali Hizyani and Shaikh Khalil Haqqani, were renowned saints. The former was in the service of Sher Shah Sur.  No date has been assigned to the composition of this work, but it appears to have been completed towards the close of Akbar’s reign. Muhammad Kabir wrote the stories to divert his mind from the intense grief caused by his son’s death.

Despite the fact that Muhammad Kabir himself is an Afghan, no bias is visible against the Mughals nor any out of way partisan feeling for his fellow Afghans. He thus maintained objectivity while writing the work. Moreover, the historian was not apparently linked with the court of any ruler and was not candidate of any worldly favour. It was thus rather easy for him to do justice and give a balanced description of events and persons without fear or favour.

The following are the some of the important aspects of Afghan history which it describes. No other medieval source except this work throws light on them.

The ethnic background of the Afghans

“In the beginning of the ancient times, there lived in Roh on the banks of the river Gomal all the three brothers, Batani, Sarbini and Ghurghusti, who were the sons of the
Afghans. The eldest of them was Batani and he was also chief among the
brothers…and Batani had a few sons and a daughter named Matu. And the progeny of the daughter was numerous, and people named them Mati.” [Hikayat one]

It thus appears from the above-cited passage that the Afghans were the ancient inhabitants of the Suleiman range. In the beginning, they lived on the banks of the river Gomal (which runs through Suleiman mountains) in the form of three brothers, Batanu, Sarbini and Ghurghushti. Batini was the eldest of the brothers and chief of the family. The progeny of his daughter named Matu grew numerous and they are called Mati after her name.

Economic history

The source records that the Afghans besides the pursuit of their profession of agriculture in Roh, were horse traders, and they took horses to Hindustan for sale.

  “In the beginning, the Afghans traded in horses, and brought horses from
the wilayat (of Roh). And they fattened and reared them in Bajwara, as
in Bajwara every article was cheap whether it was corn or fodder. And
afterwards they spread in the wilayat of Hindustan and sold them. [Hikayat one]

Political life of Afghans in Roh

The source recounts the political life of the Afghans in Roh, their original homeland:

“Their (Afghan’s country was Roh….Nobody used to maltreat (lit. to
commit excess over) anybody. They were not subjects of any body, and
they were not the part of any kingdom of a king ……they used to
follow one of the elders of their own tribe. Nobody ruled over them nor
were they under the rule of a king [Hikayat one]

Gomal market of the Afghans

In the beginning of the Afghan society, the Afghans established a market at Gomal. The local tradition of the area confirms the existence of the market. Muhammad Kabir informs us as follows in this context:

“And in the beginning in the ancient times in Roh on
the banks of …. there was a market. It yielded one
lakh rupees or more than that as profit. And it [the market] still
exists” [Hikayat on]

Babur killed an infant son of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi

 ‘Afsana-i-Shahan’ records Babur’s Timurid instinct of shedding
innocent blood, he killed Sultan Ibrahim Lodi’s seven-year-old son.

Babur was slain, his son, who was seven years old, was taken prisoner.
As he was brought before Babur Badshah, the king asked for an ewer. He gave it into his hand (and said), Help me in performing ablutions.
He was the son of a king (and) had never observed how it was done. He
could not help him in performing ablutions. The king flew into a rage, struck the same ewer on his head and the child died on the spot.
[Hikayat thirty-eight] 

Babur mentions
the prince as his captive. But his curious silence about the
prince’s name and his fate, lends veracity to Muhammad Kabir’s

The battle of Surajgarh

The Persian chronicles with the exception of Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi and the Afsana-i-Shahan are silent about the battle of Surajgarh. In this context Abbas Khan Sarwani records;

“Having equipped an army with the money (Bibi Fath Malkah’s gold) he began to seize the country of Bengal and took possession of all the territories on this side of Garhi”

This statement is brief. Muhammad Kabir gives a detailed account in this regard. He says;

“So the Bengalis had also constructed a mud fortress at Surajgarh,
possessed a great strength of [armed] men and made good defence
arrangement. [Sher Khan] therefore dispatched a cavalry force of four
thousand against the Bengalis at Surajgarh [with the instructions] that
having reached [there] , they had to demolish the fortress and push away
the Bengalis from that place. This army reached Surajgarh but could not
dislodge Bengalis as there existed good defence arrangements. They, therefore, wrote to Sher Shah that they [Bengalis] were very powerful
and out of their reach. At this Sher Shah dispatched Isa Khan Niyazi
with an order to proceed [there], demolish the fortress and push away
Bengalis. Isa Khan Niyazi after reaching Surajgarh , made proper
arrangements and raided the fortress. One brother of Isa Khan was slain
at the gate of the fortress. So the men said that so and so had been
killed. ‘Isa Khan said, ‘Go ahead, put forth your strength and break the
door [of the fortress].’So Isa Khan captured that fortress with force. 
[Hikayat fifty-four]   

Social measures of Sher Shah Sur

From amongst the social measures of Sher Shah Sur, the source records that he had stationed a physician resident in every sarai (inn) [Hikayat eighty]

Sher Shah Sur’s criterion of selecting his civil servants

“And to all who were eager to enter his service, he (Sher Shah Sur) gave five instructions. The first is: Do not take any intoxicant. If you have taken before, repent now and take a vow that you will not have it any more as this leads to loss, religious as well as worldly. The second is: Do not take part in any gambling. The third is: Do not ignore the right of men. And the fourth is: Do not give up prayers. The fifth is: Observe fast.

If you are mindful of these pious duties, it will be meritorious for both the worlds. [Hikayat eighty-six]

The strength of Afghans in Hindustan during Sultan Islam Shah Sur’s reign (1545-1553)

“The king (Sultan Islam Shah Sur) said….’ like me there exist nine lakh Afghans (in Hindustan)”

Suleiman Karrani

“Karrani rulers extended large-hearted patronage to the
‘ulama’ and artists. Sulayman Karrani gathered a fairly large number of
‘ulama’ and scholars and showed keen interest in their well-being. He
enjoyed their company and discussed religious problems with them.”[ Hikayat one hundred and thirty]

The Afghans are followers of Imam Abu Hanifah 

“The Afghans had two qualities; first they followed Imam-i-Azam (Imam Abu Hanifah) ….and the second, they made the country habitable.” [Hikayat one hundred and four]

This passage shows that the Afghans were Sunni Muslims and were the followers of Imam Abu Hanifah.

Source: “Afsana-i-Shahan : a critique” by Hussain Khan

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