Life and achievements of Hemu, the Hindu general of Adil Shah Sur

Hemu was one of the nobles of insignificant origin, who was employed as a market inspector some time during the reign of Sher Shah. He belonged to the Dhusar caste , which is considered to be a subdivision of Gaur Brahmans, but in medieval times it was supposed to be the lowest caste of Banyas (grocers). Hemu’s father Ramiya followed his ancestral vocation of trade at Rewari, a town in the Sarkar of Mewat. Hemu appears to have been the first member of his family who rose in prominence on account of his talent and ability. Employed as a petty officer , he soon distinguished himself as a competent man to be considered for promotion. He made rapid progress and ultimately became one of the important noble during the reign of Islam Shah. In 1550 he accompanied Islam Shah to Punjab where he was deputed alongwith high nobles to receive Mirza Kamran, in the fort of Rohtas. 

The circumstances following the death of Islam Shah, paved the way for Hemu’s rise to the supreme position in the Afghan nobility. The accession of Adil Shah Sur to the throne after the murder of Firoz Shah, son of Islam Shah caused rebellions , and the Muqtas (governors) of large vilayats began to fight for political supremacy. In an attempt to control the situation , Adil Shah favoured all those noble in whom he reposed confidence. But majority of them could not retain their positions for long. Some of them were killed while others were won over by the rebels. The Hemu’s path to the highest position in the Afghan nobility was cleared.

The displeased Taj Khan Karrani fled from Gwalior towards his Iqta. The Sultan pursued him hotly, overtook and defeated him at Chhibramau (in Farrukhabad district). But the rebel made good his escape , seized several war-elephants and treasures , and then joined his younger brother Sulieman and Imad beyond the Ganges. The Sultan stayed in Chunar and deputed Hemu with a large army to destroy the Karranis.

On Hemu’s departure from Chunar, Ibrahim Khan Sur fled away from the court to rebel against the Sultan. The latter appointed Isa Khan Niazi to overtake him , but Ibrahim inflicted a severe defeat on the pursuing army near Kalpi and put its commander to flight. Thereupon the Sultan moved in person and reached Delhi which had been occupied by the rebel Ibrahim Khan Sur. In Delhi the desertion of Bahar Khan Sarwani, Rao Hussain Jilwani and few other high nobles weakened the position of the Sultan and forced him to retreat to Chunar unsuccessful.

Ibrahim Khan assumption of kingship in Delhi brought him into conflict with Sikander Khan Sur (the Muqta of Punjab) who marched from Punjab for the occupation of Delhi and Agra. Inspite of his numerical inferiority, Sikander Sur inflicted a severe defeat on Ibrahim Sur , towards the close of 1554. Soon afterwards Sikander’s power was challenged by Humayun who started from Kabulafter he had received information of civil war among the Afghans.

At the time of conflict between Humayun and Sikandar Sur, Hemu had cleaned the eastern territories of the Afghan nobles, hostile to Adil Shah Sur. Hemu , having won a grand victory over the Karranis in South Bihar, turned to Bahraich where Rukh Khan Nuhani was in rebellion .Rukh Khan Nuhani was defeated and taken prisoner. Thereafter Hemu appointed trusted officers to carry on the government in the eastern territories.  His own nephew , Taharpal was posted in Hajipur to defend Bihar against the rebels of Bengal. Having made these arrangements , he turned to Chunar where the faithful Afghan nobles were honoured with special robes by Adil Shah on Hemu’s recommendations.

As regard Hemu, he was honoured with the title of Raja Bikramjit and was sent with a huge army for the recovery of Agra and Delhi, which were defenseless due to Sikander Sur’s preoccupation with the Mughals in Sirhind. But on his way Hemu came to know of Ibrahim Sur’s occupation of Kalpi, therefore, he turned to Kalpi, Hemu defeated Ibrahim Sur, who fled to his father, Ghazi Khan Sur, the Muqta of Bayana. Hemu came to Bayana, laid siege to its fort and continued to rain fire on the besieged for three months. But he was forced to raise the siege by the news of the march of Muhammad Khan Sur from Bengal with a large army against Adil Shah. On his retreat Ibrahim Khan Sur fell on him but was again defeated.

Muhammad Khan Sur who had assumed the title of Sultan Jalaluddin Shah in Bengal after the death of Islam Shah, marched towards north India at the head of a huge army with the intention of establishing his power. He captured Jaunpur without meeting any resistance and then moved towards Kalpi.Realizing the seriousness of the matter, Adil Shah rushed to Kalpi and checked his progress. On Hemu’s arrival, Adil Shah decided to fight against Muhammad Khan Sur. Crossing the Jamuna at night, Hemu made a surprise attack on the rival army at Chapparghatta, and swooped down upon the army of Bengal, taking it unaware. As a result the men of Muhammad Khan Sur were thrown into confusion and they found safety only in flight. Muhammad Khan Sur fought bravely with a few followers and was slain (December, 1555).

The victory achieved in the battle of Chapparghatta raised Hemu’s prestige in the Afghan nobility and also strengthened the position of Adil Shah. By this time Sikandar Sur’s power was destroyed and the Mughals had occupied the region upto Delhi and Agra. Their occupation of such a vast area opened the eyes of the Afghans who began to realize the gravity of situation . They decided to cooperate with Adil Shah whose army had achieved victories over the rebels under the distinguished leadership of Hemu. Within a short period from 1553 to 1555, Hemu had fought twenty-two battles and was victorious in all of them. Now the chances of the survival of the Afghan empire had become bright.

The nobles, who held territories in north India and were so dissatisfied with Adil Shah, joined him in the interest of Afghan empire. Adil Shah prepared two armies , one for the occupation of Bengal and the other for the destruction of Mughals. Salim Khan Kakar was appointed the commander of the army of 50,000 sawars, deputed against Bengal, while Hemu had to lead the other army, consisting of 50,000 sawars, 500 war-elephants and a strong park of artillery. But Salim Khan Kakar was killed treacherouslyby Taj Khan Karrani whom Adil Shah had pardoned and deputed to help his commander in Bengal.

Hemu detached Shadi Khan Kakar, one of the high nobles of Adil Shah, with six thousands sawars to oppress the Mughals in the Sarkar of Sambhal. Shadi Khan Kakar succeeded in destroying three thousands sawars of the contingent of Ali Quli Khan in the battle of Ramganga. At the same time Hemu appeared before Agra which the Mughal generals vacated without putting any resistance.

In all the places vacated by the Mughals, Hemu appointed trusted men , both on the ordinary as well as important posts. He did not spare any one disobedient to his king. Having made these arrangements, Hemu proceeded to Delhi and stayed near the city of Tughlaqabad. Hemu’s fame as the hero of twenty-two battles and his large following and the unity of the Afghans, dampened the fighting spirit of the Mughal nobles , left in charge of Delhi after the death of Humayun. Hemu easily occupied the towns of Mehrauli and Tughlaqabad and prepared to make assault  on Sher Garh. He was soon joined by Haji Khan and other Afghan nobles, scattered as a result of conflict between Ibrahim Sur and Sikandar Sur.

Since the strength of the Afghan army increased day by day, Tardi Beg decided to give battle on October 7, 1556. As the battle started at Tughlaqabad, the Mughals fiercely charged the Afghan army and over-swayed its vanguard, right and left wings. Some of the Afghan generals, including Rao Hussain Jilwani were slain. But Hemu, who was unmoved in the center , encouraged his men and fell on the center of the rival army. Unable to face the fierce charge of Hemu, Tardi Beg and his followers took to flight, and Delhi was occupied by Hemu on the same day, where the people welcomed him and his companions.

Hemu enjoyed the confidence of Afghan nobles , and they began to look at him as the savior of the Afghan power after his victory over Tardi Beg. The Afghan nobles rushed to him from different quarters and laid down their lives fighting for their empire under his command. Hemu assigned positions to the nobles according to their status and position.

For the battle of Panipat, Hemu did not wait for the arrival of Haji Khan from Alwar, and Shadi Khan Kakar’s three thousands sawars from Sambhal whom the latter had left behind. But the grave mistake committed by Hemu was that he sent the entire park of artillery in advance to Panipat under a weak guard , led by Mubarak Khan and Bahadur Khan. The Afghan guard was overcame by the Mughals and thus Hemu’s army was deprived of ist very effective weapon. But Hemu cheered up his soldiers and proceeded to face the advancing Mughals in the plain of Panipat.

A fierce battle was fought between the rival parties on 5th November , 1556 in which victory seemed to have chosen the Afghans for its favour in the beginning. The war-elephants of the Afghans pressed the right and the left wings of the Mughals and the latter had began to leave their ground. But they did not allow panic to seize them. As soon as they found it impossible for their horses to hold up the ferocious elephants of the enemy , they came down and started to fight with their swords and lances. They also detached some parties from their reserve body to make over-flanking charges in the rear of the right and left of the Afghan army ; they caused much confusion and entirely stemmed their attacks. This was not all. The best of the Afghan generals were also killed. Shadi Khan Kakar was trampled to death, while Bhagwandas, a gallant general was cut to pieces. Similarly Khwaja Kakar, the father of Shadi Khan, Mahmud Khan Lodi and Qasim Khan Lodi were also slain. Upon these losses, Hmeu himself moved from the center , shook the left wing of the Mughals, and then fell on the Mughal center under the command of Ali Quli Khan. At a time when the Afghans were fighting gallantly under the leadership of Hemu, an arrow pierced Hemu’s eye and made him unconscious in the haudah of his elephant.  His men, thinking their leader dead, took to heels. Hemu was captured and brought before Akbar and Bairam Khan. First Akbar struck him with his sword and then Bairam Khan killed him.

The fall of Hemu in the second battle of Panipat frustrated the hopes of the Afghans to retain power in north India. Inspite of the presence of Sultan Adil Shah in Chunar, the Afghan generals, like Haji Khan, Kamal Khan Lodi and Umar Khan Lodi left for Gujarat. In 1557 Adil Shah himself was defeated and killed by Bahadur Shah, son of Muhammad Khan Sur. His fall sealed the fate of the Afghans in north India.

Book consulted : Sher Shah Sur and his dynasty by Iqtidar Hussain Sidiqui  

Primary sources consulted by Iqtidar Hussain Sidiqui: Waqiat-i-Mushtaqi, Akbarnama, Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, Tarikh-i-Daudi, Afsana-i-Shahan, Tarikh-i-KhanJahani wa Makhzan-i-Afghani, tarikh-i-Shahi, Tabqat-i-Akbari

Hemu did not declare himself an independent king

Some of the modern historians have taken the allegations of the predjuced medieval writers levelled against Hemu seriously without making the critical examination of hisorical facts. None of the historians, Abu Fazal, Nizamuddin and Badauni, suggests that Hemu set himself up as as independent monarch. They merely state that he assumed the title of Raja Bikramjit and other great names. The title Raja Bikramjit was already given to him by Sultan Adil Shah in Chunar (Tarikh-i-Daudi, p-191). No coin of Hemu has been found any where. Only Ahmad Yadgar states that Hemu declared himself sovereign , struck coins and read khutba in his name. But Ahmad Yadgar himself confesses that Hemu acknowledged Adil Shah as his master even after the conquest of Delhi, October 6, 1556. Hemu, therefore, could only assume the insignia of royalty in the interval of a month between Octb. 6 1556 and the battle of Panipat November 5, 1556. But it is extremely improbable that he would commit to such a hazardous enterprise and alienate the Afghan soldiers at a time when he had to concentrate his whole strength against the Mughals. Surrounded by powerful Afghan nobles , he could not become independent of Adil Shah. The Afghan nobles mentioned in the army of Hemu, Shadi Khan Kakar, Husain Khan Faujdar, Rukn Khan Nuhani, Mian Mahmud Lodi, Mian Khwaja Kakar, Ikhtiyar Khan and Mangali Khan were the highest nobles of Adil Shah Sur. As regard the Hindu nobles, they still constituted comparatively a small portion of the nobility. They were Rajya, son of Hemu’s sister and commander of the left wing, Sangram Singh, Teharpal (son of Hemu’s brother) and Bagwan Das. Abu Fazal says, “from foresight he preserved the nominal sovereignty of for Adil and waged brave wars against his opponents. Therefore there is hardly an justification for asserting on the sole testimony of Ahmad Yadgar that Hemu cut off the slender tie of allegiance to Adil Shah and seized the throne for himself. (Book references ; 1-  “The Successors of Sher Shah” by Nirod Bhuson Roy, pp-91-92, 2-“Sher Shah and his dynasty” by I.H.Siddiqui, p-211)

Illustration from Akbarnama depicting tower of skulls of Hindu Hemu and soldiers made by Akbar


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