Khushal Khan Khattak

By Henry George Raverty (written in 1862)

Khushal Khan, the renowned chieftain of the powerful Afghan tribe of Khattak – alike a warrior and poet – was born in the year 1022 of the Hijrah (A.D 1613). Shahbaz Khan, his father, having received a wound in a battle with Yusufzis – one of the most numerous and powerful of all the Afghan tribes – from the effects of which he shortly after died, Khushal, who had also been severely wounded in the head and knee, in the same battle, in the year H. 1050 ( 1640 A.D), with the unanimous consent and approbation of his relations and friends, became chief of his tribe. His father’s fief was confirmed to him by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, together with the charge of protecting the royal road from Attock, on the Indus, to Peshawar; and other duties were entrusted to him by that sovereign, in whose estimation Khushal stood high. He accompanied Sultan Murad Bakhsh, the son of that monarch, on his expedition to Badakhshan in 1645, and was also engaged in other wars of that period.

On the death of Shah Jahan, Khushal continued to serve his son and successor, Aurangzeb, in the same capacity as formerly ; but after some time , through the machinations of his enemies , among whom was Amir Khan, subah-dar or governor of the Kabul province, he fell under the displeasure, or rather suspicion of the monarch, and was sent prisoner to the strong hill fortress of the Gwalior , in upper India (actually it was Ranthambore Fort)  , where he remained in captivity about seven years. At length , at the recommendation of Mahabbat Khan, the second of that name, Aurangzeb released Khushal, and sent him, along with the noble just referred to – who had been lately appointed subah-dar of Kabul – for the purpose of settling the affairs of Peshawar district, which had fallen in to a very distracted state. But the iron had entered into the soul of Khushal, and on reaching his native country, he kept as retired as possible ; ceased to hold any intercourse with the governor of the province, and other subordinate officers ; and declined rendering any assistance to the troops of Emperor.

Khushal’s tribe had been long at feud with many of the other Afghans around Peshawar, amongst whom were the Yusufzais – fighting against whom, as before mentioned, his father lost his life – and was generally engaged in hostilities with one or other of them ; but with the Afridis , who were also powerful, the Khattaks maintained a close alliance. Matters, at length, so far between the Khattak chieftain and the Mughal authorities, as to produce an open rupture. Khushal now girded his loins with the sword of courage , and in concert with Aemal Khan and Darya Khan, chiefs of the Afridis, carried on , for seven or eight years, a determined and destructive war with the Mughals, in which the latter were generally defeated.

The whole of the Afghan tribes from Bannu to Jalalabad, seeing the success of their countrymen over the hated Mughals, had been drawn, by degrees, into the confederacy, which now aimed at no less than the total expulsion of the Mughals from Afghanistan. But the Yusufzais, who could have aided so effectively,  held aloof ; and would render no assistance to their countrymen,  through enmity with the Khattaks, not withstanding that Khushal went in person, even as far as Swat valley, to endeavor to instill into them some of his own and his confederate’s patriotic spirit, but without effect – they were deaf to the voice of the charmer.  

Affairs at Peshawar had assumed such a serious aspect , that Aurangzeb considered it necessary to appear in person on the scene ; and for about two years he remained encamped at Atak, superintending the prosecution of the war ; and that wily monarch , finding force unavailable in such a difficult country , began to try the effect of gold. In this he met with success he desired ; and some of the petty clans of the confederacy became fascinated with gold of the Mughals, and submitted to the government; whilst others of the Khushal’s friends began either to desert him , or to give him cause to doubt their sincerity ; and Aemal Khan and Darya Khan , his most powerful , and most trusty supporters , having been previously removed , by death, from the scene,  such as effect was produced upon the fine spirit of Khushal – that he became disgusted , and sought to find peace in retirement.

At length, he resigned the chieftainship of the Khattak tribe, in favour of his eldest son Ashraf, and devoted himself to books and literature. On Ashraf becoming the chief of the clan, Bahram, another son, who appears to have been always regarded with aversion by his father for his degenerate acts , succeeded in gaining over a considerable party to his side, and appeared bent upon bringing misfortune upon his brother. They met in battle several times ; and on one occasion , Bahram was taken prisoner, but succeeded, by his artfulness and duplicity, in exciting the pity of his injured brother, who set him at liberty. Khushal, well aware of the disposition of Bahram, was highly incensed with Ashraf for allowing him to escape so easily, and, as it turned out, not without reason ; for no sooner was Bahram free, then he again commenced his intrigues against Ashraf, and at length,  in the year 1093 H (1681 A.D) , he succeeded in betraying him into the hands of the Mughals. Aurangzeb sent him prisoner to the strong fortress of Bijapur, in Southern India, where, after lingering from captivity for about ten years, he died.

Afzal Khan, the younger son of Ashraf, now took up arms in his father’s cause, and was installed in the chieftainship by his grandfather, who was still regarded as their natural and rightful chief, by the majority of the tribe ; but the youth and inexperience of Afzal – for he was only seventeen years of age – could not yet cope with the wily Bahram, who was also aided , and upheld by the Mughals. Khushal, therefore, taking Afzal’s youth into consideration, and in order to prevent his clansmen from shedding the blood of each other, interfered between the contending parties, fearing that the tribe might hesitate to obey one of such inexperience, and allowed Bahram to enjoy the chieftainship, advising  Afzal to bide his time, and not lengthen his father’s captivity by opposition for the present. Afzal, therefore, retired with his family into the friendly country of Afridis.

Not content with this success in all his schemes, Bahram would not allow his aged father to end his days in peace. Several times he made attempts upon his life. He once dispatched his son Mukarram Khan , with a body of troops, to endeavor to secure the old man’s person. Mukarram went, as directed, against his grandfather ; but the brave old chieftain , who had attained his 77th year , having discovered the party from the place of his retreat, advanced to meet them with his drawn sword in his hand, at the same time – to quote the words of Afzal Khan, his grandson, already alluded to , who subsequently wrote a history of these events – exclaiming , “whoever are men amongst you, come to the sword,  if you dare ; but veneration for the aged chieftain was so predominant in every one’s breast , that no one would make any attempt to lay hands on him ;” and Mukarram, ashamed, returned as he went. Bahram, his father, enraged at his son’s failure , ordered him to return, with directions to kill Khushal with his own hands , if he should refuse to deliver himself up. On Mukarram’s return, to carry out this inhuman order of a degenerate son, the old chief again advanced from his place of shelter , and taking his stand upon the crest of the hill , with his good sword in his hand, again dared them to approach ; and in this manner is said to have been remained on the watch for several days. But no one amongst the party had either the inclination or the courage to face him, whom they still regarded as their natural chief.

Bahram, however, thinking the prey in his toils , had dispatched a message to the Mughal governor at Peshawar , to the effect that the old lion was at length at bay ; and requested him to send a sufficient escort to take charge of him , and conduct him to Peshawar. Khushal, however, having been warned, as soon as night set in , made his escape, after two of the Bahram’s party had lost their lives , and by the next morning succeeded in reaching the boundary of Afridi tribe – who had always been his friends –  a distance of 90 miles from Akorrah , the scenes of the occurrences just related.

Khushal took up his residence in the Afridi country, and returned no more to the home of his fathers, which he loved so well. He died as he had lived, free, among the mountains of his native land, in the 78th year of his age. Before taking his departure from a world , in which he had drunk so deeply of the bitter cup of treachery and unfaithfulness , he particularly charged those few children and friends, who had remained faithful to him through all his trials and misfortunes , that they should bury him where – to use his own words – “the dust of the hoofs of the Mughal cavalry might not light upon his grave ; ” and that “they should carefully conceal his last resting place , lest the Mughals might seek it out , and insult the ashes of him , at whose name , whilst in life, they quailed ; and by whose sword , and that of his clansmen, their best troops had been scattered like chaff before the gale”.  A third request was, that in case any of his faithful children should succeed , at any time, in laying hands upon Bahram the Malignant, they should divide his body into two parts , and should burn one half at the head of his grave , and the other at the foot. He was buried , accordingly, at a place named I-surraey , a small hamlet in the Khattak mountains , where his tomb may still be seen ; and, according to his dying request, his last resting place was kept concealed, till all danger of insult from Mughals had passed away.

Khushal Khan was father of fifty seven sons, beside several daughters ; but , with the exception of four or five of the former , they do not appear to have been particularly worthy of their parent’s affection.

Khushal from all accounts was voluminous author , and is said to have composed about three hundred and fifty different works. This, however, must be greatly exaggerated ; nevertheless he is the author of numerous works , which i have myself seen , both in Persian, and in the Pashto , or Afghan, consisting of Poetry , Medicine,  Ethics, Religious Jurisprudence, Philosophy, Falconry, etc, together with an account of the events of his own chequered life. It is greatly to be regretted , however, that his descendants after his death , had not the opportunity to collect all his writings together ; and the upshot is, that many are known only by name. Amongst those which have thus been lost or dispersed is, the autobiography i have referred to.

Some of the Khushal’s poetical effusions , written during his exile in India, and whilst struggling against the power of Aurangzeb, will, i think , be considered highly of, even in the form of a literal translation, and in an English dress, as coming from the pen of an Afghan chief, cotemperory with the times of our Charles I, evincing, as they do, a spirit of patriotism, and love of home and country , not usual in the oriental heart , but such as we might look for in the Scottish highlander , or Swiss mountaineer, of bygone days, whom the hardy Afghans strongly resemble .

Upon the time of Khushal’s chieftainship , the bounds of the Khattak country were not well-defined ; and that is to say , each family of the tribe had no fixed lands allotted to them. Khushal caused a survey to be made of all available land ; fixed the boundaries, ; entered them in a register ; and ; according to the number of each man’s family , assigned a corresponding quantity of land for cultivation. This arrangement is still in force , and hitherto has not, that i am aware of, been deviated from ; and many small towers of stone, erected to mark the different boundaries, still remain. 

Source: “Selections from the poetry of the Afghans : from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century” by H.G.Raverty, from page 142 to 148.


Khushal Khan Khattak
Ranthambore Fort


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