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Masum Khan Kabuli


Masum Khan Kabuli an Afghan chief, and leader of the mutiny of Mughal military officers in Bengal and Bihar against emperor Akbar. A Saiyid of Turbat in Khorasan, he was the foster brother of Mirza Muhammad Hakim, brother of emperor Akbar and the governor of Kabul. His real name is Abul Fath Muhammad Ma'sum Khan, but he is better known as Masum Khan Kabuli.

Masum Khan was virtually the right-hand man of Mirza Hakim. When Sulaiman Mirza of Badakhshan attacked Kabul and laid siege to it in 1566, Mirza Hakim fled towards Gharband (in north of Kabul) leaving the charge of Kabul to Masum Khan Kabuli who inflicted a severe defeat upon the invader and forced him to return to Badakhshan. But subsequently, on the issue of Musum's conflict with Khwaja Hasan Naqshbandi, husband of a sister of Mirza Hakim, and Hakim's undue favour to Naqshbandi seriously alarmed Masum Khan of his position, and he left Mirza Hakim to attend Akbar's court in 1579. The emperor gave him a command (mansab) of 500 sawar and granted him an estate in Patna. After his victory in a battle against Kala Pahar, general of Sulaiman Karrani, the emperor was pleased to promote him to the command of a thousand sawar. He also sent a commendatory letter to Masum Khan with a horse and a special robe of honour.

Masum Khan could not, however, maintain good relation with the emperor and soon came into conflict with him. The tradition states that Masum Khan was forced into rebellion because of the unwise policy of Muzaffar Khan Turbati, Mughal viceroy of Bengal, and of other officers in Bihar. Muzaffar Khan immediately after his appointment as subahdar of Bengal in 1579 proceeded to carry out the stringent regulations regarding the collection of revenue and branding of horses. In obedience to an imperial farman he changed the jagirs of most of the amirs of Bengal. A similar situation arose in Bihar. Mulla Taiyab and Rai Purukhotam, the diwan and the Bakhshi respectively, changed the jagir of Masum Khan, Arab Bahadur, Surkh Badakhshi and the other amirs, treated them harshly and thus pushed them to be antagonists.

The various imperial generals posted at different parts of Bengal and Bihar gathered an immense amount of treasure by plunder and extortion. And now within a few months a serious situation accrued in Bengal and Bihar from the attempt of the newly arrived civil officers to bring the imperial military officers there to account and stop their illegal gains. The result was a mutiny of the military officers in these two provinces against unauthorised revenue collections and land usurpation.

Masum Khan Kabuli promptly availed of the opportunity. He in collaboration with the discontented amirs in Bihar including Arab Bahadur and Surkh Badakhshi, incited the military officers and organized them so effectively that they declared rebellion. By this time, the partisans of Masum Kabuli made a liaison with the discontented officers in Bengal. The Bengal officers bent on rebellion left Tanda on 19 January 1580, and nine days later openly declared their rebellion. The Bihar mutineers under Masum Khan Kabuli formed a league with their brethren in Bengal. Masum Khan entered into negotiations with the Qaqshals of north Bengal (Ghoraghat), made pact with them and proceeded towards Gaur to join them. Khwaja Shamsuddin was sent by Bengal viceroy Muzaffar Khan Turbati to check his advance through the Teliagarhi pass, but was defeated. Masum Khan took possession of Teliagarhi and joined the Qaqshals.

Muzaffar Khan Turbati, Mughal subahdar of Bengal, being unable to cope with the situation shut himself up in the fort of Tanda. The next morning, the combined force of the rebels swarmed into the fort and began to plunder the accumulated treasures of the imperial officers lodged there. On 19 April 1580, Muzaffar Khan Turbati was put to death by the rebels. Mirza Muhammad Hakim was declared as emperor, and Khutba was read in his name. New offices, high titles and fiefs were lavishly distributed among the mutiny leaders on behalf of the new sovereign. Masum Khan Kabuli was declared as regent plenipotentiary (wakil) on behalf of the absent Mirza Hakim, and he chose the title Khan-i-Dauran. Baba Khan Qaqshal styled himself Khan-i-Khanan and was appointed viceroy of Bengal. Thus Bengal and Bihar were formally cut off from the empire of Akbar.

The emperor sent Raja Todar Mal with Sadiq Khan, Tarsun Muhammad Khan and other amirs to quell the rebellions. When the imperial army arrived at the town of Munghyr, Masum Kabuli along with the Qaqshals and Mirza Shamsuddin Husain came forward to oppose them with 30,000 horse, 500 elephants and a large flotilla and artillery. In the face of the advancing rebels, Raja Todar Mal shut himself up in the fort of Munghyr which was promptly besieged by the rebels. After four months of the siege, there was a crisis of food in the camp of the rebels. Baba Khan Qaqshal, then suffering from cancer, was on the point of death. The Qaqshal leaders lost heart and showed inclination to join the imperialists. So the solidarity of the confederacy had virtually gone, and Masum Khan was forced to go away towards Bihar. Raja Todar Mal followed Masum Kabuli to Bihar. But the latter made a sudden might attack upon the quarters of Sadiq Khan with some success. In a counter attack by Sadiq Khan, however, Masum Khan was defeated. In south Bihar, an imperial detachment marching from Patna, against Masum Kabuli, took Bihar city, Gaya and Sherghati (end of September 1580). Masum then retreated towards Bengal. By this time, Akbar's troops entered Kabul (3 August 1580) and forced Mirza Muhammad Hakim to flee to the hills.

After the death of Baba Khan Qaqshal, Masum Khan became the absolute leader of the rebels. He made pacts with Qutlu Lohani who was the master of Orissa and some parts of South Bengal. It was at that time that Masum Khan curved out a territory in Bengal for himself and assumed the sovereign title of Sultan-al-Azam (the great sultan). This is evidenced by an inscription found in a ruined mosque at village Chatmohar in Pabna district. The inscription reads as follows: This lofty mosque was built during the reign of the Great Sultan, the Pillar of the Saiyids, Abul Fath Muhammad Ma'sum Khan in 989 AH (1582 AD). As the inscription is dated in 1582 and was found in a mosque in Pabna district it is quite certain that Masum Khan assumed the title of Sultan-al-Azam and ruled over this part of Bengal or its outlying territories at least in that year, if not earlier. The contemporary histories evidence that Masum Khan's political activities were not confined to any region, but they covered almost the whole of Bengal. Masum Khan fought battles against the Mughals in Tanda, Rajmahal, Malda, Dinajpur, Hughli, Bogra and later in Mymensingh and Dhaka districts. Masum Khan was powerful in Bihar and West Bengal for the year 1580, but by 1581 he was expelled from Bihar by the Mughals, and he retreated to Bengal to consolidate his power here. This is evident that between 1581 and 1583 the leadership of the rebels was absolutely in his hands. But after 1583 his power began to wane.

In 1583, Khan-i-Azam, Mughal viceroy in Bengal, advanced via Munghyr and Kahlgawn to the Katigang (a navigation canal near Rajmahal). Masum Khan with his force came up (27 March 1583) to face him. For nearly a month the two armies lay facing each other and discharging guns and muskets only. Dissention soon broke out between Masum Khan and the Qaqshal clan, and many of the rebel leaders were induced by imperial diplomacy to desert to Khan-i-Azam. Masum tried to wreck vengeance on the deserting Qaqshal clan by ravaging their seat, the town of Ghoraghat, and attacking their entrenched position near it, but an imperial detachment sent by Khan-i-Azam rapidly arrived on the spot to save the situation. After the dissolution of Afghan coalition, Masum Khan felt his position precarious. The pressure of the Mughal attacks also began to be strongly felt. Masum then took refuge with his forces in Isa Khan's country.

Meanwhile Masum Khan came out of the Bhati region at the head of a strong force to chastise the Qaqshal leader Mirza Beg Qaqshal who had taken refuge with the Mughal general Tarsun Muhammad Khan at Tajpur (in Dinajpur district). Early in October 1583, when threatened by Masum Kabuli, Tarsun was compelled to shut himself up in a fort, and Masum's men raided upto within 22 kilometers of Tanda. Masum Khan however took his position on the other side of the Jamuna to give battle to the Mughal viceroy Shabaz Khan. In a hotly contested battle that followed (15 November 1583) Masum Khan was defeated and was forced to return towards Bhati. Shahbaz hastened from Tanda to Sherpur (in Bogra), plundered the homes of the rebels making prisoners of their families along with 150 noted men among the Afghans.

Shahbaz Khan then pursued Masum Khan towards the Bhati. Taking advantage of the preoccupation of Isa Khan in Kuch Bihar expedition (1583), Shahbaz Khan proceeded upto Khizrpur, captured two forts of Isa Khan on each side of the river with short resistance, took possession of Sonargoan and plundered Katrabo. The imperial army took Egarasindur and established a fortified base at Tok. Masum fled before the advancing army and took refuge in an island after having narrowly escaped. On his return from Kuch Bihar, Isa Khan along with Masum Kabuli faced Shahbaz Khan, and there were daily skirmishes on land and water. A weak detachment sent by Shahbaz under Tarsun Muhammmad Khan to make a demonstration against Bajitpur was surprised by the army of Masum Khan and cut off. Tarsun was captured, wounded and beheaded.

From Tok Shahbaz sent to Isa Khan demanding either surrender or the expulsion of Masum Khan from his country, but the ruler of Bhati only gained time by delusive promises, and waited for the rainy season. One dark night the Afghans cut the embankment of the Brahmaputra in 15 places, so that Shahbaz's camp and batteries were submerged. After a stubborn fight he just managed to beat this attack off. A battle took place on 30 September 1584 in which Shahbaz on being deserted by his discontented and envious subordinates was forced to leave Bhawal and retreat towards Tanda, abandoning all his accumulations and many of his men as prisoners. Masum Khan then advanced towards Sherpur (Bogra), and a detachment of the Afghans overran the country as far as Malda. In December 1584, Shahbaz Khan advanced against Masum Khan and recovered the lost territories upto Sherpur. Masum Khan unable to withstand the advance of the imperial army took refuge in Fatehabad Pargana (Faridpur).

In March 1585, the Mughal generals Wazir Khan and Sadiq Khan marched against Masum Khan. By this time Masum Khan built two forts at Trimohani (Triveni in Hughli) where the Ganges, the Jamuna and the Sakni join. He left Beg Muhammad and Ulugh Beg in charge of the forts, himself took a lower place and made preparation for resisting the enemy. Isa Khan sent a naval force in support of Masum Khan. There were severe engagements, and on the last day of March 1585, Masum was defeated in a naval battle, his two forts at Trimohani being lost.

In 1586, Isa Khan made peace with the imperialists. As per terms of the peace treaty signed between Isa Khan and Shahbaz Khan, Masum's son was sent to imperial court as a token of submission. It was also decided that the best thing for Masum to do would be to proceed to Makkah for pilgrimage and then come to the court.

Even after this compromise, Masum's fight against the Mughals did not cease. On the issue of Isa Khan's support to Raghudev, a rival of Lakshmi Narayan, king of Kuch Bihar and an imperial vassal, Isa Khan came in conflict with the imperial viceroy Raja Mansimha. When Isa Khan moved to Kuch Bihar to help Raghudev, Mansimha countered this move by detaching a force by land and river under the command of his son Durjan Singh in order that the residence of Isa Khan might be plundered. The river detachment launched indiscriminate plunder in some places and then proceeded towards Katrabo, the family residence of both Isa Khan and Masum Khan Kabuli. The flotilla of Isa Khan and Masum Khan surrounded the river detachment in overwhelming force at a spot 19 kilometers from Vikrampur (5 September 1597), slew Durjan Singh and many of his troops, and took some prisoners. Virtually that was the last encounter of Masum Khan with the imperial forces.

Masum Khan was one of the most interesting personalities of the period contemporary to emperor Akbar's time. He very tactfully mechanised the revolt of the Mughal military officers in Bihar, made a liaison between the Bihar rebels and the rebels in Bengal, and ultimately made himself the absolute leader of the rebels in Bengal. In close cooperation first with the Qaqshals and afterwards with Isa Khan Masnad-i-Ala, he raised a series of dangerous rebellions in the eastern provinces of Bihar and Bengal which seriously occupied the military attention of emperor Akbar for nearly seventeen years (1580-1597).

Masum Khan was a great leader of men and a wonderful organizer. His career is a noble example of heroism, bravery and excellent generalship. He stood always firm and did not falter in times of crisis. His battles against the Mughal generals clearly reveal his qualities as a good strategist. When the Qaqshals treacherously deserted him in the battlefield he very prudently haunted a better ally in the person of Isa Khan of Bhati. With Isa Khan he made a lifelong friendship and jointly resisted the Mughal aggression. He fought the Mughals upto the last, but never compromised or submitted. Himself a stranger to Bengal who came from a far-off country of Afghanistan, Masum Khan in course of time got upper hand in Bengal politics. Though he could not establish a definite and permanent kingdom for himself, he held his sway over the greater part of Bengal. Masum Khan died on 10 May 1599 at his family residence in Katrabo. His tomb is located at Masumabad in Rupganj thana of Narayanganj district inside a ruined mausoleum probably built by himself. [Muazzam Hussain Khan]