Sher Shah

Sher Shah emperor of north-eastern India (1540-1545) and founder of the Sur dynasty, was the son of Hasan Khan Sur, Jaigirdar of Sasaram (in Bihar). Born in 1472, his original name was Farid. He left home at an early age and took service under Bahar Khan Lohani, Sultan of Bihar, who gave him the title of Sher Khan (meaning Tiger Lord) for his courage and valour. On the death of Bahar Khan, Sher Khan, as the regent of the sultan's minor son Jalal Khan, became the virtual master of Bihar. Through marriage he gained the strategic fortress of Chunar. At the growth of his power other courtiers of Jalal Khan got jealous of Sher Khan. Being persuaded by their evil design Jalal Khan sought the help of ghiyasuddin mahmud shah, Sultan of Bengal, to free him from the tutelage of Sher Khan. Mahmud sent an army under Ibrahim Khan to attack Bihar on behalf of Jalal Khan Lohani. But Sher Khan defeated the combined forces of Mahmud Shah and Jalal Khan at the battle of Surajgarh (1534). This led Jalal to fall back on Mahmud and paved the way for Sher Khan's ascendancy in Bihar. In 1538 Sher Khan invaded Bengal and defeated Sultan Mahmud Shah. On the advent of humayun, the Mughal emperor, he left Bengal. He assumed the title of 'Shah' after defeating the emperor in the battle of Chausa (near Buxar) in 1539, recaptured Bengal and appointed Khizr Khan as its governor. Next year he again defeated Humayun, drove him out of India and captured the throne of Delhi.

In a brief reign of only five years (1540-1545), Sher Shah established peace and order in the empire and remodelled its administration. He divided his empire into 47 Sarkars and subdivided each Sarkar into a number of Parganas. In this system Bengal had 19 Sarkars. Shiqdar-i-Shiqdaran (Shiqdar-in-Chief) and Munsif-i-Munsifan (the chief Munsif), two high officials, were appointed in each Sarkar to look after the work of pargana officers like, shiqdar, Amin, munsif, patwari, chowdhury, muqaddam and Qarqun. Revenue, fixed at one-fourth of the gross produce after proper measurement of land, was payable either in cash or in kind. He assured the proprietary right of the raiyats over land for the first time by introducing the system of Patta (deed of right) and Kabuliyat (deed of agreement) and advanced loans to tenants to encourage agriculture.

Sher Shah reformed currency and improved trade and commerce by abolishing vexatious duties. A network of excellent roads, connecting the capital Agra with outlying areas of the empire and having sarais (inn), mosques and temples at regular intervals, improved communication. His most important road was the Sarak-i-Azam which ran for 3000 miles from sonargaon to Multan via Agra, Delhi and Lahore, with shade-giving trees on both sides. This road came to be known as the grand trunk road in the Colonial period. He introduced a novel device for easy and quick dispatch of government orders and messages, to and from the capital, by relay of horses. Sarais, besides providing shelters for traders, travellers and government servants (specially under order of transfer), served as dak-chowkis (stations for changing post horses) as well.

The sultan remodelled the police system, made village headmen responsible for the maintenance of peace in their respective areas and prevented crimes like drinking and adultery through Muhtasibs. He maintained a strong standing army and an efficient espionage system. A man with a strong sense of justice, the sultan was the highest court of appeal, both for civil and criminal cases. Next to him was the Qazi-ul-Quzzat. In the Parganas the Qazi administered criminal cases while the Amin looked after the civil ones. Panchayets decided the civil cases of the Hindus.

The sultan made liberal grants for charitable purposes, opened free public kitchens for the poor, founded madrasas, mosques and important buildings, laid out gardens, erected hospitals, sarais etc. His excellent taste in building is well attested by his noble mausoleum at Sasaram. Sher Shah was a pious Muslim. He was not a bigot and was tolerant towards the Hindus. He combined the qualities of a military leader, a sagacious monarch and a capable and far-sighted statesman. [Muhammad Ansar Ali]