Shēr Shāh Sūr Becomes Emperor of Delhi Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Shēr Shāh Sūr twice defeated Humāyūn, the second Mughal emperor, and ruled northern India, establishing administrative and political techniques later followed by the emperors of the restored Mughal Dynasty.

Summary of Event

The time of the Mughal Dynasty of the early sixteenth century marked perhaps the golden age of India. From Bābur’s victory over the Lodī sultans at the Battle of Panipat in 1526 until the death of ՙĀlamgīr in 1707, the Mughals dominated the Indian subcontinent as few before them had done. It was an era of glory and great accomplishments, a civilization that melded Indian, Persian, Islamic, and Hindu qualities and characteristics. Shēr Shāh Sūr Bābur Humāyūn Ṭahmāsp I Islām Shāh Sūr Akbar

India in the sixteenth century, however, could well have taken a different road, with the Mughals a footnote to India’s long history. What has appeared inevitable to later generations was not obvious to observers in the 1530’s and 1540’, when it appeared likely that the future of India lay in the hands of Shēr Shāh Sūr and not in those of Bābur’s heir, his son Humāyūn.

After Bābur’s victory at Panipat, it had been likely that many of Bābur’s supporters would abandon the Ganges valley plain and the Delhi region to return instead to Afghanistan with loot and glory. Bābur, however, convinced most of his military contingent to remain in India and help to establish an empire. Bābur sent his son and heir Humāyūn to Afghanistan to plan for the conquest of Central Asia’s Samarqand region, Bābur’s goal for more than two decades. In 1529, informed that his father Bābur was near death, Humāyūn hurried back to Delhi. Bābur died the following year and, at the age of twenty-two, Humāyūn became the second Mughal emperor.

Humāyūn would rule his Indian empire for just over ten years between 1530 and 1556, however. Like Bābur, Humāyūn would prove to be a formidable campaigner, but unlike his father, he was easily distracted by the pleasures that power gave him, including an appetite for opium. Less ruthless than Bābur and most of the future Mughal emperors, Humāyūn allowed his younger brothers too much freedom and too much power, and all of them attempted to wrest his empire from him. Future Mughal rulers, however, would confine or execute possible rival family members.

The several Lodī warlords who had survived the Lodī sultan’s defeat at Panipat were also a threat to Humāyūn’s rule, including the Afghan Shēr Shāh of the Sūr clan, a clan that entered India in the fifteenth century as retainers of the Lodīs. Shār Shāh had served under Bābur but left Mughal service in 1528 and entrenched himself east of Delhi along the banks of the Ganges River at the fortress of Chunar, where he had earlier acquired lands. Before Humāyūn could deal with the threat posed by Shēr Shāh, however, he faced another threat from the sultan of Gujarat. His subsequent campaigns in Gujarat and in Rājasthān and Malwa were successful, but again he made the mistake of allowing his brothers access to political and military authority.

When Humāyūn returned to the east, he attacked Chunar, but even though it fell after a six-month siege, the mobile Shēr Shāh had moved farther east, seizing Bengal and Bihar. In June, 1539, at Chausa Chausa, Battle of (1539) , the two opponents finally faced each other on the battlefield. The Mughal emperor suffered a disastrous defeat, with many of Humāyūn’s troops either drowned in the Ganges or captured. The following year, in 1540, at the Battle of Kannauj, Kannauj, Battle of (1540) Shēr Shāh was again victorious. Humāyūn had a numerical advantage, having forty thousand warriors to Shēr Shāh’s fifteen thousand, but the latter’s cavalry proved decisive and the Mughal emperor barely escaped with his life.

Humāyūn’s feckless brothers refused him assistance and he was eventually forced to seek sanctuary in Iran with the Ṣafavid ruler, Shah Ṭahmāsp I.

After his victory at Chausa in 1539, Shēr Shāh took the name for which he is best known and had coins struck in his name. He was in his fifties and his reign would last only five years, but during that brief period Shēr Shāh left his mark on northern India. His empire stretched from the Punjab in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east. A major accomplishment was his reconciliation of other ambitious Afghan warriors under his rule and solidifying his control over them. His political and administrative endeavors were aimed at avoiding the possible emergence of major rivals to his rule. Instead of relying upon provincial governors, Shēr Shāh divided his territories into districts, which were again divided into civil, military, and religious areas of responsibility, with all officials subject to rotation every two or three years from district to district. This divided and separate administrative structure made it difficult for any single rival to challenge Shēr Shāh’s power.

Corruption was always an endemic threat to any Indian government, and during his reign, corrupt officials were removed from office. He was a sincere and pious Muslim who generally tolerated Hinduism Hinduism and had Hindus appointed to office on occasion, but his campaigns against the Rājputs led to a massacre of Hindus at Raisin in 1542. Religion;India Military reforms were instituted to ensure that his cavalry of 150,000 and other forces, including 25,000 infantry and 300 elephants, were always ready for war.

Roads were built and improved, notably the Grand Trunk Road, which stretched more than 1,000 miles from eastern Bengal to the Indus River. Trees were planted and post-houses constructed along the roads, and the reduction of duties and taxes upon internal commerce encouraged trade. His silver rupee coins would later form the basis of Mughal coinage. Like so many rulers throughout history, Shēr Shāh was also a builder of note, in Delhi and elsewhere. His most impressive monumental legacy was his own tomb, an octagonal five-story structure at Sarasam, near Varanasi, which would inspire later Mughal emperors.

Shēr Shāh died in 1545, after the successful siege of the Rājput fortress of Kalinjar. A misdirected rocket ignited a series of explosions. Shēr Shāh suffered serious burns and died within a few hours. His son, Islām Shāh Sūr, ascended the throne, but he lacked the disciplined ambition of his father. After Islām Shāh died in 1553, the lands and territories of the Sūrs fell into factional division and terminal weakness. Humāyūn returned from his years of exile in Iran and Afghanistan and reoccupied Delhi by the summer of 1555. The following year he died, and his young son Akbar ascended the Mughal throne.

Significance

The Mughal Dynasty was one of the greatest of the Indian dynasties, and Humāyūn’s son Akbar was one of the most notable rulers in world history. The Sūr Dynasty remains almost unknown to those unaware of the history of early modern India.

Shēr Shāh Sūr is at best a footnote to the glories of the Mughals, but in the 1530’s and 1540’, it appeared that the Mughals would be the footnote to the Sūrs. The accidental explosion at Kalinjar and other vagaries of history, including incompetent successors, led to the fall of the house of Sūr.

Nevertheless, Shēr Shāh Sūr’s influence and impact continued beyond his own lifetime. The Mughals adopted many of his political and administrative approaches and techniques, adopted his silver rupee in their own coinage, and emulated the mausoleum of Shēr Shāh Sūr in the design of their tombs.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bakshi, S. R., ed. Advanced History of Medieval India. 3 vols. Rev. ed. New Delhi, India: Anmol, 2003. Volume 2 includes a description of the era of Shēr Shāh Sūr and Humāyūn.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jayapalan, N. Medieval History of India. Delhi, India: Atlantic, 2001. Includes a discussion of the rivalry and accomplishments of Humāyūn and Shēr Shāh Sūr.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Streusand, Douglas E. The Formation of the Mughal Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. An important work of the early decades of the Mughal Empire, including the era of Shēr Shāh and Humāyūn.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. One of the standard Indian history texts, discusses the events surrounding the conflict between Humāyūn and Shēr Shāh.

1451-1526: Lodī Kings Dominate Northern India

Apr. 21, 1526: First Battle of Panipat

Mar. 17, 1527: Battle of KhĀnua

Dec. 30, 1530: Humāyūn Inherits the Throne in India

Mar. 3, 1575: Mughal Conquest of Bengal

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