Humayun and the Afghans

A special situation arose as a result of the concentration of a large number of Afghan chiefs having a tendency of moving towards the east after being evicted by the Mughals from their erstwhile iqtas or after having fallen out with the Mughals.

As a result, by 1530 or 1531, there had come to exist in the eastern parts of Bihar three major Afghan factions:

  1. The Nauhani chiefs, holding a major part of Bihar as their iqta since the time of Ibrahim Lodi.
  2. Secondly, were the Afghan chiefs of the Sur clan, together controlling a number of parganas in the region located between Ganges and Son.

Both were rivals of each other.

  1. Third were those Afghan chiefs like Shaikh Bayazid, Shaikh Bibban and Maruf Farmuli and his sons who had converged on Bihar as fugitives after being expelled from their iqtas. They had come with considerable funds and contingents and thus can be called as ‘Afghan emigres’.

Then there was another factor: The role played by the ruler of Bengal who felt threatened not only by the expansion of the Mughal territory but also by the presence of Afghan chiefs and troops in the vicinity of his kingdom.

From 1528 onwards, the King of Bengal was trying to

  1. Playing one Afghan faction against the others;
  2. Put joint Afghan pressure on the Mughals.

At Kharid, the Afghans fought jointly with Bengal. Then, with the accession of Humayun, an attempt by some Afghan groups was made to occupy Jaunpur territory with the help of Bengalis.

Gulbadan Bano Begum says that within six months of Humayun’s coming to the throne, sheikh Bibban coming from Gaur invaded Jaunpur territory. Humayun had to proceed and repulse him.

But then in other sources, eg., Tazkirat ul Waqi’at of Jauhar it is mentioned that sometime after Humayun’s accession, Shaikh Bibban, Shaikh Bayazid and Mahmud Lodi entered the eastern wing of the empire somewhere near Awadh and created serious disturbances. These sources, including Jauhar Aftabchi, inform that Humayun met them in the vicinity of Awadh, at a place known as Dadra or Daura and in the battle the emperor defeated the Afghan army.

The question which arises is whether this episode of Dadra is the same as the one narrated by Gulbadan, or were they two different battles? Some points tend to suggest they were two different battles:

  1. Gulbadan specifically says that the Afghan army came from Bengal; In the other story, there is no mention of this fact.
  2. In the case of Gulbadan, mention of Mahmud Lodi is absent. In the other sources it is clear that at Dadra / Daura, the Afghan army was commanded by Mahmud Lodi himself.

Then there is the problem of the timing of the battles. Gulbadan’s battle took place within six months of Humayun’s accession.

Abbas Khan Sarwani, who describes the Battle of Dadra in his Tarikh-i Sher Shahi, goes on to suggest that the Battle of Dadra took place not earlier than 1533.

According to him, Mahmud Lodi promised to Sher Shah that after defeating Humayun, ‘I shall bestow all Bengal to you’. This shows that this battle took place after the Battle of Surajgarh. Prof. Qanungo says that the Battle of Surajgarh took place in 1529. But we have evidence that the Battle of Surajgarh did not take place before 1532, as it took place after the death of Nusrat Shah. And Nusrat Shah was alive down to the mid-1532.

Thus the battle between Afghans and Humayun described by Gulbadan, and the battle described by Jauhar, Abbas Khan and others were not the same.

What we find is that the Bengalis were creating diversion for the Mughals by encouraging Afghan chiefs to undertake expeditions against the Mughals.

Thus we can say that the situation in Bihar was fluid. All groups, irrespective of mutual tussles, had a tendency to unite against the Mughals.

In fact the outcome of the Battle of Dadra from the Mughal point of view was mixed: As a result of the Afghan defeat in this battle, one powerful faction was eliminatd from the scene. But then, the defeat of Bayazid, Farmuli, etc., led by Mahmud Lodi in the long run proved to be a boon for Sher Shah and a bane for the Mughals.

After this development, Sher Khan was the only leading Afghan left who could hope to mobilize Afghans before him. And this tended to make the Afghan position very strong – as under one command, the Afghans were a force not so easy to tackle.

Thus the Mughal victory at the battle of Dadra created a problem for Humayun in the shape of Sher Khan.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi