Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Forgotten Battle of Bahraich, 1033 CE-Raja Suheldev:

Image of Suheldev statue in Lucknow
Image of Suheldev statue
The Indian history of the last millennium is the history of the heroic resistance to foreign invasions & rule. From 8th century CE, India came under the sustained assault by the forces of Islamic imperialism beginning with the Arab invasion of the Sindh. But the Islamic expansion was halted by the Rajput confederacy in the Battle of Rajasthan in early 8th century CE. Decisive defeat of Arabs in the battle of Rajasthan and by Emperor Lalitāditya Muktapīḍa (724 CE–760 CE) of Kashmir put an end to the Arab dream of conquest of India.
But second invasion started three centuries later with conversion of TURK to Islam. Mahmoud Ghaznavi  started attacking in in the Afghanistan and northwest India and sacked  Somnath temple in 1026 CE. After the death of Mahmud Ghaznavi, Masud, a nephew of Ghazanvi  invaded India in May 1031 CE .His first military conflict was with Raja Mahipal Tomar of Delhi,who he defeated and then marched into the upper Doab towards Meerut whose ruler Raja Hari Dutt surrendered and accepted Islam. Masud marched unto the Kannauj via Bulandshahr& Badaun. Kannnauj, once a sate of old Great  Gurjar-Pratihar. The local ruler along with his son accepted Islam and surrendered vast amount of wealth to the Masud along with allowing Kannauj to be used as a military base for the further Islamic conquest in the Awadh and Purvanchal.

At that time   Pasi kings ruled the Awadh and the surrounding regions. Pasi is a schedule caste with the population of 80-90 lakhs, which is found in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Orissa with its highest concentration in the Uttar Pradesh, where it forms the second largest Dalit community. They are among the original inhabitants of the Awadh region and have been an important player in the history of the region. Narrative relating to the origin of Pasis claim descent from the sage Bhrigu (a Saptarshi & preceptor of Dhanurveda, an upveda of science of war) or from Parashuram of the clan of Bhrigu. It is narrated that Parashuram created five sword wielding warriors from five blades of grass and Pasi is derived for the word ‘asi’ meaning sword i.e. who hold sword.
Several Pasi kings ruled the region, most notable among them are Maharaja Bijlee Pasi, founder of Bijnor and contemporary of Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Maharaja Satan Pasi of Ramkot, Maharaja Lakhan Pasi, credited with the founding of Lucknow, Maharaja Daldeo etc remains of whose forts still dot the landscape. They were replaced by Rajputs as the rulers in several areas but it was the Islamic invasions that perpetrated their downfall and they suffered heavy persecution under the Muslim rule. By 18th century CE, more fortunate among Pasis were reduced to being militiamen of local Jagirdars. They were then slammed under the Criminal Tribes Act under the colonial British India due to their rebellious streak and massive participation in the war of independence, 1857 and several agrarian unrests.

Pasi Kings often had a confrontational relation with the Rajput rulers of Kannauj but with the beginning of the Islamic invasions the entire dynamics changed. During this period Kingdom of Shravasti was ruled by the Raja Suheldev who is also known by various names like Sakardev, Suhirdadhwaj, Sukhdev etc. He was the son of Mangal Dhwaj and disciple of Balak Rishi whose Ashram was located in Bahraich During the invasion by Salar Masud, regions of Lakhimpur, Sitapur, Lucknow, Barabanki, Unnao, Faizabad, Bahraich, Sravasti, Gonda etc were ruled by a confederacy of 21 Pasi chieftains under Raja Suhelde

After a triumphant march though Meerut, Kannuaj & Malihabad, Masud arrived in Satrikh, a town in the Barabanki district. Starikh was an important Hindu place for pilgrimage where Guru Vashisht had taught the young Ram and Lakshman. Using Satrikh as his base, Masud sent his armies to conquer the neighboring areas. Miyya Rajab and Salar Saifuddin took Bahraich. Amir Hasan Arab took Mahona, Malik Fazal took Varanasi. Sayad Sahu took Karra and Manikpur. Syad Aziz-ud-din was sent against Hardoi, but fell in the battle at Gopamau. While at Satrikh, Masud got the distress call from Dost Mohammed at the fort of Dhundgarh near Rewari. Masud was forced to send his religious teacher, Saiyad Ibrahim Mashhadi Barah Hazari to relieve the siege. As per Ain-e-Masudi, Saiyad Ibrahim was an utterly fanatic commander and on whichever route he traversed, no non-Muslim could escape his sword unless he converted to Islam. But he was slain at the battle of the Dhundgarh along with several other commanders. His tomb is located at Kot Qasim, 20 km away from Tijara, a town in Alwar district near Rewari.

Right wing of the Islamic army collapsed with the death of its commander Mir Nasrullah. The tomb of Mir Nasrullah is located at the village of Dikoli Khurd, 12 Km north of Bahraich. Soon Salar Miyya Rajab was slain. He was a close relative of Salar Masud and was known for his temperament and adamant nature. His tomb is located at Shahpur Jot Yusuf village, 3 km east of Bahraich and he is known as ‘Hathila Pir’. Following the ensuing chaos in the Muslim army, a large contingent of the Suheldev’s army under Raja Karan, penetrated the center of the Muslim army and thus giving it a bodily blow. Salar Masud was either beheaded by the Raja Suheldev or died due to an arrow piercing his throat. He died under a Mahua tree near the sacred Suryakund. It is claimed that after his death, a loyalist Salar Ibrahim organised a counter attack and killed Raja Suheldev in the next day of battle. However, it also seems that Suheldev survived the battle and constructed several water tanks in and around the Shravasti to commemorate his victory. The Chandradeo of Kannauj later subverted him as the defeat of the Muslim army re-ignited the old rivalries.

What is notable about this battle is the vast Muslim army was defeated not by any powerful Indian empire but by a small confederacy of Kings of Bahraich which inflicted a crushing defeat on the invaders. The entire invading army was simply annihilated as no quarters were given. It become even more significant when we consider the fact that it was the same Muslim army which was used by Mahmud of Ghazni during his depredations in the North India and which, by historians, is considered to be too ‘advance’ for the contemporary Indian armies. It is a pity that not much work has been on this historical event, which halted the victorious march of the Islamic imperialism for decades soon after the raids of Mahmud of Ghazni.
Instead what has happened is that the place has become the place of pilgrimage during the Urs of ‘Bale Miyan’ or ‘Ghazi Miyan’ towards the end of May in Jyeshtha month. It is the process of acculturation which has Islamised the Hindu folk tradition. The place has retained its reputation as the place of healing for the suffering from leprosy and other skin diseases and also as a fertility shrine. They are no doubt continuing with the sacred tradition of Sun worship, which pre-existed the cult of this Muslim ‘Sun of Martyrdom’ (Aftab-i Shahadat), who was buried under a Mahua tree beside a sun-temple so much so that his head is still supposed to rest on the image of the sun.The Suryakund has been renamed as Hoz Shamshi, Persian for SuryaKund. The story of Salar Masud has been re-casted as a tragic youth who was cursed to die as an unmarried or that of a liberator who fought again the oppression of the ‘evil’ King Suheldev. Even today when a strong wind blows, the gates of the Dargah are closed and an iron chain, said to be of magical powers, is tied at its front so that the “evil spirit” of Suheldev can’t entre the tomb to torment the Ghazi Miyan and his followers.
A local Raja of Prayagpur donated 500 bighas of land and Chittora Lake to the ‘Suheldev Smarak Samiti’ where a statue of Raja Suheldev was installed. Later on, a temple was constructed to honour the great hero and the celebration of Vijayotsav was started in the form of havan and public procession.

Modified from