Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans, by H.G. Raverty, , at sacred-texts.com
Aḥmad Shāh, the founder of the Durrānī monarchy, rose from the mere character of a partisan, to a distinguished command in the service of the Persian conqueror, Nādir Shāh. Of the family of the Saddozīs, and chief of the tribe of Abdālī, the most illustrious family of the Afghāns, he was, in his youth, imprisoned in a fortress, with his elder brother Zū-l-fiḳār Khān, by Husain Khān, governor of Kandahār for the Ghalzīs, which powerful tribe of Afghāns, after overrunning the whole of Persia, had, a few years previously, trodden the throne of the Ṣūfis in the dust, and conquered that mighty empire.
Aḥmad Shāh and his brother, whose tribe were at feud with the Ghalzīs, owed their freedom to Nādir Shāh, who in the year a.d. 1736-37, laid siege to Ḳandahār, which he captured. The brothers, with a powerful body of their clansmen, followed the fortunes of the conqueror, and greatly distinguished themselves in the war with the Turks; and were rewarded with the lands now held by the Durrānī tribe in the vicinity of Ḳandahār.
On the day subsequent to the murder of Nādir Shāh, (the particulars of which, as belonging to Persian history, need not be here detailed, although one among the causes of it has been attributed to his attachment to the Afghān troops in his service) a battle ensued
between the Persians on the one side, and the Afghāns and Uzbaks on the other; but the event does not appear to have decided any thing. But after this affair, Aḥmad Shāh saw that no time was to be lost in looking to the safety of himself and clansmen, and he accordingly fought his way through the greater part of Khurāsān with a small force of between 2000 and 3000 horsemen, and repaired, by rapid marches, to Ḳandahār, which had now become the head-quarters of the Abdālī tribe, and chief city of southwestern Afghānistān. Here he intercepted an immense treasure, which had been sent from India for the use of Nādir Shāh, which Aḥmad appropriated, after compelling the Durrānīs, who had first seized upon it, to give it up.
In October of the same year, Aḥmad, then but twenty-three years old, assumed the title of Shāh or King of Afghānistān, and was crowned at Ḳandahār, with great pomp, the different chiefs of the various Afghān tribes, with but few exceptions, and the Kazalbāshes, Balūchīs, and Hazārahs, assisting; thus laying the foundation of the Durrānī monarchy. And although the warlike and independent people, who now became his subjects, had never been accustomed to a sovereign's yoke, save in being compelled to pay tribute to a foreign ruler; yet such were his energy and capacity for government, that he was successful in gaining the affection of his own tribe; and with the exception of the Ghalzīs, ever a most turbulent and unruly sept, he succeeded in instilling among the other Afghān tribes a spirit of attachment to their native monarch; and also in others, not Afghāns, but dwelling in Afghānistān. With the Balūch and Hazārah tribes, his neighbours, he formed an offensive and defensive alliance.
Having first brought the refractory Ghalzīs into subjection, Aḥmad Shāh began his conquests; and such was the uninterrupted tide of his success, that by the summer of 1751 he had conquered the whole of the countries, extending as far west as Nishāpūr in
[paragraph continues] Persian Khurāsān. In 1752 he conquered Kāshmīr, and obtained from the Mughal Emperor of Hindūstān, a cession of the whole of the tract of country as far, east as Sirhind, thus laying the foundation of a kingdom, which soon became formidable to surrounding nations.
Aḥmad Shāh had now leisure to turn his attention to internal affairs, and to the settlement of Afghānistān and the newly-acquired provinces. He thus passed the next four years in tranquillity, and appears to have had time to devote himself to literature. He used to hold, at stated periods, what is termed a Majlis-i-æulamā, or Assembly of the Learned, the early part of which was generally devoted to divinity and civil law—for Aḥmad Shāh himself was a Molawī *—and concluded with conversations on science and poetry. He wrote a Collection of Odes in Pushto, his own native tongue, tinged, as usual, with the mysticisms of the Ṣūfis, and from that work the following specimens have been taken. The work is scarce, particularly in eastern Afghānistān. He was also the author of several poems in the Persian language.
In the year 1756 Aḥmad Shāh had again to buckle on the sword, and advance into the Panjāb, which the Mughals about this time attempted to recover; but he quickly regained all that had been lost; drove them out of the Panjāb; and advanced straight upon Dilhī, which he entered after but a faint opposition. His troops having become sickly, from passing the whole of the hot season in India, warned Aḥmad Shāh to return, which he did soon after, having compelled the Mughal Emperor to bestow the Panjāb and Sindh upon his son Tīmūr, who had already been married to a Mughal princess. Aḥmad Shāh passed the next winter at Ḳandahār; but was obliged to set out soon after, for the purpose of quelling disturbances in Persia and Tūrkistān.
During the next year, matters had gone on badly in India; and Prince Tamar was unable to stem the tide of Mahāraṭa conquest, which had now rolled upon the Panjāb. The Mahāraṭas had taken Sirhind, and were advancing from the west, which put Prince Tīmūr under the necessity of retiring across the Indus with his troops. The Mahāraṭas, being now unopposed, pushed on as far as the Hydaspes or Jhīlum, and also detached a force to take possession of Multān.
These events happened in the summer of 1758; and Aḥmad Shāh was preparing to march into India, when he was detained by the rebellion of the Balūchīs; and although this matter was subsequently settled by negotiation, it was not until the winter of 1759 that he could cross the Indus and advance towards Hindūstān, the Mahāraṭas retreating before him towards Dilhī, with the intention of covering that city. After totally defeating them at Budlī, Aḥmad Shāh again captured Dilhī. He afterwards pursued his conquests in the Do-āb; but subsequently encamped at a place near Anūp-shahr, where, being joined by the Wazīr of Hindūstān, with the few available troops of the Mughal Emperor, he prepared for passing the monsoon, or rainy season, and for the final struggle with the Mahāraṭas, upon which the fate of India rested.
The strength of Aḥmad Shāh's army consisted of 41,800 horse, his own subjects, on whom he chiefly relied; 28,000 Rohilahs—Afghāns, who were descended from those tribes who had emigrated from Afghānistān at different periods, and settled in India *—and about 10,000 Hindūstānī troops, under their own chiefs. He had also 700 zambūraks, or camel swivels, small pieces carrying balls of about a pound weight, and a few pieces of artillery.
The Mahārata army, under Wiswās Rāo, and Sheddasheo Rāo—
better known as the Bhow—consisted of about 70,000 horse, 15,000 infantry, trained after the European fashion, and 200 pieces of artillery, besides numberless shuturnāls, or zambūraks.
At length, on the 7th of January 1761, after facing each other for some months, the Mahāraṭas, who had been blockaded in their own intrenched camp at Pānīpatt, a few miles from Dilhī, were, from the extremities to which they were put, for want of food and forage, under the necessity of attacking the Durrānī army. The details of this great and important battle need not be enlarged on here: suffice it to say, that Aḥmad Shāh was completely successful. The Mahāraṭas were entirely defeated and put to flight; and Wiwās Rao, the heir-apparent of the Mahārata empire, and almost the whole of the army, perished in the flight or pursuit.
The crowning victory at Pānīpatt, which was fatal to the power of the Mahāraṭas, laid Hindūstān at the feet of Aḥmad Shāh; but he, seeing the difficulty of retaining so remote a dominion, adhered to the wise plan ha had, from the first, carved out, and contented himself with that portion of India that had formerly been ceded to him, bestowing the rest on such native chiefs as had aided him in the struggle.
In the spring of 1761, Aḥmad Shāh returned to Kabūl; and from that period, up to the spring of 1773, was actively employed against foreign and domestic foes; but at that time his health, which had been long declining, continued to get worse, and prevented his engaging in any foreign expeditions. His complaint was a cancer in the face, which had afflicted him first in 1764, and at last occasioned his death.; He died at Murghah, in Afghānistān, in the beginning of June 1773, in the fiftieth year of his age.
The countries under his dominion extended, at the time of his death, from the west of Khurāsān, to Sirhind on the Jumnā, and from the Oxus to the Indian Ocean, all either secured by treaty, or in actual possession.
The character of Aḥmad Shāh has been so admirably depicted by Mountstuart Elphinstone, * that I shall not hesitate to give it here in full.
"The character of Aḥmad Shāh appears to have been admirably suited to the situation in which he was placed. His enterprise and decision enabled him to profit by the confusion that followed the death of Nadir, and the prudence and moderation, which he acquired from his dealings with his own nation, were no less necessary to govern a warlike and independent people, than the bold and commanding turn of his own genius.
"His military courage and activity are spoken of with admiration, both by his own subjects, and the nations with whom he was engaged, either in wars or alliances. He seems to have been naturally disposed to mildness and clemency; and though it is impossible to acquire sovereign power, and perhaps, in Asia, to maintain it, without crimes; yet the memory of no Eastern Prince is stained with fewer acts of cruelty and injustice.
"In his personal character he seems to have been cheerful, affable, and good-natured. He maintained considerable dignity on state occasions, but at other times his manners were plain and familiar; and with the Durrānīs he kept up the same equal and popular demeanour which was usual with their Khāns or Chiefs before they assumed the title of King. He treated Moollahs and holy men with great respect, both from policy and inclination. He was himself a divine and an author, and was always ambitious of the character of a saint.
"His policy towards the different parts of his dominions was to rely principally on conciliation with the Afghāns and Balūchīs; with this difference between the nations, that he applied himself to the whole people in the first case, and only to the chief in the
other. His possessions in Tūrkistān he kept under by force; but left the Tartar chiefs of the country unremoved, and used them with moderation. The Indian provinces were kept by force alone; and in Khurāsān he trusted to the attachment of some chiefs, took hostages from others, and was ready to carry his arms against any who disturbed his plans.
The handsome tomb of Aḥmad Shāh stands near the palace at Ḳandahār. It is held in great estimation by the Durrānīs, and is respected as a sanctuary, no one venturing to touch one who has taken refuge there. It is not uncommon for persons of even the highest rank, to give up the world, and spend their lives at the monarch's tomb; and certainly, if ever an Asiatic King deserved the gratitude of his country, it was Aḥmad Shāh, the "Pearl of the Durrānīs."
Aḥmad Shāh was the grandfather of the unfortunate Shāh-Shūjaæ-ul-Mulk, whom the British re-seated on the throne of the Durrānīs in 1839, which affair terminated so unfortunately for all concerned.
287:* Durr-i-Durrān signifies, "The Pearl of the Durrānīs," a name which the Abdālīs acquired from wearing pearls in their ears.
289:* A term equivalent to Doctor of Literature or Divinity.
290:* Also called Pattāns in India; but the name, like that of Rohilah, is applicable to Afghāns generally.
292:* "Account of the Kingdom of Caubul."