Sultan Sikandar : The Man and the Myth

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Sultan Sikandar [791 to 816AH or 1389 to 1413AC] ascended the throne in 791AH (1389AC), when Richard II the son of the Black Prince, was king of England. Sikandar’s rule was also contemporaneous with that of Henry IV and Henry V. Sikandar’s mother Haura was a source of considerable strength to him in the earlier part of his reign on account of his infancy. As Jonaraja uses the word infant, Sikandar may possibly have been, at the most, about under eight years of age at his accession. A lady of remarkable personality and strength of character, Haura dealt with all opposition and struck terror into the hearts of malefactors. She even went to the extreme of putting an end to the lives of her daughter and son-in-law, Shah Muhammad; thereby nipping in the bud a rebellion which the latter was secretly instigating and which might have proved formidable.

We are told that Sikandar, on achieving majority, was particularly inclined towards militarism which led to the complete transformation of his army. It is also stat-ed that his military undertakings were seldom unsuccessful. His invasion of North, West India in 1395AC, was creditable to his military organization. He accordingly subdued Ohind and married Mira, the daughter of its chief, Firuz. Subhata or Cobha or Cri Cobha Mahadevi, the sister of Khunjyarja, was the Sultan’s wife but she was, it appears, at this time childless. Later on, she was the mother of Prince Firuz whom Sikandar “exiled in order to prevent a commotion.” At another place Jonaraja’ calls Cobha Mahadevi’s two sons “adopted children.” Mira was the mother of three sons; the second whom Shahi Khan was destined to became Bad Shah or the ‘Great Sovereign’ known in history as Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin.

Sikandar, sharing the tendency of the age, seems to have possessed a passion for enforcing religious law in all state affairs. His justice and passionate desire for religious uniformity were well known.

Along with his vigorous spirit Sikandar’s sagacity and tact were no mean order. His brother Haibat’s death by poison was believed to have been caused by Ray Magre, the minister. The king, observing the influence of this minister, delayed revenge.

Ray Magre, feeling that he had been suspected, induced his royal master to give him permission to punish the insurgents in Little Tibet (Ladakh). The minister’s aim was to secure for himself a principality which would place him beyond the reach of the king’s vengeance. The king, on the other hand, hoped to get rid of his minister by sending him on a military expedition. Success attended the arms of Ray Magre which raised his reputation and strength. Feeling himself safe, he proclaimed his independence. The king seized his opportunity, marched with an army and inflicted a crushing defeat upon him. The Minster was seized and soon died in prison. The king’s attention was then occupied in restoring order in the regained principality of Little Tibet.

Timur’s invasion of India. Exchange of courtesy with Sikandar

When Timur descended upon India, Sikandar acted wisely in sending his representative to him, because he was aware of the terrible fate of those princes who had tried to stem the ride of Timur’s march by offering resistance. According to the Zafarnama, Timur, through his grandson Rustam, and Mu’tamad Zain-ud-Din, his envoy, sent from Delhi a robe of honour of gold embroidery to Sikandar as a mark of favour. Thus there opened up between the two monarchs means of mutual relations. Maulana Nur-ud-Din Badakhshi, a distinguished follower of Shah Hamadan, was deputed by Sikandar, to take costly presents to Timur. In acknowledgement, Timur sent a message expressing his desire to see Sikandar. Certain nobles of Timur’s entourage, however, sent word that Sikandar should also keep in readiness thirty thousand horses and one lakh of gold coins as a present to the great conqueror.

Sikandar engaged himself in arranging for the present which Timur’s nobles had desired to be kept in readiness. Naturally the disclosure of this exorbitant demand brought Timur’s anger on their head. Sikandar, however, proceeded to meet Timur on the bank of Indus the 13th of Rajab 801AH (1398AC). In the Meantime, Timur had crossed the Indus and was proceeding towards Samarqand. Sikandar, therefore, returned to Kashmir, having gone only as far as Baramulla. It is said that he then deputed his son prince Shahi Khan, afterwards Sultan Zain-ulabidin, to strengthen the relations of friendship existing between Timur and himself. But there is no mention of this deputation in any contemporary history as the prince obviously must have been unborn then, Bad Shah having been born in 1401AC or 804AH. But what is a fact, according to the Tabaqat-e-Akbari, is that Sikandar sent his ambassadors with mush tribute to Timur.

Sikandar’s patronage of learning

Although Sikandar himself had not received the benefit of a liberal education, his patronage of letters attracted scholars from all parts of Asia chiefly from Khurasan, Mavara-an-Nahr (Trans oxiana) and ‘Iraq. The most notable person among these scholars was Maulana Afzal who hailed from Bukhara and was, on his arrival, placed at the head of the grand college opposite to the Jami `Masjid which Sikandar built. Maulana Afzal passed all his life in lecturing to students. The king had assigned to him the village of Nagam for his maintenance. The Maulana was buried in the enclosure of the tomb of Sayyid Taj-ud-Din, in Shihab-ud-Dinpor.

Sayyid Muhammad Madani was a foreign envoy and a great scholar who chose to live in Kashmir on account of the Sultan’s patronage of learning, and died during Bad Shah’s reign. His tomb was built by Bad Shah.

Sikandar’s zeal for religion

Being himself a staunch Muslim who carefully conformed to all that his religion required of him, Sikandar put an end to those practices which were contrary to the Shari’at or the law of Islam. The sale and distillation of wine, suttee, gambling, prostitution and nautches were accordingly tabooed. Islamic courts of justice were established and upright and learned judges were appointed.

Sikandar and Hindus

The propagation of Islam in Kashmir received a strong impetus in the time of Sultan Sikandar. Sikandar has, however, been blamed for his “bigotry in the persecution of the Hindus of the Valley,” and is called by them But-shikan or the iconoclast.

The allegation, that the wholesale destruction of temples in Kashmir was carried out by Sikandar, is based, apparently, on considerable misrepresentation, more fiction than fact, and a number of non-Muslim writers, one after the other, have contributed their share of abuse to condemning this Sultan. The calumny has been perpetuated to such an extent that we now find Sikandar as an abominable personification of ruthless destruction of all noble edifices erected to Hindu deities. This misrepresentation had grown so enormous that we have completely lost sight of his real character. We are, consequently, not infrequently reminded of Akbar and Aurangzeb in the praise of Zain-ul-Abidin and the condemnation of Sikandar. And it has become the wont of every casual visitor to Kashmir, who is anxious to give his impressions of the Happy Valley to the world, to single out the Akbar and Aurangzeb of Kashmir for praise and blame. Sikandar is undoubtedly responsible for what how actually did, but not for more than that.

Anyone who visits old or mined temples anywhere in India down the Jhelum is very often told by the unlettered guide or the illiterate priest that the idols therein were broken by Aurangzeb. Similarly, any one, who visits such places up the Jhelum, is summarily informed that the havoc to the images was wrought by Sikandar, and every conceivable wrong is attributed to him. The continuance of such baseless stories must be steadily and strongly discouraged as forming one distinct factor in the cleavage that is being wrought in the relation of the great communities that inhabit India. This is no digressions into politics, but a warning against the continual masquerade of myth as true and trustworthy history.

“Much harm has been done by this misreading of history,” writes Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz. “Many young men have been misled in the past by absurd views about the political and economic conditions during the period when Kashmir was under the Muslim kings. Unfortunately these views continue to be held even now and, what is still worse is that, on the assumption that Muslims maltreated Hindus in the past, it is believed that the two communities cannot unite now or in the future. This has brought about a reaction in the Muslim mind, and so mistrust and mutual enmity continue and even wax more and more. It is in the interest of our motherland that the past history should be analysed correctly and read scientifically, without prejudice or malice, sentimental make-believe or so-called patriotic whitewashing. Most of the histories were written by men who worked under the influence of upper classes. Although their intentions were good, it is difficult to believe that they could judge the events dispassionately. We must therefore sift the facts according to the principles of scientific interpretation available to us now. We must look at the facts from a comprehensive and a synthetic point of view and try to find how the masses and not only the classes fared during those days.” (Inside Kashmir, pp.19-20).

Even if Sikandar in his zeal for his Own religion has transgressed the limits of moderation, it is unquestionably a false charge against him that he broke down all Hindu temples in Kashmir and cruelly persecuted every Pandit. What happened long before Sikandar was born? Did not the struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism spell ruin to many a fane? Ou-k’ong or Wu-k’ung, a well known Chinese pilgrim, who followed in the footsteps of Hsuan Tsang, reached Kashmir in 759AC and spent no less than four years engaged in the study of Sanskrit, and in pilgrimages to sacred sites in the Valley. He found more than three hundred monasteries or Viharas in the kingdom of Kashmir. Ou-k’ong, in Stein’s words, is “trust worthy and acqurate.”4 Where are these Viharas? Is there any trace whatsoever left of them? And who demolished them? Were they mere mud structures?

Camkaravararhan (883 – 902AC), plundered the treasures of temples. To perpetuate his memory, he built the town of Patan and its temple from the material he had obtained by the plunder of the town and temples of Parihasapura. But, strange to say, the destruction of its temples is popularly attributed to Sikandar. Did not Abhimanyu II (958 – 972AC) set fire to his capital and destroy all the noble buildings from the temple of Vardhana Swami as far as Bhik-shukiparaka” (or the asylum of mendicants)? The escape of this lime stone temple is attributed by Cunningham to its fortunate situation in the midst of tank water.

Harsha (1089 – 1101AC) took to the spoliation of temples and confiscated the cult images in order to posses himself of the valuable metals of which they were made. The exact words of Pandit Kalhana are: “There was not one temple in a village, town, or in the City which was not despoiled of its images by that Turushka, King Harsha.” Not only this. One shudders when one reads verses 1091.4, Book VII. “He appointed Udayaraja ‘perfect for the overthrow of divine images’ (devotetatatanamayaka). In order to defile the statues of gods he had excrements and urine poured over their faces by naked mendicants whose noses, feet and hands had rotted away. Divine images… were covered with night-soil as if they were logs of wood… Images of the hindu gods were dragged along by ropes round their ankles.with spitting instead of flowers.”

Jonaraja also refers to Rajadeva (1213 – 1236AC) who insulted the Bhattas and plundered them. “And then who heard from among them the cry, ‘I am not a Bhatta, I am not a Bhatta.’

Again, Dulcha’s invasions in the beginning of the fourteenth century wrought havoc to “innumerable gods.” Dulcha slaughtered the people and set fire to the city of Srinagar. As pointed out by Kalhana and of Jonaraja.

Now, does anyone utter a word about these monstrous rajas like Jayapida, Camkravarman or Abhimanyu or Harsha’ or Rajadeva? But almost every Hindu child learns to heap curses on Sikandar!

Malik Suhabhatta, Skandar’s minister, appears to be responsible for the destruction of a few temples that took place in Sikandar’s reign as Sikandar himself was an infant at his accession. In the words of Sir T W Arnold, Suhabhatta set on foot on a fierce persuasions of the adherents of his old faith: this, he did, probably, in order to show his zeal for his new religion. Ranjit Sitaram Pandit has also said the same thing. “Sikandar,” writes Ranjit, “had married a Hindu lady named Cricobha and was at first tolerant in religion like his predecessors but his powerful Hindu minister, Suhabhatta who became a Muslim hated his former co-religionists.”Perhaps, these temples may have also been used as places of conspiracies against the State as pointed out by a local historian.” But it must be distinctly remembered that this sort of religious zeal is deplored by Islam. In fact, it positively prohibits it. It is on record that Mir Muhammad Hamdani warned Suhabhatta against such actions, and pointed out to him the well-known verse of Qur’an (II, 256), which runs: ‘Let there he no compulsion in religion.’ It is true that Sikandar cannot be exonerated from his share of the blame that rightly falls to S-habhatta, but it is absolutely untrue that it was Sikandar who was responsible for the relentless persuasion of every Hindu and the ruthless destruction of every temple.

It would, perhaps, be pertinent to the discussion if we took into account the weighty evidence of personages like Mirza Haidar Dughlat and Jahangir who have written about temples in Kashmir and whose testimony is unimpeachable. Mirza Haidar Dughlat who invaded Kashmir in 1531AC, long after the death of Sikandar in 1414AC, gives the considerable amount of detail about temples in Kashmir in his Tarikh-i-Rashidi.

Perhaps, a long quotation from him may be excused.’ “First and foremost among the wonders of Kashmir stand her idol temples. In and around Kashmir, there are more than one hundred and fifty temples which are built of blocks of hewn stone, fitted so accurately one upon the other, that there is absolutely no cement used. These stones have been so carefully placed in position, without Plaster or mortar, that a sheet of paper could not be passed between the joints. The inside and the outside of the halls have the appearance of two porticos, and these are covered with one or two stones. The capitals, the ornamentation in relief, the cornices, the ‘dog tooth’ work, the inside covering and the outside, are all crowded with pictures and paintings which I am incapable of describing. Some rep-resent laughing and weeping figures, which astound the beholder. In the middle is a lofty throne of hewn stone, over that a dome made entirely of stone, which I cannot describe. In the rest of the world, there is not to be seen, or heard of, one building like this. How wonderful that there should here be a hundred and fifty of them.” Mirza Haidar may have made mistakes in the course of the narrative of his version of the history of Kashmir, but what he saw with his own eyes cannot be imaginary.

Jahangir (1605 – 1627AC) speaks in no unmistakable terms when he says’: “The lofty idol temples which were built before the manifestation of Islam are still in existence, and are all built of stones which from foundation to roof are large and weigh 30 or 40 maunds placed one on the other.” As Jonaraja say, Sikandar urged by Suhabhatta “broke the images of Martanda, Vishaya, Icana, Chakrabhrit, Tripurecvara, Cesha, Surecvari, Varaha and others.” Note the word ‘images’ only. For the destruction of temples we have, therefore, to attach the blame not to Sikandar but to the real destroyers – time and the elements, and defects of construction, which are so often the cause of ruin of dry masonry. “Earthquakes’ and the imperfect fitting of the stones, observable in all Kashmirian temples,” remarks Stein, “are sufficient to explain the complete ruin notwithstanding the massive character at the materials!” “Sikandar was brave and cultured,” says Lawrence, “and attracted learned Musalmans to his court.” In the words of Rodgers, he was an extremely generous man.  In the face of all this evidence, it is surprising that number of writers should revel in holding up Sikandar to ignominy. Facts belie the charge.

Architecture of Sikandar’s time

Besides his zeal for religion and sound administration Sikandar also had a passion for buildings. Many mosques, rnadrasas and hospices were built in his time. The first building he erected was the Khanqah-i-Mualla on the Chillah-Khana or the place of retreat and devotion of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani in Srinagar in 798AH (1395AC). The Khanqah-i-Ala at Tral, near Vantipor, the Khanqah-i-Wala in Wachi, pargana Shavara and the Khan-qah-i-Kubrawi in Matan are other instances.

Sikandar also built the Jami `Masjid a grand mosque in which mosaic work was executed without any remuneration by two well-known mosaic workers, Sayyid Muhammad of Luristan the Sayyid Sadr-ud-Din of Khurasan, both old companions of the great Shah Hamadan. The mosque contained 372 columns, each 40 cubits in height, and 6 in circumference. Besides these structures, Sikandar set up many others of which the site and ruins cannot be traced today.

Sikandar’s regard for Sayyid Muhammad Hamadani

Sayyid Muhammad Hamadani, the son of Shah Hamadan, accompanied by about three hundred, or according to some historians, seven hundred followers, came to Kashmir, and the Sultan too became one of his disciples.

The Sultan was now fired with a zeal to change the character of his rule into an Islamic administration, and a considerable advance was made in this direction. As his orders to this end were carried out either by recent converts to Islam or other officials, it may be presumed that these converts and officials were not actuated only by zeal for the faith, many offences must have been committed which may have wounded the susceptibilities if the Hindus. The saint, Sayyid Muhammad, on being apprised, told the king that all that was done either at his bidding, or through his connivance, was not sanctioned by Islam, which relied more on personal example and love than violence for its propagation. These words so impressed the Sultan that he at once put an end to these activities.

Sikandar’s death

Sikandar’s reign lasted for nearly twenty-four years through much of this – about twelve years at least—was spent under the regency of the dowager-queen Haura and of Malik Saif-ud-Din. When Sikandar contracted a violent fever he summoned the sons (i) Mir Khan, (ii) Shah Rukh, as noted in the Fatahat-i-Kubmoya, or, according to Jonaraja, Shah Khan and (iii) Muhammad Khan, and exhorted them to avoid strife and remain united after him. He announced as his successor Mir Khan whom he invested with the title of Ali Shah and passed away on the 22nd of Muhatram, 816AH (1413AC).

Sikandar was buried in the northern side of the premises once occupied by the Lui Shor temple. The graveyard is known as the Mazar-us-Salatin, in Maharaj Ganj, Zaina Kadal, Srinagar.

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Arsilan and Faysal

Arsilan and Faysal