The Last King?

Perusing seriously the medieval history with an objective eye and patience of a researcher
"He was himself disrespected and ordered to leave the city of Srinagar along with his disciples and take refuge in the village of Beerwah. He refused to come to Srinagar in protest of the highhandedness of the rulers."
"He was himself disrespected and ordered to leave the city of Srinagar along with his disciples and take refuge in the village of Beerwah. He refused to come to Srinagar in protest of the highhandedness of the rulers."Special arrangement

Yusuf Shah Chak is commonly, but erroneously, believed to be the last Sultan of independent Kashmir. Likewise, Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom is thoughtlessly regarded as an extinguisher of Kashmir’s ever-burning flame of independence.

His image has gone down deeper into Kashmir’s psyche as a harbinger of its annexation, and perpetual subordination to Mughal imperialism. Having no historical substance, these conjectures are bizarre and farfetched with no relation to truth.

Who exactly was the last ruler of independent Kashmir? what caused its conquest by the Mughal imperium? Whose hobnobbing with the rich, exalted, and powerful Mughals facilitated the downsizing of a country into a petty Mughal Subha?

What made a gunpowder empire besotted with Kashmir, and whetted its appetite for its annexation and occupation? Was it the geo-strategic importance of its location or its exceedingly captivating beauty--which is no less than that of Janat-e- Be-Nazeer -- that invited the imperial intervention in its affairs by a disparate force whose commanders and Mansabdars were though unwilling to undertake the expedition to Kashmir, the far-off corner of the world, not less than pit and prison for them?

These are some important questions whose answers can be discerned by perusing seriously medieval history with an objective eye and patience and understanding of a researcher.

A step-by-step and scene-by-scene appraisal of the situation obtained then, and as depicted in the primary source material of the time, more particularly:

Akbarnama (Abul Fazl), Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh (Badauni), Tuzk-e-Jehangir, Tarikh-e-Rashidi (Mirza Haidar), and Tarikh-e-Haidar Malik (Haidar Malik Chadura), Baharistan-e-Shahi (anonymous), Asrar-ul-Abrar ( Bab Daud Mushkati) will be, therefore, rewarding enough to reach the truth. 

Step/Scene: 1

Yusuf Shah establishes his claim to the Kashmir throne after defeating and slaying his uncle, Abdal Chak in the battle of Nowhatta (Shahr-e-Khas) in 1579, and proclaims himself Badshah with the title of Nasir-ud-Din Muhammad Yusuf Ghazi.

Step/Scene: 2

But for Yusuf Shah to be a Sultan was no bed of roses. He gets involved in skirmishes on political differences with Sayyed Mubarak Baihaqi, the most influential leader of the time especially known for being effective as a counselor in convincing Sultan Ali Shah to abolish the law of barbaric punishments of cutting limbs and gouging out eyes in the country.

Step/Scene : 3

A war breaks out between Sultan Yusuf Shah and Sayyed Mubarak Baihaqi in 1579 at Eidgah grounds in which the former is defeated and hotly pursued to flee Kashmir for his safety. However, Sayyed too is compelled within a month and a half to abdicate in favor of Lohar Chak, Yusuf Shah’s cousin.

Step/Scene: 4

The displaced Yusuf Shah reaches Fatehpur Sikri after his wanderings for shelter. He straight away presents himself as an asylum seeker at the court of Mughal-e-Azam of the foremost gunpowder imperium of Asia. After kissing the threshold, he prostrates himself before Zil-e-Illahi.  Then he stands up, and with folded hands begs for refuge and protection, and desperately implores for imperial favour and military help against his native adversaries.

Step/Scene: 5

Emperor Akbar concedes to his request out of his farsightedness, and as an investment for recreating an air of association that had evaporated completely due to the death of Mirza Haidar, his relative who was instrumental in fulfilling Babur’s wish and Humayun’s ambition (his kith and kin) by bringing Kashmir under his effective control with the active support of local chiefs.  For Akbar, Kashmir was of immense geo-strategic significance as it provided him easy access to Kabul. Besides, the land was an enjoyable place with water bodies for pleasure and invigoration, scenic spots for picnics, and hangul (dear), and birds for hunting. According to emperor Jehangir  ‘Kashmir was’  for the Mughal emperors ‘a garden of eternal spring- a delightful flowerbed, and a heart-expanding heritage for dervishes. Its pleasant meads and enchanting cascades are beyond all description. There are running streams and fountains beyond the count’. (Tuzk, p.152).

Kashmir’s other enticement was the revenues that it yielded in abundance from its saffron cultivation, shawl weaving, textile manufacturing, and other resources.

Step/Scene: 6

Akbar orders his army to accompany Yusuf Shah with full armoury and invades Kashmir to restore him to its throne.

Step/Scene: 7

On reaching Lahore Yusuf Shah changes his plan at the prompting of Mohammad Bhat who is sent by Lahor Chak with an offer that he is prepared to vacate the throne for him if he comes back to Kashmir without the imperial army. The assurance is tempting enough to ennoble Yusuf Shah Chak to desert the Mughal army and stealthily escape from their net, an action is not taken lightly by the imperium. He is also said to have infuriated the court by facilitating the escape of one of the sworn enemies of the empire, namely Shah Abul Maali from Lahore Jail who manages to reach one of Kashmir’s famous towns, known as Baramulla.

Step/Scene: 8

After reassuming the reins of Sultanate-e-Kashmir, Yusuf Shah tries to soothe Akbar’s anger by placating him through various means. He receives Akbar’s envoys, Mirza Tahir and Saleh Diwan with warm hands, kisses the emperor’s letter, and places it deferentially in his turban.

Step/Scene: 9

To attain reprieve from the imperial wrath, Yusuf Shah also despatches the most valuable gifts through his third son, Haidar Khan in the company of Sheikh Yaqub Sarfi Kashmiri, a spiritual guide also known as the second Jami of the Muslim world, for pacifying Mughal-e-Azam.

Step/Scene: 10

After kissing the royal carpet, and bowing down before the emperor, Haider Khan presents gifts and a letter from his father which reads: ‘I [Yusuf Shah] am no longer in a situation to recover my dignity by prostrating myself at that court. If through imperial favour I may be excused for a time from paying homage in the emperor’s presence, it would be appropriate to my situation. I am sending my son, Haider as your slave, and some gifts for your majesty’s acceptance. As long as I live, I will be obedient, and if this favour is granted to me, I will consider it my good fortune.

Step/Scene: 11

Meanwhile, Saleh Diwan on his return apprises Akbar about Yusuf Shah’s malevolence and his sovereign intentions which infuriates him so hugely that he dismisses Haider Khan from the imperial service, and declares him incompetent for the Mughal army.

Step/Scene: 12

Yusuf Shah sends his eldest son Yaqub Khan with precious presents to mollify Akbar. After bowing down before the exalted Shahan-Shah, Yaqub begs for his inclusion in the imperial vassalage. But this gesture of servitude does not yield the expected result. It was tantamount to his representation by proxy, and, therefore, does more harm than good to Yusuf Shah.

Step/Scene: 13

Apprehending danger, Yaqub Khan flees the Mughal camp at Lahore and returns to Kashmir. Taken as treachery, this action aggravates the imperial rage so increasingly that about 5000 strong armies under the command of veterans like Raja Bhagwan Das and Mirza Shah Rukh are ordered to march toward Kashmir to teach Yusuf Shah and his son a lesson.  Sheikh Yaqub Sarfi and Haider Chak are too dispatched with the troops to act as their guides.

Step/Scene: 14

To escape mortification, Yusuf Shah agrees to accompany Raja Bhagwan Das to present himself at Akbar’s court. He is taken as a prisoner unawares under Todar Mal in gross violation of the understanding he had reached with Bhagwan Das before setting out to join the imperials. In utter humiliation, the Raja attempts to commit suicide to recompense for the abuse of his promise to Yusuf Shah that he would return to Kashmir after presenting himself before the emperor. A jagir is granted in favor of the exile, and he is made a commander of 500. After his death, he is buried there.

Step/Scene: 15

Immediately after Yusuf Shah proceeds to join the imperial camp, the Kashmir nobles proclaim his son Yaqub Khan, with the title of  Nasir-ud-din Mohammad Badshah Ghazi, as the Sultan of Kashmir in February 1586. He becomes, thus, the last ruler of independent Kashmir. It is from him that Kashmir is snatched by emperor Akbar to become a Mughal Subha in 1586. But he fights to the last.

Step/Scene: 16

With his head intoxicated with power as an autonomous Sultan, Yaqub Chak yells and screams throughout his reign (February 1586--October 1586) against his political enemies. He adopts wicked means to quell the opposition. He turns the masses against himself through his oppressive disposition and sectarian prejudices. At a critical juncture of history when the Kashmir Sultanate is exposed to a grave existential threat both internally and externally, he inaugurates a reign of terror, executes Qaz-e-Shahr, Qazi Musa, insults his dead body, and loots and burns his house causing, thereby, terrible exasperation throughout the kingdom, compelling Kashmiri intellectuals, and religious scholars to approach Akbar against Sultan’s behaviour.

Step/Scene: 17

The Kashmiri deputation that calls upon Akbar includes Daud Khaki, Ismail Achari, and Suhrawardi, minus Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom who had already left the physical world a decade ago. On plenty of coaxing by these ulema, Akbar finally sends a huge army that enters the capital, Srinagar, unopposed on October 6, 1586. Yaqub Chak flees and then surrenders paving way for the annexation of Kashmir by the Mughals.

To conclude thus, it can be safely said that Yaqub Chak, rather than Yusuf Shah, his father, was the last ruler of independent Kashmir. Our argument is amply substantiated by the primary sources mentioned above. While acknowledging him as the last ruler of independent Kashmir, Jahangir in his Tuzk writes: ‘Yaqub, son of Yusuf Kashmiri, fought with the victorious army of my father [Akbar] of which Raja Bhagwan Das, father of Raja Man Singh, was the leader’. ( vol. 2, p. 140). That Sheikh Makhdoom Hamza had no hand in inviting Akbar to annex Kashmir is validated by chronological evidence which is vital in determining the truth of the historical event. He had already breathed his last a decade earlier before the event in May 1576, and was not, therefore, physically available to call on Akbar. His exalted spiritual stature and social status are unnecessarily being dragged into this episode on hearsay which has no place in genuine history. There is no denying that Sultan-ul-Arfeen Sheikh Hamza was himself a victim of the atrocities perpetrated by the rulers on the people of Kashmir. He was himself disrespected and ordered to leave the city of Srinagar along with his disciples and take refuge in the village of Beerwah. He refused to come to Srinagar in protest of the highhandedness of the rulers.

Untiring efforts continue to keep the title tattle afloat and make it appear reliable enough to cover up the false narrative that drives sustenance directly from the political opportunists who do not even hesitate to hire local poets and vernacular writers to compose songs and compile articles to popularise it.

(Dr. Ahad is an author and historian with a huge number of books to his credit)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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