Mahmud of Ghazni and his relationship to his beautiful Georgian slave Ayaz, whose grave stands in the middle of Rang Mahal, has many shades. Once Allama Iqbal’s verse had immortalised their relationship, the matter stood confined to religious equality only.

One assumes that today such an ‘issue’ is meaningless. But this piece is about another slave who initially lived in Lahore and moved about with the rulers of those times. From 1021AD when Mahmud ravaged Lahore, we move down just 200 years and the city was being ruled by the Mamluk Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, with Sultan Shamusuddin Iltutmesh in power, who reigned from 1211-1236. He was an exceptionally gifted ruler, and was instrumental in the peaceful spread of Islam in the sub-continent. His contribution is massively underestimated.

Blood and gore attracts more attention than peace and love: that silent convincer. It was under his rule that Lahore the mud-walled city and its fort gained importance and was made the capital of the Punjab. When Iltutmesh died in 1236 he was buried near the Qutab Minar, which he had helped to complete. He had invited the finest poets and writers from Iran and Turkey to enrich intellectual life in the sub-continent, and more importantly he invited the finest Sufi saints.

In such an environment we see that on his death a struggle for power ensued and his daughter, Razia Sultana, whom he favoured over his four incompetent sons, came to power after overpowering her eldest brother and mother. Her coming to power resulted in the Turkish nobility and the ‘ulema’ opposing a woman coming to power. At that time the Governor of Lahore was a Turkish noblemen called Sher Khan Sanqar, who as accounts have it had a tall and strong Abyssinian Siddi ‘habshi’ slave called Jamaluddin Yaqut. To protect and look after the beautiful Razia Sultana, as well as keep spy on her, he assigned Yaqut to her service.

This is where her childhood family acquaintance and friend, and ultimately her husband, Malik Ikhtiaruddin Altunia, comes into the picture. The rising to power of a woman for the very first time in the sub-continent unsettled the mostly aristocratic Turkish governors of the numerous provinces of the sub-continent, not to speak of the ‘ulema’ who served them. A conspiracy was hatched to draw her into battle and finish her off. But both Altunia and her slave Qaqut stood in their way.

The Turkish advisers first got her to post Altunia as governor of Bathinda, with the seducing suggestion that if she wished to marry him it was best that he serve at a distance to avoid rumours, plus it would add to his stature. The beautiful Razia fell for the ruse. Once Altunia was doing well for himself the ruthless Sher Khan Sanqar of Lahore spread the rumour that the slave Jamaluddin Yaqut was having a secret affair with Razia.

One account refers to the slave putting his hands around Razia’s waist as he helped her climb onto a horse. According to Sanjay Tripathi’s ‘History of Medieval India’, as well as in Rashid-al-Din’s ‘Jami’u-t Tawarikh’, this was merely a Sher Khan conspiracy hatched in Lahore. His objective was to get Razia, as well as both Yaqut and Altunia, killed so that his chances of power increased.

On hearing of the influence the slave Yaqut had on Razia, the Turkish aristocrat Altunia lured Razia to Bhatinda and attacked her army, killing Yaqut and imprisoning Razia. He then lured her back and married her, to be the power behind the throne. On this the Lahore governor continued his plan to eliminate both Razia and Altunia; her protector. He instigated Razia’s brother Muizuddin Bahram to take over. Altunia and Razia moved to check this conspiracy and were defeated. They fled from Delhi towards Lahore and at Kaithal in Haryana, then part of Punjab, her own troops abandoned her and the local Hindu Jaats murdered them both. So ended the Siddi slave sent from Lahore and Razia the first woman ruler of the sub-continent. Sher Khan Sanqar had won the day.

Thus it was that conspiring Turkish aristocrat called Sher Khan Sunqar who became the governor of Lahore as well as Bathinda, with a firm hold on the entire northern India. He was Ghiasuddin Balban’s most trusted general, and a very brave warrior at that. His importance to Lahore is the fact that when the first news of Mongol attacks on the Punjab came through, Balban entrusted him to fortify the fort and city of Lahore. How he did this is what interest us immensely.

Sher Khan Sunqar doubled the mud-walled fortifications by building a parallel wall and built in turrets at every 100 yards with bowmen assigned to shower arrows at approaching attackers. He also got the inhabitants of the city, then a narrow portion of today’s city, to build a higher wall by using the mud from outside the walls to build a moat, probably the first the city had seen. The lower portion was said to be thicker than five horse lengths.

But then sadly Sher Khan Sanqar did not die in battle. The crafty Mongol ruler known as The Great Khan Oegedi, sent his best general to surround Lahore in December 1241. But then as per Mongol practice they infiltrated women to join the harem and through them poisoned Sher Khan Sanqar, who was known for his fondness of women. On learning of his death they attacked on all sides and on December 30, 1241, butchered the entire population. They then proceeded to flatten Lahore and its entire dwellings.

So we see that the conspiring Sher Khan Sanqar who conspired against a woman was taken out by a woman. He was brave and ready to take on the ruthless Mongols, but fell to the charms of sweet poison in his wine cup. My admiration of the Abyssinian Siddi Habshi tribe slave, so loyal to Razia, needs more investigation, as does the long reign of Sher Khan Sanqar in Lahore. Both are unknown in our city’s history, which has been flattened and rebuilt seven times.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2017



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