When the poet Allama Iqbal immortalised Ayaz, the slave of the Afghan invader Mahmud, in his famous couplet, he became a legend everyone in Lahore involuntarily loves. It is time that this legend is examined in some detail to strip the myths from the facts as we know them.
In the middle of Chowk Rang Mahal is a modest small room. Within this is the grave of Ayaz, son of the Georgian Aymaq Abun-Najm. So our Ayaz was a European white man, not the black slave depicted in a lot of miniature paintings. The mysterious circumstance in which he died have never been seen in its proper context. There is also considerable material, all without credible sources, that tells us that Mahmud, after flattening Lahore in the year 1021 AD, left Ayaz as the city’s ruler. This is a wee bit misplaced, for both the historian Abu Sa’id Gardezi (d-1061) with first-hand information, and much later Firishta, the Iranian historian (1560-1620), refer to him merely as Mahmud’s ‘lakhtay’, a Pushtun polite word for ‘boy partner’. Why would Mahmud leave his favourite ‘boy’ behind when he himself did not stay in the flattened city?
In this piece my attempt will be to put the story of Ayaz in factual context, not in the popular romantic narration. We start with Mahmud, correctly titled Sultan Yaminud Daulah Mahmud, coming to the throne on the death of his father Sabaktagin in 1014 AD. On conquering Lahore in 1021 AD, Mahmud installed his ‘qazi’ Abul Hasan Ali, who was independent of his army ‘salars’.
We also know that Mahmud left his ‘salar’ (general) Abdullah Qiratigin as the ruler of Lahore. He was followed by Abul Fath of Damghan and the third ‘salar’ was Abul Farj of Kirman. All of them failed miserably to control the law and order situation around Lahore. The last general to be sent to Lahore was Aryaruq. He was a forceful character who joined hands with the ‘qazi’ and from that point onward no negative report about both the ‘salar’ or the ‘qazi’ reached Mahmud, who passed away in the year 1030 AD.
The question in my mind was just where was our beloved Ayaz in this time period? We know from the accounts of Abu Sa’id Gardezi - Mahmud’s court historian - that he was very much in Ghazni. That is strange for we had heard in popular history that Ayaz remained in Lahore all this time. From another description in ‘Tarikh-e-Baihaqi’, written in the Ghazanavi period by Abul-Fazl Bayhaqi, by far the most authentic history of that period with first-hand accounts, that Ayaz was the man who looked after Mahmud when he died and gave him his last burial bath on the 30th of April 1030 AD. This fact has been repeated by the historian Firishta.
So it seems Ayaz was, probably, never in Lahore after the 1021 AD conquest and flattening of Lahore. The persons in charge were Mahmud’s ‘qazi’ and his ‘salars’. From an administrative point of view this makes sense. To leave behind his loving favourite ‘lakhtay’ would be folly for a shrewd man like Mahmud.
At this point it makes sense to narrate the Ghaznavi succession map. Founded by Sabaktagin, the dynasty had three brothers to succeed. Ismail the younger took over on his father’s wishes while the elder Mahmud was away in Nishapur fighting the Samanid war. Experts believe that Sabaktagin’s choice was driven by the fact that Mahmud and his younger brother Nuruddin Yusuf, were the sons of slave girls, while Ismail was not. On hearing of his father’s death on 5th of August 997 AD, Mahmud returned and fought a fierce Battle of Ghazni. Ismail was defeated and imprisoned for the rest of his life in the fort of Guzgan. Even the poet Firdowsi satirised Mahmud’s slave mother in his ‘Shahnama’ on not being paid an agreed sum.
When Mahmud died his son Jalaluddin Daulah Muhammad took over, and within six months his court nobles and military removed him from power and invited his brother Nasiruddin Masud (1030 – 1042AD) to take over. He immediately released Khawaja Ahmed from Kalinjar Fort and appointed him the ‘wazir’ of Lahore in place of the powerful Aryaruq, who was asked to return to Ghazni. Once back in Ghazni, Aryaruq was imprisoned in Ghur and to work with Khawaja Ahmed a new ‘salar’ was appointed in India by the name of Ahmad Nialtigin. So by the year 1031 AD we see that Lahore had a ‘qazi’, a ‘wazir’ and a ‘salar’. Ayaz was certainly not in Lahore. Where was he?
We find that Ayaz was serving the new ruler Nasiruddin Masud, son of Mahmud. As Masud did not come to Lahore, just how could Ayaz be in Lahore? By this time Ayaz had become almost a household member of the royal Ghaznavis. In Lahore, conflict between the three major pillars of power took an ugly turn with all of them sending adverse reports about the others to Ghazni.
In 1032-33 AD after the ‘salar’, Ahmad Nialtigin, returned from an expedition to collect revenue and create new satraps for the ruler, he found the ‘qazi’ entrenched in the Mandhuker fort with his own new army. So we see that actual war broke out between two of the three top officials of Lahore. This is where the role of Ayaz returns to the scene.
He advised Masud to send a Hindu general, not an Afghan Muslim, by the name of Banah to stop Ahmad Nialtigin. In the first clash Banah was killed. So another Hindu general by the name of Tilak was sent, who roundly defeated the forces of Ahmad Nialgitin who ran towards Multan. Tilak sent a small force of Hindu Jats to capture him. Here Baihaqi claims the Jats killed him while Gardizi says he drowned in the Indus River while trying to cross. A Jat soldier brought his head to Tilak, who sent it to Masud in Ghazni.
This success in stopping the fighting in Lahore raised the stature of the slave Ayaz, who was elevated to the rank of a ‘Malik’, and has henceforth been called Malik Ayaz. It was on the 29th of August 1037 that Ayaz finally returned to Lahore along Majdud, the eldest son of Masud, who was appointed the Viceroy of Lahore over the ‘qazi’, the ‘salar’ and the ‘wazir’. Ayaz was to become the chief adviser of the young Majdud. The descriptions of the situation in Lahore by three major historians, namely Firishta, Baihaqi and Gardizi, tell us that while in name and title Majdud was the Viceroy, it was his ‘malik’ Ayaz who held all power.
In Ghazni, the power of Masud was being challenged by Saljuk Turkmans, resulting in him collecting all his wealth, originally looted from the Punjab and the sub-continent by Mahmud, on hundreds of camels and headed for the safety of Lahore. Near Margalla (modern Islamabad) his bureaucrats and his own guards struck and divided this massive treasure among themselves. Fearing a reaction from Masud, these conspirators approached the imprisoned and now blinded Muhammad to take over. He refused, moved to Giri fort, and appointed his son Ahmed as the new ruler. Ahmed went to Giri and assassinated Masud in 1041 AD.
At this point Masud’s army installed his son Shahabud Daulah Maudud as the new Ghaznavid ruler, and retook Ghazni. He then moved towards the Indus and faced the entire family of the blind Muhammad. In the battle the entire family of Muhammad was killed. But the land east of the Indus, with Lahore as the capital, was now under his brother Majdud and his ‘wazir’ Ayaz. On the 4th of August of that year they met just outside Lahore.
The next morning was Eidul Azha and Majdud was found dead in bed with no wound marks. A few days later on 8th of August, 1041, in mysterious circumstances Malik Ayaz was also found dead in bed. The entire power structure of Majdud and Ayaz collapsed. Maudud was the unchallenged Ghaznavi ruler from then onward.
The mystery of the death of Ayaz remains. Was he murdered or committed suicide? His services to Lahore cannot be verified during the brief five years he was here. Till then the myths and the mysteries of Ayaz the Slave will remain in our dubious school textbooks, as also in some excellent verses by great poets.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2017