Sher Shah and Sur Dynasty From the time Humayun abandoned the throne in the Battle of Kanauj to his regaining of power in 1555 Delhi was ruled by Sher Shah of the Sur Dynasty. Born in the family of a Jagirdar and named as Farid, he received the title of Sher Khan after killing a tiger (sher in Hindi). When he ascended the throne, he was called Sher Shah. Through his ability and efficiency, he emerged as the chief of Afghans in India. His military capability and diplomacy made him victorious over Humayun and many other Rajput rulers. Malwa fell without a fight. Rana Uday Singh of Mewar surrendered without resistance. Sher Shah’s next venture to capture Kalinjar failed as a gunshot caused his death in 1545. Sher Shah was succeeded by his second son Islam Shah who ruled till 1553. His death at a young age led to a state of confusion about succession. Humayun used this opportunity to regain Delhi and Agra from the Sur rulers.
Sher Shah’s Reforms
When Sher Shah was pursuing Humayun, he had left Khizr Khan as the Governor of Bengal. Khizr Khan married the daughter of the former ruler of Bengal, Sultan Mahmud, and started behaving like a king. On his return Sher Shah ordered him to be put in chains. As one familiar with the problem of provincial insubordination, he thought that the real solution to the problem would be to set up a strong administrative system. So he made his government highly centralised. The local administrative structure of the Delhi Sultanate was followed with certain changes.
The village headmen who were made responsible for the goods stolen within the area under their control became vigilant. The welfare of the peasants was a prime concern. When the peasant is ruined, Sher Shah believed, the king is ruined. Sher Shah took great care that the movements of the army did not damage crops. He followed a flexible revenue system. Land was surveyed and revenue settled according to the fertility of the soil. In some areas, the jagirdari and zamindari systems were allowed to continue.
In yet other places he arranged to collect only a portion of the gross produce. Jagirdari It is a land tenure system developed during the Delhi Sultanate. Under the system the collection of the revenue of an estate and the power of governing it were bestowed upon an official of the state. Zamindari The term refers to another land tenure system. The word zamindar means landowner in Persian. In Mughal times the zamindars were drawn from the class of nobles. Akbar granted land to the nobles as well as to the descendents of old ruling families and allowed them to enjoy it hereditarily.
Zamindars collected revenue from the tenants and cultivators and remitted a fixed amount to the state. Sher Shah showed the same concern while dealing with traders. In order to encourage trade, he simplified trade imposts, collecting taxes only at the point of entry and the point of sale. The standardization of the metal content of gold, silver and copper coins also facilitated trade. His currency system continued through the entire Mughal period and became the basis of the coinage under the British.
For enhancement of trade and commerce Sher Shah maintained a robust highway system by repairing old roads and laying down new roads. Apart from repairing the Grand Trunk road from the Indus in the west to Sonargaon in Bengal, he also built a road connecting Gujarat’s seaports with Agra and Jodhpur. A road was laid connecting Lahore with Multan. The highways were endowed with a large network of sarais, rest houses, where the traders were provided with food and accommodation, ensuring brisk commerce.
Some of the sarais constructed by Sher Shah still survive. These sarais also ensured the growth of towns in their vicinity. Sher Shah practiced charity on a large scale. He gave stipends from the treasury to destitute people. Sher Shah was an orthodox and devout Sunni. He is said to have dispensed justice without bias, punishing the oppressors even if they were nobles or his relatives.
Through stern punishments to rebellious zamindars and nobles and to thieves and robbers he ensured effective maintenance of law and order in the empire. The fiscal administration for which Akbar and Todar Mal have been so highly praised was largely based on the methods of Sher Shah. During his short rule, Sher Shah did not have much time for building new cities and palaces. He started building a new walled city in Delhi, which later came to be known as Purana Qila (Old Fort). He built his own mausoleum in Sasaram.