Suhaldev: Shravasti Raja who Defeated and Killed Ghaznavid General Salar Masud in 1034 AD
Most modern historians have designed history textbooks in line with secularism avoiding depiction of the feats of hundreds of thousands of warriors who resisted Muslim invasion and British aggression. They consider the glory of Raja Suhaldev as ‘semi-legendary’. Muslim historical records find mention about Suhaldev. Certainly these records won’t glorify a Hindu ruler, but they do glorify about ‘Ghazi’ Salar Masud and his dargah at Bahraich. Salar Masud earned the title of ‘Ghazi’ because he was killed in a battle. The title denotes him as a religious warrior. He was killed in battle at Bahraich by Suhaldev, the king of Shravasti.
A detailed description of Suhaldev is found in Mirat-i-Masudi, a historical biography on Ghaznavid general Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud. The book was written in Persian by Abd-ur-Rahman Chishti in the 17th century. Chishti wrote the historical drama based on the book Tawarikh-i-Mahmudi written by Mulla Muhammad Ghaznavi, who belonged to the court of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni.
Suhaldev was the king of Shravasti, now in Devipatan division of Uttar Pradesh. According to Alexander Cunningham, archaeological surveyor to the government of India in the 1860s and founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, Suhaldev’s predecessors from the period of 900 AD find mention in the traditional accounts of Tharu Rajas of Gonda of UP. According to Cunningham, Suhaldev, also called Suhridal-dhaj, ascended the throne of Shravasti around 1000 AD. Suhaldev was known by various names such as Sohal Deo, Suhildev, Suhar Deo, etc.
The ancient city of Shravasti carries forward a legacy of several thousand years. King Shravasta from the Vedic period founded this kingdom. It was one of the major cities that flourished during the time of Gautam Buddha. It was the capital of the Kosala kingdom that draws its lineage from Shri Ram. Shravasti was the place where Buddha first came, 2500 years ago, at the invitation of Sudatta, a rich merchant, who was also known as Anathapindika. Sudatta bought a piece of land from Jeta, the then king of Shravasti, for building a vihara. The king donated valuable wood for the construction of the vihara; hence the place where the vihara was built was also called Jetavana Vihara. It was here where Buddha spent the longest period of time. Over time, Buddhist followers from Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, South Korea and other countries donated for the construction of stupas, viharas, and monasteries in Shravasti. Today, Shravasti is an important Buddhist pilgrimage centre and home to ancient Buddhist monuments.
Raja Suhaldev ruled the kingdom of Shravasti wisely. He was the emperor of the region with several small kingdoms each under a chief under his emperorship. He was known far and wide for his skills in warfare and leading armies to victory. Like Krishn’s Mathura, Shravasti and neighboring kingdoms were home to great number of cows. Suhaldev initiated measures for the protection of cows. He was a patron of saints and staunch follower of Vedic rituals.
Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud, also known as Ghazi Miyan, was the nephew of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. During Mahmud’s conquest of parts of India in early 11th century, Salar Masud accompanied him in the expeditions. He was with Sultan Mahmud when the latter destroyed the Somnath temple, looted the temple treasury, and killed hundreds and thousands of Hindus. Ghaznavid campaigns in Indian subcontinent were a success in Multan, Delhi, and Meerut under the leadership of Salar Masud. To further expand the Ghaznavid influence in India, Masud set up his headquarters at Satrikh in the Barabanki area of Uttar Pradesh. From here he dispatched separate forces to capture Bahraich, Gopamau and Benares. The Bahraich expedition was led by Salar Masud’s father Salar Sahu, who died at Satrikh in 1032. Salar Masud then himself led the Bahraich expedition in 1033 AD.
Several kingdoms shared their local boundaries with Bahraich. Salar Masud camped at Bahraich. Who isn’t familiar with Sultan Mahmud’s loot and plunder of the Indian cities and razing of temples to the ground? Mahmud and his followers took women as slaves, raped them, destroyed temples, converted many to Islam, killed those who refused to convert, and their list of atrocities goes on. Mulla Muhammad Ghaznavi in his book Tawarikh-i-Mahmudi wrote about Sultan Mahmud, “And in the work of religious war he had planted the banners of Islam and had pulled up the roots of tyrants.” Salar Masud exactly followed Sultun Mahmud’s footsteps in all of his military expeditions in India.
With an aim to subjugate all of the kingdoms in and around Bahraich, Salar Masud started encountering with the rulers one by one. A year passed by but he was not able to vanquish all of the rulers.
At Bahraich, he saw the ruins of a Hindu temple dedicated to Surya Dev with a sacred reservoir adjacent to it. The site was once an ashram where Balark Rishi lived. Masud decided to construct a mosque at the site after his military expedition of Bahraich was complete. According to an account by William Charles Bennet, Salar Masud wished to destroy the shrine and reside there thenceforth.
Meanwhile, Raja Suhaldev invited the rulers of his neighboring kingdoms to his court. The defeated rulers as well as those who were ready to face Salar Masud in battle assembled at Shravasti. As decided, the combined forces of the Hindu rulers led by Suhaldev were to face the Ghaznavid forces at Chittora near Bahraich. Suhaldev strategized on the military formations and other tactics so as to defeat Salar Masud and his forces. The Shravasti king’s army consisted of not only infantry but also cavalry, war horses and elephants.
Salar Masud came to know about the plan of Suhaldev. Both parties had entrusted spies to know about the ongoing plans. Masud was well aware that Suhaldev revered cows. Hence, he hatched a plan. He decided to put a huge herd of cows in front of his army in the battlefield. And he knew Suhaldev would not harm cows and hence he and his army would retreat. And then as they would retreat, the Ghaznavid forces would attack and subjugate them. Masud’s men captured huge number of cows from the area. Suhaldev came to know about this. A few hours in the night before the great battle was to start, the Raja’s men quietly released all the cows.
A fierce battle took place between the combined forces of Suhaldev and Salar Masud at Chiottra near Bahraich on 15 June 1034. The Ghaznavid forces made a dash at the center of the Hindu army lines hoping to dissect the army into two and directly reaching the king. But, the Hindu infantry held on and the resulting melee gave enough time to the cavalry of Suhaldev to outflank the Ghaznavid army. Once flanked, what followed was total carnage as Ghaznavid flanks disintegrated and total confusion prevailed. Salar Masud’s forces could not withstand the furious charge of the Hindu army. There were major casualties from Masud’s side.
Suhaldev himself marched ahead in the battlefield and attacked Salar Masud. The Ghaznavid general was no match to the fierce Hindu king who struck terror amid the Muslim army. In the ensuing fight between the two, Salar Masud was heavily wounded. Before he breathed his last, he asked his followers to bury him near the sacred reservoir in the Surya Dev temple premise.
Hindu kings have a track record of following the rules of Dharma in warfare. They took care of the injured at the end of the day. They never interfered into the religious affairs of the followers of other religion. So did Suhaldev. Salar Masud was allowed to be buried at Bahraich. More than 200 years later, Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq turned it into a dargah, which emerged as an important pilgrimage site for the Muslims.
Ironically, Hindus in large numbers visit the dargah even today to offer prayers to the Ghaznavid Ghazi who once looted and plundered Hindu kingdoms, destroyed temples, killed Hindus, and converted many to Islam. William Henry Sleeman, the British Resident in Awadh, wrote in his book Journey through the kingdom of Oude published in 1850 and later edited by P. D. Reeves in Sleeman in Oudh: An Abridgement of W. H. Sleeman’s A Journey Through the kingdom of Oude, “Strange to say, Hindoos as well as Mahommedans make offerings to this shrine, and implore the favours of this military ruffian, whose only recorded merit consists of having destroyed a great many Hindoos in a wanton and unprovoked invasion of their territory. They say, that he did what he did against Hindoos in the conscientious discharge of his duties, and could not have done it without God’s permission—that God must then have been angry with them for their transgressions, and used this man, and all the other Mahommedan invaders of their country, as instruments of his vengeance, and means to bring about his purposes: that is, the thinking portion of the Hindoos say this. The mass think that the old man must still have a good deal of interest in heaven, which he may be induced to exercise in their favour, by suitable offerings and personal applications to his shrine.”
Several historical accounts and architectural additions to the burial place of Salar Masud prove his death in battle to be true. And if his accounts are true and historically proven, the historicity of Suhaldev cannot be questioned, as done by many modern historians and non-believers of the Hindu Raja’s saga.
In 1250, Nasir ud din Mahmud, the Sultan of Delhi, constructed an architectural complex around the tomb. Amir Khusro, the 13th century poet, mentioned about Masud’s dargah in a 1290 AD letter. In 1341, Ibn Battuta and Muhammad bin Tughluq visited the dargah; the former wrote about the Ghazi. Ziauddin Barani wrote about Masud in his book Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi mentioning him as one of the heroes of Mahmud’s campaigns in India. Mughal court historian Abul Fazl wrote that Salar Masud was connected to Mahmud of Ghazni by blood and that ‘he sold his life bravely in battle and left an imperishable name.’ Akbar himself visited the dargah and made a grant for it. And the list of historical account goes on.
Our reverence and salute to Raja Suhaldev, the forgotten hero of India. Jai Hind!
1. Fascinating Hindutva: Saffron Politics and Dalit Mobilisation, Badri Narayan
2. Sleeman in Oudh: An Abridgement of W. H. Sleeman’s A Journey Through the kingdom of Oude, P. D. Reeves
3. Muslim Saints of South Asia: The Eleventh to Fifteenth Centuries, Anna Suvorova
4. Conquest and Community: The Afterlife of Warrior Saint Ghazi Miyan, Shahid Amin.
Featured image courtesy (representation purpose only): Quora.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely of the author. My India My Glory does not assume any responsibility for the validity or information shared in this article by the author.