the mausoleum of sher shāh sūrī

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  • Artibus Asiae Publishers is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Artibus Asiae.

    The Mausoleum of Sher Shh Sr Author(s): Catherine B. Asher Source: Artibus Asiae, Vol. 39, No. 3/4 (1977), pp. 273-298Published by: Artibus Asiae PublishersStable URL: 18-09-2015 02:41 UTC

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    Sher Shah Suri (ca. 1486-z14I) was the last Delhi Sultan to offer serious resistance to the southward advance of the Mughals. In I $ 8, he was able to remove Humayun from the throne andforced him during this interregnum to take refuge in Persia; Sher's death in battle cleared the way for Humayin's successful return.

    he famed octagonal mausoleum of Sher Shah (plate I),1 one of India's most able rulers, is dated by inscription to the reign of his son, Islam Shah, 16 August, 1545, that is three

    months after Sher Shah lost his life at the siege of Kalingar.2 The location of this magnificent tomb at the center of an artificial lake in the small city of Sasaram in District Shahabad,3 Bihar is seemingly incongruous with the greatness of Sher's accomplishments. However, there are several reasons which explain Sher Shah's choice of Sasaram as the site for his hnal resting place. Sasaram lies on the Grand Trunk Road, a modern road which connects the major cities in North India, and essentially follows Sher's great highway which linked his empire from Sonargaon, in Bengal, to the Indus.4 The town itself is approximately Ioo miles to the southeast of Jaunpur, at that time a renowned center of Islamic learning, and about 250 miles west of Gaur, where Sher first proclaimed himself Sultan in I 5 38.5

    I As no standard nomenclature has yet been developed for the description of Indo-Islamic architecture, I have followed, as closely as possible, the terminology utilized in R. Nath, The Immortal Taj Mahal: The Evolution of the Tomb in Mughal Architecture (Bombay, I972), pp. 93-I05.

    2 Maulvi Muhammad Hamid Quraishi, "Inscriptions of Sher Shah and Islam Shah," Epigraphia Indo-Moslemica, (1923-24), p. 28. In some of his publications, Quraishl's name is spelled "Kuraishi" which is the way it appears throughout this paper.

    3 Old Shahabad District was recently subdivided, and Sasaram now falls into new Rohtas District. However, for purposes of this paper, I am using the old name of Shahabad District as it was the name of the administrative unit in Sher's time, and all chroniclers and travelers referred to it as such.

    4 Kalikaranjan Qanungo, Sher Shah (Calcutta, 192 1), pp. 3 88-9. 5 While the Tarikh-i-Sher-Shahi and other contemporary accounts state that the coronation of Sher Shah occured in

    I539 after the battle of Chausa, modern scholars now concur, largely on the basis of a number of coins which have come to light, that Sher declared himself Sultan in 945 A.H. (1538), that is before the battle of Chausa. Iqtidar Husain Siddiqui, History of Sher Shah Suri (Aligarh, I97I), p. 45. Recently Siddiqui on pp. 44-5 has argued, largely on the basis of a unique silver coin in the Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh, dated to 942 A.H. (I 5 35/6), that Sher termed himself Sultan as early as I 5 35. However, until a photograph of this coin is published or it can be examined first hand, the reading of this date seems questionable. The fact that there are no extant coins which indisputably were minted between I 5 3 5 and I 5 3 8 makes the reading of I 5 38 for this coin seem uncertain. C. F. Rodgers in "Sixth Supplement to Thomas's Chronicles of the Pathan Kings of Delhi," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, I 886, Part I, p. 21 I4, mentions a very small copper coin which is dated 943 A.H. (I536/7) and bears the inscription, "Sher Shah Sultanl," but Wright in The Coinage and Metrology of the Sultans of Delhi (Delhi, I936), p. 325, questions this attribution. Again, there is no published plate of this coin.


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  • Hermann Goetz feels that Sasaram, "... for Sher Shah ... was the very symbol of his life and glory," and thus he chose it for the site for his tomb.6 However, this does not seem an adequate explanation for the choice of Sasaram instead of Delhi, Sher's capital and that of the major Muslim rulers of India, for the monumental octagonal tomb. While Goetz's suggestion that Sasaram for Sher Shah was a symbol of glory is exaggerated, it is indeed true that Sasaram did represent much of Sher Shah's life. Early in Sher Shah's youth, Hasan Khan Sur, Sher's father, was granted Sasaram as his iqtd by Sikandar Lodi in return for his faithful and excellent services. For much of his life, Sher served as an administrator of the Sasaram pargana, first in the service of his father, and later as an amir under the Mughals. And, just as he built a tomb over the grave of his grandfather whose iqta was in Narnaul (District Mahendragarh, Haryana), in that same city, Sher erected mausolea for his father and himself in Sasaram.

    Even after Sher became Sultan and consolidated most of Northern India, he still considered Eastern India to be the seat of much of his power. This is indicated by the fact that out of 16 silver mint cities, which he had established by the time of his death in I545, eight were con- centrated between Chunar in the west and Fathabad (Bengal) in the east.7 The remaining eight silver mint towns were spread across a vast area from Kalpi, now in Uttar Pradesh, on the east, to Malot in the Punjab on the northwest, and Bakkar in Sind on the west.8 Alexander Cun- ningham has noted that Sher Shah's capital in Delhi was not very large in relation to the capital cities of many earlier Delhi Sultans.9 This again bears witness to the fact that Sher Shah, at the time of his death, was just beginning to consider Delhi as the center of his power. With all this in mind, it is easier to understand why Sher, unlike earlier Sultans, including other Afghan rulers, did not build his tomb in Delhi, but instead chose Sasaram, a provincial city in South Bihar and the site of his family iqtd for his tomb.

    Several other tombs built during the Suri period are found in Sasaram. Two of the tombs, like Sher Shah's tomb, are also octagonal, and one of them, the tomb of Hasan Khan Siiur (plate 2), Sher's father, is an immediate forerunner and model for Sher Shah's tomb. Hasan Khan died in about I5 26.1o His original grave was probably a simple stepped tomb whose type is commonly seen around Muslim mahallas. Sher Shah later erected an elaborate three-storied

    Until further evidence comes to light, Qanungo's suggestion that Sher Shah was much too clever to openly chal- lenge the Mughals by assuming the title of Sultan before I 5 38, can probably be accepted as the most viable. Instead, Sher preferred to remain a nominal vassal of the Mughals and in this safer guise make his bid for the throne of Delhi. Kalikaranjan Qanungo, Sher Shah and His Times (Bombay ), p. I43. It is also interesting to note an inscription published by Qeyamuddin Ahmad in Corpus of Arabic and Persian Inscriptions of Bihar (Patna, I973), p. I25, which is located in Amthua (Gaya District, Bihar) and is dated February I 5 36. It cites the erection of a mosque by the son-in- law of Sher Shah. Sher, in this inscription, is simply described as "Sher Khan (son of) Hasan Sur," and not by any royal titles. This evidence again tends to support Qanungo's theory that Sher Shah did not assume the title of Sultan earlier than I 5 3 8.

    6 Hermann Goetz, "Sher Shah's Mausoleum at Sasaram," Ars Islamica, Vol. V, part I (1938), p. 97. 7 Wright, p. 3 8 5. 8 Ibid. 9 A. Cunningham, Archaeological Survey of India Report, Vol. I (reprint ed; Varanasi, 1972), p. 222.

    Io Qanungo, Sher Shah and His Times, p. 22.


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  • octagonal structure over Hasan Khan's grave in the middle of the old town. While the inscrip- tion within the mausoleum does not actually date the tomb to a specific year, the patron is stated to be the Sultan Sher Shah,,I thus indicating that the monument could not be any earlier than 1538, when Sher declared himself Sultan. For reasons which will be discussed later, Hasan Khan's tomb should be considered as having been first commenced in the beginning of I 542.

    The third Suri octagonal tomb in Sasaram is that of Sher Shah's son, Sultan Islam Shah, who died in 15 54, leaving his monumental octagonal ediface, which measures 140 feet in dia- meter, or 5 feet larger than the tomb of his father, unfinished.,2 This tomb, located about half a mile to the north of Sher's tomb, follows the earlier model very closely, and like it, is situated in an artificial lake. The Islam Shah tomb is significant primarily in that it marks the end of the monumental three-storied octagonal tomb type set in water. This monument is especially im- portant for art historians for its unfinished walls reveal the rubble-filled interior which is faced with dressed stone, typic