Recently I have reviewed an interesting book by the acclaimed Indian author Amish Tripathi. The title of the book is Legend of Suheldev: The King Who Saved India. The only question that came to my mind after hearing this title for the first time was – who is this king who saved India and why am I not aware of such a great warrior? I thought others might also be having the same question in their minds. So, I made little effort to find out about this unsung hero who had saved India from the barbaric invaders, centuries ago. In this blog, I am presenting all the information that I could gather about this great king. Let’s find out more-
When I began my search, many versions of Suheldev’s legend were available in different places, I’ll be presenting all those versions of his story and leave it on you to decide which version seems the most realistic to you. Here, we need to keep ample margin of consideration, as we are trying to know about a king who existed almost ten centuries ago and the first available documented proof about his existence was written almost six centuries after his death. So, let’s begin with our favourite source of knowledge on any topic i.e., Wikipedia. As per Wikipedia, Suheldev is a legendary Indian king from Shravasti, currently a district in Uttar Pradesh, who is popularly known to have defeated and killed the Ghaznavid general Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud at Bahraich in 1034 CE. It quotes a historical document Mirat-i-Masudi, written by Ab-dur-Rahman in the 1620s, who was a writer in the rule of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. It was written in the Persian language. Mirat-i-Masudi literally translates to Masud’s mirror. It is considered as the biography of Gazi Saiyyad Masud. This is the first documented proof of king Suheldev’s story. According to it, Suheldev was the eldest son of the king of Shravasti, Mordhwaj. But in the entire document Suheldev was referred to with different names like Sakardev, Suhirdhwaj, Suhriddev, and Suhildev. It is written in this that Masud was the nephew of Mehmud Ghaznavi, who at the age of sixteen, accompanied his father Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Sahu in attacking India. They crossed the Indus river and won Multan, Delhi, Meerut, and Barabanki. Masud decided to halt in Barabanki which required them to safeguard themselves from the neighboring Hindu kings, for which he sent his armies to win those places. One of those armies was led by his father himself, who defeated the kings of the places nearing Bahraich. Still, the kings were not ready to back off. Meanwhile, in 1033 CE, Salar Masud decided to conquer Bahraich, where he met the mighty Suheldev. They were on a winning spree until they faced Suheldev. In this battle of Bahraich, Masud got badly injured and these injuries later led him to his death. Now, this was all gathered from this one document, Mirat-i-Masudi, which was written around six centuries after the incident took place so obviously, it becomes questionable in absence of any supporting evidence. Historian Shahid Amin was among the many, who raised questions on the authenticity of the information provided in this document. In his book ‘Conquest and Community: The Afterlife of Warrior Saint Ghazi Miyan’, he strongly argues that this document was a work of art; that it was an imaginary piece of creative writing by a Sufi Saint. He provided many proofs and facts to support his argument.
Another wing believes Suheldev to be a Pasi King. Professor Badri Narayan in his book ‘Fascinating Hindutva: Saffron Politics and Dalit Mobilisation’, wrote that Suheldev was the ancestor of ‘Bhar’ community. There is a temple also in Bahraich, which is dedicated to him. People of Rajbhar and Pasi community have been considering him as their king for centuries. There is a possibility of this belief to be true as Suheldev’s kingdom was not very big and back then the Bhar and Pasi communities, which were strong enough, would establish their own small kingdoms. King’s army had a good chunk of people from these communities too. A historian, Abhinav Prakash from the Indus Research Centre in his article, ‘The Forgotten Battle of Bahraich’, mentioned about Suheldev, his ways, and techniques of fighting and his allies but no proof was presented to support these claims. Everything he wrote was based on hearsay. It is written in this article that at the time of the attack, a confederation of 21 kings led by Suheldev, used to rule Lakhimpur, Sitapur, Lucknow, Barabanki, Bahraich, and Shrawasti. He stated that Suheldev survived the battle of Bahraich whereas at many other places it is mentioned that this war became the reason for Suheldev’s death.
One more version of Suheldev’s story is presented in a 2015 published book, ‘Rashtra Rakshak Maharaja Suheldev’ written by Dr. Parshuram Gupta. It says that Suheldev was king Prasenjit’s son and he was born on the auspicious day of Basant Panchami. He was Nagvanshi Bharshiv Kshatriya, who in today’s time are called Bhar or Rajbhar. It mentions the names of all the 21 ally kings also but the source of this information is not mentioned in the book. It says that Suheldev destroyed the Ghaznavid army so brutally that for the coming 160 years, these invaders from Afganistan didn’t dare to cross Punjab and Sindh borders. This book was launched in a program chaired by Shri Rajnath Singh & Shri Ashok Singhal where they said that it is high time now that the Indian historians correct the history of India which was distorted deliberately by the Britishers by bribing the historians of those times. This is the main reason why not much information is available about king Suheldev. Similar kind of story was published in Avadh gazetteer. According to it, Suheldev was born in 990 CE on the day of Basant Panchami. His rule was from 1027 CE to 1077 CE. His reign was till Gorakhpur in the east and Sitapur in the west. He was a religious man who was an ardent worshipper of the Sun God. Impressed by his chivalry and courage, the neighbouring kings of Gonda, Lucknow, Barabanki, Faizabad, Unnav, Gola and Lakhimpur declared him as their Maharaja. It is mentioned in this gazetteer that 21 kings were ruling peacefully under his protection. Suheldev is believed to have led many battles fought to save and protect the Hindu pride and culture. The biggest act of his bravery is stated to start when Mehmud of Ghaznavi left India after robbing it off for 17 consecutive times and was then honoured as Ghazi owing to his wins. The latter had this dream of establishing a Sunni Islamic empire in the whole world. In 1026 CE, he looted the Somnath temple of Gujrat. After his death, his nephew Saiyyad Salar Masud also wished to be honored as Ghazi, so he decided to attack India. He got a difficult fight from Delhi’s king Rai Mahipal and his brother Rai Hargopal but managed to win Delhi. Masud’s next destination was the epicenter of the Hindu faith, Ayodhya and Varanasi. His barbaric army wreaked havoc on the ruling kingdoms because of which many kings surrendered and made a pact with him. Some of them even converted to Islam to save their kingdoms. Masud was unbeatable until he met Suheldev. He had to cross Bahraich to reach Ayodhya hence there was no other option than to fight with Suheldev. On the other side, Suheldev was keeping a sharp eye on Masud’s movements through his able network of spies. He warned all his allies beforehand, to be prepared to fight Masud’s humongous army of around 1.5 lac soldiers. During the battle with Masud, Suheldev was on the verge of losing as Masud’s army attacked at the midnight against the war code. Suheldev asked for help from his people and they happily agreed to join his army to help him. And thus, a huge army was formed which defeated Salar Masud’s army of 1.5 lac and Masud was killed after two day’s battle by Suheldev. After Masud’s death his commander Salar Ibrahim sent a peace message to Suheldev, which got refused by the latter. Not a single soldier from Masud’s army was spared in the war. This was the reason; the Islamist invaders didn’t dare to attack India for many coming decades.
Now there is one more version to king Suheldev’s story. The Rajbhar and Pasi community people believe him to be their ancestor. According to a historian from Bahraich, Dr. Rajkishore, it is very difficult to search for some authentic information about king Suheldev. He stated that there is very little and very confusing information available on king Suheldev in the Bahraich gazetteer, which was published in 1907. In this journal many different castes were used with reference to Suheldev like, Rajput, Bhar, Pasi, Jain and Buddhist; which means that it can not be concluded firmly as to which caste he belonged to. However, the stories of his bravery are found in the local folklore of Uttar Pradesh and the eastern regions of India as well. It is believed that Suheldev belonged to Bhar caste which is one among the 14 subcastes of the Pasi community. It is said that he was a brave king under whom 14 kings ruled their kingdoms. One more story about him states that he converted to the Jain religion. This is mentioned in the book, ‘Jain Dharm Ke Shaasak’.
As I mentioned in the beginning that the inspiration for this blog came from the book authored by the frontline Indian author Amish Tripathi, on this great warrior. He and his team had done an ample amount of research on this forgotten hero. Here, I would like to quote some excerpts from his discussion with the noted actor Anupam Kher, on the same topic. In Amish’s words, even after being a native of Kashi, he was not aware of king Suheldev’s existence while him being one of the most consequential heroes of Indian history. He said quoting a historian, Sajiv Sanyal, “the problem is with the history that is taught to us, it is the history of the invaders not of our ancestors who fought with them.” Till 1027 CE many foreign invaders invaded India. Then there was a peaceful gap of good 160 years. The invasions started again in 1190s, when the lethal brutality began again. In 1192 CE, Muhammad Ghori defeated king Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain and established Islamic rule in India. So, now the question arises is- why India was not invaded during such a long period between 1030 CE to 1190 CE? This peaceful era was owing to the valor of king Suheldev. Amish said, Suheldev fought the wars with Lord Krishna’s attitude i.e., ‘Shathe Shathyam Samacheret’ which means deal with the devil in his own way. He united all the Indians from different castes and creeds and saved India from the Turkic invaders for 160 years. Mirat-i-Masudi, British gazettes, and folklore were his major sources of information, as mentioned by him.
So, this was all I could gather about this great unsung hero, Suheldev. We saw that there is a disagreement about his caste and his time of death. Some say he died after the Bahraich war and some say that he ruled till 1077 CE. His caste is also a matter of controversy but one thing is common in all the versions is that the dreadful defeat of Salar Masud in the hands of Suheldev kept other Islamist invaders away from India for the next 160 years. We Indians must only remember that centuries ago, there existed a patriotic king who was the reason behind 160 years of freedom of our motherland from the barbaric foreign invasions, Suheldev…