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"Raja Suhel Dev... The forgotten Hero of the forgotten war. The Indian history of the last millennium is the history of the heroic resistance to foreign invasions & rule. From 8th century CE, India came under the sustained assault by the forces of Islamic imperialism beginning with the Arab invasion of the Sindh. But the Islamic expansion was halted by the Rajput confederacy in the Battle of Rajasthan in early 8th century CE. Decisive defeat of Arabs in the battle of Rajasthan and by Emperor Lalitāditya Muktapīḍa (724 CE–760 CE) of Kashmir put an end to the Arab dream of conquest of India. Thus, the first phase of the Islamic Imperialism ended in the East. And by the 719 CE, Nārāyaṇa (Southern Tajikistan), Ghourek (Samarkand) and the Indianized Turk Tuṣārapati (Bukhara) blocked the Arab advance in central Asia. With this ended the first chapter of the Islamic assault on central Asia. But the Islamic invasions were revived three centuries later with the conversion of Turks to Islam. This inaugurated the second phase of Islamic invasions of India with the armies of Mahumd Ghaznavi smashing through the Indian defense lines in the Afghanistan and northwest India. During his sack of Somnath temple in 1026 CE, his 11-year-old nephew Saiyyad Salar Masud accompanied him. He was the son of Ghazi Salar Sahu, a descendent of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, son of Hazrat Ali and Sitr-i-Mu’alla, sister of Mahmud Ghaznavi. He was born at Ajmer in 1015 CE. After the death of Mahmud Ghaznavi, Masud invaded India in May 1031 CE with a 100,000 strong army. He had imbibed the military skill and religious zeal of his uncle and even at the young age he was a proven military commander. His first military conflict was with Raja Mahipal Tomar of Delhi, which he was able to surmount only with the help of timely re-enforcements from Ghazni. From here he marched into the upper Doab towards Meerut whose ruler Raja Hari Dutt surrendered and accepted Islam. From here Masud marched unto the Kannauj via Bulandshahr& Badaun. Kannnauj, by then was a far cry from the glory days of Gurjar-Pratihar. The local ruler along with his son accepted Islam and surrendered vast amount of wealth to the Masud along with allowing Kannauj to be used as a military base for the further Islamic conquest in the Awadh and Purvanchal. Around this time, Pasi kings ruled the Awadh and the surrounding regions. Pasi is a schedule caste with the population of 80-90 lakhs, which is found in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Orissa with its highest concentration in the Uttar Pradesh, where it forms the second largest Dalit community. They are among the original inhabitants of the Awadh region and have been an important player in the history of the region. Narrative relating to the origin of Pasis claim descent from the sage Bhrigu (a Saptarshi & preceptor of Dhanurveda, an upveda of science of war) or from Parashuram of the clan of Bhrigu. It is narrated that Parashuram created five sword wielding warriors from five blades of grass and Pasi is derived for the word ‘asi’ meaning sword i.e. who hold sword. Essentially a fiercely independent & rebellious community it was described by Major-general Sir William Henry Sleeman in 1830s as well armed with bow and arrows and formidable at night battles. Also, according to the colonial anthropologists Rose (1919) and Ibbetson (1916) the name Pasi is derived from the use of ‘Pasa’, meaning noose, to climb trees or ‘Pasha’ used in battles to entrap enemies. Some traditions also hold that Pasis belong to the Nagvansha and are descendants of the Nagas who settled in the Terai region of the Himalaya near modern day Balrampur, Shravasti & Bahraich in UP to escape from the ‘Nag Yagna’ of Janmejay during the Mahabharata era. William Crooke recorded that Pasis have very strong tradition that they were rulers of the doab region. Sir C. Elliott stated in his Chronicles of Unao that after the close of the heroic age, when ‘Ajodhya’ was held by the Surajvansi Rajputs under the great Rama, we find after an interval that Ajodhya has been destroyed, the Surajvansis utterly banished, and rule passed to Cheros in the far east, Bhars and Pasis in the centre and west respectively. Other colonial Gazetteers like Awadh gazetteer and District gazetteer, Khiri point to the rule by Pasis and other ‘aboriginal’ castes during the 9th century CE. Several Pasi kings ruled the region, most notable among them are Maharaja Bijlee Pasi, founder of Bijnor and contemporary of Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Maharaja Satan Pasi of Ramkot, Maharaja Lakhan Pasi, credited with the founding of Lucknow, Maharaja Daldeo etc remains of whose forts still dot the landscape. They were replaced by Rajputs as the rulers in several areas but it was the Islamic invasions that perpetrated their downfall and they suffered heavy persecution under the Muslim rule. By 18th century CE, more fortunate among Pasis were reduced to being militiamen of local Jagirdars. They were then slammed under the Criminal Tribes Act under the colonial British India due to their rebellious streak and massive participation in the war of independence, 1857 and several agrarian unrests. At present, Pasis in the Awadh and neighboring areas are mostly small farmers, although middle and some large farmers can also be found. They are also the traditional village watchmen while in the Purvanchal and Bihar they engage in toddy tapping as well. Pasi Kings often had a confrontational relation with the Rajput rulers of Kannauj but with the beginning of the Islamic invasions the entire dynamics changed. During this period Kingdom of Shravasti was ruled by the Raja Suheldev who is also known by various names like Sakardev, Suhirdadhwaj, Sukhdev etc. He was the son of Mangal Dhwaj and disciple of Balak Rishi whose Ashram was located in Bahraich. In the popular culture and memory, he is known as one among the Pasi kings but is claimed by several other castes as well, most notably by the Bhars. He is also claimed to be a Kshatriya of the Nagvanshi lineage or a Bais/Vais Kshatriya by some. This is not surprising due to the obvious difficulty of projecting the modern day caste identities in the history and also due to the division & assimilation of castes and formation of new castes over the period. According to R.V Russell, Pasi is an occupational off-shoot of Bhars and in Kheri, the Pasis always claim kindred with the Bhars, and in Mirzapur the local Pasis represent the Bhars as merely a subcaste, though this is denied by the Bhars themselves! On the other hand, one of the Pasi sub-caste-Rajpasi, claims decent from the Bais rajputs. In fact, according to H.N Singh, Pasi like other major castes is a mixed community absorbing various peoples over time and also spawning new castes as the sub-castes drift away from the parent caste. Among the various sub-castes, Kaithwas are said to share origin with Kayastha while Gujar Pasis are possibly related to Gurjar-Pratiharas. The surnames used by Pasis also point to the diverse origins of the community. They range from Saroj, Raahi, Chaudhary, Singh, Gautam, Rawat, Varma, Kol, Bharti, Pal etc. The six widely accepted Pasi sub-castes are Raj pasi, Kaithwas Pasi, Pasmangta Pasi, Gujar Pasi, Arakh Pasi and Baurasi Pasi. During the invasion by Salar Masud, regions of Lakhimpur, Sitapur, Lucknow, Barabanki, Unnao, Faizabad, Bahraich, Sravasti, Gonda etc were ruled by a confederacy of 21 Pasi chieftains under Raja Suheldev. They were 1) Rai Saheb 2) Arjun 3) Bhaggan 4) Rai Raib 5) Gang 6) Makran 7) Shankar 8) Karan 9) Birbal 10) Jaipal 11) Shripal 12) Harpal 13) Harkaran 14) Harkhu 15) Narhar 16) Bhaalar 17) Judhari 18) Narayana 19) Dal 20) Narsingh 21) Kalyana. After a triumphant march though Meerut, Kannuaj & Malihabad, Masud arrived in Satrikh, a town in the Barabanki district. Starikh was an important Hindu place for pilgrimage where Guru Vashisht had taught the young Ram and Lakshman. Using Satrikh as his base, Masud sent his armies to conquer the neighboring areas. Miyya Rajab and Salar Saifuddin took Bahraich. Amir Hasan Arab took Mahona, Malik Fazal took Varanasi. Sayad Sahu took Karra and Manikpur. Syad Aziz-ud-din was sent against Hardoi, but fell in the battle at Gopamau. While at Satrikh, Masud got the distress call from Dost Mohammed at the fort of Dhundgarh near Rewari. Masud was forced to send his religious teacher, Saiyad Ibrahim Mashhadi Barah Hazari to relieve the siege. As per Ain-e-Masudi, Saiyad Ibrahim was an utterly fanatic commander and on whichever route he traversed, no non-Muslim could escape his sword unless he converted to Islam. But he was slain at the battle of the Dhundgarh along with several other commanders. His tomb is located at Kot Qasim, 20 km away from Tijara, a town in Alwar district near Rewari. Meanwhile, Salar Saifuddin was besieged at Bahraich and Salar Masud had to halt his march towards Ayodhya at the outskirts of the Saket near a town now known as Salarpur. He had to turn north to re-enforce Salar Saifuddin at Bahraich and thus setting the stage for the final showdown. The chieftains of Bahraich had assembled near the river Bhakla, a tributary to river Rapti. The first skirmish, a night raid, went in favour of the Salar Masud while second skirmish was a stalemate. It was with the arrival of the Suheldev with his brother Baherdev, the real battle ensued on 13th June 1033 near Chittaura Lake near the present day Bahraich city. Image of Suheldev statue in Lucknow Image of Suheldev statue in Lucknow Right wing of the Islamic army collapsed with the death of its commander Mir Nasrullah. The tomb of Mir Nasrullah is located at the village of Dikoli Khurd, 12 Km north of Bahraich. Soon Salar Miyya Rajab was slain. He was a close relative of Salar Masud and was known for his temperament and adamant nature. His tomb is located at Shahpur Jot Yusuf village, 3 km east of Bahraich and he is known as ‘Hathila Pir’. Following the ensuing chaos in the Muslim army, a large contingent of the Suheldev’s army under Raja Karan, penetrated the center of the Muslim army and thus giving it a bodily blow. Salar Masud was either beheaded by the Raja Suheldev or died due to an arrow piercing his throat. He died under a Mahua tree near the sacred Suryakund. It is claimed that after his death, a loyalist Salar Ibrahim organised a counter attack and killed Raja Suheldev in the next day of battle. However, it also seems that Suheldev survived the battle and constructed several water tanks in and around the Shravasti to commemorate his victory. The Chandradeo of Kannauj later subverted him as the defeat of the Muslim army re-ignited the old rivalries. But by 13th century CE they were both replaced by the new wave of Islamic invasions with the establishment of Delhi Sultanate. The field of battle of Bahraich acquired a religious hallow for Muslims who had began to venerate the ‘Ghazi Baba’ and countless ‘Shaheeds’ of Islam. Later, Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq, built his tomb at the place of the Ashram of Balak Rishi and the attached Sun temple & Suryakund. The Suryakund was said to have miraculous healing powers for skin diseases and leprosy (most likely the water was treated with various Ayurvedic herbs). What is notable about this battle is the vast Muslim army was defeated not by any powerful Indian empire but by a small confederacy of Kings of Bahraich which inflicted a crushing defeat on the invaders. The entire invading army was simply annihilated as no quarters were given. It become even more significant when we consider the fact that it was the same Muslim army which was used by Mahmud of Ghazni during his depredations in the North India and which, by historians, is considered to be too ‘advance’ for the contemporary Indian armies. It is a pity that not much work has been on this historical event, which halted the victorious march of the Islamic imperialism for decades soon after the raids of Mahmud of Ghazni. Instead what has happened is that the place has become the place of pilgrimage during the Urs of ‘Bale Miyan’ or ‘Ghazi Miyan’ towards the end of May in Jyeshtha month. It is the process of acculturation which has Islamised the Hindu folk tradition. The place has retained its reputation as the place of healing for the suffering from leprosy and other skin diseases and also as a fertility shrine. They are no doubt continuing with the sacred tradition of Sun worship, which pre-existed the cult of this Muslim ‘Sun of Martyrdom’ (Aftab-i Shahadat), who was buried under a Mahua tree beside a sun-temple so much so that his head is still supposed to rest on the image of the sun. The Suryakund has been renamed as Hoz Shamshi, Persian for SuryaKund. The story of Salar Masud has been re-casted as a tragic youth who was cursed to die as an unmarried or that of a liberator who fought again the oppression of the ‘evil’ King Suheldev. Even today when a strong wind blows, the gates of the Dargah are closed and an iron chain, said to be of magical powers, is tied at its front so that the “evil spirit” of Suheldev can’t entre the tomb to torment the Ghazi Miyan and his followers. But the memory of the great King has persisted in the popular local imagination and caste memories. As early as 1950, movement started to reclaim the memory of Raja Suheldev by organising a fair in Chittora but the permission was denied by the district administrator who imposed Section 144. It was only after a long struggle and political mobilisation that Section 144 was repealed due to the intervention of local congressmen. A local Raja of Prayagpur donated 500 bighas of land and Chittora Lake to the ‘Suheldev Smarak Samiti’ where a statue of Raja Suheldev was installed. Later on, a temple was constructed to honour the great hero and the celebration of Vijayotsav was started in the form of havan and public procession. The tradition of weapon worship during Dussehra was also revived. On the day of Basant Panchami, Rajyabhishek of Raja Suheldev is celebrated with great fanfare. Form 60s onwards, name of Raja Suheldev began to be openly used in the political campaigning by various candidates to appeal to the Pasi community. Today, all major political parties from BSP, BJP to SP to smaller local parties like Bharat Kranti Raksha Party (BKRP) invoke the name of Raja Suheldev to garner the Pasi votes. When BSP came to power in UP, several statues of Raja Suheldev were installed across the state under the greater BSP project of ‘re-instating’ the Dalit leaders and heroes in the public discourse. The movement was revived again in 2001 with the formation of ‘Maharaja Suheldev Sewa Samiti’. Today several drama companies in the region stage the story of Suheldev and his famous victory during various occasions to wild applause from the audience. But even today, a large number of Indians are ignorant about Raja Suheldev and this significant historic event."
Raja Suhel Dev... The forgotten Hero of the forgotten war.
The Indian history of the last millennium is the history of the heroic resistance to foreign invasions & rule. From 8th century CE, India came under the sustained assault by the forces of Islamic imperialism beginning with the Arab invasion of the Sindh. But the Islamic expansion was halted by the Rajput confederacy in the Battle of Rajasthan in early 8th century CE. Decisive defeat of Arabs in the battle of Rajasthan and by Emperor Lal
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