Unrecorded resistance

Punjab’s history is replete with examples of resistance against foreign invaders

Unrecorded resistance


unjabis have frequently been accused, sometimes on account of ignorance of history and sometimes through some inherent prejudice, of offering no resistance to foreign invaders. In fact, it is alleged that they have always welcomed them. The fact of the matter is otherwise. Punjab’s history is replete with examples of resistance and rebellions against foreign invaders and usurpers regardless of the outcome.

Raja Porus or Paurava is credited with checking the advance of Alexander of Macedonia in the ferocious Battle of Hydaspes (River Jhelum) – also known as the Battle of Elephants – in 326 BC, after the latter had subdued many kingdoms, nations and tribes and was dreaming of reaching the “other end of the world”. This proved to be the last battle of Alexander’s life.

The Pal clan of the Hindushahis — Jayapala (964-1002 AD), Anandapala (1002-10 AD) and Trilocanpala (1010-21 AD), the then ruling dynasty of the Punjab, vigorously resisted Mahmood of Ghazna and his father, Subuktigin. The Ghaznavis had to invade the Punjab for more than thirty times between 977 and 1021 AD due to the steadfast resistance of the Hindushahis.

The legacy of Punjab’s resolute resistance was carried forward by Abdullah Bhatti alias Dulla Bhatti, his father, Farid, and grandfather, Sandal alias Bijli who challenged the Mughal rule. Twice their revolt compelled Akbar the Great, to shift his capital from Delhi/ Agra to Lahore. All of them sacrificed their lives in this struggle against the mighty Mughal empire.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh later robustly defended the Punjab till his death in 1839 against the British East India Company, which had already subjugated Indian territories in the eastern and southern regions. The Company had to fight two wars (known as Anglo-Sikh Wars) to conquer the Punjab. The final battle at Chailianwali in the Mandi Bahauddin district is recorded as one of the toughest fought by the Company in the Indian subcontinent.

There are plenty of other instances where the Punjab and Punjabis resisted the foreign invasions and usurpations. Some of those have gone unnoticed and unrecorded. The purpose of this writing is to bring forth the resistance of Jasrat Khokhar against Tamerlane and the Sayyid Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate for over two decades.

Jasrat Khokhar’s family, birth and early life are not known. He was the brother of Shaikha Khokhar (although some accounts claim that Jasrat was the son of Shaikha), a chief of the Khokhar tribe that ruled the countryside between the Rivers Ravi and Chenab. Jasrat Khokhar came to limelight when he was captured by Tamerlane’s army during his invasion of India in 1398-9.

Unrecorded resistance

There were plenty of instances where the Punjab and Punjabis resisted the foreign invasions and usurpations. Some of those went unnoticed and unrecorded.

The story goes that Jasrat Khokhar intercepted Taimur’s march towards Delhi in 1398 AD. Khokhar, accompanied by 2,000 of his tribesmen, decided to confront Taimur between Tulamba and Dipalpur. According to Malfuzat-i-Taimuri, he was defeated but managed to escape and reach his brother Shaikha, who had captured Lahore by taking advantage of the confusion created by the invasion of Taimur. However, Taimur’s grandson, Pir Muhammad, killed Shaikha and took Jasrat a prisoner. He was carried to Samarkand. Though details are not available, Jasrat contrived a way to escape the prison.

On his return to Hindustan, Jasrat took over as chief of his Khokhar tribe. In the meantime, Sultan Ali Shah of Kashmir went to see his father-in-law, the Raja of Jammu, leaving the administration of his sultanate in the hands of his brother Shahi Khan. Upon his return from Jammu, Shahi Khan refused to acknowledge Ali Shah and proclaimed himself as ruler. The latter, with the help of Rajas of Jammu and Rajouri, defeated and expelled his brother from Srinagar. Shahi Khan then sought help from Jasrat Khokhar. The two easily defeated Ali Shah. Subsequently, Shahi Khan ascended the throne of Kashmir as Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin. He ruled the sultanate for fifty years.

This success — which provided him with a large booty and the new sultan’s friendship, coupled with his courage and the chaotic state of the Delhi sultanate following the death of Sultan Khizar Khan – encouraged Jasrat Khokhar to articulate a plan to conquer Delhi. Zain-ul-Abidin helped Jasrat with men and money. Tughan Rai, the deposed ruler of Jalandhar also joined hands with Jasrat against his former patrons — the sultans of Delhi. This augmented his strength. Yahya bin Ahmad Sirhindi, the author of Tarikh-i-Mubarik Shahi, describes him: “intoxicated with victory, and elated with the strength of his forces, he began to have visions about Delhi”.

Jasrat Khokhar started his march from Sialkot and crossed the Rivers Ravi and Beas. He defeated Rai Firoz Khan, the ruler of Ludhiana, at Talwandi. Next, he reached Jalandhar marching along the southern bank of the Sutlej River. Jalandhar was under the charge of Zirak Khan who was captured and imprisoned. Jasrat then marched towards Sirhind, which was ruled by Sultan Shah Lodhi on behalf of the Sultanate of Delhi. Jasrat laid siege to the fort. However, he had to retreat due to the rainy season and the arrival of reinforcements from Delhi.

In similar fashion, Jasrat Khokhar made several attempts at conquering Delhi. However, his dream of becoming a sultan of Delhi did not materialise. He had to contend with a guerilla revolt and resistance. Despite his unsuccessful attempts, Jasrat Khokhar cannot be discredited for his resistance against Tamerlane and the sultanate of Delhi throughout the reigns of Mubarak Shah (1421-1434 AD) and his successor, Muhammad Shah (1434-1445 AD).

The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University and is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad. He can be contacted at mazharabbasgondal87@gmail.com. He tweets at @MazharGondal87

Unrecorded resistance