Indian History Part 59 The Lodi Dynasty Section I Origins of the Lodis

Singapore, 15 October 2017 


Legendary Connection to Mythology

The tale of the origins of the Lodis starts with their connection to Adam, the first human being according to religious mythology. It begins with the proclamation that 18 generations after Adam, Ibrahim was born. His son Yaqub, the progenitor of the Israelites had 12 sons. One of the descendants, 12 generation later, was Talut (or Saul). Talut had a son named Irmiya (Jeremiah) whose son was Afghan. Afghan is supposed to have given his name to the Afghan people and the country where they reside, Afghanistan. Qais, Afghan’s descendent 35 generations later, settled down in Ghur with his kinsmen.

Qais and his clan were converted to Islam by Khalid bin Walid, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions. Qais assumed the name of Abd ur Rashid and waged many battles on behalf of the Prophet, his companions and the increasing number of followers to the new religion. The Prophet was very pleased with his actions and named him Malik (king) and Pehtan, meaning the keel or rudder of the ship. This is how the Afghans and the Pathans came into being. This also the underlying reason why Afghans as a people love the title ‘Malik’.

Qais, alias Abd ur Rashid and also called Pehtan, married a daughter of Khalid bin Walid and had three sons—Sarban, Batan and Ghurghust. A daughter of Batan, Bibi Matto, fell in love with Shah Husain a prince of Ghur. Their intimacy led to Bibi Matto becoming pregnant and then to marriage when the pregnancy could no longer be concealed. The offspring thus born was called Ghilzai, meaning ‘born of theft’ in the Afghan language. His descendants were called Ghilzais. Bibi Matto’s second son was named Ibrahim. Qais, his great-grandfather, observed signs of greatness in Ibrahim even as a child and called him Loi-Dey, meaning that Ibrahim would find greatness one day. Colloquially that ‘nickname’ became corrupted to ‘Lodi’. Lodi in the Afghan language means the great, the grown-up, or the elder.

Ibrahim’s son Siani had two sons, Pranki and Ismail. Eight generations after Pranki, Bahlul was born into the Shahu Khel tribe of the Lodi clan. The second son Ismail had two sons—Sur and Nuhani—whose descendants came to be called the Surs and the Nuhanis. The four major clans of Afghanistan—the Ghilzais (also called Ghaljis), Lodis, Surs and Nuhanis—are all descendants of Bibi Matto. The clans retained very strong family ties.

Historical Narrative

There are claims and counter-claims regarding the origin of the Afghans, none of which can be accurately verified as the actual genealogical accounts are now intertwined with mythological accounts. It is difficult, if not impossible to untangle reality from myth. Variously the Afghans claim descent from the Israelites; or state that they are the copts, native Egyptian Christians, who wandered into Hindustan when the Israelites came to Egypt. Afghan ancestry therefore is traced to Qais, who was the legendary Bani Israel; to Egyptians; and to Persians depending on the study that is being analysed. The origins continue to be the topic of heated debate even today. However, the fact remains that from the time of Talut (Saul), new elements have been introduced into the mix. In order to add aura to the Afghan people, tracing a clan’s ancestry back all the way to great Jewish monarchs is a common trend. In medieval times it was common practice amongst Muslim nobility to create imposing genealogies that trace their descent either from Adam or establishes a direct connection to the Prophet. This practice continues to be widespread even in modern times.

The belief in their Jewish origin has been prevalent and pervasive in Afghanistan for a long time and continues to be so even today. This claim is not based on mythology alone. There is a close, and proven, resemblance between the Afghan people and the Middle-Eastern Jews. Further, the laws, customs and moral characteristics of social behaviour of the two peoples are surprisingly similar. However, the only doubt regarding the authenticity of this claim comes from the terrain of the region. The Suleiman Ranges of Afghanistan is not hospitable to mass migration and also not close to Egypt. Therefore, large-scale migration during the period of ancient history cannot be considered a possibility.

The most probable origin of the Afghan people can be thought to be the reality that they are a mix of different ethnicities. The reasons for supporting this hypothesis are many. Afghanistan is the site of more invasions and migrations than any other place in the world. Between 500 B.C. and 4th century A.D. Achaemenian (Iranian); Macedonian (after Alexander); Mauryan (Indian); and Saka, Indo-Parthian, Kushan, Sassanian (all Iranian) conquerors went through the region and even ruled some parts of eastern Afghanistan. Iranians had been enrolled by every army that rampaged through the region, with the exception of Alexander. There is visible influence of the Iranian language on the current language spoken in Afghanistan, Pakhtu or Pushtu. This may have been the reason for Ibn Battuta, the famous medieval traveller, to state in his chronicle, ‘Kabul is inhabited by a people from Persia called Afghan’.

The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan did not stop in the 4th century, it continued unabated to the 11th century. Between the 5th and 11th century, Afghanistan or major parts of it were ruled by dynasties that belonged to the White Hun, also called the Ephtnalite or Haytal (Turkish); Sassanian (Iranian); Kabul-Shahi or Zunbil (Turco-Iranian); Safavid (Iranian Muslim); and the Hindu-Shahi (Indian) dynasties. The nearly 16 centuries of conquest and occupation by different ethnicities has created the diversity that is seen in the Afghans and Pathans that inhabit the area today. The predominant influence remains that of the Iranian, Turkish and Indian stocks, and includes the Jewish impact on the local traditions. Further, even though the people have a mixed ethnicity, the origin of the local names remain either Jewish of Arabic.

The Pathans

The Pathans are generally considered to be the people of Eastern Afghanistan, from the region that is referred to as Roh. Roh, in the Indian Punjabi language, means mountain and is used to denote the region around the mountain wall of the Suleiman Ranges as seen from the plains of Multan. The Suleiman Ranges extend north from Bugti country in Sindh to Ghazni in the west and Peshawar in the east. There is a prevalent theory that the Pathans are not the descendants of Qais as repeatedly mentioned in folklore. This assertion is supported by the chronicle of Ibn Batuta and the autobiography of Babur the first Mughal Emperor. Neither of these books mention the word Pathan, Pakhtun or Pashtun. In these two tomes, the people of the region that constitute modern-day Afghanistan are only mentioned as Afghan and their language as Afghani. Considering that Ibn Batuta was an acutely observant traveller and that Babur was detailed in recording his autobiography, this should be conclusive proof that the appellation of Pathan was a later-day addition made to distinguish a smaller group of people, unique to a particular region. The word Afghan, over a period of time, came to be applied to all the people of the region and of the entire country. Pathan remained the name by which the people of the Roh were called.

Islamisation of the Afghans

Considering the modern history of the country for the past few decades, the question that arises is, when did the Afghans convert to Islam? The earliest recorded reference to the Afghans is found in a 3rd century Sassanian inscription where they are referred to as Abgans. In India, the famed astronomer Varaha Mihira refers to them as Vokkana in his monumental book Brahma-Samhita compiled in 6th century. Huien Tsang the Chinese monk-traveller mentions the people of the northern Suleiman Ranges as A-po-kien, which can only be a Chinese version of the word Afghan.

It is obvious that the religious conversion in Afghanistan started with the Arab invasions in the 7th century and continued through the invasion of the Saffavid dynasty in the 9th century. Contemporary chronicles of the time mention separate enclaves of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims in Kabul. Alberuni, mentions the Afghans of the mountains to the west of the sub-continent and extending to the valley of Sindh as being ‘Hindus’. He also referred to Peshawar by its Hindu name – Parushawar. Further, Alberuni provides a great number of references to Gandhara and the Indian kings ruling in Afghanistan, mentioning their capital as Vaihind. Therefore, it is obvious that Islamisation had not yet reached eastern Afghanistan as late as the 10th century.

It is reliably reported that Mahmud Ghazni fought against infidels in the Suleiman Mountains. It is also reported that in the famous battle between Muhammad of Ghur and Prithviraj Chauhan, the Afghans fought on both sides of the battle. Therefore, it can be surmised that the Afghans had not been fully converted to Islam even at this stage. Clearly the account of the conversion of Qais and all his companions to Islam is only a story, passed down generations as folklore, gaining the status of a myth, and nothing else.

Rise of Afghan Nobility

The Afghans were tall, fair and warlike—not appreciative of any control on personal liberties and individual freedom; with a predominant streak of independence—who were poor herders and small-time plunderers of opportunity. At the end of the 11th century, the Afghans had not yet been fully converted to Islam. However, the conquering armies passing through the passes of the region into ‘Hindustan’ freely recruited the war-like Afghans. From the 11th century, Afghans came into India as ‘soldiers of fortune’ and were an integral part of all the invading armies beginning with Mahmud of Ghazni’s first invasion.

One commander of Muhammad of Ghur was Malik Muhammad Lodi. The ascendency of the Lodi clan starts from the last raid of Muhammad of Ghur into India. During the reign of Iltutmish, a large contingent of Afghans fleeing the wrath of Genghis Khan joined the Sultanate army in Delhi. Even after the departure of Genghis and his hordes from the region, the majority of these Afghans stayed on in the service of the Delhi Sultans, under their commander Malik Khan. At this stage of the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, a large number of Afghans were despatched to outlying garrison posts, as troops and officers, to form the vanguard of border protection of the emerging Sultanate. On the other hand, Afghans were also part of the numerous Mongol raids on the Sultanate, especially during the Khilji rule in Delhi. The Afghans were truly mercenaries, fighting on both sides of all conflicts.

It was Muhammad Tughluq who appointed the first Afghan governor, in Daulatabad although his name has been lost in antiquity. Muhammad’s successor, Firuz Tughluq, appointed Malik Bir Afghan as the governor of Bihar. Timur conscripted many Afghan officers and soldiers to strengthen his army during the invasion of India. He left Khizr Khan nominally in charge of the border outpost on his departure. Khizr Khan remained unpopular and hated by the people of Delhi throughout his life because of this rather tenuous connection to Timur. The result was that Khizr Khan was dependent on the support of the Afghan nobility to stay in power after coming to the throne in Delhi.

Under these circumstances it was but natural that many of the Afghan nobles rose to high positions in the Sultanate, a number of them holding governorships. From this time onward, the history of the Afghans lay in India, not in their homeland. By the time Bahlul Lodi seized the throne and assumed supreme power in Delhi, the remnant of the Sultanate was dominated by Afghan nobility.


© [Sanu Kainikara] [2017]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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