Ahmed Shah Durrani

founder of the Afghan Durrani Empire (r. 1747–1772)

Ahmad Shāh Abdālī (c. 172216 October 1772), also known as Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, was the founder of the Durrani Empire and is therefore often regarded as the founder of modern Afghanistan. To Pashtuns, he is also known as Ahmad Shāh Bābā.

Ahmed Shah Durrani


  • Suddenly the breeze of victory began to blow,
    and as willed by Allah,
    the wretched Deccanis (Maratha's) suffered utter defeat.
    • Excerpt from Ahmad Shah's letter to Madho Singh Raja of Jaipur, cited from M. J. Akbar The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict Between Islam and Christianity p. 129.
  • Ahmad Shah greatly desired to subdue the Sikhs, and his army attacked and gained control of the Sikh's holy city of Amritsar, where he brutally massacred thousands of Sikh followers. Not only did he viciously demolish the sacred temples and buildings, but he ordered these holy places to be covered with animals blood as an insult and desecration of their religion.
  • But the Jat peasantry were determined that it was over their corpses that the ravager should enter the sacred capital of Braja. 'eight miles north of MathurA, JawAhir Singh barred the invader's path with less than 10,000 men and offered a desperate resistance (28th February, 1757). From sunrise the battle raged for nine hours, and at the end of it 'ten to twelve thousand infantry lay dead on the two sides taken together, the wounded were beyond count
    • Jadunath Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, Volume II, Fourth Edition, New Delhi, 1991, p.69.
  • The Hindu Bethlehem now lay utterly prostrate before the invaders. Early at dawn on 1st March the Afghan cavalry burst into the unwalled and unsuspecting city of Mathura, and neither by their master's orders nor from the severe handling they received in yesterday's fight, were they in a mood to show mercy. For four hours there was an indiscriminate massacre and rape of the unresisting Hindu population - all of them non-combatants and many of them priests.' Idols were broken and kicked about like polo-balls by the Islamic heroes. Houses were demolished in search of plunder and then wantonly set on fire. Glutted with the blood of three thousand men, SardAr JahAn Khan laid a contribution of one lakh on what remained of the population and marched away from the smoking ruins the same night.
    'After the tiger came the jackal. 'When after the massacre Ahmad ShAh's troops marched onward from MathurA, Najib and his army remained there for three days, plundered much money and buried treasure, and carried off many beautiful females as captives.' The blue waves of the Jamuna gave eternal repose to such of her daughters as could flee to her outstretched arms; some other happy women found a nearer escape from dishonour by death in their household wells. But for those of their sisters who survived there was no escape from a fate worse than death. A Muslim eyewitness thus describes the scene in the ruined city a fortnight later. 'Everywhere in the lanes and bazaars lay the headless trunks of the slain and the whole city was burning. Many buildings had been knocked down. The water of the Jamuna flowing past was of a yellowish color, as if polluted by blood. The man [a Muslim jeweller of the city, robbed of his all and fasting for several days] said that for seven days following the general slaughter the water had turned yellow. At the edge of the stream I saw a number of huts of vairAgis and sannyAsis [i.e., Hindu ascetic], in each of which lay a severed head with the head of a dead cow applied to its mouth and tied to it with a rope round its neck.'
    'Issuing from the ruins of MathurA, JahAn Khan roamed the country round, and plundering everywhere as directed. VrindAvan, seven miles north of MathurA could not escape, as its wealth was indicated by its many temples. Here another general massacre was practised upon the inoffensive monks of the most pacific order of Vishnu's worshippers (c. 6th March). As the same Muhammadan diarist records after a visit to VrindAvan: 'Wherever you gazed you beheld heaps of the slain; you could only pick your way with difficulty, owing to the quantity of bodies lying about and the amount of blood spilt. At one place that we reached we saw about two hundred dead children lying in a heap. Not one of the dead bodies had a head.' The stench and effluvium in the air were such that it was painful to open your mouth or even to draw breath.'...
    • Jadunath Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, Volume II, Fourth Edition, New Delhi, 1991, p.70-71. Also in Irvine W. 1907. Also partially in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857.
  • 'Next morning the sun revealed a horrid spectacle on the vast plain south of PAnipat. On the actual field of the combat thirty-one distinct heaps of the slain were counted, the number of bodies in each ranging from 500 upwards to 1000 and in four up to 1500 a rough total of 28,000. In addition to these, the ditch round the Maratha camp was full of dead bodies, partly the victims of disease and famine during the long siege and partly wounded men who had crawled out of the fighting to die there. West and south of PAnipat city, the jungle and the road in the line of MarAtha retreat were littered with the remains of those who had fallen unresisting in the relentless DurrAni pursuit or from hunger and exhaustion. Their number - probably three-fourths non-combatants and one-fourth soldiers - could not have been far short of the vast total of those slain in the battlefield. 'The hundreds who lay down wounded, perished from the severity of the cold.'....
    'After the havoc of combat followed massacre in cold blood. Several hundreds of MarAthas had hidden themselves in the hostile city of PAnipat through folly or helplessness; and these were hunted out next day and put to the sword. According to one plausible account, the sons of Abdus Samad Khan and Mian Qutb received the DurrAni king's permission to avenge their father's death by an indiscriminate massacre of the MarAthas for one day, and in this way nearly nine thousand men perished; these were evidently non-combatants. The eyewitness Kashiraj Pandit thus describes the scene: 'Every Durrani soldier brought away a hundred or two of prisoners and slew them in the outskirts of their camp, crying out, When I started from our country, my mother, father, sister and wife told me to slay so may kafirs for their sake after we had gained the victory in this holy war, so that the religious merit of this act [of infidel slaying] might accrue to them. In this way, thousands of soldiers and other persons were massacred. In the Shah's camp, except the quarters of himself and his nobles, every tent had a heap of severed heads before it. One may say that it was verily doomsday for the MarAtha people.'....
    The booty captured within the entrenchment was beyond calculation and the regiments of Khans [i.e. 8000 troopers of AbdAli clansmen] did not, as far as possible, allow other troops like the IrAnis and the TurAnis to share in the plunder; they took possession of everything themselves, but sold to the Indian soldiers handsome Brahman women for one tuman and good horses for two tumans each.' The Deccani prisoners, male and female reduced to slavery by the victorious army numbered 22,000, many of them being the sons and other relatives of the sardArs or middle class men. Among them 'rose-limbed slave girls' are mentioned.' Besides these 22,000 unhappy captives, some four hundred officers and 6000 men fled for refuge to ShujA-ud-daulah's camp, and were sent back to the Deccan with monetary help by that nawab, at the request of his Hindu officers. The total loss of the MarAthas after the battle is put at 50,000 horses, captured either by the AfghAn army or the villagers along the route of flight, two hundred thousand draught cattle, some thousands of camels, five hundred elephants, besides cash and jewellery. 'Every trooper of the Shah brought away ten, and sometimes twenty camels laden with money. The captured horses were beyond count but none of them was of value; they came like droves of sheep in their thousands.
    • Jadunath Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, Volume II, Fourth Edition, New Delhi, 1991, p.210-11. Also quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.
  • “Moving a fortnight behind his vanguard, the AbdAli king himself came upon the scene. He had stormed Ballabhgarh on 3rd March and halted there for two days. On 15th March he arrived near MathurA, and wisely avoiding that reeking human shambles crossed over to the eastern bank of the Jamuna and encamped at MahAvan, six miles south-east of the city. Two miles to his west lay Gokul, the seat of the pontiff of the rich VallabhAcharya sect. The AbdAli’s policy of frightfulness had defeated his cupidity: dead men could not be held to ransom. The invader’s unsatisfied need of money was pressing him; he sought the help of ImAd’s local knowledge as to the most promising sources of booty. A detachment from his camp was sent to plunder Gokul. But here the monks were martial NAgA sannyAsis of upper India and RajputAna. Four thousand of these naked ash-smeared warriors stood outside Gokul and fought the AfghAns, till half of their own number was killed after slaying an equal force of the enemy. Then at the entreaty of the Bengal subahdAr’s envoy (Jugalkishor) and his assurance that a hermitage of faqirs could not contain any money, the AbdAli recalled the detachment. ‘All the vairAgis perished but Gokulnath [the deity of the city] was saved’, as a Marathi newsletter puts it.” [Rajwade, i. 63.]
    • Jadunath Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, Volume II, Fourth Edition, New Delhi, 1991, p.70-71
  • Abdali’s soldiers would be paid 5 Rupees (a sizeable amount at the time) for every enemy head brought in. Every horseman had loaded up all his horses with the plundered property, and atop of it rode the girl-captives and the slaves. The severed heads were tied up in rugs like bundles of grain and placed on the heads of the captives…Then the heads were stuck upon lances and taken to the gate of the chief minister for payment.
    • Tarikh-i-Alamgiri, Kazim 1865, [1]
  • "It was an extraordinary display! Daily did this manner of slaughter and plundering proceed. And at night the shrieks of the women captives who were being raped, deafened the ears of the people…All those heads that had been cut off were built into pillars, and the captive men upon whose heads those bloody bundles had been brought in, were made to grind corn, and then their heads too were cut off. These things went on all the way to the city of Agra, nor was any part of the country spared."
    • Tarikh-i-Alamgiri, Kazim 1865, [2]
  • 'I have myself seen the depredations of the Afghans round Dehli and Mattra. God defend us from them! It makes the very hair of the body stand on end to think of them. Two hundred thousand men were destroyed in these massacres, and the hordes of the enemy were without number. Such atrocities, forsooth, were perpetrated in compliance with their religion and law! What cared they for the religion, the law, the honour and reputation of the innocent sufferers? It was enough for such bigots that splendour accrued by their deeds to the faith of Muhammad and 'Ali!'
  • “Ahmad Shah Abdali in the year AH 1171 (AD 1757-58), came from the country of Kandahar to Hindastan, and on the 7th of Jumadal awwal of that year, had an interview with the Emperor ‘Ãlamgir II, at the palace of Shah-Jahanabad… After an interval of a month, he set out to coerce Raja Suraj Mal Jat, who from a distant period, had extended his sway over the province of Ãgra, as far as the environs of the city of Delhi. In three days he captured Balamgarh, situated at a distance of fifteen kos from Delhi… After causing a general massacre of the garrison he hastened towards Mathura, and having razed that ancient sanctuary of the Hindus to the ground, made all the idolaters fall a prey to his relentless sword…”
    • Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), Tarikh-i-Ibrahim Khan in Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own historians, Vol. VIII, pp. 264-65.
  • The Marathas are the thorn of Hindostan.... by one effort we get this thorn out of our sides for ever.
    • Smith, The Oxford History of India, 462. Quoted from Spencer, Robert (2018). The history of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS.
  • A new Muslim invader, Ahmad Shah Abdali, who tried to salvage the Muslim rule, had to give up after several attempts from 1748 to 1767 A.D. His only satisfaction was that he demolished the Harimandir and desecrated the sacred tank with the blood of slaughtered cows, two times in a row. But the Sikh and non-Sikh Hindus rallied round the Khalsa again and again and rebuilt the temple every time.
    • Swarup, Ram, & Goel, S. R. (1985). Hindu-Sikh relationship. (Introduction by S.R. Goel)
  • In the evening Raja Nagar Mal (Mir's patron at the time) left the city, and in due course safely reached the forts of Suraj Mal (ruler of the Jat kingdom). I stayed behind to look after my family. After evening, proclamation was made that Shah Abdali had granted security to all, and that none of the citizens should be in any fear. But night had scarcely fallen when the outrages began. Fires were started in the city and houses were burnt down and looted. The following morning all was uproar and confusion. The Afghans and Rohillas (Najib's soldiers) started their work of slaughter and plunder, breaking down the doors, tying up those they found inside, and in many cases burning them alive or cutting off their head. Everywhere was bloodshed and destruction, and for three days and three nights this savagery continued. The Afghans would leave no article of food or clothing untouched They broke down the walls and roofs of the houses, and ill-treated and tormented in inhabitants. The city was swarming with them. Men who had been pillars of the state were brought to nothing, men of noble rank left destitute, family men bereft of all their loved ones. Most of them roved the streets amid insult and humiliation. Men's wives and children were made captive, and the killing and looting went on unchecked. The Afghans humiliated and abused their victims and practiced all kinds of atrocities upon them. Nothing which could be looted was spared, and some would strip their victims even of their underclothing. The new city (Shahjahanabad) was ransacked.
    On the third day some sort of law and order was introduced, but the officer in charge himself completed the work of despoliation; and when at last the looters were driven out of the new city, they simply turned their attention to the old, where they put countless people to the sword. For seven or eight days the tumult raged. Nobody was left with clothes to wear or with enough food even for a single meal. Many died of the wounds they had received, while others suffered greatly from the cold. The looters would carry off men's stores of grain and then sell it at an extortionate price to those who needed it. The cry of the opposed rose to heaven, but the king (Abdali), who considered himself a pillar of true religion, was quite unmoved. Large numbers of people left the city and fled into the open country, where many of them died. Others were carried off by force to the invader's camp. I, who was already poor, became poorer. My house, which stood on the main road, was leveled with the ground.4
    • Eyewitness Account [of Mir Tagi] from Luni, near Delhi (January 1760). Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, Shah Wali-Allah and His Times (Canberra, Australia: Ma'rifat Publishing House, 1980), pp. 304-305. As quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus. appendix.
  • They burned the houses,' says the Tyrolese Jesuit Tieffenthaler, who was in India at that time, ' together with their inmates, slaughtering others with the sword and the lance ; hauling off into captivity maidens and youths, men and women. In the temples they slaughtered cows,' the sacred animal of the Hindus, ' and smeared the images and pavement with the blood.'
    • About Ahmad Shāh Abdālī conquest of Mathura. Hunter W., 373 "The Indian empire : its peoples, history, and products" [3] also in Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857. 23
  • Here the Shah halted for two days more. Meantime, as early as the night of 26-27 Feb., he had detached Jahan Khan and Najib with 20,000 men, telling them, “Move into the boundaries of the accursed Jat, and in every town and district held by him slay and plunder. The city of Mathura is a holy place of the Hindus; .... let it be put entirely to the edge of the sword. Up to Agra leave not a single place standing.” The Shah also conveyed a general order to the army to plunder and slay at every place they reached. Any booty they might take was declared a free gift to them. Any person cutting oft and bringing in heads of infidels should throw them down before the tent of the chief minister, wherewith to build a high tower.
  • (The Braj) was all in flames and blood because of the barbarity of the Durranis, together with the Rohelas...
    • Wendel's Memoirs on the Origin, Growth and Present State of Jat Power in Hindustan (1768) quoted from Jain, M. (2010). Parallel pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim relations, 1707-1857. 128
  • He ordered general massacre of the Hindus on the eve of Holi.... Instead of playing with red colour of holi, the Hindus were drowned in rivulets of blood.... Their severed heads were joined with the severed heads of the cows for the display.
  • About one of Durrani's generals, Jahan Khan, in Mathura. Battle tactics and war manoeuvres of the Sikhs, DS Saggu

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