Classic Afghan Poets
KHOSHAL KHAN KHATTAK
KHOSHAL KHAN, the renowned chieftain of the powerful Afghan trilbe of Khattak-alike a warrior and a poet-was born in the year 1022 of the Hijrahi (AD. 1613). Shahbaz Khan his father, having received a wound in a battle with the Yusufzis-one of the most numerous and powerful of all the Afghan tribes-from the effects of which lie shortly after died Khoshal, who had also been severely wounded in the head and knee, in the same battle, in the year H 1050 (A.D. 1640), with the unainmous consent and approbation of his relations and friends, became chief of his tribe. His father’s fief was confirmed to him by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, together with the charge of protecting the royal road from Attak, on the Indus to Peshawar; and other duties were entrusted to him by that sovereign, in whose estimation Khoshal stood high. He accompanied Sultan Murad Baksh, the son of that monarch, on his expedition to Badakhshan in 1645, and was also engaged in other wars of that period.
On the death of Shah Jahan Khoshal continued to serve his son and successor, Aurangzeh, in the same capacity as formerly; but after some time, through the machinations of his enemies, among whom was Amir Khan Shahdar, or governor of the province of Kabul, he fell under the displeasure, or rather suspicion of the monarch, and was sent prisoner to the strong bill fortress of Gwalior, in Upper India, where he remained in captivity about seven years; and there it was that many of the following poems were written. At length, at the recommendation of Muhabhat Khan, the second of that name, Aurangzeb released Khoshal, and sent him, along with the noble just referred to-who had been lately appointed Subah-dar of Kabul-for the purpose of settling the affairs of the Peshawar district, which had fallen into a very distracted state. But the iron had entered the soul of Khoshal, and on reaching his native country, he kept as retired as possible; ceased to hold any intercourse with the governor of the province, and other subordinate officers; and declined rendering any assistance to the troops of the Emperor.
Khoshal’s tribe had been long at feud with many of the other Afghans around Peshawar, amongst whom were the Yusufzis- fighting against whom, as before mentioned, his father lost his life- and was generally engaged in hostilities with one or other of them; but with the Afridis, who were also powerful, the Khattaks maintained a close alliance. Matters, at length, went so far between the Khattak chieftain and the Mughal authorities, as to produce an open rupture. Khoshal now girded his loins with the sword of courage; and in concert with Aemal Khan, and Darya Khan, chiefs of the Afridis, carried on, for seven or eight years, a determined and destructive war with the Mughals, in which the latter were generally defeated.
The whole of the Afghan tribes from Banu to Jalalabad, seeing the success of their countrymen over the hated Mughals, had been drawn, by degrees, into the confederacy, which now aimed at no less than the total expulsion of the Mughals from Afghanistan. But the Yusufzis, who could have aided so effectually, held aloof; and would render no assistance to their countrymen, through enmity to the Khattaks, notwithstanding that Khoshal went in person, even as far as the Suwat valley, to endeavour to instil into them some of his own and his confederates’ patriotic spirit, hut without effect-they were deaf to the voice of the charmer.
Affairs at Peshawar had assumed such a serious aspect, that Aurangzeb considered it necessary to appear in person on the scene; and for about two years he remained encamped at Attak, superin-tending the prosecution of the war; and that wily monarch, finding force unavailable in such a difficult country, began to try the effect of gold. In this he met with the success he desired; and some of the petty clans of the confederacy became fascinated with the gold of the Mughals, and submitted to the government; whilst others of Khoshal’s friends began either to desert him, or to give him cause to doubt their sincerity; and Aemal Khan and Darya Khan, his most powerful, and most trusty supporters, having previously been removed, by death, from the scene, such an effect was produced upon the fine spirit of Khoshal- that he became disgusted, and sought to find peace in retirement.
At length, he resigned the chieftainship of the Khattak tribe, in favour of his eldest son Ashraf, and devoted himself to books and literature. On Ashrafs becoming chief of the clan, Bahram, another son, who appears to have been always regarded with aversion by his father for his degenerate acts, succeeded in gaining over a considerable party to his side, and appeared bent upon bringing mis-fortune upon his brother. They met in battle several times; and on one occasion, Bahram was taken prisoner, but succeeded, by his artfulness and duplicity, in exciting the pity of his injured brother, who set him at liberty. Khoshal well aware of the disposition of Bahram, was highly incensed with Ashraf for allowing him to escape so easily, and, as it turned out, not without reason; for no sooner was Bahram free, than he again commenced his intrigues against Ashraf and at length, in the year H. 1093 (A.D. 1681), he succeeded in betraying him into the hands of the Mughals. Aurangzeb sent him prisoner to the strong fortress of Bejapur, in Southern India, where, after lingering in captivity for about ten years, he died. A further account of this unfortunate chieftain, will be found prefixed to his poems; for, like other sons of Khuahhal, as well as numbers of his descendants, he was a poet as well as his father.
Afzal Khan, the young son of Ashraf now took up arms in his father’s cause, and was installed in the chieftainship by his grand-father, who was still regarded as their natural and rightful chief, by the majority of the tribe; but the youth and inexperience of Afzal-for he was only seventeen years of age-could not yet cope with the wily Bahram, who was also aided and upheld by the Mughals. Khoshal therefore, taking Afzal’s youth into consideration, and in order to prevent his clansmen from shedding the blood of each other, interfered between the contending parties, fearing that the tribe might hesitate to obey one of such inexperience, and allowed Bahram to enjoy the chieftainship, advising Afzal to bide his time, and not lengthen his father’s captivity by opposition for the present. Afzal, therefore, retired with his family into the friendly country of the Afridis.
Not content with this success in all his schemes, Bahram would not allow his aged father to end his days in peace. Several times he made attempts upon his life. He once despatched his son Mukarram Khan with a body of troops, to endeavour to secure the old man’s person. Mukarram went, as directed, against his grand-father; but the brave old chieftain, who had attained his 77th year, having discovered the party from the place of his retreat, advanced to meet them with his drawn sword in his hand, at the same time-to quote the words of Afzal Khan his grandson, already alluded to, who subsequently wrote a history of these events-exclaiming, “Whoever are men amongst you, come to the sword, if you dare; but veneration for the aged chieftain was so predominant in every one’s breast, that no one would make any attempt to lay hands on him;” and Mukarram, ashamed, returned as he went. Bahram, his father, enraged at his son’s failure, ordered him to return, with directions to kill Khoshal with his own hand, if he should refuse to deliver himself up. On Mukarram’s return, to carry out this inhuman order of a degenerate son, the old chief again advanced from his place of shelter, and taking his stand upon the crest of the hill, with his good sword in his hand, again dared them to approach; and in this manner is said to have remained on the watch for several days. But no one amongst the party had either the inclination or the courage to face him, whom they stilt regarded as their natural chief.
Bahram, however, thinking the prey in his toils, bad despatched a message to the Mughal governor at Peshawar, to the effect that the old lion was at length at bay; and requested him to send a sufficient escort to take charge of him, and conduct him to Peshawar. Khoshal, however, having been warned, as soon as night set in, made his escape, after two of Bahram’s party had lost their lives, and by the next morning succeeded in reaching the boundary of the Afridi tribe-who had always been his friends- a distance of 90 miles from Akorrah, the scene of the occurrences just related.
Khoshal took up his residence in the Afridl country, and returned no more to the home of his fathers, which he loved so well. He died as he had lived, free, among the mountains of his native land, in the 78th year of his age. Before taking his de-parture from a world, in which he had drunk so deeply of the bitter cup of treachery and unfaithfulness, he particularly charged those few of his children and friends, who had remained faithful to him through all his trials and misfortunes, that they should bury him where-to use his own words-” the dust of the hoofs of the Mughal cavalry might not light upon his grave ;“ and that “they should carefully conceal his last resting-place, lest the Mughals might seek it out, and insult the ashes of him, at whose name, whilst in life, they quailed; and by whose sword, and that of his clansmen, their best troops had been scattered like chaff before the gale.” A third request was, that in case any of his faithful children should succeed, at any time, in laying hands upon Bahram the Malignant, they should divide his body into two parts, and should burn one half at the head of his grave, and the other at the foot. He was buried, accordingly, at a place named I-surraey, a small hamlet in the Khattak mountains, where his tomb may still be seen; and, according to his dying request, his last resting-place was kept concealed, till all danger of insult from the Mughals had passed away.
Khoshal Khan was the father of fifty-seven sons, besides several daughters; but, with the exception of four or five of the former, they do not appear to have been particularly worthy of their parent’s affection.
Khoshal, from all accounts, was a voluminous author, and is said to have composed about three hundred and fifty different works. This, however, must be greatly exaggerated; nevertheless, he is the author of numerous works, which I have myself seen, both in Persian, and in the Pashto, or Afghan, consisting of Poetry, Medicine, Ethics, Religious Jurisprudence, Philosophy, Falconry, etc., together with an account of the events of his own chequered life. It is greatly to be regretted, however, that his descendants, after his death, had not the opportunity to collect all his writings together; and the upshot is, that many are known only by name. Amongst those which have thus been lost or dispersed is, I fear, the autobiography I have referred to.
Some of Khoshal’s poetical effusions, written during his exile in India, and whilst struggling against the power of Aurangzeb, will, I think, be considered highly of, even in the form of a literal translation, and in an English dress, as coming from the pen of an Afghan chief, cotemporary with the times of our Charles I., evincing, as they do, a spirit of patriotism, and love of home and country, not usual in the Oriental heart, but such as we might look for In the Scottish Highlander, or Swiss mountaineer, of bygone days, whom the hardy Afghans strongly resemble. A more extended account of Khoshal’s writings, and those of his descendants, will be found in the Introductory Chapter to my Afghan Grammar, published last year, together with an account of the Afghans and their literature.
Up to the time of Khoshal’s chieftainship, the bounds of the Khattak country were not well defined; that is to say, each family of the tribe had no fixed lands allotted to them. Khoshal caused a survey to be made of all available land; fixed the boundaries; entered them in a register; and, according to the number of each man’s family, assigned a corresponding quantity of land for cultivation. This arrangement is still in force, and hitherto has not, that I am aware of, been deviated from; and many small towers of stone, erected to mark the different boundaries, still remain.
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