Before the middle of the 18th century in Iran, there was a ruler whose stories of cruelty are still told by the people living in the territories he invaded. The name of that Islamic ruler of Persia was Nadir Shah, who was the founder of the Afsharid dynasty. During the attack on Delhi, he committed atrocities far and wide. Then the weak Mughal regime had to hand over the whole of Afghanistan to him. Because of his military successes, historians also call him ‘Napoleon of Persia’.
Timur and Genghis Khan, the two most expansionist and ruthless rulers of Central Asia were the inspiration of Nadir Shah. Nadir Shah, who ruled Iran from 1736 until his assassination in 1747, took advantage of the revolt of the Hotaki Pashtuns to overthrow the then ruler Sultan Hussein. His empire in its peak extended to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, northern Caucusus, Iraq, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, and Oman.
Nadir Shah’s invasion of India
Nadir Shah sent a message to the Mughal ruler of Delhi, Muhammad Shah. At that time, he was carrying out his war campaign in Afghanistan and he made it clear to the Mughals that no fugitive from there should get shelter in the Mughal Empire. After Nadir Shah’s occupation of Kandahar, many people there fled to Kabul. The Mughals assured the Persian ruler that things would happen as he said.
But, when many Afghans took refuge inside the Mughal regime and Nadir Shah came to know of this, he took offence. Nadir Shah then sent one of his envoys to Delhi for the third time and asked him to return after a maximum stay of 40 days. However, in Delhi, the Mughals did not give him any importance or attention and also prevented him from going back. When a year had passed, Nadir Shah sent him an order asking him to come back irrespective of whether he would get a response from the Mughals or not. Nadir Shah had no intention of going towards Delhi, but he could not bear this insult.
Nadir Shah had no problem reaching Kabul because no one dared to stop him on the way and he was given the way out of fear. At Kabul, he must have had a mild war, but the Mughal army there had to surrender. By the summer of 1738, Persian troops had advanced from Kabul. On the way, he went on a rampage and recruited the strong muscular Afghans into his army.
When the chieftains of Kabul left for Delhi with Nadir Shah’s emissary with his message, the messenger was killed by Jalalabad’s governor Mir Abbas on the way. Mir Abbas had to bear the brunt of this in the form of Nadir Shah’s attack, in which he was murdered and his family was chained and presented before Nadir Shah. It is also worth knowing that when Nadir Shah reached Delhi, it was only thirty-two years since Aurangzeb’s death.
The Mughal Empire was steadily weakening, as the power of the Marathas in central India and the western part was constantly increasing. Many Muslim chieftains who ruled under the Mughals had also declared their independence. The Pashtuns in the north had started a rebellion, which had weakened the capacity of the Mughal regime in Afghanistan. Like the Ottomans and Persians, the wealth of the Mughals was also famous all over the world, so Nadir Shah also had the intention of committing heavy looting.
Nadir Shah first stopped at Kararbaug, located in the south of Ghazni, from where he entered the Mughal-ruled territory. His son Nasrullah went ahead with an army and captured Bamiyan. The governor of Ghazni ran away, but the other Muslims there welcomed Nadir Shah. Nadir Shah started ruling Afghanistan from Kabul itself and appointed his own people. He had a war with the Mughals near Khyber and Peshawar was occupied by Nadir Shah.
In February 1739, Nadir Shah built a bridge over the Indus river and after that, in the Battle of Karnal, the Mughals again suffered defeat. 120 km from Delhi, Muhammad Shah had arrived with a large military force, spanning a width of 3 km and a length of 25 km. Apart from the army of 4.5 million, there were also thousands of guns, cannons, and elephants in it, but most of the soldiers were untrained. It was Nadir Shah’s ploy that he forced Muhammad Shah to fight the war at the place of his choice. He had already done the whole recce.
Persian army wreaked havoc in Delhi
Nadir Shah killed 20,000 Mughal soldiers and Muhammad Shah had to surrender. The Mughal resistance was feeble. Muhammad Shah had to appear before Nadir Shah. When Nadir Shah entered Delhi, the defeated Mughals welcomed him with the firing of cannons and guns. Nadir Shah celebrated Persian New Year ‘Navroz’ in Delhi itself. But, the people of Delhi rebelled against Nadir Shah.
To crush the revolt, he came down to terrible cruelty. The Persian army killed 30,000 people within six hours. Many people were taken to the banks of river Yamuna and beheaded there. The Persian army entered the houses of the people and started killing them. After that, they set the houses on fire. Many people committed suicide with their families because they preferred it over getting killed at the hands of the Persian army. Two Mughal chieftains, Syed Niaz Khan and Shahnawaz Khan, were involved in the rebellion. They were brought along with hundreds of their supporters and killed in front of Nadir Shah.
After this, Nadir Shah sent his people to collect taxes in every locality of Delhi. The Persian army also took over the ‘Peacock Throne’ of the Mughals. Kohinoor and Diya-e-Noor diamonds were also offered to Nadir Shah. Peace came only when the Mughals themselves quickly presented a part of their empire and wealth to Nadir Shah. All the lands west of the Indus River became part of the Persian Empire of Nadir Shah.
In early May 1739, Nadir Shah began preparing to go back to Persia. It is said that he had looted so much money from India that after going back, he did not have to collect taxes for the next three years in his country. He also took thousands of elephants, camels, and horses with him. An impoverished, and weakened Mughal regime then became an easy target for the British.