Khanzada of Mewat

In this post, I will look at the Khanzada, a grouping of Muslim Rajputs traditionally found in the Mewat region, which is much larger then the current district of Mewat. It covered a considerable part of the princely states of Bharatpur and Alwar, and the southern portion the British Punjab district of Gurgaon. I also wish to point out that the Khanzada of Mewat have no connection with the Khanzada of Awadh.

British Colonial Writers and the Khanzada

According to the British colonial ethnographer William Crooke, there two etymologies for the name of ”Khanzada”. He favours that of “descendants of the Khan” but notes the “probably less correct explanation ‘descendants of a slave'”. While another colonial ethnographer Denzil Ibbetson notes that the Khanzadas self-identified as being of the Jadubansi gotra in the 1881 Punjab census and he speculated that their communal name could be translated as “the son of a Khan ” and is the Muslim equivalent to the Hindu word ”Rajput” (“son of a Raja”). From this he concluded that

there can be little doubt that the Khanzadas are to the Meos what the Rajputs are to the Jats.

This may be the case, but the Khanzada deny any connections with the Meo community, historically intermarrying with groups like the Rewari Ranghars and Qayamkhani, both claiming Chauhan ancestry, and Rajput status. The Khanzada were also rulers of the Mewat state from 1372 till 1527, until a branch of Kachwaha Rajputs conquered the region.


Alexander Cunningham, noted that ”khanzada” and ”khanazada” are different words, and that descendants of people who took the name of Khan upon conversion to Islam would indeed be referred to as ”khanzada”. He uses the historic writings in Babur’s autobiography, Tarikh-i-Salatin Afaghana and Abu Fazl’s ‘Ain-i-Akbari to demonstrate that the corruption of meaning was a relatively recent occurrence. Powlett, author of the Alwar State Gazetteer in the late 19th Century records a distinction in Mewat between the Khanzadas and the more numerous Meos. He says that, although both groups were Muslim, the former term referred to the ruling group of Mewat and the latter to a group of lower social standing. Although the two communities would combine on occasion in raids and battles, there was as a rule no love lost between them. He thought that the Khanzadas were probably the group being referred to by Persian historians when they wrote of the “Mewatti chiefs. Crooke, who recognises the noble status, says nonetheless that “I have a suspicion that they are more intimately connected than they acknowledge with the Meos.

 

Origin Myths

 

The Khanzadas themselves claim to be Yaduvanshi Rajputs, with a genealogy going back Krishna. There is a community tradition that their origins can be traced to the Jadaun Rajput, Lakhan Pala and to the area of Karauli. This raja was in turn a descendant of Adhan Pala and therefore of Tahan Pala, who founded Tahangarh near to Bayana in the eleventh century AD, and of Bijah Pala, the founder of Bijai Garh. Bijah Pala was the 88th generation sprung from Krishna, and therefore Lakhan Pala was the 94th generation. According to these traditions, which Powlett regards as being of extremely dubious authenticity, Lakhan Pala became a Muslim in the time of Firoz Shah and established himself at Kotila. From there he controlled Mewat and other areas. Cunningham is of the opinion that Lakhan Pala’s two sons, Sambhar and Sopar, took the names Bahadur Khan and Chajju Khan, respectively, upon their conversion to Islam. He also says that Lakhan Pala’s four brothers went on to establish the Jadaun branches of the [[Meo]]s. Lakhan Pala’s two sons, Sambhar and Sopar, took the names Bahadur Khan and Chajju Khan, respectively, upon their conversion to Islam. He also says that Lakhan Pala’s four brothers went on to establish the Jadaun branches of the Meos.

 

Khanzada Leaders and the Mewat State

The Khanzada were affective rulers of the Mewat, and in this section, I give a brief historical sketch.

Bahadur Khan

Bahadur Khan (also known as Bahadur Nahar), is said to have received the title of ”Nahar” (”Tiger”), from Firoz Shah, an emperor of Delhi, in recognition of him having killed a tiger single-handed. Powlett, who relies heavily on the accounts of Persian historians such as Ferishta records that Bahadur Khan was a Jadaun Rajput by birth and “the reputed founder of the Khanzada race”, who had his stronghold at Kotila. Powlett believes that either Bahadur Khan or his father probably converted to Islam in order to please Firoz Shah and thereby obtain power, since it appears that they were members of a family that had previously held royal powers but had lost them. Cunningham, who conducted archaeological surveys of India, believes that Bahadur Khan and his brother were the converts, and that in return for doing so Firoz Shah granted them Tijara and Jhirka. In recognition of the grant, the name of the latter was changed to Firozpur-Jhirka.

 

However, Cunningham does also note that “Some say that it was their father Lakhan Pal who first embraced Islam”. The first known reference to Bahadur Khan relates to his capture of Firozabad in 1389This action was in support of Abubakar, a grandson of Firoz Shah, who was contesting Muhammad Shah (also called Nasiruddin) for the throne of Delhi following the death of Firoz Shah in 1388. The support met with only temporary success as Muhammad Shah, who was an uncle of Abubakar, soon overturned his nephew and imprisoned him for life. Bahadur Khan, however, was allowed to flee. Two years later, Bahadur Khan took advantage of Muhammad Shah’s ill health in order to launch an attack on Delhi. Although he came close to the gates, he was rebuffed and a counter-attack on Kotila by Muhammad Shah caused him to depart for Firozpur-Jhirka.

 

Muhammad Shah died in 1392. Bahadur Khan, together with Ikbal Khan, then held the balance between two rival claimants of the throne, Mahmud Shah and Nusrat Shah. They would not allow either claimant to gain an advantage over the other and so for three years there were two emperors of Delhi. Timur had occupied Delhi by 1398 and Bahadur Khan watched the confusion of unfolding events from the distance of Kotila. Eventually, he and others paid homage to the conqueror: Timur arranged to meet Bahadur Khan and was much pleased to receive a present of two white parrots from the Khanzada leader. Cunningham reports a traditional account that in 1400 Bahadur Khan was murdered on the instructions of his father-in-law, the Hindu Rana Jamuwas, who disapproved of his Islamic conversion. In revenge for this act, Malik Alauddin, who is called the head of the family, killed Rana Jamuwas. A tomb at Tijara, from whence Malik Alauddin came, is reputed to be that of Bahadur Khan’s son, variously named as Alauddin Khanzada or Alauddin Firoz, although this is not certain.

 

The tomb of Bahadur Khan himself is located in Kotila. An inscription on its gateway suggests that it was constructed between 1392–1400 AD, having been started by Bahadur Khan and completed by his successor.

 

Jallu Khan

 

Bahadur Khan had at least two sons, the elder being Kalnash and a younger one called Mubarak. Mubarak allied himself with Ikbal Khan, the power behind the weak kingship of Mahmud Shah, but was then killed by his ally, who had become suspicious of his intentions. There appears to be little record of Kalnash, although he had travelled with his father for the audience with Timur. At some point after the death of Bahadur Khan, power appears to have passed to Iklim Khan Bahadur Nahar

Khizr Khan had ingratiated himself with Timur and by that means had obtained virtual control of North India. He had invaded Mewat as early as 1411, did so again in 1413, and then, having become king of Delhi, he razed Kotila in 1421, forcing Iklim Khan Bahadur Nahar into the surrounding hills. Khizar Khan was succeeded by Syed Mubarak (also known as Mubarak Shah) in the same year. Iklim Khan Bahadur Nahar probably died a year later.

Jallu (or Jalal) Khan and Kaddu, both grandsons of Bahadur Khan, found themselves having to adopt scorched earth tactics subsequent to the death of Iklim Khan Bahadur Nahar. Syed Mubarak had taken up the challenge of subduing the rebellious people of Mewat in 1424 and the attempt failed as the Mewatis laid waste their own territories before retreating to the hills. Similar tactics were adopted by Jallu and Kaddu in 1425 when Syed Mubarak renewed his attempt to quell resistance. He had more success on this occasion: the Mewatis had first retreated to Indor but he succeeded in forcing them from there to the hills, and destroyed the town in the process. Nonetheless, the subsequent surrender was a short-lived affair, and further incursions into Mewat proved to be necessary.

Kaddu had been killed by 1427, when another attempt to crush the rebellious Mewatis met with such resistance from Jallu – and from Ahmad Khan and Malik Fakaruddin, who were probably also of the same family – that it failed. They had again adopted a scorched earth policy, and retreated this time to the fort at Alwar. There was more success in the following year, when the Mewatis were forced to pay tribute to the ruler of Hindustan, but Rewari at least appears to have remained under Mewati control

 

Jallu is claimed to have captured Amber, the stronghold of the [[Kachwaha]] rajas, and removed one of its gates to Indor. The fort at Indor, which lay about 6km to the north of Kotila and south of Delhi, was a Khanzada stronghold much favoured by Jallu. He died around 1441, and Cunningham notes that he “is the great hero of the Khanzadas, who are never tired of relating his gallant deeds”.

 

 

A brother of Jallu, Ahmad, succeeded him and lived in relative peace until perhaps 1466, although he had to give up Tijara and pay tribute to [[Bahlol Lodi]] in order to achieve this.

Adil Khan

Cunningham refers to Adil Khan as the successor to Ahmad Khan. He considers it most likely that this person was a son of Ahmad. There was at least one other son, Alawal Khan, whom Cunningham notes Powlett describing as the destroyer, in 1482, of the power of the Nikumbha Rajputs, a Suryavanshi community who had established most of the forts then in existence in Alwar and in northern Jaipur, including probably those at Indore and at Alwar itself.

 

Hasan Khan Mewati

Perhaps the most famous Khanzada leader is Hasan Khan Mewati. Cunningham believes him to have been the son of Adil and a nephew of Alawal

The back-and-forth quest for control continued for much of the fifteenth century. However, 1526 saw the arrival of a new force in the form of Babur. This warrior, who claimed to be a representative of Timur, desired to surpass that man’s achievements by establishing an empire in the region rather than merely raiding it. Babur had won the Battle of Panipat (1526) in order to gain possession of Delhi and Agra, at which point Powlett describes that

“Then it was that the Rajputs made their last great struggle for independence. They were led by Rana Sankha, a chief of Mewar, who invited the Mewatti chief, Hasan Khan, to aid the nation from which he had sprung in resisting the new horde of Musalmans (Muslims) from the north.”

Babur was frustrated by Hasan Khan, with whom he had attempted to curry favour in order to obtain support against the Hindus. Hasan Khan had refused to co-operate and, according to Babur, was “the prime mover in all the confusions and insurrections of the period. The position taken by Hasan Khan was probably with an eye to regaining possession of Tijara, whose possessor at that time had allied with Babur. Babur’s difficulty was removed around the time of his victory over the Rajputs and Mewatis at the Battle of Khanwa, near to Fatehpur Sikri on 16 March 1527: Hasan Khan either died in that conflict, as Babur claimed, or was assassinated soon after at the behest of members of his family

 

Hasan Khan’s tomb is thought to be at Bhartari, near to Tijara, although the structure carries no indicative markings.

Mughal period

Nahar Khan, the son of Hasan Khan, sued for peace with Babur subsequent to the Battle of Khanwa and thereafter it appears that the Khanzadas lived in relative obscurity. By now, their seats of power at Tijara and at Alwar were both under the control of others. Powlett, writing in 1878, says that

 

The political power of the Khanzada chiefs of Mewat was now permanently broken, and they do not again appear, like Bahadur Khan and Hasan Khan, as the powerful opponents or principal allies of emperors.;… [They] still retained local importance, which did not quite disappear until the present century.

A part of that local importance was signified by the marriage of Babur’s successor, Humayun, and also of Humayun’s powerful aide, Bairam Khan, with great-nieces of Hasan Khan.  Additionally, according to Powlett, Khanzadas were

 “distinguished soldiers” in the armies of the Mughal empire. There was one brief flaring, during the rule of[Aurungzeb, when Ikram Khan Khanzada succeeded in gaining the War flags of the Governor of Tijara, but the once fractious Mewat region was generally peaceful under Mughal rule.

The Rise of the Alwar State

Pratap Singh, Thakur of Macheri, a Kachwaha Rajput of the Naruka branch, became a distinguished soldier of fortune in the Jaipur State Forces, who eventually entered the Imperial (Mughal) service. He gained many victories against the Jats, receiving Imperial recognition of dominion over some of the territories he conquered. He established an independent Alwar state in 1770, and assumed the title of Maharao Raja of Alwar after successfully conquering the famous fort of that city. Alwar State remained a semi-independent princely state until the Partition of India. The Khanzadas were reduced to the status of zamindars, although many continued to serve in State Forces. However, the Chaudharis of Tijara and Nawabs of Shahabad remained important Khanzada estates within the Alwar Kingdom.

British Period

Percy Powlett notes in 1878 that what ever local importance the Khanzadas may have once had, it disappeared during the nineteenth century. He says that they were by this time

y were by this time they are not numerically insignificant and cannot now be reckoned among the aristocracy. In social rank they are far above the Meos, and though probably of more recent Hindu extraction, they are better Musalmans.

 

Despite their Muslim faith, they did in the 19th Century still use the services of Brahmins during their marriage ceremonies, and also followed some other Hindu customs for that purpose. There were 26 Khanzada villages in Alwar and the population was economically weak, in part because their productivity in agriculture was hampered by the non-involvement of women. Some had migrated from the Mewat region and others were employed by both the British and the state armies, but agriculture was the primary occupation. According to the 1901 Census, the total Khanzada population was 13,925, of which 3,971 lived in Punjab, almost all in Gurgaon, and  9,954 in Rajputana, mainly in Alwar and Bharatpur.

Partition and Settlement in Sindh

At the time of Partition in 1947, the entire Khanzada population had leave the states of Bharatpur and Alwar and Gurgaon. Most Khanzada have settled in Tando Allahyar, Mirpurkhas and Badin in Sindh.

 

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