The Punjab suffered severe tribulations for six decades from Nader Shah’s invasion of India in March 1739 to the coronation of Ranjit Singh in April 1801. These decades witnessed bloody rivalry between Mughals, Afghans, Rohillas, Sikhs and Marathas who continuously battled for supremacy in the Punjab. This process produced outrages and barbarity of every kind on the local population. In the process, Mughals were disempowered, Marathas were routed, Rohillas faded out and Afghans got dislodged. This eventually allowed the emergence of a Sikh empire in a unified Punjab.
This article is about the story of Dina son of Channu, known in history as Adina Beg Khan, who rose to prominence in the most troubled two decades of that era.
His fabulous life is well recorded by Muhammad Aslam in his 1770 book titled Farhatun Nazirin (meaning Delight of the Observer); by Fakir Khairduddin Muhammad in Ibrat-Nama; in A comprehensive history of India vol 9 (from 1712 to 1772); by Jadunath Sarkar in Fall of the Mughal Empire vol II; by Hari Ram Gupta of FC College, Lahore, in Adina Beg Khan in the Journal of Punjab University Historical Society vol 6; by Narendra Krishna Sinha (1936) in Rise of the Sikh Power and in Ahval-i-Adina Beg Khan by an anonymous author but often quoted on the subject.
All these accounts tell of a similar tale.
For long centuries before the eighteenth century, no Muslim son of the soil had ever risen to status of ruler of Punjab. Adina was the first such person – an efficient administrator, a wily diplomat and an able general. He exercised complete authority in the rich Beas-Sutlej Doab throughout his career spanning over two decades and rose to the exalted status of Subedar and then Nawab of the entire land comprising Punjab and Kashmir, as they existed in the pre-1947 era. He achieved this success during a very anguished time for the province when the Mughal empire was melting down in the wake of death of Emperor Aurangzeb in March 1707.
Dina was born in 1710 to an Arain family of village Sharaqpur on the right bank of the Ravi, 30 km downstream from Lahore. The Arain community are landholders and cultivators in Punjab and trace their ancestry to Persian and Arab origins – although they are believed to be of multi-ethnic stock. They are now represented in leading positions in the political, legal and military elite of Pakistan.
Dina belonged to a poor family but had an enterprising character. Knowing that he had limited scope in life in that village, he travelled to the Mughal garrison town of Jullandar that had plenty of employment opportunities at a low level. Being of tender age, Dina found work as a houseboy in the homes of Mughal officers stationed in the city cantonment. With the help of an officer, he got recruited in the army as a sepoy but got disillusioned at poor prospects of rising in a Turko-Afghan dominated army.
The shrewd Dina realized that his local background was a hindrance for his career in an environment that was dominated by Turkic elites. He, therefore, changed his name to Adina Beg Khan
Dina must have got some sort of education in Jullander. He had also become acquainted with revenue matters during a visit to Allahabad which enabled him to get a contract for collecting revenue of a village Kang near Sultanpur. His efficiency, honesty and ability drew the attention of the Mughal Faujdar (administrator) of Sultanpur – a thriving town a little south of the Delhi-Lahore road in the Beas-Sutlej Doab near the confluence of two rivers. This inter river area is known as the Bist Doab, an acronym of the names of two rivers.
Still in his early twenties but very industrious, Dina worked with zeal and honesty. He developed a friendship with two rich banker brothers of Sultanpur, Bhawani Das and Sri Nawas. The influential brothers helped Dina gain the revenue collection contracts for a few more nearby villages.
Due to his abilities and efficiency, the Mughal administrator of Sultanpur would send Dina to the Lahore court to liaise on revenue matters. His energy and tact was noticed there by Zakariya Khan, the Mughal Subedar of Punjab. Dina was yet not thirty but his talents were being noticed.
At this juncture, the Faujdar (the district officer) of Sultanpur died. Dina, probably under the advice of the banker brothers as the subsequent events would indicate, took an unusual initiative and immediately proceeded to Lahore, sought an interview with Zakariya Khan and requested appointment to the post of Faujdar. As Subedar Zakariya was familiar with the abilities of Dina, he agreed to grant his request. However, he asked for a material guarantee for his good behaviour. Lala Sri Nawas, the younger of the two banker brothers who had accompanied Dina on this enterprising trip, immediately provided this guarantee. Dina won the coveted appointment which did much to propel his career. Dina paid back the favour by appointing the elder banker brother Bhawani Das, who knew Persian, as the superintendent of his office and Sri Nawas as his assistant.
By now the shrewd Dina realized that his local background was a hindrance for his career in an environment that was dominated by Turkic elites. He, therefore, changed his name to Adina Beg Khan. The name appeared to indicate Mughal or Timurid ancestry.
He is now known in history by this name.
This was the time just prior to the invasion of Nader Shah. For the next three decades, the Punjab became a fiercely contested battlefield where Persians, Mughals, Afghans, and briefly the Marathas continuously feuded and exercised sovereignty in quick succession while the Sikhs controlled or ravaged much of the countryside in the Central Punjab. Through this all, Adina Beg was the only administrator whose services were always retained and utilized for the administration of the Bist Doab in particular and for the Punjab in general. Though he faced adversity at regular intervals at the change of each master of Lahore, his fortunes kept rising till he was given complete autonomous authority over the province, first as Subedar by the Mughals in March 1756 for three million rupees per year and then as Nawab by the Marathas in April 1758 for a yearly tribute of seven-and-a-half million rupees. Adina died as Nawab in September of that year and is buried near Hoshiarpur. He was only 48.
Two actions of Adina Beg – involving him inviting outside powers to resolve Punjab’s political issues – had far-reaching and traumatic consequences
Throughout his career, Adina collaborated with the Mughal court, various Sikh jathas (war-bands), Maratha commanders and rival Subedars of Lahore but he never trusted the Durranis, Rohillas or other Afghans because of what he saw as their plundering and deceitful behaviour. In April 1755, Adina defeated the combined armies of Rohillas and Malerkotla Afghans with the help of a large Sikh contingent. Later in 1757, during one of his most devastating raids, Ahmed Shah Durrani had appointed his young son as Subedar of Lahore under his trusted general Jahan Khan, while Adina served as Faujdar of Bist Doab. Even on repeated commands to appear, Adina did not present himself before the Durrani overlords – even though he faced the threat of armed action. He simply did not trust them.
In 1757, the Zamzama cannon was cast in Lahore by the Afghans. It was one of a pair; the other being lost in the Chenab when Durrani returned to Kabul after defeating the Marathas at Panipat in 1761-62. It is appropriate that the gun decorates Lahore because the copper and brass used for its manufacture came from the citizens of Lahore, who were forced to donate their kitchen utensils for this purpose.
Adina’s relations with the Sikhs varied from being cordial to hostile. The latter, like all provincial groups of the era, had started exerting their independence. In the aftermath of devastation caused in the Doab by Nader Shah, Adina took measures to restore order, provided relief and rehabilitated the people irrespective of their religion. First Zakariya Khan and then Muin-ul-Mulk – much like the Afghans – wanted Adina to take action against the Sikhs to disrupt their marauding behaviour, but he refrained.
Yet, as Nawab, Adina did take concerted action against the lawless Sikh bands and dispersed them. But he seems to have refrained from some of the more savage actions that Yahya Khan, Muin-ul-Mulk and Ahmed Shah Durrani took against them.
Two actions of Adina Beg – involving him inviting outside powers to resolve Punjab’s political issues – had far-reaching and traumatic consequences.
First his invitation to Ahmed Shah Durrani. In late 1747, when the sons of deceased Subedar Zakariya Khan were engaged in an armed struggle for supremacy in Punjab, Adina was an ally of Shah Nawaz Khan, the younger son. He feared that the Delhi court would intercede on the side of the elder brother. Durrani had recently resumed power in Afghanistan following the murder of Nader Shah, and had his eyes on the riches of Punjab and Delhi. Oblivious of the kind of threat that the Afghan posed, Adina advised his ally to invite Durrani to come to Lahore with the fateful words, “Crown to Ahmad Shah and Governorship to Shah Nawaz.” This invitation brought untold miseries on the people of the Punjab. To be sure, Durrani would have invaded the Punjab even without this correspondence but it acted as a catalyst and hastened his actions. Proverbially, it was asking the wolf to protect the sheep. Durrani crossed the Indus in December 1747 and began his first invasion of the Punjab. To finance his empire, maintain his army and to populate his harem, he would do so seven times – till his final ouster in 1765. His forces looted and plundered Punjab in a most cruel and atrocious manner.
The second profound action of Adina was in early 1758. At the time, he was under mortal threat from Jahan Khan, the Durrani general at Lahore, who wanted Adina to pay him respect by coming to Lahore; something that Adina was resolved not to do. He suspected that the Afghans would resort to treachery. When Jahan Khan threatened to march against him, Adina needed help and invited the Marathas, who had occupied Delhi. He promised to pay them one hundred thousand rupees for each day of the march and half that amount for each day of the rest. With the aid of Sikh warriors, the Marathas defeated the Afghans and pursued them out of the Punjab, looting the treasury at Lahore and killing a large number of Afghans. While departing Lahore for South, the Marathas appointed Adina as Nawab for a large annuity of 7.5 million rupees.
This episode brought the Marathas face to face with the Afghans. They confronted each other at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 where the Marathas faced such a crushing defeat that they never recovered as a viable force. It weakened the victorious Afghans, too – as their further incursions in to Punjab never posed an existential threat to the Sikhs despite the near-genocidal losses of the latter in 1762.
Adina Beg Khan was an intelligent, determined and clever operator who steered himself amazingly well in those chaotic times. He lived and thrived at a dangerous time in Punjab. He practised astute diplomatic skills by placating the powerful forces around him and also by playing them off against each other, to his advantage. He administered his areas well, paid his troops on time and tolerated no laxity in collection of revenue.
Dina will be remembered as the first son of the soil to rule Punjab.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at email@example.com