Harking Back: Tax collection in Ayaz’s Lahore

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn Sep 25, 2016

Most people know of Ayaz, the beautiful Georgian slave of the Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghazni, as the first Muslim governor of Lahore. His grave at Rang Mahal is probably the most inconspicuous place in the old city, but there is much more to this story.

We know that in the year 1015, Mahmud of Ghazni demolished the city’s walls and every house in it, as he did to that of the small fort. The ruler, Raja Trilochanpala, son of Raja Anandpala, and grandson of the great Raja Jaipala who committed ‘johar’ outside Mori Gate, fled, and once the Afghans had raped every woman and looted everything worth carrying back to Ghazni, he returned. The proud Rajput refused to pay the huge amounts demanded by Mahmud, and so again in 1021 he returned with an army of 1,300 elephants and 54,000 cavalry. This time he completely destroyed Lahore.

Then in 1021, he came for good and put in place his favourite trusted slave as the governor. The mere fact that Ayaz the Georgian, or Malik Ayaz as he was officially known, died and was buried outside the then walls of Lahore, surely means that the city had started playing an important role in the Afghan scheme of things. My mind naturally wanders to the question of just why was Lahore rebuilt after being flattened twice in the first place? Surely, Lahore was important in Mahmud’s scheme of things, but then why he needed to invade and destroy Lahore in the first place. The answer lies in Lahore’s military use for the invader whose sole consideration was the accumulation of gold and slaves and of all things indigo, that favourite highly-rated gift to the Caliph in Baghdad and other friendly rulers and favoured guests.

The trigger was provided by the Ismaili ‘da’is’ who ruled Multan, which is much nearer Ghazni and whose defences were much weaker. The ruler in 1006 had averted a disaster by agreeing to pay Mahmud a massive fine of 20 million dirhams for avoiding being plundered and ransacked. The knowledge that Lahore was many time wealthier than Multan certainly played on Mahmud’s mind, as did the gold and jewels of other cities of the sub-continent, including that of Somnath. The unending, if not growing, need for wealth to keep Mahmud’s military running made him return 17 times. The sub-continent faced other Afghan rulers over the centuries whose sole objective was to plunder. The communal argument was just a convenient lock-on to justify the atrocity. Even today resource scarce and landlocked Afghanistan remains very much in that very mode.


Mahmud realised that to keep his military running, he needed permanent garrison stations, and what better place than Lahore. Ayaz set about first rebuilding the Lahore Fort in a combination of stone, brick and mud. The belief that the fort was always a mud-walled citadel is incorrect. Till Akbar’s time its walls always had a combination of stone, brick and mud. The city walls were rebuilt from mud with lookout towers at the five edges of the odd-shaped city outline. The oddity was the result of the high grounds, or mounds, surely shaped by the meandering River Ravi as it changed course over the ages, leaving ‘ghattis’ running to the east of the now Shahalami Bazaar and to the west of the now Bhati Bazaar. On those ‘ghattis’ the old walls were built. The meeting point was a semi-triangular shape meeting just south of Rang Mahal.

So it was that Ayaz set off meeting people in faraway villages trying to entice them to return to their destroyed city. In the fields outside the city the army of Mahmud had set up camp. The foreign fighters comprised mostly Tajik and Turkish soldiers. The military command was given to ‘ghulams’ of Turkish origin. That Mahmud himself was of Turkish origin is well-known. So the very first Muslim ‘ghazis’ were posted at Lahore. Amazingly, the civilian administration of the area was given to Persian officials only, and a ‘Sahib-e-Barid’ coordinated both military and civilian forces who worked under the governor, in this case Malik Ayaz. There was a judicial official, independent of all forces, known as a Qazi, and Mahmud appointed a man from Sheraz, now in Iran, by the name of Bu’l-Hasan Shirazi.

We know that very soon a struggle for power started off between the military and the civilian administration, and it was over the collection of taxes. The person in charge of ‘katkhuda-e-maali’ (finance department) was clearly told that he had nothing to do with military matters. Then the military chief, Ahmad Inaltigin, used to go on plundering raids deep inside Punjab’s countryside collecting money for the Ghaznavid Empire. It was money that started off a personal enmity between Qazi Shirazi and Ahmad Inaltigin. There were even times when the powerful Qazi would go around with his men in military clothes.

The problem lay in the fact that Mahmud’s army was a salaried one, and the ‘ghazi’ force increasingly comprised mostly of Punjabi who were more loyal to Mahmud than his own men, who preferred, out of sheer historical habit, being paid from the loot they collected for their ruler. The Punjabi soldiers preferred a regular salary, and hence their reliance on the Qazi. Most of the garrisoning work in Lahore was done by the local ‘ghazis’, who surely felt the city ‘belonged’ to them. This was a conflict that led to the ultimate breakdown of the system that Mahmud had put in place.

The tax imposed by Mahmud was known as ‘kharaj’ and it was the sheer harshness of the collector that ensured success in optimum extraction. The tax collector was known by the Arabic term ‘amil’, with the plural being ‘ummal’. By the end of his reign this term was changed to the Persian ‘bundar’, which etymology tells us was a pre-Islamic Persian term. But the problem that tax collectors faced in Lahore was a unique one, for Mahmud was always under the impression that he was not being sent enough money. We know that at least three tax collectors of Lahore were punished for not bringing in enough. One lost his head and the other two fled when they learned that Mahmud was angry with them. It is also amazing that the piety attached to what Mahmud represents is contrary to the fact that he flatly refused to impose any ‘jaziya’ tax on non-Muslims. It was a decision based on optimising extraction.

So it was that the administration of Lahore was run by Ayaz, son of the Georgian slave Aymaq Abu’n Najm. We know that he rebuilt the city and the fort in between the time period 1027 and 1031, all of it with the help, probably forced labour, of the paid soldiers of Mahmud under Ahmad Inaltigin. By this time Mahmud had died and Mas’ud was the ruler. Ahmad rebelled against the Ghazni ruler and even managed to defeat an army sent to quell him. Ultimately a Punjabi military commander named Tilak defeated him and forced him to flee. Ahmad Inaltigin died while trying to cross the Indus. Ayaz died a peaceful death and was buried outside the city, which today after the expansion by the Moghal emperor Akbar came within the city. Yet we know so little about this beautiful Georgian, the first Muslim governor of Lahore.


Back To Majid Sheikh's Columns

Back To APNA Home Page