Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pashtun Personality of the Week: Khushal Khan Khattak, the Pashtun Warrior-Poet

As I had promised in a previous entry, each Sunday, I will introduce my readers to a new Pashtun personality. I'm starting with the famous ones, and if you've any suggestions for the upcoming week, feel free to let me know. Remember: their gender, time, talents, beliefs, etc. don't matter; all that matters is that they have contribute to Pashtun society and culture in some way, however small or big.

Also, I don't claim to be saying everything about these people; in fact, I'm going to try to keep these entries very short--just enough to give the readers a brief idea of who these people are and why they matter. But if I neglect to mention something very important about them, please feel free to let me know.

Khushal Khan Khattak (also known as Khushal Baba) (1613-1689)
Khushal Khan was born in 1613 to the Khattak tribe of the Pashtuns in Akora, located in modern-day Nowshera in Khyber Pashtunkhwa. He is often remembered for his bravery, skilled poetry (written in Pashto and Persian), and leadership, as he was a warrior, poet, and a tribal chief. He had 57 sons and a few daughters, but most of his sons proved to be his enemies and betrayed him every chance they got, as will be narrated below

Khushal Khan the Warrior
In his poetry, Khushal Khan boldly urged Pashtuns to unite against the oppressive Mughal Empire (17th century Indian Subcontinent). Initially, however, in his adult life, he was a supporter of the Mughals and was respected by them. In fact, Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) entrusted many responsibilities to him. Khushal Khan remained loyal to the empire, but Shah Jahan's successor, Aurangzeb, eventually became suspicious of him and threw him in prison in Upper India in 1658. Khushal Khan wrote most of his poems while in prison for 7 years. When Aurangzeb finally released him and sent him to Peshawar to settle some disputes among the Mughals and the Pashtuns, Khushal Khan refused to support the empire any further or to cooperate with them, hence urging Pashtuns to unite against the Mughals, leading to the defeat of the Mughals. This success influenced Pashtuns of other tribes, from Banu to Jalalabad, who wanted to throw the Mughals out of Afghanistan. But the Yusufzai tribe, which was very powerful, was no buddies of the Khattak tribe and refused to support them even though Khushal Khan went to Swat personally to negotiate with them. (Now you see why he wrote a lot about the disunity of Pashtun tribes?)

Khushal Khan the Real Pashtun
When things grew worse in Peshawar, Aurangzeb, the emperor who had imprisoned Khushal Khan earlier, personally went there to try to settle things, and he stayed in Attock for some two years. Khushal Khan eventually decided that it was best for him to resign from chiefdom of his tribe and found solace instead in literature, while his son Ashraf became chief of the tribe. Things grew worse from here, as Khushal Khan had another son, Bahram, one whom Khushal Khan was not proud of because of his vile character and who made sure that Ashraf was never left at peace to enjoy his prominent status; he betrayed Ashraf by turning him over to the Mughals, and Aurangzeb imprisoned Ashraf. Ashraf died in jail 10 years later, and Bahram and the Mughals remained best buds. Bahram, this evil son and evil brother, also made sure that his father was never left at peace and attempted several times to kill him. At one point, when he was 77 years old, Khushal Khan discovered that his son had sent a son of his (Khushal's grandson) and his troops to kill him, so he went up to them himself with his sword and dared them to come forward and fight with him. But because people loved and respected him so much and because of his old age, the army backed off. Bahram sent his son again to execute the killing but failed one more time.

Khushal Khan's Tomb, village Esoori in Akora (Nowshera)
When his other efforts to kill his father failed, Bahram turned his father to the Mughals. Fortunately, though, Khushal Khan was informed of this in time and managed to escape to the Afridis (another Pashtun tribe), who were always loyal to him. He died at the age of 78 while in the safe hands of the Afridis.

Before he died, he had a few requests for the Afridis and his other supporters: that he be buried far, far from Mughal lands; that the location of his grave not be revealed to any of his enemies lest the Mughals never let his ashes rest in peace; and that, if his good children and supporters ever manage to get hold of his treacherous son Bahram, his body be torn into two pieces and one part be burned at the head of his grave and the other end at the foot!

He writes to Bahram in a poem:

The art of chieftainship thou hast not learned, bahram
in your time you have dishonored the chieftainship
from now on don't count yourself amongst my sons
that is the last prayer breathed by Khushal the Khattak

Khushal Khan is commemorated today for his struggles to keep the Pashtuns/Afghans united as one people. His wise verses of unity are commonly recited today by Afghan and Pashtun nationalists in an effort to remind the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan that they are one people. He is remembered also as a hero who never bowed his head to the Mughals. In 2002, the Pashtun Cultural Society and Pashto Adabi Society of Islamabad/Rawalpindi sponsored and published a book on him, titled Khushal Khan: The Afghan Warrior Poet and Philosopher, written by Ghani Khan Khattak in English. His poetry is/can be found in the book The Poems of Khushhal Khan Khattak.
Some of his poetry can also be read here. He writes:
Life's no life when honor's left;
Man's a man when honor's kept.

Nation's honor and nation's fame;

On life they have a prior claim.

With thoughts of these I do remain;

Unvexed with cares of loss or gain.

In another poem, he says (and I love the last two lines!):

The knowing , the perceptive man
is he who knows about himself,
for in self knowledge and insight
lies knowledge of the holiest.

If in his heart there is no fear,
his deeds are not those of the good,
pay no heed to one who's skilled
in quoting the Qur'an by heart.

He also has a lot of interesting and revealing things to say about Pashtuns in some of his poetry, but I can't find those poems now. I will share them here once I come across them (I know they are discussed in some books on the Pashtuns, but I forget which ones... wanna say Frederick Barth's but not sure yet).

P.S. My sources? ... Some nice sites! But I swear it's all authentic and stuff, and I verified the information with other websites to make sure it wasn't a lie and stuff.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for the next Pashtun Personality of the Week! See the below video to hear a ghazal, a form of poetry, written by Khushal Khan Khattak and sung by Nashenas, an Afghan musician who sings in Pashto, Dari (Afghan Persian), and Urdu.


  1. good effort but you need to search for his poetry he famous for. people remember him him for his poetry.
    Amman Khan

    1. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Amman Khana!
      Hmm... I'd think he's more famous for his efforts to unite Pukhtuns than for anything else, although his poetry is equally important to Pukhtuns.

      If you've any suggestions for any of his popular poems that I can include, feel free to share!

      Dera manana again!
      Khushla wosai!

  2. I'm a khattak from my mum's side =o

    1. And I'm most likely a Yusufzai! Uh-oh ...!!

  3. All Pashtuns are Afghans, even though some live in Pakistan. That land was originally Afghanistan before the wars had started.

  4. These ever fresh themes that I am writing on Paper,
    I do not know whence they come from (Khoshal)

    Good work. I appreciate. Koshal Baba is perhaps the most unfortunate genius of the world. He was not only a poet, warrior and chieftain but also a doctor, politician, historian, philosopher, religious scholar, falconer, travel writer and much more. In his own words
    “In three things….. Generosity, learning and writings has my fame spread”
    He is a unique genius of his style and lots of research needs to be done on him. He is the perfect source to understand chemistry of the Pukhtoon nationalism and in this time and age when Pakhtoon built is the focus of international attention khoshal must be explored. Study of Khoshal is extremely important in order to make strategic decision about Pukhtoons and their land. Khoshalyat is a perfect study to understand Pakhtoon mind as individual(s) and nation.
    I don’t want to take much of the author’s and reader’s time but it will be worth to mention at least a brief summary of his work. His descendants claim that he wrote 350 books. There are reasons to believe that his fertile pen produced 52 books both in Pashto and Persian consists of poetry, Medicines, Ethics, Religious jurisprudence, philosophy, falconry, history and wars
    Found secured and completed
    Diwan including Rubaiyat (Poetry)
    Baznama Pashto ( Falconry .Poetry)
    Fazal Nama (Religious Jurisprudence. Poetry)
    Dastar Nama (Prose)
    Found incomplete
    Autobiography (Prose)
    Swat Nama (About journey and stay at Swat. Poetry)
    Resala-e-Munazira (Religious Jurisprudence .Poetry)
    Sehatul Badan. (Medicine. Health. Poetry)
    Fal Nama (Religious. Poetry)

    He fought more than 100 wars for and against the Mughul.
    I think Khoshhal had 64 or 65 sons and 33 daughters. Several of his sons added to his miseries but only Bahram became his open enemy.
    Yes Aurangzeb himself took command of his army finally and came till Hasan Abdal. He was there for almost one and half years to fight against the Pakhtton freedom fighters under the leadership of a Koshhal-Aimal-Drya khans.

    Aamir Gamaryani
    Nowshera KPK

  5. Qrrabtugai, there were strong reasons for yousafzais to refuse khushal khattak. In 1667 yousfazais under Bhagu crossed indus and had war with mughal army, they were defeated. Khattaks fought against yousafzais on behalf of mughals. Note that after this war mughal army went into yousfzai country and burnt their villages, trampled their crops, and property looted . So yousafzais were not ready to forgive the khattaks for their history of services for invading mughals against them. Moreover they suffered heavy losses in their war with mughals just few years ago, so were not in position to participate in the general afghan uprising led by aimal khan and darya khan
    Here is the refrence.

  6. How many wifes of khushal khan khattaj


Dare to opine :)

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