DAWN The Review, May 10-16, 2001
Suhandi: The Forgotten Queen of Sindh
It’s the dawn of the Sixth Century AD. Sindh is a powerful kingdom, possibly the greatest in India. Its boundaries cover all of Sindh, as well as many parts of Punjab and Balochistan. The capital of Sindh is Aror (near the later day Rohri), indeed a city of dreams: it has clean roads, lush green parks and a population of happy and prosperous people. This is where the Buddhist ruler of Sindh, Rai Sahasi lives with his queen Suhandi. The Rai dynasty of Buddhist monarchs has ruled over Sindh for five generations. But now, things are about to change. Rai dynasty will come to an end and a Brahmin with no experience in statecraft will found a new one in its place. As is usual in a history written by men, all will be credited to the good or bad points of the men involved in the great drama while the real force behind the scene, Queen Suhandi, will be conveniently forgotten.
It is said that one day, when the King was spending his leisurely hours with his beautiful queen Suhandi, the valets announced the arrival of the grand vizier, Chach the Brahmin. The King asked the queen to move inside, but the queen replied that she would like to stay. Possibly, she had been curious for some time about this young man who had come out of nowhere and had risen to the status of the grand vizier in a short time. Everyone was praising the unique way he had with words.
“O Chach, the arrows of your eye-lashes have pierced my heart, and separation from you is smothering me like a chain fastened to my neck,” a secret messenger brought the message from the queen the next day to the great astonishment of Chach. “I am a Brahmin,” he replied. “My father and my brother are still living like ascetics. An act of betrayal is far from my family. Besides, as a servant of the King I must never separate my hopes from my fears, since there are four things in which one can never place any confidence. And they are, a king, fire, wind and water.”
However, Chach could not help looking at the queen a little more consciously on his next visit to the King. And the queen made sure that she was always there with her husband when he met his young vizier. The opponents of Chach in the court suggested to the King the possibility of a secret affair between the queen and the grand vizier but the King refused it with a sweeping judgment, “Such things don’t happen in my house.”
As luck would have it, the King fell ill and all hopes of recovery were lost. “The King is about to die without having any child to inherit his throne,” Queen Suhandi told Chach. “His relatives, who have called me by ugly names while I was still a queen, would leave no holds barred in tormenting me once they come to power after him. You must take up courage now, and make your bid to become the king.” She then suggested a plan to Chach that reads like a passage from The Arabian Nights. It is written in Chachnameh, the earliest history on this period, that the Queen ordered fifty chains and fetters. When the king died, she suppressed the news and called all her opponents one by one to the palace, taking them all unaware and placing them in chains. She then summoned the poorer relatives of the King. “The King is angry with a relative of his and has put him in chains,” they were told. “If you kill the prisoner you will be allowed to take all his possessions.” By this device Suhandi put away his rivals and also gathered a team of followers who were grateful for their sudden change of fortune. She then appeared from behind a curtain and announced, “The King is pleased to appoint the vizier Chach as his vicegerent to carry on the administration in his name.” The news of the King’s demise was released only after Chach had taken full control of the affairs.
Thus began the rule of Chach (c.632 – c.662 AD), an interesting but lesser-known character in history. He founded a new dynasty, which is known as the Brahmin Dynasty. By taking up the scepter of a king he had come a long way from his origin as a devout man of worship, and a scholar of Vedanta. It is very unlikely that he had ever dreamt of ending up on the throne, and he most probably ascended it in order to save the life of Suhandi for whom he had developed great respect as well as passionate love by that time. Such is the nature of love that it pushes the lover from one station to another, all on the same path. Some progress form the love of a human object to a greater spiritual consciousness, while others progress to better application of their worldly talents.
In the case of Chach, his talents faced a challenge above and beyond their rational limits when Maharatha, the Raja of Chitor invaded Sindh, merely six months later. He was the brother of the deceased King. “This country belongs to my forefathers,” he sent his message to the newly crowned King Chach, “Give me what belongs to me and I will grant you the same old post of the vizier that belongs to you.” It is said that when Chach received this concise, gentle and curt message he rushed to Queen Suhandi and asked for her opinion. The Queen told him that now that he was a king, it was time for him to start acting like one. “I am a woman living behind a curtain,” she said with a little laughter. “If I am to go and fight, then why don’t you put on my clothes and sit here, and give me your garment that I may meet the enemy. When the kingdom has fallen to your lot, why do you require my advice? Advance like a hero to fight, for death with glory is better than living despised by an equal.”
Chach never gave her a chance to complain again. He defeated the invader, and took up several expeditions to subdue the local chiefs who had rebelled since the death of Sahasi. He was known for his wisdom, ambition and cunning. Where he couldn’t make use of bravery, he would conveniently resort to trick, but he nevertheless managed to rule over a vast kingdom for thirty years. When he died, he died like a king and was remembered like one.
We don’t hear much of Suhandi once Chach finished his lessons in the art of being a monarch. We know, however, that soon after the first victory of Chach, she gathered the nobles of Sindh and told them that she is going to marry Chach. They bowed their heads before her desire and in the course of time she gave birth to two sons. One of them was Dahar (also written Dahir), the famous ruler who was defeated by Muhammad bin Qasim a generation later. The other was Daharsingh, who died long before the Arab invasion.
We know nothing else about Queen Suhandi, though we may assume that Chach might have continued respecting her as his true mentor. But even that is wishful thinking. Historians have often painted her as a treacherous wife and a heinous vamp, but that seems to be a very unfair judgment. Her choice of Chach as the ruler of Sindh was beyond any doubt a wise one, and we only have to compare Chach with the other claimants to the throne to be sure of this. In her own right, she was most certainly a woman with the nerves of steel, and she didn’t commit any crime for which, if she were a man, the posterity wouldn’t have praised her.”
SOURCES used in this series of articles: Chachnameh by Ali Kufi; Futuhul Baldan by Al Balazri; Tarikh-e-Masumi by Mir Masum Bakhari; and Tuhfatil Kiram by Mir Ali Sher Qanea
This is the first in a series of three articles on Queen Suhandi, her son Rajah Dahar and the Arab conqueror Muhammad bin Qasim.