AHMAD SHĀH DURRĀNĪ (1722-1772), the first of the Saddozaī rulers of Afghanistan and founder of the Durrānī empire, belonged to the Saddozaī section of the Popalzaī clan of the Abdālī tribe of Afghāns. In the 18th century the Abdālīs were to be found chiefly around Herāt. Under their leader Zamān Khān, father of Ahmad Khān, they resisted Persian attempts to take Herāt until, in 1728, they were forced to submit to Nādir Shāh. Recognizing the fighting qualities of the Abdālīs, Nādir Shāh enlisted them in his army. Ahmad Khān Abdālī distinguished himself in Nādir's service and quickly rose from the position of a personal attendant to the command of Nādir's Abdālī contingent in which capacity he accompanied the Persian conqueror on his Indian expedition in 1739. In June 1747, Nādir Shāh was assassinated by Qizilbāshī conspirators at Kuchān in Khurāsān. This prompted Ahmad Khān and the Afghān soldiery to set out for Qandahār. On the way they elected Ahmad Khān as their leader, hailing him as Ahmad Shāh. Ahmad Shāh assumed the title of Durr-i-Durrān (Pearl of Pearls) after which the Abdālī tribe were known as Durrānīs. He was crowned at Qandahār where coins were struck in his name. With Qandahār as his base, he easily extended his control over Ghaznī, Kābul and Peshāwar. As for himself, he, as heir to Nādir Shāh's eastern dominions, laid claim to the provinces which Nādir had wrested from the Mughal emperor. He invaded India nine times between 1747 and 1769. He set out from Peshāwar on his first Indian expedition in December 1747. By January 1748, Lahore and Sirhind had been captured. Eventually Mughal forces were sent from Delhi to resist his advance. Lacking artillery and vastly outnumbered, he was defeated at Mānūpur in March 1748 by Mu'īn-ul-Mulk, the son of the Wazīr Qamar ud-Dīn who had been killed in a preliminary skirmish. Ahmad Shāh retreated to Afghanistan and Mu'īn ul-Mulk was appointed governor of the Punjab. Before Mu'īn ul-Mulk could consolidate his position, Ahmad Shāh, in December 1749, again crossed the Indus. Receiving no reinforcements from Delhi, Mu'īn ul-Mulk was forced to make terms with him. In accordance with instructions from Delhi, Ahmad Shāh was promised the revenues of the Chahār Mahāl (Gujrāt, Auraṅgābād, Siālkoṭ and Pasrūr) which had been granted by the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shāh to Nādir Shāh in 1739. The non-payment of the revenues of the Chahār Mahāl was the reason for his third Indian expedition of 1751-52. Lahore was besieged for four months and the surrounding country devastated. Mu' īn ul-Mulk was defeated in March 1752, but was reinstated by Ahmad Shāh to whom the emperor formally ceded the two sūbahs of Lahore and Multān. During this expedition Kashmīr was annexed to the Durrānī empire. By April 1752 Ahmad Shāh was back in Afghanistan. Mu'īn ul-Mulk found the Punjab a troublesome charge and his death in November 1753 only served to intensify the anarchy. All power was for a time in the hands of his widow, Mughlānī Begam, whose profligacy signalled many a rebellion. The Mughal Wazīr Imād ul-Mulk took advantage of this anarchy to recover the Punjab for the empire and entrusted its administration to Ādīnā Beg. Ahmad Shāh immediately set out to recover his lost province. He reached Lahore towards the end of December 1756, and, after an unopposed march, entered Delhi on 28 January 1757. The city was plundered and the defenseless inhabitants massacred. A similar fate befell the inhabitants of Mathurā, Vrindāvan and Āgrā. Towards the end of March 1757, an outbreak of cholera amongst his troops forced Ahmad Shāh to leave India. The territory of Sirhind was annexed to the Afghān empire. Najīb ud-Daulā, the Ruhīlā leader who had supported him, was left in charge of Delhi and his own son, Taimūr, appointed viceroy of the Punjab. He had no sooner left India than the Sikhs, together with Ādīnā Beg, rose in revolt against Taimūr. Early in 1758 Ādīnā Beg invited Marāṭhās to expel the Afghāns from the Punjab. This was accomplished by the Marāṭhās who actually crossed the Indus and held Peshāwar for a few months. These events brought Ahmad Shāh to India once again (1759-61). The Marāṭhās rapidly evacuated the Punjab before the Afghān advance and retreated towards Delhi. They were routed with enormous losses at Pānīpat on 14 January 1761.

        After Pānīpat the main factor to reckon with was the growing power of the Sikhs who had constantly been assailing Ahmad Shāh's lines of communication. It was against them that the Afghān invader's sixth expedition (1762) was specifically directed. News had reached him in Afghanistan of the defeat, after his withdrawal from the country, of his general, Nūr ud-Dīn Bāmezaī, at the hands of the Sikhs who were fast spreading themselves out over the Punjab and had declared their leader, Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā, king of Lahore (1761). To rid his Indian dominions of them once for all, he set out from Qandahār. Marching with alacrity, he overtook the Sikhs as they were withdrawing into the Mālvā after crossing the Sutlej. The moving caravan comprised a substantial portion of the total Sikh population and contained, besides active fighters, a large body of old men, women and children who were being escorted to the safety of the interior of the country. Surprised by Ahmad Shāh, the Sikhs threw a cordon round those who needed protection, and prepared for the battle. Continuing their march in this form, they fought the invaders and their Indian allies desperately. Ahmad Shāh succeeded, in the end, in breaking through the ring and glutted his spite by carrying out a full scale butchery. Near the village of Kup, near Mālerkoṭlā, nearly 25, 000 Sikhs were killed in a single day's battle (5 February 1762), known in Sikh history as Vaḍḍā Ghallūghārā, the Great Killing. But the Sikhs were by no means crushed. Within four months of the Great Carnage, the Sikhs had inflicted a severe defeat on the Afghān governor of Sirhind. Four months later they were celebrating Dīvālī in the Harimandar (Amritsar) which the Shāh had blown up by gunpowder in April 1762, and were fighting with him again a pitched battle forcing him to withdraw from Amritsar under cover of darkness (17 October). Ahmad Shāh left Lahore for Afghanistan on 12 December 1762.

        Ahmad Shāh planned another crusade against the Sikhs and he invited this time his Balūch ally, Amīr Nasīr Khān, to join him in the adventure. He started from Afghanistan in October 1764 and reaching Lahore attacked Amritsar on 1 December 1764. A small batch of thirty Sikhs, in the words of Qāzī Nūr Muhammad, the author of the Jaṅgnāmah, who happened to be in the imperial train accompanying the Balūch division, "grappled with the ghāzīs, split blood and sacrificed their own lives for their Gurū. " Ahmad Shāh came down to Sirhind without encountering anywhere the main body of the Khālsā. This time he went no farther than Sirhind. As he was marching homewards through the Jalandhar Doāb, Sikh sardārs, including Jassā Siṅgh Āhluvālīā, Jassā Siṅgh Rāmgaṛhīā, Chaṛhat Siṅgh Sukkarchakkīā, Jhaṇḍā Siṅgh Bhaṅgī and Jai Siṅgh Kanhaiyā kept a close trail constantly raiding the imperial caravan. Their depredations caused great annoyance to the Shāh who lost much of his baggage to the Sikhs. The floods in the River Chenāb took a further toll of his men and property, and he returned to Afghanistan mauled and considerably shaken.

        The fear of his Indian empire falling to the Sikhs continued to obsess the Shāh's mind and he led out yet another punitive campaign against them towards the close of 1766. This was his eighth invasion into India. The Sikhs had recourse to their old game of hide-and-seek. Vacating Lahore which they had wrested from Afghān nominees, Kābulī Mall and his nephew Amīr Siṅgh, they faced squarely the Afghān general, Jahān Khān at Amritsar, forcing him to retreat, with 6, 000 of the Durrānī soldiers killed. Ahmad Shāh offered the governorship of Lahore to Sikh sardār, Lahiṇā Siṅgh Bhaṅgī, but the latter declined the proposal. Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā, with an army of 30, 000 Sikhs, roamed about the neighbourhood of the Afghān camp plundering it to his heart's content. Never before had Ahmad Shāh felt so helpless. The outcome of the unequal, but bitter, contest now lay clearly in favour of the Sikhs. The Shāh had realized that his Indian dominions were now at the mercy of the Sikhs and he bowed to the inevitable. His own soldiers were getting restive and the summer heat of the Punjab was becoming unbearable. He, at last, decided to return home, but took a different route this time to avoid molestation by the Sikhs. As soon as Ahmad Shāh retired, Sikhs reoccupied their territories.

        The Shāh led out his last expedition in the beginning of 1769. He crossed the Indus and the Jehlum and reached as far as the right bank of the Chenāb and fixed his camp at Jukālīāṅ to the northwest of Gujrāt. By this time the Sikhs had established themselves more firmly in the country. Moreover, dissensions broke out among the Shāh's followers and he was compelled to return to Afghanistan.

        On Ahmad Shāh's death in 1772 of the cancerous wound said to have been caused on his nose by a flying piece of brick when the Harimandar Sāhib was destroyed with gunpowder, his empire roughly extended from the Oxus to the Indus and from Tibet to Khurāsān. It embraced Kashmīr, Peshāwar, Multān, Sindh, Balūchistān, Khurāsān, Herāt, Qandahār, Kābul and Balkh.


  1. Ganda Singh, Ahmad Shah Durrani. Bombay, 1959
  2. Gupta, Hari Rām, History of the Sikhs, vol. II. Delhi, 1978
  3. Sarkar, Jadunath, Fall of the Mughal Empire, vol. II. Delhi, 1971
  4. Khushwant Siṅgh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. I. Princeton, 1963

B. J. Hasrat