Qizilbash Confederations yesterday and today

From Eastern Anatolia and Azerbaijan to Iran and Afghanistan, the influential Qizilbash confederacy has played an important role in shaping political, religious and cultural History of these places first as the military backbone of the Safavid Empire, and later forming their own Empires before passing into History as one of the most powerful elite forces which the Muslim Empires have ever witnessed.

Agha Faisal Ali Qizilbash from India, a lawyer by profession, who is writing a book on the clan narrates the story of his family’s migration and re-rise to prominence in Kashmir.

The Qizilbash may be regarded as modern Persians, but more strictly they are Persianised Turks, like the present royal race and predominant class in Persia. They speak pure Persian. Their immigration in Afghanistan dates only from the time of Nadir Shah. They are chiefly to be found in towns and are justly looked on as the more educated and superior class of the population. At Kabul they constitute the bulk of the ruler’s cavalry and artillery. Many serve in our Indian regiments and bear a character for smartness and intelligence as well as good riding. They are Shiahs.”                                                     
  Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica. 9TH Edition, Volume [01] (1878)

The Qizilbash is a Martial race, The expression Qizilbash (Pronounced–Qazalbaash) and in Azerbaijani Turkish language pronounced as “Gyzylbash” meaning “Red Heads” is derived from their distinctive twelve gored crimson headwear which they used to wear (tāj or tark in Persian; sometimes specifically titled “Haydar’s Crown” / تاجحیدر / Tāj-e Ḥaydar) indicating their adherence to the twelve Ithnā‘asharī Imāms. On the top of the red cap were twelve knots, each of a different colour, to represent the twelve Imams. The Qizilbash were a coalition of many different tribes of predominantly (but not exclusively) Turkic-speaking Azerbaijani background united in their adherence to Shia Islam. The Qizilbash flourished in Anatolia and Eastern Anatolia (Turkey) from the late 13th century onwards, some of which contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty of Persia (Iran). The Qizilbash have their origin in the Kaysanite movement. Even though Safavids were not the first Shia rulers in Persia (Iran), they played a crucial role in making Shia Islam the official religion in the whole of Persia .With the help of Qizilbash they established shia’ism as the state religion in Persia, a position it retains to this day. After the establishment of Safavid Empire, the Qizilbash were categorised on the basis of their clans. They were also classified on linguistic basis like Persian and Turkish. These two groups were further categorised into various sub-clans of their origin. While some were “Ahl-i-Diwan” and “Ahl-i-Qalam” (men of pen), others were “sahib-i-saif” that is more warriors and fighters.

Safavid Empire and its Qizilbash Army

In 1499, Ismail, the young leader of the Safavid order, known as Ismail shaykh Ardebili Qizilbash Ithna’ashariz, (meaning Ismail, restorer of the cap of twelve colours) marched with his Qizilbash Army and conquered Tabriz (Iran). This was the beginning of the Safavid state. Ismail’s rise to power was made possible by these Turkoman tribes of Anatolia and Azerbaijan, known as the Qizilbash. The Qizilbash were conscious of the debt due to them. Therefore the Safavid State came to be known by the terms such as “Qalamraw-i-Qizilbash” (the Qizilbash realm), “Dawlat-i-Qizilbash” (the Qizilbash state) and “Mamlikat-i-Qizilbash” (the Qizilbash kingdom) with the Shah commonly referred to as “Padishah-i-Qizilbash” (King of Qizilbash). [see: Iran under the Safavids:Roger Savory, Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire: Andrew J.Newman]. During the safavid era, the Qizilbash enjoyed an influencial position as administrators, commanders and provincial Governors as well as personal mentors of the successive rulers. Holding many governships as “tiyul”,they furnished the safavid kings with upto 70,000 horsemen in return. Infact the unabated Qizilbash tribes would appoint the successors of the Safavid kings as per their own wish, thus reducing the Shahs as mere pawns. Qizilbash began to move to herat and Qandhar during this period. The Qizilbash thus obtained principal offices of the state. Many members of the Qizilbash tribe moved to India during this time. Quli Qutb QaraQoyunlu who migrated to Deccan alongwith his family served as a courtier of Mohammad Shah- The Bahmani Sultan. Later Quli Qutub founded his own dynasty in the Deccan, famously known as the Qutb-Shahi Dynasty. During this time the Baharlu tribe of the Qizilbash under the order of the Shah assisted Babur. (Bayram Khan’s father and grandfather who were key figures in the Mughal court were from this Qizilbash tribe) . After the eventful reign of Babur, Sher Shah Suri exiled Babur’s son, Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, from Delhi in 1544. Humayun took refuge in Persia. Once again, his Safavid allies responded by providing Qizilbash military and bureaucratic help to Humayun so he could regain his throne. Many Qizilbashs who stayed back as Mughal Courtiers settled in India and became one of the most influential groups of the Mughal Court. Abul Mansur Mirza Muhammad Muqim Ali Khan QaraQoyunlu whose family was of Qizilbash descent, succeeded his father in law “Burhan-ul-Mulk” Saadat Ali Khan-I to the throne of Oudh and founded the Awadh Dynasty of Nawabs. Qizilbash history and identity took on a new course with the collapse of the Safavid State. The inability of the last Safavid Shah, Sultan Husayn 1694- 1722, to successfully reform the highly centralized religio-bureaucratic system to meet the changing social and economic dynamics in the eastern cities had irreversible implications. The Qizilbash who were instrumental in the rise of the Safavids had been relegated to provincial cavalry or frontier commanders in favor of two new cadres. Mahmud Hotak, Chief of Ghilzai Pashtun tribe, took the matter in their own hands and defeated the incoherent Safavid military in 1722, at the Battle of Gulnabad, which resulted in the siege of Isfahan. The Qizilbash Amirs and Provincial/Frontier Commanders, along with the support of some clerics did not sit idle to witness the breakup of the state their ancestors had diligently assembled. The Safavid prince, Tahmasp II, and some Qizilbash commanders amassed an army under the guidance of a former Qizilbash musketeer tufangchi, named Nadir Afshar. As the commander of the army, Nadir assembled a multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian military, which led to his “brilliant victories”.

Nadir Shah  Afshar Qizilbash

“Memleket-i-Qizilbash” and its Downfall 

The commanders, chiefs, and Sayyids of Isfahan officially declared him the Shah of Persia and later of Azerbaijan (Moghan), a symbolic place being the homeland of the Qizilbash. Nadir Shah Afshar Qizilbash replaced the Safavid figurehead, Tahmasp, as the new premier of the state. The Qizilbash brought with them the centralized Perso-Islamic model of governance that had at its core a well-oiled bureaucracy. Nadir Shah’s main motivation was to expand the realm of Memleket-i-Qizilbash, Qizilbash Country, from the Indus River to the straits of Bosporus and from the Central Asian oasis to the western side of the Persian Gulf. However tragedy stuck  the Qizilbash empire when he was assasinated in 1747. After Nadir Shah’s assassination, large number of Qizilbash officers and officials merged forces with Ahmad Shah Abdali who had earlier served as Nadir Shah’s bodyguard. After the fall of Nadir Shah’s empire, a large clan of the Qizilbash founded a separate Empire in Persia (Iran), known as the Qajar Dynasty which ruled Persia (Iran) till 1925. .[State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan: The Reign of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan-By Christine Noelle] Since the creation of Afghanistan, the Qizilbash constitute an important and politically influential element of society and held important posts in government offices in the past. Godfrey Vigne, the famous traveller and writer of 19th century notes that, “Qizilbash have occupied a unique position in the Afghan Society. He further adds that” the leaders among the Qizilbash by far were the most wealthy, the most intelligent and the most influential men at Kabul. In addition to occupying important positions in the military, they were also among the elite at the Royal court filling positions as scribes, courtiers and administrators. The wealth they accquired allowed them to build grand houses adorned with intricate carvings and lavish courtyards”. . “The Qizilbash are traditionally considered to be the descendants of Persian Shia mercenaries/warriors and administrators left behind by Emperor Nadir Shah Afshar (1736-47) to govern the Afghan provinces. Under Ahmad Shah Abdali, who earlier served as Nadir Shah’s bodyguard, and later the founder of the Durrani empire, the Qizilbash acquired power and influence at court out of proportion to their numbers. The influence of the Qizilbash in the government created resentment among the ruling Pashtun clans, especially after the Qizilbash openly allied themselves with the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842) which resulted in mass persecution of the community after the War”. 

Portrait of a Qizilbash warrior in traditional Qizilbash attire (Safavid Era). Portrait Courtesy:Festival of Arts’ Gallery of The Complete pictorial history of Iranian Uniforms.

Author’s ancestor, Qizilbash Agha Raheem’s family formerly as Qurchi, Sowars and Sepeh Salars with their Qizilbash regiments (Dastas) were among the aristocratic families who stayed back in Afghanistan to join the government services and to govern their (Iqtas) fiefdoms granted by their new ruler Nadir Shah Afshar Qizilbash in different provinces for their military services after the conquest of Afghanistan. Most of the Iqtas were granted in the new Province of “Naderabad”. As the Qizilbash community started acquiring more and more significant offices in the government including that of provincial Governors and the Special Royal Bodyguard Corps who would never leave the King alone and would influence his decisions, their presence was of foremost dislike to the native Pashtun chieftains, who felt less important, and thus in the later years took every measure to dismember the Qizilbash from the vital posts in the administration and military, which also resulted in the assasination of one of the important member of the Qizilbash tribe, Sardar Ali Khan Qizilbash in 1770, who was the then Governor of Kandahar, and the Jagirdar of Hazara. Sardar Ali Khan Qizilbash’s descendants later settled in Lahore and hold the title of “Nawabs of Nawabgunj”. This Qizilbash family is famous in Lahore for their Muharram Processions.

Portrait of a Qizilbash warrior in traditional Qizilbash attire (Afsharid Era) Picture Courtesy: Booklet of 2,500 Year Celebrations in 1971

The commotion in the later years after the death of Ahmad Shah Abdali, led many Qizilbashs to withdraw from the Administrative and Military careers. Even though the new ruler Timur Shah Durrani accomodated many Qizilbashs as his courtiers and relied only on the Qizilbash for his personal protection however the Qandahari Pashtuns, tribal Khans and other influential Sunni religious leaders resented the fact that Shia Qizilbash held important administrative posts in the Royal Court and Provinces. This created heavy resentment. As a result Timur Shah shifted his capital to Kabul from Kandahar in 1775. This rapidly disintegrating scene resulted in a civil war later. Consequently many Qizilbashs of Qandahar turned to merchandise to escape persecution as many of the Qizilbash who held high offices were expelled from the services and their properties being confiscated. The shift from privilege to persecution of the Qizilbash affected them adversely. Many of them left the country in search of a better life. During this period Kashmir was under the Afghans and the Subahdar (Governor) of Kashmir was Amir Khan Jawansher who belonged to the Qizilbash tribe. This part of the Qizilbash tribe maintained matrimonial alliances with the Durranis, thus retaining authority which the Qizilbash tribe exercised earlier. Musa Khan Jawansher Qizilbash married his daughter Zainab Begum to Sardar Payinda Khan Muhammadzai, Sarfraz Khan, Chief of the Barakzai Durranis. Their son Dost Muhammad Khan became the Emir of Afghanistan and founded the Barakzai Dynasty. During the tenure of Amir Khan Jawansher Qizilbash as Subahdar, Kashmir was considered relatively peaceful while he made it sure that the minority Shi’as were safe and secure. During  this time Kashmir saw merchants and commercial agents of the principal cities of Persia, Afghanistan and northern India advance their fortunes and enjoy the pleasures of fine climate. (A Journey from Bengal to England:George Forster). The state again witnessed distress after he left , however after Ranjit Singh took over, the region saw some stability. Subedar Amir khan jawansher Qizilbash is famous for building the Shergarhi palace of Srinagar. During this time Agha Raheem Qizilbash son of a Qizilbash Chieftain and Naib Salar turned Merchant Aala Qadr Sardar Agha Ali Qizilbash [az Khanawaad-i-Arfa-ud-Daulah  Hishmat-ul-Qizilbash-i-Qandahar] migrated from Kandahar to Kashmir alongwith his family. While many members of their tribe stayed together in Kabul and Kandahar, 19th century saw migration of many members of the Qizilbash to Meshed (Persia) and many towards, then Indian states of Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, Hyderabad and Delhi which were considered as safe haven. The Qizilbash form one of the more literate groups in Afghanistan and constitute 1 percent of the Afghan population (Library of the Congress-1997) Agha Raheem, who was a powerful magnate among the Qizilbash of Kandahar, and sometime a member of the Provincial trade council moved to Kashmir for trade purposes.

“The Qizilbash are a classic example of a cohesive group tossed about by history
and split among several nations, losing their cohesion and influence but neve
their ethnic pride……”
~ Dupree, “Qizilbash” in Muslim People: A World Ethnography Survey, 1984


An Afsharid from paternal side and a Qajar from maternal side, Maalik-ul-Tujjaar Agha Raheem Qizilbash Aala Qadr, came with a lot of fortune and built a vast property on the banks of river Jehlum at Khanqah-e-Sokhtah (Nawa Kadal) in the Srinagar city. Named after their Kandahar house “Qasr-i-Qizilbash“, the Aghas built a stately house of three floors constructed on a Taaq system (pointed arch openings) which consisted of 14 Taaqs with lattice work (pinjarakari) and had projecting dubs (octagonal and hexagonal balconies) and wooden galleries with khatamband work overlooking the Jehlum river. Later two more wings were added to the house. The family continued to maintain matrimonial alliances within their own Qizilbash clans in Multan Punjab and Peshawar for the first two generations. Agha Raheem went into trading however after his death in the later years business received a huge loss as the movement from Kashmir to Kandahar (Afghanistan) for trade purposes became difficult due to the first Anglo-Afghan War when Qizilbash and the Hazaras were declared enemies of the state for supporting the British and were hunted and persecuted by the ruling majority. Mohammad Naib Sharif Qizilbash, the leader of the Qizilbash tribe in Afghanistan during the First Anglo-Afghan War had written to the family about the confisication of their estates and properties by the Afghan Government during the war. Muhammad Naib Sharif Qizilbash left Afghanistan with the British Army after the war and was given a handsome stipend by the British Government of India. Thus the doors to their native place were shut forever. Thus Agha Raheem’s grandson Agha Ali Qizilbash had no choice but to train his two sons Agha Muhammad Baqir and Agha Muhammad Taqi in Yunani Medicine/Tibb-e-Unaan. The two sons of the Afghani merchant became Physicians (Hakims) and earned their livelihood by treating the ailing. It is said that due to poverty in Kashmir the two brothers used to treat the ailing free of cost which earned them the name “Gareeb Nawaz Hakim” even though the brothers had themselves fallen on hard times. The had to sell their precious heirlooms which included swords and daggers with gemstones of agate, turquise with engraved calligraphy. The two brothers were known for their liberality and generous support for the poor especially the minority Muslims and would give away a major share of the food grains from their small estate in charity. It is said that a time came when the two brothers were left with only one Jamawar robe, wearing of which those days would be considered as a mark of grandeur. It is said the brothers would take turns while wearing the robe outside their home in social gatherings ! However their selflessness and piety towards the ailing poor again turned the tables! It was in 1872. Maharaja Gulab singh’s son who had ascended the throne; Maharaja Ranbir Singh was going in a big boat, “Parindah” with 24 rowers to Manasbal. It so happened that the Maharaja had a terrible stomach pain while they were near Nawa-Kadal. He fell unconscious. They stopped the boat and they ran into that area, in search of a doctor . By then many Hakims had reached there but they couldn’t help the Maharaja including the Maharaja’s own Royal Physician. On learning about the Maharaja’s condition, Agha Muhammad Baqir stepped out of his home. He examined the Maharaja’s tongue and pulse and gave the Maharaja a potion, with some pepper while the Maharaja was in a semi conscious state lying down on Agha’s lap and within no time the Maharaja was relieved of the pain and Agha Muhammad Baqir was appointed as the “Chief Physician” to Maharaja Ranbir Singh, the second Dogra Ruler in 1872. The Aghas were granted the privilege of Darbar Nisheeni (Royal Courtiership). Under Agha (Hakim) Muhammad Baqir’s patronage and dynamic guidance the Maharaja established a translating institute called “Darul tarjumah” where books relating to medicine (Tib-e-Unaan) in Arabic and Latin were translated into Persian and Dogri languages. Due to his meritorious services Agha Muhammad Baqir was awarded the title of “Afsarul tibba” , bestowed with the Robes of Honour (Khil’at) and granted fiefdom (Hereditary Jagirs) of 1000 Kanals in villages of Anantnag, Khag-Budgam, and Srinagar in Kashmir. (see Kashmir by G.M.D Sufi) Agha Baqir was an authority on the works of eminent Physicians of great repute, prominent among them being Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari, Ibn-Sina, Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi. Agha Muhammad Baqir was a comprehensive thinker, Scholar, Polymath and Physician par excellence. He played an instrumental role in establishing “Shifa-Khanas’ or dispensaries in different districts of the state which later culminated into establishment of 27 Medical institutes and a full fledged department of Medicine. Later, a full-fledged Ministry “Wizarat-i-Tib” was established with Baqir as Naib-i-Wazir (Deputy Vizier). He would deliver lectures in the Royal Court which were mostly based upon the treatise “Zad Al Musafireen” written by Persian Scholar Mohammad Mehdi ibn Ali Naqi and had one of the first copies of the treatise written in 1727-1728. Agha Muhammad Baqir Qizilbash was instrumental in authorizing compensation for the affected members of the minority Shia community during the communal riots of 1872 in Srinagar. He also dispatched a letter to Nawazish Ali Khan Qizilbash, the Nawab of NawabGunj-Lahore appraising him of the situation in kashmir, who sent a financial aid on behalf of the Qizilbash clan of Punjab, Sindh and Peshawar through his son to the Court of the Maharaja.

Afsarul Tibba, Aala Qadr Agha (Hakim) Muhammad Baqir Qizilbash-The Chief Physician and Deputy Vizier to Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jammu and Kashmir.

Agha Baqir’s Brother Agha Muhammad Taqi Qizilbash was also inducted in the government who served as the “Wazir-e-Dakhilah” (Home Minister) of the state and was granted estates in various villages of Kashmir. Apart from other Jagirs Maharaja also presented a village to Agha (Hakim) Muhammad Baqir Qizilbash as a fiefdom (Heriditary Jagir) of 800 Kanals and named it after him (Gund Baqir) in Sopore. For rendering distinguished services the Agha brothers were also bestowed with a life time allowance of 5000 p.a and granted Sanads by the Maharaja  . Agha (Hakim) Muhammad Baqir is said to have cured a paralytic patient by applying living wasps to the parts of body that were paralyzed.  After Agha Baqir’s death, his only son (Hakim) Agha Ali Naqi Qizilbash took over as the Royal physician to the Maharaja. By now Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s Son Pratap Singh had ascended the throne .Agha (hakim) Ali Naqi was equally competent like his father. It is famous with him that he had cured a patient suffering from Double pneumonia even though the patient was given up as hopeless by a British Doctor. He too was bestowed with many Jagirs  in Mujgund village and Srinagar and was granted the distinguished service “Sanad” and public service medal “in Silver” by Maharaja Pratap Singh. The huge estate of Gund Bakir in Sopore was later donated by Agha Ali Naqi to the poor people of the village seeing their lamentable conditions, most of them belonging to the Shia minority. The Royal Physician (Hakim) Agha Ali Naqi also secured jobs for his Cousins through nomination quota by the Maharaja reserved for the aristocracy. Agha Abdul Karim was appointed as a Thanadaar while as Agha Abdul Rahim was appointed as a Tehsildaar.

Qizilbash Muhammad Naib Sharif , the Chief of the Qizilbash tribe in Afghanistan during the First Anglo Afghan War (Courtesy The British Library) 

Hakim Agha Ali Naqi Qizilbash had two Sons Agha Sher Ali and Agha Mirza Ali. He also adopted the only son of his sister , who was an orphan and was living with his maternal family. His name was Sayid Hussain Rezavi. He was a descendant of Imam Ali Raza (A.S), the eighth Shia Imam through one of his descendents Aaqa Meer Sayid Hussain Qomi Kashmiri, a scholar and mystic who had migrated to Kashmir from Qom in 1418. Since he was brought up at his maternal home in the Agha House, he came to be known as “Aga” Sayid Hussain. He and later his descendants wrote “Aga” as an appellation.

Agha (Hakim) Ali Naqi Qizilbash- The Royal Physician to Maharaja Pratap Singh-The Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir

He was raised in an aristocratic setting by his maternal Grandfather (Hakim) Agha Muhammad Baqir Qizilbash, the Chief Physician to Maharaja Ranbir Singh Bahadur GCSI, CIE. —- Aga Syed Hussain was provided with the finest available education— thus becoming the First Kashmiri to pass the Matriculation for the first time in Kashmir in 1894. He joined the regal state services after receiving training at various administrative institutes and colleges (Aitchison and Mayo college) and remained as Wazir-e-Wazarat, first settlement commissioner of Ladakh (1901), Education Minister, Revenue Commissioner of the state, Governor of Kashmir(1927), and when the orders came to establish a High Court in J&K, he was appointed as the first Muslim Judge of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir in 1928 along with 2 Hindu judges. Aga Syed Hussain retired as the Home and Judicial Minister of Jammu & Kashmir in 1932. He was awarded with the Titles of Khan Sahib , Khan Bahadur  and Thakur and was also made a “Tazimi Sardaar” (Chief Landholder of the Kashmir Province) and bestowed with estates and Hereditary Jagirs (fiefdom) in many villages of Kashmir. After his retirement he was nominated as a Member of the Praja Sabha by Maharaja Hari singh in 1934. Khan Bahadur Aga Sayed Hussain Thakur passed away in 1944.

Khan Bahadur Aga Sayid Hussain Thakur (D.S.M, K.B)

Agha Ali Naqi Qizilbash’s sons Agha Mirza [K.P] (Died 1925) and Agha Sher Ali [K.P] (Died 1950) were famous Police officers of their times and were known for their stern etiquettes. Both the brothers were educated first at home by a European who was a member of the Church Missionary Society of UK , later attended the Mission School Srinagar and attended Aitchison Chiefs College for a Diploma. On their return they were inducted in the Regal Police Services of Jammu and Kashmir and were appointed as Thanadaars (Inspectors). While Agha Sher Ali served mostly in the armed wing,  the younger brother Agha Mirza also served in the prosecution wing and was known for his hold on criminal law in the Wazarat Courts as well as in the court of judicature. His family continues to be in possession of many of his collection of books on law which include one of the oldest prints of “Qanoon-i-Faujdari-Majmua Qawaneen Ranbir Dand Badhi“etc. Agha Mirza  was survived by his only son Agha Abdullah while Agha Sher Ali was survived by his two sons Agha Zafar Ali [edu:Mission School Srinagar, F.A-Punjab University Lahore, B.A- S.P College Srinagar],(who worked as a Clerk in the Governor’s Office and later Office Superintendent) and Agha Firdous Ali [edu:Mission School Srinagar, F.A- Punjab University Lahore,Dip-Administrative Training Institute, Lahore] (a Tehsildaar). Agha Mirza though the younger brother went on to become an  Assistant Superintendent of Police after receiving an appreciation letter with a promotion order from the then Inspector General of the State Police, B.Brocas Howell (I.P). Agha Mirza was thus more powerful, stern, and the boss in the house while the elder brother Sher Ali remained a Thanadaar which bred an envious sentiment in Sher Ali who left no stone unturned after his younger brother (Agha Mirza’s) untimely death in dispossessing his only orphan nephew Agha Abdullah of all his father’s ancestral estates and property and treating him inconsiderately. Agha Abdullah was later taken by his eldest uncle Khan Bahadur Aga Sayed Hussain who after seeing his agony sent him to Lahore with his grandchildren where he completed his education [edu: Mission School Srinagar, F.A-Punjab University Lahore, Dip: Teachers Training Institute Lahore] and was appointed by the then Chief Inspector of Schools as a Headmaster of a School in Lahore. Owing to disturbances in Lahore the Cousins moved back and Agha Abdullah had to quit his job since he liked Kashmir more than anything else and started living with his cousins at their Lal Mandi House in Srinagar. Agha Abdullah went to live on his own after his Wedding. Having no choice he opted for the job of a Head Clerk in the secretarial staff of the Minister for Public Works to Maharaja Hari Singh. This Job was secured by his Uncle Khan Bahadur Aga Sayed Hussain in the last years of his life. Later Agha Abdullah shifted to Alamgari Bazar, Zadibal , outskirts of the Old City. He retired as Assistant Supervisory Officer in the Water Works Department, Kashmir. Agha Abdullah was the only scion of this family who despite being an equal shareholder in the huge estates and properties did not receive anything during the property and estate settlement of the family and was deprived of the same by his very own uncle Agha Sher Ali and his children. However Agha Abdullah never cared about worldly pleasures. He led a humble and pious life and spent most of his time reading the Quran and Prayers. He was a scholar of Persian and would often write for himself.

Agha Sher Ali who retired as an influential member of the Regal Kashmir Police Forces was later appointed as a member of the Royal Commission (consisting of 20 members and chaired by Rai Bahadur Ganga Nath-then Chief Justice of the State) by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1943 to look into the working of the Constitution of the state and social and economic conditions of the common masses. Agha Sher Ali represented the Shi’a community as a feudal aristocrat in the Commission. The comission was to suggest reforms in various fields. In his later years he was an “Honorary” member of the Prajha Sabha on the nomination quota.

A traditional Qizilbash sword “Shamshir”- 16th century- courtesy:Safavid Era 

Agha Sher Ali and Mirza Agha’s only sister Aghazaadi Padhshah was married in the famous Jalali Family of Shree bhatt, Zadibal. Her only Son Syed Afzal Shah Jalali was a noted philanthropist of the valley.

The Agha Family not only Produced Kashmir’s first Matriculate but the family also produced Kashmir’s first woman Matriculate. Aga Sayed Hussain’s own Daughter Fatima Aga famously Known as Begum (Agha) Zafar Ali or Begum zafar Ali who was a noted educationist, Administrator and in her later years Member of the legislative Assembly. In 1987 She was awarded Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in the Republic of India for her outstanding contribution in the field of Social Work.  Aga Sayed Husain’s son, Aga Syed Ahmad (IAS), was the Home Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir and before that served in various other capacities including Health Secretary to the Government of Jammu & Kashmir, Education Secretary, Secretary for Works and Power, Commissioner Secretary Housing and Member of the State Public Service Commission. After his retirement he joined Politics and remained as Member of the Parliament from 1967-1977. As a Parliamentarian, he was a member of the Indian Delegation to the 25th Session of the United Nations and Fourth Committee for Decolonization. He was also a member of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s special Envoy delegation on various Diplomatic tours of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, France, UK, U.S.A, Japan, Hong Kong, and Russia.  Agha Nasir Ali (IAS) was the first Kashmiri to qualify the civil service exams when they were introduced in Kashmir by the Maharaja in 1941.He remained as Wazir-i-Wazarat to Maharaja Hari Singh in the pre-independence years. Later in the post independence period Agha Nasir Ali became the first Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar (1955-1958) and later Divisional Commissioner Kashmir (1959-1962), Financial Commissioner of the state (1962-1967). After holding key positions in the State Government he was deputed to the Central Government . He reached to the position of Labour Secretary of India and retired as Secretary to the Government of India (1977). Aga Afzal went ahead and qualified the much reputed I.C.S after serving in the Royal Navy, and on partition preferred to stay in the newly formed state of Pakistan with a C.S.P instead of I.A.S. He retired as the Chief Secretary in West Pakistan state of Punjab (1969-1974). Aga Muzzafar (IAS) was the first Transport Controller/Commissioner of Srinagar (1948-1951) and held important offices under the state government which include Director of various departments, Financial Commissioner Jammu & Kashmir ( 1967-1969) and Commissioner Secretary for various departments until his deputation in the central government as Indian Ambassador to the Republic of South Korea (1975-1978). He retired as the eighth Chief Secretary of Jammu & Kashmir (1978-1980). Agha Shaukat Ali resigned from the Kashmir civil services as a Tehsildar, when he was to be promoted as Wazir-i-Wazarat and joined Muslim Conference accompanying Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He remained as the General Secretary of Muslim Conference in J&K. After Partition he was imprisoned in Kashmir and his release was brokered by the United Nations in exchange for Brigadier Gansara Singh, then Governor of Gilgit and a close relative of Maharaja Hari Singh, who was captured by the Pakistani forces. Agha Shaukat moved to Pakistan along with his wife. He served in the the Pakistan civil services (C.S.P) in various capacities including Information Secretary to the President of Pakistan, General M Ayub Khan and was given various diplomatic assignments. Agha Abdul Rahim’s Son Agha Muhammad Sadiq , who worked as an Accountant in the Treasury of the Maharaja government was a progressive Muslim of his times and a philanthropist played a pivotal  role along with other notable Kashmiris in the upliftment of the backward Shia Minorities of the state. Agha Muhammad Sadiq was the General Secretary of the ‘Young Mens Shia Association’ a social organisation founded in 1918 by the progressive and educated Muslims with the prior permission of the State Government for the betterment and upliftment of the Shia minorities.He was closely associated with the Muslim Conference and was also one of the founding members of the ‘Anjumani Behboodi Shiani Kashmir’, a party whose object was to awaken the backward community so as to progress in educational and other field in coordination with other Muslims. Farooq Abbas Aga (IAS) was serving in the capacity of Director in the state until his untimely death at the age of 40 in 1985. Agha Ashraf Ali remains as the noted academician of the state. He served in the department of education in various capacities. He was the Inspector of Schools, Kashmir in 1952 and went on to become the Principal of the Teachers Training College in Srinagar. He headed the department of Education for many years and in that capacity served as the acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Kashmir. He was also the Chairman of the state board of school education and later chairman of the competent authority (BOPEE) of J&K. He retired as Commissioner Higher Education, Jammu & Kashmir. In the 21st century, a scion of this family, and the eldest son of academician Agha Ashraf Ali, Agha Shahid Ali left with a remarkable contribution to the literary world. His poetry reached every corner of the world which continues to be reminiscent of love, despair, joy, revolt and nostalgia in a voice that is speechless yet powerful!  He published eight Books of Poetry which received Global accolades. Many of his collections were published posthumously. His work is studied extensively. He also introduced the “Ghazal” form in English poetry and translated the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation and was awarded a Pushcart Prize. He held teaching positions at the University of Delhi, Penn State, SUNY Binghamton, Princeton University, Hamilton College, Baruch College, University of Utah, and Warren Wilson College. Agha Shahid Ali died on December 8, 2001. His poetry collections include Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals (W. W. Norton, 2003), Rooms Are Never Finished(2001), The Country Without a Post Office (1997), The Beloved Witness: Selected Poems (1992), A Nostalgist’s Map of America(1991), A Walk Through the Yellow Pages (1987), The Half-Inch Himalayas (1987), In Memory of Begum Akhtar and Other Poems (1979), and Bone Sculpture (1972). He is also the author of T. S. Eliot as Editor (1986), translator of The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1992), and editor of Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (2000).

                                   Agha Shahid Ali, sums it up in his poem,  “Cracked Portraits”,

My grandfather’s painted grandfather,

Son of Ali, a strange Physician in embroidered robes, a white turban,

The Koran lying open on a table besides him

I look for prayers in his eyes, for inscriptions in Arabic.

He’s left us plots in the family graveyard . . .

Cobwebs cling to the soundless words of my ancestors

No one comes from Kandahar dear Ali . . .

Your Portrait is desolate in a creaking corridor!

Today those black and white pictures in the family drawing rooms and the corridors are the only images with the voices that are now silently observing the pages of history. In their silence they speak of an era left behind and the fragrance of inspiration is too little to inspire the posterity!

Agha Faisal Ali is a Lawyer and writer based in Srinagar, Kashmir, India and is fascinated by History, Society and Art.

Readings :


Siraj al-Tavarikh- Faiz Mohammad Katib Hazara

Ali Quli Mirza’s, Tarikh-i Waqa’i wa Sawanh-i Afghanistan


Hamid Hadi- , “Afghanistan’s Experiences-The History of the most horrifying events involving Politics, Religion and Terrorism- Volume I

(Religion and Urbanism: Reconceptualising Sustainable Cities for South Asia- Edited by Yamini Narayanan)

Ludwig W. Adamec- The Qizilbash population of Afghanistan- A Historical and political gazetteer of Afghanistan. Volume [06] (1985)

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi- Making Space for Shi’ism in Afghanistan’s Public Sphere and State Structure (American Historical Association)

(Afghanistan: A Country Study- By Peter R Blood)

Encyclopaedic Ethnography of Middle-East and Central Asia, Volume 1- By R.Khanam.

Qizilbash Agha family Archives.

Be the first to comment at "Qizilbash Confederations yesterday and today"

Write your comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.