Nadir Shah is known by many names. His name now, means the “worst time”. Like the Grey Wolf named Iron (Timur), he too, was forged in the steppes. He was born into insignificance. But he fought destiny and birth to become one of the most notorious robber kings ever. His empire rivaled that of Timur & Genghis. This is his story and his bloody visit to Hindustan where he found blood, gold, victory, love and his greatest treasure – the Light of the world – Koh-i-Noor

One thing that set him apart from his more notorious predecessor, Timur, was that Nadir was NOT a robber disguised as a jihadi. He was simply a ROBBER who loved violence a little too much. Nadir loved gold more than he loved the scriptures. And that is visible in his exploits – his dramatic rise to the throne, his military victories & his lack of patience with the maulvis & peers.


On 22nd November 1688, he was born in a tent in the village of Dastgird on the cold plains below the Alla Hu mountains. His father Imam Quli Beg named him after his own father Nadr Quli. Nadr (Nadir, Nader) was born in a migrant tribe, the Qiriculu, of the Afshars. Imam Quli was a poor shepherd who was also the village skinner and worked leather to make ends meet. Nadir’s childhood was spent helping his father manage his herd of sheep, skinning dead animals and working it into leather. The hard work & the wild plains of Central Asia & Persia, made Nadir strong. But Nadir was destined for greatness which required more than strength.

War, hardship and a society that despised weakness forged this insignificant child into a sword that would bathe the lands with blood and win him an empire to rival that of the Grey Wolf Timur.


Mirza Mahdi: A sharp sword owes its excellence to its temper rather to the humble iron mine from which its iron came

His childhood ended abruptly when in 1704 a rival tribe Ozbegs (Uzbeks) raided his village and took Nadir & his mother as slaves along with many other women and young children. After 4 years (1708) in slavery and death of his mother, Nadir escaped and made his way to his tribe. But he was not welcome in the house of his father who had remarried. Angry at this slight to his mother, Nadir left his father’s house. Years of slavery had robbed Nadir of any vestige of innocence and he did not return to the trade of his father. Instead he took service under Baba Ali Beg Kusa Ahmadlu – Governor of the town of Abirvad. Under his service Nadir rose to prominence. His quick intelligence and bravery impressed Ali Beg Kusa who asked him to marry his daughter. But Nadir asked for a strange dowry – The head of his father Imam Quli Beg. Ali Beg murdered Nadir’s father and presented him with the severed head as dowry/wedding gift.

The ever scheming Nadir, then gave his step mother to Ali Beg and in return got himself appointed as successor to Ali Beg. After his death (1723), Nadir took over the city fort and Ali Beg’s army & properties. However, his lowly birth prevented him from taking over as chief of his tribe.

The Safavid dynasty had fallen and the Afghans had taken over the Safavid empire. In these dangerous times, amidst the chaos, Nadir grew – He took up service under Malik Mahmud Sistani, a local warlord and helped him gain victory over the city of Mashhad. After throwing out the Afghans, Nadir conspired with two other Afshar clan chiefs to overthrow Malik M. Sistani. He then back stabbed & killed the two Afshar chieftains and took over the city. Years of turmoil followed and each battle built up Nadir’s reputation as a formidable general. One thing that gave him a unique innovative skill was the insights he gained fighting these countless battles. The fact that he fought them with minimal use of GUNPOWDER – the basis of armies of the region. And yet he defeated superior armed armies. He did this through innovative and daring strategy.


His exploits caught the eye of Tahmasp, the son of the deposed Safavid King Shah Sultan Hussain. Nadir joined him and aligned with Muhammed Khan Turcoman to capture Mashhad (Nadir had lost the city to the Sistanis). After many battles, many conspiracies & deceit, Nadir rose to be the second in command of Tahmasp’s army. Suffice to say, Nadir won the ensuing battles and placed Tahmasp on the throne. But once again true to his amoral character, he betrayed his master Tahmasp and deposed him. Nadir crowned himself King. Each battle, betrayal and victory advanced Nadir closer to the throne and after deposing Tahmasp, he was the master of Persia and the king who broke the Afghans and liberated Persia.

Ironically, for a man who was called Son of the Sword, Nadir never used the sword. He preferred a double bladed heavy battle axe. He even used the axe from horse back (a near impossible task). His victories and daring exploits earned him the title of LORD OF THE AXE.


7th March, 1736, the poor shepherd’s boy, born in a dirty tent in the cold plains of Dastgird, is crowned the King of Persia. Nadir Quli Beg becomes Nadir Shah.

And then we see his greatest betrayal – to his faith and religion. Nadir was born a shia, but as soon as he ascended the throne he abandoned his faith and adopted sunni islam. His betrayed his faith because he wanted recognition of his claim to rule from the sunni islamic world. He marked his coronation by renouncing shia faith & putting to death a number of prominent shia mullas and maulvis.


DRUMS OF WAR – Deteriorating Mughal power, rise of Marathas & Sikh powers, alienation of Rajputs, revolts of Jats, Gujjars, Bundelas had laid bare the borders of Hindustan. Like the predator Timur, Nadir was also attracted to the wealth of Hindustan. But unlike Timur, he did not use religion as an excuse to invade. He used the lackadaisical mughal diplomacy as an excuse to invade. He had no intention to rule……Nadir’s only intent was loot.

Afghanistan had been left to neglect, the roads were unsafe, there was no credible army to defend the border with Persia. The local tribes were restless and were soon in open revolt as the bribes and payments to the local tribes had stopped (due to embezzlement by courtiers like Roshn-ud-Daula & Khan Daurran). The mughal emperor Muhammad Shah was an indolent fool who spent most of his time in his harem surrounded by women and eunuchs. When Nadir turned his eye to Hindustan, there was no one guarding the gates!

Nasir Khan, the governor of Kabul was thus totally without any means to stand against the armies of Nadir Shah. Equally neglected was the gateway to Hindustan – the province of Punjab. Punjab was under the rule of Zakkariya Khan Taurran. He too was constantly sidelined and ignored by courtiers in Delhi.

THE INVASION BEGINS – 10th May, 1738 Nadir moves against Hindustan. He first subdues the Afghans through a campaign of blood and brutality. He wiped out entire villages and cities. These cities had not much to loot so Nadir took the women and children as slaves and slaughtered the men. These slaves made their way back to the slave markets of Central Asia & Persia. (The looted wealth of Hindustan that had prospered Afghans for hundreds of years was long gone and they were now, dependent on bribes from the mughals.)

After securing his flank and back, Nadir moved against Kabul. Sharza Khan the Qiledar of Kabul tried to resist but a siege and constant bombardment by Nadir reduced his fort into rubble. Nadir entered the fort on 19th June 1738 and loots it of all its wealth. the rape and loot goes on for 40 days. In this time Nadir gathers his resources for march to Delhi.

On 1st July he resumes his march and sacks the provinces of Najar & Safi. He then moves to Jalalabad where he loots the grain stores and defeats the mughal armies led by Mir Abbas’s son (governor of Jalalabad). The city is looted, its women are raped and even the sister and daughters of Mir Abbas are taken as slaves and sold as cheap wares in the markets of Jalalabad – the city where they had ruled.

KABUL – On 6th November 1738, Nasir Khan gets information of Nadir’s victories and he hurriedly assembles a motley crew of 20,000 half hungry, ragged soldiers. Nadir in the meantime broke his army into two – He led 12,000 horsemen (tofangchi) followed by 6000 infantry made up entirely of musketeers armed with heavy jozayer muskets. The other half stayed behind with the baggage train. By 17th November Nasir Khan had blocked the passes to Kabul but Nadir, left in the afternoon and moved quickly through the steep unguarded mountain passes (38 miles in 8 hours) and attacked Nasir Khan early in the morning of 18th November. One single charge was enough to route a much larger mughal army and Kabul was won by noon on the same day. By 12th December the afghan territories of mughals were completely won, looted of all their wealth. Even the country side was not spared which was looted by Aqa Mohammed.

PUNJAB – By 8th January 1739 Nadir had crossed Chenab, last of the 5 rivers. Zakkariya Khan, some say offered only token resistance and invited Nadir Shah into Lahore where Nadir once again reappointed Zakkariya Khan as governor of Punjab. But loot he did – 20,00,000 gold coins from the royal treasury, gems and jewelry from the rich of the city and slaves – any woman – Hindu or muslim, was taken as slave by Nadir’s men.

In an attempt at diplomacy, Nadir wrote to Muhammad Shah claiming kinship to the mughals as they both were descendants of the house of Timur. His offer for peace was rebuffed by Muhammad Shah, who ridiculed Nadir for his lowly birth.

In the meantime, the Persians saw first hand the magnificent wealth of large cities of Hindustan. This had inflamed Nadir’s greed. He started sending raiders (Turktazi) throughout Punjab. Their aim – LOOT. Cities like Yaminabad, Gujarat, Wazirabad etc were looted and burnt to black ash. Rapes were so widespread that the brutality of the Timurid raids was forgotten. The situation was made worse by the fact that Nadir wasn’t interested in administration so he left the conquered territories without any credible force to enforce order. As a result, lawlessness and dacoity became widespread in these areas.

KARNAL – In a series of fast marches, Nadir reached Shahabad by 8th February 1979. From there he sent a scouting party to inspect the mughal encampment. This small party attacked the mughal forces, killed some men and destroyed forward artillery positions. After the attack they retired to Sarai Azimabad (12 miles from Karnal) – Their forward base. This forced the mughals to concentrate their considerable artillery on the approach roads through which the Persians had attacked. Thereby the entire mughal artillery was concentrated in a small area while large areas were left without adequate artillery cover.

MUGHAL RESPONSE – News of Nadir’s movements spurred the mughal court to send out farmans asking for help from the Rajputs. But the letters were ignored by Sawai Jai Singh. Khan Daurran asked for help from the Marathas but they too refused any help. The Rajputs and Marathas joined hands and planned for defense of Hindustan while letting the mughals and the persians to fight it out. The only one to stand with the mughals was the Nawab of Awadh Saadat Khan – A shia muslim (he wanted to strike against Nadir Shah for betraying the Shia faith, ironically he sides with a sunni ruler fighting a sunni (newly converted Nadir))

THE ARMIES STAND READY – Nadir had with him a total of 55,000 cavalry (horse & camel) & 40,000 infantry along with (ironically) a contingent of 6000 women dressed in great crimson coats (barani), all on horseback and from a distance, undistinguished from men. In addition to this he also had 53,000 servants (armed and on horseback). Their only job was to start looting and collecting slaves as soon as battle started.

Mughals had an army of 2000 war elephants, 3000 cannons and 1,00,000 strong cavalry in addition to foot soldiers conscripted from local population (50,000). Each of the nobles also brought their own soldiers and they numbered another 50,000. However – the mughal camp also had over 7,00,000 non combatants. The emperor mohammed shah had his entire harem with him numbering nearly 1 lakh souls – 25,000 wives and concubines and their slaves and eunuchs. Also accompanying the army was a large group of tawayfs (courtesans) – A grand total of a million people in the mughal camp.

The mughals had constructed a defensive mud wall around their encampment. This huge wall measured nearly 12 miles on one side. It was lined with artillery positions (that were disrupted by Nadir’s raids). Persian Qizilbashi troops looted the countryside, bare and made sure that no fresh supplies reached the mughal camp. Too afraid of the Qizilbashis, the mughals remained inside their mud fort. Meanwhile, Nadir Shah continued to harass them by cutting off their logistics lines.

THE BLOODY IRON SWORD – The battle (if it could be called that) was a masterpiece of strategy. Nadir divided his forces into 3. The main force – was led by his son Nasrullah Mirza, the left flank was dispatched to attack and prevent Saadat Khan from reaching mughal camp, while Nadir led a strong contingent and started moving towards Delhi (left unguarded by mughals). Saadat Khan on seeing the approaching Persians, led his 30,000 men under forced march into the mughal camp. But he had to leave his baggage train and harem behind. By midnight news reached him that Qizilbashi forces had attacked Saadat Khan’s baggage train. Infuriated Saadat Khan rushed out to meet the Qizilbashis but tired men refused to follow him. The angry nawab went out with only a 1000 horsemen. But the wily Persians feigned retreat and Saadat Khan fell into the trap and gave chase. He also sent word of his “victory” to the mughal camp & asked for reinforcements. Khan Daurran was ordered to assist Saadat Khan, who led 9000 cavalry to attack the Persians. But Nadir was ready & waiting to spring the trap

Nadir had placed 3,000 of his men in ambush and sent out two bodies of jazayirchis (marksmen) each 500 strong, with orders to draw the enemy into the trap. Nadir also employed a strategy from Timur’s book – The exploding camel to counter the war elephants of Khan Daurran. It was one of clock in the afternoon when the battle began. Saadat Khan and his scanty force, who formed the mughal right wing, became heavily engaged with the Persians at Kunjpura. The jazayirchis. who had been posted behind the walls and buildings there, poured in a destructive fire. A little later on, Khan Daurran’s division, which now constituted the mughal center, came into action with the Persian center under Nasrullah. Nadir’s stratagem successfully isolated the two mughal flanks from each other. This made coordination between Saadat Khan & Khan Daurran difficult and Nadir with his 3000 zanburaks & 1000 jazayirchis defeated the mughals without much difficulty. The exploding camels once again devastated the mughal war elephants. Saadat Khan was taken prisoner while Khan Daurran was killed. Nadir killed nearly 10000 mughal soldiers (out of 12000 that had participated).

This small skirmish was enough for the mughals to surrender and Muhmmed Shah formally visited Nadir’s camp and surrendered his crown. Nadir imposed a penalty of 50,00,000 gold coins as immediate payments & 1,00,000 female slaves from the royal harems. By evening the slaves were sent to his camp.

Among these slaves (most of them were Hindu girls), he would meet a Rajputani princess, Sitara who would, by the next day, become his queen and be formally anointed as Mallika-e-Hindustan.

THE BLOCKADE & EXTORTION – After surrender of war penalty, Nadir’s greed was not sated and he wanted more. In this he was served well by playing on the internecine rivalries of the mughal court. He enforced a severe blockade of the vast mughal encampment. Starvation & thirst started taking its toll. Attempts by mughals to smuggle food into camp led to further bloodshed – 4000 mughal soldiers killed. Finally Nadir called Muhammed Shah to his camp & took him & his courtiers, prisoner. Qizilbashi troopers then moved into the mughal camp and ordered/forced the men to move to Delhi. The mughal king, left with no choice, accepted Nadir’s demands. March to Delhi and more wealth (& blood) began.

DELHI & THE KOHINOOR – Nadir’s entry into Delhi was quite dramatic – full of bravado, guile and betrayal. But what is of greater interest is that Muhammed Shah had capitulated totally in front of Nadir. The spineless mughal ordered coins stamped with Nadir’s face. Nadir had started taking over the wealth of the city, bleeding it dry. By the time he was done, Nadir had looted 160 Billion USD worth of wealth BUT his greatest loot was yet to come. Noor Bai, Muhammed Shah’s prostitute/eunuch taunted Nadir and said whatever you have looted is nothing compared to what Muhammed Shah wears in his turban. Nadir the executed history’s richest con – he invited the king and told him that Muhammed Shah was his brother & it was tradition that brothers exchange turbans. Muhammed was left with no choice but to place his turban (with the Kohinoor hidden in its folds) on Nadir’s head and take his woolen turban. With this con, Nadir got his richest prize and the world’s greatest diamond passed into the greatest thief’s hand


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