The Agha Family of Srinagar Kashmir

The Agha Family of Srinagar Kashmir

The Qazalbaash coat of Arms
Scions in Srinagar, Kashmir : Prof. Agha Ashraf Ali (Rajbagh), Dr.Agha Maqsood Ali (Nishat), Agha Sajad Ali (Alamgiri Bazar) and Agha Himayun Advocate (Alamgiri Bazar)
Through maternal lineage : Aga Syed Raza (Nishat), Aga Syed Jalal (Lal Mandi), Aga Syed Askar Abbas (Rangreth,Rawaplora)

The Agha family of Srinagar is one of the distinguished families with its roots connecting to the elite Qazalbaashi Martial race of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. The Aghas are new to Kashmir. It was in the 1820s, during the disarray in Afghanistan leading to the first Anglo Afghan War that Agha Raheem, a Qazalbaash magnate migrated from Kandahar (Afghanistan) to Kashmir. Agha Raheem’s ancestors had been Commanders in the Royal Afsharid forces of King Nader Shah and before that the Safavid Shahs’ of Iran. The Aghas belong to the Qazalbaash/Qizilbash tribe which was of Turkish origin that flourished in Anatolia in the 13th and 14th century.

Agha, also Aga (from Turkish: agha meaning “chief, master, lord”) was an Honorific title for a civilian or military officer among the Qazilbaash, or often  such title, was placed after the name of certain military functionaries in the Safavid & Ottoman Empire. Later the descendants of these important functionaries started using the title as a surname. Though the word Agha specifically means a chief among the Qazalbaash, but in India and pakistan the Syeds use the title as a prefix, which should be Aaka (Persian, Aaqa,(Urdu:آقا) used for a religious master, leader) and not Agha Turkish آغا, which is a military Title. However in Iran “Aga” is referred to a “Mister” and is also used as a title of respect in many Muslim states. Similarly the Ismaili Aga Khan community uses the prefix “Aga” for their Imam.  The Agha Family of Srinagar have been followers of the Twelver Shia Islam. (the Asthna Ashari/ Fiqah-e-Jaffariah)


The Qazalbaash is a Martial race, The expression Qazalbaash or “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. The Qazalbaash flourished in Anatolia and Kurdistan (Turkey) from the late 13th century onwards, some of which contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty of Iran.Even though Safavids were not the first Shia rulers in Iran, they played a crucial role in making Shia Islam the official religion in the whole of Iran .They established shia’ism as the state religion in Persia during the safavid era, a position it retains to this day. In 1499, Ismail, the young leader of the Safavid order, who called himself as Ismail shaykh Ardebili Qazalbaash Ithna’ashariz, (meaning Ismail, restorer of the cap of twelve colours) marched with his Qazalbaash Army and conquered Tabraiz (Iran) . This was the beginning of the Safavid state. During the safawid era, the Qazalbaash enjoyed an influencial position as administrators and provincial Governors. Holding many governships as “tiyul”,they furnished the safawid kings with upto 70,000 horsemen in return. Qazalbaash began to move to herat and Qandhar during this period. However the presence of majority of Qazalbaash in Afghanistan (Qandhar and Kabul) is generally traced to the garrisons created by the Qazalbaash ruler Nadir Shah during his Indian Invasion .1738-9. Since the creation of Afghanistan, the Qazilbaash constitute an important and politically influential element of society and held important posts in government offices in the past. The Qazilbaash form one of the more literate groups in Afghanistan; they hold important administrative and professional positions. The Qazilbaash 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 Durrani, who served as Nadir Shah’s bodyguard, and his successors, the Qazilbaash acquired power and influence at court out of proportion to their numbers. The influence of the Qazilbaash in the government created resentment among the ruling Pashtun clans, especially after the Qazilbaash openly allied themselves with the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842). It was during this period of trouble in late 1820s that Agha Raheem,  grandson of an Agha, (a Commander in Chief of the Qazilbaash) migrated from Kandahar to Kashmir.

Agha Raheem’s family was among the aristocratic families who stayed back in Afghanistan to join the government services and to govern their fiefdoms granted by the new ruler Nadir Shah in different provinces for their military services after the conquest of Afghanistan. As the Qazalbaash community started acquiring more and more significant offices in the government including that of provincial Governors, 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 Qazalbaash from the vital posts in the administration and military, especially after the death of Ahmad Shah Abdali and fall of the Durrani Empire which had been a haven for the Qazilbaash and other non native tribes.

The commotion in the later years led many Qazalbaash to withdraw from the Administrative and Military careers and turn to merchandise to escape persecution as many of the Qazalbaash who held high offices were expelled from the services and their properties being confiscated. Many of them left the country in search of a better life. Agha Raheem, who was a powerful magnate among the Qazalbaash of Kandahar, and sometime a member of the Provincial trade council was able to retain some portion of his assets and moved to Kashmir for trade purposes.


In the 1820s, Agha Raheem Qazalbaash 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. 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. Agha Raheem was already acquainted with the Ansari Family of Nawa Kadal, a well know Shia family of kashmir. Mulla Aalim Ansari of this scholarly family had migrated to Kashmir much earlier from Iran along with Aaqa Meer Sayed Hussain Qumi Kashmiri, a great Scholar and a Sufi Saint who was a direct descendant of the eighth Shia Imam. 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 Qazalbaash and the Hazaras were declared enemies of the state for supporting the British and were hunted and persecuted by the ruling Sunni majority . Thus Agha Raheem’s grandson Agha Ali had no choice but to train his two sons Agha Muhammad Baqir and Agha Muhammad Taqi in Yunani Medicine/Tibb-e-Unaan. The two brothers 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”. 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 estates in charity.  This made them famous amongst the poor. It was in 1872 A.D Maharaja Gulab singh’s son who had ascended the throne; Maharaja Ranbeer Singh was going in a big boat, 24 rowers on the way to Manasbal Lake down the Jhelum. Suddenly he falls sick with a terrible colic and was in pain. They stopped the boat and they ran into that area, in search of a doctor and out stepped Agha (Hakim) Muhammad Baqir Qazalbaash. By then many Hakims had reached there but they couldn’t help the Maharaja including the Maharaja’s own Royal Physician. Finally Agha Muhammad Baqir gave the Maharaja a potion, with some pepper while the Maharaja was in a semi conscious state lying down on the physicians 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 A.D. The Aghas were granted the privilege of Darbar Nisheeni. 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 Baqir was awarded the title of “Afsarul tibba” and granted fiefdom (Hereditary Jagirs) in many villages of Kashmir and Skardu. 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. Agha Baqir’s Brother Agha Muhammad Taqi Qazalbaash 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. Maharaja presented a village to Agha (Hakim) Muhammad Baqir Qazalbaash as a fiefdom (Heriditary Jagir) of about 1000 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 500 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 Qazalbaash 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.The huge estate of Gund Bakar 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. Agha Abdul Karim was appointed as a Thanadaar while as Agha Abdul Rahim was appointed as a Tehsildaar.

The Chief Physician of the Maharaja, Agha Muhammad Baqir Qazalbaash was in search of a Khana Damaad for his only daughter. Finally he found a perfect match for his daughter, Sayed Ali Razwi, who was a descendant of Imam Raza VIII whose sacred shrine is situated at Mashhad (Meshed) in Persia. Eminent Jurist Sir Sayed Ameer Ali, belonged to the same Razwi Family of Sayeds. It was about five centuries ago that Sayed Ali Razwi’s ancestor, Aaka Meer Sayed Hussain Razwi Qummi, a son of the then Governor (Hakim) of Qum,” Sayed Muhammad Ibn Ahmed Qumi”in Persia migrated to Kashmir and founded the Razwi Family of Sayeds in Kashmir. His Shrine, held in veneration, stands in the village, named after the said Sayed, “Syedapor”, two miles north of Sopore. Sayed Ali Razwi married Agha Bakar’s only daughter and came as a “khana damaad”. He had his own business in Kashghar. Within few months he left for Kashghar and never returned. He had fallen sick and couldnt return to Kashmir and passed away in Kashghar after a few years. His wife who was expecting a baby on his departure gave birth to a son. He was named as Sayed Hussain. Soon his mother passed away. Since he was brought up at his maternal home in the Agha House, he came to be known as Aga Sayed Hussain. He and later his descendants wrote “Aga” as a prefix before their names instead of “Agha”. Aga indicating their Sayedi origin and differentiating them from Qazalbaashi Aghas who wrote “Agha”. Aga Sayed Hussain was adopted by his maternal uncle Hakim Agha Ali Naqi Qazalbaash who had two Sons Agha Sher Ali and Mirza Agha. Aga Sayed Hussain was now the eldest brother to Mirza Agha and Sher Ali. He was raised in an aristocratic setting by his maternal Grandfather (Hakim) Agha Muhammad Baqir Qazalbaash, 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 AD. He joined the regal state services and remained as Wazir-e-Wazarat, first settlement commissioner of Ladakh, Education Minister, Revenue Commissioner of the state (1925-26), 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 J&K in 1928 along with 2 Hindu judges. Aga Syed Hussain retired as the Home and Judicial Minister of J&K in 1932. He was awarded with the Titles of Khan Sahib, Khan Bahadur and Thakur and was also made a Tazimi Sardaar 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. Khan Bahadur Aga Sayed Hussain Thakur passed away in 1944 AD. Agha Ali Naqi Qazalbaash’s sons Mirza Agha (Died 1925) and Agha Sher Ali (Died 1951) were famous Police officers of their times and were known for their stern etiquettes. Both the brothers were in the Regal Police Services of Jammu and Kashmir and were appointed as Thanadaars .  Agha Sher Ali was survived by his two sons Agha Zafar Ali (who worked as a Clerk in the Governor’s Office) and Agha Firdous Ali (a Tehsildaar) while Mirza Agha  was survived by his only son Agha Abdullah. 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 studied and passed his exams 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 Superintendent 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 a single penny from his family. Infact after Aga Sayed Hussain’s death the remaining estates in possession of Agha Abdullah were taken away by his first Cousins ( Sons of Agha Sher Ali). 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 (representing the Shias) of the High Power Enquiry Commission (consisting of 20 members) 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. The comission was to suggest reforms in various fields.

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 Aghas sold the Nawa-kadal property in 1926. They built a grand feudal estate on European style and Victorian architecture near old Secretariat road in Shaheed Ganj, (the lane today houses one of the oldest cinemas, Neelam). Later Aga Syed Hussain Shifted to Lal Mandi, where he had 20 kanals of land which was given by the Maharaja to him in exchange for the land situated at the zabarwan hills (presently the Palace Hotel area ) belonging to his late Maternal Grandfather Agha Muhammad Baqir. The piece of land was inherited by Aga Sayed Hussain from his Maternal Grandfather. Khan Bahadur Aga Syed Hussain also built a separate manor house for his wife Begum Qamar-u-Nissa at Shivpora , Srinagar. Khan Bahadur Aga Syed Hussain had another house at Model Town, Lahore, where the family used to spend the winters. The lahore house would later become the residence of his grandson Aga Afzal who joined the civil services of Pakistan.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 J&K, 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 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s special Envoy 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 E 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 after that held key positions in the State Government before his deputation in the Central Government . He reached to the position of Labour Secretary of India and retired as Secretary to the Government of India (1979). 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. 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 J&K ( 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 Indian civil services in Kashmir 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 , 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.  His son Agha Shahid Ali was a world famous poet. 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. Today the members of this Family live in Srinagar, J&K and abroad. In Srinagar , Rajbagh and Lal Mandi used to be the Harmonious abode of the family after they shifted from the old secretariat road in 1940s. Today only a handful of the members live in Srinagar and its outskirts. Among the Qazalbaashi Aghas Dr Agha Ashraf Ali lives at Rajbagh , Dr Agha Maqsood Ali lives at Nishat, Agha Sajad Ali, ( ex Assistant Secretary , State Board of School Education, Kashmir ) and Agha Himayun Advocate live at Alamgari Bazar.  They along with their families are the scions of this Family in Srinagar, Kashmir. Among the Sayeds of this family (Descendants of Khan Bahadur Aga Sayed Hussain Thakar) in Srinagar , Aga Sayed Jalal lives at Lal Mandi, Er Aga Sayed Raza lives at Nishat and Aga Sayed Askar Abbas (Rawalpora,Rangreth).