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The Delhi Sultanate

The Ruler of Delhi

The Delhi Sultanate was an Islamic empire based in Delhi that stretched over large parts of the Indian subcontinent for 320 years (1206–1526). Five dynasties ruled over the Delhi Sultanate sequentially: the Mamulk dynasty (1206–1290), the Khalji dynasty (1290–1320), the Tughluq dynasty (1320–1414), the Sayyid dynasty (1414–1451), and the Lodi dynasty (1451–1526). It covered large swathes of territory in modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh as well as some parts of southern Nepal.

Rajput DynastyAnanga Pala(1130-1145)Prithiviraj Chauhan(1175-1192)  
Slave Dynasty/Turkish /Mamulk Dynasty (1206-1290)Qutbuddin Aybak(1206-1210)Shamsuddin Illtutmish(1210-1236)Raziya(1236-1240)Ghiyasuddin Balban(1266-1287)
Khalji Dynasty(1290-1320)Jalaluddin Khalji(1290-1296)Alauddin Khalji(1296-1316)
Tughluq Dynasty(1320-1414)Ghiyasuddin Tughluq(1320-1324)Muhammad Tughluq(1324-1351)Firuz Shah Tughluq(1351-1388)
Sayyid Dynasty(1414-1451)Khizr Dynasty(1414-1421)
Lodhi Dynasty(1451-1526)Bahlul Lodhi(1451-1489)

Slave Dynasty/Turkish Dynasty

1)Qutbuddin Aybak (1206-1210):

  • Qutbuddin Aybak founded the Slave dynasty. He was a Turkish slave of Muhammad Ghori who played an important part in the expansion of the Turkish Sultanate in India after the Battle of Tarain. Muhammad Ghori made him the governor of his Indian possessions. He raised a standing army and established his hold over north India even during the lifetime of Ghori. 
  • After the death of Muhammad Ghori (c. 1206 CE), Tajuddin Yaldauz, and the ruler of Ghazni claimed his rule over Delhi and the governor of Multan and Uchch, Nasiruddin Qabacha wanted independence. He also had to face many revolts from Rajputs and other Indian rulers. However, Aybak, by displaying his mighty power as well as other conciliatory measures, was able to win over his enemies. He defeated Yaldauz and severed all connections with Ghazni and thus founded the Slave dynasty as well as the Delhi Sultanate.
  • Muslim writers called Aybak “Lakh Baksh” or giver of lakhs because he donated liberally.
  • He was titled “Sultan” and he made Lahore his capital.
  • He also started the construction of the Qutub Minar (first storey only) after the name of the famous Sufi saint Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar. It was later completed by Illtutmish.
  • Aybak died suddenly while playing Chaugan (horse polo) in c. 1210 CE.

2) Shamsuddin Illtutmish (1210-1236):

  • Illtutmish belonged to the Ilbari tribe and therefore, his dynasty was named the Ilbari dynasty. His half brothers sold him as a slave to Aybak who made him his son-in-law by giving his daughter to him. Later Aybak appointed him as Iqtadar of Gwalior. In c.1211 CE, Illtutmish dethroned Aram Shah and became the Sultan with the name of Shamsuddin. He is regarded as the real consolidator of Turkish rule in India. 
  • During the first ten years of his reign, he mostly concentrated on securing his throne from his rivals. The commanders of Muhammad Ghori like Yaldauz, Qabacha of Multan and Ali Mardan of Bengal and Bihar rose against him. Illtutmish defeated Yaldauz in the battle of Tarain (c. 1215 CE) and also drove away Qabacha from Punjab.
  • In c. 1220 CE, the leader of the Mongols, Temujin, popularly known as Chengiz Khan, started his march towards Central Asia. He defeated Jalal-ud-din Mangabarni, the ruler of Khwarizm. Mangabarni escaped from the Mongols and sought asylum from Illtutmish. Illtutmish refused to provide him shelter in order to save his empire from the onslaught of the Mongols. This diplomatic policy of Illtutmish helped him to save his empire from the wrath of Chengiz Khan.
  • Illtutmish brought Bengal and Bihar back into the Delhi Sultanate. He also suppressed the Rajput revolts and recovered Ranthambore in c. 1226 CE and by c. 1231 CE, Illtutmish established his control over Bayana, Mandor, Jalore and Gwalior. He led an expedition against the Chalukyas of Gujarat but that remained unsuccessful.
  • Illtutmish was a great statesman. In c. 1229 CE, he received ‘mansur’, the letter of recognition from the Abbasid Caliph by which he became the legal sovereign ruler of India.
  • He completed the construction of Qutub Minar at Delhi, the tallest stone tower in India (238 ft).
  • He also introduced the Arabic coinage in India and the silver tanka weighing 175 grams became a standard coin in medieval India. The silver tanka remained the basis of the modern rupee.
  • Illtutmish organised Turkan-i-Chahalgani, a new class of the ruling elite of forty powerful military leaders, the Forty.
  • He patronised many scholars and a number of Sufi saints came to India during his reign. Minhaj-us-Siraj (author of Tahaqqat-i-Nasuri), Taj-ud-din, Muhammad Junaidi, Fakhrul-Mulk-Isami, Malik Qutub-ud-din Hasan were his contemporary scholars who added grandeur to his court.
  • He nominated his daughter as his successor.

3) Raziya (1236-1240):

  • Raziya Sultan was the first and only female ruler of medieval India’s Sultanate period. 
  • Raziya appointed an Abyssinian slave, Malik Jamal-ud-din Yaqut as master of the Royal horses (Amir-i-akhur). The recruitment of a few other non-Turks to important positions aroused resentment among the Turkish nobles. Raziya Sultan discarded the female apparel and held the court with her face uncovered which further created resentment. She even went hunting and led the army.
  • In c. 1240 CE, Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda (Sirhaind) revolted against her. Raziya alongside Yaqut marched against Altunia, but on the way, Turkish followers of Altunia murdered Yaqut and took Raziya prisoner. In the meantime, the Turkish nobles put Bahram, another son of Illtutmish on the throne. However, Raziya won over her captor, Altunia and after marrying him, proceeded to Delhi. But she was defeated and killed on the way by Bahram Shah.

4) Ghiyasuddin Balban (1266-1287):

  • Balban’s experience as a regent made him understand the problems of the Delhi Sultanate. He knew that the real threat to the monarchy was from the nobles called “The Forty”. He, therefore, was sure that by enhancing the power and authority of the monarchy, he could solve the problem. 
  • According to Balban, the Sultan was God’s shadow on earth, Zil-e-Ilahi and the recipient of divine grace, Nibyabat-e- Khudai.
  • Balban enhanced the power of the monarchy. He introduced rigorous court discipline and new customs like prostration (sajida) and kissing the Sultan’s feet (paibos) to prove his superiority over the nobles. He introduced the Persian festival of Nauroz to impress the nobles and people with his wealth and power.
  • He stood forth as the champion of Turkish nobility. He excluded non-Turks from administration and Indian Muslims were not given important positions in the government. To monitor the activities of the nobles he appointed spies and developed an efficient spy system.
  • Balban was determined to break the power of ‘The Forty’. He spared only the loyal nobles and eliminated all others by fair or foul means. Malik Baqbaq, the governor of Bedaun, was publicly flogged for his cruelty towards his servants. Haybat Khan, the governor of Oudh was punished for killing a man who was drunk. The governor of Bhatinda, Sher Khan was poisoned.
  • Balban had to deal with internal as well as external problems. The Mongols were looking for an opportunity to attack the Sultanate, the Indian rulers were ready to revolt at the smallest opportunity, distant provincial governors wanted to gain independence and the outskirts of Delhi were often plundered by the Mewatis. To handle all these problems, he adopted a stern policy and organised a strong central army to deal with internal issues and also to repel the Mongols. 
  • He established a separate military department, Diwan-e-arz and reorganised the army. He deployed the army in different parts of his country to suppress the rebellious elements. Balban paid more attention to restore law and order instead of expanding his kingdom. Balban took stern action against the Mewatis and prevented such robberies. Robbers were mercilessly pursued and sentenced to death, as a result of which the roads became safe for travel.
  • In c. 1279 CE, Tughril Khan, the governor of Bengal revolted against Balban. Balban sent his forces to Bengal and Tughril Khan was beheaded. Balban appointed his son Bughra Khan as the governor of Bengal.
  • In the northwest, the Mongols reappeared and Balban sent his son Prince Mahmud against them. But the prince was killed in the battle and it was a moral blow to Balban. Balban died in c. 1287 CE. He was one of the main architects of the Delhi Sultanate. However, he could not fully safeguard India from the Mongol invasion.

Khalji Dynasty (1290-1320)

1. Jalaluddin Khalji (1290-1296):

  • Jalal-ud-din Khalji was the founder of the Khalji dynasty. He was 70 years old when he assumed power. He had been the warden of the marches in the northwest and had fought many successful battles against the Mongols during Balban’s reign. The Khaljis were of mixed Turkish-Afghan descent, they did not exclude the Turks from high offices but the rise of the Khaljis to power ended the Turkish monopoly of high offices.
  • He tried to mitigate some of the harsh aspects of Balban’s rule. He was the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate who clearly put forth his view that the state should be based on the willing support of the governed and that since the large majority of the population in India were Hindus, the state in India could not be an Islamic state.
  • He adopted the policy of tolerance and avoided harsh punishments. For instance, Malik Chhajju, nephew of Balban was allowed to remain the governor of Kara. When Chhajju revolted, it was suppressed but he was pardoned. When the thugs (robbers) looted the country, they were allowed to go after a severe warning. In c. 1292 CE, when Malik Chhaju revolted again, he was replaced by his nephew and son-in-law, Alauddin Khalji.
  • During the reign of Jalal-ud-din Khalji, Alauddin invaded Devagiri and accumulated enormous wealth. During the reception in c. 1296 CE, he treacherously murdered his father-in-law near Kara and usurped the throne of Delhi. He made generous gifts to the nobles and soldiers to win over them.

2. Alauddin Khalji(1296-1316):

  • Alauddin Khalji was the nephew and son-in-law of Jalal-ud-din Khalji. He was appointed as the Amir-i-Tuzuk (Master of ceremonies) and also Arizi-i-Mumalik (minister of war) during the reign of Jalaluddin Khalji.
  • He followed Balban’s policy of governance that was quite contrary to Jalaluddin’s policy of tolerance. He was convinced that the general prosperity of the nobles, intermarriage between noble families, inefficient spy system and drinking liquor were the basic reasons for rebellions. Therefore, he passed four laws:
    • The public sale of liquor and drugs was totally banned.
    • The intelligence system was reorganised and all the secret activities of the nobles were immediately reported to the Sultan.
    • He confiscated the property of the nobles.
    • Social gatherings and festivities without the permission of the Sultan were not allowed. By such stringent rules, his reign was free from rebellions.

Tughluq Dynasty (1320-1414)

1) Ghiyasuddin Tughluq (1320-1324)

  • Founder of the Tughluq dynasty.
  • Ghiyasuddin Tughluq laid the foundation for Tughlaqabad (a strong fort) near Delhi.
  • Ghiyasuddin Tughluq sent his son Jauna Khan/Muhammad bin Tughluq against Warangal (Kakatiyas) and Madurai (Pandyas).
  • His relationship with the Sufi saint Sheikh Nizam ud din Aulia was not cordial.
  • It is believed that Jauna Khan treacherously killed his father and ascended the throne with the title Muhammad bin Tughluq in c. 1325 CE.

2) Muhammad Tughluq (1324-1351)

  • He was a very attractive character in the history of medieval times because of his ambitious schemes and novel experiments. However, his novel experiments and enterprises failed miserably as they were far ahead of their time.
  • He introduced many reforms:
    • Transfer of Capital – Muhammad bin Tughluq wanted to shift his capital from Delhi to Devagiri so that he might be able to control south India better. He forcibly moved the entire population to the new capital, Devagiri which was renamed as Daulatabad. After two years, the Sultan abandoned Daulatabad and shifted back to Delhi due to the scarcity of water supply in Daulatabad. The distance between the two places was more than 1500 kilometres and many people died during the rigorous journey in summer.
    • Token Currency – In c. 1329 CE, Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq introduced a token currency, made of copper to replace gold and silver coins. It was modelled based on the Chinese example (Kublai Khan issued paper money in China). Very few people exchanged gold/silver for copper and the tokens were easy to forge which led to heavy losses. Later on, Muhammad bin Tughluq repealed his verdict and all coins were redeemed in gold/silver, making the treasury empty.
    • Taxation in Doab – The failure of the above two experiments resulted in a huge loss of money. In order to improve the financial condition, Muhammad bin Tughluq increased the land revenue on the farmers of the doab land between the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. It was an excessive and arbitrary step on the farmers. A severe famine struck the region at that time which made the farmers revolt. However, the harsh steps taken by Muhammad bin Tughluq crushed the revolt.
    • Agricultural Reforms – He launched a scheme by which takkavi loans (loans for cultivation) were given to the farmers to buy seeds and to extend cultivation. He set up a separate department for agriculture, Diwan-i-amir-Kohi. A model farm under the state was created in an area of 64 square miles for which the government spent around seventy Lakh tankas. This experiment was further continued by Firoz Tughluq.
  • Muhammad bin Tughluq was the only Delhi Sultan who had received a comprehensive literary, religious and philosophical education.
  • He was very tolerant in religious matters. He maintained diplomatic relations with far off countries like Iran, Egypt and China. The famous traveller Ibn Batuta (author of Safarnama Rehla) visited India during this period (c. 1334 CE) and was appointed Qazi at Delhi for a period of eight years.
  • During the latter part of Muhammad bin Tughluq reign, the kingdom witnessed a spate of rebellions by the nobles and provincial governors. The Sultanate of Madurai was established due to the rebellion of Hassan Shah. In c. 1336 CE, the Vijaynagara kingdom was founded. In c. 1347 CE, the Bahmani kingdom was established. The governors of Sindh, Multan and Oudh rose in revolt against the authority of Muhammad bin Tughluq. In Gujarat, Taghi revolted against the Sultan who spent nearly three years chasing him.
  • Muhammad bin Tughluq died in c.1351 CE due to the worsening of his health condition. According to Baduani, the Sultan was freed from his people and the people from the Sultan. According to Barani, Muhammad bin Tughluq was a mixture of opposites. His reign marked the beginning of the process of its decline.

3) Firuz Shah Tughluq (1351-1388):

  • After the death of Muhammad bin Tughluq in c.1351 CE, Firoz Shah Tughluq was chosen as the Sultan by the nobles.
  • He appointed Khan-i-Jahan Maqbal, a Telugu Brahmin convert as wazir (Prime Minister). He helped the Sultan in his administration and maintained the prestige of the Sultanate during this period.

Sayyid Dynasty (1414-1451):

Khizr Dynasty(1414-1421)

  • Before Timur left India, he appointed Khizr Khan as governor of Multan. He captured Delhi and founded the Sayyid dynasty in c. 1414 CE. He did not adopt the title of Sultan and was content with Rayat-i-Ala.
  • He is considered to be an important ruler of the Sayyid dynasty. He tried to consolidate the Delhi Sultanate but in vain. He died in c. 1421 CE. 

Lodhi Dynasty (1451-1526)

Bahlul Lodhi (1451-1489):
  • He founded the Lodhi dynasty.
  • In c. 1476 CE, he defeated the sultan of Jaunpur and annexed it to Delhi Sultanate. He also brought the ruler of Kalpi and Dholpur under the suzerainty of Delhi. He annexed the Sharqui dynasty and introduced Bahlol copper coins.
  • He died in c. 1489 CE and was succeeded by his son, Sikander Lodhi.