History of India

August 20, 2016

The Khilji Dynasty
- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer
email: padma413@gmail.com

The Khiljis were the second dynasty to rule over Delhi. The fall of the Slave dynasty, which was the first ruling line of kings, was followed by the accession of Jalal ud din Firuz Khilji, the founder of the Khilji dynasty, to the throne of Delhi in 1290. Historical scholars describe this change as the Khilji revolution because it marked the end of Turkish domination. The Khiljis were Turko-Afghan in origin and the family owed its name ‘Khilji’ to an Afghan village or town known as ‘Qalat-e-Khilji’ or Fort of Khilji. They had originally settled in Afghanistan but later on they had made Delhi their home.
Jalal ud din Firuz Khilji
The Khiljis had served under the Mamluk Sultans when the latter were in power. The last Mamluk Sultan Muizuddin Qaiqabad had appointed Jalal ud din Firuz Khilji as the commander of the army and given him the fief of Baran. It was a period of political unrest. The ruling Mamluk dynasty was riven by factional strife which in turn sowed dissension among the nobility. This unstable situation encouraged Jalal ud din Firuz Khilji to stage a coup and seize the throne. The young Sultan and his infant son were murdered. In 1290 Jalal ud din ascended the throne at the age of 70.
However Jalal ud din Khilji did not enjoy the support of the entire nobility who were Turkish in origin. These Turkish nobles considered themselves as superior and looked down on Muslims of other origins. Another reason for their resentment against the old Khilji Sultan was that after his assumption of power, the officers serving under the Mamluk Sultans had been overlooked when the offices were being distributed. Hence they rose up in revolt but their uprising was put down with a firm hand.

The Mongols under the leadership of Abdulla, the grandson of the famous warrior Halaku, attacked the north-west frontier and penetrated as far as Sunam. The Sultan gathered a large force of 30,000 soldiers and with the help of his nephew Juna Khan inflicted a crushing defeat on the invaders. A large number of Mongols were arrested. Abdulla concluded a treaty with the Sultan and returned to Afghanistan. The Mongols who remained behind embraced Islam and came to be known as the New Muslims. The Sultan permitted them to settle down near Delhi and even gave his daughter in marriage to their leader Ulugh Khan. This created a lot of resentment among the Turkish nobility. It was definitely an unwise move as it led to a lot of trouble during the following years. The New Muslims were a turbulent community and proved to be a source of anxiety for the Delhi Sultanate. Moreover, there was a change in the temperament of the old Sultan, in due course of time. He became extremely mild even towards his dangerous enemies. The positive outcome of Jalal ud din Khilji’s liberal policy was that the Mongols did not attack the Sultanate again during his reign.

Jalal ud din Khilji had led an expedition against the fort of Ranthambhor but he realized that the conquest of the fort would turn out to be an impossible task. He called off the campaign on the plea that the fort was not worth the sacrifice of so many Muslim lives. He was not willing to shed the blood of any Muslim for political or territorial gains. But there were times when his aversion to bloodshed tested the patience of even the Khilji nobles. For instance, in 1290, Balban’s nephew had revolted against him at Kara. The other nobles of the previous dynasty and the governor of Awadh joined the uprising. The revolt was quelled but the Sultan, instead of meting out exemplary punishment, pardoned the rebels. Malik Ahmed Chap, the Master of Ceremonies, warned the Sultan against pursuing this policy of leniency. The Sultan’s policy of mercy and mildness was an anomaly in an age of violence and bloodshed. He refused to punish even thugs and criminals. In one instance he had a large number of thieves transported to Bengal after pardoning them. This behavior not only earned for him the contempt of the nobility but also led to his ultimate downfall which was engineered by his nephew Ali Gurshasp. Jalal ud din was extremely fond of this nephew. He had brought him up and later on given him his daughter in marriage. Ali Gurshasp had been appointed as the governor of Kara by Jalal ud din who trusted him blindly.  This nephew, who later on became Sultan Alauddin, was made of an entirely different mettle. He was haughty, ruthless and highly ambitious.
Ali Gurshasp had set his sights high. His ambition was to set up an independent kingdom for which he required financial resources. He decided to raid the neighboring states so that he could collect money from them. He took Sultan Jalal ud din’s permission and marched to Bhilsa in present day Madhya Pradesh in 1292. The town was subjected to loot and plunder and the invader carried off immense spoils of war. A part of the booty was sent to the Sultan at Delhi. Jalal ud din rewarded his nephew by appointing him as the governor of Awadh in addition to that of Kara and Manikpur. Ali Gurshasp’s next step in realizing his ambition was to use the surplus revenue of his province in strengthening his army. Jalal ud din was foolish enough to permit him carry out this measure. He had so increased his power that in about a year he was in a position to march southwards with about eight thousand cavalry. He had heard about the fabulous wealth of Deogir during his campaign at Bhilsa.  His mission was to launch an attack against the rich Yadava capital of Deogir. The king of the Yadavas, Ramchandra Yadav was vanquished in the battle in 1295. Not only was he forced to pay a heavy war indemnity but he had to allow the northern forces to plunder his capital.

Sultan Jalal ud din was taken aback at the secrecy with which his nephew had carried out his exploit in the south. Nevertheless he was naïve enough to imagine that his nephew would come to Delhi to submit the spoils of war to him. He moved to Gwalior to receive his victorious nephew but he received a further shock when he heard that Ali Gurshasp had returned to Kara. The Sultan’s advisers urged him to carry out strong measures against his nephew for the unauthorized campaign and warned him against allowing Ali Gurshasp to carry the treasures to Kara instead of to Delhi. But the Sultan persisted in his blind faith in his nephew. He waited for him to come to Delhi, and present to him the spoils of war with humble apologies. But Ali Gurshasp remained at Kara and sent a communication to the Sultan begging his forgiveness for the unauthorized campaign. Jalal ud din Khilji conveyed his pardon through a messenger who was detained at Kara. Ali Gurshasp also invited his uncle to visit him at Kara. The Sultan ignored all warnings about his nephew’s treacherous intentions and set out for Kara. Ali Gurshasp received him with all show of contrition and bent to touch his feet. At the same time, he conveyed a signal to the assassins who immediately fell upon the Sultan and cut off his head. Jalal ud din paid heavily for his folly in ignoring the warnings of his advisers and for his blind faith in his nephew. The Sultan’s murder took place in 1296.

Alauddin Khilji
Ali Gurshasp used the immense booty that he had captured at Deogir to win the support of Sultan Jalal ud din Khilji’s followers. Nevertheless, he had to face a number of challenges even after the murder of his uncle. His uncle’s widow, the queen Malika-i- Jahan placed her second son, Qadr Khan on the throne at Delhi with the title of Ruknuddin Ibrahim. Meanwhile Ali Gurshasp had himself crowned at Kara under the title of Alauddin Khilji. He was widely detested for the treacherous murder of his uncle who had always been his benefactor. Moreover the powerful Hindu chiefs of Chitor, Ranthambhor, Dhar, Ujjain and Gujarat were always on the lookout for an opportunity to overthrow the hated Khilji rule. The Mongols too were threatening the north-western frontiers of the Sultanate. Multan was in the possession of Arkali Khan who was another son of Jalal ud din.

But what worked in Alauddin’s favour was the conflict among the supporters of the previous regime.  Many of them joined him. Alauddin, encouraged by the rifts among the supporters of the old regime, marched upon Delhi. He used gold and silver coins to win over the people while on the way towards Delhi. The wealth from the south ensured for him the support of the bulk of the army too. Ruknuddin Ibrahim met Alauddin at Badauni but he could not hope to match swords with his adversary as most of his followers had deserted him. He fled to Multan along with his mother and his remaining followers.   Alauddin entered Delhi and on 3 October 1296 he was proclaimed the Sultan of Delhi. He was determined to exterminate his rivals so he sent a large army under his brother Ulugh Khan against them. Ulugh Khan captured Multan, and blinded the sons of Jalal ud din and imprisoned the widowed queen. Alauddin dealt severely with the Jalali nobles who were still loyal to his uncle. Their jagirs were confiscated. Even those nobles who had been won over by Alauddin’s money were punished for their treachery. Alauddin justified his action on the ground that if their support could be bought then there was no guarantee that they would not turn against him if a similar opportunity arose in the future.  Some were imprisoned while the others were either blinded or put to death. Their jagirs were incorporated into the crown lands while their wealth was seized and added to the treasury.

He ruthlessly exterminated, even on mere suspicion, all those who were perceived to challenge his authority. For instance, in 1298, about 15,000 to 30,000 people were slaughtered near Delhi as there were apprehensions of rebellion. In 1299-1300 he had his kith and kin put to death on mere suspicion of rebellion.   Alauddin’s reign lasted for 20 years. During his rule he successfully defended the Sultanate against repeated Mongol incursions. He inflicted reverses on them at the conflicts in Jalandhar (1298), Kili (1299), Amroha (1305) and Ravi (1306).   He strengthened the border defenses and set up military outposts. Not only did he fight off the Mongol invasions but he also led retaliatory expeditions against them around modern Afghanistan. Alauddin Khilji was a military strategist and a commander who could assert his dominance over the forces across all the corners of his empire. The Sultan followed a vigorous policy of territorial expansion both in the north and the south. 

Gujarat was among his earliest conquests. In 1299, he sent two of his generals Nusrat Khan and Ulugh Khan to capture the kingdom which was at that time ruled by Karnadev Vaghela II of the Vaghela dynasty. The Delhi army crossed into Gujarat and launched their attack. The kingdom was captured while its ruler Karnadeva fled to Deogir along with his daughter Devaladevi. But the queen of Gujarat Kamaladevi was captured and taken to the Sultan at Delhi.  She was admitted into the harem and ultimately married to the Sultan after being converted to Islam. It was in Gujarat that Alauddin’s generals bought a slave named Malik Kafur for 1000 dinars. This slave, who was a Hindu convert, later on, rose to become one of the prominent commanders in Alauddin’s army.

Alauddin’s ire was now turned towards Hammir Dev of Ranthambhor. He attacked the Hindu state of Ranthambhor (1301 AD) as the ruler Hammir Dev had given shelter to a fugitive who was fleeing from the wrath of the Sultan. The two forces met on the banks of the river Banas.  Hammir Dev’s Rajput forces emerged victorious but the victory was short-lived. Alauddin reorganized his forces and renewed the attack on Ranthambhor. He was aided in his efforts by some disaffected officers in Hammir’s army. They provided him valuable information about the state of the besieged fort and the supply of essentials like water. Hammir Dev bravely held out against the repeated assaults of Alauddin. However owing to famine and the treachery of his generals Ratipal and Ranmal, he could not hold out against Alauddin’s forces. He was killed during the conflict. Thus Ranthambhor fell to the invading forces.
The next place to face the Khilji onslaught was Mewar, in Rajasthan in1303.  The kingdom was at that time ruled by Ratan Singh who had his stronghold at Chittorgarh fort. Ratan Singh had incurred Alauddin’s anger by not allowing the Sultanate army to march through Mewar during the campaign against Gujarat. So Alauddin marched towards Chittorgarh to lay siege to it. There is a famous legend associated with the conflict between the Delhi Sultan and the Rajput ruler.
According to this tale, Alauddin had heard of the beauty of Rani Padmini, the wife of Ratan Singh and he was eager to catch a glimpse of the queen. So he went to Chittorgarh with the apparent intention of seeing her but his prime motive was to lay siege to the fort. When he visited Ratan Singh he expressed his desire to see Queen Padmini.  In those days women observed purdah; hence the Sultan’s desire was considered a grave insult. He was however allowed to see her reflection in the mirror and what he saw bewitched him. He was determined to capture her and make her his.  He had Ratan Singh kidnapped when the Rajput ruler was accompanying him back to his camp. The condition for Ratan Singh’s release was that Padmini should be handed over to the Sultan. The Rajput ruler’s generals, Gora and Badal, thought up a cunning plan to hoodwink Alauddin Khilji. They sent word to the Sultan that Padmini would be sent to him the following morning. The next day, at daybreak itself, a long line of 150 palanquins set out from the fort towards Alauddin’s camp. The procession stopped outside the tent where Ratan Singh was held captive. The captive was at first mortified at the sight of the palanquins as he thought that his queen had submitted to his captors. But to his amazement, armed soldiers poured out of the palanquins. The Sultan’s men were taken completely by surprise. The Rajputs freed Ratan Singh and using the horses of Khilji’s soldiers they escaped to Chittorgarh.
Alauddin was furious at being fooled thus and he set out to storm Chittorgarh fort. He however could not capture it so he laid siege to it. This caused immense hardship to the defenders and hence they decided to take on the invaders. The women led by Queen Padmini immolated themselves in the funeral pyre in order to escape dishonor at the hands of the invaders. This rite, which was known as Jauhar, was often resorted to by the women of a besieged Rajput fort when they knew that their menfolk would fight to the last and that victory was impossible. After the women of Chittorgarh had immolated themselves the men rushed out to fight the invaders. They were heavily outnumbered and soon they perished right down to the last man. Alauddin Khilji and his forces entered the fort, but to their horror they found that there was not a single survivor. The fort was handed over to the Sultan’s son Khizr Khan and a Muslim garrison was posted there.

Alauddin Khilji’s next conquest was Malwa. He dispatched a force of 160,000 soldiers under Ain-ul-Khan against Malwa. Mahlak Dev, the ruler, sent a body of 20,000 horsemen and 90,000 infantry under Harnanda Koka to confront the invaders.  The Malwa general was killed during the bloody conflict and the defending forces retreated. The conquest of Malwa in 1305 was followed by the fall of Mandu, Dhara and Chanderi.

 In 1308 Alauddin Khilji invaded Marwar which was then under the rule of Rai Shital Dev. Siwana the stronghold of the Marwar ruler, was besieged after an extended struggle. Rai Shital Dev was killed during the conflict and Siwana was conquered. It was put under the charge of Kamaluddin Gurg. Jalore also felt the weight of Alauddin’s military might the same year (1309). Raja Kanera Deva, the ruler of Jalore, was killed during the conflict and the fort was annexed. With the annexation of Jalore, the entire Rajputana came under Alauddin’s domination. Bundi, Mandor and Tonk also surrendered to the Sultan.  The frontiers of his empire now spanned north, west and central India.

Meanwhile Alauddin continued with his policy of conquests. It was now the turn of the southern regions to feel the weight of his arms. The first of the southern expeditions was against Rai Karan, the previous ruler of Gujarat who had been expelled from his kingdom by the Sultan. Rai Karan now held Baglana in present day Maharashtra. During the earlier conflict in Gujarat in 1299, Alauddin’s generals had captured Rai Karan’s queen Kamaladevi and taken her to the Sultan in Delhi. She was admitted into Alauddin’s harem and she became his begum. However, Rai Karan’s daughter Devala Devi was still with him at Baglana.
Alauddin sent a force under Malik Kafur against Baglana in 1306. The Sultan also instructed Malik Kafur to bring Deval Devi as her mother Kamala Devi (now Malika Jahan) was eager to meet her. Rai Karan was defeated and Baglana was captured. Malik Kafur demanded that Rai Karan hand over Devala Devi to him. But Rai Karan had already sent his daughter to Deogir in order to form a marriage alliance between Devala Devi and Singhana Deva, the son of Raja Ram Chandra Deva, the Yadava ruler of Deogir. Rai Karan’s effort was aimed at saving his daughter from the clutches of the Muslims but he did not quite succeed in his attempts. He also fled away to Deogir.

Rai Karan was pursued by Alp Khan, the governor of Gujarat. It was during this expedition that Alp Khan’s soldiers happened to come upon Devala Devi who was proceeding towards Deogir under heavy military escort. The princess was captured and sent to Delhi where her mother, Kamala Devi eagerly awaited her. Apart from the objective of capturing Devala Devi, there were other reasons for the military expeditions against Deogir. Alauddin Khilji had defeated Raja Ram Chandra Deva in 1295, a year before his accession to the throne. Raja Ram Chandra Deva had then agreed to pay a yearly tribute but he went back on his word. A few historians believe that he was emboldened in his defiance by the military reverse that the Sultanate forces had suffered in Telengana and also by the relentless Mongol aggression in the north.

The Sultanate forces accordingly marched onto Deogiri and inflicted military reverses on the defenders. Raja Ram Chandra Deva’s son Singhana Deva fled from Deogir while the Yadava ruler was compelled to sue for peace. He was sent to Delhi where the Sultan treated him with all kindness. According to historians, he gave one of his daughters in marriage to the Sultan who bestowed on him the title of Rai Rayan (king of kings) along with costly gifts. This was a clever move on the part of the Sultan as he won over the Yadava ruler’s loyalties and he was able to use him as a useful tool in his imperialistic designs. Raja Ram Chandra Deva returned to Deogir after a stay of six months at Delhi. He was regular in his payment of tribute and he rendered all possible help to the Sultan and his general Malik Kafur in their following campaigns in the south. According to contemporary historians Deogir served as the base for the military operations of the forces of the Delhi Sultanate in the south. Critics had condemned the servile attitude of Ram Chandra Deva. He had sacrificed his self-respect and the honour of his kingdom in order to retain his material possessions. Moreover, he actively helped the aggressors to trample the whole of South India underfoot. In 1309, Alauddin again dispatched a military expedition under Malik Kafur against Warangal. The Sultanate army marched through Deogir and Ramchandra Deva provided every type of assistance such as hospitality for the nobles, fodder for the animals and provisions for the soldiers. He ordered his merchants to set up bazars all along the route to Warangal with instructions to sell the commodities at the rates obtaining in the Sultanate. He even appointed scouts to guide the imperial army on their way to Warangal. He remained ever obedient and loyal to Alauddin Khilji. However after his demise in 1315 his sons rose up in revolt against the Delhi Sultanate. But Malik Kafur quickly suppressed the uprising and took over the administration of the kingdom.

Warangal posed a challenge for the Delhi Sultan when he had attempted to capture this stronghold in 1303. The Kakatiya ruler, Prataparudra had inflicted a defeat on him them.  In the second attempt in 1309, Malik Kafur had the land ravaged. However the invaders met with resistance from a small force at Sirpur. The defenders were easily mowed down while the women and children immolated themselves. Malik Kafur occupied the fort with a force of 100,000 soldiers. After a brief but deadly struggle Prataprudra was forced to acknowledge defeat. He had to surrender a huge booty of 100 elephants, 7000 horses and an immense collection of gold, silver and jewelry of incalculable value. He also parted with the invaluable Kohinoor diamond, once famed as the largest known diamond in the world. To top the humiliation, he sent as a token of submission his life-size statue in gold with a gold chain round its neck. He also gave a written undertaking to send to Delhi the annual tribute regularly without fail. Malik Kafur submitted the vast booty to the Sultan who was highly pleased with his ability.

Dwarasamudra and Madurai
The next expedition to the south was sent against King Vira Ballala of the Hoysala kingdom of Dwarasamudra in 1311 under Malik Kafur. Rama Chandra Deva of Deogir provided all the necessary assistance to the invaders. The Hoysala ruler was taken by surprise and easily defeated in battle. He had to pay an indemnity and accept the status of a vassal.
It was at Dwarasamudra that Malik Kafur heard about the fratricidal war between the Pandyan princes at Madurai. Vir Pandya the elder but natural son and Sundar Pandya the younger and legitimate son were at loggerheads with each other as Kulashekhar Pandya the Pandyan king and their father showed a marked preference for Vir Pandya. Inflamed by jealousy, Sundar Pandya murdered his father and tried to seize the throne. But he was turned out of Madurai by Vir Pandya. Sundar Pandya appealed for help to Malik Kafur who was then at Dwarasamudra.

Malik Kafur was not one to let go of this golden opportunity which had literally fallen into his lap. He led an expedition to the far south with the assistance of Vira Ballala the Hoysala ruler. Vir Pandya fled for safety while the imperial army overran the Pandyan kingdom. All the important towns and temples which were situated in the way of the invaders were sacked and plundered. Sundara Pandya realized the enormity of his folly but it was too late. He too had to flee to the jungles while the imperial army advanced as far as Rameswaram where Malik Kafur erected a mosque. However neither of the Pandyan princes acknowledged the supremacy of the Delhi Sultan over their kingdom. Nevertheless Malik   Kafur returned to Delhi in 1311 laden with a huge booty which consisted of 612 elephants, 96000 maunds of gold, 20,000 horses and several chests of priceless jewels. Vira Ballala accompanied Malik Kafur to Delhi where he was received with all kindness by the Sultan. The booty that had been brought to Delhi exceeded all other previous spoils of war in quantity. The Sultan’s commanders had indulged in loot and plunder on an unprecedented scale.

Alauddin Khilji’s administration
Alauddin Khilji had strengthened his position militarily so he now devoted himself to administering the kingdom. He introduced draconian laws to eliminate all possibilities of revolts and uprisings in the future.  According to him there were four causes for rebellions. They are namely interactions, social proximity and close links among nobles, wine drinking, acquisition of wealth by subjects, and the Sultan’s indifference to state matters. The first of his rigorous measures was aimed at the nobles. They were forbidden to meet each other privately and visits among them too were banned. They were forbidden to form marriage alliances with each other without the Sultan’s permission. Drinking was prohibited and strict vigilance was enforced through a well-organized espionage system. All these measures so terrorized the nobles that no further revolt occurred during Alauddin Khilji’s reign. The officials also feared to talk out aloud in public. All lands which had been gifted to the chiefs and given as religious endowments were confiscated. All lands given as assignments were taken back as Khalisa lands (crown lands). The incomes from these lands filled up the Sultan’s treasury.

The Sultan carried out revenue reforms as well. He enforced the measure by which land revenue in the Doab was assessed on the basis of the measurement of the land under cultivation. Land tax was raised to a high level of fifty percent of the produce.  Other taxes were also collected with great rigor. The hereditary revenue officials such as the khuts, muqaddams and chaudhuris were deprived of their privileges as well as their right to collect revenue. Levies and duties were imposed on them as well as on the other taxpayers.

Alauddin Khilji imposed these measures to ensure that there was a full treasury to maintain his huge standing army. He personally supervised the recruitment of the army and paid the soldiers in cash. In order to avoid the risk of bogus registration he devised the muster roll in which each soldier was personally identified. This roll was known as the chehra. Then there was the dagh system by which the best kinds of horses used by the soldiers were branded. The chehra and the dagh systems effectively prevented fraudulent practices. He also devised a market control policy by which the large standing army could be maintained at a minimum cost. The prices of food grains and other commodities were regulated through this policy. The market regulation was restricted to Delhi and its neighbourhood. Any violation of these measures was met with severe punishment. The chief of the Diwan-i-Riyasat or the market control department was the Shahana-i- Mandi. These measures were effective only during the Sultan’s  lifetime. They had an adverse impact on trade and commerce later on.
Alauddin’s relationship with the Ulema
The Sultan, unlike other Muslim rulers refused to accept the suzerainty of the Caliph. He strictly kept his policies under his control and did not allow any outside power a say in state matters.

Art and Architecture
He built the Alai Darwaza, Siri Fort which was the second city of Delhi and the Hazar  Sutun or the palace of Thousand Pillars. Another achievement of his was the magnificent tank known as the Hauz-i-Khas or the Hauz-i-Alai. He also patronized many artists and men of letters. Prime among them was Amir Khusrau who flourished in his court.

Alauddin Khilji and the end of the Khilji dynasty
Alauddin Khilji passed away in 1316. His demise marked the end of the dynasty. Malik Kafur succeeded him to the throne. However, this convert did not enjoy the support of the Muslim nobles. He was murdered within a few months after his accession. After his death, three more members of the Khilji dynasty ascended the throne. The Muslim nobles placed the six year old Shihab-ud-din Omar on the throne with his teenaged elder brother Qutb ud din Mubarak Shah as regent. The teenaged boy killed his younger brother and placed himself on the throne. He bribed the nobility with offices in order to win over their loyalty. Prime among them was Ghazi Malik who was given the command of the Punjab. The teenaged Sultan ruled for less than four years. His rule culminated in his murder in 1320 by his army general Khusraw Khan who was in turn done to death by Ghazi Malik. The commander of the Punjab next ascended the throne under the title of Sultan Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq, thus ushering in a new dynasty in 1320.

A Comprehensive History of India: Comprehensive history of medieval India
By B.N. Puri, M.N. Das

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