History of India
November 13, 2016
THE TUGHLAQ DYNASTY
- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer
The rule of the Tughlaq dynasty was ushered in by the accession of Ghazi
Malik to the throne of Delhi in 1320. He assumed the title of Ghiyath
al- DinTughlaq after overthrowing the last ruler of the Khilji dynasty,
Khusro Khan and seizing the throne of Delhi.
Ghiasuddin (also known as Ghiyath al- DinTughlaq Tughlaq) traced
his paternal descent to Turk origins while his mother was a Hindu Jat.
He was also referred to as Tughlaq Shah. He had served under Alaud din
Khilji as a general. He was an able commander who kept the Mongol
invaders at bay and inflicted repeated reverses on them. After the death
of Alaud din Khilji, the situation had become very unstable. There was
no strong ruler at the helm of affairs. The then Sultan was Khusro Khan
who had come to the throne in 1320 after killing the profligate son of
Alauddin Khilji, Mubarak Khilji. Khusro Khan however was highly
unpopular with the Persian and Afghan noblemen of Delhi. The Muslim
aristocracy invited Ghazi Malik, then governor of Punjab to stage a coup
in Delhi and overthrow Khusro Khan. Accompanied by his son, Juna Ulugh
Khan, Ghazi Malik led a strong army against Khusro Khan. The Sultan was
defeated near Delhi and beheaded. Ghazi Malik ascended the throne under
the title of Ghiasuddin Tughlaq. After he had been crowned king, the new
Sultan rewarded all those noblemen who had helped him to come to power.
All those who had served his predecessor Khusro Khan, were punished.
The court historian, Ziauddin Barni, writes that Hindus were made to pay
higher taxes so that they may not become wealthy enough to rise against
the government. The tax rate on Muslims on the other hand was lowered.
The task of governing the Sultanate was by no means an easy one. The
distant provinces were trying to assert their independence. He ordered
the construction of a fort at Tughlaqabad, about six kilometres away
from Delhi, to deal with the ever-present Mongol threat. In 1321 he sent
his eldest son Juna Ulugh Khan to Deogir to plunder Arangal and Tilang
situated in present day Telengana. Ulugh Khan’s first attempt ended in
failure. However, four months later he again attacked Arangal and Tilang
at the head of strong reinforcements sent by his father. Arangal fell
to the invaders. The kingdom was subjected to loot and plunder. All the
wealth and captives were sent to Delhi. Arangal was renamed as
Sultanpur. Ghiyasuddin’s next conquest was in Bengal 1324-25. He
invaded Bengal at the invitation of the Muslim aristocracy at Lakhnauti
and defeated the Sultan Shamsuddin Firoz Shah. Ghiyasuddin was
accompanied by his favourite son Mahmud Khan. It was during their return
to Delhi that they were fatally injured by a wooden structure which
collapsed on them. According to historians such as as Ibn Battuta,
al-Safadi, Işāmi, and Vincent Smith, this was actually a murder plotted
and executed by Juna Ulugh Khan who wanted to seize the throne.
According to other historic sources, the Muslim preacher, Nizamuddin
Auliya and Juna Ulugh Khan had planned this murder as they had heard
from messengers that the Sultan had decided to remove them from Delhi on
his return from the Bengal campaign. Hence they had conspired to have a
wooden structure erected without foundations which collapsed on the
intended victims resulting in their death.
Muhammad bin Tughluq
After the death of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq in 1325 Juna Ulugh
Khan ascended the throne of Delhi under the title of Muhammad bin
Tughlaq. The new Sultan followed an aggressive expansionist policy of
carrying out military campaigns against distant kingdoms. The states
which faced his invasions included Gujarat, Malwa, Mahratta, Tilang,
Kampila, Dhur-samundar, mabar, Lakhnauti, Chittagong, Sonargaon and
Tirhut. His objective was to acquire wealth but his efforts proved to be
counter-productive as the freshly-conquered territories were difficult
to retain owing to their distance. His military campaigns in the far off
parts of the country drained the treasury even though they brought in
looted wealth and ransom.
In order to create the necessary financial resources, he imposed
taxes which the people could not pay. The land tax imposed on
non-Muslims in some districts of the area between the Ganges and
Yamuna rivers were increased tenfold while in others they went up twenty
times. To make matters worse they were also required to give up half of
their harvested crops as crop tax. The people retaliated by giving up
farming altogether and fleeing to the jungles. They took to robbery
while famines followed owing to the decline in agriculture. The Sultan
inflicted fresh brutalities on them and even certain sects of Muslims
were subjected to torture and executions.
The reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq is famous for two large projects which
failed miserably. In 1327 he ordered the shifting of the capital of the
Sultanate from Delhi to Deogir in Maharashtra. He enforced the
migration of the people of Delhi to the new capital which was renamed as
Daulatabad. One of the cited reasons for this move was that the Sultan
felt that it would help him to maintain control over the fertile Deccan.
The sheer distance of Delhi would have made it difficult to lead
military expeditions for the subjugation of the South. Moreover the
Sultan also felt that location of Daulatabad would ensure his safety
from the Mongol attacks which were always directed against the North.
This measure caused a lot of hardship to the people as they had to
relocate to an entirely different place involving a journey of forty
days. Historians narrate the instance of a blind man who was dragged all
the way to Daulatabad. The exertion proved to be too much and in the
end it was only his carcass which reached the city. Muhammad bin
Tughlaq’s effort to shift the capital to Daulatabad proved to be a
colossal blunder because the area was drought prone and the resources
for providing drinking water were woefully inadequate. The Sultan had to
rescind his orders and return to Delhi. A large percentage however
chose to stay on in Daulatabad thus leading to the growth of the Muslim
population in Central and South India.
Another miscalculated move was the order that he passed stating that
coins be minted from base metal with the surface value of silver coins.
His aim was to augment the treasury which had become depleted owing to
his military attempts to expand his empire. This move led to the forgery
of coins on a massive scale as he had failed to make it a government
monopoly. Ziauddin Barani narrates that the rulers of the Hindu
provinces used the counterfeit currency to pay the taxes and tribute
expected from them. People were not willing to trade their gold and
silver coins for the new brass and copper coins. Ultimately the Sultan
had to buy back both the real and the counterfeit coins till a mountain
of coins had accumulated within the walls of the fort. The consequent
collapse of the economy led to famines.
The Sultan had to face revolts even during the early years of his reign.
These uprisings began in 1327 and continued throughout his rule. In
1334 there was a rebellion in Mabar which is located in present day
Madurai in Tamilnadu. However the Sultan failed to quell the uprising
owing to the outbreak of the bubonic plague which took a heavy toll of
his army. Tughlaq himself fell ill and he had to retreat to Daulatabad.
As a natural consequence of this turn of events, Mabar and Dwarasamudra
(in Karnataka) established their independence. This was followed by a
revolt in Bengal. The Sultan feared for the safety of the northern
borders hence he decided to shift back to Delhi. The
Sultanate began to shrink in size especially after 1335. In 1336 he lost
Warangal to Kapaya Nayak of the Musunuri Nayak clan. The Musunuri
Nayaks were a warrior clan who formed a part of the Kakatiya
armyofpresent day Warangal. This army had recaptured in 1326 the area
known as Andhra-sena which now corresponds to modern-day Telengana. By
the 1330s the Delhi Sultanate had lost a good chunk of the Deccan. In
1336 the Vijayanagara Empire was established by two brothers known as
Harihara and Bukka Raya of the Sangam dynasty. The empire grew in power
and prominence and liberated large parts of South India from the
dominance of the Delhi Sultanate. Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s nephew had
revolted against him in Malwa in 1338. The Sultan had the unfortunate
relative caught and flayed alive. The sultanate shrank even further by
1339 when the eastern regions under the native Muslim governors and the
southern areas ruled by Hindu kings set themselves up as independent
monarchies. The Delhi Sultan was unable to reverse the process as he
lacked the necessary resources and aid. Another Muslim power, the
Bahmanid kingdom had set itself up in the Deccan in 1347.
But these reverses did not in any way deter Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s
military ambitions. His aim was to bring Khurasan, Irak, (comprising
Babylon and Persia) and China under Sunni rule. In 1329, he had
collected an army of three million seven hundred thousand soldiers near
Delhi for a year which was an unbearable burden on the treasury. He took
no steps to ensure the ability of the soldiers or the fitness of their
horses. Moreover he had paid spies claiming to be from Khurasan for
information which could help him to attack and subjugate these areas.
After keeping the army idle for a year he found that he could no longer
pay them as the treasury had become empty, so he disbanded these forces.
Hence his attempts met with failure.
He led an expedition in 1337 to Karajal which was a Hindu kingdom
located between India and China in the Kulu-Kangra region of modern-day
Himachal Pradesh. According to historians his original intention was to
cross over the Himalayas and attack China. But after the initial victory
in Karajal the Sultanate army was subjected to terrible reverses. After
they had crossed over the Himalayas the local forces closed the
mountain passes thus blocking the passage of retreat for the invading
army. The invaders perished in thousands and only a few could return to
Delhi to convey the bad news to the Sultan. These unfortunate soldiers
were put to death on the orders of the Sultan.
Owing to his disastrous policies, the Delhi Sultanate was fast
approaching the condition of a failed state. The revenues had fallen to a
dangerously low level. He paid his staff from the treasury only in
times of war. In lieu of payment from the treasury, the Sultan awarded
all those in his service the right to collect the taxes on Hindu
villages, and transfer the amount to the treasury after a deducting a
portion for themselves. The staff included the judges, court advisors,
governors, wazirs, the army, and the district officials. Those who
failed to pay taxes were ruthlessly exterminated. The people of Sindh
and Gujarat had refused to pay taxes. The Sultan had set out on a
punitive expedition against these people and it was during this mission
that he met with his end (March 1351) at Sindh. The extent of the
Sultanate had shrunk to the Vindhya ranges in Central India at the time
of his demise.
Some historians feel that Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s behavior and actions
were motivated by his desire to enforce the observance of orthodox
Islamic practices and to promote Jihad in South Asia as a ‘Warrior for
the Path of God’. According to them his actions were influenced by Ibn
Taymiyyah a very famous Muslim scholar of Syria. Then there are other
historians who ascribe Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s actions to plain insanity.
Firuz Shah Tughlaq
Muhammad bin Tughlaq was succeeded by his cousin Firuz Shah in 1351. The
new Sultan was the son of a Hindu princess and Malik Rajab who was the
younger brother of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq. As Muhammad bin Tughlaq had no
son to succeed him the way was clear for Firuz Shah Tughlaq to ascend
the throne. He was proclaimed Sultan at Siwistan in modern day Sindh and
messages to this effect were sent to officers in different parts of the
country along with robes of honour. Firuz Tughlaq’s accession to the
throne did not go unchallenged. It was while they were on their way to
Delhi that Khwaja-i-Jahan, the deputy of the late Sultan enthroned a boy
who, he claimed was the son of Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Firuz
Tughlaq summoned a meeting of Muslim jurists and nobles at Multan. The
council refused to acknowledge the veracity of Khwaja-i-Jahan’s
statement. The jurists stated that since Khwaja-i-Jahan’s candidate was a
minor he was not qualified to be the Sultan. Firuz Tughlaq’s
right to the throne was further strengthened by the fact under Muslim
law kingship was not hereditary. Hence the child candidate’s claim to
sovereignty did not hold any water. Moreover the situation was such that
an adult needed to be in control of affairs. Scholars differ on the
matter of Firuz’s right to the throne. Some of them opine that the child
who was supported by Khwaja-i-Jahan was actually a son of Muhammad bin
Tughlaq and therefore was fully entitled to the throne. Firuz Tughlaq
was therefore a usurper. Other historians however uphold the view
that there was no record of Muhammad bin Tughlaq having had a son.
Moreover Firuz’s accession had the sanction of the nobles and jurists.
His first measure on becoming Sultan was to restore order in the army.
His earliest triumph as Sultan was his victory over the Mongols who were
driven away by his army. Firuz’s soldiers also liberated the Indians
who had been captured by the Mongols.
After having reached Delhi Firuz Tughlaq devoted himself to the task of
restoring law and order to the chaotic conditions which prevailed at the
close of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s reign. He appointed Malik Maqbul, a
Brahmin convert, as his prime minister and conferred on him the title of
Khan-i-Jahan. Malik Maqbul was an able administrator and he proved to
be more than equal to his task. Firuz Tughlaq won the support of his
people by writing off their debts to the government. This move enabled
him to bring peace to the kingdom. He ushered in a theocratic government
and he devoted himself to ensuring the moral and material welfare of
his Muslim subjects.
Firuz Tughlaq’s military ventures
During the closing years of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s reign, the Sultanate
had shrunk considerably as a number of provinces had declared their
independence. Chief among these was the Muslim Bahmani kingdom. His
counselors advised him to subjugate the Bahmani kingdom but Firuz
preferred to evade this challenge. He put forward the plea that he was
unwilling to shed Muslim blood which would be the inevitable consequence
of attacking this southern Muslim kingdom. However he was equally
unwilling to annex Marwar and the other Rajput states which were
non-Muslim states. It was evident that the Sultan lacked the military
ability and ambition to reestablish the domination of the Sultanate over
those provinces which had broken away.
Bengal had established its independence in 1338, during the reign of
Muhammad bin Tughlaq. The ruler Shams-ud-din Ilyas Shah had established
his control over entire Bengal by 1352 and had even invaded Tirhut in
Bihar. In 1353 Firuz Tughlaq launched an attack against him with the
objective of bringing Bengal under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate.
Ilyas took shelter in the well-fortified fort of Ekdala. Firuz
Tughlaq’s attempts to conquer Ekdala fort were thwarted and he had to
return to Delhi without realizing his objective. Firuz’s next
attempt to subjugate Bengal in 1359 again resulted in failure. He
ultimately had to recognize the independence of Bengal. However it was
while returning from Bengal that he attacked Jajnagar in Orissa. The
ruler fled for safety while Firuz Tughlaq plundered the Jagannath
temple. He forced the ruler to pay tribute.
He was able to reestablish the domination of the Delhi Sultanate over
Nagarkot which had broken away during the closing years of the reign of
Muhammad bin Tughlaq. He had led an expedition against Nagarkot in
Kangra in 1360 and besieged the fort for six months. The fort ultimately
surrendered and the ruler submitted to the Sultan. Firuz received
a substantial amount of booty. A large number of Sanskrit manuscripts,
some 1,300 of them, formed an important part of the treasure. Some of
them were translated into Persian.
Firuz next led an expedition against Sindh in 1361-62. His force
comprised a large body of infantry, 90,000 cavalry and 480 elephants.
The enemy strength matched that of the invading forces. Firuz’s army met
with heavy reverses, forcing him to retreat to Gujarat in order to
replenish his military force. However it was during the retreat to
Gujarat that the guides misled the Sultanate army into the Rann of
Kutch. It took six long months for Firuz and his army to cross out
of the Rann of Kutch during which period there was no information about
him or his army at Delhi. Fortunately for the Sultan, his
efficient minister, Khan-e-Jahan Maqbul sent fresh troops to his aid. It
was with the help of these reinforcements that Firuz Tughlaq could
inflict a defeat on the ruler of Sindh in 1363. However the Sindh
expedition showed up his utter lack of military ability. He could not
expand his empire. Nonetheless, it was during his reign that the
Sultanate was relatively free of the Mongol menace. There were just two
Mongol raids, both of which were beaten off.
Revenue Policy of Firuz Shah Tughlaq
One of Firuz Tughlaq’s laudable achievements was his revenue settlement
which was made on a permanent basis. Khwaja Hisamuddin Junaid who had
been appointed as assessor by the Sultan fixed the income of the whole
realm at a sum of six crore and seventy five lakhs tanakas after touring
the kingdom for six years with the aid of a large staff. The revenue
settlement contributed greatly to the stability of the kingdom.
Land Revenue Assignments
Firuz Tughlaq revived the jagir system for the benefit of both civil and
military officials. Under this system, the whole kingdom was divided
into fiefs which in turn were divided into districts. The officials had
the right to collect revenue from the land holdings which were almost
like their personal estates. They enjoyed considerable powers in the
administration of their land holdings. This considerably eroded the
central authority. Moreover this system of revenue assignments led to
malpractices on a large scale. The military officials for instance found
it difficult to collect revenue while on active duty. Hence they sold
their assignments to brokers who profited from such transactions.
Firuz’s Irrigation Projects
Firuz Tughlaq’s chief contribution to a sound administration lay in the
construction of an efficient irrigation system. It was during his reign
that five canals were built. Chief among these was the 150 miles long
waterway connecting Hissar to the Jamuna. Ghagra and Sutlej were
connected by 96 miles long channel. Firuzabad was connected by two
canals, one to Ghagra and the other to Jamuna. The Sirmur Hills and the
town of Hansi were connected by the fifth canal. Firuz’s further efforts
to ensure an efficient irrigation system lay in the construction of 50
dams and 30 reservoirs or lakes.
The Sultan’s construction activities
Firuz Tughlaq founded a number of towns which included important ones
like Fatehabad, Hissar, Jaunpur and Firuzabad the last named being his
favorite residence. The Sultan loved constructing buildings and
Firuzabad boasted of eight mosques, each large enough to accommodate
10,000 people. Apart from these, there were numerous constructions
including 20 palaces, 100 caravanserais, 200 towns, 100 public baths, 10
monumental pillars, 10 public wells, 150 bridges as well as several
gardens. It was during his reign that the mindboggling task of shifting
two Ashokan pillars to Delhi was undertaken. One was moved from Meerut
and the other from Topara in Ambala.
Firuz Shah did away with internal taxes so as to encourage domestic
trade. This enabled products from one part of the country to find an
easy market in the other parts. This step greatly benefitted the common
populace as it helped in bringing down the prices of commodities in
daily use. He levied four kinds of taxes which were land tax,
munificence to the government, poll tax on non-Muslims and tax on mines.
There was an irrigation tax as well. He reformed the currency system by
introducing two types of coins of mixed metal. The Sultan carried out
certain measures for the benefit of the common man. He had set up an
employment bureau to solve the problem of unemployment. He set up the
Dar-ul-Shafa which provided free treatment to the poor, the cost of
which was borne by the state. The Sultan also opened the Diwan-i-Khairat
or the Alms house which provided for the poor and the needy.
Firuz Tughlaq followed a policy of religious intolerance. He gave the
ulemas full importance as he owed his throne to them and to the
important nobles. He consulted them on matters both religious and
political. He was a Sunni by faith and put down with a heavy hand any
attempts by other Muslim sects such as the Shias and the Mahdis to
convert people to their faith. He was equally intolerant of any attempts
by the Hindus to rebuild their temples which had been destroyed by his
armies. Shams-i-Siraj, his court historian records that the Sultan put
many Hindus to death for refusing to convert to Islam. All those who
adopted Islam were rewarded with presents and honours. They were also
granted exemption from jizya and taxes. Firuz Tughlaq’s predecessors had
exempted Hindu Brahmins from paying the jizya but now the Sultan not
only stopped this practice but he raised the taxes and jizya.
Encouragement to Learning
The Sultan greatly patronized scholars like Ziauddin Barani and
Shams-i-Siraj ‘Afif’. The latter was a historian whose work entitled
Tarikh i Firoze Shahi was devoted exclusively to the reign of Firuz
Tughlaq. Ziauddin Barani’s Fatawa i Jahandari which was based on
political philosophy dealt with the techniques and rules of government.
His other work, also entitled Tarikh i Firoze Shahi dealt with events
right from the reign of Balban to that of Firuz Tughlaq. The Sultan
authored his autobiography Futuhat i Firuz Shahi. His religious bigotry
did not prevent him from getting the Sanskrit manuscripts, found at
Kangra fort, translated into Persian.
Firuz Shah & the Slaves
One of Firuz Shah’s passions was collecting slaves. Governors in
different parts of the kingdom were instructed to send him slaves as a
result of which the Sultan had a vast number of slaves under him
reaching a total of one lakh eighty thousand. Almost half this number
served in the palace and they were placed under the charge of an officer
assisted by the necessary staff. The slaves were also posted in
different provinces. The Sultan provided for their education and
training but the slave system proved to be harmful. They began to meddle
in administrative affairs of the state. This contributed in a large
measure to the ultimate destruction of the Sultanate.
Firuz’s declining years
Firuz had nominated his two eldest sons, Fateh Khan and Zafar Khan, as
his heirs one after the other. Fateh Khan was first chosen as the heir
apparent but his death led to the nomination of his younger brother
Zafar Khan as the Sultan’s successor. But he too passed away so the
third son Muhammad Khan was the next in line. However he was not
formally nominated. Meanwhile the political situation had become
difficult. Firuz Tughlaq’s prime minister Khan-i-Jahan Maqbul had died
and his son succeeded him to the office. The new Prime Minister
Khan-i-Jahan II poisoned the Sultan’s ears against his son Muhammad Khan
with the calumny that the prince was hand in glove with the nobles in
an effort to seize power. Then Sultan was at first inclined to believe
Khan-i-Jahan II and had even allowed him to punish the prince’s
supporters. But prince Muhammad Khan convinced his father that the prime
minister was trying to destroy the ruling family so that his way to the
throne could be cleared. The Khan-i-Jahan II, had sensed that the
prince had gained the upper hand, and fearing for his life, fled to
Firuz Shah was now helped in the administration of the Sultanate by his
son. In 1387 Muhammad Khan was declared the heir apparent. It was not
long before he got Khan-i-Jahan II assassinated and took over the powers
of the state. But he now took to a life of ease and pleasure. This
naturally affected the administration adversely. The nobles first tried
to make him aware of his duties but their efforts failed to bear fruit.
They now rose up in rebellion and marched out to battle, taking the
Sultan along with them. Muhammad Khan rode to the battlefield to
deal with the rebellion but on catching sight of the Sultan, he lost his
nerve and fled. Firuz Tughlaq passed away on September 20th, 1388.
Firuz’s successors were weak and incompetent rulers who could not
prevent the Sultanate from breaking up. Thus the empire which had been
built by the various Sultans during the different reigns, beginning
right with the Slave dynasty till the beginning of Firuz Tughlaq’s rule,
was reduced to just a shadow of its former self.