History of India
June 17, 2016
Medieval Indian history - the Slave dynasty
- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer
The period, spanning the years from 1193 to 1290 marks a unique era in
medieval Indian history when northern India was ruled by Turkish slaves.
Qutb-ud-din Aibak’s rise to power in Delhi marked the beginning of the
Slave dynasty and it ended with the murder of its last ruler Qaiqabad
and his infant son.
The rule of the Slave dynasty was however preceded by a number of
Islamic invasions which were provoked by the vulnerable condition of the
country. Northern India at the beginning of the medieval period
presented a picture of disunity. There were several small Rajput states
that were constantly at war with one another. Their mutual warfare
caused wastage of valuable resources in men and materials. Owing to
their depleted military strength, they failed to stave off the Islamic
invasions. There was no strong leader to unify the country against the
The Arabs invaded Sindh in 711-712 AD. Dahir the ruler of Sindh
put up a valiant resistance but he lost his life in the conflict. The
Arabs conquered Sindh and Multan but their attempts to expand their
conquests were thwarted by the Indian princes. The next Islamic invader
to ravage India was Mahmud of Ghazni. He subjected the rich country to
loot and plunder, 17 times between the years 1000-1027 AD. During his
last invasion of India in 1027 AD he ransacked the rich temple of
Somnath in Gujarat.
The country had hardly recovered from these blows when it was yet again
subjected to a series of invasions by the Afghan invader, Mohammed
Ghori. He first captured Multan and then Uchh in 1175. In 1178 he built a
fort in Uchh in order to establish a base there. His attempts to attack
Gujarat were repulsed by its young ruler, Raja Bhimdeva II. Ghori then
invaded and captured Lahore in 1181 and constructed a fort in Sialkot.
By that year he had brought the previous conquests of the Ghaznavis
under the Ghori rule. They then came into conflict with the heroic
Rajput ruler of Delhi and Ajmer, Prithviraj Chauhan who defeated them at
the battle of Tarain in 1191. However, Mohammed Ghori was able to turn
the tables at the second battle of Tarain in 1192. Prithviraj Chauhan
was vanquished and put to death.
After his victory over Prithviraj Chauhan, Mohammed Ghori proceeded to
capture other regions of Ajmer such as Saraswati, Khoram, Samana and
Hansi. He had succeeded in bringing the northern parts of Rajasthan and
the Ganga-Yamuna Doab region under his control. However, he had to
return to his empire in Afghanistan owing to disturbances on the western
frontier of the country. He left his deputy Qutb-ud-din Aibak in charge
of his Indian conquests. Qutb-ud-din Aibak was originally a slave of
Mohammed Ghori but he rose to a high rank by dint of sheer merit.
Mohammed Ghori returned to Afghanistan after capturing Delhi in 1193,
but he was assassinated in 1206.
All the rulers who ascended the throne of Delhi after Mohammed Ghori
were either slaves or the descendants of these slave rulers. Hence this
dynasty is referred to as the Slave Dynasty or the Mamluk Dynasty. This
dynasty ruled from Delhi till 1290.
Qutb-ud-din Aibak was a Turkish slave officer who had progressed
well in his career under the patronage of Mohammed Ghori. He rose to be a
general. After the departure of Mohammed Ghori for Khorasan in 1193,
the task of strengthening Ghurid control over north-west India was left
to Qutb-ud-din Aibak. He conquered the areas between the rivers Ganga
and Jamuna while his lieutenant Bakhtiyar Khalji vanquished Bihar and
Bengal. Between the years 1195 and 1203 Qutb-ud-din Aibak launched a
series of campaigns against the Rajput forts as the Rajputs were still
resisting Ghurid domination.
After the death of Mohammed Ghori in 1206, Qutb-ud-din Aibak succeeded
him as the ruler. His status as a slave was a legal obstacle for him,
but he overcame that hurdle by obtaining manumission. He now established
himself as an independent ruler. He further strengthened his position
by forming marriage alliances. His empire consisted of Delhi,
Punjab Bengal, Kalinjar and Gujarat.
Qutb-ud-din was an able administrator. His administration was based on
military strength. Garrisons were posted in all the important towns of
the kingdom. He also patronized scholars such as Hasan Nizami and
Fakhr-Ud-din. He had built two big mosques, the Quwwatul Islam mosque at
Delhi and the Adhai Din Ka Jhopda at Ajmer. He also started the
construction of the famed Qutb Minar which was later completed by his
successor Iltutmish. Qutb-ud-din was extremely generous and was known as
Lakh Baksh Sultan. His reign was cut short by his accidental death
during a game of polo in 1210.
Qutb-ud-din was succeeded by his slave and son-in-law Shamsuddin
Iltutmish who ascended the throne of Delhi in 1211 after deposing his
former master’s son Aram Baksh. Iltutmish, who was among the leading
rulers of the dynasty, was a Turk of the Ilbari tribe. He began his
career as a slave of Qutb-ud-din Aibak. Aibak was impressed by his
sterling qualities. It was only a matter of time before Iltutmish rose
to be the Governor of Gwalior.
After his accession to the throne of Delhi, he set about meeting the
challenges facing him. He had three rivals to deal with, namely,
Tajuddin of Ghazni, Qabacha of Sind and Ali Mardan of Bengal. He
successfully subjugated all the three. He also regained for the
Sultanate the Rajput kingdoms of Gwalior and Ranthambhor which had
broken away during the weak rule of his predecessor Aram Baksh. He
brought the areas extending from the Sutlej to the Beas under his
control. Bengal had earlier broken away after the death of Qutb-ud-din
but Itutmish defeated its ruler and retook the province. He also
conquered Malwa including Bhilsa and Ujjain.
However, his greatest achievement was the way in which he averted the
Mongol threat to the Turkish Empire, which was just getting established
at Delhi. In 1221 the Mongol forces were in hot pursuit of Jalaluddin
Mangbarni, the ruler of a principality corresponding to modern day
Khiva. Jalaluddin requested Iltutmish for asylum. The latter realized
that granting asylum to the fugitive would be inviting the Mongol peril
so he politely refused the request of the fugitive. The Mongol threat
was averted when the invaders withdrew to Peshawar.
Iltutmish can be described as the actual founder of the Slave
dynasty as he had consolidated his hold over his conquests. Under his
rule, the empire extended to a large part of the country. He was
considered the absolute ruler of his Indian conquests. In 1229 the
Caliph of Baghdad conferred on him the title of Sultan-i-Azam (Great
Sultan). This greatly enhanced his standing in the Muslim world.
Iltutmish is said to have established a corps of 40 hand-picked Amirs or
nobles who were appointed to key posts in the civil and military
administration. They were known as the Chalisa. They kept him informed
about every development in the empire. They were his chief advisors and
served him with unflinching loyalty. Iltutmish owed his success as a
ruler to these faithful nobles.
He brought in a number of administrative reforms. The iqta system which
was based on tax farming was introduced by Iltutmish. Under this system
the empire was divided into iqtas, the revenues of which were assigned
to the nobles and officers instead of salary. This grant was not
hereditary and was passed from officer to officer. The iqta system
helped to link the remote parts of the empire to the central government.
Another important administrative reform was the introduction of two
coins of the Delhi Sultanate viz. the silver tanka and the copper jital.
Prior to his reign the coins introduced by the invaders bore Sanskrit
characters and even the bull and the Shivalinga. After he received the
title of Sovereign Sultan of Delhi from the Caliph of Baghdad, the coins
issued by his administration were engraved with the words, “The Mighty
Sultan, Sun of the Empire and the Faith, Conquest-laden,
Iltutmish.” He was the first to introduce an Arabic coin in India.
The silver tanka weighed 175 grains. As per Iltutmish’s reform, the
army was recruited and paid by the central government.
The Hauz-i-Shamsi, a reservoir in South Delhi was built by Iltutmish.
According to popular legend, the Prophet Muhammad appeared to Iltutmish
in a dream and instructed him to build a tank at a particular site. The
next day the Sultan went to the site to inspect it. He found a hoof
print of Muhammad’s horse. He built a pavilion to mark the site of the
hoof print and a large tank around the structure to harvest rainwater.
He erected the first Islamic mausoleum at Sultangarhi, in memory of his
eldest son Nasir-ud-din Mahmud who died in 1229 while governing Bengal
as his father’s deputy.
However, Iltutmish’s major architectural achievement was the completion
of the Qutb Minar, the major historical landmark of Delhi, the
construction of which was started by Qutb-ud-din. There are reports
which suggest that the foundations of this 239ft, five-storeyed tower
were laid by the Rajputs. It is said that the site consisted of multiple
temples built by the Tomaras and Chauhans, and that Qutb-ud-din
destroyed these temples to use the material to build the Tower of
Victory or the Qutb Minar. However he could complete just one storey.
The tower was named after Khwaja Qutub-ud-din, a religious teacher of
Ush (near Baghdad). He was deeply venerated by Iltutmish. The names of
Iltutmish’s two predecessors Sultan Qutb-ud-din and Sultan Mu’iz-ud-din
were inscribed on the tower as a mark of his gratitude to them. In 1235
he built a tomb, which is situated to the north-west of the Quwwatul
Islam mosque, built by Sultan Qutb-ud-din. In contrast to its stark
exterior, the interior of the tomb is richly decorated with ancient
Hindu motifs such as the wheel, the lotus, the bell with chain and the
tassel. Iltutmish built several monasteries and graves for Sufi saints.
Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki was a Sufi saint who moved to Delhi during the
reign of Iltutmish. The Sultan had constructed a step well, known as
Gandhak ki Baoli, for him.
Iltutmish was disappointed with his surviving sons as they did not have
the ability to rule the kingdom. Hence he nominated his daughter Raziya
as his successor. He passed away in 1236.
Raziya Sultan occupies a unique position in Indian history as she was
the first and the last Muslim woman ruler to ascend the throne of Delhi.
She had received full military training and education even in her
childhood. She would frequently accompany her father in his military
expeditions. She was acknowledged as an expert archer and horse rider.
Once, Iltutmish had entrusted the government of Delhi to her before
setting out on a military campaign against Gwalior. She acquitted
herself so well that her father was left in no doubt about the fact that
she was far worthier than her brothers to succeed to the throne.
However the Turkish nobility was dead against the idea of a woman ruling
over them. After Iltutmish’s death, they nominated Raziya’s brother
Ruknuddin Firuz to the throne of Delhi. The new ruler was a worthless
pleasure-seeking individual. The reins of government were in the hands
of his mother Shah Turkan, who was a cruel despot. However Raziya
succeeded in overthrowing Ruknuddin and his mother after seven months.
She ascended the throne with the support of the people of Delhi, with
the title of Jalalat-ud-din Raziya. She insisted on being addressed as
‘Sultan’ since it established her standing as a monarch in her own
right. The term ‘Sultana’ meant the wife or consort of a king and she
would have none of that. The Turkish nobility accepted her accession to
the throne with the greatest reluctance.
She proved to be an excellent administrator and devoted herself to
setting up law and order in the empire. She had roads built and wells
dug. She also encouraged trade. She gave great priority to education by
setting up schools, academic centres and libraries. These included not
only works based on Islamic traditions but also those of ancient
philosophers of other religions. Hindu treatises on science, astronomy,
philosophy and literature were studied in schools and other academic
centres. She was far ahead of her times in her secular outlook. She once
tried to appoint a converted Indian Muslim to an official position, but
she had to face stiff opposition from the Turkish nobility. On numerous
occasions she had proved that she had a mind of her own and could stand
her ground when necessary.
She had all the qualities of a monarch but it was only her gender which
went against her. One of the chief reasons for her downfall was her
perceived partiality towards an Abyssinian slave named Jamal-ud-din
Yakut. He was earlier Amir-i-Akhur (Lord of the stables). She
raised him to the position of Amir-ul-Umra (Chief of the Nobles). The
position of Amir-ul-Umra was earlier held only by a Turk of highest
order. Yakut’s appointment created misunderstandings among the Turkish
nobility who were enraged at this perceived slight.
Her alleged intimacy with Yakut was used as an opportunity to indulge in
character assassination. It was also said that she was romantically
involved with a Turkish noble named Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia who had
been her childhood friend and whom she had raised to the position of
Governor of Bhatinda. The Turkish nobility poisoned Altunia’s mind
against Yakut with their falsehoods about the relationship between
Raziya and Yaqut. Altunia was now enraged and determined to win her back
even if it meant raising the flag of rebellion.
He conspired with the other Turkish nobles to form a plan of organized
resistance. They knew that it would not be possible to stage an uprising
against the queen as long as she was in Delhi. The precautionary
measures in force would have made any sUchh move impossible. Hence it
was important to ensure that she moved away from the capital so that
they could launch their attack. The leader of this conspiracy was Malik
Ikhtiar-ud-din Aitigin, who was the governor of Badaun.
In accordance with their carefully laid out plan, Altuniya first raised
the standard of revolt. Raziya immediately marched out of Delhi to quell
the revolt. The Turkish nobility under Aitigin took advantage of her
absence to capture Yakut and put him to death. They then joined up with
Altuniya to defeat and capture Raziya. She was entrusted to the care of
Altuniya while the rest of the nobles returned to Delhi. Raziya was
imprisoned in April 1240 at Qila Mubarak in Bhatinda but she enjoyed all
the royal privileges. She was allowed to offer the Friday prayers at
the Hajirattan mosque. Altuniya visited her regularly and it was not
long before the two got married. Raziya was released in August 1240.
Meanwhile her brother Muizuddin Bahram usurped the throne on 21st
April, 1240. Altuniya and Raziya decided to wage war against him and
recover the throne. They marched towards Delhi. But they suffered a
crushing defeat at the hands of Muizuddin Bahram. According to some
sources Bahram had them captured and executed the next day. Other
sources state that they fled from Delhi and reached Kaithal where they
were both robbed and killed by Jats in October 1240. Thus ended the life
of one of the most illustrious rulers India had ever known.
The Turkish nobility had put Muizuddin Bahram on the throne with the
clear understanding that he would give them a free hand in ruling the
country and that he would not meddle in these affairs. The nobility set
about their business straight away. Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Aitigin, who
had headed the conspiracy against Raziya Sultan, was appointed to the
newly-created post of Naib-i-Mamlikat (Commissioner). He
considered himself equal to the Sultan and took all measures to increase
his power and prestige. However, he exceeded his limits when he married
a sister of the Sultan and claimed royal privileges such as keeping an
elephant tied at the gates of his palace and having the drums beaten
there. Sultan Bahram felt that he could not take any more of such
presumptuousness and he had Aitigin murdered. One of the 40 nobles,
Badr-ud-Din Sunqar, who was the Amir-i- Hajib, now appropriated all the
powers which were formerly exercised by Aitigin. Soon enough he too met
with the same fate as Aitigin’s.
The deaths of these two nobles alarmed the rest of the nobility and they
joined hands with the ulema (the clergy) in a conspiracy bid against
Bahram. They got their opportunity during the invasion of the Mongols in
1241. The invaders failed to take Multan but they marched towards
Lahore and captured it in December 1241. The city was weakly defended
and a force sent by Bahram failed to save the situation. The governor
fled the city while the inhabitants were subjected to plunder and
massacre, by the invading army. It was during this period of unrest that
Bahram was murdered (1242).
Ala-ud-din Masud was the son of Ruknuddin, who had ruled for seven
months before Raziya Sultan succeeded to the throne. Ala-ud-din was the
seventh ruler of the Slave dynasty. His rule lasted till 1246 during
which period the Sultanate began to break up.
Tamar Khan, the governor of Bengal, not only declared the independence
of his province from the Sultanate but annexed Bihar as well. Multan and
Uchh too broke away while the Khokhar tribe in the salt ranges of
Punjab became increasingly aggressive. The Hindu chieftains in the
Gangetic valley rose up in revolt against the Sultanate. This weak
monarch was deposed in 1246 by the 40 nobles and replaced by Nasiruddin
Mahmud another grandson of Iltutmish. Ala-ud-din was assassinated after
Nasiruddin Mahmud was a young lad of 17 years when he succeeded to the
throne in 1246. This gentle youngster was totally devoid of ambition. It
is said that he had earlier served as governor of Bahraich during the
reigns of his predecessors. He was of a very pious nature and devoted
himself solely to religious activities, leaving all administrative
responsibilities to the Turkish nobility who ruled on his behalf. Chief
among these nobles was Ghiasuddin Balban who was the main prop behind
the young Sultan.
Balban as minister under Nasiruddin
Balban, who was an Ilbari Turk, began life as a slave. Shamsuddin
Iltutmish had purchased him from a Sufi teacher of Basra named Khwaja
Jamal ud-din. Balban, whose first appointment was that of a humble
water carrier, was quickly elevated to the position of Khasdar (king’s
personal attendant) by Iltutmish. During the reign of Raziya Sultan he
was made amir-i-shikar or lord of the hunt. This position entailed
military and political responsibilities. He made rapid strides in his
career after the overthrow of Raziya Sultan. During the reign of Bahram
Shah, he earned the fief of Rewari and later on became the jagirdar of
Hansi. He had become one of the most important amirs among the Chalisa
or the Turkish nobility of Delhi. He played a prime role in the
overthrow of Ala-ud-din Masud and with the support of the Turkish
nobility he ensured the accession of Nasiruddin Mahmud to the throne.
Nasiruddin, owing to his pliable nature and utter lack of interest in
state matters, was acceptable to all sections of the nobility.
Fortunately for him, there was no clash of interests among the nobility,
as such a situation would have imperiled his very life. The nobility
respected him and permitted him to choose one of them as his minister
(Wazir). He chose Ghiasuddin Balban and the rest of the nobility
consented to his choice. There was a very close rapport between
Nasiruddin and Balban. The relationship between the two was further
cemented when Balban gave his daughter in marriage to the Sultan in
1249. Nasiruddin, in return, made him the Naib-i-mamlikat. Another noble
named Abu Bakr was appointed as the new Wazir but he acted under the
dictates of Balban. The latter held the reins of administration tightly
in his hands. He however treated the Sultan with due respect and
The Sultanate was literally in shambles when Balban took over the reins
of administration. The frequent change of Sultans, the political
murders and the court intrigues had weakened the central authority of
the Turkish Sultanate. The Turkish governors of the far-off provinces
were trying to throw off the central yoke and assert their independence.
The Rajput rulers were also rising up in revolt against the Turkish
Sultanate. Moreover, the repeated Mongol incursions had weakened the
Balban followed a policy of blood and iron in dealing with these various
challenges. According to certain sources, he put down the uprisings of
the Rajput rulers of Ranthambor, Gwalior, Malwa and Chanderi. The
princes of the Doab were also dealt with firmly. But other sources
state that he lacked the resources to subjugate the powerful Hindu
kingdoms which bordered the Delhi Sultanate in Central India and the
Gangetic Valley. His expeditions to Malwa, Bundelkhand and
Rajputana did not yield much success. The Chandelas of Bundelkhand were
defeated in 1248-1249 but Balban’s efforts to take their city, Kalinjar
proved to be abortive. His attempt to retake Gwalior in 1251-52
also met with failure. During the decade spanning the years 1248-59 he
attempted thrice to conquer Ranthambhor but there again he met with
failure. Balban did not follow a very aggressive policy towards the
Hindu states during Nasiruddin’s reign.
The conspiracies of the Turkish Amirs and Maliks were proving to be a
source of danger to the Sultanate. He suppressed their activities
with a firm hand. Balban also had to deal with rebellious governors and
nobles. Chief among these were Kishlu Khan, governor of Nagore, and
Qutlugh Khan the subehdar of Oudh. Kishlu Khan was not satisfied with
the governorship of Nagor. He wanted to be governor of Sindh and Multan
too. Both Qutlugh Khan and Kishlu Khan were supported by Imaduddin
Raihan, an Indian Muslim. In 1253 a conspiracy was hatched against
Balban. They succeeded in poisoning the ears of the Sultan against him
and even tried to murder him. When Balban came to know of it he offered
to resign from his post. He was sent out as governor of Hansi while
Imaduddin Raihan became Naib-i-mamlikat in his stead. But Raihan was no
match for his predecessor when it came to running the government. It was
not long before he incurred the displeasure of the Sultan. Balban was
able to make a comeback with the support of the nobility. He was
reinstated in his former position as Naib-i-mamlikat. The rebels were
pardoned and sent out on provincial assignments. Raihan was appointed as
governor of Badaun. The governorship of Oudh was given to Qutlugh Khan
while Kishlu Khan was appointed governor of Uchh and Multan in 1254. He
was given the responsibility of protecting the region from the Mongol
However these measures failed to pacify the rebels and in 1256 Imaduddin
Raihan and Qutlugh Khan again revolted against Balban. Balban marched
out to Badaun to quell their revolt. Raihan was killed in the ensuing
conflict while Qutlugh Khan fled towards the Sirmur hills. Kishlu Khan
too continued to nurse his resentment against Balban even though the
latter had maintained a conciliatory approach towards him. In 1257, the
Mongols attacked Uchh and Multan. Kishlu Khan instead of warding off
their attack, acknowledged the over lordship of the Mongol ruler Halaku
Khan. He even entered into a treaty with the Mongols for a joint attack
on Delhi. However Kishlu Khan’s plans were foiled by Balban, who not
only made effective arrangements for the defense of Delhi but also
established diplomatic contacts with Halaku Khan. The Mongol envoys who
visited Delhi in 1258-1259 were impressed by the strength and prosperity
of the Sultanate. They were convinced of its military prowess and hence
refrained from entering into conflicts with it. However, owing to the
Mongol presence, Balban could not establish effective control over
Sindh, Multan and Lahore.
Another challenge to Balban’s authority was posed by the Mewati
community, which belonged to the Mewat district of Haryana, parts of
Alwar and Bharatpur districts in Rajasthan. They had grown in power and
strength during this period. They were dreaded for their ruthlessness
and lawlessness. They indulged in loot, plunder and murder of innocent
people. However, it was their turn to feel the weight of Balban’s hand.
In 1259 they were subjected to merciless reprisals. The Turkish forces
slaughtered about 12000 of the Mewatis and carried off a massive loot of
21000 tankas. However, notwithstanding the bloodshed Balban could not
crush them completely.
Balban was able to strengthen the Sultanate. He saved it from
disintegration and restored the confidence of the populace in the
ability of the government to protect them. He toned up the
administration and restored law and order. The prestige of the central
government rose as a result of his measures.
The young sultan Nasiruddin’s reign came to an end with his death in
1266. He had left no male heirs behind, hence it is said that he had
nominated Balban as his successor before his death. According to the
historian Isami, Balban had his son-in-law poisoned to death. But this
is contrary to the fact that the relationship between the two had always
been very affectionate. Balban had served Nasiruddin very loyally
during his tenure of 20 years as minister. He had during these years
strengthened his position to such an extent that he was already
acknowledged as the de facto Sultan.
Balban as Sultan
Balban’s accession to the throne was marked by a number of vexing
problems. He had to establish an efficient administration, prevent the
Mongol raids, strengthen the frontiers of the Sultanate against the
powerful Hindu kingdoms, deal with the chiefs of the Doab, and assert
the authority of the Sultanate over the rebellious provincial governors.
He knew that he had to enforce discipline by instilling a general fear
of punishment. Law and order had to be restored. Moreover the royal
treasury was almost empty. There had to be incoming state revenues in
order to strengthen the state defences. During his tenure as minister he
had managed to keep these problems at bay but now as Sultan he took
more drastic steps.
He first devoted himself to reorganizing the military. The charge of the
army was taken out of the hands of the Wazir and handed to Imadul Mulk,
an experienced Amir, who was also an old trusted friend of the new
Sultan. He was appointed Diwan-i-ariz or the army minister and given
powers equivalent to those of the other ministers. Though he did not
enjoy the actual command of the army, he looked after the defences of
the forts and deployed the royal forces at strategic points.
Able, efficient and loyal Maliks were placed in charge of different
sections of the army. The cavalry and infantry became more effective
owing to the reorganization. Balban was able to put down the dreaded
Mewatis with the help of this army. He attacked Kampil, Bhojpur and
Patiala which were the centres of the Mewatis and liquidated them. The
people were freed from this menace while the highways became safe for
travel. The marked improvement in safety and security led to an increase
in trade and commerce. In fact the Mewatis were put down so effectively
that the roads remained safe for travel even for about sixty years
after Balban’s reign.
Right from the days of Qutub-ud-din and Iltutmish, military officers had
been receiving land grants or iqtas in lieu of salary. In Balban’s time
many of these officers had either retired due to old age or had
expired. These lands or fiefs were now held by their descendants as
family heritage. Balban ordered that all those lands, whose original
owners had expired, and where the successors did not render military
service, should be returned to the state. The nobility resented this
step and they approached Fakhruddin, a trusted lieutenant and friend of
the Sultan, to intervene on their behalf. Fakhruddin dissuaded the
Sultan from following the proposed course of action on the plea that
such an action would lead to an uprising among the nobility. The Sultan
heeded his advice and refrained from taking back the land. Hence Balban
was prevented from bringing in radical changes in the army organization.
There was no permanent standing army, though the number of royal guards
was increased to several thousands and they constituted a well-trained
and well-equipped fighting force. The iqtadars or the fief holders
provided military contingents to the central government as and when
required and as per their specifications.
But Balban curbed the power of the Forty or the Chalisa by
subjecting them to severe humiliation for their wrongdoings. He also
promoted junior Turk officials to higher positions. Such disciplinary
measures strengthened the administration. He was a despot and he
believed that authoritarianism was necessary to exact obedience from his
subjects and to ensure the integrity of the state.
He propounded his theory of kingship according to which the king was
God’s representative on earth and that kingship was a divine
institution.He introduced a very rigid system of court etiquette which
was based on the Persian model. This involved paying respects to
the monarch through the system of sijda or lying prostrate and paibos or
kissing the monarch’s feet in the court. He was always surrounded by
tall guards brandishing naked swords. They accompanied him whenever he
stepped out of the palace.
He initiated the celebration of Nauroz or the Persian New Year in order
to enhance the grandeur of the court. Drinking was taboo for the
courtiers and officers. Court etiquette was so rigid that any form of
frivolity was frowned upon. All these inflexible norms helped to restore
the dignity and prestige of the Sultanate. The Sultan also set up an
efficient espionage system which kept him informed of the happenings in
the different parts of the kingdom. Secret news writers sent him
confidential information about every important development in every
district of the Sultanate. They were posted in every section of each
district administration. Severe punishment was meted out to those who
failed to do their duty. Balban thus succeeded in strengthening his
He now turned to the problem of providing security against Mongol
raids. Sher Khan, a close kinsman of the Sultan, and who was the
jagirdar of a vast area in Lahore and Dipalpur, succeeded in beating off
the Mongol raids. Unfortunately his competence excited the jealousy and
suspicion of the Sultan who had him poisoned to death. Balban appointed
his own eldest son Muhammad in charge of Sind, Multan and Lahore; the
second son Nasiruddin Bughra Khan was put in charge of Sunam and Samana.
The sons were provided with strong forces for the defence of these
frontier regions. They succeeded in thwarting the Mongol raids in
1279.The invaders were subjected to great slaughter, and they were
compelled to beat a hasty retreat. The Mongols were defeated a second
time in 1285.
Meanwhile,Tughril Khan, the governor of Bengal, took advantage of the
Mongol raids to declare his independence. He assumed the title of
Sultan, struck coins and had the Khutba read in his name. Balban sent
two expeditions against him but both resulted in failure. He led a third
expedition against the rebel Tughril who fled the capital out of fear.
He was captured and killed while his supporters were meted out the
harshest punishment. Bughra Khan, the second son of Balban was made the
governor of Bengal.
Balban had hardly dealt with the crisis in Bengal when the Mongols
struck again. They appeared in the north-west and attacked Punjab in
1286. Balban’s eldest son, Muhammad tried to drive them out but lost his
life in the attempt. Balban retook Lahore from the Mongols. But the
loss of his son came as a deep shock to the Sultan. He maintained an
even composure and went about the business of the day as usual. But the
bereavement took a heavy toll of his health. He was eighty and he
realized that his end was near. He summoned his second son Bughra Khan
to Delhi but the latter fearing some danger kept away from Delhi. Balban
then nominated Kai Khusrav, the son of his eldest son, Muhammad as his
successor. The renowned Sultan Balban passed away in 1287 at the age of
Kai Khusrav and Kaiqabad
As mentioned above, Kai Khusrav had been nominated by Balban as his
successor. But after Balban’s death, his nomination was set aside by
Fakhruddin the Kotwal of Delhi. Kai Khusrav was later murdered by one of
the nobles. Muiz-ud-din Qaiqabad, the son of Bughra
Khan was chosen as the next ruler. Qaiqabad was only 17
years old at that time. He was a handsome lad with refined manners. He
had been bought up by his grandfather who was a very strict
But there was a drastic change in Qaiqabad’s character after he ascended
the throne. He gave himself up completely to wine and women and his
example was followed by his courtiers. He was very much under the
influence of his minister Nizam-ud-din. At this time his father Bughra
Khan, the governor of Bengal declared his independence. Muiz-ud-din
Qaiqabad set out at the head of an army towards Bengal. His father’s
forces met them near North Bihar but no conflict took place. Instead
there was a sentimental reunion between father and son. Bughra Khan
exhorted his son to attend to his royal duties. At the end, a lasting
peace treaty was agreed upon between the Delhi Sultanate and Bengal.
On his return to Delhi Qaiqabad transferred his minister Nizam-ud-din to
Multan, but the latter showed his unwillingness to comply with the
royal order. The Sultan had his minister poisoned to death. He
gave the fief of Baran to Jalal-ud-din Firuz and appointed him as the
new commander of the army. But the Turkish nobility revolted against
these two actions of the Sultan. It was at this time that Qaiqabad was
affected by a paralytic stroke. The nobles placed Kayumars, the
three year-old-son of Qaiqabad on the throne. But the infant Sultan was
abducted by the sons of the commander Jalal-ud-din Firuz. The commander
meanwhile marched towards Delhi at the head of his army and most of the
nobility now submitted to him. In 1290 Qaiqabad and his infant son were
murdered thus bringing to an end the Slave dynasty. Later, the same year
Jalal-ud-din Firuz was enthroned in the palace at Kalughari which was
situated a few miles from Delhi. His accession to the throne ushered in
the rule of the Khalji dynasty.