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History of India

November 13, 2016

- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer

Ghiasuddin Tughlaq
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.

Other Reforms
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.

Religious Policy
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 Mewat.

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.