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History of India

April 2, 2017

- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer

Sayyid dynasty
The Tughlaq dynasty came to an end in 1414. The next dynasty to succeed to the throne of Delhi was the Sayyid dynasty which was founded by Khizr Khan. Khizr Khan had been earlier appointed as governor of Lahore by Timur the Turko- Mongol invader who had overrun India during the last days of the Tughlaq dynasty. Khizr Khan overthrew Daulat Khan Lodhi who had been placed on the throne of Delhi by the nobles after the death of the last Tughlaq ruler. Though Khizr Khan was an independent ruler he preferred to continue as the viceroy of Timur’s successor Shah Rukh. He acknowledged his over lordship by paying him tribute. The Mongol ruler’s name was recited in the khutba (public prayers) along with that of Khizr Khan. This practice was a departure from the normal. However the coins bore the name of the old Tughlaq Sultan. No coins bearing the name of Khizr Khan have been found.

The Sultanate which had greatly diminished in size now comprised Sindh, Punjab in present day Pakistan and western Uttar Pradesh. It was surrounded by numerous other independent states that were generally hostile. These included the Hindu states of Rajputana under the leadership of the ruler of Mewar; the Muslim states of Gujarat and Malwa; the Bahmani and Vijayanagar kingdoms in the south and lastly the eastern states of Gondwana, Jaunpur, Orissa and Bengal. Khizr Khan, being a relatively mild ruler refrained from attacking them. However, right at the outset of his rule, his minister, Taj-ul-Mulk marched against the Rajput rulers of Katehar and Etawah. He also attacked other kingdoms such as Kampil, Patiala, Jalesar, Gwalior, Biyana and Mewat. These military ventures were successful but they did not have a lasting impact.

However he did try to deal with the rebellious chiefs near Delhi in order to force them to pay tribute. He marched against those Hindu chieftains of the Doab, Kalithar and Chandwar who had stopped paying tribute and defeated them. He was engaged in subduing revolts in many parts of the kingdom. It was during one of these expeditions that Khizr Khan fell ill. He passed away after his return to Delhi ( 20th May,1421).He could not accomplish much by way of reforms or conquests but he was much loved for his kind character.

He was succeeded by his son, Mubarak Khan whom he had nominated as his heir prior to his death.  In 1421 Mubarak Khan ascended the throne of the Delhi Sultanate under the title of Mubarak Shah. The nobility did not openly oppose his accession nevertheless they did not support him either.  Most of his reign of 12 years was spent in quelling revolts in various parts of the Sultanate.
He put down the uprisings at Bhatinda and Doab but his attempts to defeat the Khokhars of Punjab resulted in failure. Jasrath, the ruler of the Khokhars aspired to conquer the throne of Delhi after the death of Khizr Khan. His campaigns at Talwandi and Jullundur brought him victory but owing to the seasonal rains his attempts to take over Sirhind met with failure.
An important reason for Mubarak Shah’s unpopularity was that he forced the jagirdars and the nobility to pay up the revenue collected by them. He frequently transferred his governors so as to make them realize that they could enjoy their power only when the Sultan willed it. The nobility rebelled against him and the Sultan marched against them at Badayun, Etawah, Katehar and Gwalior in order to put down their uprising. In addition to that, Mubarak Shah had to deal with attacks from foreign forces. He succeeded in repulsing the aggressors.

A unique aspect of Mubaraq Shah’s rule was that unlike his predecessors he appointed one or two Hindus in his court. His unpopularity among the nobility led to his downfall. His wazir, Sarwar-ul­-Mulk, conspired with some Muslim and Hindu nobles against him. The Sultan was killed by the conspirators when he was supervising the construction of a town on the banks of the Jamuna (February, 1434). The city of Mubarakabad was founded by him in 1433.

Mubarak Shah was succeeded by his brother’s son Muhammad Khan under the title of Muhammad Shah in 1434. The new Sultan enjoyed the support of the nobility at the time of his accession. Unfortunately, he failed to utilize this opportunity to strengthen his position. He turned out to be a weak and inefficient ruler, who whiled away his time in enjoyment of pleasures instead of paying attention to matters of state.

He allowed his wazir Sarwar-ul-mulk to run the administration. The wazir rewarded all those officers and Hindu jagirdars who had helped him in the murder of the previous Sultan Mubarak Shah by appointing them to important positions. Kamal-ul-mulk the deputy commander in chief, who remained loyal to the ruling dynasty, had secretly determined to frustrate the designs of the ambitious wazir. He formed another group of nobles to oppose the wazir. His opportunity came when the wazir sent him to Bayana to suppress a revolt there. Once Kamal-ul-mulk took command of the army, he disclosed his plan to the other nobles to overthrow the wazir. He marched back to the capital with his army. The wazir and his followers were ultimately murdered. The Sultan now appointed Kamal-ul-mulk as his wazir. It was a fortunate decision as the new wazir turned out to be a good administrator.

Muhammad Shah however had to pay a high price for his negligence of the matters of state.  Soon enough, disorder broke out in various parts of the kingdom and there were threats both from foreign and internal enemies. The governors in various parts of the Sultanate stopped paying tribute and declared their independence. These included Ibrahim Shah in Jaunpur, Mahmud Khilji in Malwa, Ahmad Shah in Gujarat and Bahlol Khan Lodi in Lahore. They became too powerful for the Sultan to control. Mahmud Khilji of Malwa had advanced towards Delhi with the objective of capturing the city. Mohammed Shah appealed to Bahlul Lodi, the chief of Sirhind and Lahore to come to his aid. There was an engagement between the invading forces from Malwa and the defenders at Talpat in which the invaders failed in their attempt to conquer Delhi.

The next threat to Delhi came from the ruler of Gujarat but Bahlul Lodi not only defeated him too but also succeeded in capturing some booty. The Delhi Sultan heaped him with honours for his achievements, gave him the title of “Khan-i-khana" and even called him his son. Muhammad Shah was able to occupy the larger parts of Punjab. Bahlul Lodi, who had become very ambitious, attacked Delhi in 1443 in order to capture it. He however failed in his attempt. The reign of Muhammad Shah witnessed the rapid decline of the Sayyid dynasty. Multan had become independent, while many fief holders had stopped paying tribute. In 1445, the Sultan summoned his son, Ala-ud-din Shah from Badaun and nominated him his successor. Muhammad Shah breathed his last the same year.

Ala-ud-Din Alam Shah ascended the throne of Delhi in 1445 but two years later he was replaced by the ambitious Bahlol Lodi, the governor of Lahore and Sirhind. Alam preferred to stay in Badaun where he lived till his demise in 1451. Thus the Sayyid dynasty came to an end.

Lodi dynasty
The accession of Bahlol Lodi to the throne of Delhi in 1451 marked the founding of the Lodi dynasty.  He assumed the title of Bahlol Shah Ghazi. He was highly popular among the Afghan nobility owing to his friendly attitude towards them. He treated them with all respect and consideration and they responded by supporting him wholeheartedly in his efforts to strengthen the state. He bestowed high offices and jagirs on them.

Bahlol Lodi had succeeded in adding to the territories of the Sultanate. Even before ascending the throne of Delhi he had expanded his kingdom towards the Punjab. At the time of his accession to the throne, the limits of the Sultanate extended up to Palam and a few miles around Delhi. But by 1497 Bahlol Lodi had defeated the Sharqi dynasty of Jaunpur and taken over their territories. He put down uprisings with a firm hand and established his control over Jaunpur, Gwalior and Northern Uttar Pradesh. The conquest of Jaunpur added to his resources and raised his prestige among the nobility. Bahlol Lodi ruled till his death in 1489 at the age of eighty. His empire had by then extended from Panipat till Bihar and it also included a part of Rajasthan. Many important cities also formed a part of the Sultanate.

Bahlol Lodi was among the most popular Sultans in the history of medieval India. He showed the utmost courtesy to the nobility. According to scholars, he never seated himself on the throne during meetings and would insist on the nobles remaining seated. He would sit on the carpet at the same level as the nobles.

Though he was a devout Muslim, he was quite liberal in his outlook. He bestowed high offices on several Hindus. He was known for his generosity towards his enemy, the defeated Sharqui ruler Hussein Shah. He had twice captured Hussein Shah’s queen and returned her honorably to his enemy both times. This earned for him a unique placed in the history of medieval India.

Bahlol Lodi’s tomb is located in Chirag Dilli in South Delhi. It is a plain structure consisting of a square chamber with arched openings on all sides. The chamber is topped by five domes, with the central one being the largest.

Sikandar Lodi ascended the throne of Delhi in 1489 under the title of Abu Al-Muzzafar Ghazi Sultan Sikandar Lodi. Born to Bahlol Lodi and Bibi Ambha, the daughter of a Hindu goldsmith of Sirhind, he gave ample proof of his abilities as a ruler. However his ascension to the throne did not go unchallenged as his elder brother Barbak Shah, the viceroy of Jaunpur also staked his claim to the throne. The two brothers settled their differences and Sikandar was able to ascend the throne while Barbak Shah continued as the viceroy of Jaunpur.

The Sultan was a great conqueror and he succeeded in annexing Gwalior and Bihar to the Sultanate. He defeated the states of Dholpur, Bidar, Chanderi and other kingdoms nearby. He entered into a friendship treaty with Alauddin Hussain Shah the ruler of Bengal.
Sikandar Lodi not only possessed military skills but he was a good administrator too. He took keen interest in agriculture and introduced the system of gaz-i-sikandari. It was a system of measuring cultivated land and consisted of 32 digits. It was during his rule that Persian was introduced as the language for keeping official accounts. Auditing in accounts was begun during his rule. He did a lot to ensure the welfare of the poor. He often travelled in disguise to acquaint himself with the condition of the people and to gain information about the activities of the nobility.

But the negative aspect of his rule was his religious intolerance. According to sources, he had a Hindu sadhu burned alive for saying that both Islam and Hinduism were equally acceptable in God’s eyes.

In 1503 he authorized the construction of Agra city. Another accomplishment of the Sultan was his gift for poetry. He penned verses in Persian under the pen name of Gulrukhi.

He died in 1517 and was buried in an elaborate tomb which is located in Lodi gardens, Delhi.

Sikandar Lodi was succeeded by his son, Ibrahim Lodi in 1517. Right after his accession, Ibrahim was opposed by a section of the nobility. They wanted the Sultanate to be divided and Jalal Khan, the younger brother of Ibrahim Lodi to be placed on the throne of Jaunpur. However, Jalal Khan was eliminated by his brother’s men and Ibrahim claimed the whole of the empire. He also meted out harsh treatment to the supporters of Jalal Khan which resulted in arousing the distrust of the nobility.  They hated Ibrahim as he treated them very cruelly. He had many of them exterminated. He was ruthless towards his subjects too. It was not long before a fierce conflict broke out between the Sultan and the nobility.  Contemporary sources describe the large scale bloodshed which ensued in the battle.

The ruler of Gwalior also had to face the ire of the Sultan as he had provided shelter to Jalal Khan. Ibrahim vanquished the kingdom of Gwalior and annexed it to his dominions.

His success at Gwalior encouraged him to measure swords with Rana Sangram Singh the ruler of Mewar. The Rajput ruler, who was a great warrior, inflicted several reverses on the Delhi armies. This setback resulted in a loss of prestige and resources for the Delhi Sultan.

To add to his troubles, Daulat Khan Lodhi, the governor of Punjab, Ibrahim Lodhi’s uncle Alam Khan Lodhi and many other Afghan nobles invited Babar, the ruler of Kabul to attack Delhi. The conqueror from Central Asia had already made plans to annex territories in India and he accordingly set out at the head of a force of 12,000 soldiers equipped with several cannons.  He had earlier received reports of the size of the defending army hence he had secured both his left and right flanks. The right flank was safeguarded against the city of Panipat while the left flank was protected by a deep trench covered with tree branches.

The two forces met at Panipat in 1526. The invader was more than well prepared for this conflict. He took recourse to new strategies namely the tulghuma and the araba. The tulghuma involved the division of the whole army into left, right and central units. The left and right divisions were again split into forward and rear divisions. The centre was protected by 700 carts (araba) tied together with ropes. Babur ensured that there was enough space between these carts for the cavalry to charge. Moreover there was place between every two carts for breastworks to enable the matchlock men to fire at the enemy. Cannons were also placed behind these carts. These guns were protected and supported by mantlets which could be used to move the cannons to strategic points. The invaders despite their smaller numbers were at a superior position owing to their military strategies of tulghuma and the araba. The cannons were shielded by the carts and hence could be used without being hit. Moreover their easy maneuverability with the support of the mantlets enabled the invaders to attack fresh targets.

The defenders despite their superior numbers were no match for the invaders. Their elephants frightened by the deafening sound of the cannons turned and crushed large numbers of the Delhi army. Ibrahim Lodi offered stiff resistance but he was killed along with his troops. The battle of Panipat ( April 21st, 1526)  proved to be a very decisive one in Indian history as it marked the overthrow of the Delhi Sultanate and the establishment of the Mughal dynasty.