History of India
April 2, 2017
THE SAYYIDS AND THE LODHIS
- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer
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
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
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
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
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
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.