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Administration of Delhi Sultanate – State, Society & Religion

Administration of the Sultanate

State and Society

  • The Sultanate was formally considered to be an Islamic State.
  • Most of the Sultans preferred to call themselves the lieutenant of the Caliph.
  • In reality, however, the Sultans were the supreme political heads.
  • As military head, they wielded the authority of commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
  • As judicial head they were the highest court of appeal.
  • Balban claimed that he ruled as the representative of god on earth.
  • Alaud-din Khalji claimed absolute power saying he did not care for theological prescriptions, but did what was essential for the good of the state and the benefit of the people.
  • The Delhi Sultanate deserves to be considered an all-India empire.
  • Virtually all of India, except Kashmir and Kerala at the far ends of the subcontinent, and a few small tracts in between them had come under the direct rule of Delhi towards the close of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s rule.
  • There were no well-defined and accepted rules of royal succession and therefore contested succession became the norm during the Sultanate.
  • The Sultans required the holders of iqta’s (called muqtis or walis) to maintain troops for royal service out of the taxes collected by them.
  • Certain areas were retained by the Sultans under their direct control (khalisa).
  • It was out of the revenue collected from such areas that they paid the officers and soldiers of the sultan’s own troops (hashm-i qalb).
  • The territorial expansion was matched by an expansion of fiscal resources.
  • The tax rent (set at half the value of the produce) was rigorously sought to be imposed over a very large area.
  • The fiscal claims of hereditary intermediaries (now called chaudhuris) and the village headmen (khots) were drastically curtailed.
  • The continuous pressure for larger tax-realization provoked a severe agrarian uprising, notably in the Doab near Delhi (1332–34).
  • These and an ensuing famine persuaded Muhammad Tughlaq to resort to a scheme of agricultural development, in the Delhi area and the Doab, based on the supply of credit to the peasants.
  • Military campaigns, the dishoarding of wealth, the clearing of forests, the vitality of inter-regional trade – all of these developments encouraged a great movement of people, created a vast network of intellectuals and the religious-minded.
  • These factors also made social hierarchies and settlements in the Sultanate garrison towns and their strongholds far more complex.
  • Through the fourteenth century the Sultanate sought to control its increasingly diverse population through its provincial governors, muqti, but considerable local initiative and resources available to these personnel, and their propensity to ally with local political groups meant that they could often only be controlled fitfully and for a short period, even by autocratic, aggressive monarchs like Muhammad Tughlaq.
  • The Turko-Afghan political conquests were followed by large-scale Muslim social migrations from Central Asia.
  • India was seen as a land of opportunity.
  • The society in all stages was based on privileges with the higher classes enjoying a better socio-economic life with little regard of one’s religion.
  • The Sultans and the nobles were the most important privileged class who enjoyed a lifestyle of high standard in comparison to their contemporary rulers all over the world.
  • The nobility was initially composed of the Turks.
  • Afghans, Iranians and Indian Muslims were excluded from the nobility for a very long time.
  • The personal status of an individual in Islam depended solely on one’s abilities and achievements, not on one’s birth.
  • So, once converted to Islam, everyone was treated as equal to everyone in the society.


  • Unlike Hindus who worshiped different deities, these migrants followed monotheism.
  • They also adhered to one basic set of beliefs and practices.
  • Though a monotheistic trend in Hinduism had long existed, as, for example in the Bhagavad Gita, as noted by Al-Beruni, its proximity to Islam did help to move monotheism from periphery to the centre.
  • In the thirteenth century, the Virashaiva or Lingayat sect of Karnataka founded by Basava believed in one God (Parashiva).
  • Caste distinctions were denied, women given a better status, and Brahmans could no longer monopolise priesthood.
  • A parallel, but less significant, movement in Tamil Nadu was in the compositions of the Siddhars, who sang in Tamil of one God, and criticised caste, Brahmans and the doctrine of transmigration of souls.
  • Two little known figures who played a part in transmitting the southern Bhakti and monotheism to Northern India were Namdev of Maharashtra, a rigorous monotheist who opposed image worship and caste distinctions and Ramanand, a follower of Ramanuja.

An important aspect of Islam in India was its early acceptance of a long-term coexistence with Hinduism, despite all the violence that occurred in military campaigns, conquests and depredations. The conqueror Mu’izzuddin of Ghor had, on some of his gold coins, stamped the image of the goddess Lakshmi. Muhammad Tughlaq in 1325 issued a farman enjoining that protection be extended by all officers to Jain priests; he himself played holi and consorted with yogis.

The historian Barani noted with some bitterness how ‘the kings of Islam’ showed respect to ‘Hindus, Mongols, Polytheists and infidels’, by making them sit on masnad (cushions) and by honouring them in other ways, and how the Hindus upon paying taxes (jiziya-o-kharaj) were allowed to have their temples and celebrations, employ Muslim servants, and flaunt their titles (Rai, Rana, Thakur, Sah, Mahta, Pandit, etc), right in the capital seats of Muslim rulers.

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