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Delhi Sultanate – Economy, Education, Caste & Women, Sufism


  • The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was, however, accompanied by some important economic changes.
  • One such change was the payment of land tax to the level of rent in cash.
  • Because of this, food-grains and other rural products were drawn to the towns, thereby leading to a new phase of urban growth.
  • In the fourteenth century, Delhi and Daulatabad (Devagiri) emerged as great cities of the world.
  • There were other large towns such as Multan, Kara, Awadh, Gaur, Cambay (Khambayat) and Gulbarga.
  • The Delhi Sultans began their gold and silver mintage alongside copper from early in the thirteenth century and that indicated brisk commerce.
  • Despite the Mongol conquests of the western borderlands, in Irfan Habib’s view, India’s external trade, both overland and oceanic, grew considerably during this period.

Trade and Urbanization

  • The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate revived internal trade, stimulated by the insatiable demand for luxury goods by the sultans and nobles.
  • Gold coins, rarely issued in India after the collapse of the Gupta Empire, began to appear once again, indicating the revival of Indian economy.
  • However, there is no evidence of the existence of trade guilds, which had played a crucial role in the economy in the classical age.
  • The Sultanate was driven by an urban economy encompassing many important towns and cities.
  • Delhi, Lahore, Multan, Kara, Lakhnauti, Anhilwara, Cambay and Daulatabad were the important cities that thrived on the mercantile activities of Jain Marwaris, Hindu Multanis and Muslim Bohras, Khurasanis, Afghans and Iranians.
  • The import–export trade flourished well both through overland and overseas.
  • While the Gujaratis and Tamils dominated the sea trade, the Hindu Multanis and Muslim Khurasanis, Afghans and Iranians dominated the overland trade with Central Asia.

Industrial Expertise

  • Paper-making technology evolved by the Chinese and learnt by the Arabs was introduced in India during the rule of the Delhi Sultans.
  • The spinning wheel invented by the Chinese came to India through Iran in the fourteenth century and enabled the spinner to increase her output some six-fold and enlarged yarn production greatly.
  • The subsequent introduction of treadles in the loom similarly helped speed-up weaving.
  • Sericulture centre was established in Bengal by the fifteenth century.
  • Building activity attained a new scale by the large use of brick and mortar, and by the adoption of the vaulting techniques.


  • Certain traditions of education were now implanted from the Islamic World.
  • At the base was the maktab, where a schoolmaster taught children to read and write.
  • At a higher level, important texts in various subjects were read by individual pupils with particular scholars who gave instruction (dars) in them.
  • A more institutionalised form of higher education, the madrasa, became widely established in Central Asia and Iran in the eleventh century, and from there it spread to other Islamic countries.
  • Usually the madrasa had a building, where instruction was given by individual teachers.
  • Often there was a provision of some cells for resident students, a library and a mosque.
  • Firoz Tugluq built a large madrasa at Delhi whose splendid building still stands.
  • From Barani’s description it would seem that teaching here was mainly confined to “Quran-commentary, the Prophet’s sayings and the Muslim Law (fiqh).”
  • It is said that Sikander Lodi(1489–1517) appointed teachers in maktabs and madrasas in various cities throughout his dominions, presumably making provision for them through land or cash grants.


In addition to secular sciences that came with Arabic and Persian learning to India, one more notable addition was systematic historiography.

The collection of witnesses’ narratives and documents that the Chachnama (thirteenth-century Persian translation of a ninth-century Arabic original), in its account of the Arab conquest of Sind, represents advancement in historical research, notwithstanding the absence of coherence and logical order of latter-day historiography like Minhaj Siraj’s Tabaqat-i Nasiri, written at Delhi c. 1260.


  • In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, two most influential orders emerged among the sufis: the Suhrawardi, centred at Multan, and the Chisti at Delhi and other places.
  • The most famous Chishti Saint, Shaik Nizamuddin offered a classical exposition of Sufism of prepantheistic phase in the conversations (1307– 1322).
  • Sufism began to turn pantheistic only when the ideas of Ibn al-Arabi (died 1240) began to gain influence, first through the Persian poetry of Jalal-ud-din Rumi(1207–1273) and Abdur Rahman Jami (1414–1492), and, then, through the endeavours within India of Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (early fifteenth century).
  • Significantly this wave of qualified pantheism began to dominate Indian Islamic thought about the same time that the pantheism of Sankaracharya’s school of thought was attaining increasing influence within Vedic thought.

Caliph/Caliphate : Considered to be the successor of Prophet Muhammad, the Caliph wielded authority over civil and religious affairs of the entire Islamic world. The Caliph ruled Baghdad until it fell before Mongols in 1258. The Caliphs then ruled in Egypt until the conquest of Ottomans in 1516-17. Thereupon the title was held by Ottoman Sultans. The office of Caliph (Caliphate) ended when Ottoman Empire was abolished and Turkish Republic established by Mushtafa Kemal Attaturk in the 1920s.

Caste and Women

  • The Sultans did not alter many of the social institutions inherited from ‘Indian Feudalism’.
  • Slavery, though it had already existed in India, grew substantially in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
  • Both in war and in the event of default in payment of taxes, people could be enslaved.
  • They were put to work as domestic servants as well as in crafts.
  • The village community and the caste system remained largely unaltered.
  • Gender inequalities remained practically untouched.
  • In upper class Muslim society, women had to observe purdah and were secluded in the zenana (the female quarters) without any contact with any men other than their immediate family.
  • Affluent women travelled in closed litters.
  • However, Muslim women, despite purdah, enjoyed, in certain respects, higher status and greater freedom in society than most Hindu women.
  • They could inherit property from their parents and obtain divorce, privileges that Hindu women did not have.
  • In several Hindu communities, such as among the Rajputs, the birth of a girl child was considered a misfortune.
  • Islam was not against women being taught to read and write.
  • But it tolerated polygamy.

Sultan Firoz Tughlaq was reputed to possess 180,000 slaves, of which 12,000 worked as artisans. His principal minister, Khan Jahan Maqbul possessed over 2000 women slaves.

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