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Delhi Sultanate – The Slave Dynasty

Foundation of Delhi Sultanate

The Slave Dynasty

  • After the death of Ghori there were many contenders for power.
  • One was Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who ascended the throne in Delhi with his father-in-law Yildiz remaining a threat to him for the next ten years.
  • The three important rulers of this dynasty are Qutb-ud-din Aibak, Iltutmish and Balban.

The Slave dynasty is also known as the Mamluk dynasty. Mamluk means property. It is also the term for the Arabic designation of a slave.

Qutb-ud-din Aibak (1206-1210)

  • Qutb-ud-din Aibak was enslaved as a boy and sold to Sultan Muhammad Ghori at Ghazni.
  • Impressed with his ability and loyalty the Sultan elevated him to the rank of viceroy of the conquered provinces in India.
  • Muhammad Bin Bhakthiyar Khalji, a Turkish general from Afghanistan assisted him in conquering Bihar and Bengal.
  • Qutb-ud-din Aibak reigned for four years (1206 to 1210 CE) and died in 1210 in Lahore in an accident while playing chaugan (Horse polo).

Bhakthiyar Khalji is charged with destroying the glorious Buddhist University of Nalanda in Bihar, who is said to have mistaken it for a military camp! Detailed descriptions of Nalanda is found in the travel accounts of Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang. The manuscripts and texts in the hundreds of thousands in the Nalanda library on subjects such as grammar, logic, literature, astronomy and medicine were lost in the Turkish depredations.

Iltutmish (1211–1236)

  • Shams-ud-din Iltutmish (1210-36) of Turkish extraction was a slave of Qutb-uddin Aibak.
  • Many of his elite slaves were also of Turkish and Mongol ancestry.
  • They were brought to Delhi by merchants from trade centres like Bukhara, Samarqand and Baghdad. (There were some slaves of other ethnicities as well).
  • But Iltutmish gave them all Turkish titles.
  • Iltutmish’s reliance on his elite military slaves (Bandagan) and his practice of appointing them for the posts of governors and generals in far-off places did not change despite the migration into North India of experienced military commanders from distinguished lineages fleeing from the Mongols.
  • Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, the slave and son-in-law of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, ascended the throne of Delhi setting aside the claim of Aram Shah, the son of Qutb-ud-din Aibak.
  • During his tenure he put down the internal rebellions of Rajputs at Gwalior, Ranthambor, Ajmer and Jalore.
  • He overcame the challenge of Nasiruddin Qabacha in Lahore and Multan, and frustrated the conspiracy of Alivardan, the Governor of Bengal.
  • He diplomatically saved India by refusing to support the Khwarizmi Shah Jalaluddin of Central Asia against the Mongol ruler Chengiz Khan.
  • Had he supported Jalaluddin, the Mongols would have overrun India with ease.
  • His reign was remarkable for the completion of Qutb Minar, a colossal victory tower of 243 feet at Delhi, and for the introduction of copper and silver tanka, the two basic coins of the Sultanate period.
  • Since the dynastic traditions of the ‘slave regime’ were weak, succession to the throne was not smooth after Iltutmish’s death.
  • The monarch was succeeded by a son, a daughter (Sultana Razia), another son, and a grandson, all within ten years, and finally by his youngest son Sultan Nasir al-Din Mahmud II (1246–66).
  • Iltutmish’s descendants fought long but in vain with their father’s military slaves who had been appointed as governors of vast territories and generals of large armies.
  • They constantly interfered in Delhi politics, dictating terms to Iltutmish’s successors.
  • Though Iltutmish’s royal slaves (bandagan-ikhas) were replaced by junior bandagan, the latter were not oriented to their master’s vision of a paramount, monolithic Sultanate to the same extent as their predecessors.
  • The slave governors located in the eastern province of Lakhnauti (modern Bengal) and the Punjab and Sind provinces in the west were the first to break free from Delhi.
  • Those in the ‘core territories’ the regions of Delhi and its suburbs sought to resist the intervention of Delhi by consolidating their home bases and allied with neighbouring chieftains.
  • After two decades of conflict amongst the Shamsi bandagan and successive Delhi Sultans, in 1254, Ulugh Khan, a junior, newly purchased slave in Iltutmish’s reign and now the commander of the Shivalikh territories in the North-West, seized Delhi.
  • He took the title of na’ib-i mulk, the Deputy of the Realm, seizing the throne as Sultan Ghiyas ud-din Balban in 1266.

Raziya Sultana (1236-1240). Raziya was daughter of Iltutmish, who ascended the throne after a lot of hurdles put up by the Turkish nobles. According to Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller, ‘Raziya rode on horseback as men ride, armed with a bow and quiver, and surrounded by courtiers. She did not veil her face.’ Yet Raziya ruled for only three and half years. The elevation of an Abyssinian slave, Jalal-ud-din Yaqut, to the post of Amir-i-Akhur, Master of the Stables, a very high office, angered the Turkish nobles. The nobles overplayed her closeness with Yakut and tried to depose her. Since Raziya enjoyed popular support, they could not do anything in Delhi. But while she was on a punitive campaign against the rebel governor Altuniya in southern Punjab, the conspirators used that occasion to dethrone her.

Bandagan is the plural of banda, literally military slaves. They were graded according to the years of service, proximity and trustworthiness. This trust led to their appointment as governors and military commanders. The Ghurid bandagan in North India were the slaves of Muiz-ud-Din Ghuri. Since these slaves were without a social identity of their own they were given new names by their masters, which included the nisba, which indicated their social or regional identity. Slaves carried the nisba of their master: hence Mu‘izz al-Din’s slave carried the nisba Mu‘izzi and later Sultan Shams-ud-Din Iltutmish’s slave were called the Shamsi bandagan.

Balban (1266-1287)

  • The political intrigues of the nobility that destabilised the Delhi Sultanate came to an end with the accession of Balban as the Sultan.
  • Assertion of authority by Balban led to constant military campaigns against defiant governors and against their local allies.
  • Barani mentions Balban’s campaigns in the regions surrounding Delhi and in the doab.
  • During these campaigns forests were cleared, new roads and forts constructed, the newly deforested lands given to freshly recruited Afghans and others as rent-free lands (mafruzi) and brought under cultivation.
  • New forts were constructed to protect trade routes and village markets.

Balban and the Problem of Law and Order

  • When Balban took over the reins of power the law and order situation in the Ganga, Jamuna Doab regions had deteriorated badly.
  • The Rajput zamindars had set up forts and defied the orders of the Sultan.
  • Meos, a Muslim community from north-western region, living in the heavily forested region around Mewat were plundering the area with impunity.
  • Balban took it as a challenge and personally undertook a campaign to destroy the Mewatis.
  • Meos were pursued and slaughtered mercilessly.
  • In the Doab region the Rajput strongholds were destroyed, jungles cleared.
  • Colonies of Afghan soldiers were established throughout the region to safeguard the roads and deal with rebellions.

Punitive Expedition against Tughril Khan

  • Balban was ruthless in dealing with rebellions.
  • He appointed one of his favourite slaves, Tughril Khan, as the Governor of Bengal.
  • But Tughril Khan soon became rebellious.
  • Amin Khan, the governor of Oudh, sent by Balban to suppress the rebellion meekly retreated.
  • Enraged by this, Balban sent two more expeditions, which also suffered defeat.
  • Humiliated by these successive reverses, Balban himself proceeded to Bengal.
  • On hearing Balban’s approach, Tughril Khan fled.
  • Balban pursued him, first to Lakhnauti and then towards Tripura, where he was captured and beheaded.
  • Bughra Khan, a son of Balban, was thereupon appointed the Governor of Bengal, who carved out an independent kingdom after the death of Balban.
  • He did not claim the Delhi throne even in the midst of a leadership crisis and his son Kaiqubad’s indulgence in debauchery.

Measures against Mongol Threats

  • Balban used the threat of Mongols as the context to militarise his regime.
  • The frontier regions were strengthened with garrisoning of forts at Bhatinda, Sunam and Samana.
  • At the same time, he took efforts to maintain a good relationship with Hulagu Khan, the Mongol Viceroy of Iran and a grandson of Chengiz Khan.
  • Balban succeeded in obtaining from him the assurance that Mongols would not advance beyond Satluj.
  • Halagu Khan reciprocated this gesture by sending a goodwill mission to Delhi in 1259.
  • However, Muhammad Khan, the favourite son of Balban, who was given the charge of governor of Multan to protect the frontiers from Mongol aggression, was killed in an encounter.
  • Saddened by this tragedy, Balban fell ill and died in 1286.

The term Mongol refers to all Mongolic-speaking nomadic tribes of Central Asia. In the twelfth century, they had established a very large kingdom, which included most of modern-day Russia, China, Korea, south-east Asia, Persia, India, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, under the leadership of Chengiz Khan. Their phenomenal success is attributed to their fast horses and brilliant cavalry tactics, their openness to new technologies, and Chengiz Khan’s skill in manipulative politics.

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