Mamluk Sultans (1206–1290)


With Qutbuddin Aibak, begins the period of Mamluk Sultans or the slave dynasty.

Mamluk is an Arabic word meaning “owned”. It was used to distinguish the imported Turkish slaves meant for military service from the lower slaves used as domestic labour or artisan.

The Mamluk Sultans ruled from AD 1206 to 1290.

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Qutbuddin Aibak (AD 1206–1210)

Qutbuddin Aibak was a Turkish slave who had risen to high rank in Muhammad Ghori’s army. After Muhammad Ghori’s death in AD 1206, the control of his Indian possessions was passed on to Qutbuddin Aibak. Aibak was the first independent Muslim ruler of Northern India, the founder of Delhi Sultanate.

Aibak had to face many revolts from Rajputs and other Indian chiefs. Tajuddin Yaldauz, the ruler of Ghazni, claimed his rule over Delhi. Nasiruddin Qabacha, the governor of Multan and Uchch aspired for independence. Aibak was able to win over his enemies by conciliatory measures as well as a display of power. He defeated Yaldauz and occupied Ghazni. The successor of Jaichand, Harishchandra had driven out the Turks from Badayun and Farukhabad. Aibak re-conquered both Badayun and Farukhabad.

In AD 1210, Aibak died of injuries received in a fall from his horse while playing chaugan (Polo).

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Qutbuddin Aibak was brave, faithful and generous. Due to his generosity he was known as “Lakh Baksh”. Most of the scholars consider Aibak as the real founder of Muslim rule in India.

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Iltutmish (AD 1210–1236)

After Aibak’s  death a few amirs raised his son Aram Shah to the throne in Lahore. But Aram Shah was incapable ruler and the Turkish amirs opposed him. The Turkish chiefs of Delhi invited the governor of Badayun (son-in-law of Qutbuddin Aibak) “Iltutmish” to come to Delhi. Aram Shah proceeded against him at the head of the army from Lahore to Delhi but Iltutmish defeated him and became the Sultan with the name of Shamsuddin. The credit of consolidating the Delhi Sultanate lies largely with him.

When Iltutmish ascended the throne, he found himself surrounded with many problems. Other commanders of Muhammad Ghori like Yaldauz, Qubacha and Ali Mardan rose in defiance again. The chief of Jalor and Ranthambore joined Gwalior and Kalinjar in declaring their independence. Apart from this, the rising power of Mongols under Chenghiz Khan threatened the North West Frontier of the Sultanate.

Power Consolidation

Iltutmish took up the task of consolidating his position.

  • He defeated Yaldauz in AD 1215 in the battle of Tarain.
  • In AD 1217 he drove away Qabacha from Punjab.
  • In AD 1220, when Chenghiz Khan destroyed the Khwarizm expire, Iltutmish realised the political necessity of avoiding a confrontation with the Mongols. Thus when Jalaluddin Mangbarani, the son of the Shah of Khwarizm, while escaping from the Mongols, sought shelter at Iltutmish’s court, Iltutmish turned him away. He thus saved the Sultanate from destruction by the Mongols.
  • From AD 1225 onwards, Iltutmish engaged his armies in suppressing the disturbances in the East.
  • In AD 1226–27 Iltutmish sent a large army under his son Nasiruddin Mahmud which defeated Iwaz Khan and brought Bengal and Bihar back into the Delhi Sultanate.
  • Similarly a campaign was also launched against the Rajput chiefs. Ranthambore was captured in AD 1226.
  • By AD 1231 Iltutmish had established his authority over Mandor, Jalore, Bayana and Gwalior.

There is no doubt that Iltutmish completed the unfinished work of Aibak. The Delhi Sultanate now covered a sizeable territory. He was a farsighted ruler and he consolidated and organised the newly formed Turkish Sultanate in Delhi.

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Amirs / Nobles

Iltutmish established ‘Group of Forty’ (Turkan-i-Chahalgani). These were Turkish amirs (nobles) or officers who advised and helped the Sultan in administering the Sultanate. After the death of Iltutmish, this group assumed great power in its hands. For a few years they decided on the selection of Sultans one after the other. The group was finally eliminated by Balban.

Iltutmish effectively suppressed the defiant amirs of Delhi. He separated the Delhi Sultanate from Ghazni, Ghor and Central Asian politics. Iltutmish also obtained a ‘Letter of Investiture’ in AD 1229 from the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to gain legitimacy.

Administration

  • Iltutmish made a significant contribution in giving shape to administrative institution such as iqtas, army and currency system.
  • He gave the Sultanate two of its basic coins– the silver ‘Tanka’ and the copper ‘Jittal’.
  • For greater control over the conquered areas Iltutmish granted iqtas (land assignments in lieu of cash salaries) to his Turkish officers on a large-scale. The recipients of “iqtas” called the “iqtadars” collected the land revenue from the territories under them. Out of this they maintained an armed contingent for the service of the state, enforced law and order and met their own expenses.
  • Iltutmish realized the economic potentiality of the Doab and the iqtas were distributed mainly in this region. This secured for Iltutmish the financial and administrative control over one of the most prestigious regions of North India.

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Raziya (AD 1236–40)

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The problem of successor troubled Iltutmish during his last days. Iltutmish did not consider any of his sons worthy of the throne. His own choice was his daughter Raziya hence he nominated her as his successor. But after his death his son Ruknuddin Firoz ascended the throne with the help of army leaders. However with the support of the people of Delhi and some military leaders, Raziya soon ascended the throne.

Despite her obvious qualities, Raziya did not fare significantly better primarily because of her attempts to create a counter nobility of non-Turks and invited the wrath of the Turkish amirs. They were particularly incensed over her decision to appoint the Abyssinian, Malik Jamaluddin Yaqut, as the amir-i-akhur (master of the horses); the recruitment of a few other non-Turks to important posts further inflamed matters.

The nobility realized that, though a woman, Raziya was not willing to be a puppet in their hands, therefore the nobles started revolting against her in the provinces. They accused her of violating feminine modesty and being too friendly to an Abbyssinian noble, Yaqut. She got killed after she was defeated by the nobles. Thus her reign was a brief one and came to end in AD 1240.

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Nasiruddin Mahmud (AD 1246–66)

The struggle for power between Sultan and the Turkish Chiefs “Chahalgani” which began during the reign of Raziya continued. After Raziya’s death, the power of Chahalgani increased and they became largely responsible for making and unmaking of kings.

Behram Shah (AD 1240–42) and Masud Shah (AD 1242–46) were made Sultans and removed in succession.

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In AD 1246, Ulugh Khan (later known as Balban) placed the inexperienced and young Nasiruddin (grandson of Iltutmish) on throne and himself assumed the position of Naib (deputy). To further strengthen his position, he married his daughter to Nasiruddin. Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud died in AD 1265.

According to Ibn Battuta and Isami, Balban poisoned his master Nasiruddin and ascended the throne.

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Balban (AD 1266–87)

The struggle between the sultan and the Turkish nobles continued, till one of the Turkish chiefs, Ulugh Khan, known in history by the name of Balban, gradually arrogated all power to himself and finally ascended the throne in AD 1266. When Balban became the Sultan, his position was not secure. Many Turkish chiefs were hostile to him; the Mongols were looking forward for an opportunity for attacking the Sultanate, the governors of the distant provinces were also trying to become independent rulers, the Indian rulers were also ready to revolt at the smallest opportunity.

The law and order situation in the area around Delhi and in the Doab region had deteriorated. In the Ganga-Yamuna doab and Awadh, the roads were infested with the robbers and dacoits, because of which the communication with the eastern areas had become difficult. Some of the Rajput zamindars had set up forts in the area, and defied the government. The Mewatis had become so bold as to plunder people up to the outskirts of Delhi. To deal with these elements, Balban adopted a stern policy. In the Mewat many were killed. In the area around Badayun, Rajput strongholds were destroyed.

Balban ruled in an autocratic manner and worked hard to elevate the position of the Sultan. He did not allow any noble to assume great power. He even formulated the theory of kingship. The historian Barani, who was himself a great champion of the Turkish nobles, says that Balban remarked ‘whenever I see a base-born ignoble man, my eyes burn and I reach in anger for my sword (to kill him).” We do not know if Balban actually said these words but his attitude towards the non-Turks was that of contempt. Balban was not prepared to share power with anyone, not even with his own family.

Balban was determined to break the power of the Chahalgani. To keep himself well-informed, Balban appointed spies in every department. He also organised a strong centralized army, both to deal with internal disturbances, and to repel the Mongols who had entrenched themselves in the Punjab and posed a serious threat to the Delhi Sultanate. Balban re-organised the military department (diwan-i-arz) and deployed army in different parts of the country to put down rebellion. The disturbances in Mewat, Doab, Awadh and Katihar were ruthlessly suppressed. Balban also secured control over Ajmer and Nagaur in eastern Rajputana but his attempts to capture Ranthambore and Gwalior failed. In AD 1279, encouraged by the Mongol threats and the old age of Sultan the governor of Bengal, Tughril Beg, revolted, assumed the title of Sultan and had the khutba read in his name. Balban sent his forces to Bengal and had Tughril killed. Subsequently he appointed his own son Bughra Khan as the governor of Bengal.

By all these harsh methods, Balban controlled the situation. In order to impress the people with the strength and awe of his government, Balban maintained a magnificent court. He refused to laugh and joke in the court, and even gave up drinking wine so that no one may see him in a non-serious mood. He also insisted on the ceremony of sijada (prostration) and paibos (kissing of the monarch’s feet) in the court.

Balban was undoubtedly one of the main architects of the Sultanate of Delhi, particularly of its form of government and institutions. By asserting the power of the monarchy, Balban strengthened the Delhi Sultanate. But even he could not fully defend northern India against the attacks of the Mongols. Moreover, by excluding non-Turkish from positions of power and authority and by trusting only a very narrow racial group he made many people dissatisfied. This led to fresh disturbances and troubles after his death.

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Balban adopted a policy of consolidation rather than expansion. He introduced a new theory of kingship and redefined the relations between the Sultan and nobility. Through these measures Balban strengthened the Delhi Sultanate.

Balban died in AD 1287.

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End Of Slave Dynasty

After Balban’s death the nobles raised his grandson Kaiquabad to the throne. He was soon replaced by his son, Kaimurs, who remained on the throne for a little over three months. During Balban’s reign, Firoz had been the warden of the marches in north-west and had fought many successful battles against the Mongols. He was called to Delhi as Ariz-i-Mumalik (Minister of War). In AD 1290 Firoz took a bold step by murdering Kaimurs and seized the throne. A group of Khalji nobles led by him established the Khalji dynasty. Some scholars call this event as the ‘dynastic revolution’ of AD 1290.

It brought to an end the so-called slave dynasty and Firoz ascended the throne under the title of Jalaluddin Khalji.

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Bibliography : NIOS – Medieval India

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