Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Sultanate of Delhi: The Khalji Dynasty

Before the Mughal Empire boasted its sub-continental Empire, the Sultanate of Delhi existed and ruled most of India becoming a powerhouse in a divided India. The Mamluk Dynasty established and secured the Sultanate’s existence, but the House of Khalji worked to keep it and to expand its dominion over the rest of India.
Rise of the Khalji Dynasty

The Khalji Dynasty traced its roots from the Afghan village Khalj. Although Turkic in origin, they grew up to embrace Afghan culture. When the Mamluks launched the invasion of India, the Khaljis joined. Soon they rose up to become a powerful house that held control of provinces and important offices. They stood as one of the most powerful factions during the late years of the reign of Sultan Balban.

Sultan Balban’s reign marked the centralization of power around the Sultan. He vied for power and triumphed over the Forty nobles that dominated the country’s politics. With strong personality and an iron fist, he reformed and strengthened the Sultanate. But in 1287, the absence of Balban’s charisma and a stable transition led, the country once again fell into internal turmoil.

Sultan Qaiqabad, the 17-year old son of Balban’s favorite, ruled after the demise of the late Sultan. As a kid, his parents and his tutors groomed him to be a well-respected man. The grooming, however, developed a strict environment at which the Sultan grew up. When the young Sultan came to power, the new ambiance of wealth, power, and off course freedom changed his personality from that of a well-mannered man to a debauch ruler bent on whoring and drinking. 3 years into his reign, God seemed punished the Sultan for his dissolute lifestyle and paralyzed him for it. Eventually, his cunning and opportunistic vizier Nizam-ud-din took the reins of power and virtually ruled the Sultanate.

Vizier Nizam-ud-din acted swiftly against his rivals. One by one, he had his opponents and his rivals as well as that of the Sultan assassinated. His brutal reign of terror raised banners of opposition to which the Khalji took for themselves.
The Khalji, who then ruled semi-independent Bengal, looked up to Jalal-ud-din Khalji for leadership, Jalal-ud-din took the responsibility and rebelled against the Sultan and the manipulative Vizier Nizam-ud-din. Eventually, the whole country rallied to Jalal-ud-din and before long they arrived in the gates of Delhi. In the end, the paralytic Sultan passed away and not long after his Vizier fell and murdered. Thus, in 1290, the Mamluk Dynasty set in history and the Khalji Dynasty dawned.

Sultan Jalal-ud-din Firoz Shah

Sultan Jalal-ud-din Firoz Shah ruled the Delhi Sultanate full of compassion. Cruelty and killing repulsed him. His temperament might be brought by his late age of 70. His officials and people viewed his mercy with both admiration and exasperation. Even those who plotted against him or those who committed grave crimes found mercy from the Sultan facing only minor punishment of exile or imprisonment. Besides mercy, he also proved himself to be learned and simple. The wealth of Delhi did not influenced him to be debauch but rather he found refuge in books and prayers. He seemed to be sage king, but in the Delhi Sultanate that boasted military tradition, they needed strong military leaders.

Rebellions flared up when the reign of Sultan Firoz Shah turned badly. When the Sultan finally ordered an execution of a magician said to have plotted to curse the ruler, bad things clouded the Sultanate. Bad harvest and famine came and banners of rebellion once again waved high.

Ala-ud-din, nephew of Sultan Firoz Shah, took up arms against his uncle. As a military leader, he proved himself well, achievements that the Mongol and Afghan nobility of the Sultanate highly admired and respected. In 1294, he did the impossible by advancing the dominion of the Sultanate and marching the Delhi army south towards the Deccan Plateau. His armies subjugated the Marathas and plundered there cities. The booty he collected from this southern cities gave him the means to fight his Sultan uncle. In 1296, he did the unthinkable by trapping his uncle in a meeting. In one swoop, Ala-ud-din had his uncle killed and threw to the people all the plunders he took from the south. He filled everyone’s pockets in Delhi so much that they forgot the assassination of the Sultan, the treachery committed, and the usurpation that followed. By November 1296, Sultan Ala-ud-din’s reign began.

Sultan Ala-ud-din

Ala-ud-din started his reign with a warning. Instead of praising or rewarding those who defected to his side, he executed them serving as a warning to future plotters and turncoats. Nonetheless, rebellions and plots continued. Some even came from within his family. All of dissension he faced, he crushed without mercy and extreme brutality. But as he consolidated power, external forces once again threatened the Sultanate.

The Mongols continued to pose as a threat to Delhi. In 1297, a relative of the late Genghis Khan, Qutlugh Khan, eyed India as his next conquest. When the horde advanced, his military prowess continued to shine and helped to beat back the Mongols. The Mongols, however, never lose their sights on the sub-continent making several attempts after the 1297 attack. In 1303, the Mongols once again returned to India and even entered Delhi. Luckily, Ala-ud-din’s fort strongly held off the attacks and forced them later to retreat. Security of the dominion took much of his attention. He received help in securing the borders from his efficient governor Ghazi Malik who ruled and maintained defense in Punjab. Other than the Mongols, Sultan Ala-ud-din also turned his military strength within India.

Expansion of territory endured one of Sultan Ala-ud-din’s hallmarks. He advanced in many directions of the Sub Continent, but the most well-known remained the expansion of his realm towards the south and the known impregnable region of the Deccan Plateau. The Sultan envisioned himself as the Second Alexander the Great or Sikander Sani. An idea which he made known to his people by stamping the title into coins. He made true to his promise and with the help of his abled General Malik Kafur, he turned the Sultanate into an Indian Empire which expanded to Rajasthan and Gujarat. The fortresses of Chitor and Warangal failed to halt his advance. Chitor fell in 1303, but Warangal remained stubborn and survived an attack on 1304. 5 years later, however, it finally fell. In the south, the advance continued what he started in 1294. By 1310, he advanced the Sultanate further south reaching Madurai, and in effect, the Sultanate controlled almost all of the India Sub Continent.

Reforms proved to be one of Ala-ud-din’s secret to his success in turning the Sultanate of Delhi into a superpower. To expand his empire he needed to keep his internal affairs stable and to maintain a strong military to maintain security and to fight his wars. With this task in hand, he responded with economics.

Wealth and prosperity Ala-ud-din saw as the source of ambition and rebellions. He viewed increase of wealth meant also with soaring ambitions. Money bought rebellions and plots the support of people and weapons. With this conjecture, Ala-ud-din decided to impose huge taxes against all of his subjects, high enough to take the people’s extra income, but low enough to sustain a family. In effect, he thought people and nobles rather work to make ends meet instead of plotting rebellions.

The huge tax revenues filled the coffers of Sultan Ala-ud-din that lessened rebellions as well as expanded his military. Taxpayer’s money contributed to Ala-ud-din’s military reforms. He saw to the creation of a standing army by providing basic salaries for his soldiers. But in order to keep the salary enough to feed his soldiers and their families, the prices of goods must remain constant.

Command economy was what Sultan Ala-ud-din decided to enforce. He ordered taxes in kind from farmers to control the supply and imposed price control on basic goods. He also expanded his spy network to make sure prices remained as he have ordered, besides having also the objective of rooting out plots by nobles. With the economy turned to support the reformed and reorganized army, Ala-ud-din succeeded in expanding his realm’s domain to any direction he wished.

Ala-ud-din’s reign came to an end on January 1316. Due to dropsy, the reign of the expansionist and despotic rule of the Sultan passed. As always, the death of a strong Sultan brought once again clouds of internal dissent, divide, and war.

Decline and End

Series of deficient and flawed Sultans ascended one after the other. After Ala-ud-din, his 6-years old successor Shihab-ad-din Omar nominally ruled the Sultanate as his ministers truly controlled state affairs and squabbled among themselves for power and influence. The country descended into the traditional succession problems. Eventually, on April 1316 the young sultan fell and Qutb-ad-din Mubarak took over the throne. He too aged young, 17 years old and his reign also saw no improvement as the teenage Sultan rather drank and whored than rule the country. Plot eventually surfaced against the new Sultan, which were immediately crushed with utmost brutality. Eventually, after 5 years of debauch and cruel rule, Sultan Mubarak fell from murder, only to be replaced by an equally brutal and ineffective Sultan Nasir-ad-din.

After years of cruel and disappointing rule, nobles then look for stability and peace to another. This came in form of Ghazi Tugluq who raised the banners of rebellion in which many followed. Not long after, by August 1321, his forces marched into Delhi and his supporters beheaded the reigning Sultan. The beheading of the Sultan marked the end of the glorious expansions and autocratic rule of the Khalji and the start of a new dynasty – the Tugluq Dynasty. 

See also:

Jackson, A.V. Williams. History of India Volume III: Medieval India from the Mohammedan Conquest to the Reign of Akbar the Great. London: The Grolier Society Publishers, 1906.

Kulke, Hermann & Dietmar Rothermund. A History of India. New York, New York: Routledge, 2004.

Stein, Burton. A History of India. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2010.

Srinivasachari, Rao Saheb & M.S. Ramaswami Aiyangar. History of India Part II: Muhammadan India. Mount Road, Madras: Srinivasa Varadachari & Co., 1937.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Delhi Sultanate." In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on February 6, 2009. URL:

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