Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Sultanate of Delhi: The Tughluq Dynasty

The Tughluq Dynasty rose in the ashes of the House of Khalji. Under their supervision, the Delhi Sultanate reached its apex, but also saw its decline in order and power.

Rise of the Tughluq Dynasty

Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq founded the dynasty that ruled the Delhi Sultanate from 1321 to 1413. Known earlier as Ghazi Malik, he served as the warden of the western frontier of the Sultanate serving as the governor of Punjab region. He defended the borders against the attacks of marauding Mongols that threatened the realm.

He rebelled against the cruel and incompetent Sultan Nasir-ad-din with various rebellious nobles and officials rallying behind him. On August 1321, his forces marched into Delhi and executed the Sultan. He then took the crown and reign as Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq, founder of the Tughluq Dynasty that would rule the Sultanate for almost a century.

As a Sultan he lived up to the expectation of his people. He gained the support of the peasantry by reducing taxes to only 10% and moved away from the excessive taxation during the time of Sultan Ala-ud-Din Khalji. He showed himself as a conqueror by reaffirming the Sultanate’s dominion over the south with the help of his second son Prince Juana who assert Delhi’s control on lands as far as Telingana. For his military contributions, he rewarded Prince Juana the governorship of the Deccan region.

In 1324, he turned attention east to Bengal where he re-established Delhi’s sovereignty in the region and crushed those who intended to declare themselves Sultan of an independent Bengal. To keep the country connected, he devised a relay system of riders for a specific length to deliver messages faster than before.

With Delhi’s power back in the zenith, Sultan Ghiyath continued his reign until his tragic demise in 1325. While visiting a pagoda for a celebration of his reign, the structure crumbled down over his head. He and his eldest son passed away. Prince Juana took the reins of power amid allegation of him engineering the collapse of the pavilion that killed his father and brother to take over.

Disastrous Reign of Sultan Mohammed

Prince Juana ruled the Sultanate of Delhi as Sultan Al-Mujahid Mohammed ibn Tughlaq and brought fresh ideas to the country that almost destroyed his people. Sultan Mohammed possessed great qualities of a king – intelligent, cultured, charismatic, and a military leader. Above all else, he feared nothing to start new projects. Whoever opposed his policies faced his ruthless and merciless hand. Among his early projects came along a rebellious south. As the hold of Delhi remained weak in the south, previous independent kingdoms resisted and reasserted their freedom. Mohammed had them crushed and came up a plan to cement once and for all his control over the region.

Sultan Mohammed decided to establish a new capital in the Southern region of the Sub-continent. He choose for the site a capital of the vanquished Yadav Kings – Devagiri. In 1327, he renamed the site as Daulatabad and declared it as the new capital of the Sultanate. It would have been better if Sultan Mohammed only decided to move his government to the new capital, but the project soured when he commanded the residences of Delhi to abandon their longtime homes and move to Daulatabad.

The whole move turned into a catastrophe. The people partaking in the exodus faced harsh terrains of river, jungle, mountains, and desserts. The long distant march and exposure to environment ended the lives of many young and old. When the people of Delhi arrived, barely few structures stood and it meant that they had to start their lives all over again. As Delhi stood empty, Daulatabad filled with graves of those who perished during the move. Worst came when the Sultan realized the disaster at hand and decided to cancel his project and to move back to the old capital. Still reeling from their losses, the people of the new capital once again uprooted themselves to move back to their late home Delhi. By the time they returned, the city never regained its vibrancy before the whole project. Criticism of the project reached the ears of the Sultan who then crushed them without mercy.

After the capital mishap, another great idea came into his mind – introduction of copper coinage. It all began with the Mohammed’s desire to shift taxation from kind that started during Ala-ud-din’s reign to money. The Sultan, however, discovered that the country lacked the currency – the silver and gold tanka – to allow peasants to pay their dues. To solve the shortage, he came up with the issuance of plentiful copper tanka. It went well initially as trade flourished, but later the abundance of copper and the lack preventing counterfeits led to the whole project’s failure. Soon, every house in Delhi was a mint that turned out fake copper tankas. Its value dropped and prices of goods rose along with the number of copper tanka grew. In the end, trade declined and the Sultan realized his grand project, like his new capital, failed. He ordered the recall of all copper tanka. At the end of the collection, he had a mountain of worthless copper coins, a monument of Mohammed’s another failure. Following his major failures, he continued to draft new grandiose projects.

He then turned his attention to conquest and set his sights on Persia and China. For his military ambitions he began to extract more taxes from peasants and their farms. But right after the economic debacle caused by the currency crisis, the last thing the people wanted was tax hikes. At the end of this project, failure still plagued him. The campaign ended in disaster with his army facing defeat in the border between China and India. Worst, due to heavy taxation, rebellions began to flare up across the Sultanate.

Rebellions began in different parts of the country, which never ended until his reign ended. Rebellions spurred in Doab regions due to famine caused by taxation and the currency project. Mohammed showed no mercy and stomped out the rebels. So much men got killed that lands laid barren that worsened the famine. More rebellions followed. In 1335, Malabar revolted, followed by another in Bengal in 1338. All rebellions faced the wrath of the Sultan and crushed ruthlessly. Though, after seeing the rising number of rebellions, Sultan Mohammed decided to change policies to appease the people. He reduced taxes and offered support to peasants by offering loans to promote expansion of farmlands and food production. By the time of the implementation, however, descent continued. Gujarat and Malwa rebelled in 1344. The Deccan region, which Sultan Mohammed held dear also fell to rebellion.

He continued to fight rebels until his death in March 1351 during his campaign to crush rebels in Gujarat and Sind.

Peace of Sultan Firoz Shah Tughluq

Sultan Firoz Shah succeeded his cousin Sultan Mohammed Tughluq. The 45-year old Sultan served his cousin and known by many officials and nobles. When he came along with the late Sultan to Gujarat to crush a rebellion, he received the offer to take the throne. He accepted and marched backed to Delhi. But his claim to the Sultanate met an early challenge from a pretender who claimed to be the late Sultan’s son. Many knew the late Sultan died childless and the pretender eventually lose to Firoz Shah.

His reign saw a peaceful reign yet a decline in the prestige of the Delhi Sultanate. As an individual, he showed great mercy and piety. His merciful and peaceful attitude saw conflict in decline which pared his reign from the traditional chaotic and divisive nature of succession. Later on, however, his peaceful reign saw provinces slipping away from the Sultanate. His abrasion to war resulted to late responses against independence movement that retreated the borders of the Sultanate. The region of Southern India secured independence under the Vijayanagara Empire along with the Deccan region that also seceded under the Bahmanid Dynasty and the always unstable Bengal following suit in the 1350’s. Sultan Firoz Shah tried to reclaim Bengal twice first in 1353 and another in 1354, but found no success.

As the territory of the Delhi declined in size, his reign, nonetheless, saw positive achievements in other fields with the help of his abled Vizier Mukbul Khan, a Hindu official coming from Telingana. With the help of his Vizier, Sultan Firoz Shah solved a rising issue among the peasantry – rising debts. Under his predecessor, numerous peasants owed the government sums of money after the late Sultan Mohammed issued loans meant to improve food production. Most of the peasants failed to meet their obligations and faced bankruptcy and poverty. The Sultan and Vizier relieved the peasants by simply forgiving all the debts, thus winning popularity among the peasantry.

Sultan Firoz also oversaw the construction of numerous towns and cities. Towns like Fathabad, Azadpur, and Jaupur rose. Each project he supplied with means of accessibility and sustainability. He built roads, canals, and irrigations that supplied water and provided connection with the rest of the realm. One of his famous cities was Firozabad that later housed 2 Ashoka pillars that he had ordered to be moved.

His construction projects and economic polices led to increase in prosperity for the people of the Sultanate despite loses it incurred in matters of territory. A whole generation lived in prosperity and without fear of terror and execution. This lack of fear of authority, however, led to unintended consequence later on.

As the reign of Firoz Shah entered its latter years, he set in motions policies that contributed to the further disintegration of the Sultanate. Since the time of Sultan Balban of the Mamluk Dynasty, power over the provinces rested in the authority of the Sultan. Taxation and administration centered on Delhi. Under Firoz Shah, however, feudalism returned as the Sultan gave provinces to various officials and nobles to govern and to collect tax revenues. The decentralization later proved to be the Sultanate’s undoing.

The Decline of the Dynasty

Other than the decentralization, deaths within Firoz Shah’s circle led to political instability. In 1371, his abled Vizier passed away, followed by the death of his eldest son and heir, Fath Khan, in 1376. The death of his eldest son led in 1377 the creation of a regency which his other son Prince Mohammed presided. But Mohammed’s rule saw disaster with rebellion of Mamluks. Soon after, Firoz Shah decided to remove Prince Mohammed in favor of his grandson Ghiyath-ud-din Tughluq II.

In September 1388, Sultan Firoz Shah passed away and Sultan Ghiyath-ud-din Tughluq II succeeded to the throne briefly. Due to his incompetence and debauchery, he ruled for only 5 months before he was assassinated in 1384. The brief rule and lack of preparation for succession paved once again the way to divide. The failed regent Muhammad returned to the scene, but his grab for power was thwarted by another relative – Firoz Shah Abu Bakar. The 2 fought desperately for the throne until 1390 when Muhammad won and ruled as Sultan Nasiru’d-din.

Sultan Nasiru’d-din’s reign saw continuous rebellion by different provinces and their governors, in particular the Rajputs in Rathor and the Gujarati in the southwest. He managed to cling to power as he managed to get the support of local Hindus and Muslims instead of migrant Muslims from Central Asia and Mamluks.

In 1394, weary of his duties he passed away, leaving a turbulent Sultanate to his young son Humaymi. Humaymi did not even managed to enjoy his throne, because after only 6 weeks, his brother Mahmud usurped the throne.

Once again, Mahmud did not solely owned the throne. Another rival court appeared in Firuzabad when Nasarat Shah, son of Fath Khan, the son of the late Sultan Firoz Shah, claimed his right to the Sultanate. The civil war did not end until 1398, but by then the Tughluq Sultanate of Delhi was at its knees.

The continuous squabbles of the royal family, thus marked the decline and closing end for the dynasty, Worst, the Tughluq controlled lands shrinking by every passing year. Apparently, the policy of decentralization of the late Sultan Firoz, which was meant to better administer the Empire, led to series of declaration of independences. In 1394, Bihar, Ouadh, and Janipur formed an independent state. 2 years later Gujarat followed and Khadesh (1399) and Malwa (1401).

Moreover, another threat loomed over the Sultanate, a renewed aggressive empire building Mongol horde knocked in the doorsteps of the India. Timur or Tamerlane threatened to sack India to plunder its riches for the glory of his name and that of his capital Samarkand.

The rebellions and civil war drained much of the Tughluq’s military might and by the time the Mongols poured into the sub-continent, the impotent Sultan failed to stop their advance. In 1398, even the shadow of the once great capital of the Delhi Sultanate fell to Timur and its wealth and artisans taken back to Samarkand.

After the sacking of Delhi, the Sultanate stood in a pathetic state. Sultan Mahmud ruled only the parts of Rohtak and the surrounding regions of Delhi. He continued to rule the Sultanate until 1413. By then he faced an attack from the Khizr Khan of the Sayyids who years ago collaborated with Timur. And on that year, when Mahmud fell to the Sayyids, the last great dynasty of the Sultanate of Delhi ended.

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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