Indian History Part 55 Khilji Militarism Section IV: Demise of the Dynasty

Canberra, 1 April 2017


Ala ud-Din was bedridden suffering from acute oedema and becoming increasingly petulant and impulsive. The political edifice that he had so painstakingly built up, with personal hard work and a visionary approach to the task of governance, started to crumble in front of his eyes. The Delhi court became the nucleus of palace intrigue with overt succession manoeuvres becoming increasingly vicious. In 1312, Ala ud-Din had nominated Khizr Khan, his eldest surviving son, as the heir apparent. The combination of Ala ud-Din’s failing health and the announcement of Khizr Khan as the anointed successor to the great sultan had made the Queen mother, Malika-i-Jahan, assume a role of importance behind the scenes. For a fairly long period of time Ala ud-Din had ignored Malika-i-Jahan who was nominally the chief queen. Now, Malika-i-Jahan, along with her brother Alp Khan who was also Khizr Khan’s father-in-law, became the most influential people in the court and assumed roles of prime manipulators.

Khizr Khan is reported to have been a weakling; indolent and addicted to pleasure and debauchery, not interested in shouldering the responsibility that came with the running of a great and complex empire. The sick Ala ud-Din was ignored by his queen, her brother and the prince. The queen and Alp Khan had increased their hold on power while Malik Kafur was away in the Peninsula, pursuing the military conquest of the Deccan. Khizr Khan’s younger brother, Shadi Khan was married to the second daughter of Alp Khan, cementing an already strong and closed family clique of power. In utter helplessness and unable to control a deteriorating situation, Ala ud-Din recalled Malik Kafur from the Deccan.

Malik Kafur heeded the sultan’s call and hurried back from the south to Delhi. He immediately took charge of the affairs of state and rapidly gained ascendancy in the court through his complete influence over the sultan. Gradually he managed to poison Ala ud-Din’s mind against the Alp Khan junta although he failed to get the sultan’s agreement to have Alp Khan murdered. Even so, such was the authority that Malik Kafur wielded that he, along with a close associate Kamal ud-Din Gurg, murdered Alp Khan in cold blood. Simultaneously Khizr Khan—the heir apparent—was taken away from the capital, initially to Amroha and then to Gwalior, where he was blinded and imprisoned. His younger brother Shadi Khan was also meted out the same fate. The youngest brother, Mubarak Khan who was 17 years old at this time was only imprisoned. The queen, Malik-i-Jahan was deprived of all luxury and imprisoned within the Delhi fort.

From the very beginning of the Delhi sultanate, turbulence in Delhi had always been echoed by rebellions in the outer provinces where the central hold was tenuous, at best. In this case, the murdered Alp Khan had been well-liked by the ruling class of Turkish nobles in Gujarat. Therefore, it was not long before the army in Gujarat rebelled against Delhi. Malik Kafur, now fully in charge of the empire, send a force under Gurg to quell the rebellion. However, Gurg was defeated by the rebels and killed. Gujerat remained in rebellion. In Chittor, the scion of the Sisodia clan, Hammira Deva, drove out Mala Deva who had been installed as the ruler by Ala ud-Din and became the Rana. Harpala Deva, the son-in-law of Rama Chandra, ruling in Devagiri as a vassal to Delhi, declared independence.

During this increasing turmoil, Ala ud-Din died in early January 1316 (the actual dates vary between 2nd and 6th January). The most forceful ruler of the three centuries of Delhi sultanate died watching the great empire that he had crafted crumbling and breaking up in front of his eyes. Contemporary reports suggest that the cause of death was as much the mental anguish at the state of affairs in his empire as the grave physical ailments that he suffered from.

Malik Kafur’s Rule

Malik Kafur had made Ala ud-Din disinherit Khizr Khan before the latter was imprisoned and blinded. A new will had subsequently been drawn up. The new will nominated the six-year old Shihab ud-Din, Ala ud-Din’s son by a daughter of Devagiri raja Rama Chandra, as the new sultan. This will was presented to the court on the second day after Ala ud-Din’s death. Kafur, now fully entrenched in the court, became the regent and directly undertook the conduct of the government. In order to ensure that his regency of the child-sultan was not threatened by anyone, Kafur started to remove all children and wives of Ala ud-Din from the scene, either through imprisonment or outright murder.

Malik Kafur becoming Ala ud-Din’s favourite and the rapid rise in his official position had created a great deal of animosity amongst the Turkish nobles. However, his military triumphs and the sultan’s demonstrated favour had so far kept it controlled but simmering below the surface. The resentment against Kafur had further intensified after the blinding of the two princes. Malik Kafur had proven himself to be a great, even brilliant, military commander as well as a wise counsellor. However, he was inept at playing the games within games that was normal in court politics, an arena that was perilous for all but the most adept. The illustrious military commander was unskilled in manipulative politics; this became his undoing.

In order to ensure that the six-year old sultan was not in any way threatened, Malik Kafur send a group of soldiers to blind the imprisoned Mubarak Khan, the third son of Malika-i-Jahan. Mubarak however, managed to bribe the soldiers and turn them against Malik Kafur, reminding them of their loyalty to Ala ud-Din and the Khilji dynasty. The soldiers went back and killed Malik Kafur’s confederates and then beheaded the regent himself. Malik Kafur’s reign as regent had lasted a mere 35 days. The Turkish nobles released Mubarak Khan from prison, and although he himself was only 17 years old, installed him as the regent for the six-year old sultan who was his step-brother. Two months later, on 1 April 1316, Mubarak ascended the throne as Qutb ud-Din Mubarak Shah after the child-sultan was blinded and imprisoned.

Qutb ud-Din Mubarak Shah

Mubarak Shah began his rule with the nobles and courtiers displaying enormous good will towards him. He improved this position by acting immediately with commendable energy and ability. He released all political prisoners, reinstated confiscated land to its rightful owners and removed the imposition of some extreme taxes—all them populist measures. He recalled most of the nobles and officers who had been banished during the last few erratic years of his father’s rule and reinstated them in their previous positions. Essentially, he started his reign enforcing a policy of extreme moderation, one of ‘forgive and forget’, creating the basis for a fresh start.

Mubarak also exhibited his inherent dual personality at the beginning of his rule. The group of soldiers who had assassinated Malik Kafur on Mubarak’s instigation had by now assumed the posture of ‘king-makers’ and aspired to the position of Praetorian Guards. Almost immediately on assuming power, Mubarak dispersed the group to faraway garrisons and had the leaders executed. Further, like his illustrious father, Mubarak exhibited no compunction in exterminating all possible political rivals including his own brothers and close relatives. On the other hand he lacked his father’s single-minded focus and attention to the governance of the state and was also addicted to sensual pleasures.

Mubarak’s rapid removal of the strict restrictions on behaviour and protocol that Ala ud-Din had instituted had the unfortunate consequence of creating an outburst of the most licentious behaviour in court, which spread across the country. Moral standards dropped rapidly. After the initial spell of activity, Mubarak gradually abandoned himself to Bacchanalian revels and spend most of his time and energy in debauchery. Considering that he did not take long to descend to moral turpitude, his earlier pro-people policy should perhaps be viewed as the result of an inherent indolent nature rather than far-sighted and well thought through welfare policies.

With the new ‘world order’ in place, all fear of royal authority vanished—initially within the closed circuit of the court and then across the entire sultanate. Administration from the apex down to the village level became slack, unresponsive and ineffective. Officials abrogated all responsibilities and became tyrannical enforcers of their own interpretation of the law of the land. Bribery and corruption, almost non-existent during the heydays of Ala ud-Din’s reign became endemic and wormed its way into the vitals of the empire. The sultanate was ripe for the picking.


The creeping lawlessness of the land was ideal circumstances for the conquered provinces to rebel against foreign domination. The Yadava dynasty of Devagiri declared independence; the army of Alp Khan rebelled in Gujarat and Marwar broke free of Delhi domination. Ain-ul-Mulk, a senior noble was send to Gujarat to bring it under control. He used bribery and diplomacy to divide the rebel forces and then used the army to quell the rebellion. Mubarak’s father-in-law, Zafar Khan was installed as the governor. Zafar Khan proved to be an able and even-handed administrator and brought peace to the turbulent province.

Mubarak decided to personally intervene to bring Devagiri under control and marched to that country. The rebel king Harpala Deva fled the capital on the approach of the Muslim army but was chased and captured. Mubarak displayed his brutal streak by flaying the king while still alive and then displaying his head on the gates of the city. He destroyed the temple of the capital and built a mosque on the site with the masonry from the temple. Further, he divided Devagiri into districts under the command of Turkish governors, bringing to an end the centuries-old Yadava rule of the country. Muslim garrisons were established in most major towns, ensuring that they became semi-occupied. This signalled the end of Devagiri as an autonomous entity.

Early in his reign Mubarak had fallen under the influence of a slave named Hasan from Gujarat, who was a recent convert to Islam. Some modern historians claim that Mubarak was infatuated with Hasan and that he had homosexual relations with the slave. No authentication is available for this snippet, but it might explain the rapid rise of Hasan in the Delhi court where he was appointed the Prime Minister and bestowed the title of Khusrav Khan in short order. Hasan’s origins are hotly debated even today. [Details of the discussion regarding his origin and his caste is provided later in the chapter.]

After subjugating Devagiri and displaying his brutal streak in no uncertain manner, Mubarak returned to Delhi. During his absence, some nobles in Delhi had hatched a plot to assassinate him. The leader of the conspirators was his cousin Asad ud-Din, who had planned to place the ten-year old son of Khizr Khan on the throne and rule as the regent himself. Some nobles who were loyal to Mubarak informed him of the plot. He was enraged and put to death all male members of his extended family, including his two blind brothers. Mubarak’s cruel streak came to the fore whenever he felt threatened and did not need much instigation.

Hasan Khusrav Khan

While he himself returned to Delhi, Mubarak ordered Hasan Khusrav to undertake an expedition further south to gather tribute and plunder for wealth. Hasan had already undertaken a successful campaign against Telangana—capturing vast booty from Warangal and annexing five districts to the sultanate after defeating and forcing the raja to surrender. On Mubarak’s orders he now proceeded towards Mabar. However, while outwardly playing the role of a general of the Delhi sultanate, he harboured an ulterior ambition to establish a base and carve out an autonomous empire for himself in the south, which would function very loosely as a vassal state of the Delhi sultanate. Hasan’s increasing ambition had become apparent to some of his officers and was visible to astute observers. Some loyal officers cautioned Mubarak regarding Hasan’s plans leading to Hasan being recalled to Delhi. However, Mubarak was so infatuated with Hasan Khusrav that he punished the loyal officers who had informed him about Hasan’s plans rather than removing Hasan from the equation.

By now Hasan had complete control over the sultan. Mubarak was in complete moral decay, appearing in court completely naked, dressing himself up in female clothes, openly consorting with harlots and dancing with them in the streets of Delhi. He was overtly flaunting his sexual predilections. With Mubarak’s permission—the sultan could not refuse any request of his favourite—Hasan started to bring friends and kinsmen from Gujarat to Delhi. Over a short period of time he managed raise an army of 40,000 horsemen, a force personally loyal to him alone. He further coaxed the sultan to grant permission for this force to enter the palace grounds at night, putting forward some flimsy excuse for their need to do so.

On 15 April 1320, these troops from Gujarat entered the palace grounds at night, killed the guards and rushed to Mubarak’s private quarters. Mubarak, realising the threat, ran towards the women’s quarters. However, Hasan caught hold of his hair and another officer stabbed him. His head was severed and the body thrown into the courtyard below. The court was immediately assembled at night and the nobles were forced to consent to Hasan Khusrav Khan ascending the throne with the title Nasir ud-Din Khusrav Shah. Hasan won over a majority of the nobles and several Muslim clerics by scattering gold and giving opulent gifts. He also managed to appease some Khilji loyalists by gifting them lavishly. One of them was Fakhr ud-Din Jauna, the future Muhammad bin Tughluq, who was honoured in many ways and also made ‘Master of the Horse’.

The new sultan Nasir ud-Din, blinded, imprisoned and/or killed all possible claimants to the throne, including small boys and even infants related to the Khilji family. Mubarak’s harem was raided by Hasan and his men, who treated the women abominably. The Khilji dynasty came to an ignoble end.

Mubarak Shah – An Unworthy Sultan

Mubarak Shah did not lack courage or ability, as was amply demonstrated in his expedition to Devagiri. However, he was an unworthy successor to the competent Ala ud-Din. All the same, he was a lucky monarch. During his reign, there were no famines, no Mongol raids that had become regular in the few years before his coming to power and no other natural calamity threatened the tranquillity of the country. Many of the troubles that had erupted during Ala ud-Din’s last years on the throne, abated with Mubarak assuming the throne. A sense of security seemed to prevail over the country. It is unfortunate that Mubarak was unable to capitalise on the benign circumstances that prevailed to entrench the Khilji rule in Delhi.

Mubarak’s character has been reported as a ‘bizarre amalgam of debauchery and bestial violence’. He was highly eccentric and may well have been clinically insane. He lived in a permanent state of paranoia and insecurity, being capable of unleashing demonic savageries at the slightest provocation. He also displayed an extremely violent and vindictive spirit, which led to a series of random executions of nobles and others who displeased him. The goodwill that prevailed on his ascension to the throne was frittered away very rapidly. In this frenzy of violence Mubarak also managed to finally severe the theoretical umbilical cord that the previous sultans had all maintained with the Caliphate in Baghdad. It was during his brief and murderous reign that the Delhi sultanate came to its own as a truly independent country.

Nasir ud-Din Khusrav Shah

Nasir ud-Din was the only ‘Indian’ Muslim to sit on the throne of Delhi during the period in Indian history now known as the era of Delhi sultanate, normally calculated as being between 1206 and 1526. His ascension to the throne is also portrayed as a ‘Hindu’ coup by Barani and other contemporary writers. They heaped vile epithets on him and attempted to lower his status by proclaiming that he originally belonged to the scavenger caste from Gujarat, and therefore essentially an untouchable. The real reason for this unprecedented animosity—towards a ruling sultan, however he may have come to the throne—was that he did not belong to the self-declared Turkish aristocracy from Central Asia, but a Hindu convert to Islam from Gujarat.

Origins of Nasir ud-Din Khusrav Shah

Hasan has been described as a ‘Parwari’ by Barani, which would make him an untouchable since that title was used by the Hindu caste of scavengers from Gujarat. This was an expression of disdain, demonstrating the Turk’s prejudice against Islamised Indians, many of whom were indeed from the lower castes.

European historians, the first one being John Briggs who translated the works of Farishta, confused the caste title and proclaimed him an ‘untouchable’. Some later European historians also endorsed this erroneous view, perpetuating the myth of Hasan’s unsavoury origin. Unfortunately some modern Indian historians, who are scholars of influence and erudition—for example, Dr Iswari Prasad and Dr Mahdi Husain—have also accepted the European view without sufficient research and analysis. This assertion of Hasan’s lowly origin is patently incorrect.

Some later-day European writers, do not attach any significance or value to the abuse heaped on Hasan Khusrav by the contemporary Muslim chroniclers. James Bird, who translated the Persian chronicle ‘Mirat-i-Ahmadi’ as The History of Gujarat states that Khusrav belonged to the clan of Parmar Rajputs. This is corroborated by Amir Khusrav’s report that Hasan belonged to ‘Baradus’, a military Hindu caste, who were traditional commandos of the rajas whom they served. This assessment is probably the closest to the truth.

It is certain that Hasan Khusrav belonged to the warrior class. Only this origin can explain his bravery and martial talent, as well as his ability to administer an empire.

The claim of a Hindu coup could be attributed to the fact that a number of Khusrav’s followers and companions were Hindus from Gujarat. They could have performed some Hindu rites within the palace walls, leading to the rumour that the Hindus had taken over the kingdom. The fact remains that Hasan Khusrav remained a steadfast and practising Muslim till his death. Khusrav married Mubarak’s widow and his followers also took as wives some of the ladies of the harem. Some of these ladies, forced to be wives of Hasan’s followers were the wives of some of the Turkish noblemen, which created unwanted animosity against the Gujarat contingent.

These actions and the coup itself combined to make the rule of an ‘Indian’ Muslim intolerable for the Turkish nobility. Khusrav won over many nobles by the lavish distribution of gifts and wealth from the royal treasury and also by retaining many of them in their old positions, while even promoting some of them. Even so, irreconcilable differences existed between the Turkish noblemen and the ‘Indian’ Muslim sultan. The racial prejudice of the arrogant Turks could not tolerate the rule of a sultan who was an Indian Muslim convert. Opposition to Khusrav’s rule started to mount and coalesced around the Turkish noble, Ghazi Malik. Ghazi Malik had been the ‘Warden of the Marches’ in the north-west and was stationed at Dipalpur. He was an able commander and had successfully kept the marauding Mongols at bay for a considerable period of time.

Ghazi Malik had kept out of the fray during the turmoil that was the result of Mubarak’s assassination and Khusrav’s coming to power. This was mainly because his son, Fakhr ud-Din Jauna, was in Delhi and could have been targeted if Ghazi Malik had initiated any action against Khusrav. In fact Jauna had been feted and promoted by Khusrav. However, Jauna managed to escape from Delhi to a fort within his father’s province in the Punjab. Ghazi Malik was now free to move against Khusrav the ‘imposter’.

Some contemporary chroniclers, particularly Zia ud-Din Barani, aver that Khusrav was completely unpopular. They also report that some Turkish nobles charged Khusrav with being a half-Hindu, of insulting Islam and promoting idol worship. This narrative is completely incorrect and the epitome of totally biased reporting. The truth lay somewhere else. It can be verified that Khusrav had the support of a large number of influential Muslim commanders and noblemen. He also had the moral support of the majority of Islamic clerics, who had been appalled by the behaviour of Mubarak. Only a small minority of Turks were racially and ethnically biased against him. Ghazi Malik represented the Turkish oligarchy who were averse to ‘Indian’ Muslims attaining any position of power, let alone being the sultan!

Ghazi Malik Usurps Power

Once he was sure that his son was safe, Ghazi Malik appealed to the governors of Uch, Multan, Siwastan (Sehwan) and Jalor to rebel against Khusrav, reasoning with them that Islam was in danger. However, only the governor of Uch, Bahram Aiba, responded with limited support. The rest did not think that Islam was endangered and kept out of the possible civil war that was brewing. It is significant that Ghazi Malik’s appeal for rebellion was only send to the governors of the western provinces, who were all Turkish nobles. Further, even with the Turks he found only very limited support against Khusrav, even though religious reasons had been given for the rebellion. The great saint, Nizam ud-Din Auliya, refused to endorse the rebellion and did not provide moral support to the rebels. It is obvious that the cry of Islam being in danger was a thin ruse to incite people to rebel against Khusrav because he was an ‘Indian’ Muslim convert. Although the governors did not support Ghazi Malik, he was able to incite the people and some middle ranking officials joined him.

Khusrav Shah came to know about the rebellion being fomented against him and send a force of 40,000 under command of his brother to Dipalpur. On the way this force encountered the fort of Sarsuti (modern Sirsa) where Jauna was ensconced and failed to capture it. Thereafter, this force was comprehensively defeated by Ghazi Malik in a short encounter. Ghazi Malik then marched on Delhi. Khusrav organised another large army and went out to meet the enemy. He distributed a great amount of wealth amongst the soldiers, but it is reported that a number of them took the money and then deserted the sultan’s forces. One of Khusrav’s top generals also switched sides to the rebels. Battle was joined at Indarpat near Delhi in early September 1320. It was closely contested, but Khusrav was defeated and fled the battlefield. He was caught in the gardens of a noble near Tilpat and beheaded.

The nobles and courtiers of Delhi offered the keys to the Palace of a Thousand Pillars at Siri to Ghazi Malik. In a studied move, he formally hesitated, asking for any survivor of Ala ud-Din’s family to be made the sultan. However, he already knew that all male members were dead and with an outward show of reluctance Ghazi Malik assumed the throne of Delhi with the title Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq Shah, thus establishing the Tughluq dynasty.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2017]
All Rights Reserved
No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. You may quote extracts from the website or forward the link to the website with attribution to For any other mode of sharing, please contact the author @ (






About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: