Indian History Part 56 Section I: Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq Shah

Canberra, 22 April 2017

Ghiyas ud-Din’s accession to the throne calmed the paroxysm that had become commonplace in the sultanate from the last days of Ala ud-Din’s rule. Ghiyas had come up from humble origins—his father was a Qaraunah Turk and mother a Jat lady. The Qaraunah were a clan of the broader Mongol tribes from Central Asia, who had played a significant role in the early Mongol campaigns in Persia. Subsequently, they had moved eastward and settled in the region between Sindh and Turkestan. Ghiyas ud-Din had entered military service with Ala ud-din as a trooper and had risen in the hierarchy by dint of his own ability to become the ‘Warden of the Marches’, displaying exemplary courage in the fight against the Mongols during Ala ud-Din’s reign. It is reported that he encountered and defeated the Mongols no less than 29 times, being awarded the title Malik-ul-Ghazi, colloquially made into the diminutive as Ghazi Malik. By 1305, he was the governor of Punjab, headquartered at Dipalpur.

On defeating Khusrav Shah, Ghiyas ud-Din instituted a search to look for any surviving scion of Ala ud-Din’s family, with the proclaimed intent to place him on the throne. However, the sincerity of the search is really in doubt, and it is highly probable that he already knew that no one would be found. This is corroborated by the alacrity with which he subsequently accepted the keys to the palace, when the courtiers offered them to him. Ghiyas ud-Din was already middle aged, and had a high reputation as an effective military commander. Further, he had defeated and killed Khusrav, making him the automatic choice to be the new sultan. He did not hesitate to accept the offer from the nobles of Delhi and became the sultan, assuming the name Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq Shah, with the added title of ‘Ghazi’. Ghazi essentially meant ‘slayer of the infidel’ and Ghiyas was the first of the Delhi sultans to openly flaunt his religious bias.

Debate on Ghiyas ud-Din’s Origins

Even today there is discussion regarding the origins of Ghiyas ud-Din with few conflicting and incorrect accounts still being circulated as being true. One source claims that Ghazi Malik came into Ala ud-Din’s service from Khurasan. Firishta, after having made inquiries in Lahore states that his father Malik Tughluq was one of Balban’s Turkish slaves and that his mother was a Jat lady. However, this information, gathered purely by word-of-mouth, is not authenticated by any written records. It is based purely on information gained by Firishta’s informal interactions with sources who were declared ‘reliable’ only by Firishta himself.

The story of the Jat marriage falls within the acceptable norms of the time. For example, while he was the governor of Punjab at Dipalpur, Ghiyas ud-Din married off his brother Rajab to the daughter of a Hindu nobleman from the Bhatti Rajput clan. No doubt, considerable coercion must have been used for the Rajput nobleman to accept this alliance. The issue from this union was the future sultan Firuz Tughluq.

However, in the case of Ghiyas ud-Din none of the accounts of his origin can be verified with any assurance of certainty. It would therefore be correct to believe that his father was a Mongol or someone of Turco-Mongol stock, possibly of the Qaraunah clan, and his mother could have been either a Jat or Rajput lady.

Domestic Policy

When Ghiyas ud-Din ascended the throne, a state of utter confusion and instability prevailed in Delhi as a result of more than four years of chaotic rule. Ghiyas, a seasoned administrator, commenced his rule with great tact and prudence, mixed with an unbiased firmness that was visible just below the surface of civility that he maintained. He was acutely conscious of the rather narrow support base that he enjoyed amongst the nobility, especially within the Delhi faction. In an astute move, he distributed wealth and position to bring the more recalcitrant nobles to his side. However, the relations with his erstwhile colleagues, the governors of provinces who had refused to join him in the uprising against Khusrav Shah, remained tense throughout his reign. Even though working under these constraints, Ghiyas ud-Din restored order to the kingdom and gradually reinstated the moral ascendancy of the monarchy—no easy task, considering the odds lined against him.

In order to demonstrate his good will he was magnanimous with any and all relatives of Ala ud-Din and Mubarak Shah, reinstating them to their old positions and granting them wealth. Further, he started a reconciliation process with the nobles by ensuring that none of the nobles who sided with Khusrav were targeted for revenge or retribution and by reinstating or reconfirming them to their original positions. It is said that in this process, it was ensured that ‘no just claim was ignored, and no past service forgotten’. However, Ghiyas had come to power with the support of the elements from the north-west and therefore the new administration was clearly biased in favour of the officers from that region. Some of these officers from the north-west who had moved to the capital went on to found important noble families in Delhi who served the Tughluq dynasty with distinction.

Justice and concern for the common people is reported to have been the cornerstone of Ghiyas ud-Din’s administration. This assertion has to be understood at token value as a report from a court chronicler, obviously attempting flattery. The fact remains that Ghiyas ud-Din was an orthodox and devout Sunni Muslim in his personal life, steadfast in the observance of all the ordnances of his faith. It is also noteworthy that his rebellion which led to his ascension to the throne was, at least ostensibly, mounted to protect Islam. In effect he had become the proclaimed champion of orthodox Islam.

There is proof that most of his actions were oriented towards keeping the interest of the state supreme. In keeping with this policy, even though he demonstrated respect for Ala ud-Din, he rescinded a number of exacting regulations that had constrained the development of the state’s economy. Accordingly, he reduced taxes on the farmers from almost half of the produce to just one-tenth of the output. Simultaneously he made sure that the state did not suffer from the drop in revenue by expanding agriculture and trade. Ghiyas established garrisons to ensure the safety and security of the traders and had irrigation canals dug to facilitate an increase in agricultural produce. Essentially, the reduction in royal treasury income because of the reduction in the tax rate was offset by the expansion of the economy. The measures benefitted both the state and the people.

The administration was based on the principles of justice and moderation and was, in principle, meant to be applicable equally to both Muslim and Hindu subjects. The fundamental concept was that people should not be exploited by the official machinery. However, this benign outlook did not encompass the Hindu subjects who were seen and treated as second class citizens and fully subjected people. Their status was only just above that of slaves. Ghiyas ud-Din followed the orthodox Muslim policy of not treating non-believers as equal to persons of the Islamic faith and also retained all the restrictions that had been imposed on the Hindus by earlier rulers. In his defence it must be mentioned that Ghiyas ud-Din gave instructions to ensure that while the Hindus were not given any opportunity and/or permitted to become wealthy, they were also not pushed fully into destitution. This need not have been because of the kindness of his heart but a pragmatic move to allay the fear of rebellion if the general mass of Hindus were pushed beyond a point of endurance.

Ghiyas ud-Din understood the importance of communications to control the kingdom and therefore set in motion few initiatives that improved the central communications system. He established a regular system of posts being carried by runners and horsemen. When the system matured, news travelled within the kingdom at the speed of about 100 miles in a 12-hour day.

During his brief reign, Khusrav Shah had gifted extensive land grants to influential people in order to placate them. He had also done the same for a number of religious leaders to win over their support. These measures had greatly depleted the treasury. Ghiyas now started to reclaim these lands and also demanded the return of the money that had been disbursed. While these actions did not make him popular, it brought back some semblance of economic stringency to the kingdom.

The Sultan and the Saint

One of the chief beneficiaries of Khusrav’s largess was the Sufi sage, Shaikh Nizam ud-Din Auliya, who had received as a gift a sum in excess of half a million tankas. Ghiyas ud-Din, as the sultan, demanded that the money be returned to the royal treasury. Nizam ud-Din replied that the money had already been spend on charity and therefore he was not in a position to return the gifted money.

Ghiyas ud-Din was already annoyed at the Shaikh’s dervish practices and the alternative method of worship that was propagated by adherents of the Sufi system, of which Nizam ud-Din was a leading practitioner. The sage’s refusal to return the money that had been gifted to him, illegally as far as the orthodox sultan was concerned, intensified his dislike for Auliya and for the Sufi practice of Islam. Ghiyas then attempted to convict Nizam ud-Din for ‘unlawful’ religious practices and constituted an informal court consisting of 53 theologians. The case was examined and not even one of the theologians found any fault with Nizam ud-Din, thereby not providing Ghiyas ud-Din with any legal provision to take action against the Sufi sage.

The struggle between the sultan and the saint remained unresolved in a stand-off till the death of the sultan.

[It is interesting to note from the above episode that the animosity and struggle between the orthodox followers of Islam and those who propagate a more moderate and alternative method of practising the religion is not something that started in the late 20th century. It has been part and parcel of the ideological development of the religion from its inception in the desert sands of Arabia.]

As a practising orthodox Muslim, Ghiyas attempted to enforce strict Muslim tenets on the entire population. He forbade the production and sale of liquor, although the efficacy of the implementation of this policy is open to debate. It could not have been fully and strictly enforced. Ghiyas ud-Din was not a vigorous persecutor of the non-believers. Therefore, his indulging in temple destruction and plunder could perhaps be attributed to the avarice that plagued almost all the sultans to amass wealth at the cost of the Hindus. However, it was easier and more acceptable for the court chroniclers and other nobles to depict the plunder brought on by pure materialistic greed in the guise of religious zeal. Such a report would not then invite the sultan’s wrath.

The Telangana Expeditions

On ascending the throne and settling the local government, Ghiyas ud-Din was faced with the need to recover the territories that had been lost during the turmoil of Mubarak Shah’s short reign. The loss of territories and rebellions in the outlying provinces were a major concern for the new sultan. As an experienced administrator, Ghiyas ud-Din instinctively recognised the importance of regaining lost territory and subduing rebellion in order to restore the sultanate’s position of superiority. He therefore, ordered an expedition against Warangal, the capital of the Kakatiya king ruling the kingdom of Telangana.

Prataparudra Deva II, the ruling king of Telangana had increased his power during the chaotic reign of Mubarak Shah and stopped paying the annual tribute that had been imposed during Ala ud-Din Khilji’s rule. Prataparudra had substantially increased the Kakatiya territorial holdings by conducting military campaigns against his less powerful neighbours. In doing so the Kakatiya king displayed a singular lack of vision and political wisdom, as well as a paucity of awareness regarding the menace developing in the north. He underestimated the focus and importance the Muslim kings laid in establishing their superiority over the Hindu kings and chieftains and their zeal to spread their own religion by the sword. It would have been prudent for Prataparudra to unite the lesser Hindu chieftains under his umbrella in anticipation of the coming invasion from the north. Instead he had waged war with them, which resulted in two developments. First, he frittered away his own resources, leading him in a weakened state when the Islamic invasion took place; and second, he created animosity with the neighbours, with the result that no one came to his aid when the Muslim army finally entered his kingdom. A combination of the two led to disastrous consequences.

Ghiyas ud-Din gave command of the expedition to his eldest son and crown prince Jauna, who had been given the title of Ulugh Khan. The Tughluq army besieged Warangal. Prataparudra fought the siege for a long period of time—a period during which fierce battles had been waged with great loss of life on both sides. The Kakatiya king was finally worn down and forced to plead for peace. However, Jauna refused the terms of peace that were being offered, perhaps an indication of the wilful nature of the crown prince that would come to the fore in the near future. At this point when a victorious conclusion to the expedition was within grasp of the Muslim army, the sultanate army seems to have been thrown into confusion for some inexplicable reasons.

It is believed that Prataparudra had also been waging a guerrilla war against the invaders and had managed to cut the communications line from Delhi to Jauna, who became worried when no information was coming in from his father in Delhi. At the same time, a rumour started to spread amongst the invading Muslim army that the sultan Ghiyas ud-Din was dead. This made Jauna nervous about his own future as the heri apparent. On the advice of some of his closest friends he lifted the siege of Warangal and started back to Delhi in a hurry. It is reported that the Tughluq army was in a state of extreme turmoil at this stage. The haste is said to have been to ensure that Jauna Ulugh Khan reached the capital in time to claim his inheritance and become the sultan. This reasoning is unclear, as Jauna was the declared ‘next sultan’. At this stage another rumour took root within the army that Jauna had put to death some untrustworthy commanders, with the result some officials deserted the prince’s army for fear of unwarranted reprisal.

Another version states that Jauna Ulugh Khan, already an ambitious prince, had been further instigated by some close associates and wanted to usurp the throne of Delhi. This not a credible story for a number of reasons. First, Jauna had already been anointed as the heir apparent and therefore had no reason to jeopardise his position by mounting a rebellion that may not have succeeded. Further, his father was already well past middle age and was not expected to continue to rule for a long period of time. Second, the manner in which events unfolded after Jauna’s withdrawal from Warangal provide a clear picture of the trust his father placed on him. The question of his wanting to usurp the throne is a fantasy built up by some later-day historians, in keeping with the tradition of in-fighting for succession in the sultanate. In any event, the fact remains that the Muslim army retreated and that the retreat was made uncomfortable with his much reduced and fatigued army being constantly harassed by the Kakatiya forces.

Any doubt regarding a rift between father and son were put to rest as soon as Jauna reached Delhi. Ghiyas ud-Din had captured all the officials who had deserted his son and had them put to death. There was no doubt in the sultan’s mind regarding the loyalty of his son or any suspicion that Jauna had intended to usurp the throne. This was further confirmed a year later when Ghiyas ud-Din personally embarked on an expedition to Bengal. He appointed Jauna as the regent to rule in his place during his absence from the capital. These are not the actions of a sultan who had even the slightest reservation regarding the intentions of his son.

After punishing the disloyal officers of the army, Ghiyas ud-Din assembled another huge army, placed Jauna in command, and once again send him back to Warangal to subdue the Kakatiya king. In the interim period Prataparudra had once again proclaimed his independence and was defiant of the Delhi rulers. According to the Muslim chronicles, the second expedition into Telangana was a resounding success.

Jauna captured Bidar on the way to Warangal, and then proceeded to besiege the capital. The siege was prosecuted vigorously and Warangal captured after a brief battle. Prataparudra and his entire family were captured and send to Delhi. Warangal was renamed Sultanpur and Telangana was divided into several districts with each of them being placed under the governorship of Turkish nobles and senior military officials. The entire Kakatiya kingdom, now broken up into small provinces, was brought under direct rule of Delhi through these governors. This was the demise of the Kakatiya kingdom, which ceased to exist as a predominant power on the eastern seaboard of the sub-continent. The glory and greatness of the Kakatiya dynasty ended with this defeat.

The information available of this invasion, siege and capture of Warangal is only from contemporary Muslim reports. Since the Kakatiya kingdom was obliterated as an entity, there are no surviving records that could have provided an alternative viewpoint, at least about the siege and the actual battle that finally subdued a valiant ruler who had waged a continuous war for independence throughout his eventful reign. This is an unfortunate loss to creating a holistic understanding of the gradual expansion of Muslim control into the Deccan.

Other Expeditions in the South

Flushed with the victory over the Kakatiya king, Jauna raided the neighbouring kingdom of Utkala in Orissa—mentioned as Jajnagar in the Muslim chronicles. The invasion is reported as a great success by contemporary Muslim writers, but there are conflicting reports of this campaign. There is an inscription in a mosque in Rajahmundry, which states that it was built in 1324 during the reign of Ulugh Khan. However, the Puri plates of Narasimha II credits Bhanudeva II, the ruler of Orissa with victory over the Muslim army led by Jauna Khan. The plate goes on to mention the name of the sultan as Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq. The obvious conclusion that can be drawn is that Jauna’s southern odyssey was not one continuous and glorious victorious march as has been made out in the Muslim chronicles. There were also setbacks and defeats, glossed over by the court chroniclers.

Jauna’s defeat in Orissa is also corroborated in an indirect manner by the account given by Barani of this campaign. He states that Jauna Khan returned suddenly from this expedition to Jajnagar. Clearly a victorious army would not return in a sudden turn about unless forced to do so because of some reversal of its fortune. Therefore, it can be surmised that Jauna Khan’s secondary expeditions after the victory at Warangal were not as victorious or successful as they are made out to be by contemporary chroniclers. There is also mention of an expedition into Tamil country that was undertaken. However, this cannot be corroborated or confirmed from any other source and even the skimpy records available does not provide details in terms of battles, victories and capture of territory. A campaign into Tamil territory is highly unlikely to have been undertaken.

The second peninsular raid was considered a success on the whole. Jauna was feted as a ‘victor’ on his return to Delhi where Ghiyas ud-Din received his favourite son with a grand reception and other celebrations. However, the celebratory mood was marred by a Mongol invasion at the same time. The Mongols crossed the River Indus and plundered Samana. A large army was send against the invaders and the Mongols were defeated in two separate encounters. The sultanate army managed to take many prisoners in these encounters. The report of these victories must be understood within the context of the Mongol strategy of not giving battle in the traditional manner when confronted at the end of a plundering raid, but retreating with the spoils that they had gathered. (The Mongol strategy of invasion, plunder and retreat at the arrival of defending forces has been described in detail earlier in this volume.)

The Annexation of Bengal 

Bengal had been an independent principality ever since the death of Balban. No sultan who came after Balban had attempted to bring this recalcitrant province under the central control of Delhi. Ghiyas ud-Din was determined to assert his authority over the province and expand the sultanate. While the invasion of Bengal was being contemplated in Delhi, there was a dispute for the ‘throne’ of Bengal between three brothers—Ghiyas ud-Din (not the sultan, but only a namesake), Shahab and Nasir. Ghiyas who was the governor of East Bengal, overthrew his brother Shahab and took over control of the territory he had been ruling from Lakhnauti. Nasir, who was also ambitious, appealed to sultan Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq in Delhi for help.

This plea for help was the opportunity to interfere that the sultan was waiting for and he decided on an expedition to Bengal, setting out forthwith to command the campaign personally. There are some reports that Jauna was recalled from the Deccan to act as the regent in the absence of the sultan. Although these reports are unverifiable, such a recall could explain the sudden return of Jauna and his army from the campaign against Orissa, rather than because of military reversals. The most likely cause for the Muslim army’s retreat from Orissa would be a combination of both these factors. Jauna would have seized on the impending expedition to Bengal and his father’s absence to make light of the military reversals and defeat that he was suffering at the hands of the Orissa king, Bhanudeva II.

The Bengal Campaign

Demonstrating his long experience as the military commander of the North West, Ghiyas ud-Din waged a swift and efficient campaign. As the Delhi army was proceeding toward Bengal, they were joined by Nasir and his forces. Ghiyas the sultan very easily defeated the usurper Ghiyas of Bengal and send him to Delhi as a prisoner, while placing Nasir on the throne of Lakhnauti as governor to rule West Bengal. East and South Bengal with their capitals at Sonargaon and Satgaon were also conquered and annexed directly to Delhi. Bahram Khan, Ghiyas ud-Din’s adopted son was placed as the provincial governor of both the provinces.

Having settled the affairs in Bengal fairly rapidly, the sultan started his return journey to Delhi. On the way he invaded the kingdom of Tirhut (Mithila in North Bihar) and defeated the ruling raja Harisimha. The raja’s name has also been reported as Harisingh Deva, who belonged to the Karnata dynasty. The king fled to the territory of Nepal for safety. After Tirhut had been overrun, Ghiyas ud-Din only imposed a tribute to be paid and moved on in his journey back to Delhi. The only reason for the invasion of a small kingdom that was not on the line of march to Delhi seems to be that it was a Hindu kingdom and therefore should not be left to prosper—a common enough sentiment of the Delhi sultans.

The Death of a Sultan

While engaged in the Bengal campaign, Ghiyas ud-Din received some disquieting news from Delhi. This may have added further impetus to an already swift campaign since the sultan was now impatient to return to his capital. The news was regarding the behaviour of his son Jauna who was now the regent of Delhi. It appears that Jauna had fallen under the spell of the Sufi sage and dervish Nizam ud-Din Auliya and was associating with him closely. The sultan intensely disliked Auliya, ever since the sage had refused to return the money that he had received from Khusrav Shah. The sultan was informed that during one of the dervish’s trances he had predicted the imminent accession of Jauna to the throne. Since this could only happen when Ghiyas ud-Din died, the sultan became suspicious of his son’s intentions. To further this anxiety, it was also reported to him that Jauna was increasing the number of his followers and forming a clique that was personally loyal to him. The sultan’s concern was further intensified when some astrologers predicted that he would not be able to return to Delhi.

Incensed by these developments, Ghiyas ud-Din send a warning to Auliya that when he reached Delhi, the city would be too small to contain both of them together. The message was clear, Nizam ud-Din should leave Delhi before the sultan returned to the capital, only staying there on pain of death.

‘Hanuz Dilli Dur Ast’

In the end the sultan’s threat came true, but not as anticipated by the exile of the Sufi sage, but through the fulfilment of the dervish’s prediction, which came true.

As the sultan’s entourage drew near to Delhi, Auliya’s followers started to become increasingly agitated for his safety. They mentioned the sultan’s proximity to Delhi and advised the sage to leave Delhi, keeping in mind the sultan’s threat. Nizam ud-Din is reported to have told his followers, ‘Hanuz Dilli dur ast’, meaning ‘Delhi is still far off’.

In order to welcome the sultan back from a victorious campaign, and also possibly to placate him since he was irritated about the interaction with Nizam ud-Din, Jauna erected a wooden pavilion at Afghanpur about 6 kilometres south-east of Delhi. The felicitations and celebrations were to be held there before the sultan would be escorted to Delhi in a victory procession.

The sultan was received by Jauna and other nobles a little away from the pavilion and conducted to the ceremonial dais that had been raised. Once the sultan was seated on the dais, the roof collapsed, crushing Ghiyas ud-Din and a few others under the debris. Considering the accidental nature of the collapse and the track record of fratricide in the Delhi sultanate, it is not difficult to understand that foul play was suspected and Jauna’s collusion automatically assumed. This is further emphasised by some disparities in the accounts of the actual events, as recounted by different contemporary chroniclers who bore witness to the event or were resident in Delhi at that time.

The first is that the sultan himself had ordered the building of the pavilion for his welcome reception, and therefore, foul play could not be suspected. This assertion is not tenable. Even if it was the sultan’s wish to have a pavilion built, its construction was obviously entrusted to Jauna and his officers, who could have created a faulty edifice. The second report is that Jauna Khan had the pavilion/palace created with great mechanical ingenuity. It was built in such a way that when an elephant pushed a particular part of the pavilion, the entire structure collapsed. The third iterations adds that after the structure collapsed, Jauna purposely delayed the rescue effort to get the sultan out of the debris, thereby ensuring his death. The fourth one goes even beyond this accusation and states that the sultan was alive when he was pulled out of the debris, but was murdered immediately thereafter. Irrespective of what is to be believed, the fact remains that Ghiyas-ud-Din died when the roof of his celebratory dais collapsed on him.

Suspicion against Jauna for the ‘timely’ accident that took Ghiyas ud-Din’s life will always remain, since it was not laid to rest immediately after the event. In a holistic and unbiased analysis it seems probable that Jauna conspired, at least on the periphery, to have his father murdered. This is further emphasised by the dead sultan’s displeasure at his son becoming a disciple of Nizam ud-Din Auliya. Ghiyas ud-Din had nurtured an intense dislike for the Sufi sage. As an aside, it is also possible that the hastily constructed structure was not stable and that it collapsed because of natural causes, although this conjecture sounds far-fetched at a time when assassination of kings by close relatives was a common occurrence in the Delhi sultanate. It is inevitable that conspiracy theories would abound under these circumstances, even if the debacle was an unfortunate and genuine accident. The unfortunate fact is that the truth is not palpably available and unlikely to ever be determined, after so many centuries.

‘After all, premature death was an occupational hazard for any contemporary ruler and parricide a fairly common cause; even when a ruler dies in his bed, poison was invariably suspected.’

John Keay,

India: A History, p. 265

In Jauna’s defence it must be said that there really was no need for him to usurp the throne by assassinating his father—Ghiyas ud-Din was an old man, and Jauna had been the heir apparent throughout his reign. His succession was assured. The other factor to consider is that if murder was indeed contemplated, it would not have been planned as a chance death under a collapsing wooden structure. Such a scheme had no assurance of success. Even so, the verdict on Jauna’s accession to the throne is still a grey area in the history of the Tughluq dynasty.

Ghiyas ud-Din had already built an elegant mausoleum at Tughlaquabad, his capital. His body was interned in it on the same night as the accident, in conformity with the Islamic tradition of burying the dead as soon as possible after death. Three days later, Jauna ascended the throne as Muhammad Tughlaq. He continued to stay at Tughlaquabad for the next 40 days in extended mourning for the death of his father.

Ghiyas ud-Din – The Sultan

On coming to the throne, Ghiyas ud-Din had the distinct advantage of already being an experienced soldier, a seasoned general, as well as a loyal and faithful official of the crown. He was also one of the most successful ‘Wardens of the March’, keeping the North-West border of the sultanate secure against the Mongol depredations for a long time. He was uniquely suited to be a good ruler, having all the qualities that was necessary for the making of a ‘good’ sultan in turbulent times. He proved this assessment right and was very clearly an effective ruler; establishing peace and stability and stamping out major crime within a short period of taking power. From the outset he adopted a policy of moderation and reconciliation, managing to win over even Khusrauv’s supporters. As far as possible, within the constraints of the period, he attempted to provide an administration based on even justice.

As a ruler Ghiyas ud-Din supported agriculture, based on the belief that national prosperity was a direct result of the well-being of the farmer. In the medieval times this was indeed true. He ordered the revenue officials to increase the land under cultivation while not increasing the land tax rates. While establishing the primacy of agriculture for the prosperity of the nation, he enforced the policy of military domination of all other aspects of the administration of the kingdom as its fundamental tenet. His long tenure as the ‘Warden of the Marches’ had entrenched a view of military superiority as being critical to the strength and well-being of the nation. The tenet of the strength of a nation being built on military domination was also true for the times and not misplaced. In fact this is a universal and timeless truth that is forgotten at the peril to the nation, as relevant in Ghiyas ud-Din’s time as now in the 21st century. For a matured administrator and military commander, this was a self-evident truth. Therefore, he paid special and personal attention to the army, ensuring that they were maintained in fighting trim at all times.

Although mild-mannered in his dealings with nobles and courtiers, he always endeavoured to maintain the prestige of the sovereign. However, he remained on the same terms with his old friends even after becoming the sultan. Essentially he had always led the virtuous life of a pious Sunni Muslim, which he continued to do even after becoming the king. He kept free of the normal vices of the age that normally afflicted noblemen and kings. He was also one of the first ‘builders’ of the Delhi sultanate. He built the fortified city of Tughlaquabad and moved his capital there. He also erected many great buildings, the most magnificent being his own tomb, which displays some unique architectural features.

In spite of all the admirable qualities that Ghiyas ud-Din possessed and effortless administrative efficiency that he displayed, the Hindu subjects suffered under his reign because he was a man of the time. Being a devout Sunni Muslim, he blindly adhered to the Quranic Law, without thought for intelligent interpretation. His civil administration was based completely on the letter of Muslim law as was prevalent at that time and not on the spirit of the law. This strict and blind adherence to the Muslim Law overshadowed the entire treatment of Hindus within his kingdom. Hindus were held in utter contempt and treated as inferior beings, being consciously taxed into perpetual poverty. Hindus continually felt the severity of the government, being ground down from all directions—in terms of religious intolerance, social status, economic downfall and political insignificance. Although they formed the majority of the population of the kingdom, essentially they did not matter to the state.

Ghiyas ud-Din’s treatment of the Hindus bears close resemblance to the manner in which they were treated during the rule of Ala ud-Din. However, Ghiyas ud-Din was a much ‘better’ man than Ala ud-Din and should have been more enlightened in his outlook towards the majority of his subjects. Sadly, this was not the case and the Hindus did not fare any better. He did not have the farsightedness or sense of fairness to treat the Hindus as equal to any other subject within his jurisdiction. The position of Hindus, under this sober and much accomplished sultan, was purely a function of how the Quranic Law was interpreted by the bigoted clergy, not one of objective justice, let alone compassion. Hindus were systematically relegated to the status of second-class citizens, inferior to all else, with no political position or civil rights, in the land of their birth.

The only credit that can be given to Ghiyas ud-Din is that he restored the power and prestige of the king ruling from Delhi, which had fallen very low, by the studied correctness of his behaviour and demeanour; and that he revitalised a system of administration that had atrophied from within.

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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 Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

One Response to “Indian History Part 56 Section I: Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq Shah”

  1. Very detailed history. I find your posts very interesting

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