Indian History Part 56 The Tughluq Dynasty Section III Muhammad Tughluq: Revolts, Rebellions and Military Expeditions


Canberra, 28 May 2017

The entire reign of Muhammad Tughluq was plagued by rebellions and revolts in different parts of the kingdom, even though he had ascended the throne without any contest. Very early in his rule, his own nephew Baha ud-Din Gurshasp who held the fief of Sagar near Gulbarga in the Deccan, rebelled. Baha ud-Din had gathered enormous wealth during his rule over the fiefdom and also secured the loyalty of a number of nobles of the principality. Growing in confidence, he began to attack the nobles who continued to remain faithful to the sultan. Muhammad send an imperial army to bring the rebel under control, which defeated Baha ud-Din at Devagiri. The rebel fled towards Sagar, his stronghold, pursued by the Delhi army. Baha ud-Din fled from Sagar at the approach of the imperial army and took refuge in the neighbouring kingdom of Kampili, ruled by a Hindu king.

The Annexation of Kampili

Kampili was a small kingdom situated on the banks of the River Tungabhadra, comprising the districts of Bellary, Raichur and Dharwar. It had traditionally been a dependency of the Yadavas of Devagiri. When the Yadavas lost their kingdom to the Delhi sultanate after years of spirited resistance, Kampili declared independence. Although a small kingdom, it successfully resisted the invasion by Malik Kafur in 1313-15 and thereby maintained its independent status. Since then Kampili had gradually increased its power and grown in prestige, adding further territory that included parts of Anantapur and Shimoga districts.

According to Muslim chroniclers, the raja who provided shelter to Baha ud-Din and his entourage was called Kampilideva. [The name cannot be confirmed and seems to be the usual Muslim way of adding the term ‘deva’ to the name of the kingdom in order to name the king.] The fact that Baha ud-Din was granted asylum in Kampili is a fact. However, the reason for the raja to do so is unclear, considering the might of the Delhi sultanate and the assurance that such a move would bring the full wrath of the sultan on the small kingdom. It could have been the result of an altruistic pursuit of the Hindu concept of hospitality or a subtle political move by Kampilideva. It is also mentioned that Baha ud-Din had for long maintained friendly relations with the raja of Kampili.

In the event, irrespective of the raja’s motives in providing shelter to the fugitive, it brought disaster on the kingdom. The kingdom was attacked by a powerful army send from Delhi. Kampilideva offered heroic resistance, defeating the Muslim army twice in battle. However, when fresh reinforcements arrived for the Sultanate army from Devagiri, the raja barricaded himself in the fort at Hosadurg (Anagondi). Since he was besieged from all sides, he managed to hold out only for about a month. When the fort could not be defended any longer, the women performed the awesome rite of Jauhar; Kampilideva and his valiant soldiers sallied forth and fought the invaders till no defender remained alive. Kampili was annexed and constituted as a province of the sultanate under the governorship of Malik Muhammad.

The surviving sons of the raja and some other princelings of the kingdom were imprisoned and taken to Delhi where they were forcibly converted to Islam. Among these were two brothers—Harihara and Bukka—who would later revert to Hinduism on their return to the Peninsula and go on to found the great kingdom of Vijayanagar. In an indirect manner, Kampilideva’s futile attempt to protect an honoured guest did not really go in vain. From the ruins of the small kingdom rose what was the mightiest kingdom of the Peninsula.

Even after Kampili was destroyed as an independent entity, the saga of the rebel Baha ud-Din Gurshasp continued. On being besieged, the king Kampilideva had send him and his family to the Hoysala king Ballala III’s court for protection. Accordingly the Delhi army marched to Dwarasamudra, the capital of the Hoysala kingdom. There is debate whether or not Ballala III offered resistance to the invading army. Considering that the Muslim army went on to annex some parts of the Hoysala kingdom to the sultanate, it can be assumed that some sort of resistance was offered. However, after what must have been a brief struggle, Gurshasp and family were handed over to the commanding general of the Muslim army. Ballala III was obviously more politically astute than Kampilideva who perished in the attempt to uphold his own honour as well as discharge his obligations as a host. Ballala also accepted Delhi supremacy and may have been forced to pay tribute.

Baha ud-Din Gurshasp, the cause of the entire debacle, was send to Devagiri where Muhammad Tughluq was in residence. At this stage, Muhammad displayed the dark side of his character, demonstrating an element of revolting, demonic cruelty. He had Baha ud-Din flayed alive, his skin stuffed with straw and then displayed around all the cities of the kingdom. Further, his flesh was cooked with rice and then fed to all his family members who were in captivity. These actions were justified by the chroniclers as the sultan providing a warning to would-be rebels, an attempt at reducing the cruelty that was inflicted. Not surprisingly, these acts did not quell any rebellion but only made the people realise the odious nature of their sultan. In fact as Muhammad’s reign continued, rebellions against his rule multiplied, especially during the last phase of his rule.

The Kampili-Hoysala expedition completed the expansion of the sultanate into the Peninsula, with the southernmost Hindu power being subdued. More importantly, it demonstrated the difference of approach towards the kingdoms of the Deccan from that adopted by Ala ud-Din Khilji, the first Delhi sultan to venture south of the Vindhya ranges. The Khilji policy was very similar to the one adopted by Samudra Gupta a thousand years earlier—the invasion was merely a conquering raid meant to establish suzerainty over distant and outlying provinces. The Khilji army had defeated the four great Hindu kingdoms of the south; the Kaktiyas, Yadavas, Hoysalas and the Pandyas. They were forced to pay tribute and then handed back to the dynasties. Only peculiar circumstances forced Ala ud-Din to annex the Yadava kingdom of Devagiri, while he made no attempt to annex or rule the other three even by proxy.

The Tughluq sultans followed a very different policy towards all Hindu kingdoms with whom they came into contact. Their primary aim was the extermination of Hindu rule in the sub-continent, as opposed to the imposition of suzerainty. During Ghiyas ud-Din’s short reign, the Kakatiya dynasty had been destroyed and Telangana annexed. The destruction and annexation of Kampili and the defeat of the Hoysala king made Hindu rule in the Peninsula restricted to the deep-south and insignificant small pockets in the Deccan. Almost the entire sub-continent was now under Muslim rule, either directly ruled from Delhi or being vassal states. Only Kashmir, Orissa, Rajasthan and the Pandya kingdom in the deep-south remained outside the ambit of the Delhi sultanate.

Early Disruptions

There were minor episodes of revolts early in Muhammad’s rule that were by and large contained by the sultan without much effort. First to revolt was the Hindu chief of Kondana (modern Simhgarh about 12 kilometres south of Pune). The fort was besieged by the Muslim army and the chief was starved into submission after eight months. He became of vassal of Delhi.

The second rebellion was more significant in terms of the players involved. Bahram Aiba, titled Kishlu Khan, held the fiefdoms of Uch, Multan and Sindh. These were also the first line of defence for the sultanate, being provinces that guarded its north-west frontier. Further, Aiba had been a close friend of Ghiyas ud-Din and also highly respected by Muhammad Tughluq. A number of reasons have been advanced for Kishlu Khan’s rebellion. However, the catalyst seems to have been Muhammad’s explicit orders to Kishlu Khan to send his family to Devagiri/Daulatabad, the new capital. Kishlu Khan refused, and having disobeyed a direct royal order, perhaps was left with no option but to continue the inherent rebellion that was initiated by the refusal. This rebellion was serious enough for the sultan to start a march northward from the Deccan. Kishlu Khan also embarked with a huge force to meet the Delhi army. In the ensuing battle, the sultan’s army was victorious and Kishlu Khan fled the battlefield. However, he was captured and beheaded; his head was hung at the city gates for all to see and understand the fate that awaited rebels.

A Series of Rebellions

The rebellions that erupted in the later years of Muhammad’s reign were mostly the result of the erroneous implementation of the sultan’s progressive policies. As discussed in the previous chapter, the failure of the sultan’s innovative administrative policies almost always culminated in the oppression of the common people—they triggered heavy taxation, ruthless punishments inflicted in order to enforce impractical schemes and the innate cruelty that accompanied the royal decrees. The famine that affected the kingdom, which continued for a number of years, added fuel to the fire. There was also no dearth of ambitious nobles in the sultanate who were perennially on the lookout for opportunities to exploit to further their own agenda and to create instability. These nobles were not above using the sultan’s difficulties, brought about by the implementation of his administrative reforms, to foment discontent in the court and the countryside.

After the Kampili revolt had been successfully put down, there were a few years of relative tranquillity in the kingdom. However, from 1335, the sultanate was plagued by a series of rebellions. The first one of significance was that of Jalal ud-Din Ahsan Shah the governor of Ma’bar (also mentioned in some books as Malabar) with its capital in Madurai. At this time Delhi was in the grip of a famine, but Muhammad Tughluq marched out in person to chastise the rebel. In the meantime, Ahsan Shah had declared independence and also started to issue his own coins. When the Delhi army reached Telangana, it was struck with an epidemic of cholera and the expedition against the rebel was abandoned. Ahsan Shah was not brought to book and became the independent ruler of Ma’bar region, founding the short-lived Madurai sultanate.

The next to rebel was Amir Halaju, the governor of Lahore. However, the rebel army was defeated and Halaju killed. Around the same time Malik Hushang, the son of the governor of Devagiri revolted. He subsequently submitted voluntarily to Muhammad and was pardoned. This was one of only two reported instance of the sultan pardoning a rebel leader. Subsequently, the governor of Kara Nizam Main, rebelled, was defeated and flayed alive, almost as per tradition. Similarly the governor of Bidar, Nasrat Khan rebelled, was defeated, deprived of his fief and exiled. Next, Ali Shah revolted in Gulbargha, was defeated and banished to Ghazi. These rebellions took place in the years 1337-40 and indicates the growing frequency of rebellions and the gradual dissipation of not only the resources of the sultanate but also the authority and control of the sultan over his domain.

Revolt of Ain-ul-Mulk

Ain-ul-Mulk Multani was the governor of Awadh and a distinguished nobleman. His rebellion in 1340-41 is considered one of the most important in the series of revolts that rocked the sultanate. Multani had rendered yeomen service to the state during a distinguished career and was held in very high esteem at the royal court in Delhi. At the height of the famine in Delhi, he had provided great assistance to Muhammad in relocating the royal family to Saragdwari. Ain-ul-Mulk was a highly learned scholar, well versed in theology and jurisprudence. It is reported in several chronicles that he was one of the few nobles equally adept at wielding the pen and the sword with complete dexterity.

Muhammad Tughluq peremptorily ordered Ain-ul-Mulk to take over the governorship of the Deccan, presumably to use Ain-ul-Mulk’s great administrative experience to control and contain the increasingly rebellious chieftains and less than loyal officers of the Peninsula. The order took Multani by surprise since it was issued in Muhammad’s usual fashion, without any consultation or preamble discussion, which was the minimum due of such a senior and powerful officer of the realm. While he was contemplating the pros and cons of the order, Ain-ul-Mulk was influenced against the sultan by some disgruntled nobles and became convinced that he and his family were consciously being placed in danger by the sultan. The governor of Awadh rebelled against the order.

It was now Muhammad Tughluq’s turn to be surprised, since he had given the order in good faith and keeping the stability of the sultanate as the highest priority. However, he rallied the royal army and personally led the force against the rebel. After a fiercely fought battle and stubborn resistance, Ain-ul-Mulk was defeated and taken prisoner. However, Muhammad pardoned Ain-ul-Mulk considering his past services but put to death, in his usual cruel manner, all the associates who had advised the governor. This was the second instance of the sultan pardoning a major rebel leader. Even so, Ain-ul-Mulk was subjected to a number of indignities and appointed the superintendent of the royal gardens, a lowly position in the structured hierarchy of the royal court.

Loss of Bengal

Bengal had kept a distance from Delhi since ancient times and the era of the Delhi Sultanate was no exception. It remained an ‘estranged’ and autonomous province even during the reign of powerful sultan’s in Delhi. In order to enforce a more direct rule in Bengal, Muhammad Tughluq introduced a new administrative system in the province. Following his father’s initiatives in the province, Muhammad divided the province into three units with their capitals at Lakhnauti, Sonargaon and Satgaon. Lakhnauti was ruled by Nasir ud-Din, who had been appointed by Ghiyas ud-Din. Muhammad now appointed Qadr Khan as joint ruler and made him directly responsible to the sultan for the governance of the province. In fact because of his direct contact with Muhammad, Qadr Khan became the de facto ruler in Lakhnauti. A similar arrangement was introduced in Sonargaon also.

In 1337, Fakhr ud-Din, the armour bearer of Qadr Khan, slew him and usurped power in Lakhnauti. He astutely analysed the confusion prevailing in Delhi and took the opportunity to declare independence. Muhammad was far too engrossed in controlling other more troublesome issues and did not pay immediate heed to the events taking place in faraway Bengal. Fakhr ud-Din took advantage of the sultan’s preoccupation and steadily increased his power, bringing all three units of the province under his control. He proceeded to rule the whole of Bengal with ability and vigour. Muhammad Tughluq did not initiate any action to counter this rebellion and effective cessation of the province. From this time, Bengal could be deemed to have seceded and lost to Delhi. Ibn Battuta describes Fakhr ud-Din as a capable despot who delighted in the company of pious and learned men. He is also reported to have donated large sums of money to charity. Bengal prospered under his rule.

The rebellions and revolts that sprouted with monotonous regularity were more or less contained in the early years of Muhammad’s reign. As the years of his rule progressed, the sultan was hard put to control the eruptions and his later years were spent in a perpetual perambulation of his domain, personally putting down one rebellion after the other. This led to gradual loss of control over far-flung territories. An astute observer would have seen the beginning of the breakup of the once great empire.

Military Expeditions

Muhammad Tughluq was an energetic ruler, intelligent and full of purpose, bent on improving the stature of the kingdom that he had inherited. Therefore, it was not surprising that he formulated grandiose plans of foreign conquest. Unlike the case of Ala ud-Din who was dissuaded from embarking on global dominance by older and wiser heads in his court; Muhammad Tughluq did not have any noble in his service with the sagacity and temerity to advise him and even if there had been someone of stature, it is difficult to believe that he would have been listened to by the sultan.

The Persian Plan

Early in his reign Muhammad had given refuge some Khorasan nobles who had fled the Persian court. These disgruntled nobles induced the gullible sultan to invade their country. Khorasan at that time was ruled by Abu Said. He had ascended the throne as a minor and had been ruling under the regentship of Amir Chaupan, who had managed the State for a number of years. During those years he had grown in stature and become extremely powerful—the de facto ruler of the kingdom. Abu Said fell in love with Amir Chaupan’s daughter, but for some reason the Amir opposed their marriage. Abu Said, who had reached majority by now, captured the regent and later had him strangled. This brought on internal turmoil in the kingdom, plunging Khorasan (Persia) into confusion. Simultaneously Persia was threatened in the west by Egypt and in the east by the Chagatai Mongols under Tarmashirin Khan.

Muhammad Tughluq who had assiduously maintained good relations with the Egyptian ruler now collected an army of 370,000 men for the proposed joint invasion of Khorasan. In his enthusiasm for the project, the sultan paid this Army of the Khorasan in advance the wages for a year from the government treasury. However, as was the case with a majority of Muhammad’s ambitious schemes, the plan to attack Khorasan also was influenced by other unconsidered factors, which intervened to make the plan unviable. There were four interconnected factors that made it impossible for the sultan to implement his audacious plan.

One, and perhaps the most important factor, was that the Egyptian sultan became friendly with Abu Said and therefore withdrew support for the Tughluq invasion plan. He refused to provide any assistance to the plan being incubated in Delhi. Two, the Chinese emperor was uncomfortable with the increasing power of the Chagatai Mongols and therefore not only withdrew all help in the enterprise but actively opposed the Mongol attacks on Khorasan. Three, the Chinese opposition made the Chagatai Mongols reconsider their position that in turn eased the pressure on the eastern borders of Khorasan, providing a much needed reprieve to Abu Said who used the respite to consolidate his military position at the border.

Four, and the most glaring fault in the scheme, originated in Delhi itself. While articulating the plan, Muhammad had not factored-in the extreme difficulty of moving a large army through the harsh Hindukush Mountains. No thought had been given to the logistics involved in undertaking such a march across inhospitable terrain. Further, it is true that the Delhi army was fairly well-equipped to deal with the local and largely disunited Hindu resistance. However, the sultan had not even perceived the challenges that would be faced by the army when it reached out, far away from their support base, to subdue an entrenched and battle hardened Persian army. This was a completely different task and it is doubtful that the Delhi army would have been up to the task, even if the difficult mountain crossing had been achieved.

To his credit, Muhammad Tughluq now exercised his superior wisdom and abandoned the foreign invasion plan, deciding to concentrate his military campaigns to the Indian sub-continent. The Army of the Khorasan, already paid in advance for one year of service never deployed in battle. When the one year was over, the royal treasury was unable to renew the contracts and the army was disbanded. This marked the absolute failure of yet another grandiose scheme that also incurred a great loss to the treasury.

The Rajputs of Mewar

Opinions and narratives differ regarding the Muhammad’s effort to subjugate the Rajputs in the Rajputana region. The Rajput princes and chieftains bore the flag of rebellion and independence for the entire period of Islamic onslaught on North India. Their extreme sense of honour and tradition of never surrendering made them formidable adversaries. The narrative of Muhammad Tughluq’s encounter with the Rajputs differ in the one available from Muslim chronicles and that recounted in Rajput history.

Story from Rajput Chronicles

Rana Hammira ruling a small principality in Rajputana took advantage of the confusion that prevailed on the death of Ala ud-Din Khilji in Delhi and seized Chittor in 1326. He gradually increased his influence and power and took over control of the whole of Mewar, and assumed the title of Maharana. The ruler of Mewar at this time was a Chauhan king, Jaiza. He, and his father Maldev before him, had accepted a feudatory status to the Delhi sultanate in return for being permitted to rule, even if nominally. When Hammira took over Chittor, Jaiza fled to Delhi and requested the sultan for protection.

Muhammad Tughluq marched to Mewar. In the battle that ensued at the village of Singoli, the Delhi army was soundly defeated. The Rajput chronicles state that Muhammad Tughluq was taken prisoner by the Maharana and released only on the sultan ceding Ajmer, Ranthambhor, Nagaur and Sooespur and paying a huge ransom. The ‘capture’ of the sultan is only circumstantial narrative and not corroborated by any other source.

The encounter between the Rajputs and Muhammad Tughluq is confirmed in a Jain temple inscription that recounts the defeat of a Muslim army by Rana Hammira. This defeat is also evident from the fact that Muhammad and succeeding Delhi sultans left the entire Rajputana region alone and made no attempt to subdue the Rajputs. The various Rajput principalities recognised Mewar as the paramount power within their jurisdiction. Therefore, the report of Rana Hammira’s battlefield success against the sultanate army cannot be discarded in an off-hand manner as the Muslim chroniclers have done. The reports are not baseless, and the encounter is certain to have taken place with Muhammad’s troops coming off second best. However, the capture and imprisonment of the sultan is too far-fetched to be considered a fact. The final result was that Rajputana became independent of Delhi.

The Mongol Invasion

Mongol invasions were regular and routine features from the very establishment of the Delhi sultanate. However, unlike during the rule of his predecessors, Muhammad’s reign was relatively free of this menace. There was only one major Mongol incursion into the sultanate, which took place in 1327. The invasion was spearheaded by the Chagatai Mongol chief Tarmashirin, who was a Buddhist (Dharmasri) convert to Islam. The Mongols overran Lamghan, Multan and the neighbouring regions, advancing rapidly towards Delhi. As was the age-old tradition with the Mongol raids, their objective was plunder rather than conquest. The Chagatai marauders stormed through the Gangetic Plains and reached Meerut, pillaging and ravaging the land while killing people indiscriminately, at times even for sport.

Muhammad Tughluq was taken by surprise both by the invasion and the rapid and easy advance that the Mongols were able to make into the heart of the sultanate. He had neglected the security of the north-west frontier and there was no capable ‘Warden of the Marches’ to control the borders or resist attempts to invade the kingdom. Under the circumstances, the sultan had no option but to buy peace, paying the Mongol chief a sum that is reported to have been almost equal to the value of the kingdom itself. The Mongols retreated, on the way plundering Gujarat and Sindh and taking many prisoners. In one stroke, Muhammad had revised the policy of resistance that had been in place since the rule of Balban. The sultan’s grasp of the broader aspects of the security of the sultanate must be questioned here, since safeguarding the north-west frontier had been a foundational pillar of national security for decades. The north-west frontier became open for invasions once again.

Attempts to Clear Muhammad Tughluq’s Reputation

Some later-day historians (for example Dr M Husain), have attempted to absolve Muhammad of mishandling the security of the sultanate.

Their narrative is that the Mongol chief Tarmashirin came to Muhammad’s court as a refugee after having suffered a defeat in a campaign near Ghazni. The story goes on to state that the money given to the Chagatai chief by the sultan was in the form of assistance, after which the Mongols retreated. This is an extremely speculative narrative without any shred of evidence to corroborate it and unsupported by any source of reliable testimony.

This story based on speculation and created to ensure that the sultan’s reputation as a military commander was not damaged. It has to be discounted completely and must be considered only a blatant attempt at enhancing Muhammad Tughluq’s reputation as a military genius and a generous ruler.

Muhammad followed a policy towards the Mongols that attempted to integrate them into the local Indian population. Towards this end, he patronised them, inducing thousands of Mongols families through the distribution of wealth and conferring other favours, to bring their families and settle down in the sultanate. It is possible that the sultan thought that the Mongols, being warriors, would further strengthen the royal army. This did not take place and the Mongols only added to the cacophony of dissonance that was becoming ever louder in the kingdom.

The Himalayan Adventure

As his ambitious plans of conquest continued to fail one by one and the number of rebellions continued to increase, Muhammad conceived yet another project to enhance his prestige and improve the stature of the kingdom. In most contemporary accounts it has been dubbed the Chinese Expedition. This title does not reflect the truth and is fallacy, based on a single introductory sentence in Ferishta’s account of the sultan’s Himalayan adventure. He starts that particular sentence with a passing mention that the sultan intended to conquer China. Subsequently most historians have presumed that Muhammad did indeed plan to invade China—an assumption that is wrong. Muhammad Tughluq intended to conquer the country at the foothills of the Himalayas that was the buffer between the sultanate and the Chinese territorial holdings in Tibet.

The territory that was being targeted for conquest was Qarachal (also mentioned in some texts as Qarajal and Farajal), which encompassed the region at the foothills of the Himalaya Mountain ranges towards the Indian sub-continent. Some later-day analysts consider Qarachal to be the modern Himachal, while some others hold that the name Qarachal was derived from Kumachal or Kurmachal, which was the older name of the modern day Kumaon region. In any case, the area under discussion, the foothills, covered the entire Kumaon and the Terrai region.

Qarachal was ten days march from Delhi, situated in the remote Kumaon hills and a Hindu stronghold. It is likely that Ferishta’s report of Muhammad’s ambition to subdue China was a ruse to deflect criticism of the sultan and the possibility of his being dubbed a religious fanatic since the true target of the expedition was a dominant Hindu kingdom. An army was assembled for the expedition, but its leadership had not studied the hardships involved in mountain warfare and the inclement and unpredictable weather patterns they would encounter. After initial forays into the inhospitable territory, Muhammad Tughluq was forced to withdraw, bringing to an end yet another unsuccessful military campaign. The end result was that precious resources were expended without any achievement to show for it.

The Fortress at Nagarkot

Although the Persian plan and the Qarachal expedition were both abandoned without any success and the expenditure of enormous wealth from the royal treasury, Muhammad continued to harbour visions of foreign conquests. He now turned his eyes towards the hill tribes at the foothills and planned to invade their territory. His reason was that the fiercely independent hill chiefs provided shelter to the defeated rebels fleeing for the sultanate. Once again a large army was assembled and it marched towards the Himalayan foothills and captured the town of Jidya. The predominantly Hindu population of the region fled to the mountains.

The road to reach the mountain heights was rather constricted and the cavalry was forced to go in single file. Even so, the Muslim army managed to forge forward, attacked and captured the hill fortress at Nagarkot, and established a foothold in the mountains. Nagarkot was considered to be an impregnable citadel and even the intrepid military genius Ala ud-Din, had left it alone. The capture of the fortress at Nagarkot was a great achievement for the Tughluq army.

Then the victory turned into a debacle. The rainy season set in, bringing with it disease that spread rapidly and reached epidemic proportions within the army. Therefore, the sultan permitted the army to withdraw. The retreat was a nightmare, the Delhi army was ambushed at every turn and slowly decimated with every step. Large numbers were killed and the rest made prisoners. The equipment of the army was plundered. Ibn Battuta reports that only three officers of the entire force managed to escape. Some other accounts mention the number as 11, but corroborate the fact that only this number returned from an army of 100,000 cavalry and accompanying infantry that had set out to conquer the hill tribes.

On the other hand, there was some consolation at the end of the expedition. The chief of the hill tribes recognised that cultivation of the lower lands of his territory would not be possible without the tacit approval of the sultan in Delhi. Therefore, he took the initiative to conclude a peace treaty with Muhammad and also agreed to pay tribute to Delhi. In an indirect manner the objective of the expedition could be considered to have been partially achieved.

This ill-conceived, badly executed, and disastrous campaign had grave consequences for the sultanate. The loss of this army exhausted the military capabilities of the sultanate. Muhammad was never again able to assemble a large force against the adversaries of the kingdom, forever surrendering the possibility of being able to initiate precipitous action when required. The sultanate thereafter remained in a reactionary mode to the initiatives of its potential adversaries. The clearly diminished military capabilities could have also acted as an impetus and spurred the increase in rebellions and revolts. It is obvious that the might of the Delhi sultanate was dissipated in the Himalayan foothills. What was not so obvious to the casual observer was that the disintegration of the empire was already being set in motion in the Peninsula.

Hindu Uprising in the Deccan

For nearly three decades, since the raids conducted by Malik Kafur, kingdoms in the Peninsula that had been traditionally ruled by Hindu dynasties had been repeatedly militarily subdued. The continuous spread of rebellions across the sultanate was seen by most of the Hindu dynasties as an opportunity to throw the invaders out. It appears that some sort of a Hindu Confederation was created in the Deccan to oppose Muslim subjugation, although the details are scanty. However, this would have been the natural reaction of the kings and chieftains who had been fighting the invading Muslim forces for just about three decades. The events leading to the obliteration of the Yadavas of Devagiri and the destruction of the Kakatiya dynasty in Telangana were less than a decade old.

In the Deccan a number of ruling houses had been either reduced in status and power or had completely collapsed through repeated Muslim incursions. Therefore, it was an obvious move for them to band together to free the region of Muslim subjugation and possibly subsequent rule. Some amount of contemporary Hindu records are available that provide information from a non-Muslim perspective regarding the events that took place.

The bias of Muslim chroniclers is very clearly visible in the reporting of the events in the Deccan. Many of the contemporary historians have completely ignored the events that took place, while some have reported them as insignificant and minor revolts against the sultan. This demonstrates the inherent difficulty in studying, understanding and analysing Indian history, if the information is derived solely from Muslim sources, which predominates available knowledge. All serious students of Indian history must endeavour to research for alternative sources to balance the bias that is very obvious in the Muslim chronicles. [To achieve this, at least a basic knowledge of the local languages is necessary, since the records of the Hindu kingdoms, scanty as they may be, were not written in Persian.]

The initial uprising was orchestrated by Prolaya Nayaka from Musunuru in Paka-nadu in southern Andhra country. The rebellion was initiated against the Muslim invaders to ‘protect the Hindu Dharma, restore the worship of its gods, and to protect the Brahmana and the cow’. [This appears to be one of the earlier references in the records regarding the ‘protection of the cow’. Modern India seems to have adopted this cause, starting a trend of ‘cow chauvinism’ as an indirect means to oppress minority religions as well as to ennoble the concept of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva. The supporters of this trend have forgotten the fact that constitutionally India remains a ‘secular state’ with no prescribed state religion.] It is unclear whether Prolaya Nayaka was a minor chieftain or just an army commander of a small principality. In the event, he was supported by two other chieftains/minor kings—Prolaya Vema, the founder of the Reddi kingdom of Addanki and Kondavidu; and Bhaktiraja, a Telugu Choda prince of Eruva.

There was obvious popular support for the uprising since a large number of people from across the region flocked to join Prolaya Nayaka in his campaign. The Hindu confederacy defeated the Muslim armies in a series of encounters, both large battles and small skirmishes. The Muslim garrisons that had been established on the eastern seaboard of Andhra country were all attacked, defeated and removed, one by one. The victories permitted Prolaya Nayaka to establish himself as the ruler at Ekapalli in Bhadrachalam area (Taluka) in the East Godavari district.

Around the time of these rebellions, Muhammad Tughluq was campaigning against the rebellion in Ma’bar. Therefore, there is reason to doubt the fact that he was aware of the Hindu resurgence in the Deccan. This may have been the reason for Muhammad to reorganise the administration of Telangana that had already been defeated and annexed. He divided the country into two parts and placed the eastern half along with the capital Warangal under a Kakatiya general Nagaya Gauna, who had converted to Islam and was known as Malik Maqbul. The sultan had earlier successfully employed this strategy of making a native of the conquered region the governor believing that he could bring significant influence to bear on the local population. While this strategy may have been effective in some regions, it will be seen that in the case of Telangana it was a failure.

Prolaya Nayaka died in the early 1330s and was succeeded by his brother’s son Kapaya Nayaka, referred as Kanaya or Krishna Nayaka in Muslim chronicles. Kapaya Nayaka was a shrewd statesman as well as an able military commander and had assembled about 70 Hindu chiefs within the confederacy when he was the heir apparent of his uncle. On coming to power, he initiated the organisation of a Hindu league that encompassed the entire South India. He personally visited the Hoysala king Vira Ballala III to seek support. Vira Ballala III was a powerful king and the ruler of one of the only two independent Hindu kingdoms in the south. He had withstood the invasions and raids of Muslim armies for a considerable period of time. Ballala III agreed to assist Kapaya and the confederation to achieve what had now become a ‘sacred’ cause. Accordingly, he fortified the strategic regions on the northern borders of his kingdom and send troops to support Kapaya Nayaka’s enterprise.

Kapaya, now bolstered with the Hoysala forces, invaded Telangana and fostered a Hindu rebellion there. Malik Maqbul, the sultan’s appointee was unable to protect Warangal and fled from the region. Delhi lost the entire Andhra region to the confederacy, fairlyquickly. Now Ballala III himself took to the battlefield along with Kapaya and the combined forces invaded Ma’bar, the recently created Madura sultanate. The Muslim ruler there was easily expelled and the kingdom was handed over to Venrumankondan Sambhuvarya, who established himself at Kanchi as the king.

While Ma’bar was being reclaimed by the Hindu Confederacy, another rebellion was raging in the region around the River Krishna in the interior under the leadership of Chalukya Somadeva, the progenitor of the Aravidu family in Kurnool district. Ably supported by Prolaya Vema, Somadeva was able to win many battles and capture a number of forts. His most important achievement was the defeat of Malik Muhammad, the governor of Kampili appointed by Muhammad Tughluq after the Hindu ruler had been defeated and killed. (The sultan’s campaign against the rebel Gurshasp and the destruction of the kingdom of Kampili as collateral damage has been covered earlier.) The liberation of Kampili and the victory of the Hindu forces has been reported by a Portuguese chronicler, Nuniz, in his account of the events of the time. Nuniz mentions it as a national Hindu uprising against Muslim oppression, which seems to be a fair and unbiased assessment of the situation.

Harihara and Bukka

On Kampili being recaptured by Hindu forces, Muhammad send Harihara and Bukka—now converts to Islam—to Kampili as governor and deputy-governor. He was pursuing the old strategy of appointing local nobles to influence the people.

Harihara and Bukka were defeated in battle by Vira Ballala III, now an active leader in the insurrection, and then wandered around the region as refugees. During their wanderings they managed to get attached to the entourage of the sage Vidyaranya who took them under his tutelage. With the sage’s assistance and following his advice, they established themselves as minor chieftains at Anegundi on the northern banks of the River Tungabhadra.

Kapaya Nayaka’s attempt at re-establishing Hindu control over the Deccan and the eastern seaboard, as well as the creation of a Hindu Confederacy was a resounding success by any standards. The Hindu nationalist resurgence was of such a stature that it influenced even some Muslim governors, particularly in the region around Kampili. It culminated in the disappearance of Muslim power in Warangal and Dwarasamudra and all along the Coromandel Coast.

At the same time, Harihara and Bukka, now fully under the influence of Vidyaranya, renounced Islam and initiated a new Hindu resurgence movement in the Peninsula. They went on to found the famous kingdom of Vijayanagara in 1336. This kingdom stood as a bulwark against Muslim invasions into South India for three centuries. (The history of the Vijayanagara Empire is covered in the next volume of this series.)

This unsung Hindu nationalistic revival and insurrection against the invading Islamic armies of the Delhi sultanate is a signal event in the history of the sub-continent. Not only did all the Hindu chiefs unite under one flag, but they also managed to keep the confederacy from breaking up till such times as a powerful enough kingdom was created to safeguard the Peninsula. On hindsight, it can be said that it is unfortunate that such a nationalistic feeling did not sweep through the feuding and warring Hindu principalities of North India, where Islam was embedding itself as the religion of the ruling class.

At the height of his power, Muhammad Tughluq had reached the southern extremity of the Peninsula in victorious marches. However, in less than a decade after this triumphant raid, he had lost all influence in the region south of the Krishna-Tungabhadra river line, as well as most of Telangana. This dissipation of the sultanate’s influence in the Peninsula marked the visible beginning to the disintegration of the empire.

Disintegration of the Empire

By the mid-1340s, Muhammad Tughluq was faced with a series of rebellions that were raging across the entire kingdom. He was forced to lead expeditions to different regions on a continuous basis. The man who had aspired to rule the world was finding that he was at risk of losing control of even the small territory that surrounded his capital, Delhi. Rebellions in Lahore, Daulatabad, Sarsuti and Hansi—all of them brutally putdown by the sultanate army—racked the kingdom. Simultaneously a great famine engulfed the northern part of the empire, adding fuel to the fire of discontent.

Muhamad attempted to pacify the simmering dissent by introducing new economic and administrative measures that included the reduction of the tax burden on the populace. He also tried to develop the agricultural sector in order to improve the yield. Another scheme was to revamp the judicial system to ensure equitable justice to all. All these initiatives were laudable ideas, but once again in their implementation the sultan faltered. The flaw in execution was accentuated by yet another innovation that Muhamad introduced. He believed that the old officials were not capable of understanding the concepts that he wanted to implement and therefore, in his typically impetus manner, they were dismissed en mass without any consultation. In their place he appointed new officials, almost all of them of humble birth and common people. [This could be considered the equivalent of the ‘affirmative action’ that independent India instituted, in its haste to uplift the so-called down trodden. The consequences in both cases were equally disastrous for the well-being of the nation and the fabric of the society.]

The ill-thought through removal of the veteran officials—most of them revered by the people for their sagacity and efficiency—created further disillusionment in the people. To add to their vexation, the new officials were inexperienced and inefficient, with some of them also being corrupt. These commoners had an inherent anti-foreign amir (nobles of Turkish birth) bias. The new officials either purposely mis-read the sultan’s instructions or were untutored in the process of implementing royal decrees. The result in both cases was that in a number of cities, the amirs were massacred. The immediate reaction of the amirs, who were by no means without their own power base, was to unite and breakout in rebellion.

In 1345, the foreign amirs—called amiran-i-sadah, roughly meaning ‘centurions’—of Gujarat rebelled. This sounded the death knell of the empire. Muhammad Tughluq marched against the rebels, routing through Patan and Mount Abu. In the first encounter both sides suffered severe casualties and the rebels fled to Daulatabad (Devagiri). Muhammad’s Wazir, the Prime Minister, pursued them and managed to kill a number of the amirs of Broach through open treachery, reportedly on the explicit orders of the sultan. Muhammad Tughluq, now encamped in Broach, ordered the amirs who had fled to Devagiri to come to Broach. However, knowing the massacre of the amirs in Broach, they suspected treachery and once again rebelled. They took over Devagiri and proclaimed one of their own, Makh Afghan, the king. They were joined by the amirs of Dabhoi and Baroda. The rebel group now controlled a large part of Maharashtra.

Muhammad Tughluq marched against Devagiri and besieged the town. However, before the siege could be brought to a successful conclusion, there was a fresh rebellion Gujarat led by Taghi. Taghi was a cobbler, who had become a soldier and now the rebel leader. The sultan had no option but to lift the siege of Devagiri and proceed to Gujarat to quell the fresh revolt. This provided relief to the beleaguered city. It also gave the amirs of Devagiri an opportunity to lay the initial foundation for what came to be later called the Bahmani kingdom. (The Bahmani kingdom is covered later in the series.)

The rebellion in Gujarat was ferocious and widespread, with the result Muhammad could not return to the Deccan and to Devagiri. Taghi proved to be a formidable adversary and was astute enough not to offer the Delhi army open battle. He conducted a brilliant guerrilla campaign for a long period of time. During this campaign he had the full support of the amirs of Gujarat. He also plundered Cambay and besieged the fort of Broach. These exploits could only have been undertaken with the full support of the people—both Hindu and Muslim. Considering its geographical spread, Taghi’s rebellion has to be treated as a popular uprising, not purely of the dissatisfied amirs and other nobles. Taghi was finally defeated in Gujarat and fled to Thattah. There he sought shelter with the Sumras of Sindh who were also in open revolt.

Muhammad Tughluq re-established control over Gujarat and enforced peace. In order to subdue Gujarat, he had by now spent more than three years in the region. He also reorganised the administration of Gujarat, which by now seems to have become his favourite pastime, and in the process also annexed Girnar (modern Junagarh) to the sultanate. After settling Gujarat, the sultan started on his pursuit of Taghi, marching towards Thattah. He planned to attack Thattah from both land and sea and therefore crossed the River Indus with his entire army. The Delhi army was also reinforced by about 4000 Mongol horsemen send by the chief of Ferghana. Unfortunately for Muhammad Tughluq, he contracted fever before the attack could be launched. Very rapidly he was taken seriously ill and died on 20 March 1351, within miles of Thattah his last military objective.

‘Muhammad had the potential of being an agent for revolutionary change for the good of the Sultanate, but his reign turned out to be an absolute disaster. He meant to do good, but ended up doing only harm. All contemporary sources agree that his policies resulted in the ruin of the country and the people. ‘The glory of the state, and the power of the government of Sultan Muhammad … withered and decayed,’ states Barani. In fact, paradoxical though it might seem, it was the good in him that fuelled and fanned the flames of the fiend in him—he turned devilish to punish the people who failed to appreciate the good in him! His frustrations warped his character, turned him into a raging, rampaging monster.

And that brought untold misery on his subjects. In his death, comments Badauni, ‘the king was freed from his people, and they from the king.’

Abraham Eraly,

The Age of Wrath, p. 168.



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)

2 Responses to “Indian History Part 56 The Tughluq Dynasty Section III Muhammad Tughluq: Revolts, Rebellions and Military Expeditions”

  1. Political compulsions aside, I have always wondered why the Hindu kingdoms in ancient India did not form alliances to fight the Muslim invasions. Was there any impact of the prevailing caste system which dictated that only the warrior class would be engaged in war and the other castes were quite resigned/ consigned to accepting their status in life. Were they permitted to bear arms against the invaders ? It appears that as long as their traditional means of livelihood was not disrupted they did not see any advantage in waging war. The invading Muslim armies did not have any such constraints. The British perpetuated this theory with the designation of martial races while raising Indian regiments.

  2. I agree caste distinctions did play a major role in Hindu defeats. Muslims considered themselves as one unit when facing Non Muslims where as many Hindus supported the invaders. There was no national or religious fervor to unite against Muslims. Also the concept of Ahimsa and the blind faith in destiny did not help. The Hindu kings neglected progress in military fields and had no answer to the advanced military strategies of the Muslims.

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