Indian History Part 58 The Sayyid Dynasty Section II Sultan Mubarak Shah

Canberra, 29 September 2017

Khizr Khan nominated his son Mubarak Khan as his successor on his death bed. Mubarak assumed the throne as Muiz u-Din Fateh Mubarak Shah, with the consent of all the nobles of the court. The details of his reign are available to the historian from a chronicle called Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi written by one Yahya bin Ahmed who was Mubarak’s contemporary. This book forms the main source of information for all aspects of Mubarak’s rule. Unlike his father, Mubarak assumed the title of Shah and also issued his own coins, breaking away from the direct influence of the Central Asian caliphate. However, Mubarak Shah was astute enough to continue to acknowledge Sultan Shah Rukh as his overlord and also to pay tribute when deemed necessary.

The fragile kingdom continued to be threatened from all sides. Even though Mubarak proved to be a spirited ruler with energy, he was not up to the task of consolidating the Sultanate or to deal with all the troubles that it faced.

The Saga of Rebellious Jasrat Khokhar

Almost immediately after Mubarak inherited the throne, Jasrat Khokhar the son of Shaikha Khokhar, controlling the region around Sialkot rebelled. The Khokhar clan lived in the valleys associated with the Rivers Jhelum and Chenab in the Punjab. Jasrat had courageously opposed Timur during the latter’s return march. However, he had been defeated by the Timurid army and forced to flee to the shelter of his father’s court. Jasrat now took advantage of the pervasive weakness of Delhi and regularly continued to add minor territories to his own holdings when opportunity to do so presented itself.

The Khokhars were also sporadically involved in the affairs of the kingdom of Kashmir. During a civil war in Kashmir, Jasrat backed one prince who happened to come out the winner in the struggle for the throne. Jasrat gained a large booty for his troubles and more importantly got the friendship of the new king of Kashmir. This increase in strength and stature made Jasrat dream of capturing the throne of Delhi from the weak Sayyid ruler. The dream was further emboldened when Tughan Rais joined him with a large force. With this enhanced force Jasrat moved east—he crossed the Rivers Ravi, Beas and the Sutlej, attacked the governor of Ludhiana at Talwandi and drove him east. Jasrat then ravaged the countryside up to the town of Rupar and laid siege to Jalandhar.

Jalandhar had been captured from Tughan Rais by Zirak Khan, one of Khizr Khan’s trusted generals. Zirak could not withstand the siege and sued for peace. Zirat Khan however, was treacherously captured and imprisoned by the Jasrat-Tughan combine. Jasrat then proceeded to Sirhind and laid siege to the township. Here the Khokhar forces met stubborn opposition from Islam Khan Lodi, manning the fort at Sirhind. Lodi appealed for help to Mubarak Shah, who was finally stung into action.

Mubarak marched to Sirhind via Samana. On being notified of the Delhi army’s movements, Jasrat lifted the siege and retreated to Ludhiana. Mubarak, now joined by Zirak Khan who had escaped from captivity, pursued Jasrat to Ludhiana. Jasrat retreated further and crossed the River Sutlej after collecting all available boats. Mubarak could not pursue him across the river since it was in spate and there were no boats available. However, he followed the river on his side, keeping pace with the movement of Jasrat Khokhar and his army on the opposite bank. When the rains abated and the river became fordable, Jasrat was put to flight by Mubarak and the Delhi army. Jasrat retreated to the foothills of the Kashmir highlands and fortified himself in the citadel at Talwara. Mubarak attacked and captured Talwara, sacking it and destroying its fort, while Jasrat managed to escape. Subsequently Mubarak proceeded to Lahore, spending three months there fortifying the city and renaming it Mubarakabad, before finally returning to Delhi.

Jasrat Khokhar was enraged at the sack of his stronghold at Talwara. He collected a large army and besieged Lahore. However, two attacks on the city proved to be unsuccessful. Once again he withdrew from the siege and took refuge in the hills surrounding Talwara. Some Muslim nobles attempted to capture him, but the wily Khokhar evaded capture and escaped. At this stage, Mubarak had turned his attention to bring order to Katehar. Jasrat took advantage of Mubarak’s preoccupation and once again undertook an extensive campaign. He first attacked Jammu, killed the ruling king, Rai Bhim, and gathered huge wealth and arms. Thereafter he proceeded to sack Dipalpur and then moved towards Lahore. However, the new governor of Lahore. Malik Sikandar Tuhfa put up a fierce resistance, making the Khokhar army to retreat.

Jasrat was now convinced that he could not take on the Delhi army on his own and kept a low profile for a number of years. During this period he was in continuous touch with a number of Afghan nobles and chiefs, seeking their assistance to invade the Delhi Sultanate. Jasrat outlived Mubarak Shah, but did not have any further success in achieving his ambition to capture the throne of Delhi. In 1442, he was murdered by his queen, the daughter of Rai Bhim of Jammu, who had always wanted to avenge her father’s death at the Khokhar’s hands.

Subduing the Doab

For nearly two years after his accession to the throne, Mubarak Shah was occupied with the events in the Punjab. For some years before Mubarak came to the throne, minor rajas and chiefs of the Doab, predominantly in the Uttar Pradesh region had taken advantage of the weakness of the central administration and stopped paying tribute to Delhi. Doab, eternally rebellious, had erupted yet again during the two-year period that Mubarak was preoccupied with Jasrat Khokhar in the Punjab. Having controlled the Khokhar chief to a manageable level, Mubarak now turned his attention to subduing the Doab and areas surrounding it. An underlying reason for turning the focus on to the Doab was that Jaunpur had now become extremely powerful and controlled the entire eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. The Jaunpur ruler would have to be defeated to bring the eastern part of the old Sultanate back under Delhi control. The Sayyids were unfortunately too weak even to contemplate such an expedition, let alone attempt it. Therefore, they concentrated their efforts on the western part, the Doab.

In 1423, as stated earlier, Mubarak marched into Katehar and subjugated the local chieftains forcing them to pay tribute. This interlude also provided a respite for Mubarak from dealing with the active rebel, Jasrat Khokhar. From Katehar the Delhi army crossed the River Ganga and marched into the territory of the Rathors, ravaging the lands along the way. The Rathor chief Deva Rai fled to Etawah but subsequently submitted to Mubarak and paid tribute. Satisfied with this success, Mubarak returned to Delhi.

While Mubarak was in the Doab, trouble was brewing in the kingdoms to the south of Delhi. Sultan Hoshang Shah, then ruling Malwa, was a habitually restless king and had been at war with all his neighbours at one time or the other. He now attacked Gwalior. Although Gwalior was deemed to be part of the Delhi Sultanate, in actual fact it was an independent kingdom. Neither did Gwalior pay tribute to Delhi, nor were they totally loyal to the rulers in Delhi. Mubarak perceived an opportunity to bring Gwalior under his ambit and proceeded to Gwalior, ostensibly to ‘protect’ it from Hoshang. On the way he subdued the chief of Bayana, who had rebelled earlier. Bayana was sacked and then the chief was reinstated over a devastated principality.

By the time Mubarak arrived, Hoshang Shah had invested Gwalior. Mubarak captured few prisoners and then set them free calling them ‘Muslims’. Hoshang who was reluctant to initiate a battle that he knew to be non-winnable and therefore moved out of Gwalior, soon returning to Malwa. Mubarak continued to stay in the Chambal region for a few more months, levying tributes from the ‘infidels’. He then returned to Delhi and once again attacked Katehar. The previous attack and subjugation of Katehar had been two years earlier and in the interim the tributes from the region had dried up. Mubarak went on a plundering rampage across the country, reaching the foothills of Kumaon. There he compelled the ruler Rai Har Singh to pay tribute and an accumulated amount totalling to three years’ revenue.

While Mubarak had been busy in the Chambal, the Mewatis were up in arms. After returning to Delhi Mubarak proceeded to Mewat. The Mewatis fled, and in their traditional manner followed a scorched-earth policy in retreat. The Sultan could not therefore pursue the fleeing Mewatis and was forced to return to Delhi. The next year Mubarak returned to Mewat. On his approach, Bahadur Nahar’s grandsons, Jalal and Qadr Khans who were now in command, employed the trusted Mewati tactics of laying waste the country and retreated to the fortress at Indur (also called Andwar in some texts). However, this time around Mubarak had come prepared with sufficient supplies and assured logistics. He pursued the retreating Mewatis and defeated them. The Mewatis fled to Alwar. Mubarak ‘dismantled’ Indur and then laid siege to Alwar. The Khans now sued for peace and obtained a royal pardon. One account states that Qadr Khan was imprisoned and later put to death. However, this report cannot be verified with any other source and may not be accurate.

The Bayana-Jaunpur Coalition

Although he had been subjugated once earlier, seeing that Mubarak was busy in the Doab and Mewat, Muhammad Khan Auhadi the chief of Bayana, once again rebelled. Forces were sent from Delhi to recapture the rebel principality. On the approach of the forces, Auhadi shut himself up in a fortress on top of a hill. However, some deserters from the Auhadi camp showed a secret passage into the fortress to the Delhi forces. The fort was attacked, Auhadi imprisoned, and the Bayana district annexed and divided into two. While the Delhi forces were returning, Auhadi managed to escape and recaptured the fort. The Delhi forces started to march back and Auhadi now requested the king of Jaunpur for assistance. Mubarak himself left Delhi to join his forces in Bayana.

At the same time Ibrahim Sharqi ruling Jaunpur also moved towards Etawah and advanced on Badaun on the other bank of the River Yamuna. For 22 days a game of cat and mouse ensued, with the Delhi and Jaunpur forces moving away and towards each other on opposite banks of the river. Finally Sharqi lost patience and gave battle, which was fought for an entire afternoon with neither side being able to claim decisive victory. It is also reported that Mubarak was overawed by the Jaunpur army’s visible strength and did not personally take part in the battle. This report is being discounted in this narrative because of the simple fact that by this time Mubarak had proven himself to be a brave, capable and strategically sound military commander. It is reliably reported that by the end of the day Sharqi returned to his own territory. Such a move would not have been contemplated if the Delhi Sultan was not personally involved in the conflict. Further, considering his courageous stance in many previous battle, it is certain that he would not have ‘hidden’ from battle.

Auhadi was now left to his own devices and immediately fled to Mewat. Mubarak send an expedition to besiege Mewat. Mewat once again surrendered and paid tribute. Auhadi was taken prisoner and vanishes from the Indian scene thereafter.

Revolt in Bhatinda – Faulad Turkbachcha

One of the most serious rebellion during Mubarak’s reign was that of Faulad Turkbachcha. Mubarak’s loyal noble, Sayyid Salim was the governor of Bhatinda, where he had amassed large wealth. When Salim died, his sons were in the royal court in Delhi and his slave Turkbachcha took over the administration. After confiscating the extensive wealth of the governor, Turkbachcha revolted against Delhi. He entrenched himself in the fort at Bhatinda after capturing a few places around it. Mubarak Shah send an expedition to bring the rebel to book, but the expedition was soundly defeated by Turkbachcha. The Delhi forces was routed and fled to Sirsuti (modern Sirsa) leaving even their weapons behind.

At this turn of events, Mubarak personally led an army towards Sirsuti where the defeated Delhi army was camped. Faulad now send word to the Sultan that he would surrender. However, before any agreement could be reached, Turkbachcha was falsely informed that Mubarak intended to put him to death after he surrendered. Turkbachcha reneged on his promise of submission. He then sought the assistance of Shaikh Ali, the governor of Kabul, to repel the Delhi army in return for ready money. By this time Bhatinda was besieged. Shaikh Ali moved east with a large army to help Faulad and started to ravage the lands of the nobles engaged in the siege of Bhatinda. One by one these nobles rushed back to protect their own territories from being despoiled. This led to the siege of Bhatinda being raised.

Shaikh Ali was paid 200,000 silver tankas and left Bhatinda. Turkbachcha initiated works to improve the defences of Bhatinda. Shaikh Ali devastated the region on his way back. He crossed the River Sutlej and captured many prisoners in the Ludhiana district. He then went down the River Beas, crossed it and reached Lahore. The governor of Lahore paid tribute and Shaikh Ali moved on to sack Dipalpur. Mubarak send reinforcements to the governor of Multan Imad-ul-Mulk who was preparing to oppose the advance of Shaikh Ali. In a hotly contested battle Shaikh Ali was defeated and lost most of his army. He managed to escape to Shorkot and subsequently returned to Kabul. Imad-ul-Mulk was declared a hero and praised for his achievement.

Mubarak became jealous of Imad-ul-Mulk’s popularity with the general population and replaced him with an incompetent noble called Khair ud-Din Khani. Almost immediately, Jasrat Khokhar rebelled and laid siege to Lahore (mentioned earlier in this chapter). Faulad Turkbachcha also rebelled again. However, he was defeated in battle by the troops of Multan, captured, decapitated and his head send to Delhi.

The Murder of Mubarak Shah

Mubarak had made Sarwar-ul-Mulk his Prime Minister and also vested in him the role of finance minister. Sarwar was Mubarak’s favourite although he was not very efficient. Further Sarwar-ul-Mulk was a Hindu convert, appointed earlier by Khizr Khan as the governor of Delhi. He was haughty, arrogant, cunning and full of intrigue. He had become the Prime Minister by inducing the Sultan to appoint him to the role while the actual Prime Minster, Sikandar Tuhfa, was out in the Punjab subjugating the Khokhar rebellion. Mubarak had two fatal character flaws in that he was prone to listening to the advice of people who were physically close to him at any given time; and of becoming suspicious of any of his commanders who became successful in putting down rebellions. The successful commanders were invariably transferred so that their popularity could not become entrenched. Gradually this behaviour introduced an element of resentment amongst the competent and loyal nobles.

Following this pattern, Mubarak transferred the finance portfolio to Kamal ud-Din, a successful general who had returned to Delhi with his troops and was in favour with the Sultan at that time. There was a sort of ‘flavour of the month’ situation prevailing in the Delhi court. The transfer of the finance portfolio was obviously done to reward Kamal ud-Din and, perhaps more importantly, to reduce Sarwar-ul-Mulk’s increasing power. The Sayyid Sultans employed their Prime Ministers also as military commanders, which greatly enhanced the power and prestige of the individual holding the position. Mubarak was shrewd enough to understand the great power that Sarwar wielded and wanted to clip his wings. He asked Kamal and Sarwar to work together.

Sarwar was also deprived of the fiefdom of Dipalpur by Mubarak Shah, as part of the Sultan’s policy of regular transfer of assignments amongst the nobles. Kamal ud-Din was much more capable than Sarwar-ul-Mulk who became jealous of the former’s rising stature. Even though he owed his rise to the Sultan, Sarwar by nature was ungrateful and scheming. He started to plot Mubarak’s downfall, conspiring with the Royal Chamberlain and the scions of two rich Khattri families. The group of plotters was joined by some other malcontents in the court. It is obvious that the plot was a joint Hindu-Muslim endeavour planned for personal profit and not religiously motivated. In February 1434, Mubarak went to the site of the new town, Mubarakabad that he was having constructed with only a small escort contingent. He was attacked by few soldiers led by one Sidh Pal, son of a prominent Khattri patriarch Gangu Khattri, and killed instantaneously. Thus ended the reign of a monarch who had tried to do the best he could to hold the disintegrating Sultanate together.


This was a sad end to an unfortunate king who had ruled for little over 12 years in extremely trying conditions. He had attempted to consolidate his father’s territorial gains. Mubarak was a brave warrior who was constantly warding off danger to the kingdom from within and without. He was relatively wise and resourceful and fought to maintain the sovereignty of the Sultanate by recognising the strategic points and defending them at all cost. He also reinstituted the federal army locating it under his direct control in Delhi. Without doubt he was the ablest of the Sayyid house. However, his sagacity did not percolate to the administration and treatment of the powerful nobles, which finally led to his murder.

He was a firm Muslim although not a bigot. He patronised the Khattris of Delhi who became the richest group in Delhi under his rule. Unfortunately some of them also joined in the successful plot to kill him. He had also gone to the aid of the Hindu state of Gwalior when it was savagely attacked by Hoshang Shah. This provides proof of his non-religious outlook in matters of foreign policy.

Mubarak Shah did commendable work, managing to hold the Sultanate together as a recognisable entity. Throughout his reign he was preoccupied with warding off potential invaders and stamping out rebellions and incipient revolts. So much so, he had absolutely no spare capacity to address and alleviate the suffering of the common people. At the time when the tide was finally turning in his favour and stability was about to come within his grasp, he was murdered. The benefits that would have definitely come with stability, brought about by his strenuous efforts, was scattered in the wind.


© [Sanu Kainikara] [2017]
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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 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)

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