Friday, September 2, 2011

IP@1 in Sultanate style...

Indira Mukherjee says - Indian Policy celebrates its first Happy Birthday today. In simple words - it feels great. On this occasion, I have taken the liberty to write about someone whom I really consider to be an amazing person with outstanding administrative qualities - he also happens to be my favourite character in Medieval History. He is none other than Shamsuddin Iltutmish.

Shams-ud-din Iltutmish (or Altamash) was the third ruler of the Mamluk dynasty of Delhi. He was a slave of Qutub-ud-din-Aibak and later became his son-in-law and close lieutenant. He acceded to the throne of the Delhi Sultanat in 1210, shifted Capital from Lahore to Delhi, and remained the ruler until his death on May 1, 1236. He was responsible not only for keeping the Delhi Sultanat together, but made it a well-knit and compact state. He thus, may be called the real establisher of what came to be called the Delhi Sultanat.

Early Days:

Shams-ud-din belonged to the tribe of Ilbari in Turkestan. He was remarkably handsome in appearance and showed signs of intelligence and sagacity from his early days, which excited the jealousy of his brothers, who sold him into slavery. They sold him to merchant of Bukhara Jamal-ul-Din, a horse trader. As a slave he was brought to Ghazni and then to Delhi, where Qutub-ud-Din bought him.

His accomplishments attracted the notice of Qutub-ud-din-Aibak, then Viceroy of Delhi, who purchased him at a high price. He because of his sheer dint of merit and loyal service quickly rose in Qutub-ud-din's service, married his daughter, and served in succession as the Governor of Gwalior and Baran. He later served as Governor of Badaun between 1206 and 1211 until his accession to the throne in Delhi. In recognition of his services during the campaign of Muhammad of Ghor against the Khokhars in 1205-06, he was, by the Sultan's order, manumitted.

Rise to power:

He faced many difficulties to contend with. First, he faced the challenge of Aram Shah who had been put by Turkish amirs at Lahore. Aram Shah apparently was not the son of Aibak because we are told that Aibak had not son and only three daughters, two of which were married successively to Qubacha and one to Iltutmish after he ascended the throne. Aram shah marched onto Delhi nut was defeated easily by Altamash.

But Altamash's position was not secured even them. Some of the Turkish nobles were not prepared to accept his suzerainty. They went outside Delhi and prepared for rebellion. Altamash marched from Delhi defeated the rebels and executed most of the leaders.

Other Blockers:

Having bought Delhi and its dependencies like Awadh, Banaras, Badaun and the Shiwaliks, under his control, Altamash found himself faced with a piquant situation. The Turkish rule in Hindustan was divided into four portions :

Multan, Uch and Sistan upto the sea in Sindh under Nasir-ud-din Qubacha

Laknauti under Khalji Maliks

Delhi under Iltutmish and

Lahore coveted by Altamash, Qubacha and Taj-ud-din Yalduz - passed under the control of one of them or another according to circumstances.

Extent of empire of Iltutmish
Initially, Iltutmish acknowledged Yalduz's suzerainty by accepting the symbolic presents. In 1215-1216, Yalduz, who had been defeated and expelled from Ghazni by the forces of the Shah of Khwarezm, moved towards Punjab and laid claim to the throne of Delhi as the heir to Muhammad of Ghor. Iltutmish refused, stating

"The dominion of the world is enjoyed by the one who possesses the greatest strength. The principle of hereditary succession is not extinct but long ago destiny abolished this custom."

Iltutmish defeated Yalduz at Tarain. Yalduz was imprisoned in Badaun and was later executed.

In 1217, Iltutmish moved towards Qubacha at the head of a large army. Qubacha attempted to retreat from Lahore towards Multan but was defeated at Mansura. Iltutmish refrained from attacking Sindh due to the presence of Mongols on his north-west frontier. Iltutmish was preoccupied with the Mongol threat and did not threaten Qubacha until 1227.

Mongol threat:

In 1221, the Mongols, under Chenghiz Khan appeared for the first time on the banks of the Indus. They had overrun the countries of Central and Western Asia with lightning rapidity. The Mongols captured Khiva and forced its ruler, Jalal-ud-din Mangabarni to flee to the Punjab. He sought asylum in the dominions of Iltutmish. The Sultan of Delhi refused to comply with the request. Mangabarni entered into an alliance with the Khokhars, and after defeating Qabacha, plundered Sindh and northern Gujarat and went away to Persia. The Mongols also retired. India was thus saved from a terrible calamity, but the menace of the Mongol raids disturbed the Sultans of Delhi in subsequent times.

Consolidation of power:

With the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, Iltutmish attacked Qubacha. Multan and Uch were captured. Qubacha was surrounded on all sides in the fort of Bhakkar, on the banks of Indus. He drowned while attempting to escape. Sindh and Multan were incorporated into the Delhi Sultanate and placed under separate governors.

Southern Bihar was captured by Iltutmish in 1225-26. Lakhnauti was captured in 1226. Revolts continued until the Khalji Maliks of Bengal were reduced to complete submission in the winter of 1231.

Due to his problems first with Turkish nobles and then with the Mongols, Iltutmish had ignored the Rajputs, who had regained territory lost earlier to the Turks, for the first fifteen years of his reign. Starting in 1226, however, Iltutmish began a series of campaigns against the Rajputs. Ranthambore was taken in 1226, Mandsaur in 1227. Bayana, Ajmer and Sambhar were also captured. Nagaur was captured in 1230 and Gwalior in 1231.


Coins -

Coins of Iltutmish
Iltutmish introduced the silver tanka and the copper jital - the two basic coins of the Sultanate period, with a standard weight of 175 grains. 

Iqta System -

The Iqta system was a practice of tax farming that was introduced by Iltutmish in the Delhi Sultanat. It was basically grant of revenue from a territory in lieu of salary. This grant was not hereditary and was subject to passing from officer to officer. The Iqta system linked the farthest of the Sultanate to the central Government.

He also organized a group of 40 loyal nobles - Turkan-i-Chahalgani or Corps of Forty.

Organization of Army -

Iltutmish organized the army of the Sultanate and made it "kings’ army" which was centrally recruited and centrally paid.

Architecture -

He built the Hauz-i-Shamsi reservoir in Mehrauli in 1230, which also has Jahaz Mahal standing on its edge, used by later Mughal Emperors. He built Gandhak-ki-Baoli, a stepwell for Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, who moved to Delhi during his reign. In 1231, he built Sultan Ghari, he built the mausoleum of his eldest son, Prince Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, which was the first Islamic Mausoleum in Delhi. He also completed the construction of Qutb Minar.

Death and succession:

In 1236 Iltumish died, and buried with the Qutb complex in Mehrauli.

Iltutmish's eldest son, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, had died in 1229 while governing Bengal as his father's deputy. The surviving sons of the Sultan were incapable of the task of administration. In 1236 Iltutmish, on his death-bed, nominated his daughter Raziya as his heiress. But the nobles of the court were too proud to bow their heads before a woman, and disregarding the deceased Sultan's wishes, raised to the throne his eldest surviving son, Rukn-ud-din Firuz.

The death of Iltutmish was followed by years of political instability at Delhi. During this period, four descendants of Iltutmish were put on the throne and murdered. Order was re-established only after Balban became the Naib or Deputy Sultan and later on Sultan in 1265.

Estimate of Altamash as a ruler:

Iltutmish re-established the territorial integrity of the Delhi Sultanate created by Aibak and which was in danger of being split up. He defeated efforts of ambitious rivals like Yalduz and Qubacha to divide the sultanate. In the process, he displayed a great deal of tact, patience and far-sightedness. Thus, he bided his name till he was in a position to take decisive action. This was displayed in his dealings with Qubacha as well as Jalaluddin Mangabarni. Early in his reign he realized that his policy must be one of steady consolidation rather than rapid expansion. He proceeded against the Khalji Mailks of Lakhnauti only when he had consolidated his position in the north-west.

It was under him that the Delhi Sultanat can be called a truly independent state, not tied up to a foreign sovereign living at Ghazni or Ghur. His legal status as an independent sovereign was re-affirmed in the eyes of the Muslims when in 1229 an envoy of the Caliph of Baghdad reached Delhi with a formal letter of investiture for him. Although, it was a mere formality and recognition of an accomplished fact, he made the visit a grand occasion.

Tomb of Iltutmish
He can be credited with making Delhi, the political, administrative and cultural centre of Turkish rule in India. His steady presence at Delhi was a major factor in this as also the fact that Delhi became refuge nobles, bureaucrats, scholars, poets and religious divines from Central Asia to escape the Mongol depredations. He beautified Delhi by setting up new buildings. The most notable example of this was the tower or minar, later called the Qutb Minar, commenced by Qutbuddin which he completed. Soon a magnificent city arose in the environs. The Hauz Shamsi, south of Qutb Minar and the madrasah around it, was built by him. He was not only a patron of men of learbing and poets; he also accorded great honour to sufi saints of his time, such as Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki.

By his military prowess, pleasing manners and liberality, he earned deep respect and attachment of the people of Delhi to his family, in consequence of which the right of his children to succeed him was accepted. Thus, he set up the first hereditary sovereignty at Delhi. However, his children were not successful because he had not been able to create a well-knit and compact state. The state was still a loose structure in which the inner jealousness and rivalries of the Turkish nobles and slave officers could be kept under control only by a strong ruler.

References :

Medieval History by Satish Chandra


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