Indian History: The Delhi Sultanate

The Delhi Sultanate

The Delhi Sultanate

Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghori was the ruler of a small kingdom of Ghor in Afghanistan. He invaded India not just to plunder the wealth of India but also to establish Muslim rule in India. Prithviraj Chauhan was contemporary to Ghori. In 1191, Prithviraj Chauhan defeated Muhammad Ghori. In this battle, Ghori had to flee from the battle field with bleeding wounds. But the very next year in 1192, he defeated Prithviraj. This defeat is regarded as a turning point in the Indian hisotry because, it resulted in the foundation of Muslim rule in India. Later, Ghori defeated Jaichand of Kannauj, which marked the end of Rajput rule in North-India. Ghori handed over the responsibility of further conquests on his general Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who became the Sultan of Delhi after Ghori’s death.


The Slave dynasty ruled the subcontinent for about 84 years. It was the first Muslim dynasty that ruled India. Qutb-ud-din Aibak, a slave of Muhammad Ghori who became the ruler after the death of his master, founded the Slave Dynasty.

Qutb-ud-din Aibak (1206-1210 CE)

The first ruler of the Slave dynasty was Qutb-ud-din Aibak. He ruled from 1206-1210. He established his capital at two places-first at Lahore and then shifted it to Delhi. He started the construction of Qutub Minar in memory of the Sufi Saint, Qutb-ud din Kaki. It was completed by Iltutmish. He was an able ruler and was very kind and generous with his people. Due to his good nature he earned the title of ‘Lakh Baksh’ or giver of hundreds of thousands. In 1210, Qutb-ud-din Aibak died in an accident while he was playing polo. He fell from the horseback and was severely injured. He was buried in Lahore. He was succeeded by Iltutmish, another slave who rose to the level of a sultan, thus extending the Slave dynasty.

Shams-ud-din Iltutmish (1211-1236 CE)

Qutb-ud-din Aibak was succeeded by his son-in-law Shamsuddin Iltutmish, who is recognised by historians as the first true ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. He faced many problems while trying to consolidate the Sultanate. However, he was successful in protecting its Northwest frontiers against the Mongols and their leader Chenghiz Khan. He also expanded his territories by defeating the Rajput rulers of Ranthambore, Mandor, Jalore, Bayana, and Thangir, and even annexed parts of Bengal and Bihar. Since his sons were weak and not capable enough to rule as sultans, he crowned his daughter, Raziya Sultan, as his successor.

Raziya Sultan (1236-1240 CE)

Iltutmish was a broad minded ruler is proved by the fact that though he had sons, he considered none of them worthy of the throne. He decided to nominate his daughter Raziya to the throne. Thus, the nomination of a daughter to the throne in preference to sons was a very bold and a revolutionary. After becoming the ruler, Raziya refused to be a puppet. She discarded female dress and started holding court with the face unveiled.

She even hunted and led the army in war. However, she faced a lot of opposition from the Turkish nobles who did not approve of her independent ways. One important chronicler of that period Minhaj-i-Siraj reflected this discomfort at having a woman as a ruler in his accounts. Raziya was finally murdered in 1240. Thus, ended the short but significant reign of Raziya.

Nasir-ud-din Mahmud (1246-1265)

The years after Raziya Sultan’s death were chaotic, and the rule of the Sultanate moved from the one ruler to another. Then in 1246 CE, Nasir-ud-din, Razia’s brother, ascended the throne. He was young and inexperienced and a mere puppet in the hands of powerful nobles such as Balban. Eventually, in 1266 CE he was deposed by Balban who declared himself as the new sultan.

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban (1266-1286)

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban was the most powerful sultan of the Slave dynasty and an extremely shrewd military chief.

After ascending the throne, he considered himself as the deputy of God on Earth. He adopted a blood and iron policy to maintain peace. Balban spread his spies throughout the country to gather information about all political developments and conspiracies. During Nasir-ud din’s reign the Mongols had advanced many times and plundered Lahore. Balban built new forts and repaired the old ones to check the Mangols invasion.

The governor of Bengal, Tughral Baig revolted against Balban in the later years. An army was sent to crush the rebellion but it was defeated. This was a great shock and he died in 1286.

Balban introduced Sijdah and Paibos practice in which the people were required to kneel and touch the ground with their head to greet the Sultan. He also instructed the ulemas to confine themselves to religious affairs and not to engage in political activities. He also started the festival of Nauroz.

Since Balban’s successors were weak and inefficient, the throne was captured by Jalal-ud-din Khalji and thus the Slave dynasty came to an end.


The Khalji dynasty started its rule in 1290 CE after the death of Balban. The Khalji dynasty ruled for three decades.

Jalaluddin Firoz Khalji (1290-1296 CE)

Jalal-ud-din Khalji was the first Sultan of the Khalji dynasty. Jalal-ud-din was seventy years old when he ascended the throne, He defeated the descendants of Balban and established the Khalji dynasty. The most important event during the reign of Jalal-ud-din was the attack on the Yadava city of Devagiri. He was killed by his nephew Alauddin Khalji and then announced himself as the ruler of Delhi.

Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316 CE)

Alauddin Khalji was, by far the most famous ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. He was a brilliant general and a clever administrator and was successful in expanding the territories of the kingdom considerably. Due to his ambitious nature, he killed Jalal-ud-din, marched to Delhi and proclaimed himself the king.

Expansion of the Empire: In 1297, Alauddin set off for conquering Gujarat. In 1301, the fort of Ranthambore was captured. In 1303, he conquered Chittor killing Rana Ratan Singh. His queen Rani Padmini along with other women committed jauhar. In 1305, Alauddin Khalji captured Malwa, Ujjain, Mandu, Dhar and Chanderi but failed to capture Bengal. By 1311 CE, he had captured nearly the whole of north India. He built Alai Darwaza near Qutub Minar to commemorate his victories. In 1307, Alauddin sent an expedition under Malik Kafur. His general, Malik Kafur captured large parts of South India. He defeated the Yadavas, the Kakatiyas, the Hoysalas and the Pandyas.

Malik Kafur received 100 elephants, 7000 horses and large quantities of jewels and coined money from the king of Warangal, Pratap Rudra Deva. In Dvarsamudra, King Vir Vallabh was defeated and made prisoner. The rich temples of the city were plundered and Malik Kafur got a lot of gold, silver, jewels and pearls from these temples.

From Dvarsamudra, Malik Kafur marched towards Madurai. Madurai was the capital of the Pandya kingdom. He also defeated the Yadavas, Kakatiyas and Hoysalas. He got many elephants, 20,000 horses, 2750 pounds of gold and lots of jewels.

Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq (1325-1351 CE)

Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq was one of the most remarkable rulers of the Tughlaq dynasty. During his reign, his empire covered the regions from Peshawar in the north and Madurai in the south and from Sindh in the west to Assam in the east. Administrative blunders, military failures and revolts weakened Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq. He died in 1351 while trying to suppress a revolt in Gujarat.

Taxation in the Doab: In order to increase revenue collection the Sultan raised taxation in the Doab region. The taxes were increased at the time when there was famine in the Doab owing to failures of rain. The peasants instead of paying taxes abandoned their lands. The tax collectors continued to collect taxes by oppression which resulted in widespread revolts.

Transfer of Capital: Standing army was needed to deal with the Mongols. Soldiers had to be garrisoned and Delhi was emptied of its residents. For this reason Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq decided to transfer his capital from Delhi to Devagiri in the Deccan and renamed it as Daulatubad.

The Sultan wanted to make Devagiri a second capital so that he might be able to control South India better. He ordered many of the officers and leading men to shift. Though the Sultan had built a road from Delhi to Daulatabad and set up rest houses on the way, Daulatabad was more than 1500 km away. Many people died due to the rigorous journey and the heat, since the movement took place during the summer season. Moreover, many of those who reached Daulatabad, became homesick. Thus there was a great deal of discontent. After a few years, Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq decided to abandon Daulatabad. Apart from financial loss, and great hardship to the people, there was complete loss of prestige for the Sultan.

Token Currency: Muhammad-bin Tughlaq had lost a great deal of his wealth due to bad decisions. He I decided to introduce token currency in brass and copper, in place of gold and silver. The Sultan issued an order that the people should use and accept these coins just like gold and silver coins. This experiment also failed. Gold and silver coins disappeared from the market and forged coins manufactured by people at their homes came into circulation. Trade and business came to a standstill. The treasury became empty and the prestige of the empire suffered.

Plans of Conquest: The Sultan wanted to conquer Persia (Iran) and China. For about a year he went on making preparations. Ultimately he had to give up this project. This put a heavy drain on the royal treasury.

Muhammad’s personal life was marked by a high standard of morality. He was a great scholar, loved fine arts and music. But as a ruler he failed. He lacked practical wisdom. He inherited a vast kingdom, but at the time of his death it was considerably reduced in size. His weakness resulted in repeated revolts in many parts of the kingdom.

Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388 CE)

Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq was succeeded by his cousin Firuz Shah Tughlaq. Firuz Shah Tughlaq was faced with the problem of preventing the imminent breakup of the Delhi Sultanate. He adopted a policy of trying to please the nobles, army and the Muslim priests.

Muhammad’s personal life was marked by a high standard of morality. He was a great scholar, loved fine arts and music. But as a ruler he failed. He lacked practical wisdom. He inherited a vast kingdom, but at the time of his death it was considerably reduced in size. His weakness resulted in repeated revolts in many parts of the kingdom.

Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388 CE)

Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq was succeeded by his cousin Firuz Shah Tughlaq, Firuz Shah Tughlaq was faced with the problem of preventing the imminent breakup of the Delhi Sultanate. He adopted a policy of trying to please the nobles, army and the Muslim priests.

To win over the nobles, Firuz Shah Tughlaq made the Iqta and land rights hereditary, both for the civil and army officials. To please the Ulema, be imposed the Jaziya- a special tax to be paid by the non-muslims.

Firuz also took up many welfare measures. He set up hospitals for free treatment of the poor. He promoted agriculture by digging of wells and by constructing many irrigation canals. These canals were meant for irrigation purposes and also for providing water to some of the new towns which were built by Firuz. These towns Hissar (in Haryana) and Firuzabad (in Uttar Pradesh) exist even today. After Firuz’s death, the Delhi Sultanate rapidly declined. The governors of provinces became independent and the Sultanate of Delhi was confined to a small area surrounding Delhi.

Timur’s Invasion (1389-99 CE)

The Mongol ruler Timur ruled over a large empire in Central Asia. He claimed to be a descendent of Ghenghis Khan. He invaded India and plundered Delhi. The last Tughluq Sltan, Nasir-ud-din could not fight him. Timur’s army brutally massacred thousands of people and with the loot, he decorated his kingdom, Samarkand, building many beautiful mosques and palaces. Before leaving Delhi, Timur made Khizr Khan his deputy ruler in India, who eventually became the first Sayyid ruler in 1414 CE.


The Sayyid Dynasty was formed amidst Chaos when there was no figure or authority to control Delhi. There were four Sayyid kings.

Khizr Khan (1414-1421 CE)

Khizr Khan was appointed as the Governor of Multan by Firuz Shah Tughlug. He participated in

war of succession among the rival princes after the death of Firoz Shah, When Timur attacked India, he offered his services to Timur. Timur was pleased with his services and before he left India, he appointed Khizr Khan as the governor of Multan, Lahore and Dipalpur. During this reign the subedars of Punjab, Bhatinda and Doab broke out in revolt and his whole period was spent in trying to suppress them. Khizr Khan ruled till 1421. He was succeeded by his son Mubarak Shah.

Mubarak Shah (1421-1434 CE)

Like his father, Mubarak Shah was an efficient ruler. He undertook disciplinary action against jagirdars and nobles to collect revenue from them. This assertion of the right of the Sultan displeased the jagirdars and nobles who treated their provinces as their own property. It created trouble for the Sultan who had to fight against his own nobles who were against him.

Muhammad Shah (1434-1443 CE)

The nobles put Muhammad Shah on the throne. Muhammad Shah was Mubarak Shah’s nephew. He was authorized to rule a meagre area of around 30 miles. The rest of the Sultanate was ruled by the nobles.

Alauddin Alam Shah (1443-1451 CE)

After the death of Muhammad Shah, his son took over the throne under the title of Alam Shah. The last Sayyid king lost Delhi to Bahlul Lodi in 1451. With this the Sayyid dynasty came to an end.

The Lodi Dynasty             

The Lodi Dynasty was established by the Ghizlai tribe of the Afghans. There were three main

rulers of the Lodi dynasty.

Bahlol Lodi (1451-1488 CE)

Bahlol Lodi was an Afghan ruler and founder of the Lodi dynasty. He spent most of his time in fighting against the Sharqi dynasty and ultimately annexed it. He placed his eldest son Barbak on the throne of Jaunpur and his second son Sikander succeeded him after his death. Sikandar

Sikandar Lodi (1488-1517 CE)

Sikandar Lodhi, whose real name was Nizam Shah, ascended the throne of Delhi in 1488 CE. He is believed to be the greatest ruler of the Lodi dynasty. In 1503 CE, he founded the city of Agra and it the headquarters of his army.

Sikandar was a good administrator. Like Balban, he maintained the dignity of his office. Trade was promoted through better and protected roads. The book Tarikh-i-Daudi speaks highly of the Sultan. In 1517 CE, he fell ill and died. The Lodis built tombs in gardens. The Mughals later followed this style.

Ibrahim Lodi (1517-1526 CE)

Ibrahim Lodi was the last king of the Delhi Sultanate. He was the son of Sikandar Lodi and he sat on the throne of Delhi in 1517 CE. He was peevish and ill-tempered, and lost the sympathy of his relatives and nobles. Revolts broke out everywhere. Alam Khan, his uncle, went to Babur in Afghanistan and invited him to invade Delhi.

Babur, the Mughal king of Afghanistan, invaded India. He reached Panipat, near Delhi, in 1526 CE. There was a fierce battle between the forces of Babur and Ibrahim. Ibrahim was defeated and killed. Thus, the Delhi Sultanate came to an end. Babur founded the Mughal Empire in India.