The Delhi sultanate was the principal Muslim sultanate in North India from the 13th to the 16th century. Its creation owed much to the campaigns of Muʿizz al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Sām (Muḥammad of Ghūr; brother of Sultan Ghiyās̄ al-Dīn of Ghūr) and his lieutenant Quṭb al-Dīn Aibak, between 1175 and 1206; and particularly to victories at the battles of Taraōrī in 1192 and Chandawar in 1194.
The Ghūrid soldiers in India did not sever their political connection with Ghūr (in present Afghanistan), until Sultan Iltutmish had made his permanent capital at Delhi and had repulsed rival attempts to take over the Ghūrid conquests; and had withdrawn his forces from contact with the Mongol armies which by the 1220s had conquered Afghanistan.
Iltutmish also gained firm control of the main urban centres of the North Indian Plain, from which he kept in check the refractory Rajput chiefs.
After Iltutmish’s death, a decade of factional struggle was followed by nearly 40 years of stability under Ghiyās̄ al-Dīn Balban, Sultan in 1266–87. During this period Delhi remained on the defensive against the Mongols and undertook precautionary measures against the Rajputs.
Under the sultans of the Khaljī dynasty, the Delhi sultanate became an imperial power. ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn conquered Gujarat and the principal fortified places in Rajasthan, and reduced to vassalage the principal Hindu kingdoms of southern India and also defeated serious Mongol onslaughts by the Chagatais of Transoxania.
The Mamluk Sultans
After the death of Mohamed of Ghur, Qutub-ud-din Aibak declared himself as the Sultan of Delhi. He also occupied the throne of Gazni for forty years after defeating Yildiz.
But the people drove him out owing to his excesses. This confined him to Delhi and was assassinated in 1210. He built the Qutub Minar in Delhi, a land mark in history.
Shamsuddin Iltutmish, born in a tribal community of Ilbari in Turkestan, was the real founder of the Slave Dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, though he was technically the third ruler of the dynasty.
At the time of Qutab-ud-din’s death in 1210 AD, he was the governor of Badaun. After Aibak’s death the Chihalgani put Aram Shah as the next ruler. Aram Shah turned out to be an inept ruler. Iltutmish was invited by the nobles of Delhi to replace Aram who was defeated in the plain of Jud near Delhi.
An intelligent and wise person Iltutmish made Delhi the capital of Delhi Sultanate.
The first ten years of Iltutmish’s reign was devoted to consolidating his position which was challenged by his rivals, particularly Tajuddin Yalduz (the successor of Muhammad of Ghor) and Nasiruddin Qubacha, the Governor of Uch and Multan. Iltutmish defeated both of them in 1216-17, and thus made his position secure.
The reign of Iltutmish saw the coming of the Mongol fury in Central Asia under the leadership of Chengiz Khan, the Mongolian ruler, who had occupied Pekingin 1215 and conquered Transoxiana in 1220. Iltutmish saved the nascent kingdom of the Slave Dynasty from the menace of the Mongol invasion. However the fear of Chengiz khan was such that Iltutmish did not embark on any military expedition till his death in 1227.
After the Mongol threat subsided, Iltutmish recaptured Multan and Bengal in 1227-28 and became successful in reasserting his authority in Bengal and Bihar. He also captured Ranthambhor and Mandor in Rajasthan.
In 1229, he received a deed of investiture from the Abassid Caliph of Baghdad. This event marked the formal recognition of Iltutmish’s independent position as a Sultan, and also of the Delhi Sultanate and as a member of the world fraternity of Islamic states.
When Raziya, the next prominent ruler, was still a child, her grandfather Aibak died and her father became second Sultan of Delhi.
During the final years of his life Sultan Iltutmish had to make an important decision. Whom would he hand-over the administration of the sultanate? Based on qabliyat, Iltutmish would have chosen his son Nasiruddin Mahmud, who at that time also ruled as governor of Bengal. Yet, under mysterious circumstance, Nasiruddin Mahmud died and Iltutmish was at a loss. None of his other sons, born from his other wives, were too young to be crowned his successor.
His daughter Raziya had already shown her capability of managing the sultanate. When her father left for business or campaigning affairs, she took charges as a competent regent with the assistance of the Sultan’s trusted minister. She had become a well-educated woman, both in formal education as in the Qu’ran. Moreover, she was skilled in martial arts and, thus, an excellent trained warrior, rode both horses and elephants with an exquisite accomplishment and exercised authority with great dignity.
Without consulting the ulama, Iltutmish appointed his daughter Jalalat-Al-Din Raziya as his successor, for he saw “the signs of power and bravery” in her. As such, Iltutmish became the first Sultan to appoint a woman as his heir apparent.
As a woman, Raziya was not given full support from the noblemen. She only managed to secure her control over the throne by dividing the opposition. After her official accession, many nobles opposed her. Ultimately, she won the majority over and the kingdom slumbered into peace again. She could extend the power of the state widely through the obedience and submission of maliks and amirs.
By building a system of roads, she could easily inform herself of the affairs in the distant parts of the empire. She linked towns up with villages and built small forts as guard posts around these routes. In addition, she established schools, academics, research centers and public libraries where both Islamic tradition manuscripts and Hindu works shared places.
However, the noblemen at Delhi assigned a new sultan, Raziya’s stepbrother Muizuddin Bahram Shah. He was a drunkard and could serve as the puppet the noblemen wanted. During his reign, the people were oppressed and opponents of the empire were unmercifully killed. And Raziya was captured and killed soon.
Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud reigned from 1246 to 1266. He was the eighth ruler of the Slave Dynasty and the grandson of Iltutmish.
Nasiruddin Mahmud was a pious, kind hearted and God-fearing ruler. He practiced monogamy and led a pious life and did not give himself to pleasures. It is said that he did not take a single penny from the state treasury and earned his living by writing verses of Quran and selling them to the people. He patronized the learned and extended a helping hand to the poor and the distressed. But the political condition of India at that time needed a strong ruler who could crush the power of the enemies and maintain peace and order within the country and save the country from the attacks of the Mongols.
Fortunately, Nasiruddin Mahmud had an able minister in Balban, who was also his father-in law. He was only the nominal king and the reins of power were in fact in the hands of Balban. For a full twenty years, from 1246 to 1266, Balban served his master very faithfully. It was he who guided the home and foreign policy of the state throughout his master’s reign.
He was a very strong and capable man who successfully crushed the revolts, maintained peace and order in the country and checked the attacks of the Mongols. Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud died in 1266 A.D. After his death, Balban ascended to the throne of Slave Dynasty.
Ghiasuddin Balban was the greatest Sultan of the Slave dynasty and an extremely shrewd military chief. He belonged to the Ilbari tribe of a well-to-do Turk family. But unfortunately he was captured by the Mongols and sold to Khwajah Jamal-ud-din Basri in Baghdad and later brought to Delhi by Illitimush who purchased him as a slave. From the very beginning, he was favored by his master and soon became one of the Chalgan (forty chief nobles of the court).
He gradually gained power during the rule of Nasir-ud-din Mahmud and in early 1266, he became the Sultan after the death of Nasir-ud-din. As a Sultan, Ghiasuddin Balban ruled his territory with an iron hand. The Chalgan’s had become very strong during the twenty-year rule of Nasir-ud-din and were jealous of Balban’s ascent to the throne. To curb the power of the revolting Chalgans he either killed them or banished them. The Mewatis, Jats and Rajputs had also gained power and revolted against the government. He ordered the royal forces to crush them.
Ghiasuddin Balban believed that a king is the deputy of God on earth and had unparalleled powers. His court was disciplined. He even established an intelligence department and posted spies in different parts of the country to gather information about the conspiracies against him. The death of his son broke him and he died in 1287.