Foundation of Delhi Sultanate and early Turkish Sultans. Consolidation: The rule of Iltutmish (1206-1236)

Foundation of Delhi Sultanate and early Turkish Sultans. Consolidation: The rule of Iltutmish (1206-1236)

  • By the time of Muizzuddin Muhammad’s death in 1206, the Turks had been able to extend their sway upto Lakhnauti in Bengal, Ajmer and Ranthambor in Rajasthan, upto the boundaries of Ujjain in the south, and Multan and Uchch in Sindh.

Empire remained more or less stationary for almost a hundred years. The internal and external difficulties faced by the Turks were numerous:

  1. They had to deal with the efforts of some of the ousted rulers, particularly the Rajput rulers of Rajasthan and Bundelkhand, and neighbouring areas, such as Bayana and Gwaliyar to regain their former possessions.But, Rajputs never came together to try and collectively oust the Turks from India. Nor were there any serious uprisings against the Turks in the Ganga Valley or the Punjab (with the sole exception of the Khokhars during the reign of Muizzuddin). Hence, it would hardly be correct to term these isolated battles by individual Rajput rulers to regain their possessions as “Hindu reaction” to the Turks.
  2. The Turks had to spend a lot of time and energy in dealing with factionalism in the Turkish nobility. Some of the Turkish rulers tried to carve out their own independent spheres of authority. Thus, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji and his successors tried to keep Lakhnauti and Bihar free from the control of Delhi. There were strong separatist tendencies in Multan and Sindh also. For some time, there was a struggle for domination between the nobles at Lahore and Delhi. On and off, some of the powerful governors (iqtadars) also tried to defy Delhi.
  3. During this period, there were important changes in Central Asian politics which affected India. Immediately following the death of Muizzuddin, the Ghurid empire broke up. Muizzuddin’s favourite slave, Yalduz, succeeded him at Ghazni, while another slave, Qubacha seized control of Multan and Uchch. Qutbuddin Aibak, who had been deputizing for Muizzuddin at Delhi, was invited by the Turkish amirs at Lahore. Aibak marched to Lahore and ascended the throne there.
  • Although both Qubacha and Aibak had married two daughters of Yalduz, they struggled against each other, particularly for the possession of the Punjab. But Aibak succeeded in keeping his control over Lahore which he made his capital. After some time, Khwarizm Shah, the ruler of Merv, which was the most powerful state in Central Asia overran Ghur and Ghazni. But before the Khwarizm Shah could consolidate his position in Ghur and Ghazni, and think of moving towards India, he had to face an even bigger danger, the Mongols.
  • Mongol ruler, Chingez Khan, erupted into Transoxiana and Khurasan in 1218 and, in course of time, the Mongol empire extended from China to Central Europe. The Mongols devastated the towns and cities of Central and West Asia which offered resistance to them levelling some of them to the ground after slaughtering almost all the men there, except artisans who, along with women and children, were enslaved. But the Mongol conquest did not have negative aspects only. The unification of Central and West Asia under Mongol aegis enabled trade and merchandise to move freely, and gradually towns and town-life began to revive.
  • In 1218, after conquering North China, Chingez turned against the Khwarizm Shah who had offended him by putting to death some Muslim merchants who had received a safe conduct from Chingez for carrying on trade. Afraid of a defeat, he evacuated Transoxiana, and then retreated to the West. Samarqand and Bukhara fell to the Mongols after resistance, and suffered the fate reserved by the Mongols to those towns which resisted.
  • However, Prince Jalaluddin Mangbarani, the son of the Khwarizm Shah, continued to resist in Ghur and Ghazni. Chingez pursued the prince, and inflicted a sharp defeat on him on the bank of the river Indus in 1221. The prince escaped across the river with a handful of followers. Chingez loitered around in the neighbourhood for three months, then decided to complete the conquest of Khurasan. He then returned to Mongolia and died in 1227. This was followed by internal troubles among the Mongols, giving the Turkish rulers in India time to consolidate the Sultanat.
  • The rise of the Mongols, and the deprivation of the support and backing of the well trained Ghurid army were important factors which prevented the early Turkish rulers of Delhi from trying to further expand their territories.
  • On the other hand, the end of the link with Ghur and Ghazni after the death of Muizzuddin (1206), saved them from involvement in Central Asian affairs, and enabled them to develop in India on the basis of their own resources and inclinations. The Turkish rulers were thus forced to develop an independent state in India. In consequence, gradually a new socio-cultural order evolved in North India.

Qutbuddin Aibak and Iltutmish—Establishment of the Delhi Sultanat

Qutbuddin Aibak (1206-1210)

  • A favourite slave of Muizzuddin, who had played an important role in the battle of Tarain and in the subsequent Turkish conquests in North India had been enthroned at Lahore in 1206 on the basis of the support of the local notables and amirs. Thus, he rose to the throne by personal merit. Somewhat later, he received from Sultan Mahmud who had succeeded his father, Ghiyasuddin, at Ghur, a deed of manumission (freeing him from his slave status, legally, a slave could not be a sovereign), and a chatr, recognizing his position as a sovereign. This finally ended the legal claim of Ghazni over the Turkish conquests in Hindustan. Aibak hardly had time to add to the Turkish conquests in India, and died in 1210, on account of a fall from his horse while playing chaugan (medieval polo).
  • But his brief reign is considered significant because it marked the rise of the first independent Turkish ruler in India. Contemporaries praise him for his liberality, beneficence and gallantry. The combination of liberality, emphasis on justice, and brutality in war were typical of many of the early Turkish rulers in India.(

Shamsuddin Iltutmish (1210-36)

  • He was a slave of Aibak, succeeded him at Delhi in 1210. He was responsible not only for keeping the Delhi Sultanat together, but made it a well-knit and compact State. He may thus be called the real establisher of what came to be called the Delhi Sultanat.
  • Iltutmish had many difficulties to contend with. First, he faced the challenge of Aram  Shah who had been put up by the Turkish amirs at Lahore. Aram Shah apparently was not the son of Aibak, because Aibak had only three daughters, two of whom were married to Qubacha, and one to Iltutmish after he ascended the throne. Aram Shah marched on Delhi but was defeated easily by Iltutmish at a battle at Tarain.(
  • Some of the Turkish nobles were not prepared to accept Iltutmish’s authority. They went outside Delhi and prepared for rebellion. Iltutmish marched from Delhi, defeated the rebels.
  • According to the contemporary author, Minhaj Siraj, “On several other occasions in different parts of Hindustan, hostilities arose between him and the armies and the Turks.” Iltutmish triumphed over all of them—on account of “Divine help” according to Minha.
  • Having brought under his control Delhi and its dependencies including Banaras, Awadh, Badaun and the Siwaliks, Iltutmish found himself faced with a piquant situation. The Turkish rule in Hindustan was by this time divided into four portions:
  1. Multan and Uchch and Siwistan upto the sea in Sindh under Qubacha
  2. Lakhnauti under Khalji maliks
  3. Delhi under Iltutmish
  4. Lahore which was coveted by Yalduz, Qubacha and Iltutmish and passed under the control of one or the other according to circumstances.

(a) Punjab and Sindh

  • In his struggle for the control of the Punjab and Sindh, Iltutmish displayed great tact, patience and diplomatic skill. He did not get too closely involved in the struggle for the Punjab till circumstances favoured him. At first he befriended Yalduz at Ghazni, and accepted the letter of manumission and durbash (two-headed baton which was a symbol of royalty) sent by Yalduz, even though it implied according a superior status to Yalduz.
  • In 1215, after being ousted from Ghazni by the Khwarizm Shah, Yalduz occupied Lahore and the whole of the Punjab, expelling Qubacha. It seems that as the successor of Muizzuddin at Ghazni, Yalduz claimed not only to be the ruler of the Punjab, but also claimed a vague control over all the conquests of Muizzuddin’s in Hindustan. This situation was unacceptable to Iltutmish, and led to hostilities between the two in which Yalduz was defeated and later killed.
  • However, the problem of the Punjab remained. At first, Iltutmish was prepared to leave Lahore to Qubacha, but there was a disagreement between the two upon its boundaries, which Iltutmish felt, would have threaten his position at Delhi. In the hostilities between the two which followed, Qubacha was defeated and Iltutmish occupied Lahore.(
  • Before Iltutmish could consolidate his position in Punjab, Jalaluddiri Mangabarani, the Khwarizmian prince, being pursued by Chingez, crossed the Indus in 1221 and, in alliance with the war like Khokhars, conquered the Punjab upto Thanesar. He then sent a message to Iltutmish seeking an alliance against the Mongols so that he could recover his lost dominions. Iltutmish politely turned down the overture, refusing to be drawn into a fight with the Mongols. He also marched against him with a large army. Jalaluddin quit Lahore, and moved towards Qubacha in Sindh. He defeated Qubacha and occupied Uchch. Meanwhile, the Mongols too invested Multan.
  • Thus, the effect of Jalaluddin’s incursion into India was the weakening of Qubacha’s position in Sindh. Jalaluddin quit India in 1224, but for fear of Chingez, Iltutmish kept a low posture in the northwest. It was only in 1228, after the death of Chingez that he decided to conquer Sindh from Qubacha, and captured Uchch after  a siege of three months. Qubacha fled to Bakkhar. Shortly afterwards when Iltutmish advanced on Bakhhar, Qubacha drowned himself in the river Indus.
  • Thus, by 1228, not only did Iltutmish’s control extend upto the Indus, but the whole of Multan and Sindh upto the sea came under his control. This marked the first phase of Iltutmish’s consolidation of the Delhi Sultanat.

(b) Turkish Conquest of Bihar and Lakhnauti

  • During the reign of Muizzuddin, Bihar and Lakhauti had been captured by a Khalji malik, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji. The contemporary historian, Minhaj Siraj, praises him as a man of “impetus, enterprising, intrepid, bold, sagacious and expert in warfare.” The Khaljis were a Turkish tribe from southwest Ghur. However, Bakhtiyar was ungainly in appearance, and was offered only low employment when he appeared for service before Muizzuddin at Ghazni. Rejecting this as beneath him, he repaired to India, and presented himself again at Delhi. But he was rejected once more.
  • Thereupon, Bakhtiyar Khalji took service under the iqtadar (governor) of Badaun who had an extensive charge in modern west U.P. Soon after, he repaired to the service of the Commander of Awadh who assigned him two villages on the boundary of Bihar. This gave him the opportunity of making plundering raids into Bihar and Maner which, following the downfall of the Gahadavala empire, had become a kind of a noman’s land dominated by petty Gahadavala chiefs.
  • Rai Lakshman Sena, the ruler of Bengal, a rival of the Gahadavads, preferred to confine himself to Bengal, either because he was too old and feeble, or because he was under the illusion that the Turks would be satisfied with Bihar if he did not come into conflict with them.
  • Bakhtiyar Khalji’s reputation as an enterprising warrior spread far and wide, and many Khaljis from different parts of Hindustan joined him. Even Muizzuddin sent him a special robe of distinction (khilat) and honoured him, though he was neither his slave nor his employee.
  • Emboldened, Bakhtiyar Khalji now attacked a fort in Bihar with 200 horsemen which he later found was a Buddhist monastery (the famous university of Nalanda). He then captured Vikramsila, another university town. He also captured the capital, Uddandapur, and built a fort there. This is placed in 1202.
  • After this victory, Bakhtiyar Khalji returned with great booty and presented himself before Qutbuddin Aibak and received from him great honour and distinction. Bakhtiyar Khalji distributed the presents to his people and returned to Bihar. This shows the nature of relationship between prominent chiefs and the Sultan at that time. The chiefs were expected to fend for themselves, and their victories were the victories of the Sultan. The chiefs on their part, acknowledged a Sultan if it suited them, or made a bid for independence. Thus, the structure of the Sultanat was rather brittle.
  • Returning to Bihar, Bakhtiyar Khalji gathered information about Lakshman Sena. He was said to be eighty years old, and had been a famous warrior. According to Minhaj Siraj, he had never committed any oppression on his people, and was very generous in giving gifts. Apprehensive that after the conquest of Bihar, the turn of Bengal would come next, and because fear of Bakhtiyar’s military prowess had spread far and wide, and on the advice of brahmans and astrologers, many brahmans and traders had left the Sena capital for a safer place of refuge in the east. But Lakshman Sena had decided to stick on.
  • For Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji’s conquest of Lakhauti, we are dependent on one contemporary source, Minhaj Siraj, whose account has been followed by all later writers.
  • Bakhtiyar prepared a force and pressed on the Sena capital, Nadia, so rapidly that only 18 horsemen were able to keep up with him, that he proceeded in such a manner in which people of the place imagined that may be his party were merchants and had brought horses for sale, that reaching the palace Bakhtiyar suddenly attacked, and the Rai, taken unawares, fled by a posterior gate, and that Bakhtiyar captured the whole of his treasures, his wives, and other females and attendants etc., and that the main army arrived soon and took possession of the city and its round about.
  • There are several difficulties in accepting Minhaj’s story as it stands. Minhaj states that Nadia was the capital of Lakshman Sena. From archaeological evidence, we know that the capital of the Senas was first Bikrampur (near modern Dacca), and then Lakshmanavati or Lakhnauti. Nadia was a very small town—perhaps a pilgrim centre or a centre of brahmanical learning where Laxmansena would have gone for pilgrimage with small military escort. It is possible that, as in the case of Bihar where Bakhtiyar confused a university with a fort, he mistook a pilgrim centre, Nadia, for the Sena capital. This appears even more likely because there is no mention of any resistance by the Sena forces, although Lakshman Sena had been a noted warrior, and had been forewarned of the danger of Turkish attack.
  • It is possible that Minhaj confused Nadia with Lakhnauti, the Sena capital which Bakhtiyar captured later. Again, there is no mention of a fight. May be the Senas had abandoned the city in anticipation of a Turkish attack.(
  • The Senas continued to rule south Bengal for another fifty years from their capital at Sonargaon near ancient Gaur.
  • Following Nadia, Bakhtiyar captured Lakhnauti. He had the khutba read, and issued coins in the name of Muizzuddin, although he was independent in all but name.
  • Bakhtiyar Khalji’s conquest of Bihar and North Bengal stands as an example of intrepid daring. It added greatly to the reputation of Turkish arms in India.
  • Bakhtiyar Khalji did not live long after his success. He prepared an army for the occupation of Tibet and Turkistan. The Turks had very vague ideas of the geography of the region. Bakhtiyar apparently believed that Tibet and Turkistan were just across the mountain, and that if he could gain direct access to Turkistan, he could get military supplies from it, and set himself up as an independent ruler. The campaign was thus, destined to fail. Bakhtiyar never went beyond Assam. The Magh rulers allowed him to come as far as he could, crossing the river Bagmati across a stone bridge. Finding that he could go no further, Bakhtiyar retreated, to find that the bridge had been destroyed. Caught between a large opposing force and the river, Bakhtiyar made a dash for the river. But the river was too deep to be forded. Most of the soldiers drowned, Bakhtiyar himself escaping with about 100 soldiers.
  • This was the worst disaster of Turkish arms. Bakhtiyar was deeply depressed, and took to bed where he was stabbed to death by one of his nobles, Ali Mardan Khan (in 1205)

Relations of Bengal with Delhi

  • Ali Mardan was ousted by nobles loyal to Muhammad Bakhtiyar. He escaped, and came to the court of Qutbuddin Aibak who honoured him, and assigned him the territory of Lakhnauti. The prestige of Muizzuddin and his successors was high, and the Khalji amirs at Lakhnauti submitted to Ali Mardan who brought the whole of North Bengal under his control.
  • When Aibak died, and ambitious nobles such as Qubacha in Sindh, assumed airs of independence, Ali Mardan assumed the canopy of state (chatra) and read the khutbah in his name. However, he proved to be a tyrant, and was soon displaced by a Khalji amir, Iwaz, who assumed the throne under the title Sultan Ghiyasuddin Khalji.
  • Minhaj calls Ghiyasuddin Khalji a monarch worthy, just and beneficent. The region prospered under his rule and he undertook a number of public works which benefited the people.
  • Taking advantage of Iltutmish’s preoccupation with the north-west, he extended his authority over Bihar, and exacted tribute from many of the neighbouring rulers.
  • After the situation in the north-west had settled somewhat, in 1225 Iltutmish marched against Iwaz. A kind of a treaty was patched up between the two whereby Iwaz agreed to Iltutmish’s suzreignty and also paid a heavy indemnity. Iltutmish awarded Bihar to his own officers. But as soon as Iltutmish’s back was turned, Iwaz repudiated his suzreignty, and ousted his officials from Bihar.
  • Iltutmish asked his son, Nasiruddin Mahmud, then Governor of Awadh, to watch the situation. Two years later, when Iwaz was campaigning in Kamrup (Assam) and Bang (East Bihar), and Lakhnauti was undefended, Nasiruddin Mahmud made a sudden move and occupied Lakhnauti. Iwaz came back, and fought a battle but was defeated and executed. Nasiruddin remained in charge of Lakhnauti. But he died shortly afterwards and the Khaljis again threw off the yoke of Delhi. It was not till 1230 when IItutmish led a second campaign that Lakhnauti was brought under his control.(
  • But Bengal always remained a difficult charge, and threw off its allegiance to Delhi at the first sign of weakness at the centre.

(c) Internal Rebellions, Conquest of Ranthambhor and Gwaliyar, and Raids into Bundelkhand and Malwa

  • Iltutmish had to face a number of internal rebellions. The ousted Gahadvaras of Kannauj had recovered Badaun and Kannauj, and there was a rebellion at Banaras. These were dealt with, but the Rajputs of Katehar (modern Rohelkhand) continued to threaten this area.
  • Katehar was attacked, and later Iltutmish cleared the area upto the Siwaliks.
  • There were also hostilities with local Hindu chiefs in parts of Doab and Awadh. These areas, which were then covered by heavy forests, continued to be troublesome for outsiders for several centuries.
  • After settling the affairs of Bihar and Bengal, Iltutmish turned his attention towards the recapture of some of the forts, such as Bayana and Gwaliyar, which had been recovered by the Rajput rajas in the confusion following the death of Aibak.
  • Iltutmish invested and captured Ranthambhor from the Chauhan successors of Prithvi Raj. This was deemed a great success because Ranthambhor was considered an impregnable fortress. However, since it was too far away from Delhi for effective control, after some time it was returned to the Chauhans as feudatories. Ajmer continued under Turkish rule.
  • Next, Iltutmish captured Bayana and then Gwaliyar (Paramar ruler of Gwaliyar)
  • Gwaliyar was made the base of plundering raids into Bundelkhand and Malwa. The Turkish governor of Gwaliyar attacked Chanderi and Kalinjar but escaped with great difficulty when on the way back, laden with plunder, he was attacked by the Rajputs.
  • A little earlier, Iltutmish raided Bhilsa and Ujjain in Malwa. The famous temple of Mahakali at Ujjain was destroyed, and rich plunder obtained. But little effort was made to extend Turkish dominion over the area.

 Estimate of Iltutmish as a Ruler

  • Iltutmish re-established the territorial integrity of the Delhi sultanat. He defeated efforts of ambitious rivals such as Yalduz and Qubacha to divide the sultanat. In the process, he displayed a great deal of tact, patience, and far-sightedness.
  • This was displayed in his dealings with Qubacha as well as Jalaluddin Mangbarani. Early in his reign he had realized that his policy must be one of steady consolidation rather than rapid expansion. He proceeded against the Khalji Maliks of Lakhnauti only when he had consolidated his position in the north-west.
  • Under Iltutmish,Delhi Sultanat can be called a truely independent state, not tied up to a foreign sovereign living at Ghazni or Ghur. Iltutmish’s legal status as an independent sovereign was reaffirmed in the eyes of the Muslims when in 1229 an envoy of the Caliph of Baghdad reached Delhi with a formal letter of investitute for Iltutmish. Although it was a mere formality and recognition of an accomplished fact.(
  • Iltutmish can be credited with making Delhi the political, administrative, and cultural centre of Turkish rule in India. Delhi became the refuge for nobles, bureaucrats, scholars, poets and religious divines from Central Asia to escape the Mongol depredations.
  • Iltutmish 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 the Qutb Minar, and the madrasah around it, was built by him. Iltutmish was not only a patron of men of Islamic learning and poets, he also accorded great honour to the sufi saints of his time, such as Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki.
  • By his military prowess, pleasing manners and liberality, Iltutmish earned the 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 the State was still a loose structure in which the inner jealousies and rivalries of the Turkish nobles and slave officers could be kept under control only by a strong ruler.


Qutub Complex (Mehrauli in Delhi)

  • Qutub Minar, Alai darwaza, Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the awesome Iron Pillar, tombs of important personalities of the time as Iltutmish, Imam Zamin, Ala-ud-din khilji.
  • The complex initially housed twenty-seven ancient Hindu and Jain temples which were destroyed and their material used in the construction of the Qubbat-ul-Islam Mosque or Dome of Islam.
  • This complex is surrounded by numerous ancient and medieval structures and ruins which is collectively known as Qutb complex (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • The complex was added to by many subsequent rulers, including Firoz Shah Tughlaq and Alauddin Khilji as well as the British.

Qutub Minar:

  • One of the highest stone towers in all over the world.
  • Made of red and buff sandstone.
  • Commenced in the year 1192 under the orders of Qutb-ud-din-Aibak.
  • Completed by his son-in-law and successor Iltutmish in 1386 and later Firuz Shah Tuglaq rebuilt
  • Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture.
  • Qutub Minar is a tall complex with 379 steps leading to the top having 14.3 meters diameter of the base. The top floor of the monument measures 2.75 meters in diameter.

Iron Pillar 

  • Iron pillar is located at the courtyard of the Quwwatu’l-islam belonging to 4th century.
  • A testament to the skill of ancient Indian blacksmiths because of its high resistance to corrosion.
  • Originally located at the Udayagiri caves, situated near Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh
  • Iltutmish,attacked and sacked Vidisha in the thirteenth century and removed the pillar as a trophy to Delhi, just as the Tughluq rulers brought Asokan pillars to Delhi in the 1300s.
  • The pillar carries a number of inscriptions and graffiti of different dates. The oldest inscription on the pillar is in Sanskrit, written in Gupta-period Brahmi script. This states that the pillar was erected as a standard in honour of Viṣṇu. It also praises Gupta King Chandragupta. Some authors attempted to identify Chandra with Chandragupta Maurya

Quwwatu’l-Islam Masjid 

  • Quwwatu’l-Islam mosque is located close to Qutub Minar
  • Built using the carved stone slabs and materials of the remains of Hindu temples.

Tomb of Iltutmish 

  • The tomb of Iltutmish was built by Shamsu’d-Din Iltutmish in the year 1235 that lies to the Northwest of the Quwwatu’l Islam Mosque of Delhi.
Iltutimish Tomb
Iron Pillar and Qutub Minar

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