Categories Medieval India

Struggle for the establishment of a centralised monarchy and the rule of Balban (1236-1290)

Struggle for the establishment of a centralised monarchy and the rule of Balban (1236-1290)


Razia and the Period of Instability (1236-46)

  • The death of Iltutmish was followed by a decade of political instability at Delhi. During this period, four descendants of Iltutmish were put on the throne and murdered. The main cause of this was acute factionalism in the Turkish nobility. As we have seen, the Turks were divided into many tribes some of which had converted to Islam, and some had not. There was acute struggle between them. Even Islamized Turkish tribal groups fought against each other all the time.
  • Apart from the Turks, the next important ethnic group in the nobility under Iltutmish were the Tajiks. The Tajiks were Iranians from the Transoxiana and Khurasan regions. The Persians had settled in, and dominated the area before the Turks entered and ousted them from the region. However, the Turks were rude warriors, and knew little about the arts of administration. It was the Tajiks, many of whom had been landlords previously, who largely provided the sinews of administration. In the process, many of them had reached high offices. Thus, Nizamul-Mulk Junaidi, the wazir of Iltutmish, was a Tajik.
  • The Turkish nobles, both free and slave, resented the pre-eminence given to the Tajiks and looked down upon them as being pen-pushers (nawisanda) or bureaucrats rather than warriors.
  • Though the tribal structure of the Turks had largely broken down once they settled down in Khurasan and the Neighbouring areas (Iran, Ghur, Ghazni, etc.), old tribal associations, and personal bonds were still strong. The most important personal bond was that ofslavery. Many sultans purchased Turkish slaves for the specific purpose of raising them up as warriors and administrators. Such slaves were well treated, and often trained along with the rulers’ own sons.

“Corp of Forty” (Chihalgani)

  • Iltutmish organized the nobles in a corporate body, known as Turkan-i-Chehilgani (“The Corp of Forty”) which was personally loyal to him. This elite corp was very proud of itself. It did not consider even the free amirs, both Turk and Tajik, as being equal to them.(
  • The later historian, Ziauddin Barani, calls these slave officers the “Corp of Forty” (Chihalgani). The number forty does not matter because we can identify less than 25 such persons in the list of Iltutmish’s nobles.
  • Other groups of nobles envied the status and privileges of the members of the “Forty”, but this does not mean that the latter were free from their internal bickering. At the most they united in one principle – to plug entry of non-Turkish persons in the charmed circle as far as possible.
  • This “Corp of Forty” had not behaved as a unified body. As Barani says, “none of them would bow or submit to another, and in the distribution of territories (iqtas), forces, offices and honours they sought equality with each other.”
  • The “Forty” tried to retain its political influence over the Sultan who would not like to alienate this group, but at the same time would not surrender his royal privilege of appointing persons of the other groups as officers. Thus, a delicate balance was achieved by Iltutmish which broke down after his death.
  • For example, some nobles did not approve the succession of Raziya, because she tried to organize non-Turkish groups as counterweight to the “Forty”. That was one main reason why a number of nobles of this group supported her brother, Rukun-ud-din whom they thought to be incompetent and weak, thereby giving them an opportunity to maintain their position. This spectacle continued during the reign of Nasiruddin Mahmud also, as exemplified by the rise and fall of Immaduddin Raihan, an Indian convert.
  • This episode coincided with the banishment of Balban who was the naib (deputy) of Sultan Mahmud and his subsequent recall. During the reign of Balban, the influence of the Chehalgani was minimized. Since he himself was a member of the Chehalgni before his accession, he was fully aware of the nobles’ rebellious activities. Therefore, he eased out ‘tallest poppies’ amongst them through assassin’s dagger or poisoning, even including his cousin.

Rise and fall of Razia (1236-40)

  • Razia ascended the throne because a strong body of Turkish slave officers, who were iqtadars (governors) of Badaun, Multan, Hansi and Lahore had risen against Ruknuddin, the son of Iltutmish, who had succeeded to the throne after his father’s death. Nizamul -Mulk Junaidi, the wazir of Iltutmish, also joined the rebels. Ruknuddin had become unpopular because after his accession to the throne he became immersed in pleasure, and left the affairs of state to his mother, Shah Turkan, who had been a Turkish hand-maid. As head of the Sultan’s haram and its administration, she sought vengeance against those who had looked down upon her earlier.(
  • While Ruknuddin had gone out of the city to fight the rebels, Razia took the opportunity to go to the Jama Masjid and appealed to the people of Delhi for their support, alleging that there was a conspiracy to kill her. She succeeded, after something like a popular revolt in her favour took place.
  • Razia strengthened her claim by recalling that in his life time, Iltutmish had nominated her as his successor in preference to his sons. It was typical of the times that Iltutmish did not consult the theologians before he took this decision, but informed them about it afterwards, leaving them no option but to concur. Later on many Turkish rulers in India took decisions in the light of political circumstances, and consulted the theologians afterwards. However, the Turkish nobles,including the wazir, Nizamul-Mulk Junaidi, did not accept Iltutmish’s nomination, but at first supported his eldest son, Ruknuddin .
  • Although Razia succeeded to the throne ,she never had the solid support of any powerful group among the Turkish nobles, but depended for survival on her political skill in keeping the opposition divided. Thus, the powerful group of nobles who were governors of Multan, Lahore, Hansi and Badaun, and who had been joined by Nizamul Mulk were at first opposed to her. But she won over some of the ring leaders, and isolated Nizamul-Mulk Junaidi who had to flee.
  • Firmly seated on the throne, Razia set about “reorganising the administration”. According to Minhaj, “the kingdom became pacified, and the power of the state widely extended. From the territory of Lakhnauti to Debal all the maliks and amirs manifested their obedience and submission.” In order to have direct contact with the administration, Razia laid aside the female dress and donned the tunic and head-dress of a man. She abandoned the veil, and appeared in the darbar, and rode out on an elephant with her face uncovered.
  • This led to murmurings among the orthodox sections, but there was no public opposition to it because she had the support of the people of Delhi. Soon opposition to her began in a section of the nobility at Delhi and in the provinces ,because she had appointed a Habshi (Abyssinian), Malik Yakut, as amir-akhur (Superintendent of the Stables). This post, which implied control over the royal stables, including elephants and horses, was considered to be a  strategic post, and one which implied that the holder was close to the sovereign. Hence, it was resented by the Turkish nobles who wanted to monopolize all the important offices in the state. There is no evidence that the appointment of Malik Yakut was a part of Razia’s policy to build a bloc of non-Turkish nobles in order to off-set the power of the Turkish nobles. Nor is there any reason to believe that there was any personal intimacy between Razia and Malik Yakut. Even the charge that he had to lift Razia by the armpits to her horse is a later concoction because it is not mentioned by any contemporaries. Also, whenever Razia went out in public, she rode on an elephant, not a horse.
  • It was apparently Razia’s firmness, and desire to exercise power directly which was the major cause of the dissatisfaction of the Turkish nobles with her. The first rebellion was at Lahore by its Governor, Kabir Khan. Razia marched to Lahore, and forced Kabir Khan to submit. She then appointed him as iqtadar of Multan in place of Lahore.
  • She had hardly returned to Delhi whenAltunia, the Governor of Tabarhinda, rebelled. Both Kabir Khan and Altunia had been favoured by Razia, and she had little reason to expect opposition from them. She marched against Altunia, but did not know that he was in touch with a powerful group of Turkish nobles at Delhi, who wanted to overthrow her in order to clear their own way to power. Hence, when Razia reached Tabarhinda, the Turkish nobles rose in revolt, killed Yakut, and put Razia in prison at Tabarhinda. The conspirators at Delhi elevated another descendant of Iltutmish to the throne.
  • This virtually brings Razia’s reign to a close. Her subsequent marriage to Altunia, their march on Delhi and their defeat, the melting away of her rapidly recruited soldiers, is a romantic interlude which never had much chance of success. She was murdered by dacoits while in flight.
  • The tragic end of Razia demonstrated the growing power of the Chihalgani Turkish nobles.
  • The contemporary historian, Minhaj Siraj, praises Razia highly. He says that Razia was endowed with all the qualities befitting a sovereign; she was “prudent, benevolent, benefactor to her kingdom, a dispenser of justice, the cherisher of her subjects, and a great warrior.” But he adds, “Of what advantage were all these attributes to her when she was born a woman?” It suited Minhaj to say so rather than blame the Turkish nobles.
  • Razia established schools, academies, centers for research, and public libraries that included the works of ancient philosophers along with the Qur’an and the traditions of Muhammad. Hindu works in the sciences, philosophy, astronomy, and literature were reportedly studied in schools and colleges.
  • Razia is said to have pointed out that the spirit of religion was more important than its parts, and that even the Islamic prophet Muhammad spoke against overburdening the non-Muslims.
  • Razia Sultana was the only woman ruler of both the Sultanate and the Mughal period, although other women ruled from behind the scenes. Razia refused to be addressed as Sultana because it meant “wife or mistress of a sultan”. She would answer only to the title “Sultan.”

Struggles after death of Razia

  • The period between the death of Razia (1240) and the rise of power of Balban as naib (vice-regent), is a period of continued struggle between the nobles and the monarchy. While the nobles were agreed that only a descendent of Iltutmish could sit on the throne at Delhi, they wanted that all power and authority should vest in their hands.
  • The chief constitutional interest in the history of the family of Iltutmish lies in the struggle between the crown and the peers for the possession of real power. At first, the nobles seemed to succeed. They appointed Bahram Shah, a son of Iltutmish, as a successor to Razia on condition that he appointed one of the Turkish nobles, Aitigin, to the post of naib or Vice-regent. For some time, a body of three nobles—the naib, the wazir, and the mustaufi (auditor-general) constituted itself as a kind of a governing board, reducing the monarch to the position of a figure-head. But conflict of interest among the triumvitrate, and the efforts of the ruler to reassert himself led to a struggle with the wazir in which Bahram Shah lost his throne and his life. The fate of his successor,Masud, was no different.
  • The effort of the wazir, Nizam-ul-Mulk, to arrogate all power to himself led to his murder, and to the rise of Balban who subsequently had the monarch deposed in order to clear his own road to power.
  • The death of four monarchs within a brief span of six years following the death of Iltutmish denoted a serious crisis in the relationship between the monarchy and the Turkish nobles. The nobles wanted to rule while the monarch merely reigned, but they could not present a united front.(
  • The elevation of Nasiruddin Mahmud, a grandson of Iltutmish, to the throne in 1246 was really the handiwork of Balban, though he tried for some time to take all the Turkish nobles along with him.
  • Nasiruddin Mahmud was a suitable Instrument for the nobles because he had little interest in political and administrative affairs, the fate of his predecessors being enough of a warning. He devoted all his time to prayers and religious observances, such as making copies of the Quran, or stitching caps for the devoted.

The Age of Balban (1246-87)

  • Although Balban ascended the throne only in 1266, the entire period from 1246 to his death in 1287 may be called the age of Balban because he was the dominant figure at Delhi during this time.

(a) Balban as the naib—struggle with the Chihalgani

  • Ulugh Khan, later known to history as Balban. He came from a family of Ilbari Turks who were greatly respected in Turkistan. They were ousted from the area by the heathen Turks, and Balban was sold as a slave in Baghdad, and then brought to Delhi in 1232-33 where he was purchased by Iltutmish. He was thus one of the Chihalgani Turks and gradually rose till he was appointed Mir Hajib, or the Lord Chamberlain, a post given only to important nobles.
  • He made his mark as a brave officer in 1246 by fighting against the Mongols who had devastated Lahore and besieged Uchch in Sindh. Following this, Balban took the initiative in carrying out a series of plundering raids against neighbouring Hindu rajas, rebellious raj’s and zamindars. In consequence, within three years he rose to the position of“naib” with full power to control the army and the administration. He further strengthened his position by marrying his daughter to the young sultan.
  • However, the position of Balban was not secure for a considerable period. The high position of Balban, and the fact that many of his relations held important posts or powerful iqtas, led to growing opposition on the part of the Turkish and Tajik nobles. The leader of the opposition was Qutlugh Khan, governor of Bihar, who was the senior most among the Chihalgani slave officers. It was due to the efforts of the Turkish nobles that in 1253 Balban was asked to quit his post as naib, and to repair to his iqta. Many supporters and relations of Balban, including his cousin, Sher Khan, who was governor of Sindh, were also ousted. Among the new appointees was Imaduddin Raihan, who was a Hindustani. He was appointed Wakildar or deputy to the king in judicial matters. Another Turkish noble, entitled Nizamul Mulk Junaidi, was appointedwazir.
  • Minhaj Siraj, who under Raihan had lost his position of qazi, puts all the blame for the developments on Raihan.
  • From his iqta in Nagaur, Balban continued his efforts to regain his position. He gathered much booty from a successful raid on Ranthambhor, and opened negotiations with the Turkish nobles. It seems that he also established contact with the Mongols. Soon he was able to detach many of the Turkish amirs from the side of Raihan. The sultan bowed to the strength of Balban’s group and dismissed Raihan and sent him to his iqta. This was early in 1255. Soon, an army was sent against Raihan and he was defeated and killed. This strengthens the belief that Raihan did not have a powerful group of his own and that he was really a convenient front for powerful Turkish nobles who did not want that any one of them should attain the position of Balban.
  • On return to power, Balban soon settled scores with his leading opponents. He sent an expedition against Qutlugh Khan, who had married the sultan’s mother, and taken her to his iqta of Awadh, and started behaving in independent ways.
  • To signify his new position, Balban compelled the young king to hand over to him the chatr or royal canopy. Probably he decided to poison the young king. He also did away with all the royal princes so that he could himself assume the throne.

(b) Balban as the Ruler (1266-87): [Beginning of an era of strong, centralized government]

Balban’s concept of sovereignty: Prestige, Power and Justice


  • Balban sought to increase the prestige and power of the monarchy, and to centralise all authority in the hands of the sultan because he was convinced that this was the only way to face the internal and external dangers facing him. For the purpose, he harkened back to the Iranian theory of kingship.
  • According to the Iranian theory, the king was divine or semi -divine in character, and answerable only to God, not to any set of intermediaries, i.e. religious figures. As such, there was a fundamental difference between the ruler and the nobles, the latter being dependent on the sultan’s favour, and in no way equal to him.
  • These ideas, which were to some extent shared by the Hindus, had to be reconciled with the Islamic theory of sovereignty. While this was a complex matter which continued to agitate the Turks in the subsequent period as well, Balban’s approach was a practical one. He underlined the theory that the sultan was the Shadow of God (zil-i-allah), and emphasised it by insisting that in his court anyone presented to him had to perform the sijda and pabos (prostration i.e.  or kissing of the feat of the monarch in the court) before the sovereign, a practice which, according to the theologians, was reserved for God alone.
  • He maintained a splendid court in which all the nobles had to stand in serried ranks, strict order being maintained by the Mir Hajib. Balban himself maintained the utmost dignity in the Court. He would neither laugh out aloud himself nor allow anyone else to do so. The Court was richly decorated, with horses and elephants having jewelled trappings, and slaves and wrestlers (who were swordsmen and executioners) standing at the sides. When the Sultan moved out, he was preceded by a large posse of Sistani warriors with drawn swords which gleamed in the sun.
  • According to the historian, Barani, Hindus and Muslims came from a distance of 100 to 200 kos to see Balban’s public processions. Even the dependent rajas and rais who visited Balban’s court were deeply impressed. Barani goes on to say, “whenever the awe and spendour of the ruler do not impress the hearts of the ordinary people and the select from far and near, sovereignty and the conduct of government cannot be properly upheld.” Thus, Balban’s splendid court and public processions had a political purpose.
  • For the same reason, Balban gave up drinking even in his private assemblies though as a Khan, he had been fond of drinking wine and gambling, and used to hold convivial parties at his house.
  • Balban also emphasised that it was unbecoming for a ruler to associate with low, ignoble persons, buffoons, dancing girls etc. Even his private servants had to observe the utmost decorum in dress and behaviour.
  • Balban was not prepared to share power with anyone, not even with the members of his family, and poisoned his cousin, Sher Khan, for opposing him. He adopted methods fair or foul to deal with those he considered to be his rivals. At the same time, he tried to stand forth as the defender of the entire Turkish nobility. For the purpose he declared that he would not give any post in the government or an iqta, or a post of authority in the local administration to any person belonging to a low or ignoble family. These included posts of accountant (khwaja or musharif), correspondent at the local level, even barids (confidential spies).
  • There was a deep seated belief in those times, shared alike by Muslims and Hindus, that only people belonging to old or noble families should be placed in authority over the ordinary people. Contemporary writers give free rein to this idea. However, this was almost an obsession with Barani. Barani emphasised this by saying that since Balban claimed to be a descendent of the Iranian hero, Afraisyab, he felt that if he gave high government posts to the mean and ignoble, he would prove to others that he himself came from an ignoble stock. For Barani, a policy of excluding the mean and ignoble meant excluding the Hindus, and Hindu converts from the service of the state, thereby strengthening the position of the immigrants and their descendants like him.
  • According to Barani, during the reign of Iltutmish, a survey had been carried out as to how many persons drawn from low and ignoble families, had been given posts of authority in the lower administration. The names of thirty-three such persons were discovered, and they were all immediately dismissed. In fact, enquiry had revealed that the wazir, Nizamul Mulk Junaidi, who was a Tajik, came from a family whose ancestors had been weavers, and that in consequence, he lost respect.
  • An Abyssinian like Mir Yaqut, and an Indian convert like Raihan could reach high posts, that Nizamul Mulk Junaidi was not dismissed despite his weaver ancestry, and that Indian converts who were skilful and proficient in their work continued to be recommended for government service by Turkish nobles, as Barani himself states, shows that the Turkish monopoly of power was already under stress.
  • Explaining Balban’s attitude, Barani says that it was a mandate given to him by God not to appoint any low ignoble person, and that when he saw low, ignoble persons, his body trembled with rage.(
  • Balban sternly refused to give audience at court to Fakhr Bawni since he was only the chief of the merchants, (Malik-ut-Tujjar) and it would compromise the dignity of the sovereign.


  • Balban tempered his despotism by laying great emphasis on justice. According to Barani, his justice and his consideration for the people won the favour of his subjects and made them zealous supporters of his throne. In the administration of justice, he was inflexible, showing no favour to his brethren or children, or to his associates or attendants.
  • He appointed spies (barids) in all the cities, districts and iqtas to keep himself informed of the doings of the officials, and to ensure that no acts of oppression or high handedness was perpetrated by them on anyone, including their slaves and domestic servants. Thus, when he learned that Malik Bakbak who was governor of the iqta of Badaun, had flogged one of his servants to death in a drunken rage, and his widow appealed to the Sultan for justice, he ordered the malik to be flogged to death, and the barid who had not reported this matter to the Sultan to be publicly hanged. Another noble, Malik Haibat who had been his superintendent of arms and governor of Awadh had, under the influence of wine, killed a person. He was ordered to be given 500 strokes of the whip in public, and then handed over to the dead man’s wife for extracting revenge for blood guilt, i.e. putting him to death if she so desired. He saved himself with great difficulty by paying her 20,000 tankas.
  • These harsh measures must have had a salutary effect, and Balban’s confidential spies were greatly feared by the nobles.
  • In his attitude to the people we see a combination of harshness and benevolence. Balban was convinced that both excess of wealth or poverty would make people rebellious. Hence, he advised his son, Bughra Khan, to be moderate in levying land tax (kharaj) on the peasants. When Balban was a Khan in the iqta under his charge, he tried to help those cultivators who had been ruined (on account of vagaries of nature, oppression by previous iqtadars or wars). In this way, he became famous for helping the poor and the helpless, and for making his iqta prosperous. As sultan, whenever the army camped anywhere, he used to pay special attention to the poor, the helpless, women, children and the old, to ensure that none of them suffered any loss, or physical harm (from the soldiers). Whenever there was a river or a rivulet or a marsh, he helped the people to cross, providing them with boats, or even his own elephants.


Blood and Iron Policy

  • But Balban was extremely harsh when he found any rebelliousness on the part of the people or disturbance of the peace. We are told that following the death of Iltutmish, the Meos around Delhi had grown in numbers and boldness. Although a number of expeditions had been launched against them, they had not been successful, largely on account of the thick forests around Delhi. At this time, the Meos had become so daring as to attack the city at night, break into peoples’ houses. People could not sleep at night for fear of the Meos, or not dare to go out of the city for visiting the various sacred tombs. Even in daytime, water-carriers and slave girls who had gone to fill water at the Hauz Shamsi were molested. All the inns in the neighbourhood had been plundered by the Meos, thereby affecting trade.
  • In the Doab, robbers and dacoits had closed the roads to Delhi from all sides, and it had become impossible for the caravans and the traders to come and depart.
  • During the first two years of his reign, Balban spent a whole year in suppressing the Meos and cutting the forests around Delhi. He slaughtered a large number of Meos, built a fort, and established many thanas (military outposts) and assigned them to Afghans. Tax-free villages were set apart for their maintenance. Thus, Delhi was freed from the fear of the Meos.
  • Turning to thedoab, iqtadars who had the requisite means were appointed to the various territories in the doab. Balban ordered the villages of the disobedient to be totally destroyed, the men were to be killed and their women and children seized as spoils of war. High ranking; amirs were appointed for this task. The thick forests in the area were cut down.
  • Similar methods were applied to the areas near Awadh. Strong forts were established, and Afghans and other Muslims with tax-free lands were settled there to maintain law and order. Thus, the roads were freed for the traders and banjaras.
  • In consequence prices of cattle and domestic animals, including slaves, fell at Delhi.
  • Balban adopted similar measures to deal with the rebels in Katehar (modern Rohilkhand), who were plundering the villages, and harassing the people in the territories of Badaun and Amroha. These harsh methods of Balban have been called by some modern historians a policy of “blood and iron.” But it would be wrong to apply this to all of Balban’s policies.

System of espionage

  • Balban owed his success largely due to an organized organization of his spy-system. He appointed spies (Barids) for inspecting the activities of his governors, military and civil officers and even that of his own son. Balban himself appointed them and they were well paid. They were expected to provide very important information to the Sultan and those who failed, were severely punished. Every spy had direct access to the Sultan though none met him in the court. Balban’s spy-system proved quite effective and was responsible for his success in administration and breaking the power of the forty.

Destruction of “The Forty”

  • The power of Sultan was possible only by breaking the power of the forty. As he assumed the throne, most of these nobles had either died or been deprived of their power and the rest were killed. He assigned junior officers to high ranks so that they could be loyal to him. He punished severely the members of the forty for minor offences with a view to destroy their mage. Malik Barbaq, Haibat khan, Amin Khan, and Sher Khan (cousins of Balban) were example who met exemplary punishment. Balban brought about the destruction of the forty who have grasped the power of the state from the weak hands of the successors of Iltutmish.

Strong Army

  • A strong, centralized state needed a strongarmy. As it was, all medieval thinkers considered the army to be a pillar of the state. He tried to reorganise and expand the central army which was directly under the control of the sultan.
  • Thus, brave and experienced maliks and sardars were appointed over the royal forces to which several thousand new sawars were added, care being taken to see that they were given adequate remuneration by assigning them fertile villages in iqta. As part of the reform process, Balban also ordered an enquiry into the position of old Turkish soldiers, many of whom had been given villages in the doab as iqta in lieu of salary. Many of the soldiers had become too old to serve, but continued to hold the villages in connivance with the diwan-i-arz (Department of the Muster-Master). Balban wanted to pension off the old soldiers, but withdrew his order at the instance of Fakhruddin, the kotwal of Delhi.
  • To keep the army active and vigilant, Balban undertook frequent hunting expeditions in which thousands of hosemen, archers and footmen were employed. These expeditions were kept a secret, orders being passed only the previous night. Thus, officers and men were always kept in a state of alert.
  • Barani praises Balban for his foresight in the matter, but foolishly puts the words to the effect in the mouth of the Mongol chief, Halaku, who had died before Balban’s accession to the throne.
  • The nobles were left to recruit their own soldiers.
  • Balban attached great importance to horses and elephants. While Balban had a ready supply of elephants from Bengal and Assam, the Mongol conquest of Central Asia had made it difficult to obtain horses from those areas. Hence, Balban had to fall back on Indian horses from the Siwaliks, the Punjab etc. For the army, too, recruitment of soldiers and slaves from Turkistan, Khurasan etc. had become difficult. Afghans and Indians, including Hindus, seem to have filled the vacuum. Thus, we have seen that Afghan soldiers were settled in the Doab and in the areas around Delhi. When Balban was marching to the east in order to meet the rebellion in Bengal, while at Awadh he ordered a general mobilization,many of these were Hindus and Hindustanis (Indian Muslims).
  • Despite a large and efficient army which was kept in a state of readiness by constant exercises, Balban did not try to expand the territories of the Delhi sultanat, or raid the neighbouring kings of Malwa or Gujarat because, as Balban explained to his close associates, the “wretchedMongols were always looking for an opportunity to raid the doab and ravage Delhi”.

(c)Struggle for the Territorial Integrity of the Sultanat

  • The Mongol threat was a major preoccupation of Balban, and the reason for not leading expeditions anywhere far away from Delhi.
  • According to Barani, when Balban attained the throne, the dignity and authority of government was restored, and his stringent rules and resolute determination caused all men, high and low, throughout his dominions to submit to his authority.
  • But in reality while the prestige and power of the Central Government increased under Balban, internal dissensions continued to raise their head. These consisted of two elements; first, the attempt of ambitious Turkish nobles and chiefs, some of them neighbours of India, to carve out an independent sphere of authority for themselves. Second was the attempt of Rajput rajas and rais, including big zamindars, to assert themselves, and if possible, to expel the Turks from their territories.
  • Among the Rajput rajas and rais, the most important were those from Rajasthan. In the confusion following the death of Razia, both Gwaliyar and Ranthambhor had to be abandoned by the Turks. Balban recovered Gwaliyar, but his efforts to recapture Ranthambhor were not successful. From this time onwards, the Chauhans based on Ranthambhor rapidly rose in power. However, their expansionist efforts were directed against the existing rulers in Rajasthan, Malwa and Gujarat, not against the Turks.
  • The Turks continued to hold Ajmer and Nagaur, but they had little influence in Rajasthan beyond or outside these cities. South of the Jamuna, the Bundelkhand area continued to be ruled by different branches of Rajputs—the Chandelas, the Bhar and the Baghelas.
  • Balban led an expedition against the Baghela chief of Rewa to clear the plain area south of Kara. His victory and the plunder he gained there has been mentioned with considerable exaggeration by Minhaj. However, the expedition had limited political significance.
  • North of the iqta of Badaun in modern West U.P., the Katehariya Rajputs, with their centre at Ahichchata, continued to harass Badaun and Sambhal.Threat was removed and gradually led to the extension of Turkish influence into Katehar or modern Rohilkhand.
  • It will be seen that none of the Rajput efforts threatened the existence, or the essential territorial integrity of the Turkish state. However, the alleged Hindu threat was sometimes used by the rulers to counter internal dissension or differences.
  • Balban led a plundering expedition into Malwa.
  • Taking advantage of the Mongols threat, the Kurlugs who had been the local rulers of Ghur and Ghazni but had been ousted by the Mongols, crossed the Indus and occupied the Cis-Indus region of the Salt Ranges. They also tried to expand their control over Multan and Sindh. In the complex struggle, they sometimes lost control of the salt range to the Mongols and sometimes recovered it. The point is that the Delhi sultanat had lost all effective control over this tract.(
  • Although Lahore remained under Delhi’s nominal control, the effective frontier in the north-west was the river Beas, so that the Punjab was largely lost. In Sindh also, a number of governors raised the banner of independence, some of them even accepting a Mongol intendant (shuhna) as a part of their effort of gaining freedom from Delhi. However, Iltutmish, and later Balban were able to reassert control over Multan and Sindh.
  • In the east, Bengal and Bihar were largely under the control of the governors of Lakhnauti who sometimes tendered formal allegiance to the sultan at Delhi, and sometimes asserted their independence, according to circumstances. Some of them tried to extend their control over Kamrup (Assam), Jajnagar (Orissa) and southern Bengal (Radha). However, on a number of occasions they suffered serious reverses in their struggle with the local rulers since their resources were not sufficient for the purpose. A few of the governors even tried to extend their control from Bihar to Manikpur and Awadh. If they had succeeded, the Turkish sultanat at Delhi would have faced a split and many other internal problems.
  • As has been seen, Iltutmish had led two expeditions again the Khalji chief, Iwaz. His, and the subsequent efforts of the sultans of Delhi to separate Bihar from Lakhnauti rarely succeeded. Thus, in the confusion following the death of Iltutmish, another Turkish chief, Tughan Khan, became master of Lakhnauti and Bihar. He invaded Radha and made a raid on Tirhut. He even made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Awadh and its neighbouring areas. However, he was clever enough not to repudiate the allegiance to Delhi, and received from Razia and her successors conformation of his position, and honours including a chair which was considered a symbol of royalty. Matters continued in this way till in his struggle against the Ganga rulers of Orissa, Tughan was put on the defensive, and requested the help of Delhi. The Orissan armies besieged him at Lakhnauti, and retreated only when it was learnt that an army led by the governor of Awadh had come to the help of Tughan Khan. The governor of Awadh removed Tughan, and himself assumed powers at Lakhnauti, but he was soon killed.
  • When Balban assumed power at Delhi as naib, he sent his slave, Yuzbek, as governor of Lakhnauti. Like his predecessors, Yuzbek also soon assumed airs of independence. Although he could not prevail against Orissa, he was successful in capturing Radha (1255). This success led to a change in his policy towards Delhi. He now assumed the title of a sultan, and the royal canopy. Taking advantage of trouble in Awadh where the governor had been ousted by Balban, Yuzbek advanced and captured Awadh, and had the khubah read in his name. But Yuzbek retreated on hearing rumors of an advance of Delhi armies on Awadh. Following this misadventure, Yuzbek made an attack on Kamrup. The local ruler retreated as far as he could, then turned against Yuzbek at the commencement of the rainy season. Cut off by the rising river water, Yuzbek suffered a disastrous defeat and was captured and put to death (1257).
  • Thus, successive Turkish officers sent from Delhi to Lakhnauti had assumed airs of independence. The worst proved to be the case of Tughril, a slave-officer, whom Balban now appointed governor of Lakhnauti. After consolidating his position, Tughril raided the territories of the ruler of Jajnagar, and amassed a lot of wealth and elephants which he refused to share with Delhi. He assumed the title of a sultan, and had the khubah read in his name.
  • News of Tughril’s rebellion upset Balban greatly. In 1276, Balban ordered the governor of Awadh, Amin Khan, to march to suppress the revolt. But in the engagement with Tughril many of Amin Khan’s troops deserted as Tughril was lavish with money. When Amin Khan returned to Delhi, in anger Balban gave him death.
  • Balban now appointed one of his chosen officers, Bahadur, to punish Tughril. But the result was the same. Bahadur fought bravely, but was defeated by Tughril.(
  • Therefore, decided to personally lead a campaign against Tughril. To guard against all eventualities, he nominated his eldest son, Prince Muhammad, as his legal successor. However, the responsibility of runing the affairs at Delhi was given not to any Turkish noble, but to Fakhruddin, the kotwal of Delhi, with the post of naib.
  • Balban took a second son, Bughra Khan, with him to Lakhnauti.The campaign against Tughril took Balban two years (1280-82) because Tughril avoided a battle with him, retreating into the remote parts of Bengal with the hope that Balban would tire of the campaign and return. Balban relentlessly pursued Tughril till an advance guard of Balban’s army surprised Tughril on a tip off from some banjaras, and killed Tughril. Balban gave savage punishment to the followers of Tughril at Lakhnauti. But when he returned to Delhi, he was dissuaded from making an example of those soldiers of Delhi who had deserted to Tughril. Perhaps, Balban’s desire to maintain the solidarity of the Turks proved stronger.
  • Bughra Khan was now appointed governor of the eastern part. However, it was Bughra Khan who, after the death of Balban, set up an independent dynasty which ruled Bengal for almost forty years.
  • The house established by Balban lasted only three years after his death. His son, Bughra Khan, preferred to rule at Lakhnauti, leaving the throne at Delhi to his son, Kaiqubad, a young man of eighteen. Kaiqubad proved to be an utter debauch, leaving all the affairs of state to Nizamuddin who tried to kill all the Turkish officers opposed to him. Nizamuddin himself was killed. The administration collapsed.
  • Jalaluddin Khalji who had been the warden of the marches and had distinguished himself in fighting against the Mongols, was called in to help. He soon got rid of Kaiqubad, and set up a new dynasty (1290).

Assessment of Balban

  • Although Balban did not succeed in setting up a dynasty, by his stern enforcement of law and order within the upper doab or Indo-Gangetic plain which formed the essential part of his kingdom, sternly suppressing the lawless elements, and freeing the roads for the movement of goods and merchants, he created the necessary basis for the growth and future expansion of the sultanat. The Indo-Gangetic plain, extending upto Banaras and Jaunpur, was one of the most extensive and productive plain anywhere in the world, and its unification had been the essential basis of flourishing empires in the past.
  • Although there is no evidence that Balban made any systematic efforts to reorganise the system of administration, particularly at the local or provincial levels, his tight control over the iqtadars, with the barids informing him of all developments, imply that the revenues which were previously appropriated by the “Chihalgani” or Turkish slave-officers for their own use, now began to be made available to the central government. A part of these funds were used by Balban for setting up a highly ostentatious Court and the rest for strengthening the central army.
  • Balban did not undertake any large scale building activity at Delhi or elsewhere.
  • Balban laid great emphasis on maintaining a large efficient army. He advised his son, Bughra Khan, that apart from the army half the income should be set aside as a safeguard against an emergency. It is difficult to estimate the efficiency of Balban’s army since it was not engaged in any expansionist activities due to the fear of the Mongols. Balban did manage to contain the Mongols at the Multan-Dipalpur-Sunam line along the river Beas. But he was not able to push back the Mongols from the tract beyond Lahore, although he was faced only with second rank Mongol commanders, the attention of the Mongol rulers being concentrated on Iran, Iraq, Syria etc. Thus, it can be argued that there was no real threat to Delhi from the Mongols. However, Balban obviously could not take any chances.
  • More serious was the failure of Balban to control Tughril’s rebellion in Bengal for six long years. The failure of two senior Turkish officers—Amir Khan, the governor of Awadh, and Bahadur, and many of their soldiers deserting to Tughril, suggests that there was growing dissatisfaction with Balban’s management of affairs and his policies. The Turkish soldiers were never satisfied with their salaries, but expected to supplement these with plunder (ghanim). Balban’s policy of consolidation provided them no such opportunity. The rebellion of Turkish officers in Sindh and, even more significantly, the attempt of two of Balban’s own slaves, Yuzbek and Tughril, to become independent in Lakhnauti shows that even Balban’s sternness could not put down the innate Turkish tribal desire for independence.
  • Although Balban did finally break the power of the Turkish Chihalgani, his resort to a policy of poison and secret assassination of many Turkish nobles, and his exaggerated emphasis on family and ancestry rather than efficiency and ability were counter-productive. The latter not only prevented competent Indians to be appointed or rise in the service of the state, but it seems adversely effected even Turks of humble origin.
  • Nevertheless, Balban’s achievements were greater than his limitations. He built a polity which was capable not only of sustaining itself, but had the capacity to embark on a policy of expansion as soon as the narrow constraints he had put on it were broken, and men of proven worth and efficiency were pushed forward. This was the task which he bequeathed to his successors.
Silver Coins of Balban
The old gate of Lakhnauti, an evidence of the city’s strong fortifications, easily overcome by Balban.
Grave of Balban in Mehrauli,Delhi

2 thoughts on “Struggle for the establishment of a centralised monarchy and the rule of Balban (1236-1290)”

  1. Your blog is very nice sir all compilation of questions with syllabus is bery awesome n very helpful
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