• Although India was defended in the North and the North-West by a range of mountains, the Himalayas and their extension, the low mountains in the North-West were pierced by passes which were the traditional points of entry into India. Of these passes, the most well -known, and the most frequently used, were the Khybar and the Bolan passes. A more natural line of defence for India than these low mountains in the north-west was provided by the Hindukush mountains, which were a fairly effective barrier between Afghanistan and Central Asia in the north, while the Iranian desert provided an effective shield on the west. Afghanistan and its neighbouring areas were strategically important for India because they provided a staging centre for any invasion of India. Thus, attack on Afghanistan was the first stage in the Ghaznavid and Ghurian conquest of north India.(
Khyber and Bolan Pass

 1.The Mongol Incursions (upto 1292)

  • After the Ghurian conquest, it might have been expected that Ghur and Ghazni would provide an effective shield against any future invasions of India. But the separation of India from Ghur and Ghazni, and the subsequent conquest of the area by Khwarizm Shah, followed by the Mongols, completely altered the strategic position. A viable defence line in the north-west could now be provided either by the Indus, or by the Koh-i-Jud (Salt Ranges) which was on this side of the Indus.
  • In stages, Mongols breached these lines of defence in course of time, and reached upto the river Beas, thereby posing a serious threat to the sultanat of Delhi.
  • In 1221, Chingez loitered around the Indus for three months, after defeating the Khwarizmi prince, Jalaluddin Mangbarani. Crossing the Indus, the prince had formed an alliance with the Khokhars who dominated the tract upto the Salt Ranges. Before departing from the area, Chingez sent envoys to Iltutmish, the sultan at Delhi, that he (Chingez) had given up the project of sending his army to Hindustan and returning to China by way of Gilgit or Assam, since he had not received favourable omens from burning sheep-skins. It suggests that Chingez had contemplated the invasion of north India, but gave up the idea, either because of Iltutmish’s refusal to help prince Jalaluddin, or because of a rebellion in Turkistan, which needed the attention of Chingez.(
  • After the death of Chingez, the Mongols were for some time too busy in their internal affairs, and in completing the conquest of Khurasan and Iran, to bother about India.
  • But in 1234, Oktai, who had succeeded Chingez Khan in Turkistan , decided to invade Hind and Kashmir. Iltutmish advanced upto Banyan in the Salt Ranges to counter this threat. On the way, Iltutmish fell ill, and returned to the capital where he died soon afterwards.
  • Soon after the death of Iltutmish, the former governor of Ghazni, Wafa Malik, who had been ousted by the Mongols, came to India and captured the entire tract comprising the Koh-i-Jud or the Salt Ranges. This invited Mongol attacks. The Mongols ousted Wafa Malik, and brought the entire Koh-i-Jud under their control. There was a prolonged struggle between Wafa Malik (Qarlugh Dynasty), and the Mongols for the control of the Koh-i-Jud and Multan, with the sultans of Delhi intervening whenever possible.
  • By 1246, the Qarlughs had to quit India. But by that time, the Koh-i-Jud had become a Mongol bastion, and a base for their further attacks on India.(
  • The seriousness of the Mongol threat had become apparent to the inhabitants of Delhi when in 1240 a Mongol force under Tair Bahadur, who was the commander of Herat, Ghazni and Afghanistan, besieged Lahore. The Turkish governor was ill-prepared to stand a siege, and was further hampered because many of the inhabitants were merchants who regularly traded in the Mongol territories, and were not prepared to aid and help the governor for fear of Mongol reprisals. Also, there was little hope of any help coming from Delhi where there was utter confusion following the death of Razia. Hence, the governor abandoned the city. After capturing the city, the Mongols encountered stiff resistance from the citizens and many Mongols including Tair Bahadur were killed. The Mongols in vengeance killed or enslaved all the citizens of Lahore, and devastated the city. Then they suddenly retreated because the Mongol Qa-an, Ogtai, had died.
  • Although Lahore was reoccupied by Delhi, for the next twenty years Lahore remained in a ruined condition, being sacked on several occasions either by the Mongols or by their Khokhar allies.
  • Chaghtai Mongols who controlled Afghanistan were entrenched in the Koh-i-Jud, extended their depredations upto the river Beas, which joins the Chenab between Multan and Uchch.
  • This was the situation which faced the sultans of Delhi when Nasiruddin Mahmud ascended the throne in 1246, with Balban becoming the naib soon after. Although Balban wanted to adopt a bold policy, and clear the area upto the Koh-i-Jud from the Mongols, alongwith the Khokhars who were siding with them, little could be done due to the factionalism in the Turkish nobility. Hence, the frontier commanders of Multan and Sindh were left largely to their own devises to cope with the Mongols. In consequence, some of them came to terms with the Mongols, even setting themselves up as independent rulers under Mongol overlordship. Thus, Sher Khan, the cousin of Balban, who had been ousted from Sindh when Balban was displaced by Raihan, repaired to the Mongol chief apparently to persuade him to invade India in order to restore Sher Khan to his previous position. Nor was Sher Khan the only Turkish officer to do so. But the Mongols had already decided to conquer China, and to concentrate on the conquest of Iraq, Syria and Egypt, leaving it to local commanders to plunder as much as they could in India, on the basis of their own resources. Thus, the sultans of Delhi were lucky not to face the full brunt of Mongol power.
  • In order to limit the Mongol depredations, Balban adopted both military and diplomatic measures. He, as a naib, sent an envoy to Halaku, the Mongol Il-Khan of Iran, who, apart from the Ogtai-Chaghtai branch which dominated Turkistan and Transoxiana, was the most important figure among the successors of Chingez.(
  • Halaku sent a return embassy in 1260 which was given a grand and impressive reception by Balban. Halaku is supposed to have strictly ordered his officers not to invade India, under pain of punishment. However, this assurance need not be given too much importance because Halaku’s energies, then as earlier, had been devoted to the conquest of Iraq, Syria and Egypt. He had suffered a serious set-back in 1260, being defeated by an Egyptian army.
  • Interestingly, at about the same time, an envoy was received from Barka Khan, the head of the Mongol Golden Horde in South Russia (most powerful group among the Mongols) and which had deep enmity towards Halaku. In this complex situation, Halaku simultaneously sent his intendents (shuhna) to Sindh and the Koh-i-Jud areas, thus claiming over-lordship over them. Thus, the agreement also implied that the Sultans of Delhi would not try to disturb the Mongols in Sindh and in areas west of Lahore.(
  • By the time Balban ascended the throne in 1266, Halaku had died, thereby ending goodwill between the Mongols and the ruler of Delhi. The situation on the ground had not, however, changed. Although Balban’s cousin, Sher Khan, who was the warden of the marches, holding the iqtas of Lahore, Sunam, Dipalpur etc. acted as a shield against the Mongols.
  • Mongols were able frequently to cross the Beas. At the outset, Balban adopted a forward policy. After clearing the roads in the doab, he marched his army towards Koh-i-Jud. He ravaged the mountainous tract and its neighbouring areas, and captured large number of horses, leading to a sharp decline in the price of horses in Delhi. In 1270, he ordered the fort of Lahore to be rebuilt, and appointed architects to rebuild the city. However, soon afterwards, Balban had Sher Khan, whom he suspected of harbouring dreams of independence, to be poisoned. He then entrusted the defence of the frontier tracts to his eldest son, Prince Muhammad.
  • Prince Muhammad was an able and energetic prince, and it appears that during the remaining years of Balban’s reign, while the Mongol attacks continued, his defensive arrangements at Multan and Lahore, with the river Beas as the line of military defence, continued to hold. Barani says that the Mongols no longer dared to attack across the Beas, and Mongol forces could not face the forces of Prince Muhammad from Multan, Bughra Khan from Samana, and Malik Barbak Bakatarse from Delhi.
  • Prince Muhammad dies in 1285 outside Multan fighting bravely a surprise attack of Mongols. The death of the prince was a heavy personal blow to Balban who had designated the prince as his successor. But it did not change the ground realities as far as the Mongols were concerned.
  • The last Mongol attack under Balban’s successors was in 1288 when Tamar Khan ravaged the country from Lahore to Multan. But the Mongols retreated as soon as they heard of the arrival of the imperial forces.(
  • Thus, upto 1290, the Mongols dominated western Punjab, the effective frontier being the river Beas. They also continually threatened Multan and Sindh. But they did not mount any serious offensive towards Delhi. This enabled the sultanat of Delhi to survive, but only at the cost of the utmost vigilance and military preparedness.
  • A last invasion of India by the Mongol branch settled in Iran took place in 1192 when a Mongol army headed by Abdullah, a grandson of Halaku, the Ilkhan of Iran, invaded India. Jalaluddin Khalji who had just succeeded to the throne had spent a considerable part of his life in fighting the Mongols. Jalaluddin Khalji advanced with a large force. After some skirmishes, the Mongols agreed to withdraw without a fight. There was some kind of an agreement between the two. Jalaluddin had a cordial meeting with Abdullah whom he called his son, and a party of the Mongols, headed by Ulaghu, another grandson of Halaku, embraced Islam, along with 4000 of his followers. They were allowed to settle down near Delhi along with their families. The Sultan married one of his daughters to Ulaghu.(
  • These, and a band of 5000 Mongols who had entered India in 1279 became Muslims. They were called “Nau (Neo) Muslims”.
  • These cordial relations suggest that a tacit agreement had been reached between the two sides not to disturb the status quo, leaving the Mongols in possession of West Punjab. However, changes in Mongol domestic politics created a new situation in which the Mongols for the first time posed a serious danger to Delhi.

2.The Mongol Threat to Delhi (1292-1328)

  • The rise of the Ogtai-Chaghtai branch of the Mongols which dominated the Mongol homelands including Turkistan led to important changes. The Mongol chief, Dawa Khan, set out on a course of conflict with the Mongol Qa-an of Iran. Dawa Khan over-ran Afghanistan. He then extended his sway upto the river Ravi. (
  • The first inkling of a new Mongol policy came in 1297-98 when a Mongol army sent by Dawa Khan crossed not only the river Beas, but the river Sutlej, and the road to Delhi seemed to lay open before them. Alauddin sent a large army under his trusted commander, Ulugh Khan, who met the Mongols near Jullundhar and completely routed them.This was the most convincing victory which an army of the Sultans of Delhi had gained over the Mongols in a straight fight.
  • A similar victory was gained the following year when the Mongols captured Siwistan in lower Sindh. Zafar Khan, another favourite commander of Alaudin, proceeded against the Mongols.
  • These victories seem to have lulled Alauddin to a false sense of security as regard the Mongols. That is why he was caught unprepared when towards the end of 1299, Mongols invaded India, headed by Qutlugh Khan, the son of the Mongol ruler, Dawa Khan. Unlike the previous times, the Mongols did not ravage the countryside or the towns on the way, their objective being to conquer and rule Delhi. Hearing of their approach, Alauddin quickly gathered an army, and took a position outside Siri, the place where he had taken residence before entering Delhi, after murdering his uncle, Jalaluddin. The Mongols entrenched themselves at Killi, six miles north of Delhi. While the two armies faced each other, Alauddin sent urgent summons to the nobles of the doab to hasten to his side with their armies. Meanwhile, many people from the environs took shelter at Delhi which became extremely crowded, and provisions became dear since the caravans of food from the doab had stopped coming.
  • In this situation, Alaul Mulk, the kotwal of Delhi, advised Alauddin to play a waiting game, and if possible, induce the Mongols to retire peacefully since his army consisted largely of the Hindustani soldiers who had only fought Hindus, and were not used to fighting the Mongols, and were not familiar with their tactics of feigned retreat and ambush. Alauddin rejected the kotwal’s advise as being unmanly, and one which would undermine his prestige as a ruler. However, he had no intention of letting everything be decided on the outcome of one battle. Considering that time was on his side, and the Mongols, far away from their homelands, might soon fall short of provisions, Alauddin issued strict instructions to his officers to stand on guard, and not to go out of their lines to attack the Mongols without his orders. However, Zafar Khan, who was itching for a fight, attacked the Mongol contingent facing him. As usual, the Mongols feigned retreat, and when Zafar Khan had gone out several miles pursuing them, an ambush party cut off his retreat, and surrounded him. According to Alauddin’s orders, the rest of the army did not move out to rescue Zafar Khan who, along with all of his followers, died fighting bravely.
  • Although the Mongols won an initial victory, the firmness of Zafar Khan seems to have made an impression. Qutlugh Khan realized that he could not break Alauddin’s lines, or capture Delhi. Hence, after skirmishing for two days, he retreated from Delhi and, moving rapidly, recrossed the Indus. Alauddin did not try to pursue him.
  • This full-scale Mongol attack on Delhi was a severe shock not only to the citizens of Delhi, but to Alauddin. He now awoke from his sleep of neglect, and undertook far-reaching measures:
  1. A protecting wall around Delhi was built for the first time,
  2. All the old forts on the route of the Mongols repaired. Strong military contingents were posted at Samana and Dipalpur
  3. He took steps to reorganise the internal administration, and to recruit a large army. These measures.
  • In 1303, the Mongols advanced on Delhi a second time, under the leadership of Targhi.
  • The Mongols had marched rapidly, meeting little resistance on the way, and expected to surprise Delhi, because they had learnt that Alauddin was away from the capital, campaigning. However, Alauddin had returned from the Chittor campaign. His troops needed to be refurbished. The capital had been denuded because another army had been sent to Warangal via Bengal, and had come back to the doab badly battered. Moreover, the Mongols had seized all the fords across the Jamuna so that despite royal summons no troops from the doab could reach Delhi. In this situation, Alauddin came out of Siri with all his available forces, and took up a strongly defended position, resting on the river Jamuna on one side, and the old city of Delhi on the other. He further strengthened his position by digging a ditch all round, and putting on its side planks of wood so that, according to Barani, his camp looked like a fort made of wood. The Mongols did not dare to attack this strong position, but hovered around Delhi, creating a great fear among the citizens. There was an acute shortage of both fuel and corn in the city, the caravans from the doab having stopped coming. However, the Mongols were not the same as the earlier Mongols, and their discipline seems to have become much more lax, because they came to the tanks outside Delhi, drank wine there, and sold cheap corn to the citizens, thus relieving the acute food shortage. After two months of this futile exercise, the Mongols retreated once again, without a fight.(
  • In 1305, the Mongols made a third and final desperate attempt at the conquest of Hindustan. Crossing the Indus, Mongol army marched rapidly across the Punjab, and after burning the towns at the foothills of the Siwaliks, crossed into the doab, by-passing Delhi. However, Alauddin, whose army was much stronger than before, sent an army of 30,000 under a Hindu noble, Malik Nayak who, according to the poet Amir Khusrau, had been governor of Samana and Sunam earlier. A number of Muslim officers were placed under his command. This shows how far the social base of the Turkish sultanat had broadened since the days of Balban. Malik Nayak met the Mongols somewhere near Amroha (north-west part of modern UP), and inflicted a crushing defeat upon them. This victory finally destroyed in India the aura of Mongol invincibility—something which the Mongols had lost earlier in West Asia after their defeat by the Egyptians in 1260, and the loss of Syria to them.
  • After the death of Dawa Khan in 1306, the Mongols lost interest in the conquest of Delhi. They launched a series of attacks in the Katehar-Siwalik region, but they were all repulsed with great slaughter of the Mongols. According to Barani, whenever the Mongols attacked Delhi or the neighbouring regions, they were defeated.
  • The areas devastated by the Mongols were gradually brought under the plough once again. Lahore and Dipalpur became impassable barriers for the Mongols, “like a Chinese wall.” The commander of the area, Tughlaq Shah or Ghazi Malik,launched a series of attacks on the Mongol-held areas in West Punjab upto the river Indus, and were successful. According to Barani, the Mongols did not dare to cross the river Indus.
  • Thus, Alauddin not only defended Delhi and the doab from the threat of the Mongols but created the conditions whereby the northwest frontier of India could be pushed back from the river Beas and Lahore to the river Indus.
  • These were significant achievements. However, the threat to India could not be said to have disappeared as long as the Mongols dominated Afghanistan and the neighbouring areas. Thus, after the death of Alauddin, the Mongol threat to India revived.
  • In 1320, Dalucha Khan entered the Kashmir valley and devastated it. All the men were killed, and the women and children sold. All houses were burnt. Fortunately, the Mongol invaders perished in a snow blizzard while retreating from Kashmir eight months later.
  • Shortly after Ghiyasuddin‘s accession to the throne (1320), two Mongol armies reached Sunam and Samana, and marched upto Meerut. They were defeated with great slaughter.
  • In 1326-27,the new Mongol Khan, Tarmashirin, again invaded India. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq marched against Tarmashirin, and not only pushed him back but extended his frontiers to include Peshawar and Kalanaur across the Indus so as to form a better defensive line against future Mongol invasions. However, after some time, the Indian armies retreated behind the Indus which remained the frontier with the Mongols.
  • The boldest effort to counter the Mongol threat to India was made by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who shortly after his accession, recruited an army of 375,000 men for what was called the Khurasan expedition. One effect of any such campaign meant the conquest of Kabul, Ghazni and the neighbouring areas—areas which we have described as staging theatres for the invasion and conquest of India. Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s enterprise failed, like many of his other projects, even at the planning stage. However, he was one of the few Turkish sultans of India who seems to have possessed a strategic insight regarding the north-west frontier of India. This must have been so because he was a close student of Asian affairs. It was the neglect of these factors which led to Timur’s invasion of India in 1399.
  • Thus, the Mongol threat to India lasted for almost a hundred years, gaining in intensity till it reached a climax during the reign of Alauddin Khalji. The Mongol incursions led to the virtual loss of western Punjab beyond Lahore to the Mongol during the second half of the 13th century, thereby creating a serious threat to Delhi and the doab, as in the time of the Ghaznavids. However, unlike the Rajput rulers of the time, the sultans of Delhi organized their resources, and carried out a far-reaching restructuration of their economy to meet the Mongol threat.
  • However, they failed in the task of building a viable line of defence based on Afghanistan in order to stem such future incursions. This task was undertaken later on by the Mughals.

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