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Medieval india from sultanat to the mughals

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Copyright © Satish Chandra, 1997

Second Edition, 2000

First Reprint, 2001

Second Reprint, 2002

Third Reprint, 2003

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of the publishers.

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Published by Ashok Gosain and Ashish Gosain for Har-Anand Publications Pvt Ltd and printed at H.S. offset.



I am happy that this work which has been reprinted twice since its first publication in 1997, is now in its second edition.

A few textual corrections have been carried out in the new edition, and a few modifications made where considered necessary.




This work has been in the offing for a long time. During the past several years, friends, both within the country and outside, have been asking me to write a book on Medieval India which would bring together recent thinking and research on the subject, and could be of use both to the general readers and to the students. However, 1 could not get down to the work in real earnest till I had finished my third trilogy, Historiography, Religion and State in Medieval India (1996); the two earlier ones being Medieval India: Society, Jagirdari Crisis and the Village (1982), and Mughal Religions Policies, the Rajputs and the Deccan (1993),

The present work covers only the Sultanat period from 1206 to 1526. I have adopted the traditional division, but have tried to bring out the continuities so that the self-imposed demarcation of periods does not affect an understanding of the broader movement of history.

The present book would hardly have been possible without the friendly, prompting and personal interest of Shri Narendra Kumar, Chairman, Har-Anand Publications Pvt Ltd.

I am grateful to Shri B. Sahay, Librarian, Indian Council of Historical Research; the Librarian, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, and Dr. A.P. Srivastava, the then Director of Libraries, Delhi University, for their constant help in providing books and reference materials.

I am also grateful to Shri J.K. Gosain of the Society for Indian Ocean Studies, assisted by Ms. Monika Moorjani, who have gone through the difficult task of reducing the pages of my manuscript to fine type-written pages, and carrying out the corrections.

Lastly, I am grateful to my wife, Mrs. Savitri Chandra, for her constant help and support, and bearing with me at all times while 1 was busy with my writing.




1. West and Central Asia Between the 10th and 12th Centuries, and Turkish Advance towards India 13

i. Developments in West and Central Asia 14

ii. The Turkish Advance towards India:the Hindushahis 16

iii. Rajput Kingdoms in North India (10th- 12th centuries), and the Ghaznavids 19

iv. The Rise of the Ghurids and their Advance into India: the Battles of Tarain—Turkish Expansion into the Upper Ganga Valley—Comparison of Muizzuddin Muhammad Ghuri and Mahmud Ghazni 22

v. Causes of the Defeat of the Rajputs 29

Map: Delhi Sultanat (13th Century) 35

2. Establishment and Territorial Consolidation of the Delhi Sultanat (1206-1236) 36

i. Qutbuddin Aibak and Iltutmish: 38

Establishment of the Delhi Sultanat: (a) Punjab and Sindh (b) Turkish Conquest of Bihar and Lakhnauti 38

ii. Internal Rebellions, Conquest of Ranthambhor and Gwaliyar, and Raids into Bundelkhand and Malwa 44

iii. Estimate of Iltutmish as a Ruler 45

3. Struggle for the Establishment of a Centralized Monarchy (1236-1290) 47

i. Razia and the Period of Instability (1236-46) 47


ii. The Age of Balban (1246-87) 51

(a) Balban as naib—struggle with the Chihalgani

(b) Balban as a ruler

iii. Struggle for the Territorial Integrity of the Sultanat 58

iv. Assessment of Balban 62

4. The Mongol Threat to India during the 64 13th-14th Centuries

i. The Mongol Incursions (upto 1292) 64

ii. The Mongol Threat to Delhi (1292-1328) 68

Map: India (Century 1200) 74

5. Internal Restructuring of the Delhi Sultanat, and its Territorial Expansion (1290-1320) 75

i. Jalaluddin and Alauddin Khalji's Approaches to the State 77

ii. Agrarian and Market Reforms of Alauddin 78

iii. The Territorial Expansion of the Delhi Sultanat (upto 1328): (a) Gujarat— (b) Rajasthan—(c) Malwa—(d) Maharashtra and South India (a) First Phase: Conquest (b) Second Phase: Annexation 86

6. Problems of a Centralised All-India-State— Ghiyasuddin and Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1320-1351) 96

i. Problems and Approaches 97

ii. Experiments and Reforms 99

(a) Administrative and Political Measures: Exodus to Deogiri—The Khurasan and Karachil Expeditions

(b) Economic and Agrarian Reforms: Token Currency—Agrarian Reforms

iii. Rebellions and Changes in the Ruling Class 108

7. Reassertion of a State Based on Benevolence—Disintegration of the Delhi Sultanat 113

i. Firuz's Concept of Benevolence and Peoples' Welfare 113


ii. Military Expeditions of Firuz and the Impact of their Limited Success: The Bengal Campaigns—Jajnagar (Orissa) and Nagarkot—The Thatta Campaign (1365-67) 116

iii. Reorganisation of the Nobility and the Administration 119

iv. Developmental Activities—Agrarian and Urban 122

v. Disintegration of the Delhi Sultanat and its Causes 126

8. Government and Administration under 129 the Delhi Sultanat (13th-14th Centuries)

i. The Sultan—the Ministries: The Wazir, Diwan-i-Arz, Diwan-i-Insha, Diwan-i- Risalat, Other Ministries 129

ii. Court and the Royal Household 139

iii. Provincial and Local Governments 140

9. Economic and Social Life in North India 144 Under the Delhi Sultanat

a. Economic Life

i. Agricultural Production, Village Society and the Revenue System 145

ii. Non-agricultural Production: Textiles, Metallurgy, Building Industry, Other Crafts including Paper-making 151

iii. Trade: (a) Domestic Trade (b) Foreign Trade 154

b. Social Life

i. The Ruling Classes: (a) The Nobility (b) The Chiefs—Emergence of Zamindars 158

ii. Adjuncts to the Ruling Class: Judicial and Junior Administrative Officers, and the Ulema 164

iii. The Trading and Financial Classes 166

iv. Standard of Living 167

v. Towns and Town Life—Artisans and slaves 169

vi. Women, Caste, Social Manners and custom 172


10. Politics, State, Society and the Economy in South India under Vijayanagar and Bahmanid Rule 175

(c. 1350-1565)

i. The Vijayanagar Empire—its Nature and Conflict with the Bahmani Kingdom 175

ii. The Bahmani Kingdom—its growth and disintegration—Age of Mahmud Gawan (1463-82) 183

iii. Climax of the Vijayanagar Empire and its Disintegration 188

11. Establishment of Portuguese Control in the Indian Seas and its Economic and Political Impact 192

i. The Asian Oceanic Trade Network before the Coming of the Portuguese 194

ii. The Portuguese Estado da India 199

iii. The Portuguese Impact on the Indian Ocean Trade Network 202

12. Rise of Regional Kingdoms in North India and a System of Balance of Power 208

i. Eastern India: Bengal, Assam and Orissa 209

ii. Western India: Gujarat, Malwa and Rajasthan 215

iii. North-West and North India: the Sharqis, the Lodi Sultans and Kashmir 222

13. Religious and Cultural Life Under the Delhi Sultanat 288

i. Architecture 230

ii. Religious Ideas and Beliefs: (a) The Sufi Movement: Early Origins— The Chishti and The Suhrawardi Silsilahs (b) The Bhakti Movement: Early Origins— The Popular Bhakti in North India— The Vaishnavite Movement 234

iii. Literature and Fine Arts: Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian, and Regional Languages; Music 257


14. The State in India under the Sultanat 263

i. Legal, Political and Social Character of the State 264

ii. Relations with the ulema 269

iii. Position of the Hindus 271

iv. Despotism, benevolence and development 275

Glossary 279

Index 283


1. India c.1200 35

2. Delhi Sultanat 13t h Century 74

12 13


West and Central Asia are connected to India geographically across mountain barriers which demarcate India from Central and West Asia but do not pose an insurmountable barrier, like the Himalayas to the north. In consequence, nomadic and semi-nomadic hordes have constantly tried to enter India through these mountain passes, attracted by India's well watered plains with fertile soil, extending from the Punjab to the eastern borders of Bengal, its rich and flourishing cities and ports, and its fabulous wealth generated by the hard working peasants and skillful artisans, and experienced traders and financers.

The rise of Islam, its conquest of West Asia and Iran, and its slow expansion into Khurasan, and Central Asia, particularly the fertile tract called Mawara-un-Nahar or Transoxiana, i.e. the areas between the rivers Amiv (Oxus) and Syr, led to a gradual contraction of India's cultural and political influence in the area, which was largely Buddhist. It also adversely effected India's over-land trade with China and West Asia. Trade from the sea-ports of Western India was also effected for some time. However, this trend was soon countered by the rise of Arab sea traders who revived and strengthened India's sea trade, both with West Asia and with the countries of south-east Asia and China. There is no reason to believe that the Indian traders were displaced from this sea trade, or kept themselves away on account of the growth of the sentiment in some quarters that travel across the salt-seas or beyond the areas where


the munj grass grew would lead to the loss of one's caste. Thus, there is evidence of Indian traders living in the areas around the Persian Gulf and beyond, and of Indian Vaids and craftsmen being welcomed at the court of the Abbasid Caliph at Baghdad. There is also evidence of Arab traders settling down in Malabar. The powerful Rashtrakuta rulers who dominated western India, Malwa and parts of south India upto the 10th century, also welcomed the Arab traders, and even permitted them to build mosques for worship.

i. Developments in West and Central Asia

The Abbasid empire, which reached its zenith in the 9th century, comprised at its height the areas from the environs of Constantinople and Egypt to Central Asia and the Arabian peninsula. It was thus the most powerful empire which arose in the area since the days of Dairius the Great of Iran (5th century A.D.). However, its energies were spent more in fighting the heathen Turks of Central Asia, and expanding the empire towards the west, rather than making a serious bid for the conquest of India. The situation began to change from the end of the 9th century when the Abbasid empire disintegrated, and a series of aggressive, expansionist states arose. These states were independent in all but name, but they accepted the nominal suzreignty of the Caliph who legitimised their position by granting them a formal letter or manshur. In course of time, the rulers of these states began to be called Sultans. Most of these sultans were Turks. The Turks who were nomads and lived in areas now known as Mongolistan and Sinkiang had, since the 8th century, been infiltrating into the region called Mawara-un-Nahar (Transoxiana), which was the "transitional zone" between Central Asia and the lands of ancient civilisations in East Asia. The Iranian rulers of the area, and the Abbasid Caliphs, brought in the Turks as mercenaries and slaves, and recruited them as palace guards, after converting them to Islam. The Turkish military commanders quickly assimilated the Iranian language and culture which was dominant in the region. Even earlier, both Arabic and Persian had been the languages of the ruling classes, and Persian culture and administrative practices had influenced the Abbasids.

Thus, the Turkish immigrants became Islamized and Persianised. It was they who set the political agenda of the future, fighting both the Turkish tribes which had not converted, and expanding into India.


The most powerful dynasty which arose in the region after the fall of the Abbasids was the Samanid dynasty (874-999) established by a converted Iranian noble from Balkh who was governor of Samarqand, Herat, etc. This was followed after sometime by the Ghaznavids (962-1186). Its founder, Alap-tigin, was a Turkish slave officer of the Samanids. The Ghaznavids were displaced by the Seljukids, and then by the Khwarizmi empire with its capital at Men'. The Khwarizmi empire was destroyed by the Mongol, Chengiz Khan, in the 13th century. These empires fought each other, as also smaller potentates in the region whom they tried to subordinate. In this they were not very different from the various Rajput rajas who dominated different areas in India, and continually fought each other. However, in the fierce battle for survival in West and Central Asia, military, efficiency was considered the most valuable asset. This led to the growth of a militarism which spelt immediate danger to India and its outlying areas—Zabulistan and Afghanistan which till, then, had not been converted to Islam.

The aggressiveness of the newly Islamized Turks was added to by a number of factors. They had at their disposal the finest horses in the world. These horses which roamed the steppes of Central Asia in wild herds, were bred by the Turks who were considered hardy warriors and skillful horsemen. These horses were imported into Arabia and India from time immemorial. Horses bred in India could not match the Central Asia horses in swiftness, nor could the Indians match the Turkish horsemen in their skill and speed of manoeuver. Perhaps, developments in West and Central Asia limited the import of these horses into India. The mountains around Ghur were also rich in metals, particularly iron, and there was a tradition of production of war materials there, as also in many cities of the region. Thus, the Turks had a plentiful supply of horses and war materials, both of which were important for warfare in those times.

Secondly, there was a growth of what is called the 'ghazi' spirit in West Asia at that time. Iranian rule in Transoxiana and its neighbouring areas was being gradually replaced by Turks, including the nomadic Turks who were called Turkmen or Turkomans. Iranian and Turkish Muslim rulers of the area had to face the continuous pressure of the nomadic, non-Muslim Turkmens, such as the Guzz or Oguzz and other tribes living in Kara-Khitai, or the steppes of Central Asia. While defending themselves, the Turkish rulers were themselves making continuous raids into the Turkmen held Central Asian steppes for capturing slaves who were in high demand


in the slave-markets of Samarqand and Bokhara. The responsibility of this defensive-offensive warfare devolved in part on the volunteers who were fired by the spirit of defending and spreading Islam. These volunteers were not paid regularly, and made up for their pay by plunder. These were the 'ghazis.'

The ghazi spirit which was first used for fighting against the non-Islamic Turks was later used against the "unbelievers" in India. Amongst the figures most closely associated with this movement, the first was Mahmud Ghazni whose "exploits" in India are well-known. The second was Sanjar, the Seljukid ruler, who suffered a sharp defeat in 1142-43 at the hands of the non-Muslim hordes of Gur Khan of Khitai (Central Asia). We are not concerned with Sanjar's life—he was defeated and imprisoned by the Oguzz or Ghuzz in 1152, escaped, but died soon after. It shows, however, the vulnerability of the Muslim Turks, and of the Muslim rulers in general. During the period, even some of the most powerful Muslim states could not contend successfully against the non-Muslim Turks from Central Asia. Later, they succumbed to the Mongols.

On the positive side, some institutional factors helped in the growth of Turkish military power in Khurasan and Iran. The most important of these was the "iqta" system. The iqta was a territorial assignment which gave to the holder the right to collect from the peasants the land revenue and other taxes due to the state. It did not, however, imply the holder interfering with the existing land rights, or granting them any rights over the person, wealth, wives and children of the cultivators. In return, the holder was under the obligation of maintaining a fixed number of troops, and to furnish them to the sultan at his call.

This institution suited the Turkish sultans because it implied that the existing rights of the Iranian land holders, called the dehkans, would not be interfered with. Nor would the Turkish military leaders develop any hereditary rights in land, but would be completely dependent on the sultan who could deploy them as and where he chose. It was this highly mobile military force, dependent for its sustenance upon the backing and support of the ruler, which became the main instrument for further expansion of Muslim power under the aegis of the Turkish sultans.

ii. The Turkish advance towards India: The Hindushahis

It was only a question of time before these hardy, highly mobile, centralized predatory forces turned their attention towards India, the traditional land of gold.


We are told that it was only in 870 A.D. that Zabulistan was finally conquered by one Yakub who was the virtual ruler of the neighbouring Iranian province of Seistan. The king was killed, and his subjects were made Muslims. In 963 Alp-tigin, who had been the commander of the Samanid rulers in Khurasan, marched to Ghazni in south Zabulistan, and set himself up as an independent ruler. The Hindu ruler (Shahi) of Afghanistan, who are called Hindu-Shahis, tried to meet this emerging threat on their border by allying themselves with the former Samanid Governor of Ghazni, with the Bhatti rulers who dominated the area near Multan, as also with the Muslim amir of Multan across the Bolan pass. These rulers were willing to join Jayapal, the Hindu Shahi ruler, because they had been harassed by slave raids into their territories by the rulers of Ghazni. However, Jayapal's invasion of Ghazni failed, and the coalition built by him soon collapsed. Sabuk-tigin who succeeded Alp-tigin (977), carried the fight into the Hindu Shahi territories, and laid waste the frontier tract of Lamghan, i.e. Kabul and Jalalabad. In about 990-91, the Hindu-Shahi ruler suffered a decisive defeat. The 17th century historian, Ferishta, tells us that Jayapal was assisted in this battle by the Rajput rulers of Delhi, Ajmer, Kalinjar, and Kannauj. However, modern historians are doubtful of the veracity of this statement because it is not mentioned by any contemporary historian. Nor was Delhi an important state at that time. Ajmer had not been founded, and the rulers of Kannauj were in decline. Thus, Ferishta's account seems to be based on a desire to exaggerate the scale of the Ghazanavid victory. Following the battle, the provinces of Kabul and Jalalabad were annexed to Ghazni. The contemporary historian Utbi says, "from this time the Hindus drew in their tails and sought no more to invade the land (of Ghazni)."

The point to note is that by the end of the 10th century, the outer bastions of India, Zabulistan and Afghanistan, had been lost. An invasion of proper India was, therefore, the next likely step. In preparation for such an invasion the Yamini rulers of Ghazni had improved the road communications from Ghazni to Kabul and Jalalabad. Meanwhile, the Hindu Shahi ruler, Jayapala, had tried to make up for the loss of territory in the west by extending his kingdom towards the east. Thus, he overran Lohvara (Lahore) in 991. The local ruler was allowed to rule for sometime as a feudatory, but in 999, Lahore was annexed to the Shahi kingdom which now extended from Peshawar to the river Beas.

In 999, Mahmud ascended the throne at Ghazni, and vowed to conduct operations in India every year. After making initial raids


against frontier outposts, in 1001 he marched against the Shahis. In a furious battle which was fought near Peshawar, Mahmud's forces consisted of 15,000 picked cavalry, a large corps of 'ghazis', and Afghans. Jayapal's army is estimated at 12,000 cavalry, 30,000 foot, and 300 elephants. It appears to have bean a battle of cavalry, combined with skillful tactical movements. Jayapala was defeated and Mahmud advanced to the Shahi capital Waihind (Udbhanda or Peshawar) which was thoroughly ravaged. According to some accounts, Jayapala was captured and taken to Ghazni, but released after some time on payment of a large ransom. But this story appears to be a concoted one because we are told that following his victory, Mahmud made peace with the Shahi ruler, annexing only the territory west of the Indus. This would hardly have been likely if the Shahi ruler had suffered a complete defeat and been made a prisoner. However, Jayapala felt his defeat to be a great humiliation, and entered the funeral pyre a few years later. He was succeeded by his son, Anandpala.

Despite this set back, the Shahis were strong enough to pose a serious obstacle to Mahmud's further advance into India. The Ghaznavids had to fight two serious battles near the Indus before they could penetrate into the Punjab proper. In a hard fought battle in 1006 near the Indus, Mahmud conquered the upper Indus region. This gave him access to the Punjab. But Punjab proper remained outside his control till 1009 when in a decisive battle fought on the eastern side of the Indus in the plains of Chhachh, Mahmud triumphed over Anandapal, and followed his victory by over-running Nandana in the Salt Ranges to which the Shahis had shifted their capital from Waihind (Peshawar), after their earlier defeat. Mahmud also captured the fort called Bhimnagar or Nagarkot (to be distinguished from Nagarkot in Kangra). For some time, Anandapal was allowed to rule over the Punjab as a feudatory. But in 1015, Mahmud advanced upto Lahore and plundered it. Soon the Ghaznavid empire extended upto the river Jhelum. Meanwhile, Multan which was ruled over by a Muslim ruler who had allied himself with Anandapal against Mahmud, was also overrun. However, an attempt to conquer Kashmir in 1015 failed, due largely to inclement weather. This was the first defeat of Mahmud's armies in India.

Thus, the period from 990-91 to 1015 was a period of protracted struggle during which Afghanistan, and then Punjab and Multan were lost to the Ghaznavids. The way was now open for Turkish advance into the Gangetic plains.


iii. Rajput Kingdoms in North India (10th—12th centuries) and the Ghaznavids

The middle of the 10th century saw the decay of two of the most powerful Rajput states which had dominated north and central India during the two preceding centuries. These were the Gurjar-Pratihar empire with its capital at Kannauj, and the Rashtrakuta empire with its capital at Manyakhet. The Gujarat-Pratihar empire extended from the foothills of the Himalayas to Ujjain in the south, and from Gujarat in the west to Mongyr in the east. It contended with the Rashtrakutas for the mastery of Gujarat and Malwa, and with the Pala rulers of Bengal for the mastery of Bihar and modern east U.P. In the north-west, its rule extended to Thaneshwar. It declined rapidly during the second half of the 10th century, remaining confined largely to modern U.P. In the meantime, a number of kingdoms rose up, the most prominent among them being the Chandels of Kalinjar and Mahoba, the Chauhans of Sakambhari in Rajasthan, the Paramars of Malwa, and the Chaulukyas of Gujarat. These, in turn, had many feudatories which some times helped their overlords, but more often conspired to become independent. Kashmir was under the powerful queen, Didda, who reigned for twenty-six years, and even murdered her grandsons to retain power. She had an old standing rivalry with the Shahis and hence forbore to give them any help in their struggle with Mahmud. Nor did any of the other Rajput rajas help Anandpal in his struggle against Mahmud, despite Ferishta's statement to the contrary.

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