Delhi Sultanate

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jul 23, 2023

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The Sultanate of Delhi (Persian

Succeeding the Ghuride dynasty, the Delhi Sultanate was originally among the numerous principalities ruled by the Turkish slave generals loyal to Muhammad of Ghur, including, for example, Yildiz, Aibek, and Qubacha, who had inherited and divided among themselves the previously prosperous Ghuride domains in much of northern India, particularly near the Khyber Pass. After a long period of infighting, the Delhi Mamluks succumbed to the Khalji Revolution, an event that marked the rise to power of a diverse Indo-Muslim nobility in place of the Turks. Both the emerging Khalji and Tughlaq dynasties initiated multiple war campaigns, ending in swift and victorious conquests, in southern India, specifically in Gujarat and Malwa, but equally noteworthy is the sending of a historic first military expedition south of the Narmada River and into Tamil Nadu. In the early part of the 14th century, the nation continued to extend into southern India until 1347, when the southern provinces became independent under the Sultanate of Bahmani, which later dismembered into the Sultanates of the Deccan. The state entity reached the height of its geographical reach during the Tughlaq dynasty, when it incorporated cities under one banner that were part of present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh. Such expansion was followed by decline due to Hindu reconquests, Hindu kingdoms such as the Vijayanagara and Mewar Empires that claimed independence, and new Muslim sultanates such as Bengal, Jaunpur, Gujarat, and Malwa that succeeded in separating from central authority. In 1398, the sacking of the capital Delhi by Tīmūr (Tamerlane) made even more tangible the unstoppable process of decline and fragmentation that the Islamic state was experiencing. After recovering briefly under the Lōdī (or Lōdhī) dynasty, it then ended up being conquered by Bābur, Mughal emperor, in 1526.

The historical significance of the state under consideration relates primarily to the development of a global cosmopolitan culture in the Indian subcontinent (think of the proliferation of the Hindustani language and Indo-Islamic architecture). Moreover, since the sultanate was one of the few entities to succeed in repelling the attacks of the Mongols, particularly the Chagatai Khanate, it proved possible to coincide with those factors that enabled the enthronement of one of the few prominent female figures in Islamic history, Radiya Sultana, in power from 1236 to 1240. Bakhtiyar Khalji's victorious campaigns in the late 12th century brought with them the large-scale desecration of Hindu and Buddhist temples, an event that was followed by a decline of the latter creed in eastern India and Bengal, and the destruction of some universities and libraries. The Mongol incursions into West and Central Asia laid the ideal conditions for centuries of migratory flows of soldiers, intellectuals, mystics, merchants, artists and artisans seeking refuge in the subcontinent under review to begin, allowing Islamic culture to take root in India and the rest of the region.

Historical context

In describing the historical context that led to the rise of the Delhi Sultanate in India, one cannot disregard another event that more broadly involved much of the Asian continent, specifically the southern and western region: the influx of nomadic Turkic peoples from the steppes of Central Asia. The origins of these people flows must be traced to the 9th century, when the Islamic caliphate began to fragment in the Middle East. Muslim rulers in neighboring rival realities began to take prisoners and educate many of the nomadic Turks not loyal to Islam residing on the steppes of Central Asia in order to make them loyal military slaves called Mamluks. Soon, the Turks began to migrate to Muslim lands and went through a process of Islamization. Eventually, many of the Turkish Mamluk slaves rose up to become rulers and established themselves in numerous regions of the Muslim world, shaping Mamluk sultanates geographically distributed from Egypt to present-day Afghanistan; it was a matter of time before their focus was also on the Indian subcontinent.

In truth, the phenomenon just analyzed had much older roots: like other settled peoples, devoted mostly to agriculture, those on the Indian subcontinent had already been attacked by nomadic tribes over the past millennia. In assessing the impact of Islam on the subcontinent, one must consider that the northwestern part of India constituted a frequent target of tribal raids from Central Asia in pre-Islamic times. Therefore, the raids and subsequent Muslim invasions did not appear dissimilar to previous invasions that occurred during the first millennium.

In 962 A.D., the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of South Asia went through a wave of looting carried out by Muslim armies from Central Asia. Among the attacking armies was that of Mahmud of Ghazna, the son of a Turkish Mamluk military slave and the author of looting in kingdoms in northern India from east of the Indus River to west of the Yamuna River seventeen times between 997 and 1030. Mahmud of Ghazna stormed the major centers then retreating on each occasion, extending Islamic rule into the western Punjab alone.

The wave of incursions into the kingdoms of northern and western India by Muslim warlords continued as well after Mahmud of Ghazna, but no substantial changes to territorial boundaries occurred, a sign that it was not the will to expand that was driving the wars. Sultan Mu'izz al-Din Muhammad Ghuri, otherwise known as Muhammad of Ghur, planned a first real campaign of conquest in northern India in 1173, hoping to carve out a principality for himself in the Islamic world. He dreamed of birthing a Sunni dominion extending east of the Indus River, effectively laying the foundation for establishing the Muslim kingdom that would later become known as the Sultanate of Delhi. Based on Muhammad Ghuri's geographical indications and location in South Asia at that time, some historians place 1192 as the year of establishment of the Delhi Sultanate.

Muhammad Ghuri was assassinated in 1206, but while according to some accounts written by Shiite Muslims he was killed by the Ismāʿīlī, according to other authors he died at the hands of the Kokari, an indigenous population of the Punjab. After the assassination, one of Muhammad Ghuri's slaves (or his Mamluks, Arabic: مملوك), a certain Qutb al-Din Aibak, assumed power, imposing himself as the first sultan of Delhi.


Qutb al-Din Aibak, an old slave of Muhammad of Ghur, was the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Aibak was of Cuman-Kipčaka origin and, because of his lineage, his dynasty is known as the Mamluk dynasty (i.e., of slave origin, but not to be confused with that of Iraq or Egypt). Aibak reigned as sultan of Delhi for four years, from 1206 to 1210; because of his generosity, people reserved for him after his death the appellation Lakh data, meaning "of a kind soul."

Following Aibak's departure, Aram Shah assumed power in 1210, but was assassinated in 1211 by Aibak's son-in-law Shams ud-Din Iltutmish. Iltutmish's rule was based on fragile foundations and a number of emirs (a whirlwind of brutal executions of elements loyal to the opposition bangs ensued, a circumstance that allowed Iltutmish to consolidate his iron fist. As his authority was challenged several times, for example by Qubacha, a long trail of skirmishes played out virtually every moment of the tenure. Iltutmish took Multan and Bengal from discontented Muslim rulers, as did Ranthambore and a portion of Siwalikdai under the control of Hindu officials. Another event in which the ruler became involved involved the attack and execution of Taj al-Din Yildiz, self-proclaimed heir is rightful successor to Mu'izz ad-Din Muhammad Ghuri. Iltutmish's rule lasted until 1236; following his death, only weak rulers, antagonistic to the Muslim nobility and responsible for a number of court murders, asserted themselves in power in the Delhi Sultanate. The period of infighting saw, among other figures, Rukn ud-Din Firuz, Radiya Sultana and others assert themselves, until the skirmishes subsided with Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban, active on the throne from 1266 to 1287. He was succeeded by 17-year-old Mu'izz al-Din Kayqubad, who appointed Jalal al-Din Khalji as army commander. Khalji assassinated Qayqubad and assumed power, thus ending the Mamluk dynasty and ushering in the Khalji dynasty.

Qutb al-Din Aibak is best remembered because he initiated the construction of the Qutb Minar, but did not live long enough to admire the minaret's completion; it was his son-in-law, Iltutmish, who completed the work. The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, built by Aibak, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. The Qutb complex was expanded by Iltutmish and later by 'Ala' ud-Din Khalji, the second ruler of the Khalji dynasty, in the early 14th century. During the Mamluk dynasty, many nobles from Afghanistan and Persia migrated and settled in India as Western Asia went through Mongol invasions.

It has been unanimously established historiographically that the Khalji dynasty boasted Turkish-Afghan origins. For this very reason, including by pointing out the accomplished adoption by the ruling family of certain customs and traditions of Afghan tradition, some scholars indifferently refer to the dynasty as "Turkish-Afghan." Its progenitors had long settled in present-day Afghanistan before pushing south to Delhi, and the name "Khalji" refers to an Afghan town known as Qalat-i Khalji ("Fort of Ghilji"). Later, Indian ancestry was also added to the dynasty through Jhatyapali (daughter of Ramachandra of Devagiri), wife of Alauddin Khalji and mother of Shihabuddin Omar.

The first ruler of the Khalji family was Jalal-ud-Din Firuz; coming to power after the Khalji revolution that marked the transfer of power from the monopoly of the Turkic nobles to a heterogeneous Indo-Muslim nobility, his party attracted new sympathizers to itself by proceeding to a mass conversion of subjects and through a policy of purges. Desiring to take the throne away from him, Jalal-ud-din assassinated Muizz ud-Din Kayqubad and imposed himself through a military coup when he was in his seventies; despite his violent path to the highest office, sources tell of a mild, humble and gentle monarch. Jalal ud-Din Firuz, of Afghan Turkic origin, remained in office for six years before being killed in 1296 by his nephew and son-in-law ʿAlī Gurshap, later to become known as 'Ala' al-Din Khalji.

'Ala' al-Din began his military career as governor of Kara province in Uttar Pradesh, from where he led two raids against Malwa (1292) and Devagiri (1294) to sack them. After gaining command, he returned to those lands and concentrated on conquering Gujarat, Ranthambore, Chittor, and Malwa; the sequence of victories was interrupted because of Mongol attacks in the northwest. The Mongols retreated after the raids and stopped striking the northwestern areas of the Delhi Sultanate, focusing their attentions elsewhere.

After the Mongols retreated, 'Ala' al-Din Khalji continued to expand the Delhi Sultanate in southern India with the help of valiant generals such as Malik Kafur and Khusrau Khan. The spoils of war (anwatan) obtained turned out to be really huge, and the commanders who grabbed it had to pay a ghanima (Arabic: الْغَنيمَة, "duty"), which helped to strengthen the Khalji's strength. Among the treasures found in Warangal was the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond.

'Ala' al-Din Khalji was concerned with making changes in fiscal policies by increasing agricultural taxes from 20 percent to 50 percent (payable in grain and other land products), abolishing payments and fees on taxes collected by local authorities, and limiting social relations among his officials as much as possible, as well as banning marriages between members of noble families in order to avert the risk of formation of opposition parties adverse to him. These choices, combined with the consequent decision to reduce the emoluments reserved for officials, poets and scholars, were clearly aimed at controlling public spending more efficiently and had a fair effect, since among other things they made it possible to make improvements in the equipment supplied to the army. The introduction of a system aimed at capping prices on all products, including agricultural products, allowed for greater economic stability, in the same way as the authority granted to "police" authorities to carry out controls on where, how and by whom certain goods could be sold. At the same time, markets called "shahana-i-mandi" developed that were particularly lucrative for merchants of the Muslim faith, as they were granted exclusive privileges and a monopoly on certain goods, provided they were sold according to the dictates enshrined in the state calmer. No one but authorized merchants could buy from farmers or sell in the cities, with the penalties for violators being quite severe. Taxes collected in the form of grain were stored in the kingdom's warehouse and were intended to meet the high demand that would crystallize during periods of famine, which coincidentally occurred just shortly after this policy was adopted.

Historians portray 'Ala' al-Din Khalji as a tyrant, considering that anyone he suspected of posing a threat was killed along with his women and children. As the years passed, he ended up eliminating a not insignificant percentage of local aristocrats in favor of a handful of his slaves and descendants. In 1298, for fear that they would spark a revolt, between 15,000 and 30,000 people living near Delhi who had recently been converted to Islam were massacred in a single day. Contemporary sources also testify to the degree of cruelty reserved by the monarch for subjugated peoples.

After 'Ala' al-Din's death in 1316, his eunuch general Malik Kafur, who was born into a Hindu family but later converted, assumed de facto power and enjoyed the support of the non-Khalid nobles such as the Pashtuns, particularly General Kamal al-Din Gurg. However, the majority of Khalji nobles preferred to replace him in the hope that one of their own would take over the reins of the Sultanate. The new ruler had Kafur's murderers executed.

The last Khalji ruler was the 18-year-old son of 'Ala' al-Din, Qutb-ud-din Mubarak Shah, who ruled for four years before perishing at the behest of Khusrau Khan, another slave general with Hindu ancestry, who favored the inclusion of exponents of the Baradu Hindus in the nobility. Khusrsu's reign lasted only a few months, as Ghazi Malik, later called Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq, defeated him with the help of the Punjabi tribes of the Kokari and assumed power in 1320; ousting the old dynasty, he could begin a new interlude for the sultanate, that of the Tughlaqs.

The Tughlaq dynasty remained in power from 1320 until almost the end of the 14th century. The first ruler Ghazi Malik renamed himself as Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq, sometimes being referred to in scholarly works as "Tughlak Shah." Of "humble background" and generally considered to be of mixed origin, that is, Turkish and Indian, Ghiyath al-Din administered the region for a lustre and built a city near Delhi called Tughlaqabad. According to historian Vincent Smith, he died at the hands of his son Juna Khan, who ascended the throne in 1325. Renamed Muhammad ibn Tughlaq, he remained in government for a very long time, namely, twenty-six years. During that span, the Delhi Sultanate reached its zenith in terms of geographical extent, coming to occupy a large portion of the Indian subcontinent.

Muhammad bin Tughlaq was an educated man with extensive knowledge of the Qur'an, fiqh, poetry and science, as well as a deep admirer of thinkers. However, he was deeply suspicious of his relatives and wazir (ministers), as well as extremely harsh with his opponents, so much so that he caused disruptions in the treasury in order to neutralize rebellions fomented by them. Among the most unsuccessful decisions included the order to mint coins composed of cheap metals that had the face value of silver coins; ordinary people ended up creating counterfeit copies of the coins by working them with other base metals they had in their homes and employing them to pay taxes and jizya, the tribute paid exclusively by non-Muslims.

Muhammad bin Tughlaq chose the city of Deogiri, renamed Daulatabad is included in the present Indian state of Maharashtra, as the second administrative capital. He simultaneously ordered a forced migration of Delhi's Muslim population, including the royal family, nobles, sayyids, sheikhs and ʿulamāʾ to settle in Daulatabad. The relocation of the entire Muslim elite was part of the attempt made by the ruler to persuade them to join him in his ambitious project of territorially expanding the sultanate as much as possible, starting precisely with the construction of a large new settlement. In addition, Muhammad intended to enhance the role of propaganda in his favor, which, by focusing on the promotion of the empire's rhetoric and extensive Islamization campaigns, could convince many of the Deccan's inhabitants to embrace that new faith and prove more lenient toward the crown. Tughlaq cruelly punished aristocrats reluctant to move to Daulatabad, judging their noncompliance as subversive behavior. According to Ferishta, when the Mongols arrived in the Punjab, the sultan authorized the elite to return to Delhi, although Daulatabad remained the administrative center. One of the consequences of the forcible relocation of the local aristocracy was that it generated widespread discontent with the sultan, who remained remembered negatively for a long time. In any case, some preferred never to return to Delhi and made the presence of a local Muslim community stable, an event without which the rise of the Bahman kingdom against Vijayanagara would not have been possible. Muhammad bin Tughlaq's campaigns in the Deccan region coincided with the destruction and desecration of Hindu and Jain temples, e.g., the temple of Swayambhu Shiva and the Temple of a Thousand Pillars.

The uprisings against Muhammad bin Tughlaq, which began in 1327, then continued for the years of his reign to come, and over time the territorial size of the sultanate shrank. The Vijayanagara empire came into being in southern India precisely as a direct response to Delhi's attacks, and from then on, that region of the subcontinent moved irreversibly away from the orbit of the old capital. In 1330, Muhammad bin Tughlaq ordered an invasion of China, sending part of his forces into the Himalayas; however, the Hindu kingdom of Kangra intervened before they could reach even further north. The survivors of the expedition, admittedly already numerically few, were greeted on their return as traitors and then executed. During his reign, state revenues plummeted due to the decision to allow coins of unrefined metal to circulate from 1329 to 1332. To cover state expenditures, taxes soared and penalties for offenders were tightened. Famine, widespread poverty, and rebellion gradually accelerated in the 1330s, prompting in 1338 Tughlaq's nephew to openly place himself at the head of an uprising in Malwa; the insurgents were forcibly crushed, and their chief exponent was in order rendered harmless, imprisoned, and flayed alive. In 1339, the eastern regions under local Muslim rulers and the southern areas led by Hindu kings rose up and declared their independence from the Delhi Sultanate. However, Muhammad bin Tughlaq did not have the resources or support at that time to respond to the violent turmoil that was gripping the kingdom, reasoning that he could only watch passively as events unfolded. Historian Walford believes that Delhi and most of India had to live with the failure of monetary policy in the following years as well. In 1347, the Bahman Sultanate established itself as an independent power in the Deccan region of South Asia.

Muhammad bin Tughlaq passed away in 1351, never seeing the end of a campaign to track down and punish those in Gujarat who were fomenting revolts against the Delhi Sultanate. He was succeeded by Firuz Shah Tughlaq, who tried to restore the borders of the old kingdom by waging a disastrous eleven-month war with Bengal in 1359. However, this failure did not prevent Firuz Shah from continuing to rule, considering that he managed to remain on the throne for a full thirty-seven years, that is, until 1388. During his rule, he tried to stabilize the food supply and reduce famine by commissioning an irrigation canal along the Yamuna River. Being an educated sultan himself, Firuz Shah wrote a memoir that has survived to us. In it, he shared his disdain for the practice of torture, explicitly listing his repudiation of amputations, sawing people alive, breaking bones, pouring molten lead down their throats, vivicombustion, hammering nails into their hands and feet, and other aberrant actions still. He also confessed that he did not tolerate attempts by Shiites and Mahdi representatives to proselytize, nor did he tolerate Hindus trying to rebuild temples destroyed by his armies. As punishment for cult members, Firuz Shah sentenced many Shiites, Mahdi and Hindus (siyasat) to death. In smug tones, the ruler also narrated his policy of including Hindus with Sunnis, announcing exemption from taxes and jizya for those who wished to convert, as well as bestowing gifts and honors. In contrast to his predecessors, Hindu Brahmins were thus not exempted from jizya. He also increased the number of slaves in his service and alongside Muslim nobles. Firuz Shah Tughlaq's reign, although marked by the reduction of extreme forms of torture and the elimination of favoritism to certain classes, coincided with an increase in intolerance and persecution of targeted religious groups.

Firuz Shah Tughlaq's death triggered anarchy and the disintegration of the kingdom. The last rulers of this dynasty, namely Nasir al-Din Mahmud Shah Tughlaq, a nephew of Firuz Shah Tughlaq active in Delhi, and Nasir ud-Din Nusrat Shah Tughlaq, another relative of Firuz Shah Tughlaq acting from Firozabad, in power a few kilometers away from Delhi, both self-proclaimed themselves sultans and gave birth to a conflicting duumvirate from 1394 to 1397. The battle between the two relatives continued until Tamerlane's invasion, which occurred in 1398. The ruler of the Timurid empire, an absolutely growing political entity at that stage, realized the weakness and infighting in the Delhi Sultanate, reasoning that he decided to march with his army to the hostile capital; having studied a strategy of action, along the way his army plundered and killed all those who dared to oppose it. According to scholars, the most reliable estimates of the casualties of the massacre executed by Tamerlane in Delhi ranged with great verisimilitude between 100,000 and 200,000 people. The emir's intention did not appear to be to stay and administer India, as evidenced by the circumstance that he sought to plunder every possible asset. The Timurids' violence coincided with the imprisonment of several women and slaves, specifically particularly skilled artisans who were forcibly taken to Samarkand. After leaving India on the strength of a colossal booty, Tamerlane abandoned the sultanate lands and forced them to live with issues such as anarchy, chaos, and pestilence. Nasir ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughlaq, who fled to Gujarat during Tamerlane's invasion, returned and served as nominal ruler for the Tughlaq dynasty, but in fact he remained a puppet in the hands of the various powerful factions in the court.

Against a particularly stormy general background, the Sayyid dynasty was able to establish itself and rule the Delhi Sultanate from 1415 to 1451. The invasion and looting of the Timurids had left the country in chaos, and little is known about how the Sayyid rulers operated. Annemarie Schimmel reports that the first member of the ruling lineage was a certain Khizr Khan, who assumed power claiming to represent Tamerlane; his authority was questioned by the Delhi aristocracy. His successor, Mubarak Khan, renamed himself Mubarak Shah and tried to regain lost territories in the Punjab from local warlords, without success.

As the foundations on which the Sayyid dynasty's strength rested constantly faltered, the history of Islam in the Indian subcontinent underwent a profound change, according to Schimmel. The Sunnis, previously the absolute majority, fell in numbers in favor of the Shiites or other sects that had spread to the more populous centers.

The Sayyid dynasty disappeared without much fanfare in 1451, when it was replaced by the Lodi dynasty.

The Lodi (or Lodhi) dynasty was distinguished in the beginning by the tribe of the same name, ethnic Pashtuns. Bahlul Khan Lodi was the progenitor and first Pashtun ever to rule the Delhi Sultanate. Bahlul Lodi inaugurated his reign by attacking the Sultanate of Jaunpur to expand Delhi's influence, which he partially succeeded by signing a treaty. From then on, the region between the capital and Varanasi, then bordering the province of Bengal, returned under the influence of the Delhi Sultanate.

After Bahlul Lodi's death, his son Nizam Khan assumed power, who after changing his name to Sikandar Lodi ruled from 1489 to 1517. Among the best-known rulers of the dynasty, Sikandar Lodi, expelled his brother Barbak Shah from Jaunpur, installed his son Jalal Khan as an official and headed east in order to claim Bihar. The Muslim rulers of Bihar agreed to pay tribute and taxes, but operated independently of the Delhi Sultanate. Sikandar Lodi issued a law requiring officers to undergo cultural training and supervised a campaign to destroy temples, particularly around Mathura. Another major decision concerned the capital, which was moved to Agra, where he and his court moved to. Agra was an ancient Hindu city that ended up destroyed when raids occurred prior to the formation of the Delhi Sultanate. Sikandar authorized the construction of buildings in the Indo-Islamic architectural style in Agra throughout his lifetime; the socio-cultural development of the new capital continued even during the Mughal Empire, which succeeded the kingdom under consideration.

Sikandar Lodi died of natural causes in 1517 and was succeeded by his second son, Ibrahim Lodi. The latter enjoyed neither the support of the Afghan and Persian nobles nor that of the authorities of regional weight, so that he first had to concern himself with eliminating internal enemies such as his elder brother Jalal Khan, who had been appointed governor of Jaunpur by his father and enjoyed the appreciation of the emirs and shaykhs. Ibrahim Lodi failed to consolidate his power, and after Jalal Khan's death, Punjab governor Daulat Khan Lodi turned to Babur, a direct descendant of Tamerlane and founder of the Mughal dynasty, spurring him to attack the Delhi Sultanate. Babur defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat in 1526, an event that marked the end of the Delhi Sultanate and the establishment of the Mughal Empire in the region.

The Delhi Sultanate did not abolish the governmental conventions of earlier Hindu political systems, with its rulers often acting as primus inter pares rather than despots. Consequently, it did not interfere with the autonomy and military of the subjugated rulers, resulting in a policy that was most often tolerant even toward Hindu vassals and officials.

Economic policy and administration

The sultanate's economic policy was marked by greater government interference in the economy than in classical Hindu dynasties and by increased penalties for those who transgressed regulatory requirements. Alauddin Khalji replaced private markets with four centralized markets run by the government, appointed a "vigilant authority," and implemented strict price controls on all kinds of goods, "from caps to socks, combs to needles, vegetables to soups, sweets to chapati," as the Indian historian Baranī attested in c. 1357. Price controls were inflexible even during periods of drought, where it was more difficult to control them. Speculators were completely banned from participating in the horse trade, animal and slave brokers were prohibited from pocketing commissions, and private merchants gradually disappeared. Prohibitions against treason and hoarding were instituted, granaries were "nationalized," and limits were placed on the amount of grain that could be used by farmers for personal use.

Various rules were imposed regarding a merchant's license, which required mandatory registration in a special registry. Various expensive goods, including some fine textiles, were considered "unnecessary" for ordinary people and, therefore, the range of potential buyers was restricted to only those who had a permit issued by the central authority. These letters patent were usually granted by emirs, maliks and other prominent bureaucratic officials. Taxes on agricultural products rose dramatically over time, eventually experiencing a 50 percent increase in the time of 'Ala' al-Din II compared to centuries past.

The tax policy, which gradually became more oppressive, made the regulations laid down for trade very stringent; when one considers the severe penalties involved, one can see how discontent spread at various stages of the sultanate's existence. The court chose to set up a network of spies to ensure the implementation of the system; even after the policy aimed at calming prices was revoked after the demise of the Khalji dynasty, Barani says that the fear of repression remained and was such that it prompted a number of people to avoid trading expensive goods.

Social policies

The sultanate imposed religious prohibitions concerning the impossibility of performing anthropomorphic representations in Islamic art.


The army turned out to be composed at first of nomadic Turkish Mamluk military slaves linked to Muhammad of Ghur. Despite the Mamluk dynasty's rise to power, the Turkish monopoly on war policy dissipated in favor of an Indian style of military warfare. Hardly any references to Turkish slaves recruited in the decades to come can be found in historical accounts, as the new nobility wished to reduce the power of Turkish slaves even before the overthrow of the Mamluks.

An important military achievement achieved by Delhi concerned its victories over the Mongol Empire, as a result of which the Mongols gave up pushing further south into India and headed for China, Corasmia and Europe. Asher and Talbot believe it is legitimate to argue that, had it not been for the Delhi Sultanate, the Mongols would probably have settled in the invasion of India. The strength of the armies at the Sultanate's disposal over the centuries varied until it was almost completely nullified by Tamerlane and, later, Babur.

Destruction of cities

While the looting of cities was not uncommon in medieval wars, the Delhi Sultanate army often took care to completely destroy settlements in the course of its military expeditions. According to the Jain chronicler Jinaprabha Suri, Nusrat Khan's troops caused the disappearance of hundreds of towns, including Ashapalli (present-day Ahmedabad), Vanthali and Surat in Gujarat. Some details about the campaigns are also recounted by Ḍiyāʾ al-Dīn Baranī, a 13th-14th century Indian historian.


Historian Richard Eaton has shed light on the campaigns of idol and temple destruction carried out by the Delhi sultans, which, however, did not represent an uninterrupted constant and alternated with phases in which there was a ban on temple desecration. In his article, later echoed by other scholars, the Briton listed, between 1234 and 1518, 37 cases of desecrated or destroyed mandirs in India for which incontrovertible evidence is available. Eaton points out that such an attitude appeared to be an unusual custom in medieval India, as there were numerous established cases of temple desecration by Hindu and Buddhist rulers against rival Indian kingdoms between 642 and 1520, involving conflicts between communities devoted to different Hindu deities, as well as between Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Conversely, according to both Muslim and non-Muslim sources, there were also many instances of sultans often surrounding themselves with Hindu ministers, ordering the protection, maintenance and repair of temples during their rule. For example, a Sanskrit inscription testifies that Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq had a temple dedicated to Siva in Bidar fixed after the Deccan seizure. In some cases, following the looting or damage of a temple there was a tendency on the part of sultans to comply with requests from newly conquered subjects to repair the structure. This custom ended with the Mughal Empire, so much so that Akbar the Great's prime minister Abu l-Fadl 'Allami criticized the excesses of early sultans such as Mahmud of Ghazna.

In many cases, the demolished remains, rock blocks and broken statue parts of temples destroyed by the Delhi sultans were reused to build mosques and other buildings. One example is the Qutb complex found in the capital, completed with the stones of 27 demolished Hindu and Jain temples according to some accounts. Similarly, the Muslim mosque in Khanapur, Maharashtra, was put up thanks to some of the looting carried out and with the demolished remains of Hindu temples. Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji destroyed Buddhist and Hindu libraries in addition to their manuscripts in the universities of Nālandā and Odantapuri in 1193 at the beginning of the Delhi Sultanate.

The first historical record concerning a campaign of destruction of religious buildings combined with defacement of faces or heads of Hindu idols lasted from 1193 to 1194 in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh under Ghuri. Under the Mamluks and Khaljis, the temple desecration campaign extended to Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra and continued until the end of the 13th century. The campaign also involved Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu under Malik Kafur and Ulugh Khan in the 14th century, and by the Bahman Sultanate in the 15th century. The Konarak Sun Temple was razed in the 14th century by the Tughlaq dynasty.

In addition to destruction and desecration, the rulers of the Delhi Sultanate in some cases forbade the reconstruction of damaged Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist religious buildings and prohibited the repair of old ones or the construction of new ones. In sparse contexts, permission was granted for repairs or construction from scratch if the patron or religious community paid the jizya. A proposal by the Chinese to repair Himalayan Buddhist temples destroyed by the sultanate army was declined, claiming that such kinds of repairs would be allowed only if the Chinese agreed to pay the jizya to the Delhi treasury. In his memoirs, Firoz Shah Tughlaq describes the demolition of religious structures in favor of mosques and with the execution of those who stood in the way of such a policy. Other historical documents provided by the viziers, emirs and court historians of various monarchs of the Delhi Sultanate describe the grandeur of the idols and temples they witnessed in their campaigns and how these were swept away after being desecrated.

Many historians argue that the Delhi Sultanate had made India more multicultural and cosmopolitan; the emergence of a new power in that geographic region was compared to the expansion of the Mongol Empire and called "part of a larger trend that has often occurred in Eurasia, namely the migration of nomadic peoples from the steppes of Inner Asia who later became politically dominant."

According to Angus Maddison, between the years 1000 and 1500, India's GDP, of which sultanates accounted for a significant portion, grew by nearly 80 percent to $60.5 billion in 1500. However, these numbers should inescapably be put into context: according to Maddison's estimate, India's population rose by almost 50 percent over the same time frame, equivalent to a per capita GDP growth of about 20 percent. World GDP more than doubled in the same phase, and India's GDP per capita fell below China's, despite previously being on par. India's share of world GDP dropped under the Delhi Sultanate from nearly 30 percent to 25 percent and continued to decline until the mid-20th century.

In terms of mechanical devices, the later Mughal emperor Babur provides a description of the use of the water wheel in the Delhi Sultanate. However, this reconstruction was criticized, for example, by Siddiqui, because he believed there was significant evidence that such a technology was already present in India before the establishment of the sultanate. Still others object that the wheel was introduced to India from Iran during the Delhi Sultanate, although most scholars believe that it had to be coined in India in the first millennium. The two-roller cotton gin appeared in the 13th or 14th century; however, Irfan Habib states that its implementation probably took place in peninsular India, which at the time was unrelated to Delhi (except for a brief invasion by the Tughlaqs between 1330 and 1335).

While papermaking was started in Korea and Japan in the 6th and 7th centuries respectively, India did not learn the process until the 12th century. Chinese papermaking technology spread outside the empire's borders in 751 AD. It is also unclear whether thanks to the Delhi Sultanate the use of the hygroscopic material spread to the rest of India, as the 15th-century Chinese traveler Ma Huan notes that Indian paper was white and extracted from the "bark of trees," similar to the Chinese method of manufacture and in contrast to the Middle Eastern method, which involved the use of rags and discarded textile material. In any case, this would be sure evidence that such knowledge had come via China.


According to a number of fairly stuttering estimates conjectured by modern historians, the total Indian population long stood at around 75 million during the era of the Middle Kingdoms from 1 AD to 1000 AD. In the medieval era, India as a whole experienced steady population growth for the first time in a thousand years, with a population increase of nearly 50 percent (110 million) by 1500.


Although the Indian subcontinent was invaded by peoples from Central Asia from ancient times, what distinguished the Muslim invasions turned out to be the fact that, unlike the previous invaders who assimilated into the present shifting society, the new conquerors preserved their Islamic identity and established innovative legal and administrative systems. Thanks to them, the previous arrangement of social conduct and ethics was supplanted in many cases, a circumstance that increased the points of friction between Muslims and non-Muslims. The introduction of new cultural codes, in some ways quite different from those sedimented in the Indian regions, gave birth to a new Indian culture of a mixed nature, different from the traditional one. The vast majority of Muslims in India were native Indian converts to Islam. This factor played an important role in cross-cultural synergy.

In the historical parenthesis of the Delhi Sultanate, the Hindustani language began to emerge due to the coexistence of the vernacular and Apabhraṃśa languages present in northern India, perhaps merging. Amir Khusrow, an Indian poet who lived in the 13th century when the Delhi Sultanate was present in northern India, used a form of Hindustani he called Hindavi in his writings: this was likely the lingua franca of the time.


Under Qutb al-Din Aibak, from 1206, the new Islamic state in India brought with it the architectural styles of Central Asia. The types and forms of large buildings required by Muslim elites, with very conspicuous mosques and tombs, appeared quite different from those erected in India in the past. The exteriors very often surmounted by large domes and characterized by arches could hardly be traced in Hindu temple architecture and other styles typical of India. Both kinds of structures consisted essentially of one large space covered by a high dome, but figurative sculpture, inescapable in Hindu temples, was absent.

The important Qutb complex in Delhi was begun under Muhammad of Ghur in 1199, and work continued under Qutb al-Din Aibak and subsequent sultans. The Quwwat-ul-Islam (Power of Islam) mosque, now in ruins, was the first completed structure. As in other early Islamic buildings, elements such as columns from destroyed Hindu and Jain temples were reused, one of which was repurposed right where it previously stood. The style was Iranian, but the arches were still corbelled in the traditional Indian manner.

Next to it is the very tall Qutb Minar, a minaret or victory tower that, true to the original design and though it was built in four phases, touches 73 meters in height; a new addition of centimeters occurred later, a circumstance that made the brick structure the tallest in the world in its class. The most similar example to her is the Jam minaret (62 m) in Afghanistan, also composed entirely of brick, from about 1190, dating from about a decade before work on the Delhi tower probably began. The surfaces of both are richly decorated with inscriptions and geometric patterns; in Delhi the shaft is fluted with "superb stalactite-shaped brackets under the balconies" at the top of each stage. In general, minarets took a long time to build and often appear separate from the main mosque to which they are close.

Iltutmish's tomb was added in 1236. Its dome, composed of a newly cantilevered spandrel, is missing today, and the intricate carving has been described by art critics as having an "angular roughness," perhaps because the workers who contributed to the work were working to unknown standards. Other elements were added to the complex over the next two centuries.

Another very old mosque, begun in 1190, is the Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra in Ajmer, Rajasthan, built for the same rulers of Delhi, again with cantilevered arches and domes. Here the Hindu temple columns (and perhaps some new ones) were placed all three on top of each other to achieve an even greater height. Both mosques had large detached walls with pointed corbelled arches added in front of them, probably made under Iltutmish a couple of decades later. Of these, the central arch is higher, attempting to emulate the presence of an iwan. At Ajmer, the smaller screen arches were attempted to give them a cusped form, the first such case found in India.

Around 1300 domes and wedge arches were built; the ruined tomb of Balban (died 1287) in Delhi may turn out to be the first one built following these canons. The ʿAlāʾī Darwāza (Gate of ʿAlāʾ) at the Qutb complex, from 1311, still shows a cautious approach to the new technology, with very thick walls and a shallow dome, visible only from a certain distance or height. The bold, contrasting colors of the masonry, with red sandstone and white marble, introduce what would become a common feature of Indo-Islamic architecture, replacing the polychrome tiles used in Persia and Central Asia. The pointed arches are joined slightly at their base, generating a slight arch that vaguely resembles a horseshoe, while the inner edges are not cusped but covered with conventional "spearhead" projections, perhaps representing lotus buds. The jali, or perforated stone or grating, is present here: such an element had long been used in temples.

The tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam (built 1320 to 1324) in Multan, Pakistan, takes the form of a large octagonal brick mausoleum with polychrome glass decoration that remains much closer to the styles of Iran and Afghanistan; wood is also used internally. It is the first major monument erected in the Tughlaq era (1320-1413), when the sultanate experienced its heyday. Built for a wali rather than a sultan, most of the many Tughlaq tombs have no out-of-the-ordinary features. The tomb of the dynasty's founder, Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq (follows the design of a miniature Hindu temple and is surmounted by a small amalaka (a segmented or notched stone disk, usually with ridges on the edge) and a round kalasha-like pediment. Unlike the buildings mentioned before, it completely lacks funerary inscriptions and is located in a complex composed of high walls and battlements. Both of these tombs have outer walls sloping slightly inward, by 25 degrees in the Delhi tomb: this is also the case in many fortifications, including the ruined Tughlaqabad fort opposite the tomb.

The Tughlaqs had a host of governmental architects and builders in their service, an event that gave a variety of buildings an underlying dynastic style; in that sector, as in others, many Hindus were also employed. It is said that the third sultan, Firuz Shah (by virtue of his long tenure as head of state, more than any other sultan, the number of buildings constructed in that era is impressive. His palace complex, work on which was begun in 1354, is located in Hisar, Haryana, and is in a state of disrepair, although some areas are in fair condition. Some structures built during Firuz Shah's rule take on forms rare or unknown in Islamic buildings. He was buried in the large Hauz Khasa complex in Delhi, a place where there were already buildings and to which others were added later, including several small domed pavilions supported solely by columns.

By that time, Islamic architecture in India had adopted some features of earlier Indian architecture, such as the use of a high pedestal, and often moldings around its edges, as well as columns, corbels, and hypostyle. After Firoz's death, the Tughlaqs experienced a major downturn, and subsequent dynasties did not have much impact. A considerable number of the monumental buildings constructed turned out to be tombs, the main exception of which appear to be the imposing Lodi Gardens in Delhi (adorned with fountains, chahar bagh-style gardens, ponds, tombs, and mosques), built in the last stages of the Lodi dynasty. Beyond all the artistic manifestations mentioned above, the architecture of other regional Muslim states has handed down several more fascinating examples.


  1. Delhi Sultanate
  2. Sultanato di Delhi
  3. ^ Da mamlūk, "posseduto", in quanto di origine servile.
  4. ^ Welch and Crane note that the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque was built with the remains of demolished Hindu and Jain temples.[59]
  5. ^ Pali literature dating to the 4th century BC mentions the cakkavattaka, which commentaries explain as arahatta-ghati-yanta (machine with wheel-pots attached), and according to Pacey, water-raising devices were used for irrigation in Ancient India predating their use in the Roman empire or China.[172] Greco-Roman tradition, on the other hand, asserts that the device was introduced to India from the Roman Empire.[173] Furthermore, South Indian mathematician Bhaskara II describes water-wheels c. 1150 in his incorrect proposal for a perpetual motion machine.[174] Srivastava argues that the Sakia, or araghatta was in fact invented in India by the 4th century.[175]
  6. ^ Also two huge minarets at Ghazni.
  7. Saunders (2002), p 144
  8. Zie voor een overzicht van redenen Stein (2010), p 130-133; Kulke & Rothermund (2004), p 164-166
  9. Stein (2010), p 131; Kulke & Rothermund (2004), p 165
  10. Kulke & Rothermund (2004), p 171
  11. Mehta (1990), p 121
  12. Pradeep Barua The State at War in South Asia, p. 29.
  13. Bruce R. Gordon. «Nomads of the Steppe». Archivado desde el original el 23 de octubre de 2019. Consultado el 20 de enero de 2012.
  14. Ram, S. History of Delhi Sultanate (1206 A.D. to 1525 A.D.). p. 46-52. ISBN 9788131104026. OCLC 900264848.
  15. Thapar, Romila (2001). Historia de la India I.. FCE - Fondo de Cultura Económica. p. 390-391. ISBN 9786071620460. OCLC 956129370.
  16. Thapar, Romila (2001). Historia de la India I.. FCE - Fondo de Cultura Económica. p. 392-395. ISBN 9786071620460. OCLC 956129370.

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