In 1206 India at length had a Mohammedan king of its own, ruling not from an outside capital, but in India itself. Mohammad Ghori’s viceroy Aybek was the first of the thirty-four Moslem kings who ruled at Delhi from the beginning of the thirteenth century to the invasion of Babar in 1526. These thirty-four monarchs fall into five successive dynasties. First came the Slave Kings, all Turks, descended from Aybek the slave of Ghori, or from Aybek’s slaves. Next followed the Khaljis, probably Turks in origin, but essentially Afghans in association and character. The third was the Turkish house of Taghlak. The irruption of Timur, who burst into India in 1398, put an end to the domination of the Taghlak princes, and broke up the kingdom of Delhi; but the dynasty of the Sayyids or “nobles” – so called because, though natives of India, they claimed Arabian descent from the family of the Prophet Mohammed – assumed authority at the capital. The fifth dynasty was that of the Afghan Lodis, who held
what remained of the kingdom until they were defeated by the Emperor Babar on the fatal field of Panipat.
In tracing the history of these three centuries of predominant Turkish rule in India we shall have little to say about anything but a few conspicuous men. History
in the East does not mean the growth of constitutions, the development of civic “rights,” the vindication of individual liberty, or the evolution of self-government. These are Western ideas which have no meaning in India. If translated into Hindustani they represent nothing that the natural Hindu comprehends or desires. The European assumption that every man is more or less competent to carry on the work of government is flatly denied in the East. The Western panacea of self-government possesses no attraction to the unsophisticated Oriental. To the Hindu, power is a divine gift, to be exercised absolutely by God’s anointed, and obeyed unquestioned by everyone else. A king who is not absolute loses in the Oriental mind the essential quality of kingship. Every Eastern people, if left to itself, sets up a despot, to whose decrees of life and death it submits with the same resignation and assent that it shows toward the fiat of destiny. In the East the King is the State – l’état c’est moi – its ministers are his instruments, its people are his slaves. His worst excesses and most savage cruelties are endured in the same way as plague and famine; all belong to the irresistible and inscrutable manifestations of the divine order of the universe. The only kind of king that the East tolerates with difficulty is the fainéant. Let him be strong and masterful, and he may do as he pleases; but the weak sovereign rarely keeps his throne long, and holds it only by force of traditional loyalty or dread of the unknown risks of revolution.
In the history of Mohammedan India, then, we have
to do with kings and their works. They are surrounded by a court of officers and functionaries, who are exalted or abased at the royal pleasure. Beneath them toil incessantly the millions of patient peasants and industrious townsfolk. These people have not changed in any essential characteristic since the dawn of history. They have witnessed the successive inroads of horde after horde of invading foreigners, and have incorporated some part of each new element into their ancient system. They have obeyed the king, whether Aryan, Hun, Greek, Persian, Rajput, Turk, Afghan, Mongol, or English, with the same inveterate resignation, contented, or at least not very discontented, with their immemorial village system and district government, which corrected to some extent the contrasts of successive foreign innovators. Whatever king may rule – so the Hindu would resignedly argue – there will still be plague and famine and constant but not energetic labour, and so long as rice and millet grow and salt is not too dear, life is much the same and the gods may be propitiated. The difference caused in the peasant’s life by a good or a bad king is too slight to be worth discussing. The good and the bad are alike things of a day; they pass away as life passes when the king decrees a death or massacres a village; but others follow and the world goes on, and the will of God is eternal.
The kings whose deeds are to be described were foreigners in origin, but this made little if any difference in the respect which their authority implied. There
was of course as great a contrast between a Moslem Turk and a Hindu Rajput as between a Scotch Presbyterian and a Spanish Catholic; but the reverence paid to power overbore all distinctions of race. The caste system had accustomed Indians to immovable barriers between classes, and though the Moslem kings had no claim of pedigree and not much distinction of ceremonial purity, they formed in a way a caste, the caste of Islam, a fellowship of equal brotherhood unsurpassed in coherence and strength in all the world. The great power of Islam as a missionary influence in India has been due to the benefits of this caste. The moment an Indian accepts Islam he enters a brotherhood which admits no distinctions of class in the sight of God, and every advancement in office and rank and marriage is open to him. To those outside Islam the yoke of the alien ruler was no worse than that of the native raja. Both represented a separate caste, and both belonged to the inscrutable workings of providence.
The essential union of the Moslems as a conquering caste was indeed the chief cause of their successful hold of the vastly preponderating multitudes they governed. Their power in India was always that of an armed camp, but it was a camp in which all the soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder for the same cause, in which all were brothers; and it had the immense advantage of being able to draw continually and in unlimited numbers upon the recruiting-grounds of the Mohammedan countries behind it, which were always reinforcing their co-religionists by fresh bodies of hardy
adventurers, free from the lethargy of self-indulgence that too often etiolates the exotic in the Indian forcing-house. The very bigotry of their creed was an instrument of self-preservation; in mere self-defence they must hold together as God’s elect in the face of the heathen, and they were forced to win over proselytes from the Hindus, whether by persuasion or by the sword, to swell their isolated minority. Hence the solidarity and the zeal which, added to their greater energy and versatility, gave the Moslems their superiority over natives who were sometimes their equals in courage, though never in unity, in enthusiasm, or in persistence. The clannishness of the Hindus, their devotion to local chiefs, and their ineradicable jealousies of each other, prevented anything approaching national patriotism; and their religious system, which rested upon birth and race and class, whilst precluding the very idea of proselytism, deprived them of the zeal of the missionary. Moreover they were always on the defensive, and except behind ramparts the defensive position is the weaker part. The Moslems, inspired by the spirit of adventure, of militant propaganda, of spreading the Kingdom of God upon earth, as well as seizing the goods of this world, had every advantage over the native Hindus, and when the invaders were led by kings who embodied these masterful qualities, their triumph was assured.
The example of such a warrior king as Mohammad Ghori bred heroic followers. Whatever may be said against the slave system, it tends in the East to the
production of great men. While a brilliant ruler’s son is apt to be a failure, the slaves of a real leader of men have often proved the equals of their master. The reason of course is that the son is a mere speculation. He may or may not inherit his father’s talents; even if he does, the very success and power of the father create an atmosphere of luxury that does not encourage effort; and, good or bad, the son is an immovable fixture: only a father with an exceptional sense of public duty would execute an incompetent son to make room for a talented slave. On the other hand the slave is the it survival of the fittest; “he is chosen for physical and mental abilities, and he can hope to retain his position in his master’s favour only by vigilant effort and hard service. Should he be found wanting, his fate is sealed.
The famous Seljuk empire furnished a notable example of the influence of a great man upon his slaves. The mamluk guard of the emperor Malik Shah formed a school of capable rulers. However servile in origin, the pedigree carried with it no sense of ignominy. In the East a slave is often held to be better than a son, and to have been the slave of Malik Shah constituted a special title of respect. The great slave vassals of the Seljuks were as proud and honourable as any bastards of medieval aristocracy; and when they in turn assumed kingly powers, they inherited and transmitted to their lineage the high traditions of their former lords. The same process was seen in the great slave leaders who were among the earliest Mamluk Sultans of Egypt in the thirteenth century; and an equally
conspicuous example is found in India in the slaves of Mohammad Ghori. When someone condoled with him on his lack of male offspring to carry on his line, he replied, “Have I not thousands of children in my Turkish slaves?” Four of his mamluks rose to high command: Yildiz in the Afghan mountains, Kubacha on the Indus, Bakhtiyar in Bengal, and Aybek at Delhi.
Of these Kutb-ad-din Aybek was the chief. Brought as a child, like so many slaves of the period, from Turkistan to Khorasan, he was well-educated by his owner, the chief kadi of Naishapur, and when grown up he was sent in a merchant’s caravan to Ghazni, where he was purchased by Mohammad Ghori. His brave and generous character soon won him favour, and rising step by step to be master of the horse, he accompanied the Sultan in his campaigns, was taken prisoner in Khwarizm and fortunately recaptured; and after the defeat of Prithivi Raja of Ajmir the government of India was confided to the successful slave.
Aybek’s chief exploits were achieved during his viceroyalty. Hansi, Mirat, Delhi (1191), Rantambhor, and Koil fell before his assault, and he led the vanguard of the Ghorian army in 1194 when it conquered Benares. When the Sultan returned to Ghazni after this crowning triumph, it was Aybek who subdued the ill-timed revolt of the vassal raja of Ajmir. Master and slave humbled the pride of Gwalior, that “pearl of the necklace of the castles of Hind,” and compelled the raja Solankhpal
to render tribute in 1196; and in the following year Aybek won a signal victory over the vast array of the prince of Anhalwara, who left fifty thousand dead on the field, while twenty thousand prisoners and immense booty fell into the Moslems’ hands. Thus the kingdom of Gujarat came under the power of Ghor. Kalinjar, the seat of the Chandel rajas, after a desperate resistance, fell before Aybek’s attack in 1202; its temples were turned into mosques and fifty thousand men put on the “collar of slavery.” At the same time Mohammad Bakhtiyar, who for the first time had carried the Moslem arms across Bihar into Bengal, and made Lakhnauti his capital, brought his spoils and his homage to the great viceroy. The energy of Aybek and Bakhtiyar had completed the successes of Mohammad Ghori, and nearly all Hindustan north of the Vindhya range was under Moslem sway.
What that sway meant we know only from the chroniclers of the conquering races. According to Hasan Nizami, who wrote at Delhi in the midst of these campaigns and knew Aybek well, the viceroy administered his wide provinces “in the ways of justice” and “the people were happy.” Tribute and military service were exacted as the price of toleration, and Aybek’s impartiality is extolled in the metaphorical phrase that “the wolf and the sheep drank water out of the same pond.” “The roads were freed from robbers,” and the Hindus both “high and low were treated with royal benignity,” which, however, did not prevent the viceroy from making an immense number of slaves in his wars. So
munificent was he that he was called “Lakhbakhsh,” or “Giver of lacs” (hundreds of thousands). At Delhi he busied himself in building the great mosque, or Jum’ah Masjid, and the famous minaret known after his surname as the Kutb Minar, which was originally 250 feet high and is the tallest minaret in the world. Its boldly jutting balconies, alternate angular and rounded fluting, and fine Arabic inscriptions set off the natural contrasts of white marble and red sandstone of which it is built. The mosque, like Aybek’s other mosque at Ajmir, was constructed of the materials of demolished temples, and the ornament was supplied from the idols of the Hindus. Aybek was a staunch Moslem, and if tolerant from policy towards great Hindu vassals, he was a mighty “fighter in the way of God.” “The realm was filled with friends and cleared of foes,” says a contemporary chronicler, “his bounty was continuous, and so was his slaughter.”
Aybek survived his master only a few years, and his own full sovereignty as the first Slave Sultan of Delhi ended in 1210, when he died from a fall from his horse while playing mall or polo, an ancient and favourite sport in Persia and India. A time of confusion followed. An incompetent son opened the way to rivals. Kubacha held Multan and Sind as far as the mouth of the Indus, and strove with Yildiz for the possession of Lahore; Bakhtiyar’s successor was supreme in Bihar and Bengal; and Shams-ad-din Altamish (a corruption of the Turkish Il-tutmish, “Hand-grasper”), a slave of Aybek, deposed his master’s son
and took the throne of Delhi for himself. Altamish is the true founder of the dynasty of the Slave Kings, which Aybek did not live long enough to consolidate. The new leader was a Turk of Albari, unequalled (says his contemporary, Minhaj-as-siraj) “in beauty, virtue, intelligence, and nobility” of character. “No king so benevolent, sympathetic, reverent to the learned and the old, ever rose by his own efforts to the cradle of empire.”
From the Columbia University MS. of the Shah Namah
Taken to Ghazni in his youth, he was purchased by Aybek, who carried him to Delhi, made him captain of his guard, and eventually governor of Gwalior in 1196. What Aybek had been to Mohammad Ghori, Altamish was to Aybek, who treated him as a son. When Aybek’s real son proved unfit to rule, the chiefs of the army begged Altamish to take the throne.
It was a stormy advent. Yildiz indeed, ruling at Ghazni, saw the wisdom of conciliation, and sent him the sceptre and umbrella of state; but Kubacha refused to surrender Lahore, and it was not till 1217 that Altamish obtained possession of the Northern Panjab by the defeat of his rival.
These contests were as nothing compared with the tumult to come. A new and incalculable danger threatened all Asia. The hordes of Chingiz Khan, “the Scourge of God,” had begun to overflow
their steppes; and the first sign of the Mongols’ approach was the flight of Yildiz into India, driven by the broken armies of the shah of Khwarizm, themselves flying panic-stricken before the victorious savages. One after the other they came down from the mountain passes: first the Turkish governors, then the Khwarizmian fugitives, and hard on their heels the dreaded Mongols. Jalal-ad-din, the last shah of Khwarizm and heir of an empire which once had spread from Otrar and Khiva, and from Samarkand and Bokhara to Herat and Isfahan, retreated, fighting his way to the Indus, whither Chingiz pursued him, beat him (1221), and drove him, still dauntless, into Sind. The adventures of this heroic prince, who battled his way back through Persia, only to succumb at last after a decade of daring and energetic fighting, form a stirring page of romantic history.
The tumult was tremendous, but the storm passed away as quickly as it came. The Mongols wintered and then retired: fortunately for India their eyes were set westward. Out of this turmoil Altamish emerged stronger than before. Yildiz and Kubacha disappeared from history: the one died in prison; the other, after many a struggle with the forces, Mongol and Khwarizmian, that in turn ravaged his border-provinces, at last saw his chief cities falling before the siege of Altamish, and in his despair drowned himself in the Indus (1230). Before this the King of Delhi had marched into Bengal (1225) and received the homage of the governor, who had not only attained independent power but proclaimed
it by his coinage. The whole of the dominions of Aybek were now in the hands of his slave, and expeditions into Malwa as far as Ujjain completed, in 1234, the submission of all India north of the Vindhyas.
The seal was set on a career of unvaried success when, in 1229, the caliph of Baghdad sent an embassy of state to invest Altamish with the robe of office as recognized sovereign of India. Thenceforth the king inscribed upon his coins not only the proud legend, “The Mighty Sultan, Sun of the Empire and the Faith, Conquest-laden, Il-tutmish,” but also “Aid of the Commander of the Faithful,” Nasir-Amir-al-Muminin. The broad silver pieces on which these titles appeared were new to the currency of India. Hitherto the invaders had issued small billon coins of the native form, inscribed with their names in Sanskrit and sometimes in Arabic characters, and bearing symbols familiar to the Hindus, such as the bull of Siva and the Chohan horsemen. Altamish was the first to introduce a purely Arabic coinage, such as had long been in use in countries farther west, and to adopt as his standard coin the silver tanka, the ancestor of the rupee, weighing 175 grains, and thus exactly corresponding to the English florin. Gold tankas of the same weight were introduced somewhat later by Balban.
For ten years after the death of Altamish, in 1236, his kingdom suffered from the weakness and depravity of his sons. The first, Firoz Shah, was a handsome, generous, soft-hearted, convivial young fool, who spent
his money upon singers and buffoons and worse, and swaying drunk upon his elephant through the bazars showered red gold upon the admiring crowd. “God forgive him,” says the chronicler of his time, “sensuality, frivolity, and the company of the lewd and base bring an empire to ruin.” His mother, a Turkish slave, managed the government while her son wantoned, till her savage cruelty caused a general revolt. The pair were imprisoned, and Firoz died after a nominal reign of not quite seven months.
His sister Raziyat-ad-din (“Devoted to the Faith”) was chosen in his place. She was the only child after her father’s heart. “Sultana Raziya,” says the same chronicler, who knew her, was a great monarch: wise, just, generous, a benefactor to her realm, a dispenser of equity, the protector of her people, and leader of her armies; she had all kingly qualities except sex, and this exception made all her virtues of no effect in the eyes of men, God’s benison upon her! “Altamish had perceived her great qualities, trusted her with power, and named her his heir. When the astonished ministers remonstrated against the unprecedented idea of setting a woman on a Moslem throne, he said, “My sons are given over
to the follies of youth: none of them is fit to be king and rule this country, and you will find there is no one better able to do so than my daughter.”
Raziya sat on the throne of Delhi for only three years and a half (1236–40). She did her best to prove herself a man, wore manly dress, and showed her face fearlessly as she rode her elephant at the head of her troops. But nothing could convince the Turkish chiefs that a woman could or should lead them. The Arabian Prophet had truly said that “the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman,” but he had also said that “the people that makes a woman its ruler will not find salvation.” Raziya was clearly impossible, and her preference for the Abyssinian Yakut, though
perfectly innocent so far as any evidence goes, roused the jealousy of the dominant Turks.
The slave system had grown stronger by the successful careers of Aybek and Altamish. The latter had formed a corps of Turkish mamluks known as “the Forty,” and these men, profiting by the removal of their sovereign’s hand, shared among themselves the wealth and power of the kingdom. The free-born men who had served Altamish with great ability in various offices were removed, and all control was in the hands of “the Forty.” These Turko-Afghan nobles, called khans, or “lords,” were not likely to endure the insult of seeing an Abyssinian set over them by a partial woman. They rose in rebellion, and though at first the gallant queen made head against them, she was finally taken prisoner by the rebel governor Altuniya, in 1240. Even then she subdued her captor and became his queen, and the two set forth to regain her throne. But her brother was already proclaimed in her stead; her army was beaten; and Raziya and her husband, deserted by their troops, fled into the jungles and were killed.
There is no need to dwell upon the brief and inglorious reigns of Bahram and Mas’ud, the one a brother, the other a nephew, of Raziya. The former is described as “a fearless, intrepid, and sanguinary man: still he had some virtues – he was shy and unceremonious, and had no taste for gorgeous attire.” His two years of power were spent in plots and counterplots, treacherous executions, and cruel murders, and he was killed after a siege of Delhi by the exasperated
army. The next, Mas’ud, “acquired the habit of seizing and killing his nobles,” and spent his time in abandoned pleasures. It was no time for weak rulers, for the Mongols were again on the march, and had massacred the inhabitants of Lahore in December, 1241, establishing themselves on the Indus with every appearance of permanent conquest.
At this juncture another remarkable slave came to the rescue of the state. The nominal king was Nasir-ad-din, a third son of Altamish; but the reins of power were in the strong hands of Balban. He was a Turk of the same district as Altamish, and boasted his descent from the Khakans of Albari; his father ruled ten thousand kibitkas, or tents of nomad families, and his kinsmen still governed their ancestral tribes in Turkistan. But Balban was not to enjoy such obscure distinction. “The Almighty desired to grant a support to the power of Islam and to the strength of the Mohammedan faith, to extend His glorious shadow over it, and to preserve Hindustan within the range of His favour and protection. He therefore removed Balban in his youth from Turkistan, and separated him from his race and kindred, from his tribe and relations, and conveyed him
to this land for the purpose of curbing the Mongols.” In short, Balban was kidnapped or taken prisoner as a child and brought to India, where he was purchased by Altamish. The story runs that the Sultan refused at first to buy him, because of his shortness and ugliness. “Master of the world,” cried the slave, “for whose sake have you bought these other servants?” “For mine own,” said Altamish, laughing. “Then buy me for the sake of God,” begged Balban.
“So be it,” said the Sultan, and the ugly slave was set among the bhistis, or water-bearers. He soon showed that he was fitted for better things, rose to distinguished offices, and was enrolled in the famous corps of “the Forty” slaves.
“The hawk of fortune” was thus set upon his wrist. He served Raziya as chief huntsman, and retained his post under Bahram, being also given a fief, or grant of lands. When the Sultan was besieged in Delhi, Balban was among the leading rebels, and the success of the conspiracy brought him, in reward for his help, the government of Hansi, where he showed himself an improving
and benevolent ruler, at once just and generous. In 1243 he subdued rebellion and pacified the country as lord chamberlain, and when the Mongols, under Mangu Khan, pushed their way across the Indus, it was mainly due to the urgent advice and strenuous efforts of Balban, who received the title of Ulugh Khan, or Puissant lord, that the army of Delhi accomplished their defeat. It was he who compelled the Mongols to raise the siege of Uchh (1245) and retire to the hills, where he pursued them with untiring vigilance. In fact, Balban had become the guiding spirit of the Moslem rule, and when Mas’ud was deposed and his uncle Nasir-ad-din set upon the throne, the real authority was in the hands of the brilliant slave commander-in-chief.
The feebleness of the successors of Altamish had permitted a recrudescence of Hindu rebellion, and Balban’s energies were devoted to constant campaigns against the “infidels.” Year after year he led his troops through the Doab or to the hills of Rantambhor, against Malwa or Kalinjar, or the raja of Ijari, and everywhere his arms were victorious. His reputation became so great that the other officers and chiefs, envious of his success, prejudiced the Sultan against him and had him banished from court (1253). The leader of this intrigue was Rihan, a renegade Hindu eunuch, and the envious officers found that they had exchanged the rule of a soldier for that of a schemer. There was universal discontent at the disgrace of the favourite, and the Turkish chiefs and the Persian officials of good family resented the despotism of the eunuch and his
hired bullies. From all sides entreaties came to the banished general, beseeching him to come back. The Turkish chiefs even rose in arms, and this demonstration procured the dismissal of Rihan and the restoration of Balban to all his honours (1254). Not only were men delighted at this act of justice, but it was observed that even the Almighty manifested His pleasure by sending down the long-needed rains. “The success of Ulugh Khan shone forth with brilliant radiance; the garden of the world began to put forth leaf, and the key of divine mercy opened the doors of men’s hearts.”
For twenty years in all Balban served the Sultan indefatigably, and they were years full of rebellion, conspiracy, and Mongol alarms. His royal master led the life of a dervish, copied Korans to pay his modest needs, and lived in the simplest manner, attended by one wife, who cooked his dinner and was allowed no female servants. He was a kind and scholarly gentleman, who delighted in the society of the learned, but he was no king for India in the thirteenth century. Fortunately for him, he had a deputy in Balban fully able to fill his place in the anxious cares of kingship. To this conspicuously able minister were due the two great measures of the reign: the organization of the frontier provinces and tribes under his able cousin Sher Khan, by which the attacks of the Mongols were successfully repelled; and the steady suppression of Hindu disaffection in all parts of the kingdom, a perpetual and never-extinguished source of danger. The constant jealousies and revolts of the overgrown Turkish
chiefs demanded a strong hand to keep them down, and nothing but Balban’s vigorous energy could have maintained the throne unimpaired through those twenty troubled years.
On Nasir-ad-din’s death in 1266, the great minister, whose loyalty towards his gentle sovereign had never wavered, naturally stepped into his place. The same rule continued, but the mild influence of the dervish Sultan no longer softened the severity of his vizir. The energetic minister became an implacable king. With ambitious Turkish khans treading on his heels, Hindus everywhere ready to spring at the smallest opening for revolt, marauders infesting the very gates of Delhi, assaulting and robbing the bhistis and the girls who fetched water, above all with the Mongols ever hammering at the doors of the frontier posts, Balban had reason to be stern and watchful, and if he carried his severity to extreme lengths, it was probably a case of his own life against the rest. He suppressed with an iron hand the forays of the hillmen who terrified the suburbs of Delhi; his armies scoured the jungles about the capital, destroyed the villages, cleared the forest, and at a sacrifice of one hundred thousand men turned a haunt of bushrangers into a peaceable agricultural district. By building forts in disturbed parts and establishing Afghan garrisons in blockhouses, he freed the roads from the brigands who had long practically closed them. “Sixty years have passed since then,” says Barani, Our chief authority for this reign, “but the roads have ever since been free from robbers.” Such
immunity was not attained by smooth words. Balban pounced upon a disturbed district like a hawk, burnt and slew without mercy, till “the blood of the rioters ran in streams, heaps of slain were seen near every village and jungle, and the stench of the dead spread even to the Ganges.” Woodcutters were sent to cut roads through the jungles, and did more to bring order among the wild tribes than even the massacre of their fighting men.
In spite of the suffering involved, such work as this was of lasting benefit to the kingdom. So was Balban’s firm treatment of the Turkish landholders, who were assuming hereditary rights, and threatened to furnish forth a barons’ war. Though these men were of his own kindred, and members, or sons of members, of the famous “Forty” slaves, Balban had no mercy for them; he was with difficulty induced to mitigate the wholesale expropriation that he once contemplated, but it is clear that he did much to deprive the Turkish khans of their former power. He is said even to have poisoned his own cousin Sher Khan, because he held almost royal authority in his arduous position;
and many instances are recorded of his terrible severity toward officers whose conduct gave occasion for the exercise of stern justice.
Balban’s one absorbing preoccupation was the danger of a Mongol invasion. For this cause he organized and disciplined his army to the highest point of efficiency; for this he made away with disaffected or jealous chiefs, and steadily refused to entrust authority to Hindus; for this he stayed near his capital and would not be tempted into distant campaigns. To realize the terror inspired by the Mongols one must read their description in the writings of Amir Khusru, a poet who lived at the court under the patronage of Balban’s cultivated son, Prince Mohammad. His picture of the Tartar infidels, riding on camels, with their bodies of steel and faces like fire, slits of eyes sharp as gimlets, short necks, leathery wrinkled cheeks, wide hairy nostrils and huge mouths, their coarse skins covered with vermin and their horrible smell, is the caricature of fear. “They are descended from dogs, but their bones are bigger,” he says. “The king marvelled at their bestial faces and said that God must have created them out of hell-fire. They looked like so many sallow devils, and the people fled from them everywhere in panic.” It was no wonder that Balban kept his army ever on the alert to drive such bogies away.
The only distant expedition the Sultan made was into Bengal, where “the people had for many long years tended to rebellion, and the disaffected and evil-disposed among them generally succeeded in contaminating
the loyalty of the governors.” This opinion of Barani’s concerning the Bengalis has often been reiterated in more recent times; but in the days of the early Delhi kingdom the difficulty of communication across imperfectly subdued country, and the absence of any sentiment of loyalty towards slave kings who had not yet founded a settled hereditary monarchy, may well have fostered ideas of independence in the great eastern province. Fifteen governors had successively ruled Bengal since Bakhtiyar the Khalji first carried the standard of Mohammad Ghori there in the first year of the thirteenth century; and their authority had been little curbed by the Delhi Sultans. Altamish had put an end to the Khalji chiefs’ ambitions, and had placed his own son in command of Bengal, but since then the weakness of the Delhi kings had left the governors to do as they pleased.
Tughril, the fifteenth governor, a favourite slave of Balban’s, observing that the Sultan was now an old man intensely preoccupied with the menace of the Mongols, and being fortified in his designs by recent successes in the wild country about Orissa, where the Bengal army had taken vast spoil, permitted “the egg of ambition to hatch” in his head, and assumed the style and insignia of sovereignty. In vivid contrast to the cold severity of Balban, the usurper of Bengal was free and open-handed, a friend with all the people. “Money closed the eyes of the clear-sighted, and greed of gold kept the cautious quiet. Soldiers and citizens forgot their fear of the sovereign power and threw themselves
heart and soul into Tughril’s cause.” The first army sent against him was defeated, as much perhaps by gold as by steel, and many of the Delhi troops deserted to the enemy. Their unlucky general, Aptagin of the long hair, felt the full brunt of Balban’s fury and was hanged at the gate of Oudh, to the indignation of the cooler heads among the people. A second expedition met with no better fate.
Overwhelmed with shame and anger, the old Sultan himself led a third campaign. Leaving the marches over against the Mongols in the care of Prince Mohammad, and placing trusty deputies in charge of Delhi and Samana, he took his second son Bughra Khan with him, and crossing the Ganges made straight for Lakhnauti, in total disregard of the rains which were then in season. Collecting a fleet of boats, and, when none were to be had, wading through mud and water under the torrential rain of the tropics, the army pushed slowly and steadily on to the eastern capital, only to find that Tughril, not daring to face the Sultan in person, had fled with his troops and stores toward the wilds of Jajnagar. “We are playing for half my kingdom,” said Balban, “and I will never return to Delhi, nor even name it, till the blood of the rebel and his followers is poured out.” The soldiers knew their master’s inflexible mind, and resignedly made their wills. The pursuit was vain for some time; not a trace of Tughril or his army was to be found. At last a party of scouts fell in with some corn-dealers returning from the rebel’s headquarters. Chopping off a couple of heads untied
the tongues of the rest, and the enemy’s camp was discovered. A patrol of some forty men cautiously went forward and viewed the tents, with the men drinking and singing and washing their clothes, the elephants browsing on the branches of the trees, the horses and cattle grazing.
There was no time to go back for reinforcements – Tughril would be off with the dawn – and into this scene of idyllic peace the handful of troopers burst like a mountain torrent. Drawing their swords
and shouting for Tughril, they rode straight for his tent. He heard the clamour, and leaping on a bare-backed steed galloped for the river, while his followers fled madly in all directions, persuaded that Balban and all his army were upon them. Tughril was struck down by a dexterous shaft, and in an instant he was beheaded.
Then followed the punishment, conceived in Balban’s comprehensive way. Gibbets were ranged along both sides of the long bazar of Lakhnauti, and on them were strung rows of rebels; the sons and kinsmen and followers of Tughril were killed and hung up to the horror of all beholders. Two days and more the work of retribution went on; even a beggar to whom the usurper had been kind was not spared, and old men told Barani half a century later “that such punishment as was inflicted on Lakhnauti had never been heard of in Delhi, nor could anyone remember such a thing in all Hindustan.” When it was over, the Sultan sent for his son, Bughra Khan Mahmud, and made him take an oath to recover and hold the rest of Bengal, of which he was at the same time appointed governor. Then he solemnly asked the prince, “Mahmud, dost thou see?” The son did not understand. Again he said, “Dost thou see?” and the prince was still silent and amazed. A third time the question was asked, and then the old Sultan explained: “You saw my punishments in the bazar? If ever designing and evil-minded men should incite you to waver in your allegiance to Delhi and to throw off its authority, then remember the vengeance you have seen wrought in the bazar. Understand me, and forget not,
that if the governors of Hind or Sind, Malwa or Gujarat, Lakhnauti or Sonargaon, shall draw the sword and become rebels to the throne of Delhi, then such punishment as has fallen upon Tughril and his dependents will fall upon them, their wives and children, and all their adherents.”
After this deadly warning, he tenderly embraced his son with tears, and bade him farewell, knowing only too well that all counsels were thrown away upon a prince whose whole soul was in his pleasures. Nevertheless, Bughra Khan and five of his descendants ruled in Bengal for more than half a century (1282–1339), while in Delhi the house of Balban did not survive his death three years. In suppressing a rebellion in the remote eastern province, the Sultan had really founded his dynasty in the only part where it was free to hold its own. He did not long enjoy the memories of his terrible campaign. The death of his first-born, the popular and promising “martyr prince” Mohammad, in battle against the Mongols near Dipalpur, in 1285, broke his heart. During the day he struggled against his grief, held his court with all his wonted punctilious etiquette and splendour, and transacted the business of state; but at night he wailed and cast dust upon his head.
In 1287 Balban died, after forty years of rule, half as minister, half as king. No one understood better than he the conditions of kingship in India, or how to impress himself upon his subjects. He maintained a rich and ceremonious state among a people always
impressed by magnificence, and crowds of Hindus would come long journeys to see his pomp and majesty. Even his private attendants were never allowed to see him but in full dress. That he never laughed aloud is only to say that he was a well-bred Oriental gentleman who despised the levity of an empty mind; but neither did he permit anyone else to laugh; and never joking or indulging in the least familiarity with any one, he allowed no frivolity in his presence. In his youth he had been fond of wine and hazard, but all this was put aside when he came to authority. Throughout his forty years of power he was never known to hold converse with vulgar people or to give office to any but well-born men. Slave as he once was, he came of a race of chiefs, and no one showed more sensitiveness in preserving the dignity of a king. Balban, the slave, water-carrier, huntsman, general, statesman, and Sultan is one of the most striking figures among many notable men in the long line of the kings of Delhi.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage