Mohammad Taghlak Shah (1325–1351 A.D.) was a man of ideas, but his innovations and reforms were a failure, and the schemes which he sought to carry out resulted only in making him unpopular. His reign was one of the most unsuccessful in the entire history of India, and reasons for this fact may be gathered from a half-dozen of his measures which are described by the historian Barani, who lived under Taghlak’s rule and under that of Firoz Shah, his successor. The illustrations are significant enough to show the view of a contemporary, and that, too, of one who was close to the throne during the emperor’s entire reign. He writes as follows regarding some of the monarch’s ill-considered plans:–
Sultan Mohammad Taghlak planned in his own heart three or four projects by which the whole of the habitable world was to be brought under the rule of his servants, but he never talked over these projects with any of his counsellors and friends. Whatever he
conceived he considered to be good, but in promulgating and enforcing his schemes he lost his hold upon the territories he possessed, disgusted his people, and emptied his treasury. Embarrassment followed embarrassment, and confusion became worse confounded.
The ill feeling among his subjects gave rise to outbreaks and revolts, and the rules for enforcing the royal schemes became daily more oppressive to them. More and more the people became disaffected, and more and more the mind of the king was set against them, so that the number of those brought to punishment was constantly on the increase. The tribute of most of the distant countries and districts was lost, many of the soldiers and servants were scattered and left in distant lands, and deficiencies appeared in the treasury. The mind of the Sultan lost its true equilibrium, and in the extreme weakness and harshness of his temper he gave himself up to severity. Gujarat and Deogir (Devagiri) were the only distant possessions that remained, while in the old territories dependent upon Delhi, the capital, there sprang up disaffection and rebellion.
By the will of fate many different projects occurred to the mind of the Sultan, which appeared to him moderate and suitable and were enforced for several years, but the people could not endure them. These schemes effected the ruin of the Sultan’s empire and the decay of the people. Every one of them that was enforced wrought some wrong and mischief, and the minds of all men, high and low, were alienated from their ruler,
and territories and districts which had been securely settled were lost.
When the Sultan found that his projects did not work so well as he desired, he became still more embittered against his people. He punished them and cut them down like weeds. So many hired wretches were ready to slaughter true and orthodox Mussulmans as had never before been created from the day of Adam. If the twenty prophets of Islam had been given into the hands of these minions, I verily believe that they would not have allowed them to live one night.
The first project which the Sultan formed, and which operated to the ruin of the country and the distress of the people, was based on the idea that he ought to get five or ten per cent. more tribute from the lands in the Doab than heretofore. To accomplish this he invented some oppressive taxes, and made stoppages from the land-revenues until the backs of the peasants were broken. The taxes were collected so rigorously that the peasants were impoverished and reduced to beggary. Those who were rich and had property became rebels, the lands were ruined, and cultivation was entirely arrested.
When the peasants in distant countries heard of the distress and ruin of the farmers in the Doab, through fear of the same evil befalling them, they threw off their allegiance and betook themselves to the jungles. The decline of cultivation and the distress of the peasants in the Doab, combined with the failure of convoys of corn from Hindustan, produced a fatal
famine in Delhi and its environs as well as throughout the Doab. Grain became dear. There was a deficiency of rain, so the famine became general. It continued for some years, and thousands upon thousands of people perished of want. Communities were reduced to misery, and families were broken up. From this time the glory of the state and the power of the government of Sultan Mohammad withered and decayed.
The second project of Sultan Mohammad Taghlak, which was ruinous to the capital of the empire and distressing to the chief men of the country, was that of making Deogir his capital, under the name of Daulatabad. This place held a central situation, being about equidistant from Delhi, Gujarat, Lakhnauti, Satganw, Sunarganw, Telingana, Ma’bar, Dhur Samundar, and Kampila. Without any consultation and without carefully looking into the advantages and disadvantages on every side, he brought ruin upon Delhi, which had grown in prosperity for 170 or 180 years and now rivalled Baghdad and Cairo. The city, which, with its buildings and its suburbs and villages, spread over four or five leagues, was utterly destroyed. So complete was the ruin, that not a cat or a dog was left among the buildings of the city, in its palaces, or in its suburbs. Troops of the natives, with their families and dependents, wives and children, men-servants and
maid-servants, were forced to remove. The people, who for many years and for generations had been natives and inhabitants of the land, were broken-hearted. Many, from the toils of the long journey, perished on the road, and those who arrived at Deogir (Devagiri) could not endure the pain of exile. In despondency they pined to death. All around Deogir, which is an infidel land, there sprung up graveyards of Mussulmans.
The Sultan was bounteous in his liberality and favours to the emigrants, both on their journey and after their arrival; but they were tender and could not endure the exile and suffering. They laid down their heads in that heathen land, and of all the multitudes of emigrants, few only survived to return to their home. Thus this city, the envy of the cities of the inhabited world, was reduced to ruin. The Sultan brought learned men and gentlemen, tradesmen and landholders, into the city from certain towns in his territory and made them reside there; but this importation of strangers did not populate the city; many of them died there, and more returned to their native homes. These changes and alterations were a cause of great injury to the country.
The third project also did great harm to the country. It increased the daring and arrogance of the disaffected in Hindustan and augmented the pride and prosperity of all the Hindus. This was the issue of copper money. Mohammad Taghlak, in his lofty ambition, had conceived it to be his task to subdue the
whole habitable world and bring it under his rule. To accomplish this impossible design, an army of countless numbers was necessary, and this could not be obtained without vast sums of money. The Sultan’s bounty and munificence had caused a great deficiency in the treasury, so he introduced his copper money and gave orders that it should be used in buying and selling, and should pass current, just as the gold and silver coins had passed.
The promulgation of this edict turned the house of every Hindu into a mint, and the Hindus of the various provinces coined crores and lacs of copper coins. With these they paid their tribute, and with these they purchased horses, arms, and fine things of all kinds. The governors, the village headmen, and the landowners grew rich and strong upon these copper coins, but the state was impoverished. No long time passed before distant countries would take the copper tanka only as copper. In those places where fear of the Sultan’s edict prevailed, the gold tanka rose to be worth a hundred of the copper tankas. Every goldsmith struck copper coins in his workshop, and the treasury was filled with these copper coins. So low did they fall that they were not valued more than pebbles or potsherds. The old coin, from its great scarcity, rose fourfold and fivefold in value.
When trade was interrupted on every side, and when the copper tankas had become more worthless than clods, and of no use, the Sultan repealed his edict and in great wrath proclaimed that whoever possessed
copper coins should bring them to the treasury and receive the old gold coins in exchange. Thousands of men from various quarters, who possessed thousands of these copper coins, and caring nothing for them, had flung them into corners along with their copper pots, now brought them to the treasury and received in exchange gold tankas and silver tankas, and other coins, which they carried to their homes. So many of these copper tankas were brought to the treasury, that heaps of them rose up in Taghlakabad like mountains. Great sums went out of the treasury in exchange for the copper, and a great deficit was thus caused. When the Sultan found that his project had failed and that great loss had been entailed upon the treasury through his copper coins, he turned against his subjects more than ever.
The fourth project which diminished his treasure and so brought distress upon the country, was his design of conquering Khorasan and Irak. In pursuance of this object, vast sums were lavished upon the officials and leading men of those countries. These great men came to him with insinuating proposals and deceitful representations, and as far as they knew how, or were able, they robbed the throne of its wealth. The coveted countries, however, were not acquired, and those which he already possessed were lost, while his treasure, which is the true source of political power, was spent.
The fifth project was the raising of an immense army for the campaign against Khorasan. Three hundred and seventy thousand horse were enrolled in the muster-master’s office and were supported and paid for a whole year; but as they were not employed in war and conquest or enabled to maintain themselves on plunder, there was not sufficient in the treasury or in the feudal estates to support them when the next year came round. The army broke up; each man took his own course and engaged in his own occupations. But hundreds and thousands of rupees had been thus expended from the treasury.
The sixth project, which inflicted a heavy loss upon the army, was the design which Mohammad Taghlak formed of capturing the mountain of Kara-jal. His plan was that, as he had undertaken the conquest of Khorasan, he would first bring under the dominion of Islam this mountain, which lies between the territories
of Hind and those of China, so that the passage for horses and soldiers and the march of the army might be rendered easy. To effect this object a large force, under distinguished commanders and generals, was sent to the mountain of Kara-jal, with orders to take it. In obedience to imperial command, the army marched into the hills and encamped in various places, but the Hindus closed the passes and cut off its retreat. The whole force was thus destroyed at one stroke, and out of all this chosen body of men only ten horsemen returned to Delhi to spread the news of the disaster.
From these ill-advised measures, as described by Barani, we may easily understand how the sixteen years of Mohammad Taghlak’s reign were a succession of uprisings, insurrections, and rebellions down to the time of his death, in 1351, near Thatta on the banks of the Indus. His successor was Firoz III, or Firoz Shah, sometimes called Firoz the Builder.
Firoz Shah, unlike his predecessor, enjoyed a long and prosperous reign of nearly forty years (1351–1388 A.D.). Abounding in good works, loved by his people, and rejoicing in his own piety, he advanced his kingdom in every way that he could. His munificent rule was described by contemporary Mohammedan writers, but, in addition to these records, we have a brief outline of the more important “Triumphs” of his reign, written by Firoz Shah himself.
This interesting little memoir, covering about thirty pages, has been translated into English by Professor
Dowson and incorporated in Sir Henry Elliot’s history.
A selection from it – autobiographic in character – is here given to show the character of Firoz Shah, his aims and his ideals. They may be best summarized in his own words descriptive of his reasons
The city of Agra came first into notice during the Mohammedan period of India, and was made an occasional seat of the house of Lodi which, in the fifteenth century. followed that of Taghlak. The city grew in importance under the Moghul emperors, and reached its zenith in the time of Jahangir, the Great Moghul, and Shah Jahan the Magnificent. Its grand mosque, the Jami’ Masjid, was erected by Shah Jahan in 1644, and was five years in building.
for writing, which were as follows: “My desire is that I should, to the best of my power, recount and pay my thanks for the many blessings which God has bestowed upon me, so that I may be numbered among His grateful servants.”
The royal author then proceeds to show in a dozen different ways the clemency and justice of his rule. One of his first reforms was to abolish the barbarous methods of punishment which had prevailed under his predecessors. His sense of justice was next shown by a re-arrangement of taxes upon grounds of greater equity, and his Moslem orthodoxy was manifested by his strengthening the hold of his subjects upon the Religion of the Prophet and repressing idolatry, while his common sense was indicated by his introducing at court a simpler manner of living and by exemplifying it himself. But most striking of all, perhaps, was his enthusiasm for building and for restoring structures that had fallen into decay. His own words justify his title to be called Firoz the Builder, and, judging from what follows, we might add, Firoz the Wise:–
Among the gifts which God bestowed upon me, His humble servant, was a desire to erect public buildings. So I built many mosques and colleges and monasteries, that the learned and the elders, the devout and the holy, might worship God in these edifices and aid the kind builder with their prayers. The digging of canals, the planting of trees, and the endowing with lands are in accordance with the directions of the Law of Islam. The learned doctors of the Law of Islam
have many troubles; of this there is no doubt. I settled allowances upon them in proportion to their necessary expenses, so that they might regularly receive the income.
Again, by the guidance of God, I was led to repair and rebuild the edifices and structures of former kings and ancient nobles, which had fallen into decay from lapse of time, and I gave the restoration of these buildings the priority over my own works. The Masjid-i Jami’ of old Delhi, which was built by Sultan Mu’izz-ad-din Sam, had fallen into decay from age, and needed repair and restoration. I so repaired it that it was quite renovated.
The western wall of the- tomb of the same Sultan, and the planks of the sepulchre’s door, had become old and rotten. I restored this, and, in place of the balcony, I furnished it with doors, arches, and ornaments of sandalwood.
The minar of Sultan Mu’izz-ad-din Sam had been struck by lightning. I repaired it and raised it higher than it was before.
The Hauzshi Shamsi, or tank of Altamish, had been deprived of water by some graceless men, who stopped up the channels of supply. I punished these incorrigible men severely and opened again the closed up channels.
The Hauz-i Alai, or tank of Ala-ad-din, had no water in it and was filled up. People carried on cultivation in it, and had dug wells and sold the water from them. After a generation had passed I cleaned
the reservoir out, so that this great tank might again be filled from year to year.
The Madrasa (college) of Sultan Shams-ad-din Altamish had been destroyed. I rebuilt it and furnished it with sandalwood doors. The columns of the tomb, which had fallen down, I restored better than they had been before. When the tomb was built, its court had not been made curved, but I now made it so. I enlarged the hewn-stone staircase of the dome, and I re-erected the fallen piers of the four towers.
The tomb of Sultan Mu’izz-ad-din, son of Sultan Shams-ad-din, which is situated in Malikpur, had fallen into such ruin that the sepulchres were undistinguishable. I restored the dome, the terrace, and the enclosing wall.
The tomb of Sultan Rukn-ad-din, son of Shams-ad-din, in Malikpur, needed restoration. I repaired the enclosing wall, built a new dome, and erected a monastery.
The tomb of Sultan Jalal-ad-din I repaired, and I supplied it with new doors.
The tomb of Sultan Ala-ad-din I repaired and furnished it with sandalwood doors. I repaired the wall of the abdarkhanah, or reservoir house, and the west wall of the mosque, which is within the college, and I also restored the tesselated pavement.
I likewise repaired and renovated the tomb of Sultan Kutb-ad-din and the other sons of Sultan Ala-ad-din,
namely, Khizr Khan, Shadi Khan, Farid Khan, Sultan Shihab-ad-din, Sikandar Khan, Mohammad Khan, Osman Khan, and his grandsons, and the sons of his grandsons.
I furthermore repaired the doors of the dome and the latticework of the tomb of Shaikh-al-Islam Nizamal-hakk-wa-ad-din, which were made of sandalwood. I suspended the golden ‘chandeliers by chains of gold in the four recesses of the dome, and I built an assembly room, for there was none there previously.
Among other buildings which I restored was the tomb of Malik Taj-al-hulk Kafuri, the great vizir of Sultan Ala-ad-din and master of fifty-two thousand horsemen. He was a most wise and intelligent minister, and acquired many countries on which the horses of former sovereigns had never placed their hoofs, and he caused the public prayer to be repeated there in the name of Sultan Ala-ad-din. His grave had been levelled with the ground, and his tomb laid low. I caused the sepulchre to be entirely renewed, for he was a devoted and faithful subject.
The Dar-al-aman, or House of Rest, is the bed and resting-place of great men. I had new sandalwood doors made for it, and over the tombs of these distinguished men I caused curtains and hangings to be suspended.
The expense of repairing and renewing these tombs and colleges was provided from their ancient endowments. In those cases where no income had been settled on these foundations in former times for purchasing
carpets, lights, and furniture for the use of travellers and pilgrims in the least of these places, I had villages assigned to them, the revenues of which would suffice in perpetuity for the expenditure necessary for their maintenance.
The Jahan-panah, a foundation of the late Sultan Mohammad Shah, my kind patron, by whose bounty I was reared and educated, I restored.
All the fortifications which had been built by former sovereigns at Delhi I repaired.
Furthermore, for the benefit of travellers and pilgrims that resort to the tombs of illustrious kings and celebrated saints, and for providing the things necessary in these holy places, I confirmed and gave effect to the grants of villages, lands, and other endowments which had been conferred upon them in olden times. In those cases where no endowment had been settled, I made provision that these establishments might for ever be secure of an income, to afford comfort to travellers and wayfarers,
to holy men and learned men. May they remember those ancient benefactors and me in their prayers!
I was enabled by God’s help to build a Dar-ash-shifa, or hospital, for the benefit of every one of high or low degree who was suddenly attacked by illness and overcome by suffering. Physicians attend there to diagnose the disease, to look after the cure, to regulate the diet, and to give medicine. The cost of the medicines and the food is defrayed from my endowments. All sick persons, residents and travellers, gentle and simple, bond and free, resort thither; their maladies are treated, and, under God’s blessing, they are cured.
Under the guidance of the Almighty I arranged that the heirs of those persons who had been put to death in the reign of my late lord and patron Sultan Mohammad Taghlak Shah, and those who themselves had been deprived of a limb, nose, eye, hand, or foot, should be reconciled to the late Sultan and be appeased with gifts, so that they executed deeds declaring their satisfaction, duly attested by witnesses. These deeds were put into a chest, which was placed in the Dar-al-aman at the head of the tomb of the late Sultan, in the hope that God, in his great clemency, would show mercy to my late friend and patron and make those persons feel reconciled to him.
Another instance of divine guidance was this. Villages, lands, and ancient patrimonies of every kind had been wrested from the hands of their owners in former reigns and had been brought under the exchequer.
I directed that everyone who had a claim to property should bring it forward in the law-court, and that upon establishing his title, the village, the land, or whatever other property it was, should be restored to him. By God’s grace I was impelled to this good action, and men obtained their just rights.
I encouraged my infidel subjects to embrace the religion of the Prophet, and I proclaimed that every one who repeated the creed and became a Mussulman should be exempt from the jizya, or poll-tax imposed on non-believers. When this information came to the ears of the people at large, great numbers of Hindus presented themselves and were admitted to the honour of Islam. Thus they came forward day by day from every quarter, and, adopting the faith, were exonerated from the jizya and were favoured with presents and distinctions.
Through God’s mercy the lands and property of His servants have been safe and secure, protected and guarded during my reign, and I have not allowed the smallest particle of any man’s property to be wrested from him. Men often spoke to me officiously, saying that such and such a merchant had made so many lacs, and that such and such a revenue collector had so many lacs. By reproofs and punishments I made these informers hold their tongues, so that the people might be safe from the malignity of such meddlesome persons, and through this kindness men became my friends and supporters.
“Labour to earn for generous deeds a name,
Nor seek for riches to extend thy fame;
Better one word of praise than stores of gold,
Better one grateful prayer than wealth untold.”
Under God’s favour my heart was occupied with an earnest desire to succour the poor and needy and to comfort their hearts. Wherever I heard of a holy devotee, or religious recluse, I went to visit him and ministered to his necessities, so that I might attain the blessing promised to those who befriend the poor.
Whenever a person had completed the natural term of life and become full of years, I first provided for his support, and then I advised and admonished him to direct his thoughts to making preparation for the life to come, to repent of all things which he had done contrary to the Law and Religion of Islam in his youth, and to wean his affections from this world and fix them on the world to come.
I desired to act upon the principle of these lines:
“The practice of the great should be
To succour honest men;
And when a good man dies, to see
His children find a friend.”
When any government servant filling an important and responsible position was carried off under the decrees of God to the happy future life, I gave his place and employment to his son, so that he might occupy the same position and rank as his father and suffer no injury.
“Kings should make their rule of life
To love the great and wise;
And when death ends this mortal strife,
To dry their loved ones’ eyes.”
The greatest and best of honours that I obtained through God’s mercy was, that by my obedience and piety, and friendliness and submission to the caliph, the representative of the holy Prophet, my authority was confirmed; for it is by his sanction that the power of kings is assured, and no king is secure until he has submitted himself to the caliph and has received a confirmation from the sacred throne. A diploma was sent to me fully confirming my authority as deputy of the
caliphate, and the leader of the faithful was graciously pleased to honour me with the title of Sagyid-as-Salatin, “Chief of Sultans.” He also bestowed upon me robes, a banner, a sword, a ring, and a footprint as badges of honour and distinction.
My object in writing this book has been, first of all, to express my gratitude to the All-bountiful God for the many and various blessings which He has bestowed upon me. Secondly, that men who desire to be good and prosperous may read it and learn what is the proper course. There is a brief maxim, by observing which a man may obtain God’s guidance: “Men will be judged according to their works and rewarded for the good that they have done.” ’
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage