Muhammad bin Tughlaq was well known for his wisdom and character. People had a lot of expectations from him and he on the other hand, had the desire for more valuable contribution for his countrymen than his predecessors.
That is why right from the beginning of his rule; he decided to take some bold reformative measures for the improvement as well as safeguard of the country.
Muhammad-bin-Tughluq next to Alluddin Khilzi was the greatest sultan of Delhi who is best remembered for his bold experiments and innovative thought in the field of administration as well as in agriculture.
He was one of the most remarkable rulers of his time. He was highly educated and was well versed in Arabic and Persian language. He was well read in the subjects of religion, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, medicine and logic.
He was also a good calligraphist. Further from military point of view, he was an excellent commander and during the time of Sultan Mubarak Shaha Khiliji he was promoted to the rank of the master of the horse from an ordinary soldier. And again during the time of his father Sultan Giyasuddin Tughlaq he led the imperial forces to Telengana and Warrangal. He was highly ambitious and was a man of high moral character. He was very much faithful to his own religion and obeyed the religious rites and was regular at his daily prayers. He abstained himself from drinking in public. He was very kind and generous to the poor and pandits and was very unkind and cruel.
In spite of high qualification and knowledge, Sultan Muhamad-bin- Tughlaq suffered from certain qualities of hastiness and impatience that is why many of his experiments failed and he has been called an ill starred idealist. Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq ascended the throne just three days after the sudden death of his father, Giyasuddin Tughlaq. When he was inspecting an elephant parade standing on a pavilion at Tughluqabad, the Pavilion collapsed and the Sultan along with his second son Muhammad Khan crushed under it and died. It is said that it was a conspiracy on the part of Muhammad-bin Tughlaq who was impatient for power.
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq just after the death of his father, declared himself as the Sultan in Tughlaqabad and after staying 40 days there, he proceeded to Delhi where he was greeted by the people as well as the Nobles. His coronation ceremony was duly performed in the Red Palace of Balban.
Muhammad bin Tughlaq was well known for his wisdom and character. People had a lot of expectations from him and he on the other hand, had the desire for more valuable contribution for his countrymen than his predecessors. That is why right from the beginning of his rule; he decided to take some bold reformative measures for the improvement as well as safeguard of the country.
At first Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq wanted to make an assessment of the total income and expenditure of the country. He therefore issued an ordinance for the compilation of a register showing the incomes and expenditures of the provinces. The governors of the provinces were directed to submit the documents showing their incomes and expenditures and other necessary materials for the compilation work.
He opened a separate office where a large number of clerks and officers were appointed to do the compilation work. He did it in-order-to introduce a uniform standard of land revenue as well as to assess every village of his kingdom. It was definitely a praise-worthy step of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq.
Taxation in the Doab:
The increase of taxation in the Doab Region was an ill measured step on the part of the Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq. No doubt the Doab region between the Ganga and Yamuna was highly fertile and production was more than any other part of the country, but hike in the tax came at a wrong time and assessment of revenue was not based on the factual report. Peasants were paying the land revenue tax almost the half of the produce since the time of Ala-ud-din Khilzi. Therefore, another increase in the land revenue tax upto ten percent more in the Doab by the Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, definitely created serious peasant discontentment.
This also came at a time when the Doab was at the verge of a famine. This made the situation more deplorable. On the other-hand, the officers engaged in the duty of tax collection could not try to understand the situation and went on collecting the taxes. They even did not hesitate to use force while collecting the tax. Peasants unwilling and unable to pay tax, fled away from the villages and Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq took harsh measures to capture and punish them.
Many of them went to jungles and joined the Gang of robbers. Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq realized the problem but it was too late. He made all possible efforts to restore them to their houses and supplied all sorts of agricultural helps and loans to revive their economic standard. In spite of this he was misunderstood by his subjects. The object of his taxation policy in the Doab was to increase the military resources. This was not achieved rather he was mistaken by the people as a lunatic person.
Establishment of Agriculture Department:
In order to bring an improvement in agriculture, Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq decided to undertake a number of measures and he, therefore established a department of agriculture called Diwan-i-kohi. The department’s main work was to find out uncultivated lands and make all sorts of arrangements for the cultivation of horse lands. At first a large area of land say sixty square miles in area was taken up in the project.
A large number of peasants were engaged in the work of cultivation. They were supplied with all sorts of agricultural instruments and seeds. They were asked to grow different crops in rotation. A large number of officers and guards were appointed to look after the project. The government spent over it more than seventy lakhs. In spite of this, the scheme failed miserably. The target amount of production could not be achieved. The expenditure in it outstripped the income from it. It was due to several reasons.
Firstly, the land chosen for cultivation was not fertile. Secondly, the officers lacked experience which accounted for bad planning or faulty implementation. There were also some corrupt officials who misappropriated a huge amount of production and money.
Lastly, it was a novel experiment, therefore, required more time and attention on the part of the Sultan which he could not give. He could have tried more to improve it. Though the scheme failed disastrously during his reign, yet it had a long term impact. But he was misunderstood by the people.
Transfer of the Capital:
Transfer of the capital from Delhi to Devagari (Daultabad) has the most controversial step of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq. Several factors prompted him to take this decision.
Firstly Devagiri had been a base for the expansion of Turkish rule in India. It was not always possible to operate army from Delhi for the occupation of Southern states. Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq himself had spent a number of years as prince to occupy and guard the southern states during the time of his father.
Secondly as Devagiri was situated at a central place so the administration of the north and the south could be possible. He also did it in order to consolidate the newly conquered states of south. Further the people of the south were under the feeling of an alien rule.
Thirdly Delhi was nearer to the North-Western frontier which was exposed to Mongol invasions. But Devagiri would be a safe place and almost free from Mongol raids.
Lastly, it was in the mind of the Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq that he would be able to utilize the vast wealth and resources of the south, if his capital would be there at Devagiri. But lb Batuta gives a complete different reason for this transfer of capital.
According to him, Sultan Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq was disgusted with the life of Delhi because he was getting almost daily many anonymous letters from the people of the city abusing and criticizing him and therefore, he wanted to leave it for good. Whatever may be the fact Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq ordered for the transfer of capital in 1327 A.D.
He ordered his courtiers, officers, leading men including Sufi saints as well as all people of Delhi to shift to Devgiri. Though the inhabitants of Delhi were unwilling to leave their dear land of birth, they had to obey the Sultan’s order. Nobody was allowed to stay at Delhi. According to Ibn Batuta “A search was made and a blind man and a cripple man were found. The cripple man has put to death while the blind man was tied with the tail of horse and was dragged to Daulatabad where only his one leg reached.”
Of course this version of Iban Batuta has been debatable. Batuta says, the citizens of Delhi used to write letters containing abuses and scandals to the Sultan. Therefore, the Sultan decided to lay Delhi waste in order to punish them. Sir Woolreley Haig has accepted the version of Ibn Batuta, Isami also says that the Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq resolved to break-up the power of the citizens of Delhi and therefore, decided to transfer the capital. Thus, he also supported the version of Iban Batuta. But professor Habibullah and others have given almost the different views.
However the people were asked to shift. The distance from Delhi to Daulatabad (Devagiri) was nearly 1500 km. The Sultan had set up rest houses on the way to help the travellers. Since this event took place during the summer season and the journey was rigorous one, many people died on the way. Many of those who reached Daulatabad felt home sick because the land and climate were not suitable to their health and they were also reminded of their dear birth place where they had lived generations together.
Hence, there was a good deal of discontent. After a couple of years, Muhammad Tughlaq decided to abandon Daulatabad because he realized the fact that just as he could not control the South from Delhi in the same way he could not control North from Daulatabad. He changed his mind and again in 1335 A.D. he ordered the retransfer of the Capital to Delhi and asked everybody to go back to Delhi. So his transfer of capital with the entire population of Delhi was a blunder. He could have shifted only the official seats and officers and courtiers but not the entire people of Delhi.
Though the attempt to make Devagiri a capital failed, it had a number long-range benefit. It helped in bringing north and south closer together by improving communications. Many people, including religious divines who had gone to Daulatabad, settled down there. They became the means of spreading in the Deccan the cultural, religious and social ideas which the turks had brought with them to north India.
This resulted in a new process of cultural interaction between north and South India. However Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq has been criticized for this transfer of capital. Neither his selection of the place Devagiri as a site of capital nor his act of shifting the entire population of Delhi was welcomed by any historian. According to Standly Lane-poole, “Daulatabad was a monument of misdirected energy.”
Introduction of Token Currency:
Introduction of token currency was another bold experiment of the Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq. Since currency or money is a medium of exchange, it is greatly required that to with a huge quantity to serve the purpose of exchange in modern time. Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq’s predecessors depended on gold and silver coins as medium of exchange. But during the time Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq a huge quantity of coins was required for various transactions and there was a dearth of gold and silver coins in the country.
Further he had squeezed the treasury by spending a lot of money in his various experiments including the transfer of the capital. And again he had the ambition to conquer distant countries which would require a good deal of money. Considering all those factors he decided to introduce a bronze coin which was to have the same value as the silver tanka. He was also encouraged by Qublai Khan, the ruler of China and Ghazan Khan, the ruler of Persia who had successfully experimented with a token currency. Muhammad- bin-Tughlaq introduced bronze coins in place of silver and gold but there remained certain defects which made him a big failure in this experiment.
Within a very short time specimens of this coin were found in different parts of the country. A huge amount of forged coins entered into market and government treasury as those were minted secretly by private parties. The government took no steps to prevent this. As a result each house turned to be a mint.
Further, people made payments to the government with new bronze coins and hoarded gold and silver. The government treasury was filled with bronze or copper coins. The new coins also began to be greatly devalued in the markets. Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq could not stop the forging of new coins. Had he been able to do so, he could have been successful.
Finally he decided to withdraw the token currency. He promised to exchange silver coins for bronze coins. In this way a huge amount of new coins were exchanged for silver. But the forged coins which were detected were not exchanged.
These coins Barani says, were heaped up outside the fort and remained lying there for many years.- These above experiments not only brought wastage of money but also affected the prestige of the Sultan.
Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq’s experiments were not confined to internal matters only; it was also down with external affairs. His Khurasan project was the first of them. In-order-to fulfill his ambition of a great conqueror; he planned to conquer the kingdom of Khurasan which was then ruled by Iraq. He recruited one lakh soldiers for this purpose and paid them one year’s salary in advance.
He spent nearly three lakhs of rupees for this mission. But this project was dropped because he did not get the help of the Persian emperor who had assured him to help in this mission. Ultimately the Sultan incurred a huge financial loss and his reputation as a conqueror hampered much.
Karajal expedition was another mis-judged step of Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq. Karajal was a Hindu kingdom located between India and China. In 1337 Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq sent a huge army to invade Karajal. After some initial success, the Delhi army perished in the mountainous region of Himalayas due to severe rain fall.
The army suffered terribly and we are told by Barani that out 10, 000 army only 10 horse-men could return to Delhi to tell the story of the disaster. It was a great loss to the Sultan both in men and money. Though the Hindu raja of Karajal accepted the Suzerinty of Delhi, but considering to the amount of loss, it can be described that the Karajal expedition was an unsuccessful adventure of Sultan.
Further against the Mongols, the Sultan Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq felt weak as he had neglected the defence of the northwestern frontier. The Mongols under their leader Tarma-Shirin Khan had invaded India and plundered upto Multan and Lahore without any opposition.
When they advanced towards Delhi, the Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq not knowing what to do, bribed the invader with a huge quantity of gold and silver. This weakness of the Sultan made people feel most insecure. Failure in both the military expeditions as well as his inability to defend the Mongols made him unpopular.
The Estimate of Sultan Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq:
While making an estimate of Sultan Muhammad-bin- Tughlaq’s character and achievements, historians have strongly differed and have expressed diametrically opposite views. Historians like Elphinstone, Edward Thomass, Havell and V.A. Smith have agreed that the Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq was affected by some degree of insanity. But on the other hand historians like Gardiner Brown and Dr. Iswari Prasad have described Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq with high sounding words and do not believe that he was suffering from insanity.
Even contemporary historians like Barani and Ibn Batuta have expressed opposite views about the character and achievements of the Sultan. So in this context, it is very difficult to make an important and unprejudiced assessment of the Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq. Almost all the historians have agreed that Sultan Muhammad was one of the most learned and accomplished scholars of his time.
He had profound knowledge in logic, philosophy, mathematics astronomy and physical sciences. He was well versed in Arabic and Persian language and literature. He was a lover of music and fine arts. Barani says, the sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq was a veritable wonder of creation whose abilities would have taken by surprise even Aristotle and Asaf.
But he was proved to be a big failure as a ruler particularly with regards to his different experiments. His increase of tax in the fertile Doab region was not at all in-correct. As a ruler he had the every right to increase tax in-order-to meet the day to day expenditures of the country. But it came at a time when the Doab region was at famine.
People who were already paying almost fifty percent of the land revenue since the time of Ala-ud-din suddenly became unwilling to pay more than that. And the very situation was not favourable to make-up their minds to pay more. Neither the Sultan nor his officers did realize the matter. Secondly his creation of Department of Agriculture for the purpose of Large Scale cultivation of lands for surplus production was a welcomed step. But while implementing it he did a mistake by not choosing a fertile land for this purpose. Again the officers appointed in this work were corrupt and lacked experience. He did a great mistake by dropping this project just after one failure. It seems that though his idea was good, but he lacked executional ability.
Again in case of his transfer of capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, he displayed his lack of Wit. Instead of shifting the en masse population, he could have shifted only the official seats and officers. Even if he had the intention to punish the people of Delhi for their abusing and scandlous letters, he could do so by some other method, but not by physically shifting them to Devagiri, the new capital. Further his introduction of token currency was amazing one.
As there was shortage of gold and silver coins to serve as a medium of exchange due to the increase in the transactions, the sultan was very right to go for the introduction of a Copper Currency which had the same value as the Silver Coin. But he failed to keep an effective control over its minting. It was found a huge amount of foreged copper coins in the market as a result of private minting. He also did not make any elaborate effort to check it except banning it.
As regards to his foreign expeditions, he was seen as a great failure. He lost both men and money in both the expeditions of Khurassan and Karajal. He had exhibited lack of wisdom and commonsense in these expeditions. He was also mild before the Mongols.
It was due to the failure in different matters he has been called a mad Sultan. He has also been characterised as a mixture of opposites and a bundle of contradictions. It is sure that he had many good ideas, but he had not the capacity to execute them. He was surely one of the extraordinary kings.