After the death of Muhammad of Ghor, Aibak declared independence and established the Delhi Sultanate in AD 1206.
The Delhi Sultanate lasted for a period of320 years from AD 1206 to 1526.
This period of three hundred twenty years was shared by the Mamluks or slaves, Khiljis, Tughlaks, Sayyads and Lodis, of the Mamluk dynasty, the most important rulers are Iltutmish and Balban, while Alauddin Khilji was the most important; of the Tughlak line the most important are Muhammad bin Tughlak and Ferozshah Tughlak and of the Lodis the important one is Ibrahim Lodi. Timur invaded India and destroyed Delhi during this period towards the end of 15th century.
The Delhi Sultanate in its existence of more than three centuries gave birth to political, social and economic institutions which differed from the earlier ones. Yet these institutions represent a unique combination of the Turkish and the earlier Indian institutions. The contact between the Turks and the Indians led to two major processes of military conflict and commercial activity along with cultural transactions.
There were mutual hostility on account of cultural differences and conflicting political interests and partial assimilation and acculturation as a result of realization that they have to coexist as neighbors because the invading Turks made India their new home. There is also a debate about the causes for the success of the Turks.
While the contemporary chronicles view their success as the ‘Will of God’, the British historians hold the view that the invading armies consisted of war-like tribes with better horses and better arms and the Indians were pacifists by nature and were not given to war. This view is disproved by the fact that the Indians were not lacking in bravery and martial spirit. Some Indian historians attribute the success of Turks to the peculiar social structure created by Islam.
There are many causes for the defeat of the Indians, chief of them the superior military technology and fighting skills of the Turks. They were also helped by ‘lack of unity of command’ among the army of the Indians. The use of iron stirrups and horse shoes reinforced the striking power and stamina of the Arab cavalry.
The horse-shoes provided greater mobility to the horses and the stirrups gave the soldiers a distinct advantage. We may conclude that the Turks were successful primarily due to their military technology and that the armies of the Indian rulers lacked unity of command as they were under the control of regional local lords or feudatories of doubtful loyalties, their greatest weakness.
The Turkish occupation of India brought about far reaching changes in the polity, society and economy of India. Though changes introduced by them were far reaching, the basic structure remained the same with some necessary modifications. First, let us take up polity or political process of the Delhi Sultanate. Before we go into details of the structure and nature of the polity, it is essential to have an idea of the Islamic theory of society. After the death of Prophet Mohammad, the institution of the Caliphate came into existence and gradually took shape.
Khalifa was considered the head of the Muslim community or Umma or Ummat. In Islamic world view, the Khalifa combined in himself the duty of the guardian of religion and the upholder of the political order. In the early Islamic world, there was no provision for a head of the State like Sultan, as Khalifa was vested with that authority.
In theory the Khalifa was the head of the Islamic community but in reality with the decline of the stature of Khalifa in due course of time the emergence of Sultan as independent powerful sovereign over a certain geographical area became a fact. But as the institution of Khalifa survived though only in a theoretical and formal sense, it became necessary to obtain legitimization of political authority of the Sultan by granting of titles, allowing the name of the Caliph inscribed on coins and reading of Khutba in Friday prayer. By this the Sultan obtained legitimacy for his authority and developed a link with the Islamic world.
Further, the Delhi Sultans in theory recognized the supremacy of the Islamic law or Shariath but in reality they did not hesitate to deviate from Shariath. Political expediency prevailed over dogmatic approach in the conduct of the Suhans. Satish Chandra aptly remarks that the Turks evolved a number of new institutions and concepts which led to a centralization of power so far unknown in India.
The institution of monarchy has no place in Shariath and it was not an Islamic institution. The original concept of government in Islam was that of the Imam who was chosen by the faithful, who led a simple and austere life and combined in himself both political and spiritual authority. The disintegration of the Abbasid Caliphate was responsible for the emergence of the institution of Sultan.
In course of time, the Sultan became all powerful. As he became the source of honour and patronage, he claimed divine attributes. Like the Hindus, the Islamic thinkers also made the office of the Sultan divine. Barauni writes that the heart of a monarch was a mirror of God and it reflected the wishes of God so that the actions of the King Sultan could not be questioned.
Balban was the first of the Delhi Sultans, who assumed the title of Zill Allah or Shadow of God and introduced the ceremonies of Sijda and Pabos (prostration on the ground, bending down to touch one’s feet). The Shariath allows these practices only for Allah but no one else. The Delhi Sultans though appear to be exercising unlimited power cannot be considered absolute despotic rulers.
Was the state governed by the Sultans of Delhi and Mughal emperors theocratic, purely based on Shariath? This aspect has attracted the attention of the modern scholars of history. The Islamic law stipulates that the entire world is divided into Dar-ul-harb or abode of war and Dar-ul-Islam or abode of Islam.
Idolaters have no place in an Islamic country and they are to be killed or enslaved. But this canonical law could not be implemented in India as the non-Muslim population was in majority and it is impossible to enslave or convert all idolaters in India. Yet, there is a strong belief that the medieval state under the Muslim rule was definitely a theocracy, as it had the essential elements; the sovereignty of God and Government by the direction of God through Ulemas or the priestly group in accordance with divine law.
The Sultans of Delhi considered themselves as deputies or assistants of Calipha who was God’s vice-regent. Though the Delhi Sultans recognized the supremacy of the Islamic Laws, they had to supplement them by framing non-religious regulations (Zawabti) too. It indicates that for all practical purposes, the medieval state and sultan cared more for the stability and security of the young state rather than blind implementation of Shariath. We can say that the needs of the emergent state influenced the policies and practices not always consistent with the Islamic laws.
To prove this point, we have the example of Sultan Iltutmish, when Shafai Muslim divines enjoined him to enforce the Islamic law strictly, i.e., giving the Hindus the option of Islam or death, his Wazir, Junaidi replied the Muslims are now like salt in a dish of food. We have also the evidences of Alauddin Khilji and Muhammad bin Tughlak who did not accept the authority of the Ulemas. Jalaluddin Khilji, the founder of the Khilji dynasty, being a pious Muslim considered as unrealistic the policy of forcible conversion of the Hindus or their humiliation as demanded by some theologians and also defended the policy of allowing Hindus to worship idols, preach their beliefs and observe practices which were considered the hallmark of infidelity according to the Quran.
He also put forward the concept of a new type of state, one which was based fundamentally on the goodwill and support of the people of all communities and one which was basically benevolent and looked after the welfare of its subjects. Alauddin Khilji’s statement, “I do not know what is lawful or unlawful according to Shariath, whatever I consider necessary for the state or for its welfare, I decree” also is an example to indicate that Shariath is not implemented in toto.
These instances prove that, in practice the Turkish state was not theocratic but evolved according to its special needs of the state which were paramount. Yet there are instances when the ruler gave importance to observance of Shariath strictly as in the reign of Ferozshah Tughlak.
One of the despicable instances of bigotry on the part of Ferozshah Tughlak was public burning of a Brahmin on the ground that he openly performed idol worship at his house in which both Hindus and Muslims participated and that he had converted a Muslim woman. Ferozshah even collected Zizia from Brahmins, who were exempted till then. He was so dogmatic that he imposed this also against Muslims who adhered to Sufism.
While Muhammad bin Tughlak took measures to create a composite ruling class consisting of Muslims and Hindus. Ferozshah reversed the same by giving importance to orthodox elements of Islam. Later, Lodis once again revived the practice of composite administrative machinery, which was taken to its logical end by Akbar. The Sultanate of Delhi had to face a number of political and administrative obstacles which created a crisis and then a decline. The Sultans did not find it smooth sailing to conquer, expand and consolidate their power.
The Sultans had to face opposition from the indigenous Hindu rulers, conflict between the nobility and the Sultan and threat from Mongols besides the rise of regional kingdoms. In course of time, the Sultanate had to decline because as long as the Sultan could contain opposition, suppress rebellion and keep his flock together the kingdom survived, but when weak rulers ascended the throne, then came decline of the Sultanate. This is apparent since the success of monarchical system depends on the king’s personality and individual qualities of leadership and ability to grasp the needs and requirements of the moment.
While in the earlier ages, the law of primogeniture was accepted, no clear and well-defined law of succession prevailed in the age of the Sultanate. Though the hereditary principle was accepted, no strict adherence to that principle was observed. Consequently, in a way, law of jungle or Darwinism prevailed, where anyone with the sharpest sword and the strongest desire could claim the throne by offering bribes or by treachery. As and when a ruler died, intrigues and strife became very common which shook the foundations of royalty. The nobles or Umra played a crucial role in the constructive and destructive activities of the Sultanate.
The nobles always tried to manipulate the situation to obtain economic and political gains. This led to uncertainty and a sort of anarchical situation as there were divisions supporting and opposing the claimant to the throne. Further, the rise of regional states under the Bahmanis in AD 1347 and the rise of the kingdoms like Jaunapur, Malwa and Gujarat respectively under Khwaja Jahan in 1394, Dilawar Khan in 1401 and Zabar Khan in 1407, weakened the Sultanate as the Sultans lost the fertile regions of Bengal, Malwa, Jaunapur and Gujarat and their revenue to the State.
By the first decade of the 16th century the effective control of the Sultanate became nominal and the Sultanate came on the verge of collapse in the hands of a determined aggressor with minimum effort. The assaults of the Mongols at regular intervals further sapped the vitality of the Sultanate, but it appears that the Mongol forays did not affect the Sultan’s political and economical fortunes.
The Sultan took the help of a number of ministers in performing his task as a ruler. We have no definite idea about the number of ministers employed by the Sultan and there was no council of ministers. The ministers were appointed by the Sultan and they remained in office as long as they enjoyed the confidence of the Sultan. We come across four ministers designated; the Wazir, Ariz-i-mamlik, Diwan-i-Insha and Diivan-i-Risalat. We also come across officers known as Wakil-i-dar, Amir Hazib, Barid-i-Khas and many more minor officials to execute the orders issued by their superiors.
The provincial and local administration was only nominal. It is because the Sultans of Delhi were less successful in consolidating an empire comprising a large part of India. Though they had the military strength required to do so, they were not successful in establishing an administrative set-up which could penetrate deep into the countryside and strengthen their control.
The Sultan had to be invariably dependent on the alien nobility through the bondage of Islam as in the past too the ruling elite of different parts of India depended on their Samantas or feudal lords. None of Sultans, except Alauddin, could succeed in penetrating into the rural sector by introducing a direct revenue assessment with a view to subdue the Hindu middlemen, but he could gain partial success only in the core area of his region. Even if Alauddin attempted this in provinces, it could have boomeranged as the provincial lords did not like to be cowed down.
The Sultan’s scheme of satisfying those who helped them in conquest, by granting feudal fiefs or Iqtas, though beneficial to the Sultanate in the initial stages, in the long run the exclusivity of alien nobles impeded the administrative reach deep into the rural areas. Further, the aloofness of the ruling elite was as an obstacle in integration of the political system. Besides their aloofness, their emphasis on conversions to some extent and the excesses committed by some Sultans was mainly responsible for the Sultanate’s failure to extend their effective control into the deep interior of the subcontinent.
In a way the Sultanate accelerated the process of political unification and can be considered as the precursor of a nation state, which has been our cherished ideal. In theory, the Delhi Sultanate appears to be a unitary state but in actuality it was a confederation of semi-independent territorial units ruled by military chiefs or governors.
The administrative organization of the Sultanate was a composite structure. The age-old local institutions such as village and caste councils continued. Further, on these the Sultans superimposed certain measures like the system of taxation and law of succession which are not in conformity with the law of the faith. While their monarchy was fashioned on the Persian tradition, their army was organized on Turko-Mongol system.
The Sultans divided their kingdom into provinces but the hold of the Sultan appears to be nominal as every governor behaved as an autonomous one. The provinces were again divided into Shiqs and Paraganas which were placed under the Shiqdars and Amib. In that period Paragana was the smallest unit of administration. The provinces were called Iqtas. The number of Iqtas varied and there was no uniformity in the administration of the Iqtas. The head of the Iqta was called Naib, Sultan, Nazim, Mukti or Wall. During the period of Alauddin Khilji, Iqtas were divided into two categories as those under the Delhi Sultanate from the beginning and which were subsequently brought under the control of Alauddin Khilji.
Besides the Iqtas, there also existed tribute paying states of South India who acknowledged the sovereign power of the Sultan. Each Iqta had besides Mukti, number of officers of central government. A Wazir, znAriz and a Quaji in each Iqta were also placed as representatives of the central government. The smallest unit of administration was the village which was administered by local hereditary officers and the Panchayat of the village. The Chaudaii, the Patuari, the Khur, the Chaukidar and the Muqdam were the hereditary officers of the village who helped the government in the collection of revenue but they lost these privileges during the reign of Alauddin Khilji.
The Panchayat of the village looked after education, sanitation, etc., and acted as a judicial body also. There is a controversy regarding Sultans’ attitude towards their Hindu and Muslim subjects. One view holds that the Delhi Sultans pursued a policy of discrimination among the Hindu peasants; the Muslim peasants paid less revenue. The Hindu traders paid double trade tax and the Muslim traders paid less tax.
Even among the Muslims, the Indian Muslims and converted Muslims were treated lowly and only foreign Muslims enjoyed higher status and the Hindus were treated as second rate citizens, experiencing hardships. What was narrated above was the view of the traditional historians who believed that the Muslim rule was based on the Islamic law but a section of the modern historians argued that the Sultan’s policies are not determined by religious considerations but by economic interests.
This view is questioned on the ground that the medieval period was period of faith and the faith of the rulers motivated them to be bigoted in their approach. As a general rule all the Sultans can be considered as bigots and it is true that some are really bigoted compared to the rest and on the basis of that we cannot say that the Muslim rule was full of conversion from Hinduism to Islam.
The occupation and the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate initiated changes in the economic structure as well as the general political structure of India. Though they were aware of and conversant with well defined concepts and practices of tax collection, the structure, distribution system and minting of coinage, in the beginning they superimposed their ideas on the existing system and slowly and gradually introduced modifications up to the end of the 15th century.
The slave labour played a crucial role in providing the accustomed luxurious life to the nobility, depending on their taste and habits. Muhammad Habib holds that the economic changes that occurred during this period created an organization considerably superior to that which existed prior to their occupation. Habib further states that the changes in economic sphere were so drastic that they deserve the designation of urban and rural revolutions.
D.D. Kosambi argues that the Islamic raiders intensified already existing elements of feudalism in the subcontinent. The Sultans after bringing new areas under their occupation divided the new areas among the commanders who were allowed to plunder and extract tribute from the defeated and subjugated rural lords. The commanders paid salaries to the members of army in cash.
Land revenue was the major source for the resource base of the state. The Sultans introduced a mechanism for simultaneous collection and distribution of revenue. In this period the Iqta system combined the twin functions of revenue collection and distribution. It did not endanger the unity of the political structure.
The Mukti is authorized to collect land tax and other taxes due to the state and had to maintain troops; and to provide them to the state at the time of need. It is a transferable job. The territory from which the Sultan collected tax directly and deposited in his own treasury is called Khalisa, only core area of the Sultan, i.e., the territory around Delhi and parts of Doab remained in Khalisa.
The area under Khalisa shifted from time to time depending on the success of the Sultan in expanding his territorial gains. While Alauddin paid cash to his soldiers, Iltutmish, Balban and the Tughlaks assigned land or villages to soldiers in lieu of salaries. Such assignments were called Wajh and its holders as Wajhadars. These were permanent and hereditary appointments. Balban, by appointing Khwaja or accountant, started streamlining the tax collected by Iqta holder.
Alauddin Khilji also brought Iqta under the preview of the central finance department or Diwan-i-Wijarat. The central intervention reached its climax during the time of Muhammad bin Tughlak. By the time we come to Lodis, the administrative changes and revenue assignments were combined together, instead of Iqtas, we now come across terms like Paraganas or Sarkars. By the time of Sikandar Lodi, we notice sub-infeudation in these areas. The Sultans also made land grants to Darghas, mosques, Madarsas and they are called Milk, Idrar and Inam. The land tax in Islamic tradition was called Kharaj but till the time of Alauddin Khilji no serious attempt appears to have been made to streamline the assessment and realization of Kharaj.
Alauddin aimed at increasing the revenue collection by enhancing the demand and also introduced direct collection to cut down the outflow due to intermediaries. The system of tax collection introduced by Alauddin continued till the time of Ghiyasuddin Tughlak who modified and expected the Khots and Muqqaddams from paying tax on their cultivation and cattle. Muhammad bin Tughlak extended this system of Alauddin Khillji to Gujarat, Malwa, Deccan, South India and Bengal. He introduced new imposts and collected taxes very rigorously.
He was the first Sultan to contemplate formulation of an agricultural policy. He introduced the practice of providing agricultural loans called Sondhar for increasing the area under cultivation and to dig wells for irrigation purposes. It is estimated that Muhammad bin Tughlak spent a huge amount as Sondhar, but only a small amount of it reached the peasantry. He created a new ministry designated Diwan-i-atnir-i-Kohi to promote agriculture. The two main functions of this ministry were to extend area under cultivation and reclaim the land that was out of cultivation, and efforts were also made to improve the cropping pattern.
Muhammad bin Tughlak’s time saw sugarcane being replaced by grapes and dates; wheat was given up for sugarcane. Though in theory all these plans were good, in practice they did not yield the necessary result and his successor Ferozshah replaced all these measures. Alauddin Khilji also introduced measures to regulate the prices of all the essential commodities in the market. He not only fixed prices of the commodities but ensured supervision over the market prices and saw that they were under control. The followers of Alauddin gave up these measures.
The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was marked by a considerable growth of monetization of economy as evidenced by the currency system or coins in circulation. There was no pure silver coinage prior to the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate. Iltutmish introduced gold and silver Tanka and a copper Jital that was especially at l/48th of a Tanka in North India and l/50th in the Deccan after the conquest of Devagiri and a ratio of 1:10 between gold and silver was established by him.
The silver currency remained dominant till the reign of Alauddin but later silver coinage slowly disappeared. Muhammad bin Tughlak introduced a coin of copper and brass alloy and reckoned it at the value of silver Tanka. For the first time, this coin had an engraving in Persian. Introduction of token currency by Muhammad bin Tughlak ended in a thorough failure. Slavery and slave trade flourished throughout the Delhi Sultanate period.
As land and man relationship was very favourable, and agricultural land was in abundance, double cropping was prevalent around Delhi. They raised food crops like wheat, barley, paddy, millets, Jowar, and pulses and cash crops like sugarcane cotton, oil seeds and sesame linseed, etc. The Sultans encouraged digging canals to promote agriculture. Ghiyasuddin was the first to dig canals while Ferozshah also dug two canals from the river Yamuna and it was considered the largest canal network in India till the 19th century.
Cultivation was based on individual peasant farming, but the peasant economy was not at all egalitarian and the divide was immense. We notice the occurrence of intermediaries between the peasant and the state in the Khot and the Muqqaddams and they were designated Zamindars and Chowdharies under Ferozshah Tughlak, which continued under the Mughals also.
There is a view that on the eve of Ghorian conquest of India, the urban economy was in decline. The towns were fewer and smaller in extent in the centuries prior to the founding of Delhi Sultanate. D.D. Kosambi remarks that the capital was a camp on the move and the urban ruling elite was on the whole along with the army while lower levels of the community were totally ruralized. R.S. Sharma is also of the same view.
On the other hand, we have the evidence of the contemporary citings of administrative centres, Delhi, Multan, Anihilwara (Patna) Cambay, Kara Lakhnauti and Daultabad or Devagiri. Most of the 13th century towns are headquarters of Iqta like Hansi, Kara and Anihilwara. The need for new luxuries of life made the ruling elite depend on numerous artisans and craftsmen skilled in their areas of specialization, who migrated from other countries. Urban craftsmen, who provided these new goods with the help of new technological devices, came to India.
The arrival of spinning wheel or Charkha increased the production of yarn manifold. This very important mechanical device is referred to in Isami’s Futuha-s-Salatin datable to AD 1350. Lymn White Jr. points out that spinning wheel was unknown in ancient India and this must have led to large-scale manufacture and production of cloth during the Sultanate.
The weaving of silk cloth, a luxury item began in the middle of the Sultanate period. Carpet weaving on the vertical loom also appeared during this period. Most notably, paper manufacturing craft was also established and the earliest surviving piece of paper datable to 13th century comes from Gujarat.
The building industry underwent a considerable technological transformation. The important new techniques were the use of cementing lime and vaulted roofing, with exclusive use of the true arch and dome. Consequently, we also came across large brick and rubble structures.
The Sultanate coinage reflects pre-eminently the growth of commerce, internal and external. The demand for cavalry horses in the Sultanate made them import these from as far as Ukraine and Russian steppes. During the period, the export exceeded imports and there was a large flow of bullion.
Irfan Habib remarks that what the Sultans thus brought about was not a social revolution in any modern sense but the creation of a new system of agrarian exploitation, with a parasitical urban growth based upon it. It united political power with economic power more fully than ever before, vesting the control over the bulk of the surplus in the hands of a ruling class whose composition was determined not by inheritance but formally by the will of the sovereign, and whose individual members remained permanently unattached to any particular parcels of land, Irfan Habib also sees the traits of feudalism in the denial of rights to the peasants and oriental despotism due to the excessive centralization of power.
Sources of Revenue:
The chief source of income of the state was land revenue known as Kharaj and originally it signified all taxes including Jiziyah raised from the non-Muslims, who were called Kharajguzars.The land tax was raised from the earlier one-sixth or less at least one-third and one-half of the gross produce by Alauddin Khilji, Jiziyah, a sort of capitation tax levied upon every adult Hindu made with independent means of maintenance, Zakat, a tax raised from well-to-do Muslims for the sake of helping the needy Muslims, Khams or Ghaninah, the booty taken in war, transit and octroi duties, mines, forests, treasure troves and heirless property were also the sources of revenue to the state.
The main prop of the Delhi Sultanate was military force and as such both the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals gave top priority to the military force. Under Alauddin Khilji, the military objectives decided his policy and action. Though the Delhi Sultanate was not a military state primarily, separate status was given to military department both at the centre and in the provinces.
The main branch of the army was the cavalry and the Sultan maintained constant vigilance on thefrontiers because of the threat and incursions of the Mongols. To safeguard frontiers, a series of garrison posts and fortresses were either repaired or newly constructed at strategic places. The elephant corps was an important branch of the army and was meant to pull heavy loads.
The Sultanate also took care to organize judiciary and police and the final court of appeal and judgment was the Sultan. There is an officer called Mohatasibs to inspect the civil and religious behaviour of the Muslims, while the policing of cities and towns was entrusted to Kotwals and that of the rural areas to the Faujdar.
Society during the Sultanate period was in flux. On the religious level, people were broadly divided as Hindus and Muslims. Even the two major religious sects were further divided into separate groups. Stratification appears in both the communities. Among the Muslims, there were divisions of (a) nobility, (b) the chiefs or the emergent Zamindars and besides the ruling class there prevailed judicial and junior administrative cadre and the Ulema and slaves. The nobles were divided into three categories, the Khans, the Maliks and the Amirs.
We do not have any definite idea of the number of nobles in office at any time. Most of the nobles are Turkish and Persian Muslims. But during the Khilji and Tughlak rule, Indian Muslims began to ascend the social ladder due to their personal efficiency.
However, preferential treatment of the foreign Muslims continued and even when a noble lost his power and position, the tradition of former dignity and social honour passed on to his descendants. Along the clergy, the nobles called Ashraf or the respected sections enjoyed privileged position on the social set-up and this naturally heightened the social stratification among Muslims.
When Muhammad bin Tughlak appointed people of low status with efficiency to high posts, there was social resentment. Nobles led a luxurious life because of their position and emoluments. Very little information is available about the education and the cultural outlook and values of Turkish or Persian nobles.
Gradually, warrior noble’s metamorphasized into patrons of culture. Political relationship between the Turkish rulers and the Hindu Rajput chiefs or Rais was also common in those days in spite of the relationship; the position of the chiefs was one of considerable uncertainty because of the see-saw battle between the two political powers. By the beginning of the 14th century, references to Zamindars who were hereditary intermediaries are noticed.
The term was first used by Amir Khusru and later on it was applied to Khots and Muqqaddams and Chowdharies. There is little idea of the lifestyle of the privileged rural sections but they too appear to have lived affluently. The nobles were helped by religious and judicial functionaries (Qazis and Mujiis).
We have reference to Mehtasib who supervised the behavioural pattern of Muslims in following shariath besides checking weights and measures. All these are paid posts and their numbers increased when the population of Muslims grew in size. We have little idea of the social base of this large and amorphous group of people. Reference to a number of clerks and petty officials is noticeable. Slave population was in considerable numbers and played a crucial role in politics and society.
There was no remarkable change in the structure of society of the Hindus. The Smriti literature prescribes strict rules for the maintenance of stratified Varna structure, but reality appears to be different. In the position of women, there was little change. During this period, the Purdah system became widespread. Muslim society remained divided into ethnic and racial group with deep economic disparities. The Turks, Iranians, Afghans and Indian Muslims rarely had marital contacts.
In fact, these groups developed a sort of caste exclusiveness similar to that of the Hindus. Hindu converts to Islam who formed lower economic and social groups were looked down upon. For administrative purposes and conveniences, we find a mingling of the Hindus and the Muslims.
The local machinery of administration was untouched by the influence of the Muslims and it remained almost entirely in the hands of the Hindus. Occasions for mutual intercourse were many. To say that the communities kept strictly aloof from each other is thus not true.
No doubt, to a certain extent conflicts of interest as well as differences in social and cultural ideas, practices and beliefs did create tensions and slowed down the process of mutual understanding and cultural assimilation. We may agree with Satish Chandra that both processes of conflict and rapprochement continued side by side, with setbacks under some rulers and in some regions, and faster development under some other rulers.
During the Sultanate period, there arose many socio-religious movements in North and East India and Maharashtra. Emphasis on Bhakti or devotional surrender to a personal god for attaining salvation and the striving for religious equality were the two common features of the earlier Bhakti movement of South India and the present Bhakti movement of North India, East India and Maharashtra.
There is a view that this Bhakti movement was a continuation of the earlier Bhakti movement. Critical examinations of the two movements reveal that there were differences between the two and also differences in the North Indian Bhakti movement. In the present context, we notice the popular monotheistic and Vaishanava Bhakti movement.
It is also accepted that to a certain extent Islam also influenced the rise of the two movements of popular monotheistic and Vaishanava Bhakti. Scholars are of the opinion that the political factor of the decline of Rajput-Brahman alliance, and the socio-economic factor of rising aspiration of the common people against oppression are the most important reasons for the rise of the Bhakti movement.
Monotheistic movement of North India was led by religious teachers like Kabir, Gurunanak, Dhanna and Pipa.
We notice certain common characteristic features in this movement:
(a) Most of the monotheists belonged to the low castes,
(b) All the monotheists are influenced to a great extent by the Vaishanava concept of Bhakti, the Nathpanthi movement and Sufism of Islam,
(c) Communion with God is possible through following Nirguna Bhakti, repetition of divine name, a spiritual guru, community singing of devotional songs or Keerthana and companionship of saints or Satsang,
(d) Opposition of caste systems and idolatry,
(e) Use of vernacular language,
(f) Being a Grihasta and not an ascetic, and
(g) Organization of exclusive Panths.
Ramananda was the most famous saint scholar of the Vaishnavabhakti and he belonged to the Vaishanava school of Ramanuja of South India.
Yet, he differed in certain aspects:
1. He looked upon Ram but not Vishnu as the object of Bhakti.
2. He preached his Bhakti in common man’s language.
3. He stressed that caste should be left out and ate food along with low caste people.
Vallabhacharya was another prominent Vaishanava Bhakti preacher. He is a Telugu Brahmin. He was the founder of Pushtimarga or way of grace. He preached Krishna Bhakti. Another Saint Scholar of Vaishnavabhakti, Surdas was his follower.
Bengal had a Vaishanava Bhakti movement of its own and it differs from both the South Indian and North Indian Bhakti movement. The Bengah Vaishnavabhakti is said to be influenced by the tradition of Bhagavata Purana and Sahajiya Buddhist and Nathpanthi tradition.
Gita Govinda of Jayadeva also played a crucial role in shaping the Vaishnavabhakti of Bengal. Chaitanya was the most prominent Vaishanava Saint and his influence was so pervading that he is regarded as an incarnation. Through disregard for caste, creed and sex, he gave a popular base to Vaishanava Bhakti. His favourite disciple Haridas was originally a Muslim, who exercised great influence on the Bengali mind and culture.
The Bhakti movement also drew its inspiration from Bhagavata Purana to a certain extent and also from Saiva Nathapanthis, who were very popular among the lower strata of Maharashtrian society. Jnaneswar (AD 1275-1296) was the pioneer of Bhakti movement in Maharashtra and authored a commentary on Bhagavad-Gita by name Jnanesiveti. This is not only the earliest literary work of Marathi but also served as the foundation of Bhakti Marga in Maharashtra.
He advocated that there was no room for caste distinctions in following Bhakti Marga to attain the Moksha. Namdeva was another famous Bhakti Saint of Maharashtra and he is considered to be as one of the leaders of the Varkari stream of the Vaishanava devotional tradition. Eknath and Tukaram, also from Maharashtra propagated Bhakti Marga during the 16th and 17th centuries.
In other regions of India, Bhakti movement flourished and Saiva Bhakti was popular in Kashmir in the 14th century while the Vallabha sect prevailed in Gujarat. In Karnataka, Virasaivism preached by Basava became popular in the 12th and 13th Centuries. In Assam, Sankaradeva, a non-Brahmin by birth, preached absolute devotion to Vishnu or his incarnation Krishna.
He preached Bhakti Marga to devotees through the medium of dance-drama and music in people’s language. He also started the institution of Satras, where people belonging to all castes met for religious and social purposes. His sect is called Mahapurushiya sect. It is to be agreed upon that the Bhakti movement of the Sultanate period was influenced by the Bhakti tradition of Bhagavata Purana and this Purana is regarded as the unifying bond between various Vaishanava Bhakti movements.
We have to remember that Kabir and Nanak did not subscribe to the Bhagavata Purana tradition of Bhakti and they rejected the Brahmanical and scriptural authority totally. Nathpanthi preachers known as Siddhas who belonged to the lower castes – Doma, Chamara, washermen, oil-pressers, fishermen, woodcutters, cobbler, etc., became popular by 13th and 14th centuries. They allowed anyone irrespective of caste to be initiated into Nathpanthi sect.
These Nathpanthis are non-conformists and opposed to the Brahmanical tradition. There is a strong view that the Bhakti movement of the Sultanate period was the outcome of Islamic influence and in particular Sufism, both before and after the 12th century. It cannot be denied that Islam did influence the Bhakti movement and in particular the popular monotheistic movement. Likewise the Sufi concepts of Pir and mystic union with the god coincide with the non-conformist saint’s concepts of Guru and devotional surrender to god. An interaction direct or indirect between Islam and the Bhakti movement is inevitable because of their existing side by side for many decades and of common features like the worship of one god, who can be Rama, Vishnu, Siva or Allah.
In the domain of culture, another feature is the growth of Sufism or Tassawwif, which has the aim of establishing direct communion between God and man through personal experience of Islamic mysticism. Sufism was based on the spirit of Quaranic piety. The Sufis, besides following Shariath also wanted to develop direct communion with God. Sufis,
(1) Stressed the importance and need to follow the Sufi path or Tariqa to reach divine reality or Haquiqat,
(2) Advocated that one has to pass through different stages Muqqameet and changing psychological states of mind to experience God,
(3) Stressed that a spiritual preceptor only can guide one to reach God,
(4) Believed that a disciple progresses through the stages of self-mortification and chanting of God’s name to attain Zikr or concentration and contemplation.
The Sufis also believe in music recital or Soma as a mechanism to induce mystical state of ecstasy in a disciple. The Sufis are divided into various orders or Silsila in the name of a particular Sufi saint. Each Sufi order has a hospice or centre (Khanquah) where the Pir or spiritual Guru imparted spiritual training to a disciple and these hospices were maintained by endowments and charity. Sufism developed from the 7th to the 13th centuries and had its beginnings in India from the 11th century. Al Huzwari, the author of Kashf-ul-Malyub, a Persian treatise of Sufism, was the earliest to settle in India and he is said to have lived around AD 1088. But Sufism became popular during the Sultanate period.
During this period, we notice the prevalence of six orders:
(1) The Suhrawardi Silsila,
(2) The Chisti Silsila,
(4) The Qadiri,
(5) The Shattari, and
(6) The Qalandari Silsila.
Of the above orders, the Chisti Silsila was popular. The founder of Suhrawardi Silsila was Sheik Baharddin Zakariya, who lived during the period AD 1182 to 1262. The founder of the Chisti Silsila was Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, who came to India with Muhammad Ghori and settled in Ajmer about AD 1206,. Even today his tomb at Ajmer is a great pilgrimage centre. Sufis played a crucial role in the social life of the period. We notice a sort of distrust between the Ulemas and the Sufis because of differences in practices. There was a cultural synthesis in the art, music and literature of this period.
Art and Architecture:
It is generally accepted that a culture of the period is truly manifested in art and architecture as they are the visual expressions of the mind and spirit of the society in time and space. The period of Delhi Sultanate heralded a new expression in art. During that period, what is now called Indo-Islamic art took shape. Painting, calligraphy and book illumination also flourished in this period. The structural remains of the palaces, mosques and temples that are wholly or partially in well-preserved condition reveal the style and techniques employed by the builders. They used lime mortar as the basic cementing material.
The artisans started using the true arches and vaults and domes instead of lintel and beam. Percy Brown records that in the buildings of the Khilji period a new method of stone masonry was practised. Gypsum was commonly used to plaster buildings.
The decorative element of Sultanate architecture was based on calligraphy, geometry and foliation. As calligraphy formed an important element of decoration, the Quaranic sayings were inscribed on buildings in an angular, sober and monumental script, known as Kuft. These are written on stone, stucco and painting. Geometric shapes are used in bewildering variety of combination on buildings. They used circles to develop a square, a triangle or a polygon of the foliations; the most common feature appears to be a stem-and-leaves combination.
Indo-Islamic architecture begins in the year in AD 1198 with the completion of Jama Masjid or Quwatul Islam which was built after destroying a number of Hindu and Jain temples. As this mosque was constructed by Indian artisans, we find Indian influence in this mosque, but from the construction of Qutub Minar onwards we notice fully Islamic tradition in detail of decoration and construction techniques.
The most celebrated and the most magnificent building of the Delhi Sultanate period was Qutub Minar. Its height is 71.4 metres or 238 feet. Originally its height was only four-storied but Ferozshah Tughlak added the fifth storey. The basic beauty lies in the skillful manner in which balconies have been projected yet linked with the tower by a device called Stalectic honey-combing.
The best example for the early form of Islamic architecture was the mausoleum of Balban buik in AD 1286-87. We notice a marked change in this respect during the time of Khiljis and the characteristic feature of this age is the use of pointed horse-shoe shape of true porch and the emergence of the true dome with recessed arches under the squinch and also the use of new building materials of red sand stone. The other features of this period are decorative marble relief and the appearance of lotus bud foliage on the underside of the arch and the use of profuse geometric and calligraphic motifs.
By the time of Tughlaks, a new style of architecture characterized by the use of stone rubble as the principal building material and plastering of walls in most cases, use of four centred arch, a pointed dome and construction of tombs on octagonal plan. In the final phase Delhi and its surrounding areas emerged as a sprawling grave yard. Stagnation set in the art and architecture of the Sultanate from the 15th century and Delhi Sultanate was replaced by the Mughals in AD 1526.
Besides royal palaces, tombs and mosques, we have evidence of the existence of a number of public buildings, Sarais, bridges, irrigation tanks, wells, dams, Katcheris, prison houses, Kotwali, Dak Chowki, Hammam and Katra or market places. Compared to architecture, painting in this period is less known. We have literary evidence for murals in this period as analysed by Simon Degby. As already explained calligraphy was the most revered art of this period and it was used for decorative purposes in buildings and mosques. The earliest copy of Quran is datable to AD 1399 of Gwalior.
Music does not appear to have received any patronage. Amir Khusru of the time of Alauddin Khilji made significant contribution to music. He is said to have introduced for the first time the Qawwali mode of singing into the country side, Khayal form of singing by abandoning the traditional Dhrupad, and a new musical instrument called sitar by combining the old Indian Vina and the Iranian Tanpura.
The regional states of Bengal, Jaunpur, Gujarat, Malwa, and the Deccan kingdoms of Gulbarga, and Vijayanagara too patronized art and architecture. Interestingly, both painting and art and architecture developed at the same place in all the regions. Satish Chandra aptly remarks “thus, we not only see an outburst of architectural activity but a coming together of the Muslim and Hindu traditions and forms of architecture in the various regional kingdoms which arose during the 15th century, attempts were made to combine the style of architecture which had developed at Delhi with regional architectural traditions”.
Language and Literature:
It is generally assumed that due to the change of political power into the hands of the Muslims, Sanskrit would be neglected but what happened was different. Sanskrit remained a link language of entire India and Sanskrit literature flourished in this period. It is a fact that Persian had become the court or official language and yet there was no decline in the quality of literary output in Sanskrit.
Kavyas, philosophical treatises, grammar, drama, stories, books on science on astronomy, medicine and digests of law books and commentaries on Vedas were produced in large numbers during this period. Arabic, the language of Prophet Muhammad and of Islamic theology and religion was in limited prominence as it was used by a band of Islamic scholars and philosophers.
Many Arabic scholars sought asylum in India in the reign of Iltutmish, when Bukhara was sacked by Chengiz Khan. Mujuddin Ferozabadi prepared a great Arabic dictionary Qatns under the patronage of Ferozshah Tughlak with the help of Sanskrit scholars. Arabic was promoted and patronized by provincial rulers also. We also notice great interaction between the languages of Sanskrit and Persian. In the middle of the 14th century Zia Nakshabid was the first scholar to translate Sanskrit stories into Persian. Zian-ul-abedin, the well-known Kashmiri ruler of the 15th century got Mahabharata and Rajatarangani translated into Persian.
The languages of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Assamese, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, also received impetus during this age from the regional kingdoms. The growing Bhakti or devotionalism also contributed to the growth of literature in these regional languages.
The period of Delhi Sultanate was a formative period of significance in the history of India, which moulded the spirit of Indian culture and civilisation. We may concluded this article by agreeing with Satish Chandra that the Sultanate period far from being a dark age as postulated by some, saw the breaking of the rigid, narrow economic and social mould which had dominated the country between the 8th through 12th centuries and created an atmosphere for a limited development.
During the rule of the Ghaznavids in Punjab a new language, Persian was introduced. The earliest known Persian poet was Masud Sad Salman. Among the Persian poets. Amir Khusru stands as a colossus. The rule of the Khiljis was a very significant period in the growth and promotion of Persian literature. Amir Khusru’s original name was Abdul Hasan. He was a prolific and versatile writer and it is said that he composed half a million verses and 99 works on different themes. His poetry consists of genres of lyric, ode, epic and elegy.
Amir Khusru created a new style of Persian which later on came to be known as Sabaq-i-Hindi or the Indian style. Mutla-ul-Amvas, Shirin Khasran, Laila Majnu, AlYina-i-Sikindari and Hasli Bhishit are regarded as the literary masterpieces. These are dedicated to Alauddin Khilji. He also composed Diwans and also wrote Masnauis or narratives of the Delhi Sultanate.
Amir Khusru was born in India of an immigrant Turk. He loved India very dearly. He proudly says “I have praised India for two reasons; Firstly, because India is the land of my birth and our country. Love of the country is an important obligation. Hindustan is like heaven. Its climate is better than that of Khurasan. It is green and full of flowers all the year round. The Brahmins here are as learned as Aristotle and there are many scholars in various fields”. Khusru composed verses in Hindavi or Hindi and paved the way for the future development of the Urdu language.
Sheik Nizamudin Hasan was a well-known poet in Persian and was a friend and contemporary of Amir Khusru. Bahmani rulers patronized Persian poets. Historical works like Tabaqat-i-nasiri of Minhaj Siraj, Futuha-s-Salatifi of Isami and Tarikh-i-Firozshi of Sham Siraj Afif were produced during this period.
Sultan Ferozshah Tughlak was also the author of Futuhat-i-Firuzshah. It is an important historical work of significance. One the greatest historians of this period was Ziauddin Barauni, whose work Tarikh-i-Firozshi is also a good example of history. He also wrote a book on political theory called Fatwa-i-Jahandani.
A number of religious and philosophical works were written in Persian during this period. The Sufi preachers wrote their discourses in Persian and of them Fawaid-u-Fuid written by Amir Hasan Sifzi deals with the conversations or discourses of Sheik Nizamudin Auliya, the famous Chisti Sufi saint and scholars Mir Khwurdis. Siyaram-ul-Aulia is the well-known biographical dictionary of the Sufi saints.
Causes for the fall of Delhi Sultanate:
In the historical process of any country the rise and fall of dynasties of kingdoms is a natural phenomenon. Internal and external factors facilitate the atmosphere for the rise and fall of kingdoms. Cumulative effect of both internal and external factors was responsible for this phenomenon.
The disintegration of the Delhi Suhanate was not sudden but it began by the end of the reign of Ferozshah Tughlak in AD 1388 and it was completed by the invasion of Timur who caused destruction of the city of Delhi between the years of AD 1398-99. Timur’s invasion resulted in the spread of death and destruction in Delhi and its neighbourhood and also carried away a number of artisans to beautify Samarqand.
Definitely, this invasion paralysed the Delhi Sultanate beyond recovery, though it lingered for more than a century. Some attribute the disintegration to the actions of Muhammad bin Tughlak and the bigotry of Ferozshah Tughlak. But it is to be remembered that no individual Sultan can be held responsible for the downfall. It is the deep-rooted regionalism and a number of political chiefs of regions who were waiting for an opportunity to rise and declare independence as and when they found weaknesses in the central government.
The Sultans tried to stop this trend by creating a band of slaves, loyal to them and also loyal people among the nobility. But the individual selfishness was also responsible for the failure of these checks. Religion could hardly unite people and it could not prevent rebellion from kith and kin. The problem of succession also hastened the disintegration of the Delhi Sultanate. All these factors were responsible for the failure of the Sultanate.