The below mentioned article provides a biography of Muhammad Bin Tughluq.
Three days after the death of his father either in February or March 1325 A.D., prince Jauna Khan alias Ulugh Khan ascended the throne of Delhi and was called Muhammad Bin Tughluq. He remained at Tughluqabad for forty days and then entered Delhi where he was heartily welcomed.
He too, on his part, lavishly distributed gold and silver among his subjects and high offices to his loyal officers. Whatever might be the role of Muhammad Tughluq in the death of his father but none opposed him when he ascended the throne.
The character and achievements of Muhammad Tughluq have provoked such a large scale controversy among historians as no other ruler of medieval Indian history has claimed. It is not that contemporary records are not available regarding his reign.
On the contrary, three eminent contemporary historians, viz., Isami, Barani and Ibn Batuta have given detailed description of the events of his reign. Yet, it is surprising that historians have failed to form unanimous opinion about his character, achievements, motives and even about the order and dates of his works.
Muhammad Tughluq is an attractive figure of medieval Indian history. Not only his character and works but also his ambitious schemes and their successes and failures too have been regarded attractive and surprising. He inherited a vast empire from his father and extended it further so much so that no other Sultan of Delhi ruled over such vast territories as he did.
Yet, with ten years of his accession on the throne, his empire began to disintegrate and he failed to keep intact even those territories which he had inherited. The same way, though he inherited an overflowing treasury and enriched it further, yet, he faced economic hardships.
Besides, he innovated liberal principles and policies which were ahead of his age. He was liberal in religious affairs, developed diplomatic relations with distant countries like China. Iran and Egypt, neglected all class and race distinctions, assigned offices strictly on merit and carried out certain new schemes of reforms. Yet, he displeased his subjects, faced the largest number of revolts of his subjects and nobles and, ultimately, failed.
Theory of Kingship and Religious Concepts:
The theory of kingship of Muhammad Tughluq was divine theory of kingship. He believed that he became Sultan because of the will of God. Therefore, he believed in absolute powers of the Sultan. Like Ala-ud-din, Muhammad Tughluq did not permit any individual or any class to interfere in his administration. His ministers and officers were simply his subordinates to carry out his orders. None of them wielded any independent power or dared to advise him.
At times, the Sultan consulted only Barani, yet, his decision was always his own. The Sultan did not permit even the Ulema class to interfere in his administration. During early period of his reign, he neither sought recognition of Khalifa nor inscribed his name on his coins. The Sultan did nothing against Islam nor did he desire to flout the principles of Islam but he was not prepared to accept the interference of religion or that of any religious class in his administration.
The Ulema class enjoyed monopoly over administration of justice. He broke up that monopoly and appointed Qazis outside this class of people. He used to change the decisions of Qazis whenever he found them unjust and discriminating. If a religious man was found guilty of corruption or rebellion, he was punished like any other ordinary person. Thus, nobody was above laws of the land.
That is why the Ulema class became antagonistic to Muhammad Tughluq and spread discontentment against him. Muhammad Tughluq had to compromise with this class during later years of his reign. He inscribed the name of the Khalifa on his coins, sought recognition of his office from him in 1340 A.D. and invited Ghiyas-ud-din Muhammad, one distant relative of the Khalifa of Egypt, to his court. Ghiyas-ud-din was a pauper and wielded no influence with the Khalifa, yet Sultan Muhammad paid him respect out of proportion and gave him jagir and costly presents.
Muhammad Tughluq was the first Sultan of Delhi who attempted for the administrative and cultural unity of the north and south India. Probably, he shifted his capital to Devagiri primarily to achieve this object. Muhammad Tughluq permitted everybody to enter the services of the state on merit. He was the first Sultan of Delhi who assigned high posts not only to the Hindus but also to people of humble families and castes.
Dr Irfan Habib has expressed that the nobility of Muhammad Tughluq consisted of not only nobles of high families but also of other different groups particularly the Mongols, foreign Muslims, the Hindus, etc. Another novelty of Muhammad Tughluq was that he maintained diplomatic relations with several foreign countries like China, Iraq, Syria, etc. and exchanged ambassadors with some of them. Thus, there is no doubt that Muhammad Tughluq pursued several innovations in different fields. It is another matter that how far he succeeded or failed in carrying out chose innovations.
Muhammad Tughluq was tolerant towards his Hindu subjects. He was the first Sultan of Delhi who distributed offices on merit and gave respectable offices to the Indian Muslims and the Hindus also. In this field, he was ahead of his time. Probably, this was one reason why contemporary Muslim historians commented against him.
Yet, with all his liberal attitude, Muhammad Tughluq failed to get admiration and sympathy of his subjects. But the reason was not his attitude but the failure of his schemes and oppressive execution of his policies.
The Mongol Invasion:
During the reign of Muhammad Tughluq, the Mongols attacked only once. The Chaghtai Chief Ala-ud-din Tarmashirin of Transoxiana, attacked India in 1327 A.D. at the head of a powerful Mongol army. Dr M. Hussain contends that Tarmashirin was defeated by Amir Choban near Ghazni in 1326 A.D. and therefore, came to India as refugee.
Muhammad Tughluq gave him 5,000 dinars by way of help and then Tarmashirin returned. But this version of Dr Hussain has not been accepted by the majority of modern historians. They all agree that the Mongols came as aggressors and ravaged the country from Multan and Lahore to the vicinity of Delhi. However, these historians also differ as to how Muhammad Tughluq dealt with them.
According to Isami, the Mongols were defeated by the army of the Sultan near Meerut and forced to retreat. Sir Woolseley Haig has accepted this version of Isami. Firishta differed with Isami and holds the view that the Sultan gave the Mongols huge presents and, thus, bribed them to return back. Dr A.L. Srivastava and Dr Iswari Prasad have supported the viewpoint of Ferishta.
In view of the fact that the Mongols could reach the vicinity of Delhi without any resistance and turned back without fighting a battle, their contention seems more correct. It showed the weakness of the Sultan and also his neglect towards the defence of his north-west frontier.
However, he took preventive measures to safeguard his north-west frontier after the return of the Mongols. According to Isami the Sultan occupied Peshawar and Kalanor in Punjab and made arrangements for their defence.
Extension of the Empire (Foreign Policy):
Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq had pursued the policy of annexation. Muhammad Tughluq followed the foot-steps of his father. Whatever territories he conquered, he annexed them to the Delhi Sultanate and thus, extended its territories to the extent which no other Sultan of Delhi had even attempted. According to Isami, the Sultan conquered Peshawar and Kalanor after the return of the Mongols.
1. Plan to conquer Khurasan and Iraq:
During early years of his reign, Muhammad Tughluq planned to conquer Khurasan and Iraq. The unstable political condition of Central Asia and instigation of those nobles who had fled from Persia and Iraq and gathered at his court inspired the Sultan to undertake this project.
The Sultan raised a huge army of 3,70,000 soldiers for this purpose and paid it one year’s salary in advance. But very soon the conditions in Persia and Central Asia changed and the Sultan realised the futility of his scheme.
Therefore, he abandoned the scheme and the army was dispersed. The scheme, thus, taxed the economic resources of the empire without any fruitful result. The soldiers who were turned out of service also felt discontented against the Sultan.
2. Conquest of Nagarkot (1337 A.D.):
The fort of Nagarkot was in Kangra district in Punjab. No Muslim ruler had conquered it by then and it was in the hands of a Hindu king. Muhammad Tughluq conquered it though he restored it back to its ruler after his acceptance of suzerainty of Delhi.
3. Expedition to Qarajal (1337-38 A.D.):
The State of Qarajal has been called by different names by historians, viz., Ourachal, Kumachal, Kurmachal, Farajal, etc. It was situated at the foot of the Himalayas, probably, in the region now called Kumaun and extended up to the Terai.
According to Firishta, the Sultan’s primary motive was not conquest of Qarajal but that of China. Barani described it as a preliminary step to the conquest of Khurasan and Transoxiana. Both views have been rejected by modern historians.
They say that the Sultan desired to bring under his suzerainty those hill-chiefs who used to provide shelter to rebels against the Sultan. Besides, the conquest would have protected his northern frontier. The Sultan organised a huge army for this expedition. Ibn Batuta says that it consisted of a hundred thousand horsemen besides a large number of infantry. The command of his army was handed over to Khusru Malik. The army conquered the city of Jidya.
According to Professor K.A. Nizami, when Khusru Malik, against the wishes of the Sultan, proceeded towards Tibet, then he met the fate of Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khalji. All his army was destroyed and according to Ibn Batuta, only three officers could come back alive. However, the peasants in the Terai-region sued peace with the Sultan and agreed to pay taxes. Thus, the expedition proved a failure and it adversely affected the military strength of the Sultan.
4. South India:
Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq had annexed Telingana and large part of Malabar coast (Pandya kingdom). Muhammad Tughluq made fresh annexations in the South. He got this opportunity due to the revolt of Bha-ud- din Gurshasp during early period of his reign. Gurshasp was a cousin of the Sultan and acted as governor of Sagar near Gulburga. He revolted but was defeated in 1327 A.D. He sought shelter with the Hindu king of Kampili.
The rulers of Kampili had been feudatories to the rulers of Devagiri but the state had asserted its independence after the capture of Devagiri by the Delhi Sultanate. The then ruler, Kampili Deva, who gave shelter to Gurshasp died fighting against the forces of Delhi. However, before his death, he had managed to send Gurshasp under the protection of Ballal III, ruler of the Hoysala kingdom. Kampili was annexed to the Delhi Sultanate.
Ballal III failed to protect Gurshasp and was defeated. He handed over Gurshasp to the Sultan and accepted his suzerainty. A large part of his territory was annexed to the Delhi Sultanate.
Muhammad Tughluq captured Kondhana or Singharh from Nag Nayak. It was in the vicinity of Devagiri. Therefore, its conquest was necessary for the Sultan.
Muhammad Tughluq, thus, conquered greater part of south India and annexed it to the Delhi Sultanate.
Muhammad failed to get any success in Rajasthan. On the contrary, Jayja, son of Maldeo was forced to leave Mewar and it was occupied by Rana Hammir Deo. Hammir Deo succeeded in defeating an army sent by Muhammad Tughluq against him. The Sultan, afterwards, did not interfere much in the affairs of Rajasthan and that helped in the rise of the state of Mewar.
Thus, Muhammad Tughluq largely succeeded in carrying out his schemes of conquests. Of course, he failed at some places, yet his empire was more extensive than any other Sultan of Delhi. Dr R.C. Majumdar writes- “The authority of the Sultan was acknowledged all over India, save Kashmir, Orissa, Rajasthan and a strip of Malabar coast, and he established an effective system of administration over this vast empire.”
But, Muhammad Tughluq could not enjoy his success for long. Just after ten years, his empire began to disintegrate. The Sultan had to face many rebellions. The Sultan suppressed most of them but some of them succeeded and independent kingdoms were formed in distant provinces of the empire. Thus, though Muhammad Tughluq succeeded in extending his empire, he failed to keep it intact for long. A large part of it was lost by him during the later years of his reign.
Of course, Muhammad Tughluq failed due to certain general causes viz., India was a sub-continent; there was difficulty of transport and communication in those days and India had not experienced political and administrative unity since long. But the failure of his schemes of internal reforms, his scheme for conquest of Khurasan, his expedition to Qarajal and destruction of his best army by plague and famine in the South also contributed to his failure.
Muhammad Tughluq established good relations with some Asian countries. Probably he kept diplomatic relations with Egypt. Tooghan Timmur, the then Chinese emperor, sent an envoy to Delhi in 1341 A.D. The Sultan, in return, sent Ibn Batuta as his envoy to the Chinese court in 1342 A.D. who came back to India in 1347 A.D. Besides, Muslims from foreign countries came to India in large numbers during his reign.
Rebellions and Disintegration of the Empire:
Many revolts occurred during the reign of Muhammad Tughluq. A few of them were attempted by his ambitious nobles. But, most of them were either the results of his oppressive policy or because of his failure to keep state affairs under his control. Some of them succeeded and, thus, led to the disintegration of his empire.
1. The first rebellion was that of Bha-ud-din Gurshasp in 1326 A.D. He was defeated and, ultimately, captured in 1327 A.D. He was flayed alive, his flesh cooked with rice was sent to his wife and children and his skin, stuffed with straw, was exhibited in the principal cities of the empire.
2. In 1327-28 A.D., Bahram Aiba alias Kishlu Khan, governor of Uch, Sindh and Multan, revolted against the Sultan. He was the guardian of the northwestern frontier of the empire. Therefore, his rebellion was a serious affair. He was a friend of the late Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din and even Sultan Muhammad respected him. But he refused to send his family to the new capital viz., Daultabad and killed the messenger of the Sultan.
The Sultan who was in the Deccan at that time hurriedly advanced against him. Bahram Aiba fled away but was captured and killed. His head was hung up at the gate of the city as a warning to others.
3. There was a revolt in Bengal in 1327-28 A.D. Ghiyas-ud-din Bahadur who was taken to Delhi as captive by the late Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq was released by Muhammad and sent back to Sonargaon to rule jointly with Bahram Khan, cousin of the Sultan. He revolted after three years. However, he was defeated and killed by Bahram Khan. His skin, stuffed with straw, was sent to the Sultan.
But Bahram Khan died soon and the officers in Bengal began to quarrel among themselves. However, one loyal noble, Ali Mubarak captured Lakhnauti and requested the Sultan to send somebody as governor. When the Sultan failed to respond to his request, he declared himself as ruler of Bengal assuming the title of Sultan Ala-ud-din.
After some time, however, he was killed by another noble, Haji Iliyas who captured both Lakhnauti and Sonargaon and assumed the title of Sultan Shams-ud-din. The Sultan could not pay any attention towards Bengal and it thus became independent by 1340-41 A.D.
4. Revolts occurred in Sunam, Samana, Kara, Bidar, Gulbarga, Oudh and Multan as well. However, the Sultan succeeded in suppressing them all.
5. In 1334-35 A.D., Sayyid Ahsan Shan, Governor of Malabar, declared himself as an independent ruler. The Sultan marched against him personally but the news reached him that there was a revolt in Lahore. Therefore, he retraced back and Malabar became an independent kingdom.
6. During the same time, the Hindus succeeded in establishing independent kingdom at Telingana and Kanchi and foundation of the strong kingdom of Vijayanagara was laid down by Harihara and Bukka in 1336 A.D.
7. In 1347 A.D. foundation of an independent Muslim kingdom was laid down in Maharashtra. It was the Bahmani kingdom. The Sultan had recalled Qutlugh Khan from Daultabad which was resented by the nobles there. He sent Aziz Himar as subedar of Malwa which was one of his another mistakes. Aziz Himar got many foreign Muslims killed which resulted in rebellion of foreign nobles in Gujarat.
The revolt of Gujarat was suppressed. But then, the revolt broke out at Daultabad. The rebels declared one noble, Ismail as Sultan Nasir- ud-din. The Sultan himself went to Daultabad and suppressed the revolt. In the meantime, the news reached him that another revolt had broken out in Gujarat under a noble called Taghi. The Sultan immediately left for Gujarat.
As soon as he left Daultabad, the rebels captured it and this time raised Hasan Abul Muzaffar to the throne with the title of Ala-ud-din Bahmanshah. The Sultan could pay no more attention towards the Deccan and, thus, the foundation of great Bahmani kingdom was laid down.
8. In Gujarat, the revolt was led by foreign nobles. It had resulted in revolts at Malwa, Berar and Daultabad. The first revolt in Gujarat was suppressed by Naib Vazir. But, while the Sultan was at Daultabad, another widespread revolt broke out in Gujarat under Taghi who, probably, commanded the sympathy of the people. The Sultan himself marched to Gujarat to suppress the revolt. Taghi did not offer any resistance but fled from one place to another eluding the Sultan and his officers.
Ultimately, he realised the futility of resistance to the Sultan and fled away to Sindh where too there was a revolt against the Sultan. The Sultan brought about peace and order in Gujarat and then proceeded towards Sind to capture Taghi and suppress the revolt there.
Death of Muhammad Tughluq:
While the Sultan marched towards Sindh, he fell ill. Hardly had he reached near Thatta, when he died of sickness on 20 March 1351 A.D. Badauni commented- “The king was freed from his people and they from their king.”
Thus, Muhammad Tughluq remained busy throughout his reign in suppressing revolts and even died while suppressing one of them. Probably, no other Sultan of Delhi faced such a large number of revolts which made their headway right from early period of his reign. Most of them were because of his faulty policies, their faulty execution and attitudes of the Sultan himself.
The Sultan succeeded in suppressing a large number of them but during later years of his reign failed to suppress some of them because of lack of money, loss of military strength due to continuous warfare and increasing dissatisfaction among the people and nobles which enlarged the area and number of revolts. It, ultimately, resulted in disintegration of his empire.