History of Islam in India

The Sultanates of Delhi

Muhammad of Ghor was slain by a vengeful group of enemies called the Ghakkars of Panjab while he was sleeping at night in one of his many campaigns to secure his borders.  His Turkish commanders, chief and most successful amongst them being a slave called Qutb-ud-din Aibak, had mostly achieved Muhammad’s predatory work in India.  He was the most trusted one in the cabal of Muhammad of Ghor and was named as the sultan of Delhi.  Qutb-ud-din came to power after a bloody struggle, which is the norm after any succession battle of Muslim India.  He became the founder of the Slave Dynasty (because they were slaves at one time) and came to power in 1206.  He only ruled for four short years and died in 1210, when he fell from his pony while playing polo and the pony landed on him.  The pommel of the saddle entered his chest and killed him instantaneously.  He was buried in Lahore.  

In those four years as the Sultan of Delhi he commissioned and built the famous Qutb minar and the Qutb mosque of Delhi.  Qutb minar was the pride of the dynasty.  Built from the pillars and bricks taken from twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples (and said to be built at the site of a citadel the Chauhans built for Prithviraj), it boasted of five tiered balconies that stood atop Delhi as a sign of the Muslim conquest of India. (Its topmost cupola fell during an earthquake in 1803). 

Aibak also gained notoriety as a temple destroyer.  Varanasi saw the wrath of both Muhammad of Ghor and Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who reputedly destroyed thousand temples.  Fourteen hundred camels loaded with treasure were hauled away.  Between Muhammad and Aibak, a total of thousand idols in temples were destroyed and rededicated to Allah.  Aibak also found the easy solution for building mosques quickly.  By utilizing the cut stones and carved pillars of the glorious temples, he built many mosques in rapid succession.  In Ajmer, temple pillars were stacked one on top of the other to build his mosque of requisite height as the prayer chamber.  Only remoteness of some temples saved them from sure destruction as seen in, Bhuvaneshwar and Mount Abu.  Khajuraho had been abandoned by the Chandelas earlier and escaped notice.  Konarak was built later.  Surely many smaller kingdoms and tribes resisted Aibak’s progress but such opposition is not well documented.  India had begun to taste the wrath of religious offensive by Islam under the commander of Muhammad of Ghor, Qutb-ud-din Aibak.

Shams-ud-din Iltumish, another slave of Turkish extraction, who also was the son in law of Aibak, succeeded Aibak after the customary confusion and bloodbath.  It was during his rule of twenty-six years that the tumultuous period was witnessed in the Muslim world in Central Asia.  Genghis Khan was wreaking havoc with his ruthless invasion.  Refugees from Persia, Iraq and Afghanistan came to India in large numbers.  Iltumish also had to contend with the notorious Khan when he crossed the Indus in the year 1222.  In the east, Bihar and Bengal were under the Khiljis, a dissatisfied group of Afghans, who came along with Muhammad of Ghor.  Now they fortified their position in the east under their founder Bhaktiar Khilji.  Their claim to infamy was the total destruction of the famous Buddhist monastery in Odantapuri, along with its large library of Buddhist literature even before they understood who the monks were.  Shaven headed monks were branded as infidels not worthy of God’s mercy and slaughtered in thousands, in cold blood, and then their precious library set ablaze.  Iltumish spent many years trying to subdue the Khiljis with varying degrees of success.

After Iltumish’s death (who amazingly died of natural causes, a feat so rare that a special mention of it is made by contemporary historians), the rule fell to an ineffective son.  The son along with his vindictive mother tried to rule but was toppled by the daughter of Iltumish, one named Raziya Sultana.  Raziya was wise, generous and just.  However, she was handicapped by her gender in the Muslim world.  Her able rule and power lasted only four years from 1236 to 1240.  Raziya’s rule was considered to be scandal ridden because of her close relationship with a personal attendant, an African (Abyssinian) slave Jamal-ud-din Yakut.  Male chauvinist Turkish junta cornered her while in Panjab and imprisoned her after killing her Abyssinian friend and confidante.  While in custody, she fell in love with and married one of her conspirators and launched an attack on Delhi, only to be defeated and killed by Hindu hands while fleeing from the battlefield.  If the war strategy had been left to Raziya, she certainly would have won but as a married woman she had to defer to her husband, who was inept in the battlefield.

Mongols sacked Lahore again in 1241.  After Raziya’s death another period of quick and ineffectual succession battle ensued and Raziya’s brother Nasir-ud-din occupied the throne.  A slave, Ghiyas-ud-din Balban (? Brother-in-law), however, was effectively conducting the policy during Nasir-ud-din’s rule.  Balban eventually poisoned the sultan and assumed the throne in 1265.  He was an able administrator and rebuffed several Mongol incursions by Genghis Khan’s grandsons (who by now, also had embraced Islam).  But this was a lifelong battle for Balban and he lost one his most capable sons to a skirmish with the Mongols.  Balban never recovered from this loss and now well into his eighties, eerie echoes of his howling with grief could be heard in the palace hallways, at nights.  During the day he would conduct the business of court with a grim face.  Only death in 1287 brought relief to the tortured soul of Balban. 

A grandson followed, who had a merry time during his reign of three carefree years.  Overindulging in fun and frolic, in the company of silver-bodied damsels with musky tresses, he spent much of his time in lubricious activity.  Ladies of pleasure were everywhere and streets were filled with music and mirth.  Three years of rule of abandon and benign neglect, was followed by the murder of the young and handsome sultan, who was a cripple by now with paralysis below his waist.  A mere toddler son was made the sultan until overrun by the Khilji dynasty, which had risen again in Bengal. Thus ended the eighty-four year rule of the Slave Dynasty.  They left behind the Qutb minar and mosque as well as Iltumish’s tomb with its marble interior as a reminder of their existence, as monuments.  The credit of resisting the Mongol onslaught effectively also goes to the slaves who became kings in Delhi, especially Balban.  The earlier sultans of the Slave Dynasty also have the dubious distinction of having been responsible for the destruction of countless temples in North India, though the attacking Mongols kept the later sultans busy, leaving them with little time for temple destruction.  They are partly responsible for the strange absence of glorious temple structures in the North, while many magnificent temples are preserved in the South. 

Next: Ala-ud-din and Eunuch General


More by :  Dr. Neria H. Hebbar

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30-May-2014 08:23 AM

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