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India - Delhi - Ghiyas-ud-din Balban

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban


¤ The Greatest Sultan of Slave Dynasty


Ghiyas-ud-din Balban was undoubtedly the greatest Sultan of the Slave dynasty. He was not one of those overnight successes. He had risen to power the hard way – by dint of work, will power and some astute politics. Who would have thought that the young Ilbari Turk who had been captured by Mongols and sold in Ghazni was destined to rule the throne of Delhi.

 BalbanThrough a twist of fate in 1232AD Altamash bought Balban, along with other slaves. Once in Delhi, Balban started displaying the sagacity he has always been credited with. His first step towards the limelight was when he managed to become part of the Sultan’s elite Chahelgan (The Forty) slaves. Under the reign of Raziya Sultan, Balban rose a step closer to the throne – he was appointed the Amir-I-Shikar or the Lord of the Hunt. From there on Balban, as the cliché goes, never really looked back. Slowly but steadily he climbed the rungs of power in both the court of Delhi and the military establishment.


¤ Balban Inherited A Throne

In 1253 there was a temporary lull when he fell out of favor with the then Naib (Prime Minister), and hence the Sultan. However Balban dealt with this in his characteristic ruthless way by simply eliminating the Naib and taking over his seat. By this time of course Balban had become one of those too-powerful people who can neither be ignored nor clutched to the bosom by the Sultan. So in a way Balban’s ascendancy to the throne had become inevitable, the only remaining question was when. His moment finally came when the sainted Nasir-ud-din Mahmud died in 1266.

Balban inherited a throne that had been discredited by weak predecessors. The nobility was only too eager to break away, particularly those on the fringe of the Sultanate. Repeated raids from the Mongols (who had been camping along the Indus for sometime, and hung in there till 1270) and highly effective guerrilla warfare from the Rajputs put the Sultanate financially and militarily on the backfoot. It had become completely vital that the Turkish power in India be consolidated.


¤ Balban Proved Once Again With His All Valor

Balban, fortunately, was just the right man for the task. He put down rebellions with such determined severity that the nobility and Rajputs were reined in for good. He set fierce Afghan troops after the rebels in the Doab region so that the entire area was flushed clean of opposition. In the troublesome area of Rohilakhand, he let loose such a reign of terror (villages were burnt, the entire male population put to death and so on) that the area was petrified into a long silence.

Encouraged by Balban’s old age and the distance that separated them, Balban’s former colleague Tughril Khan declared independence in Bengal. This piece of poor judgement cost him his life – his head was cut off and body thrown in a river. Barani tells us that ‘on either side of the principal bazaar (of Lakhnauti, now Lucknow), in a street more than two miles in length, a row of stakes was set up and the followers of Tughril were speared upon them. None of the beholders had ever seen a spectacle so terrible and many swooned with terror.’


¤ A Successful Military Operator

No wonder that Balban had little or no trouble with rebels from here on. Next he prepared to tackle the Mongols, which posed a slight problem. Balban was an extremely shrewd military operator and the rule he lived by was not to trust anyone. He never travelled so far from Delhi that he couldn’t turn back at the first hint of trouble. But to fight the Mongols he had to meet them at the frontiers which meant leaving Delhi.

However he was a firm believer in action and therefore loath timidly wait and watch. So he adopted a two-fold policy to deal with the Mongols. First of all he set up well-equipped fortresses, garrisoned by soldier-farmers along the route of the invaders all the way up to the western frontiers. These forts were always to be in a state of readiness for military action and were put in the charge of experienced and battle-scarred generals. In case of need, new forts could be set up with amazing speed and efficiency. Finally he himself led raids against the Khokars and the Mongols which, while not having any far-reaching effect, were at least immediately successful. After various experiments with other generals, which failed, Balban put his own son Muhammad in charge of the border areas which turned out to be more effective.


¤ Created Secure Environ For The New Dynasties To Come

Despite these tactics, the Mongols led two great invasions into India, in 1279 and 1285AD. They were defeated and driven away, but the expense was great: Muhammad was killed and the poet Amir Khusro was captured in battle. Balban eventually came to terms with the fact that his authority was unquestioned upto Lahore but beyond that the ungovernable hills were the territory of the freewheeling Mongols.

Balban eventually never set up a dynasty, but he did make Delhi safe and organized enough for the dynasties to come. A complete autocrat, Balban brought the magnificence and majesty back to the throne of Delhi. He struck awe and terror in the hearts of people by his heavy-handed military policies and discouraged familiarity by the sheer grandeur of his court. As soon as he came to the throne he stopped entertaining friends and drinking wine, lest anyone should feel he was still one of the lads and could be counted upon for a favor or two.


¤ Strict Rules of The Court Were Laid Dawn

It is said that his court was done up in such an imposingly splendid style that no one dared to raise his eyes to the king. He believed in strict formality between the king and the courtiers – thus keeping an aura of loftiness around the throne. Balban’s ideas on kingship were along the same lines as the divine right to rule theory of the west and he took on the title of Zil-i-Illahi, or the shadow of God on earth. The practise of sijda or prostration and paibos or kissing the feet of the monarch were always part of Turkish culture, but of course no one actually followed them seriously. It must have been a rude shock to the finicky Turkish nobility in Delhi when they realised that Balban intended to amend this and that they were expected to observe both religiously.

The people and nobility of Delhi would have scoffed at all these airs had these demands not been backed by solid military strength and administrative efficiency. Balban improved the administration of Delhi out of all knowledge. All the hiccups in its smooth functioning were removed with the same dogged persistence as the rebels had been crushed. Having himself been the member of the Chahelgan (The Forty Slaves), he knew that they were simply too powerful to allow a Sultan to reign in peace. So he systematically dealt blow after blow to their power and ultimately squashed them. Balban also rightly concluded that, for a king, knowledge is power, so he established an extremely efficient system of espionage. Spies were put in all departments filtering down to every province and district. He left behind him a well-oiled machinery for government that would serve well for years to come.

For all his affected severity, Balban must have been a devoted family man. When he came to know of his son’s death, he was struck with such grief that he died soon after. But thanks to his work, Delhi and the Sultanate survived.



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