¤ 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.
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 Sultans 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 Balbans
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 Balbans old age and the distance that separated
them, Balbans 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 couldnt 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
¤ 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. Balbans 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
For all his affected severity, Balban must have been a devoted family
man. When he came to know of his sons 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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