The job of founding Delhis first dynasty was left to the
Khaljis, who came to power in 1290. The Khaljis were an Afghan family
and they used their descent to win over the loyalty of the Afghan
nobles whod felt rather left out under the overwhelmingly
Turkish rule till then. The Khaljis were also in favor of giving high
offices to Indian Muslims, effectively reversing the policy of Balban
who seemed to have believed that the divine right to govern was vested
in the Turks alone.
¤ Jalal-ud-din Feroze Khalji--The Founder of The Dynasty
The new dynasty too had to cut its teeth on rebellions and campaigns
against the Rajputs and Mongols. Jalal-ud-din Feroze Khalji, the
founder of the dynasty, was almost senile by the time he ascended the
throne. Though a powerful military general, he suddenly decided to
follow the path of peace after being crowned. He refused to shed blood
under any circumstances; political expediency be damned. Even
criminals, thugs and rebels could not escape his mercy.
¤ Ala-ud-din Khalji
Fortunately, the aged sultan had an extremely ambitious nephew (and
son-in-law), Ala-ud-din Khalji, who had campaigned in eastern India
and the Deccan with great success. When Ala-ud-din set out to take the
city of Devagiri (under Yadava rule) in 1296 with just 18,000
horsemen, he gave out that he was dissatisfied with his uncle and was
going south to offer his services to any Hindu ruler who was
interested. As a result no one offered him any resistance on the way.
When he entered the boundaries of Devagiri, the Yadava king Raja Rama
Chandra belatedly woke up and decided to offer some resistance.
Ala-ud-din had cleverly timed his visit with a campaign that the
Devagiri army was fighting further south so the king had to capitulate
and pay a vast amount of gold to Ala-ud-din as part of the treaty.
When Ala-ud-din returned to Delhi,
the first thing he did was to have Jalal-ud-din assassinated and crown
himself Sultan. The reign of Ala-ud-din marks the highest point of the
Sultanates political power, both in terms of the area of the
kingdom and the power wielded by the Sultan.
¤ The False Play of Ala-ud-din
However when Ala-ud-din ascended the throne he wouldnt have won
any popularity contests in Delhi. He had outraged the citizens
sense of fairplay and justice by the shocking manner in which he
disposed of his uncle. As Ala-ud-din began his march home from the
south, Jalal-ud-dins well-wishers tried to warn him of his
scheming nephew. However the old Sultan wouldnt hear a word
against him and was keen to welcome Ala-ud-din back from the south.
Meanwhile, Ala-ud-din sent his brother Ulugh Khan to the Sultan with
the message that since he had undertaken the south expedition without
Jalal-ud-dins consent he was scared to present himself at court.
Ulugh Khan cleverly hinted that Ala-ud-din had brought a vast amount
of gold to placate the old ruler. Much moved, Jalal-ud-din himself
went across the river Ganga to bring his nephew back into the family
fold. There Ala-ud-din, following Judass dubious example,
embraced the Sultan and then ordered his head be cut off.
The nobility and the people of Delhi had always been at odds but they
saw eye-to-eye on the assassination of the benign old Jalal-ud-din.
They agreed that it was one of basest murders they had ever seen and
mind you, the people of Delhi had seen a lot. Ala-ud-din won back the
nobility and his people by way of gold. On his way back to Delhi the
new Sultan scattered coins of gold and silver along the way. The same
strategy won over the army too. By October 3, 1296, Ala-ud-din was
proclaimed sultan of Delhi by popular demand. Those who were still
opposed to Ala-ud-din saw a very different face of this gift-bearing
Santa Claus the gritty, calculating and cold-blooded side. He
crushed the powerful lobby of the Jalali nobles who were opposed to
him with clinical ruthlessness.
¤ Zafar Khan--A Ingenious General
One of Ala-ud-dins greatest successes was that he rid India of
the Mongolmenace permanently. The never-say-die Mongols attacked India
several times during his reign. They started out soon after the
coronation of Ala-ud-din early in 1296. However the new sultan proved
to be equal to the crisis he simply thrived on such perils. His
trump card was his extremely shrewd and remarkably ingenious general
Zafar Khan, who was something of a legend in his own lifetime. Such
was his reputation that even the intrepid Mongols revered him. Theres
a story that when their thirsty horses refused water the Mongols used
to urge them on by asking, if they had seen Zafar Khan,
implying that the animals were too frightened of the general to drink
water in front of him. The first invasion of the Mongols was an
abysmal failure with Zafar Khan almost grinding them into the dust.
¤ Mongols Were Successfully Defeated
It says much for the tenacious Mongol spirit that they were back the
very next year and in such strength that they took over the fort of
Siri, just beyond Delhi, which Ala-ud-din had built. This time they
came under a leader who was a legend in his own right, Qutlugh Khwaja,
the feared Central Asian warrior now commanding a force of 2,00,000
Mongols. Ala-ud-din realized that the Mongols meant business. If
Qutlugh Khwaja had come himself it meant war, not for gold but for the
situation was serious enough for the usually individualistic
Ala-ud-din to be forced into take advise from others. Ala-ud-din was
urged to sue for peace as Qutlugh was virtually wiping his feet at the
doorsteps of Delhi.
However Ala-ud-din did not become the sultan by playing it safe.
Qutlugh hadnt reckoned with the audacious, rather maverick,
devil-may-care spirit that made Ala-ud-din a great man and a greater
leader. Machiavellian no doubt, and also somewhat malevolent, but a
great sultan nevertheless. Ignoring all well-meaning advice the young
sultan attacked the Mongols. The advance guard of the army was led by
Zafar Khan himself. He defeated the Mongols again and went off in hot
pursuit of them as they withdrew. However, the wily Qutlugh tricked
Zafar into a position where he was first surrounded and then killed by
the Mongols. Ala-ud-din took this loss calmly Zafar Khan had
been entirely too popular for his comfort anyway. However, the death
of the general did not improve matters for the Mongols. In face of
Ala-ud-dins continued offensives, they had to retreat to the
unconquerable heights from where they had come.
The Mongols took, what was for them, a long time to rally from this
setback. They attacked at the worst time possible for Ala-ud-din
when he was busy laying siege to Chittor. This time the Mongols
travelled light. An army of 12,000 under Targhis leadership
trickled into India like a shadow and moved to Delhi at a pace that
was astonishing even by Mongol standards. Such was the swiftness of
the attack that many governors could not send their troops to Delhi in
Ala-ud-din was forced to duck into Siri and stay put for about two
months. The Mongols stomped through and pillaged not only the
surrounding areas, but Delhi itself. However they could not get into
Siri. Although minor skirmishes were fought, a decisive win eluded
both parties. This deadlock dragged on for more than a couple of
months. In the end when Ala-ud-din must have been rolling his eyes to
heaven and fervently hoping for a miracle to help him, his prayers
The Mongols were a nomadic restless lot, and Targhi was more
impatient than most of them. When Ala-ud-din dug in his heels and
stayed put in his seemingly impregnable fortress for months, Targhi
lost interest in the whole affair, washed his hands of it and ordered
his army to withdraw.
Barani, the contemporary historian at that time, attributed this marvel
to the prayers of the Sufi mystic Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya. However if
one looks closely, other, more earthly, reasons emerge. Ala-ud-dins
defences were so strong and enduring that the whole situation had
really become quite an impasse. He wisely realized that the Mongols
could not hold out forever and had to go home to Central Asia some
time. That was where the Mongol power was concentrated and they could
not afford to be away for too long.
Targhi had to go back with the consolation that he was leaving behind
a much disturbed and thoughtful Ala-ud-din. The seriousness of the
Qutlugh Khwaja and Targhi led Mongol invasions which had left Siri
panting for breath. They forced Ala-ud-din to take stock of the
situation. A defensive measure like hiding in Siri till the Mongol
storm blew over must have gashed his proud spirit. He had the forts
along the border strengthened and equipped with larger garrisons. New,
more effective fortifications were built along this area. A whole new
army, with its own special governor, was created whose portfolio was
managing and guarding the border areas.
Despite these measures, the Mongols under the leadership of Ali Beg
and Tartaq, suddenly appeared in Punjab and the neighbourhood of
Amroha. The Mongols plundered Punjab and burnt everything to cinders
along the way.
But this time Ala-ud-din was ready for them. He sent a strong army
led by two of his toughest generals Ghazi Malik (watch out for more on
him) and the famous evil genius of the sultan Malik Kafur
after them. They surprised the Mongols on their way back to Central
Asia with their plunder. The two generals pooled in their immense
talents and defeated the Mongols. The Mongol generals were captured
and brought back to Siri, along with other prisoners. Ala-ud-din had
the generals trampled to death by elephants while the other prisoners
were put to death and their heads hung from the walls of the fort.
However the Mongols must have had stomachs of cast iron. Even after
the gory treatment meted out to their last expedition, they came in
again in 1306. They crossed the Indus near Multan and were moving
towards the Himalayas, when Ghazi Malik (who was by then the governor
of Punjab) intercepted them. About 50,000 Mongols were made prisoners
including Kubak, their leader. Ala-ud-din put them all to death and
sold their wives and children as slaves. The last Mongol invasion took
place in 1307-8 under Iqbalmand. He had just about managed to cross
the Indus when Ala-ud-dins armies overtook them and put them all
to the sword.
¤ Mongols Never Attack India Again
After 1308, the Mongols did not attack India again. There were a
number of reasons for this. Principal among these was of course that
Ala-ud-din, by repeated ruthlessness, finally managed to drive home
the point that he would deal firmly and mercilessly with invaders into
his territory. This was one of the greatest achievements of Ala-ud-din
Khalji. Only a king of who was as original a thinker and brilliant a
strategist as the Mongols could have reined them in. If the Mongols
had still been serious about an Indian empire, they could have kept
sending armies to India till the cows came home. It is to Ala-ud-dins
credit that he drove the idea of an Indian empire from the heads of
the tough, never-say-die Mongols.
Like any good military strategist, Ala-ud-din thought that the only
way to get the Mongols really off his back was to attack them where it
hurt the most he sent plundering armies under the veteran
general Ghazi Malik to Kandhar, Ghazni and Kabul. The Mongols were
already so much in awe of him that they did not even bother to defend
their own territories against him. These offensives effectively
crippled the Mongol line of control leading to India.
¤ Ala-ud-din - A Successful Military Person
Ala-ud-din has gone down in history as a king known for his
militarism. This was of course because his frontier problems forced
him to maintain a large army, which had to be kept constantly busy.
Once the border was secure, Ala-ud-din was quick to realize that the
it didnt take long for idle minds in the army to turn into Devils
workshops. Consequently the army became central to many of Ala-ud-dins
other administrative and economic policies areas in which he
made sweeping and path breaking reforms. That he was confident of his
authority is clear from the bold changes he made in the agrarian
system, designed to strengthen the position of the sultan at the
expense of the iqta-holders. He revoked all grants made by previous
sultans, whether of gifts, proprietary rights, pensions or religious
¤ The Sultan Met His End
Ala-ud-din ruled for 20 years and his fruitful, though probably not
very popular, reign drew to an end on January 2, 1316. Popular belief
has it that he was poisoned by his own trusted general Malik Kafur.
The historian Zia-ud-din Barani seemed to have had little sympathy for
him and indeed, in his observations, he implies that it served
Ala-ud-din right to be disposed of in this fashion. In his
Tarikh-i-Feroze Shahi he says, Ala-ud-din
did not escape
retribution for the blood of his patron (Jalal-ud-din Khalji)
fate at length placed a betrayer (Malik Kafur) in his own path, by
whom his whole family was destroyed.
While the story of the poisoning may or may not be true, it is a fact
that as he got older Ala-ud-din began to rely more and more on the
artful Malik Kafur. The general convinced Ala-ud-din that he was in
grave danger of being murdered by his own wife Malika-i-Jahan and sons
Khizr and Shadi Khan, who were taken in custody. These unfortunate
circumstances, taken in conjunction with ill health which manifested
in the form of violent paroxysms of rage, brought the sultan
perilously close to the grave. The final nail in the coffin was, of
course, said to have been affixed by Kafur; who was, by the way, the
regent of the heir apparent and thus virtually sultan himself now.
Was it sheer luck, fate or kismet that the sultanate seemed to
somehow get the right ruler at the right time? When it wanted
consolidating the hour produced a Balban; when it needed a firm hand
to put things in shape, it got an Ala-ud-din.
¤ Ala-ud-din --The First Real Emperor of India
There is no doubting the fact that Ala-ud-din was the first real
emperor of India. There had been an administrative system, economic
and other policies before his reign, but they had been of an
essentially stopgap nature. Unfortunately, none of the sultans who
followed Balban in quick succession had the time or the strength of
character to fill in the void. Ala-ud-din was the right man at the
right time. He pushed the boundaries of the sultanate to hitherto
undreamed of frontiers, all the way down to the Deccan, and indeed he
was the only one among the Slave Dynasty to be able to do so. During
his reign rebellions were trounced, defence was strengthened, crime
suppressed, inflation brought firmly under check and people, for the
first time, made to feel secure. The wandering historian of those
times, Ferishta tells us that in Ala-ud-dins reign,
travellers slept secure on the highway, and the merchant carried his
commodities in safety from the sea of Bengal to the mountains of Kabul
and from Telingana to Kashmir.
of course, Ala-ud-din could be rather savage in his use of power, and
this has led several historians to question whether he was such a hot
king after all. He could be a tricky customer, he used people
unabashedly (starting early with his loving uncle) and when it came to
being cruel he was better than the best of them. But the saving grace
was his great vision, resourcefulness and determination, all taken
together with his boundless energy. Which is why he was able to
transform the Delhi Sultanate from the organized mess it was to an
¤ Monument of Sri Fort
Among Ala-ud-dins many contributions to Delhi was the fort of
Siri, which was famed to be impregnable at one time as the
Mongol invader Targhi found much to his disgust. Many people pass the
now upmarket Siri Fort area without giving a thought to the history
behind the area. Most Delhiites today probably wont even think
that one of South Delhis swankiest addresses, Hauz Khas, is a
medieval name dating to Ala-ud-dins time. Hauz Khas actually
means the main (khas) reservoir (hauz) and you can still see it. Its
behind the serpentine lanes of the ethnically chic Hauz Khas village
which is, by the way, well worth checking out.
Not much remains of the Siri fort, just some of the fort wall
which was recently used as a backdrop for a fashion show. One wonders
what Ala-ud-din, who was a rather unconventional Muslim, would have
thought of it. Perhaps the same thing that he had once said to the
Qazi Mughis-ud-din of Biyana when the latter had questioned Ala-ud-dins
theory of kingship (he had decreed the state above religion and hence
also above priesthood). I do not know whether this is lawful or
unlawful; whatever I think to be for the good of or suitable for the
state, that I decree; and as for what may happen to me on the Day of
Judgement that I do not know.
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