Enjoying the privilege of a being a capital of diverse dynasties, Delhi, has evolved as a museum showcasing the royalty of the ruling elite's and their monumental heritage.

Indian State History

India - Delhi - Muhammad-bin Tughlaq

Muhammad-bin Tughlaq

¤ A Sultan With Great Vision, Surprising Insight

Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq who succeeded Ghazi was one of the most interesting, colorful and eccentric sultans of the Delhi Sultanate. Vivid accounts have been left for us by contemporary writers who had to bear the brunt of his idiosyncracies and were probably less amused than us by them. Muhammad was actually a brilliant man, with great vision and surprising insight. But he was a dreamer, an artist. He lacked the ability to see his plans through to their logical conclusion. In fact many historians are of the view that he was far ahead of his time – though Barani seems to suggest that Muhammad was not so much ahead of time, as much as just far out.

Satpula Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq was never satisfied with stereotypical, tried-and-tested answers to posers. His was a highly original mind, comparable to that of an inventor’s or scientist’s. He was the first sultan to have the vision to see India as a whole country, and not just as a sort of cake for every ambitious aspirant to carve a kingdom out of. He wanted to turn it into one strong single unit, both politically and administratively. At the time of his ascension there was much political confusion in Central Asia. Muhammad figured that the ruler of a powerful Hindustan could be the potential leader of Central Asia.

¤ Maintained Relations With Neighboring Countries

Muhammad’s political insight also included diplomacy – he was a keen believer in keeping good relations with the world in general. He sent envoys to China, Khurasan, Egypt and many such places. The rulers before Muhammad had never shown any such inclination, and to be fair to them, they did not have the time to indulge in all of this. Muhammad changed all of that. Missions poured into India from China, Iran, Iraq and Syria, heralding a new era in cultural and bilateral exchange.

The sultan shocked the nobility with his radical beliefs – such as, all offices must be open to talent. In pursuance of this philosophy he disregarded such things as caste, race and nobility and put the lowest-born people on the loftiest of levels in the hierarchy. He was also one of the few sultans of Delhi to patronize Hindus and the Hindustani language.

of course this did not win him any friends from the Turks and Afghans, and the resentment was to surface soon. He had to earn the epithet of Pagla Tughlaq (the mad Tughlaq).

¤ Laid Down Taxation Policies

Very early in his reign, Muhammad Tughlaq began to show an interest in the matters of taxation. He ordered the compilation of the revenue and expenditure of all the provinces of his kingdom. This meant that the governors of the provinces were required to send to Delhi all relevant accounts and any other information required for the records. The result was that the revenue department in Delhi came to know the exact income and expense of each province. Consequently the whole revenue system worked pretty smoothly.

With his very next idea the sultan displayed the lack of balanced judgement that he soon came to be associated with. The Doab region between the Ganga and the Yamuna river was, and still is, a very fertile plain. So Muhammad quite fairly concluded that since the farmers of this region were rich they could afford to pay more tax than those of less fertile regions. The idea itself was sound, the execution was not.

Taxes were increased as much as twentyfold and, what’s more, the sultan also insisted in reviving old forgotten taxes and levying those too in this region. Worse, the measure was adopted at a time when the area was in the grip of a severe famine. Consequently thousands perished and the peasantry started fleeing their homes.

¤ Most Discontent Decisions of Sultan

When the state woke up to the situation relief work was taken up, however even then the need to recall the taxes was not realized. Instead, Muhammad became quite enraged at the peasants leaving their homes and used force to get them back. This incident, unfortunately, left a lasting and bitter taste in the mouth of the people of the Doab. Ultimately it was to prove detrimental to the future of the Tughlaqs.

Another one of Muhammad’s ideas was to bring more land into cultivation to help the peasants. A large tract of land, about 60msq, was chosen and cultivated. Two years and 7,000,000 rupees later, the experiment was declared a failure. No one had realized that the chosen land was infertile.

After this Muhammad, much to the revenue department’s relief and the alarm of others, turned his attention elsewhere. He did things like transferring his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad (in andhra Pradesh) so that he could control the Deccan better and keep his capital safe from invasions. The idea of shifting the capital in itself was not fundamentally bad. However the choice of Deogir (Daulatabad) was unfortunate. A more centrally located place would have been a far better idea as the sultan himself realized later.

¤ Shifting of The Capital To Daulatabad Was A Failure

However, as things stood, the entire army, the royal household (in itself a circus), ministries, scholars, poets, musicians and so on were ordered to march out and settle in Daulatabad. The king went all out and did his best for his new capital. However the people of Delhi were understandably hesitant to go traipsing all over India to settle in a new place. The sultan lost his always-precarious equilibrium and ordered everyone to move it – not even the cats and dogs were spared. By the time they reached Daulatabad, Muhammad had changed his mercurial mind once again and decided that the idea wouldn’t work. He realized that while this capital was tucked in deep enough to be safe from invasions, it was also too far away to protect northern India. So he ordered a return march in which very few survived.

The consequences for Delhi were grave. Not only had she lost her peoples she had also lost her former prosperity and grandeur. The sultan tried his best to make amends and invited many scholars and artistes to settle in the city. However clearly the impact of this incident was far-reaching - when Ibn Batuta, the famous traveler, came to Delhi in 1334 (Muhammad’s reign was from 1325-1351) he found certain parts of the city still deserted.

The consequences for Muhammad weren’t all that happy either. There was widespread resentment against the sultan and the bitterness rankled on for years to come. There were several other experiments that the indefatigable Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq undertook. He brought about a change in the coinage system, several innovations in the administration, in his foreign policy (he had ideas of universal conquest) and so on. When he finally died in 1351, one wry contemporary observer (Badauni) quipped, ‘…and so the king was freed from his people, and they from him.’

Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq started building the fifth city of Delhi, Jahanpanah or the refuge of the world. His intention was to combine the four previous cities of Delhi (Dilli, Siri, Tughlaqabad and Jahanpanah) in one boundary wall. However he soon realized that the expense involved would be prohibitive and gave up the idea. Parts of Jahanpanah today lie forgotten near the busy roads of south Delhi’s Panchsheel Park.

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