Saturday, June 22, 2013

Balban: The Great Dictator of Delhi Sultanate

Balban's Tomb at Mehrauli Archaeological Park
After the death of Nasir-ud-din Mahmud of the Slave dynasty of Delhi Sultanate in 1266, the line of the rulers from the family of Iltutmish came to end. He was succeeded by his deputy Ghiasuddin Balban in whose hands the real power of the state resided even during his lifetime. 

Balban who was also father-in-law of Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, probably murdered him to become the sultan Slave dynasty was fortunate enough to have Balban’s accession at the time. This is because during the thirty years after the death of Iltutmish no worthy ruler, except Razia, and that too for a brief period, ascended the throne of Delhi sultanate. The rulers during the period were murdered by the frivolous slaves. This dealt a body-blow to the slave dynasty. The condition of the sultanate was such that a strong and stern ruler was the need of the hour. And he fit the bill well.
Since internal rebellions had to suppressed Balban took steps in the direction of strengthening the army which involved introduction of some changes in the armed forces and increasing their numerical strength. Balban meted out severest punishment to the Mewat Rajputs inhabiting the area round Alwar in Rajasthan. The Mewatis were danger to the order of the capital. After clearing the jungles in the vicinity of Delhi, ‘a hundred thousand males above twelve’ of them were murdered.  A fort at Gopalgir was built by Balban who put several posts near the city of Delhi in charge of Afghan officers.

In 1267 Balban crushed the brigands in the Doab who had their heydays in their strongholds at Kampil, Patiali and Bhojpur where Balbal erected forts besides repairing the fort of Jalali. Balban also suppressed the rebellions in Katehr (now in Rohilkhand). The refractory hill tribes of the mountains of Jud were also suppressed by Balban.

Balban did not lose sight of the Mongol danger that was lurking in the north-west frontier of the kingdom. Balban’s cousin Sher Khan Sunqar was ably defending the frontier. However, Balban grew suspicious of him and got him murdered. His death left the field open for the Mongols to indulge in their incursions of the frontier tracts. Prince Muhammad, Sultan’s eldest son, was governor of Multan to check the Mongol menace. Bughra Khan, his second son, was placed in charge of the territories of Samana and Sunam. In 1279 they, together with  Malik Mubarak Bektars from Delhi, successfully repulsed the Mongol invasion.

However, in A.D. 1285 Mongols under their leader Tamar invaded Punjab. Prince Muhammad proceeded towards Lahore and Dipalpur and was killed during his fight agaist the Mongols. He was given the title of Shahid, "the Martyr" and came to be known as Khan-i-Shahid, (the Martyr Prince).

Crushing Tughril Khan’s rebellion in Bengal
In 1279, Tughril Khan, the Sultan's deputy in Bengal, rose in rebellion against him.
Balban sent an army Amir Khan who was defeated by the rebel governor. This infuriated Balban so much that Amir Khan was hanged over the gate of Delhi on his orders. Another military campaign under Malik Targhi in the next year met the same fate. Now the Sultan himself decided to proceed to Bengal.  Accompanied by his son, Bughra Khan, he headed towards Bengal. Tughril Khan was killed. Bughra Khan was appointed governor of the Bengal province.

After an iron rule of about twenty-two years, Balban died in A.D. 1287. His tomb and that of his son Prince Muhammad (Khan-i-Shahid) are located in Mehrauli Archaeological Park in Delhi. the dilapidated tomb betrays no hint of Balban's fame as one of the most powerful rulers of medieval India. 

Kingship under Balban
During the weak rule of Balban’s predecessors, the institution of kingship had lost respect and there was danger of Sultans being considered as imbecile by the people. To restore the dignity of the crown, Balban a proponent of the dignified mode of living , etiquette and rituals, organized his court after the manner of the old Persian monarchs. This was done to give legitimacy to his rule which may be contested by the rebels due to the fact of his being a salve. During his rule the splendour and glory of the royal court reached heights and gave asylum to some fifteen exiled prices from central Asia. Ziauddin Barani author of Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi , writes, “Fear and awe of him took possession of all men`s hearts.”

Balban appointed only men of elite class to important posts. He ensured the strict observance of the etiquette of the court. Those who attended his court  were supposed to observe sizda (prostration before the sultan) and paibod (kissing his feet); both un-Islamic practices). Balban was the first Indian ruler to introduce the celebration of the Persian new year (nao-roz) in India.

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