VI. The Disintegration of the Sultanate

*The First Afghan Kings* == *The Rise of Regional Kingdoms*

        [[76]] IN THE century that intervened between the death of the last of the Tughluq kings in 1413 and the emergence of a new Turkish power, the Mughals, in the early years of the sixteenth century, two main processes can be seen at work in Muslim India. One is the disintegration of the power of the Delhi Sultanate; the other, and complementary to it, is the rise of independent regional Muslim kingdoms. The centralizing authority of the Delhi sultan that had been asserted with varying success since the time of Muhammad Ghuri (d.1206) ceased to be a paramount factor in Indian political life, and its place was taken by kingdoms, many of which were centers of great artistic achievement, and some of which were better organized and more powerful than Delhi.

        This did not mean, however, that the Delhi Sultanate passed away; on the contrary, as a symbol of prestige and a source of wealth it remained the great prize for which factions struggled and fought. The group that succeeded to the sultanate on the death of Mahmud Tughluq are known as the Sayyids, although there is little evidence that, as their name would suggest, they were descendants of the Prophet. The first of them, Khizr Khan, considered himself to be the viceroy of Timur's son, which in itself was an indication of the change that had come over the sultanate. Three more members of the family continued to maintain some show of authority until the last of the line, Alam Shah, retired from the turmoil of Delhi to the relative peace of the provincial city of Badaun in 1448. It was against this background of confusion that the wazir and nobles turned to Buhlul Lodi, the able governor of Sirhind, and invited him to come to Delhi. Buhlul responded with alacrity and in 1451, without any opposition from Alam Shah, he occupied the throne, becoming the first Afghan ruler in India.

The First Afghan Kings

        [[77]] Buhlul Lodi was a member of an Afghan family that had been rewarded by the Sayyid sultans with control of the Sirhind district in the Punjab in return for service as defenders of the northwestern frontier. From this base Buhlul Lodi had gained control over eastern and central Punjab, and by the time the invitation came from Delhi he was virtually independent of the sultanate. After he had succeeded to the throne he sought to strengthen his position by bringing in Afghans from the northwestern highlands, attracting them by grants of lands and estates. Energetic and ambitious, he overlooked no opportunity of extending his dominion, and throughout the nearly forty years of his reign he concentrated his power on attempts to overcome the chiefs, both Hindu and Muslim, who had established independent kingdoms during the previous reigns and now opposed the new centralizing force emanating from Delhi. That part of this resistance met by the Lodi kings was related to groups with attachments to the displaced Sayyid sultans is suggested by the attitude of the ruler of Jaunpur, an important kingdom in the central Gangetic plain. The ruler, Husain Sharqi, had married Jalila, a daughter of the last Sayyid sultan of Delhi, and she persuaded her husband to invade Delhi. This led to the defeat of the Jaunpur ruler and the annexation of his territory.

        Buhlul's policy was continued by his son Sikandar (r.1489–1517), and while he did not succeed in regaining the full territory that the Delhi sultans had once controlled, at least he made the chiefs within the narrower boundaries recognize his power. He spent four years (1499–1503) in thoroughly organizing the administration of the trans-Gangetic province of Sambhal, and soon after he transferred his capital from Delhi to Sikandara, a suburb of Agra, to be nearer the areas which required his attention. This was, incidentally, the beginning of the future importance of Agra, which hitherto had been a dependency of the more important fortress of Biana.

        A patron of learning who himself wrote poetry, Sikandar attracted many scholars to his court, including the well-known poet and mystic [[78]] Jamali (d.1535). One of the most interesting works of the period, which was sponsored by his wazir, Miyan Bhuva, was a voluminous book on medicine entitled Ma'dan-ul-Shifa or Tibb-i-Sikanadari, in which theories and prescriptions of Indian medicine were consolidated. A work on music, Lahjat-i-Sikandar Shahi, of which the only existing copy is in the Tagore Library of the University of Lucknow, was another important contribution./1/

        Muslim historians, including Nizam-ud-din Bakshi, the author of Tabaqat-i-Akbari, have accused Sikandar of religious bigotry, but it was during his reign that Hindus began to adjust to the new conditions, and a great many of them started to learn Persian. Muslim interest in Indian medicine and music in the highest circles has already been mentioned. In spite of Sikandar's reputation for bigotry it seems fair to surmise that in the cultural sphere his period was one of active mutual interest "among Hindus and Muslims for each other's learning, thus conducing to a reapproachment." Sikandar died in 1517 and was succeeded by his son, Ibrahim Lodi. Soon disputes between the sultan and his Afghan nobles, which simmered throughout the Lodi period, became acute; and Daulat Khan Lodi, the governor of the Punjab and the king's uncle, invited Babur, the ruler of Kabul, to invade India. After early incursions confined to the northwest and the Punjab, Babur met Ibrahim in the first battle of Panipat on April 21, 1526, and, by defeating him and capturing Delhi and Agra, laid the foundation for the Mughal rule.

The Rise of Regional Kingdoms

        One aspect of the history of Islamic civilization in India in the fifteenth century, the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate, led to anarchy and turmoil, but the second important feature, the rise of independent kingdoms, prevented the disintegration of central authority from becoming an unqualified disaster. It can be argued, indeed, that splitting the realm into regional kingdoms resulted in Muslim penetration of areas hitherto unconquered, such as Kathiawar and eastern Bengal.

        [[79]] The administration of smaller and more compact territories was certainly more effective, and it is doubtful if the loosely controlled and vaguely demarcated iqtas of the sultanate could have developed into the well-organized subasof the Mughal period without the rise and consolidation of regional kingdoms. Because of these kingdoms, closer administrative control over areas where old Hindu chiefs had exercised a great degree of autonomy became a reality for the first time.

        The rise of the regional kingdoms also helped the spread of Islam and Muslim culture. During the days of the sultanate, Delhi was the one major center of Islamic culture and religion; now Ahmadabad, Jaunpur, Gulbarga, Sonargaon, Gaur, Pandua, and other provincial capitals became active centers of Muslim religious and cultural activity. Delhi had a large number of influential immigrants, and the cultural traditions of the capital reflected mainly the Central Asian pattern. At the capitals of the regional kingdoms, Muslims and immigrants were not in a majority, and the cultural activity in these areas mirrored the indigenous tradition to a much greater extent. It was in these regional kingdoms, therefore, that Muslim impact led to the rise of vernaculars and paved the way for the religious synthesis advocated by some leaders of the bhakti movement. Music was more actively patronized in such regional centers as Kashmir, Jaunpur, Malwa, and Gujarat than at the capital of the sultanate. Another important difference between the capital and the regional kingdoms which affected culture was the fact that the rulers of the regional kingdoms were not preoccupied with the threat of Mongol invasions and other similar problems of the central government. They were able to devote greater attention to cultural pursuits at their courts than was possible in Delhi. The elaborate literary and cultural activity which was carried on in Kashmir under Zain-ul-Abidin's direct patronage, for example, finds no parallel in the annals of the sultanate.

        These cultural activities of the regional kingdoms paved the way, moreover, for the broader basis of Mughal culture. The Mughal cultural pattern was derived primarily from Herat, Samarqand, Tabriz, and Isfahan; yet it included many features which were absent during the sultanate. A possible explanation is that these had gained prominence in the regional kingdoms. Examples of this process are the attention [[80]] paid to the development of vernacular [literature], the official patronage of music, and the greater scope offered to Hindu thought and art forms. The extraordinarily rapid rise of Urdu during the eighteenth century was made possible by the slow maturing of the Deccani in the courts of Bijapur and Golkunda, and many other features of the regional cultural traditions were absorbed in the pattern of the Mughal culture.

        Among the areas which became independent during the weakness of the sultanate, Bengal was probably the most important. Although Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji had made the first Muslim conquest about 1202, his hold extended over only a small portion of northern Bengal. After conquering Nadiya, the old Hindu capital, he withdrew northward and confined himself to the areas near Bihar. His successors gradually extended the Muslim dominion in the east, but their efforts were fitful and often accompanied by defiance of Delhi's authority. We hear about Sonargaon (near modern Dacca) for the first time in 1280, when Balban, in pursuit of Tughril, the rebellious deputy in Bengal, compelled the Hindu raja of Sonargaon to undertake a search for the rebel. Tughril's revolt forced Balban to face the problem of chronic rebellion in Bengal, and he tackled it with his usual thoroughness. After dealing with the rebels he stayed on to reorganize the administration, appointed his son Bughra Khan as the viceroy of the territory, and left a team of carefully selected officers to assist the prince.

        The measures taken by Balban in Bengal proved fruitful. The consequences of posting a team of highly educated and cultured officials from Delhi were soon evident, and the Islamization of the territory was begun. Although Bughra Khan lost his chance of succeeding Balban at Delhi because of his preference for Bengal, this enabled Balban's family to continue their sway in the eastern territory long after its rule had ended at Delhi. The reigns of Bughra Khan's successors from 1286 to 1328 constituted a period of active expansion. Southern and eastern Bengal came under their control, and important centers were established at Satgaon (Hugli district) and Sonargaon. One of these rulers, Shams-ud-din Firuz (r.1301–1322) extended Muslim dominion across the Brahmaputra into the Sylhet district of [[81]]


[[82]] Assam. These efforts were facilitated by the arrival of a large number of Turkish officers and soldiers who had been displaced by the Khaljis at Delhi. In addition, the volunteers for jihad, or holy war, locally known as ghazis, and other spirited volunteers actively assisted in Muslim expansion. The conquest of Sylhet in 1303, for example, is attributed by both Muslim and Hindu accounts to the support which the Muslim troops received from a contemporary soldier-saint, Shah Jalal, who lies buried at Sylhet. Many other warrior-saints, such as Zafar Khan Ghazi of Tribheni near Hugli and Shah Ismail Ghazi in Rangpur district, are mentioned in contemporary accounts.

        Although Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq reasserted the authority of Delhi over Bengal in 1234, the troubles which broke out in the reign of his son Muhammad Tughluq resulted in the independence of the area once more. The two expeditions of the next ruler, Firuz Tughluq, could not reverse this process, and Bengal remained independent until its conquest by Akbar in 1576.

        Independent Bengal was ruled by a succession of dynasties, of which two are noteworthy. The rulers of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty, who were on the throne of Bengal from 1338 to 1415, and again from 1437 to 1487, secured the independence of the province, dealt with the two expeditions of Firuz Tughluq, revived Bengal's contacts with the outside world, and won notable victories against neighboring non-Muslim rulers of Tirhut, Nepal, and Orissa. Among them, Ghiyas-ud-din Azam Shah (r.1393–1410) tried to attract the great Persian poet Hafiz to his court, sent large sums of money to holy places in Hijaz, and exchanged envoys with the contemporary Chinese emperor. His small, beautiful tomb at Sonargaon is the oldest Muslim monument in East Pakistan. Soon after his death, Ganesh, a Hindu zamindar of Dinajpur, seized power, and the local Muslims sought aid from the Muslim ruler of the neighboring kingdom of Jaunpur. When the Sharqui king threatened to intervene, Ganesh vacated the throne in favor of his son, who accepted Islam. He ruled from 1415 to 1431. Six years later his successor was assassinated, possibly as a result of rivalry between the Hindu and Muslim nobles, and the Ilyas Shahi dynasty was restored to power.

        [[83]] Much briefer, but somewhat better documented, was the tenure of the Hussain Shahi dynasty (1493–1539). It produced two able rulers—Ala-ud-din Husain Shah (r.1493–1519) and his son Nusrat Shah (r.1519–1532). They were competent rulers, liberal in outlook, and great patrons of cultural activities. They recovered lost territories, and left magnificent buildings at Gaur and Pandua. Their patronage of letters was not confined to Persian, the court language; they gave encouragement to the rising Bengali literature, and many Sanskrit works were translated into Bengali at their court. The confusion following the assassination of Nusrat Shah in 1532 enabled the Afghan, Sher Khan Suri, to intervene, and he conquered the province in 1539. It remained in Afghan hands until 1576, when Akbar annexed it to the Mughal empire.

        Another important independent kingdom was the Bahmani sultanate in the Deccan which lasted from 1347 to 1527. For a little less than a century and a half (1347–1482) it prospered until it extended from the western to the eastern coasts of South India. Ultimately it broke into five principalities—the Adil Shahis of Bijapur (1490–1686), the Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar (1480–1633), the Imad Shahis of Berar (1490–1568), the Barid Shahis of Bidar (1480–1609), and the Qutb Shahis of Golkunda (1512–1687).

        The rulers of these Deccan kingdoms attracted scholars, poets, and statesmen from Persia and Iraq, but local talent was employed to a much larger extent than was the case at Delhi. At one time the principal ministers at Bijapur were Hindu, and the Maratha chief, Shahji of Ahmadnagar, the father of Shivaji, occupied a distinguished position in the army. In linguistic matters also there was closer collaboration between the Hindus and the Muslims. Marathi was the language used for village records, and the rulers helped the development of the Deccani variety of Hindustani. They themselves composed verses in that language and encouraged others, and it was no accident that although Hindustani appeared in northern India in the very beginning of the Muslim rule, it was the Deccani idiom that first attained literary status.

        Other important regional kingdoms which rose were Gujarat (1403–1572), [[84]] Jaunpur (1393–1479), Malwa (1400–1561), Khandesh (1382–1601), and Multan (1444–1524). Sind was also independent at this time, as indeed it had been for centuries. During the two centuries of their independent rule, the kings of Gujarat built many magnificent buildings and founded new cities, including Ahmadabad. Their encouragement of arts and crafts laid the foundation of many of the industries for which Gujarat became famous during the Mughal period. Jaunpur, in the central Gangetic plain, became a great cultural center after Timur's destruction of Delhi. The rulers provided asylum for the leading scholars from the capital, and by bestowing rich endowments on scholarly families laid the foundation for that intellectual preeminence of the region which has been maintained until recent times. The last king of Jaunpur, Sultan Husain Sharqi, was an ineffective ruler, but, because of his patronage, he occupies an important place in the history of Indian music.

        Kashmir was also an independent Muslim kingdom, having remained outside the kingdom of Delhi until its conquest by Akbar in 1586. Muslim rule had been established there in the first half of the fourteenth century. Its most noteworthy ruler was Zain-ul-Abidin, who ruled from 1420 to 1470. He abolished jizya and freely patronized Hindu learning. At his court several works were translated from Sanskrit into Persian and Persian and Arabic works were translated into Kashmiri.

        The breakup of the Delhi Sultanate led not only to the establishment of a number of Muslim kingdoms, but in certain areas the Hindu chiefs also reasserted themselves. In addition to the minor chieftains who became independent, a powerful state was established at Mewar in Rajputana. Rana Sanga, who came to the throne in 1509, was successful in battle against the Muslim kings of Gujarat and Malwa as well as the Lodi ruler of Delhi. By 1526 he had become the most powerful ruler of northern India, and when Babur was establishing Mughal rule, his most important victory was not that against the Lodi ruler at Panipat but against Rana Sanga and his Afghan confederates at Kanwah in 1527. Sanga was poisoned shortly after his defeat, and Mewar's importance declined.

        In the south an even more important Hindu kingdom was established [[85]] in 1336 at Vijayanagar. This lasted until 1564, when the Muslim rulers of the Deccan united and administered a complete defeat to the Vijayanagar army at Talikota.

        Mention must be made also of another power that made its appearance at this time. On May 27, 1498, the Portuguese admiral Vasco da Gama, guided by the Arab pilot Ahmad ibn Majid whom he had pressed into service on reaching the East African coast, appeared before Calicut. A new chapter had opened not only in the history of India but of the entire East. Soon the Portuguese established themselves as the masters of the Indian Ocean. They did not establish a regional kingdom, but instead occupied and fortified the key points of Daman, Diu, and Goa. They controlled Indian coastal waters until their mastery was challenged first by the Dutch, and then by the British.


/1/  R. C. Majumdar, ed., The Delhi Sultanate, Vol. V of Culture and History of the Indian People (Bombay, 1960), p. 146.

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