About the Book
The Sultans of Delhi came from relatively humble origins. The were slaves who rose to become generals in the armies of the Afghan ruler Muizz al-Din Ghuri. Their transformation into rulers of a kingdom of great political influence in North India was a slow and discontinuous process that occurred through the thirteenth century.
For the better part of that century, there were many centres of social and political power in the early Delhi Sultanate. There were military commander’ with contending political ambitions, as well as urban elites with contrasting social constituencies, religious ideologies, and personal commitments. Such people did not always support authoritarian interventions seeking to create a monolithic state.
For decades, the Sultanate seemed to disappear from political reckoning, and its resurrections were more m the nature of reincarnations. It made it, periodic reappearances in forms different from those of it precursors. Ultimately, the Delhi Sultanate survived not Just because of the political and military acumen of its rulers and military agents, but because of the Ideological investment of a variety of Muslim emigres that saw the Delhi sultanate as a sanctuary tor Muslims during the period of Mongol holocaust.
In The Emergence of tit Delhi Sultanate, Sunil Kumar charts the history of the structures that sustained and challenged this regime, and of the underlying ideologies - eliding it sometimes ephemeral form - that gave meaning to the idea of the Delhi Sultanate.
About the Author
Sunil Kumar is Professor, History Deparment, Delhi University. His books include The Present in Delhi’s Pasts and an edited volume. Demolishing Myths or Mosques and Temples? Reading on history and Temple Desecration in Medieval India.
The Sultans of Delhi have attracted the attention of scholars and lay persons for generations. Their history is filled with romance. Conquerors, and tragic heroes. It was a time of mystery when the Qutb Minar was constructed, a Queen ruled from Delhi, and capricious monarchs moved capitals back .and forth, Their courts were awe-inspiring and ceremonial. They reduced prices or introduced a ‘token currency. In the hands of master raconteurs, the lives of these monarchs and their court made for some fabulous, captivating stories that occupied students like me for days on end.
I discovered during my long graduate career, however, that there was more to the Delhi Sultanate than grand stories, but little which could be satisfied by the existing literature on the subject. The histories of scholars like Muhammad Aziz Ahmad and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami were paraphrased summaries of Sultanate chronicles, complete with an append ix on the character of the monarch. I Another historian of this period. A.B.M. Habibullah, provided more questions than answers: How could the Delhi Sultanate be ‘founded’ by Turks if the invasions were led by the Shansabanids who were from Ghur in Afghanistan? What were the traditions that influenced the making of the Delhi Sultanate: Ghurid, Turkish, slave, or Muslim? How, if at all, were they interrelated? If the Sultanate was constantly besieged by ‘Hindus’ waiting to recapture their homelands, how did it manage to survive? How could Balban be obsessed with Turkish racial purity if he deployed Afghans all around Delhi? These were admittedly small positivist questions, but they serve to explain the chill that ran through a well-meaning student testing the waters of the Early Middle Ages in Indian history.
As I delved deeper into the history of the early Delhi Sultanate, various - such questions concerning the period became even more fundamental: Why do economic historians of the Delhi Sultanate pass hurriedly over the thirteenth century and into the fourteenth? How can slaves be nobles? If the Sultanate had a bureaucracy, chief ministers, and so on, how is it that a civil service did not administer the state? When I decided to look at some of these questions in greater detail, I came across the only major disagreement amongst scholars writing on the Delhi Sultanate. Peter Hardy warned students that the medieval chronicles would not contain answers to the questions with which they approached their sources, but Khaliq Nizami and Irfan Habib assured readers that this was not the case: Ziya’ al-Din Barani, for example, was a scientific, reliable historian.
As a young graduate student in the 1980s my sense of being out of my depth was profound. It was fortunate, therefore, that I was firmly led away from the Delhi Sultanate and spent some years studying Islam, the early evolution of the Muslim community, and the history of Iran, Europe, and modern India. The historiography in these fields had its own set of problems with anachronism, teleology, and reification, but the mere fact that scholars recognized them as legitimate historiographical concerns was a major learning step for a student raised on a diet of consensual opinions on what happened in India’s Middle Ages.
The 1980s and 1990s proved to be exciting years to rethink medieval Indian history. The work of scholars such as Simon Digby, John Richards, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Muzaffar Alarn, B.O. Chattopadhyaya, Dirk Kolff, Richard Eaton, Ebba Koch, Iqtidar Alam Khan, Chris Bayly, Ronald Inden, Bruce Lawrence. Carl Ernst, Stewart Gordon, Frank Perlin. Ashin Das Gupta, Andre Wink, Peter Jackson. Richard Barnett, Michael Fisher, Chetan Singh, and Stephen Blake textured and complicated the range of questions that historians were bringing to their materials. Although the Delhi Sultanate was still very much out of the purview of contemporary research, there was much to learn from historians who had started reflecting on the texture and narratives of their ‘sources’ rather than merely interrogating and pillaging them for ‘facts’. I still remember the sense of excitement and relief with which I first read Simon Digby’s article on the Qalandars, reassured that historians could profitably ask new questions of Sultanate literary materials read and re-read by countless historians in the past.
Persian chroniclers crafted the history of the early Delhi Sultanate in the thirteenth century itself, a subject that was revisited by a variety of authors with differing agendas in subsequent years. At one level, this book is part of a long tradition of histories investigating the emergence of the Delhi Sultanate. At another level, it intersects with the ways in which Persian chronicles and a later historiography remembered the past. The two are not discrete exercises. As I argue through the book, the processes involved in the creation of the Sultanate were not as transparently narrated in the Persian chronicles as imagined in modern historiography. And they were frequently misconstrued in translation from a medieval lexicon of politics to a more modern one. Certainly, the Delhi Sultanate created and was, in turn, imbricated in power relationships with a lasting impact on social hierarchies, settlement patterns, and ideologies touching on morality, social conduct, and public service. The literature that reported on the Sultanate was not just sensitive to the politics that was an inherent part of the age; it was also implicated in perpetuating or challenging its structures. These accounts elided as much as reported on the politics of the thirteenth century. My history of the early Delhi Sultanate therefore moves constantly between an examination of the accounts that describe the politics of the period and a discussion of the ways in which these narratives need to be interrogated to com- prehend the politics of the thirteenth century.
This going back and forth has also burdened my narrative and I must apologize to the uninitiated reader who will find this book replete with (unfamiliar) names, phrases, and terminologies in Persian. This is not because of any empirical overindulgence, however. Since it is hardly possible to grasp the social contexts of elite politics without a history of people, it has sometimes been necessary to get into the nitty-gritty of who was related to whom, and who was what, where, at what time. The need to keep an accurate track of individuals is the reason for the tables and charts in the book and an important consideration in the use of diacritics (see below for details): they help, for example, in distinguishing between Nasir al-Din and Nasir al-Din. Citations of Persian terminologies were equally necessary to clarify contextual meanings and I have always provided English translations. Unless otherwise mentioned, all translations are my own. I have provided two sets of dates for greater precision: the Hijri oblique the Common Era (60711210, for example).
This book has had a long gestation period and it is wonderful to finally part with the script. I have had a long graduate career, and the opportunity to work with many teachers. Muhammad Amin of St Stephen’s College kept me riveted with his stories about the Delhi Sultanate and sparked a curiosity about the period that eventually changed my life. Dr D.E.U. Baker showed by example what teaching commitment is all about. Professor Stanley E. Brush of the University of Bridgeport introduced me to the history of Islam and the central Islamic lands. My wife and I will always remember the warmth with which he and Beverley. supported our academic and personal ventures as young foreign graduate students in an alien land. I am grateful to Professor John Woods for the training he gave me in Persian diplomatics and the skills in researching the history of the central Islamic lands. This work could not have progressed but for his help. Professors C.M. Nairn and the late Barney Cohn of the University of Chicago were always sources of encouragement years after our formal academic relationship had come to an end.
In its original incarnation this book was defended as a doctoral dissertation at Duke University. The support and encouragement of the members of its history department exceeded my wildest expectations. In my years of experience as a student and teacher I have yet to see a university department make as concerted an attempt to gear its organization to the needs of its students. I can hardly individually thank the many friends that I made there, but let me record the help that was always forthcoming from members of my dissertation committee: Professors John F. Richards, Charles Young, Kristen Neuschel, David Gilmartin, Jan Ewald, and the late Jack Cell.
I really do not know how to acknowledge the support that I received from John Richards. I was extraordinarily fortunate that he was both my supervisor and a concerned friend. He taught me how to formulate my questions, to research with care and rigour, and he gave me the confidence to articulate my ideas. He provided generous support that made it possible for my family to accompany me to Durham and complete my dissertation in Delhi in relative comfort.
The University of Delhi was kind enough to give me a two-year sabbatical to study at Duke University. The Department of History where I teach at Delhi University is a unique centre: thin on resources but brimming with research, energy, and political activity. It is a special place because of the contribution of historians like Sumit Sarkar, never my teacher but always a mentor. Dilip Menon, Shahid Amin, Amp Banerjee, Denys Leighton, B.P. Sahu, and Nayanjot Lahiri provided collegiality and intellectual sustenance during long departmental meetings. Working with my editorial colleagues at the Indian Economic and Social History Review (/ESHR) has been an exciting educational experience and I am grateful to Sanjay, Bala, Dilip, and Tirtho for all the support and companionship they have provided over the years.
My friends watched my slow progress towards completion with considerable anxiety. To Sanjay Subrahmanyam a special thanks for always being there. The words of encouragement and care from Muzaffar Alam, Ebba Koch, Steven Wilkinson, G. Balachandran, and my sister Nita Kumar helped more than they will ever know. Rukun Advani’s perseverance and editorial care finally eased my residual fears.
Some of the themes in the book were presented at different times at seminars and conferences. I am grateful to the discussions and responses from the audience at Jawaharlal Nehru University, at the history seminars at St Stephen’s, Ramjas, Indraprastha, Lady Shri Ram and Jesus and Mary-colleges all at the University of Delhi. Discussions in seminars at the Aligarh Muslim University, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, Oxford University, NIAS in the Netherlands, Oberlin College, Lewis and Clark College, University of Illinois at Urbana-Charnpaign, University of Chicago, and the East- West Center at the University of Hawaii were equally useful. My graduate students at the history department at Delhi University were a captive audience for the many ideas worked out in this book. They will be familiar with its contents; thank you for bringing them to some semblance of lucidity. Many of my students are now my colleagues and friends. Pankaj Jha’s intellectual companionship has been a special source of joy over the years and I am extremely grateful to him for taking time out to prepare the index. At the final stages of revision Jyoti Gulati provided invaluable support by converting all my ancient files into Word documents. She proofed the typescript, checked the diacritics, and set a pace without which I would still be working on the fifth chapter! Without her help a larger number of errors would have crept into the final typescript.
For a long time it was politically incorrect to discuss my progress with the book at home. My in-laws, Robin and Usha, provided my family with emotional and material security in Delhi. I wish I could share the joys of the completed book with them. Likewise my father, Naresh Kumar, would ask after my work only with the greatest of love and care. It would have been a real pleasure to see this book in his hands. He and my mother Suniti always supported the intellectual aspirations of their children during their darkest moments. I am grateful to them for their faith in all our endeavours, their support and guidance.
If Anjali did not disagree with my opinions so much I would have put her as the coauthor of this book. We have discussed and argued about many of the ideas presented here. Without her willingness to share the burden of the enterprise I could never have written this book. She worked, parented, read, and reread countless drafts and allowed me the space to retreat into my ivory tower. I will be forever indebted to her. Shefali and Sikandar have wondered if my book would ever be history. If sheer force of will could prevail, my children would have had it completed years ago. I am grateful to them formaking the present such a joyous and sublime moment in my life.
For the better part, I have followed the transliteration system of F. Steingass, A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2000 edition). I have departed from Steingass in marking the izafat with a hyphen, ahl-i kalam rather than ahli kalam, for example. In Arabic-Persian combinations I have retained the article al followed by a hyphen: Rukn al-Din rather than Ruknu’d- din, the form followed by Steingass. I have provided full diacritics for the Persian forms. Ghaznawi, Ghurl for example, but not their English derivatives. Ghaznavid, Ghurid. Note also the distinction between terms such as Shaikh, Khan, Sultan in their Persian form, and Shaykh, Khan, Sultan in their English usage, without diacritics.
Turkish names have been a bit of a problem because their orthography is never clear in the Persian chronicles. I have adopted the Turkish form when a name was evidently clearer in that form-Ai- Beg (Moon Prince), rather than Aybak, for example.
Writing a History of the Delhi Sultanate
Historiography of the Delhi Sultanate
Reading the Persian Evidence
The Sultanates of North India: The Mu’izzi Maliks in Hindustan
The Shansabanid Sultanate and North India
Mu’izzi Free Amirs and Jurists in North India
Mu’izzi Slaves and the Bandagan-i Khass
The Dispersal of the Mu’izzi Bandagan-i Khass in North India
The Mu’izzi Bandagan-i Khdss and their Appanages
Consolidation and Expansion
The Shamsi Dispensation and the Political Paramountcy of Delhi
Dynastic Change in the Lahore-Delhi Appanage, 607/1210
Competitors and Military Paramountcy in North India, 607-33/1210-36
The Shamsi Dispensation
Free Military Commanders Subordinate to Iltutmish
Slave Subordinates of Shams al-Din Iltutmish
The Deployment of the Shams) Princes
The ‘Ulama’ and the Emergence of Delhi as the Sanctuary and Axis of Islam in North India
Ethnic Differences within the Muslim Community in North India
Different Ways of being a Pious Muslim
Towards Homogeneity: The Role of the ‘Ulama’
Social and Political Changes and a Disintegrating Shamsi Dispensation 633-64/1236-66
Political Mutations and the Emergence of the Ghiyasi Elites 633-6411235-66
633-911236-42: The Period of ‘Inter-Dispensational’ Conflict
639-5311242-55: The Period of ‘Intra-Dispensational’ Contlict
652-64/1254-66: The Ghiyani Dispensation
Territorial Changes and the Political Geography of the Sultanate
Relations with the Piety-Minded and Ideological Reformulations
The End of the Seventhffhirteenth Century: Balban and the (Re-) Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate
Loyalty, Service, Political Culture: The Ghiyasi Dispensation and the Turn of the Century
Politics, Society, and Territorial Expansion
Regional Solidarities, the Piety-minded, and the Metropole
Appendix: Persian Literary Traditions and Narrativizing the Delhi Sultanate
The Shansabanid Lineage
The Shamsi Lineage
Shamsi Bandagan in Iltutmish’s Reign
Seniority of Service amidst Shamsi Bandagan, 633/1236
Juzjani: Shamsi Bandagiin in the Post-Shamsi Period
Mu’izzi Campaigns into Hindustan
The Mu’izzi Bandagan in Hindustan
The Deployment of Shamsi Bandagan
‘Ala’ al-Din Khalaji’s Dominions
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