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Chapter: 11th History : Chapter 10 : Advent of Arabs and turks

Administration of the Sultanate

The Sultanate was formally considered to be an Islamic State.

Administration of the Sultanate

State and Society

The Sultanate was formally considered to be an Islamic State. Most of the Sultans preferred to call themselves the lieutenant of the Caliph. In reality, however, the Sultans were the supreme political heads. As military head, they wielded the authority of commander-in-chief of the armed forces. As judicial head they were the highest court of appeal. Balban claimed that he ruled as the representative of god on earth. Ala-ud-din Khalji claimed absolute power saying he did not care for theological prescriptions, but did what was essential for the good of the state and the benefit of the people.

The Delhi Sultanate deserves to be considered an all-India empire. Virtually all of India, except Kashmir and Kerala at the far ends of the subcontinent, and a few small tracts in between them had come under the direct rule of Delhi towards the close of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s rule. There were no well-defined and accepted rules of royal succession and therefore contested succession became the norm during the Sultanate. The Sultans required the holders of iqta’s (called muqtis or walis) to maintain troops for royal service out of the taxes collected by them. Certain areas were retained by the Sultans under their direct control (khalisa). It was out of the revenue collected from such areas that they paid the officers and soldiers of the sultan’s own troops (hashm-i qalb).

The territorial expansion was matched by an expansion of fiscal resources. The tax rent (set at half the value of the produce) was rigorously sought to be imposed over a very large area. The fiscal claims of hereditary intermediaries (now called chaudhuris) and the village headmen (khots) were drastically curtailed. The continuous pressure for larger tax-realization provoked a severe agrarian uprising, notably in the Doab near Delhi (1332–34). These and an ensuing famine persuaded Muhammad Tughlaq to resort to a scheme of agricultural development, in the Delhi area and the Doab, based on the supply of credit to the peasants.

Military campaigns, the dishoarding of wealth, the clearing of forests, the vitality of inter-regional trade– all of these developments encouraged a great movement of people, created a vast network of intellectuals and the religious-minded. These factors also made social hierarchies and settlements in the Sultanate garrison towns and their strongholds far more complex. Through the fourteenth century the Sultanate sought to control its increasingly diverse population through its provincial governors, muqti, but considerable local initiative and resources available to these personnel, and their propensity to ally with local political groups meant that they could often only be controlled fitfully and for a short period, even by autocratic, aggressive monarchs like Muhammad Tughlaq.

The Turko-Afghan political conquests were followed by large- scale Muslim social migrations from Central Asia. India was seen as a land of opportunity. The society in all stages was based on privileges with the higher classes enjoying a better socio-economic life with little regard of one’s religion. The Sultans and the nobles were the most important privileged class who enjoyed a lifestyle of high standard in comparison to their contemporary rulers all over the world. The nobility was initially composed of the Turks. Afghans, Iranians and Indian Muslims were excluded from the nobility for a very long time.

The personal status of an individual in Islam depended solely on one’s abilities and achievements, not on one’s birth. So, once converted to Islam, everyone was treated as equal to everyone in the society.

Unlike Hindus who worshiped different deities, these migrants followed monotheism. They also adhered to one basic set of beliefs and practices. Though a monotheistic trend in Hinduism had long existed, as, for example in the Bhagavad Gita, as noted by Al-Beruni, its proximity to Islam did help to move monotheism from periphery to the centre. In the thirteenth century, the Virashaiva or Lingayat sect of Karnataka founded by Basava believed in one God (Parashiva). Caste distinctions were denied, women given a better status, and Brahmans could no longer monopolise priesthood.

A parallel, but less significant, movement in Tamil Nadu was in the compositions of the Siddhars, who sang in Tamil of one God, and criticised caste, Brahmans and the doctrine of transmigration of souls. Two little known figures who played a part in transmitting the southern Bhakti and monotheism to Northern India were Namdev of Maharashtra, a rigorous monotheist who opposed image worship and caste distinctions and Ramanand, a follower of Ramanuja.


The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was, however, accompanied by some important economic changes. One such change was the payment of land tax to the level of rent in cash. Because of this, food-grains and other rural products were drawn to the towns, thereby leading to a new phase of urban growth. In the fourteenth century, Delhi and Daulatabad (Devagiri) emerged as great cities of the world. There were other large towns such as Multan, Kara, Awadh, Gaur, Cambay (Khambayat) and Gulbarga.

The Delhi Sultans began their gold and silver mintage alongside copper from early in the thirteenth century and that indicated brisk commerce. Despite the Mongol conquests of the western borderlands, in Irfan Habib’s view, India’s external trade, both overland and oceanic, grew considerably during this period.

Trade and Urbanization

The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate revived internal trade, stimulated by the insatiable demand for luxury goods by the sultans and nobles. Gold coins, rarely issued in India after the collapse of the Gupta Empire, began to appear once again, indicating the revival of Indian economy. However, there is no evidence of the existence of trade guilds, which had played a crucial role in the economy in the classical age. The Sultanate was driven by an urban economy encompassing many important towns and cities. Delhi, Lahore, Multan, Kara, Lakhnauti, Anhilwara, Cambay and Daulatabad were the important cities that thrived on the mercantile activities of Jain Marwaris, Hindu Multanis and Muslim Bohras, Khurasanis, Afghans and Iranians. The import–export trade flourished well both through overland and overseas. While the Gujaratis and Tamils dominated the sea trade, the Hindu Multanis and Muslim Khurasanis, Afghans and Iranians dominated the overland trade with Central Asia.

Industrial Expertise

Paper-making technology evolved by the Chinese and learnt by the Arabs was introduced in India during the rule of the Delhi Sultans. The spinning wheel invented by the Chinese came to India through Iran in the fourteenth century and enabled the spinner to increase her output some six-fold and enlarged yarn production greatly. The subsequent introduction of treadles in the loom similarly helped speed-up weaving. Sericulture was established in Bengal by the fifteenth century. Building activity attained a new scale by the large use of brick and mortar, and by the adoption of the vaulting techniques.


Certain traditions of education were now implanted from the Islamic World. At the base was the maktab, where a schoolmaster taught children to read and write. At a higher level, important texts in various subjects were read by individual pupils with particular scholars who gave instruction (dars) in them. A more institutionalised form of higher education, the madrasa, became widely established in Central Asia and Iran in the eleventh century, and from there it spread to other Islamic countries. Usually the madrasa had a building, where instruction was given by individual teachers. Often there was a provision of some cells for resident students, a library and a mosque. Firoz Tugluq built a large madrasa at Delhi whose splendid building still stands. From Barani’s description it would seem that teaching here was mainly confined to “Quran-commentary, the Prophet’s sayings and the Muslim Law (fiqh).” It is said that Sikander Lodi(1489– 1517) appointed teachers in maktabs and madrasas in various cities throughout his dominions, presumably making provision for them through land or cash grants.


In addition to secular sciences that came with Arabic and Persian learning to India, one more notable addition was systematic historiography. The collection of witnesses’ narratives and documents that the Chachnama (thirteenth-century Persian translation of a ninth-century Arabic original), in its account of the Arab conquest of Sind, represents advancement in historical research, notwithstanding the absence of coherence and logical order of latter-day historiography like Minhaj Siraj’s Tabaqat-i Nasiri, written at Delhi c. 1260.


In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, two most influential orders emerged among the sufis: the Suhrawardi, centred at Multan, and the Chisti at Delhi and other places. The most famous Chishti Saint, Shaik Nizamuddin offered a classical exposition of Sufism of pre-pantheistic phase in the conversations (1307– 1322).Sufism began to turn pantheistic only when the ideas of Ibn al-Arabi (died 1240) began to gain influence, first through the Persian poetry of Jalal-ud-din Rumi(1207– 1273) and Abdur Rahman Jami (1414–1492), and, then, through the endeavours within India of Ashraf Jahangir Simnani (early fifteenth century). Significantly this wave of qualified pantheism began to dominate Indian Islamic thought about the same time that the pantheism of Sankaracharya’s school of thought was attaining increasing influence within Vedic thought.

Caste and Women

The Sultans did not alter many of the social institutions inherited from ‘Indian Feudalism’.Slavery, though it had already existed in India, grew substantially in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Both in war and in the event of default in payment of taxes, people could be enslaved. They were put to work as domestic servants as well as in crafts. The village community and the caste system remained largely unaltered. Gender inequalities remained practically untouched. In upper class Muslim society, women had to observe purdah and were secluded in the zenana (the female quarters) without any contact with any men other than their immediate family. Affluent women travelled in closed litters.

However, Muslim women, despite purdah, enjoyed, in certain respects, higher status and greater freedom in society than most Hindu women. They could inherit property from their parents and obtain divorce, privileges that Hindu women did not have. In several Hindu communities, such as among the Rajputs, the birth of a girl child was considered a misfortune. Islam was not against women being taught to read and write. But it tolerated polygamy.

Evolution of Syncretic Culture

The interaction of the Turks with the Indians had its influence in architecture, fine arts and literature.


Arch, dome, vaults and use of lime cement, the striking Saracenic features, were introduced in India. The use of marble, red, grey and yellow sandstones added grandeur to the buildings. In the beginning the Sultans converted the existing buildings to suit their needs. Qutb-ud-din Aibak’s Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque situated adjacent to Qutb Minar in Delhi and the Adhai din ka Jhopra in Ajmer illustrate these examples. A Hindu temple built over a Jain temple was modified into Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. Adhai din ka Jhopra was earlier a Jain monastery before being converted as a mosque.

With the arrival of artisans from West Asia the arch and dome began to show up with precision and perfection. Gradually local artisans also acquired the skill. The tomb of Balban was adorned with the first true arch and the Alai Darwaza built by Ala-ud-din Khalji as a gateway to the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque is adorned with the first true dome. The palace fortress built by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and Muhammad bin Tughlaq in Tughlaqabad, their capital city in Delhi, is remarkable for creating an artificial lake around the fortress by blocking the river Yamuna. The tomb of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq introduced the system of sloping walls bearing the dome on a raised platform. The buildings of Firuz Tughlaq, especially his pleasure resort, Hauz Khas, combined Indian and Saracenic features in alternate storeys, displaying a sense of integration.

Sculpture and Painting

Orthodox Islamic theology considered decorating the buildings with animal and human figures as un-Islamic. Hence the plastic exuberance of well-carved images found in the pre-Islamic buildings was replaced by floral and geometrical designs. Arabesque, the art of decorating the building with Quranic verses inscribed with calligraphy, emerged to provide splendour to the building.

Music and Dance

Music was an area where the syncretic tendencies were clearly visible. Muslims brought their musical instruments like Rabab and Sarangi. Amir Khusrau proclaimed that Indian music had a pre-eminence over all the other music of the world. The Sufi practice of Sama, recitation of love poetry to the accompaniment of music, was instrumental in promotion of music. Pir Bhodan, a Sufi saint, was considered a great musician of the age. Royal patronage for the growth of music was also forthcoming. Firuz Tughlaq evinced interest in music leading to synchronisation by translating an Indian Sanskrit musical work Rag Darpan into Persian. Dancing also received an impetus in the official court. Zia-ud-din Barani lists the names of Nusrat Khatun and Mihr Afroz as musician and dancer respectively in the court of Jalaluddin Khalji.


Amir Khusrau emerged as a major figure of Persian prose and poetry. Amir Khusrau felt elated to call himself an Indian in his Nu Siphr (‘Nine Skies’). In this work, he praises India’s climate, its languages – notably Sanskrit – its arts, its music, its people, even its animals. The Islamic Sufi saints made a deep literary impact. The Fawai’d-ul-Fawad, a work containing the conversations of Sufi Saint Nizam-ud-din Auliya was compiled by Amir Hassan. A strong school of historical writing emerged with the writings of Zia-ud-din Barani, Shams-ud-din Siraj Afif and Abdul Malik Isami. Zia-ud-din Barani, emerged as a master of Persian prose. Abdul Malik Isami, in his poetic composition of Futuh-us-Salatin, records the history of Muslim rule from Ghaznavid period to Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s reign.

Persian literature was enriched by the translation of Sanskrit works. Persian dictionaries with appropriate Hindawi words for Persian words were composed, the most important being Farhang-i-Qawas by Fakhr-ud-din Qawwas and Miftah-ul-Fuazala by Muhammad Shadiabadi. Tuti Namah, the Book of Parrots, is a collection of Sanskrit stories translated into Persian by Zia Nakshabi. Mahabharata and Rajatarangini were also translated into Persian.

Delhi Sultanate did not hamper the progress of Sanskrit Literature. Sanskrit continued to be the language of high intellectual thought. The Sanskrit schools and academies established in different parts of the empire continued to flourish. The classical Sanskrit inscription (Pala Baoli) of 1276 in Delhi claims that due to the benign rule of Sultan Balban god Vishnu sleeps in peace in the ocean of milk without any worries.

The influence of Arabic and Persian on Sanskrit literature was felt in the form of translations. Shrivara in his Sanskrit work Kathakautuka included the story of Yusuf and Zulaika as a Sanskrit love lyric. Bhattavatara took Firdausi’s Shah Namah as a model for composing Zainavilas, a history of the rulers of Kashmir.

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