Incredible India - Part 7 - Delhi Sultanate

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

The Delhi Sultanate was an Islamic empire based in Delhi that stretched over large parts of the Indian subcontinent for 320 years (1206–1526). Five dynasties ruled over the Delhi Sultanate sequentially: the Mamluk dynasty (1206–90), the Khalji dynasty (1290–1320), the Tughlaq dynasty (1320–1414), the Sayyid dynasty (1414–51), and the Lodi dynasty (1451–1526). The sultanate is noted for being one of the few powers to repel attacks by the Mongols (from the Chagatai Khanate), causing the decline of Buddhism in East India and Bengal, and enthroning one of the few female rulers in Islamic history, Razia Sultana, who reigned from 1236 to 1240. 

Before the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, Muslim armies from Central Asia were regularly raiding the kingdoms of northern India. This trend continued until the reign of Muhammad of Ghor, the Ghurid sultan who sought to establish a permanent Muslim state in northern India, instead of merely pillaging these lands. Muhammad of Ghor had no sons, and when he was assassinated in 1206, his empire was divided amongst his Turkic slaves. One of these was Qutbu I-Din Aibak, who became the ruler of Delhi, thus establishing the Delhi Sultanate. 

The first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate has been referred to as the Mamluk Dynasty, also known as the Slave Dynasty, or the Ghulam Dynasty. This dynasty continued Muhammad of Ghor’s expansionist policy, and by the middle of the 13th century, the authorities were the masters of northern India from the Khyber Pass in the west to Bengal in the east.

The Mamluk Dynasty came to an end in 1290, as there was in-fighting amongst the nobility, and its last ruler, Muiz ud din Qaiqabad, was assassinated by Jalal-ud-din Khalji, who founded the Khalji Dynasty.

One of the most remarkable figures in the Mamluk Dynasty was Razia Sultana, one of the very few female rulers in Islamic history, and the only one to have ruled the Delhi Sultanate.

Sultan Iltutmish (reigned 1211–36) had made his permanent capital at Delhi, had repulsed rival attempts to take over the Ghūrid conquests in India, and had withdrawn his forces from contact with the Mongol armies, which by the 1220s had conquered Afghanistan. Iltutmish also gained firm control of the main urban strategic centers of the North Indian Plain, from which he could keep in check the refractory Rajput chiefs. After Iltutmish’s death, a decade of factional struggle was followed by nearly 40 years of stability under Ghiyās̄ al-Dīn Balban, the sultan in 1266–87. During this period Delhi remained on the defensive against the Mongols and undertook only precautionary measures against the Rajputs.

Under the sultans of the Khaljī dynasty (1290–1320), the Delhi sultanate became an imperial power. ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn (reigned 1296–1316) conquered Gujarat (c. 1297) and the principal fortified places in Rajasthan (1301–12) and reduced to vassalage the principal Hindu kingdoms of southern India (1307–12). His forces also defeated serious Mongol onslaughts by the Chagatais of Transoxania (1297–1306).

The power of the Delhi sultanate in north India was shattered by the invasion (1398–99) of Turkic conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), who sacked Delhi itself. Under the Sayyid dynasty (c. 1414–51) the sultanate was reduced to a country power continually contending on an equal footing with other petty Muslim and Hindu principalities. Under the Lodī (Afghan) dynasty (1451–1526), however, with large-scale immigration from Afghanistan, the Delhi sultanate partly recovered its hegemony, until the Mughal leader Bābur destroyed it at the First Battle of Panipat on April 21, 1526. After 15 years of Mughal rule, the Afghan Shēr Shah of Sūr reestablished the sultanate in Delhi, which fell again in 1555 to Bābur’s son and successor, Humāyūn, who died in January 1556. At the Second Battle of Panipat (Nov. 5, 1556), Humāyūn’s son Akbar definitively defeated the Hindu general Hemu, and the sultanate became submerged in the Mughal Empire.

The Delhi sultanate made no break with the political traditions of the later Hindu period—namely, that rulers sought paramount rather than sovereignty. It never reduced Hindu chiefs to unarmed impotence or established an exclusive claim to allegiance. The sultan was served by heterogeneous elite of Turks, Afghans, Khaljīs, and Hindu converts; he readily accepted Hindu officials and Hindu vassals. Threatened for long periods with Mongol invasion from the northwest and hampered by indifferent communications, the Delhi sultans perforce left a large discretion to their local governors and officials.

During and in the Delhi Sultanate, there was a synthesis of Indian civilization with that of Islamic civilization, and the further integration of the Indian subcontinent with a growing world system and wider international networks spanning large parts of Afro-Eurasia, which had a significant impact on Indian culture and society, as well as the wider world. The time of their rule included the earliest forms of Indo-Islamic architecture, greater use of mechanical technology, increased growth rates in India's population and economy, and the emergence of the Hindi-Urdu language. The Delhi Sultanate was also responsible for repelling the Mongol Empire's potentially devastating invasions of India in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Delhi Sultanate was also responsible for large-scale destruction and desecration of temples in the Indian subcontinent. In 1526, the Sultanate was conquered and succeeded by the Mughal Empire.

The Lodi sultans were unable to stem the tide of decay, and the Delhi Sultanate finally came to an end during the reign of the dynasty’s third ruler, Ibrahim Lodi. This sultan is recorded to have been weak and corrupt, and one of his regional governors, who was also a member of the ruling dynasty, actually invited Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, to invade the Delhi Sultanate, thus bringing it to an end.


Ghulam Dynasty (AD 1206-1290)

  • Qutub-Ud-din Aibek AD 1206- 1210

  • Shams-ud-din Iltutmish AD 1211-1230

  • Razia Begum AD 1236- 1240

  • Nasiruddin Mahmud AD 1246-1266

  • Ghias-ud-din Balban AD 1266-1287

  • Kaiqubad AD 1287-1290

Khilji Dynasty (AD 1290-1320)

  • Jalal-ud-din Khilji AD 1290-96

  • Alauddin Khilji AD1296-1316

  • Shiba-ud-din Omar AD 1316

  • Mubarak khilji AD 1316-1320

Tughlaq Dynasty (AD 1320-1412)

  • Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq AD 1320-1325

  • Muhammad Bin Tughlaq AD 1325-51

  • Firuz Shah Tughlaq AD1351-1388

  • Tughlaq Shah AD 1388-1398

  • Abu Bakar. During the next 14 years three sultans ascended the throne. Then followed Nasiruddin Mahmud the last sultan of this dynasty.Muhammad Shah Alauddin Sikander Shah Nasiruddin Mahmud

Sayyid Tughlaq (AD 1414-1450)

  • Khizr Khan AD 1414-1421

  • Mubarak Shah AD 1421-1434

  • Muhammad Shah AD1434-1445

  • Alauddin Alam Shah AD 1445-1450

Lodhi Dynasty (AD 1451- 1526)

  • Bahlol Lodhi AD 1451-1489

  • Sikander Lodhi AD 1489- 1517

  • Ibrahim Lodhi AD 1517-1526

Part 8 – Timur - The destroyer of India

Part 6 - Religious Development in India

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