Ghiyas-ud-din Balban – Notes and Key Points | Medieval Indian History

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban who ruled India as the Sultan of Delhi from 1266 to 1287 A.D. was one of the greatest Sultans of the Medieval period. He like his master Iltutmish rose to power and became the Sultan of Delhi. His period has been marked as a Great chapter in the history of the Delhi sultanate.

“A great warrior; ruler and statesman who saved the infant Muslim state from extinction at a critical time, Balban will ever remain a great figure in medieval Indian history”- Dr. Iswari Prasad.

Early Career

Balban like his master Iltutmish was born in a Turkish family of Ilbari Tribe. He was kidnapped by the Mongols in his early youth and was sold to a slave trader named Khwaja Jamal-ud- din.

He took him to Delhi where he was purchased by Iltutmish. During his stay at Delhi, Iltutmish was very much impressed by the intelligence and ability of Balban and enrolled him as a member of the famous corps of the forty slaves.

During the reign of Raziya Sultana, he was promoted to the post of Amir- i-Shikar (Lord of the Hunt). He was loyal to Raziya in his early days. But later on he joined hands with the nobles who deposed Raziya Sultana from the throne of Delhi successfully.

The next Sultan was Bahram Shah who gave him the Jagir of Rewari and Hansi in lieu of his service to him.

He played the role of a kingmaker. As a great warrior, he also successfully repelled a Mongol invasion during the period of Bahram Shah.

Similarly he was instrumental in dethroning Masud and raising Nasir-ud-din Mahmud to the throne of Delhi. Nasir- ud-din rewarded him by offering the post of principal adviser to the Sultan. He also strengthened his relations with Sultan by his daughter in-marriage to him.

 Sultan being pleased with the loyalty and devotion of Balban, bestowed on him with the title of Ulugh khan and made him Naib-i-mamlikat or the Deputy Sultan. This was perhaps due to the fact that Nasir-ud-din was weak and incompetent and was relying more on him for the management of state affairs. As a result, the real power gradually passed into the hands of Balban.

His power and popularity grew more and more. He put down a number of internal rebellions and also checked the external aggressions especially of Mongols. The Sultan Nasir-ud-din felt that he is very important.

As Nasir-ud-din had no heir to the throne, he had nominated Balban to be his successor. Nasir-ud-din Mahmud died in 1266 and Balban ascended the throne by assuming the title of Ghiyasuddin Balban.

 Early Difficulties faced by Balban :

Balban had to face a number of problems after his accession to the throne.

  • The affairs of the state had fallen into confusion as well as the prestige of the crown had sunk low due the misrule of weak and incompetent successors of Iltutmish. The powers of the nobles had increased and the majority of the members of the famous Forty had become disloyal to the throne.

They were proud, arrogant and were jealous of Balban. In the words of Barani, “Fear of the governing power which is the basis of all good governments and the source of the glory and splendour of the state, had departed from the hearts of all men, and the country had fallen into a wretched condition.”

  • The royal treasury was empty and the army was not well-organised. The Mongol invasion was imminent as well as the internal rebellions were raising their heads at regular intervals. Such was the critical stage, when Balban had been given the responsibility to face and fight. However he proved himself to be more than an equal for them.
Restoration of the Crown’s Prestige:

Balban had realized that without the restoration of crown’s prestige which had sunk low during the rule of weak successors of Iltutmish, no better and effective government could be possible. He also knew that this could be restored through the policy of absolute despotism. He believed that absolute despotism alone could exact obedience from his subjects and ensure security of the country.

He also knew that in order to be a successful despot one must follow the policy of theory of kingship. The concept of theory of kingship is that the right to rule is given by the God and not by the people and for his actions whether good or bad, the ruler is answerable and accountable to God but not to the people he rules.

Balban at first made out his concept of theory of kingship to his subjects. Secondly he emphasized on external dignity and prestige as essential for kingship.

  1. He maintained a great distance from the people and denied to meet the common people.
  2. He organised his court on the Iranian model and followed the etiquette and Ceremonials of the Persians very strictly.
  3. Having a long beard on his long face and wearing a very big crown on his head, he sat on the throne with the dignity of the great Sassanid kings
  4. He maintained his dignity by grim and serious looks.
  5. He appointed tall and fearsome body-guards who stood round him with their swords drawn and dazzling in the sun.
  6. He ordered for Sijda (prostration) and paibos (feet- kissing) as the normal form of Salutation for the king.
  7. He prohibited drinking, jokes, laugh and even smile among the courtiers and officers.
  8. He himself also gave up wine and merry-making.
  9. He also dismissed all low-born persons from important offices of his administration.

Thus Balban by displaying his power, authority and dignity struck terror in the hearts of the people and made them submissive. This was a right step at that time for the restoration of the crown’s prestige.

Destruction of the Forty:

The Forty a select body of Turkish nobles was created by Iltutmish for better and effective administration.

The members of this body were chosen on the basis of loyalty and meritorious service. But after Iltutmish, the members of the Forty enjoyed unlimited power due to his weak and incompetent successors. They considered the Sultan just a puppet in their hands.

Balban clearly knew that in the path of his despotism, the Forty would be a great obstruction.

And without its destruction, he could not achieve his goal. So he planned to bring them under control by destroying their organisation.

  1. At first, he promoted the junior Turks to important positions and placed them on par with the Forty.
  2. Secondly, he inflicted severe punishments on the members of the Forty for minor offences and reduced their importance in the eyes of the people.
  3. He flogged Malik Baqbaq, the governor of Badaun and a member of the Forty, publicly for beating his servant to death.
  4. Haibat Khan, another influential member of the Forty and governor of Awadh, had killed a man while he was drunk with wine. He was flogged with 500 stripes and was handed over to the widow of the deceased whom he paid 20,000 tankas to get himself liberated. He was so much insulted that he never came out of his home till death.
  5. Similarly, Amir Khan, governor of Awadh was hanged at the city gate for his failure to curb a rebellion in Bengal.
  6. Sher Khan, another influential member of the Forty, excited jealousy of Balban who poisoned him to death.

In this way he finished some of his great enemies and others surrendered at his feet for the safety of their life and honour. This was in fact a bold step in the direction of his royal despotism.

The Spy system:

Balban organised an efficient system of espionage as an instrument of his despotism.

  1. He appointed reporters and news– writers in every department, in every province and district to collect information’s of various happenings in the state. They did it with utmost honesty and secrecy. They were severely punished if they failed in their duties.
  2. The news reporter of Badaun was hanged over the city gate because he failed to report in time regarding the misconduct of Malik Baqbaq.
  3. They were highly paid and were independent of the control of the governors and commanders.
  4. They were also rewarded for their daring services.

With the result, internal rebellions could not take place and even the nobles could not meet for discussions. Balban through this system of espionage could keep effective control over the government and people. Law and order was perfectly established throughout his reign.

Re-organisation of Army:
  1. Balban re-organised his army and made it strong and efficient as it was the main pillar of his despotic government.
  2. He appointed Imad-ul-Mulk who was a competent vigilant officer, as the Diwan- i-Ariz (minister of war) in charge of the army.
  3. The minister in charge of the army was made independent of the financial control of the Wazir and he enjoyed full confidence of the Sultan.
  4. The lands, given in Jagir to the military personnel since the time of Aibak and now enjoyed by their widows, sons and successors were taken back and they were paid pensions in cash.
  5. The young men whose predecessors were in military service were asked to retain their Jagir but they were not allowed to collect revenue. They were also paid in cash but the revenue from their land was collected by the government. But it is said there was a lot of reactions against this order.

However, Balban did not introduce any revolutionary change in the military organisation. But certainly, he raised the efficiency and morale of the Army. With the help of a strong and powerful army he could successfully suppress the internal rebellions and external aggressions.

Suppression of Rebellions:

During the reign of Balban, Some severe rebellions took place which he put down with a strong hand.

  • The most dangerous rebellious men were the Mewatis, the people of Mewat, who were very often plundering the vicinity of Delhi. As there were jungles around Delhi, it was covenant on their part to plunder and escape.
  • Balban closed the western gate of the capital and cleared off the jungles around Delhi and built roads to facilitate movement. He sent his army against the Mewatis and massacred them. He constructed four forts around Delhi and garrisoned them with Afghan soldiers. Similarly, he crushed the rebellions of the Hindus of the Doab region and their chiefs were cowed down.
  • The people of Katehar also revolted against him. Balban ordered his soldiers to attack and set fire to their houses and to wipe out their adult male population. Their women and children were made slaves. Barani says, after this incident, the kateharias never raised their heads and the entire region became safe for the travellers.
Rebellion in Bengal:

Bengal was a part of the Delhi Sultanate and its governor, Tughril Khan was a slave of Balban. Tughril Khan was very courageous and ambitious and was loyal to the Sultan in the beginning.

But in 1279 he declared the independence of Bengal and defied the authority of Balban. Most probably, he was encouraged by the old age of Balban as well as frequent Mongol invasions. But Balban was not the man to leave him so easily. He sent an expedition under Amin-Khan against him. But Amin-Khan was defeated by Tughril. This enraged Balban so much that he ordered Amin-Khan to be hanged publicly.

Balban also sent another army under a military officer named Bahadur. He was also driven back by Tughril Khan. At last Balban proceeded in person against Tughril. When Tughril heard of the approach of Balban, he fled away towards east but was captured and put to death. His followers were also mercilessly put to death. Then he appointed his own son Bughra Khan as the governor of Bengal and returned back to Delhi.

Mongol Invasion:

The Mongol invasion was frequent on the border and it was a constant headache to Sultan Balban. In the western border, Lahore was then under the sphere of Mongol influence and Sind and Multan were always exposed to their invasion. Sultan Balban, therefore, adopted a number of measures for the safeguard of the western borders.

  • He built a line of forts along the frontier and garrisoned them with able-bodied Afghan soldiers.
  • he appointed Sher Khan, a distinguished warrior as the commander of the army at the border. She Khan was successful against the Mongols on a number of occasions.

But due to the unfortunate death of Sher Khan in the year 1270, the Mongols started their plundering raids without any fear. Balban appointed experienced Amirs in charge of frontiers, but they failed to check the Mongols.

At last he divided the frontier region into two parts

  • One part which consisted of Sind, Multan and Lahore was kept under the charge of his eldest son, Prince Muhammad Khan.
  • The second part which consisted of the province of sunam and Samana was given to his second son Bughra Khan.

Prince Muhammad though successfully repelled the Mongol invasion twice in 1279 and 1285, but he himself became a victim of the Mongols in his third encounter with them. Prince Muhammad died fighting in the battle field in the year 1286. This was the greatest shock to Balban. Though he re-occupied Lahore from the Mongols, but he could not recover himself from the shocks of his son’s death. Prince Muhammad was his most favourite son.

Death of Balban:

Balban’s health gradually declined after the shock of his son’s death. He was old and was at quite advance stage of his life. Realizing his end he summoned his youngest son Bughra Khan, the governor of Bengal to Delhi. But Bughra apprehending some danger did not turn up. Balban then nominated Kai Khusrav, the son of his eldest son prince Muhammad as his heir. He died in 1287 at the age of eighty.

Summary

It can be said undoubtedly that Balban was one of the greatest Sultans of Delhi. He to his credit, guided the destinies of the Sultanate for a long period of forty years, twenty as prime minister and twenty as Sultan. By ascending the throne at a time of confusion and crises, he did everything right and appropriate for the restoration of crown prestige and good governance of the state.

By following the divine right theory of kingship, he maintained a great distance from the common people. He set up a magnificent court and displayed his power and authority with kingly dignity. He did everything to strike fear in the heart of the people and officers in the administration. Thus, he could restore the status and prestige of the Sultan.

Next he was successful in destroying the power and influence of the corps of forty which was the greatest obstruction in the path of his royal despotism. He even did not mind to inflict severe exemplary punishments to them for their slight offence and mistakes. Further by organizing an efficient espionage system, he was successful in establishing law and order in the country.

He kept the nobles under control and strengthened the Central Government. He was also a good administrator and he had strong sense of justice. Peace, protection and consolidation of the empire were the prime objectives of his administration. According to Dr. Iswari Prasad, “A great warrior; ruler and statesman who saved the infant Muslim state from extinction at a critical time, Balban will ever remain a great figure in medieval Indian history.

It was Balban who saved the country from the frequent Mongol raids. It was he who consolidated the empire by bringing Rajput States to the fold of Sultanate of Delhi and by rendering a good administration. Dr. Iswari Prasad has remarked further that the successful career of conquest of the great Ala-ud-din was possible because of the consolidation work of Balban.

Balban was a great patron of learning and education. He had provided scope and facilities to a large number of learned men migrated from Central Asia. The great Persian poet Amir Khusru and Amir Hosan flourished during his time. His son Prince Muhammad was a learned man and was greatly inspired by those two great poets. Besides he was a very affectionate father. He dearly loved his sons and relations. The shock of his son’s death practically killed him. He was also very much religious and had great respect for the Ulemas.

Nevertheless he had some grave defects in his character. Balban was often harsh and cruel. He did not forgive anybody even for small offence. He did not care for the means for the achievement of his goal. Balban did not live the men of low birth and he had great hatred for Indian Muslims. He always insisted on high birth and appointed the men of Turkish origin in army. For that he could not raise a vast and strong army. However he was one of the greatest Sultans of Delhi Sultanate.

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