Alauddin Khilji -The Man who defeated the Mongols

Alauddin Khilji -The Man who defeated the Mongols | History

The problem with movies and popular culture that try to cover a historical event is that they really simplify things down.

Which is understandable when your content is expected to be consumed by millions of people.

But most often this dumbing down happens to the point where it no longer represents facts or anything that can be called history.

It is also not just dumbing down but catering to the cultural biases of their market that movies and television do.

Storytelling not facts are their priority. And that’s fine as long as the audience knows this, which isn’t always the case. And you end up with terrible misinformation floating around, shaping entire generations.

Obliterating history quote on screen. One such case surrounds Alauddin Khilji.

Now let’s see – a Muslim sultan, non-Indian heritage even though he was born in India, fierce military general, defeated  Hindu territories –  must be a snarling monster at best or a  woman-chasing brute at worst. Of course.

This is why it’s important to look at history, facts, and understand how real history actually played out. It’s important to remember these were real humans who lived a life full of challenges and uncertainties and hopes and ambitions.

Just like you and me. They were not black or white, they were grey.

Let’s connect with the actual man – Alauddin Khilji, his real story – keeping our personal biases aside. He reigned from 1296-1316.

Let’s start by understanding Delhi and northern India in the early 13 century.

At the beginning of the 13th century, Delhi and most of Northern India, modern-day Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan were under the Ghurids. In the year 1206, its ruler Mohammad Ghori died.

His mamluks or slave-generals broke the empire apart and Qutbuddin Aibek, one of Ghori’s slave-generals took over Delhi and started the Mamluk dynasty which lasted for nearly 100 years.

He was followed by Aram Shah, Iltutmish,  Iltutmish’s daughter Razia and a couple of others.

Why so many in less than 100 years?

At this time power was organized in a way that A group of 40 nobles essentially were the power behind the power. They were called the Chahalgani, literally meaning The Forty.

  • Their job was to maintain political stability and advise the sultan but they essentially became the all-powerful group that moved and removed sultans on the throne as they pleased.

As a result, the political climate of this time was very unstable, violent, very dangerous.

The Man who defeated the Mongols

In 1266 Ghiyasuddin Balban came to the throne (1266-1287), the 9th Mamluk sultan. He was smart. One of the main things he did was that he broke up this chaplain – a group of 40 men,  so he was no longer at their mercy.

He also set up a really good espionage system to keep the art Gant nobility under control.

He understood warfare and successfully managed to keep the Mongol threat at bay and even retook Multan and Lahore which had been captured by the Mongols.

In all of this warfare against the Mongols, he lost his son Muhammad  Khan in 1285 – grief he never recovered from.

Balban died in 1287.

He was succeeded by his useless grandson Muiz Ud Din Qaiqabad.

Muiz Ud Din Qaiqabad appointed a  noble called Jalal-ud-din Firuz as his Ariz-I-Mumalik. Ariz-I-Mumalik is head of the military.

Sultan Muiz Ud Din Qaiqabad was soon paralyzed because of a stroke and his infant son was put on the throne. Taking advantage of this political vacuum, Jalal-ud-din Firuz, the head of the military guy,  deposed Qaiqabad and his infant son and On June 13, 1290, ascended the throne of  Delhi. Jalal-ud-din Firuz was now the sultan.

Jalal-ud-din Firuz was of the Khalaj  tribe. these were people of Turkic origin who had migrated out of Turkistan and were settled in Afghanistan for 200 years.

As a Khalaj his full name was  Jalal-ud-din Firuz Khalji.

And by deposing the mamluks, he started the Khalji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate.

Sultan jalalaldin Firoz Khalji had a nephew  Ali Gurshasp who was also his son-in-law and the governor of Kara.

Ali Gurshasp was a young man with thunderous energy and exceptional military capability.

He ran a successful campaign against Devagiri, the capital of the wealthy Yadava dynasty.

And to celebrate it he invited Jalaluddin Khilji to visit him.  Jalaluddin came to Kara in July 1296, where Ali Gurshasp murdered him and proclaimed himself the Sultan with the title of Alauddin.

Alauddin Khilji

Ali Gurshasp was now sultan Alauddin khilji. And he turned out to be the best one of all the Khilji rulers to come.

Naturally cynical about everyone near him because happened right left and centre, he concentrated all power of the state in his own hands; therefore, creating a despotic government, unlike his predecessor who was generous & trusting and therefore was seen as weak and was eventually murdered.

During the reign of Alauddin khilji,  the Mongols invaded the sultanate 6 times and even plundered Delhi and adjoining districts, but they were always defeated.

The attacks that occurred during the reign of Alauddin Khilji were not the first time that the Mongols had invaded  India. But, as a historian puts it, “All these were minor invasions as compared with  those that occurred in the time of Alauddin; and it was the good fortune of India  that the most tremendous assaults were delivered to this country when a strong  monarch like Alauddin was the ruler.”

Alauddin Khilji was a calculating, cruel and very able military general with fiery energy.

He lived by the principle that the state must benefit at all costs.

His work was centred upon the idea that fear and control are the basis of good governance.

He didn’t care much about religion and didn’t even bother with the all-important Friday prayers.  In fact acc to Ziauddin Barani, a contemporary historian – ‘He was one of those rare sultans who dared to skip the Friday prayers.

He did not really patronize the muftis and qazis and never asked for Islamic legal opinions on political matters.

In fact, Ziauddin barani ’ tells us: ‘though Khalji was an ambitious and strong monarch, he was  ignorant when it came to the knowledge of Islam.’

In fact, khilji was so Smart he used religious fanaticism between Hindus and Muslims to his own advantage.

For example, he made his Mohammedan forces attack the Khambat region of Gujarat under the guise of purifying the land of Hindus.

But he also did employ Hindu generals in his campaigns against the Mongols and even in his personal guard.

He fought a ton of battles internally and externally, I won’t go into those details here.

But To keep up with the constant attacks and rebellions, he knew he would need a large standing army, not the traditional feudal levy that was raised only in times of need,  that is when danger was the doorstep.

He prepared a well-trained and disciplined army, using superior Turkic cavalry and infantry tactics.

He paid his soldiers in cash, which was the first time ever in Indian history.

  • He completely weakened Hindu and Muslim nobles so they could not rebel against him.

  • He forbade his nobles to socialize to the point where alcohol was prohibited in Delhi and nobles couldn’t form marital alliances with other nobles without Alauddin’s permission.

  • He wanted all his nobles to not be able to foster too much wealth because wealth fosters rebellion.

  • He took away all landed properties of his courtiers and nobles and cancelled revenue assignments and brought them under his central control.

  • He took away the cut that rural Hindu tax collectors had traditionally taken, slashing away more of their wealth – all of this so they would be busy surviving and not rebelling.

  • His taxation reforms were so ingenious they were actually used by Sher Shah, and Akbar and even until the  18 and 19th centuries in India.

However, all of this obsession with controlling power and any rebellions against him, as expected, only grew further with his age, making him a  paranoid brutal unpredictable man.

Along with the fact that an illness gripped him, weakening his body, memory and senses, Alauddin became very distrustful and went so far as to abolish the office of wazir – which was prime minister.

He had Alp Khan murdered who was an important noble in Delhi.

Alp Khan was also Alauddin’s brother-in-law and father-in-law to both of Alauddin’s sons.

He also had his minister Sharaf Qaini murdered on suspicion of rebellion.

At this point where he trusted no  one, Alauddin trusted only one man whom Ziauddin Barani describes as:

  • ‘In those four or five years when the  Sultan was losing his memory and his senses, he had fallen deeply and madly in love with the  Malik Naib.

  • He had entrusted the responsibility of the government and the control of the servants to  this useless, ungrateful, ingratiate, sodomite.’

This Malik Naib was the title of a man called Malik Kafur.

Originally a slave captured by Alauddin’s army in 1299, Malik Kafur rose the ranks, led successful military campaigns and became close to Alauddin, so close that they may have had a homosexual relationship.

As Alauddin became weaker in mind and body, he trusted no one but Malik Kafur who became the de facto ruler and had his rivals murdered.

So strong was his influence on Alauddin that he managed to convince Alauddin to banish his eldest son & heir  Khizr Khan and imprison his second son Shadi Khan.

All of this made Kafur a really hated man in  Delhi and Alauddin a distant and feared monarch.

On the night of 4 Jan 1316, Alauddin died.  The only person next to him was Malik kafur.

All said and done, Alauddin had some extraordinary achievements.

But perhaps his biggest achievement lies in the fact that he was one of the only ones ever in history who consistently defeated the Mongols.

It is not that Alauddin wasn’t aware of the enormity of it all.

He started calling himself Sikandar  Sani, the second Alexander in pride of his military success and went as far as to mint his coins using the title Sikandar Sani.


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AUTHORDeepa Chandravanshi

Deepa Chandravanshi is the founder of The Magadha Times & Chandravanshi. Deepa Chandravanshi is a writer, Social Activist & Political Commentator.


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