July 14, 2014

Sultan Raziyya: The Slave Empress of India

Sultan Shams al-Din Iltutmish (1211-1236) was the greatest ruler of Slave dynasty. Iltutmish's eldest and most capable son, Nasir al-Din Mahmud, had died prematurely (1229); Iltutmish nominated his capable daughter Raziyyat to be his successor. He discerned in her countenance the signs of power and bravery, "My sons are devoted to the pleasures of youth, and no one of them is qualified to be king. They are unfit to rule the country, and after my death you will find that there is no one more competent to guide the State than my daughter", the Sultan said. However, the nobles of the court did not like the idea of being ruled by a woman, and upon the death of Iltutmish in 1236, his eldest surviving son Rukn al-Din Firuz was placed on the throne. Rukn al-Din was a pleasure-loving King who left the affairs of the government to his mother, Shah Turkan. Shah Turkan used her authority to ill treat the ladies of Iltutmish's harem; She murdered Qutb al-Din, the infant son of Iltutmish. Soon rebellions occurred in many parts of the country and the wazir Nizam-ul-Mulk Junaidi also joined the rebels. Rukn al-Din marched from Delhi to suppress the rebellions. When Shah Turkan made an attempt to assassinate Raziyya, the people of Delhi rose in her defense. Shah Turkan was imprisoned, and Raziyya was raised to the throne in November 1236. Rukn al-Din was captured and confined by Raziyya (He died in confinement).

The Slave Kings of Delhi: Raziyya, Fifth Ruler of the Slave Dynasty (1236-1240):

Raziyya, Sultan of Delhi
Raziyya Sultan (digital painting) by Hussam ul Wahid
Raziyyat, titled Raziyyat-ud-dunya wa ud-din (1236-1240), the eldest daughter of Iltutmish, was the first woman ruler of India and the only woman who ever sat upon the throne of Delhi. She possessed all the qualities necessary for a monarch. Even in her father’s lifetime, she was active in the affairs of the state. During his Gwalior campaign, Iltumush had left Raziyya in charge of Delhi and on his return, he was very much impressed by her abilities in managing the administration of the Sultanate. When Sultan Raziyyat ascended the throne, the wazir, Nizam-ul-Mulk Junaidi and four other Maliks: Malik Jani, Malik Kuji, Malik Izz al-Din Salari and Malik Izz al-Din Kabir Khan Ayaz, refused to acknowledge her. They assembled before the gate of the city of Delhi and commenced hostilities against her. Malik Nasir al-Din Tabashi Muizzi, the governor of Awadh, hurried to Delhi to assist Raziyya, but before he could cross the Ganges he was defeated and imprisoned by the rebels. She left Delhi along with the army and encamped on the banks of river Yamuna to confront the rebels. Several conflicts took place between them. Izz al-Din Salari and Kabir Khan Ayaz, two Maliks of the rebel group, secretly went over to the Sultan's side on a condition that, Malik Jani, Malik Kuji and Junaidi should be imprisoned. When this news spread in the rebel camp, the Maliks fled. Followed by this, Malik Kuji, his brother Fakhr al-Din and Malik Jani were captured and slain. Junaidi fled into the Sirmur hills, where he died. After this victory, all Maliks and Amirs from Lakhnauti to Dewal submitted to Raziyya's authority. She made Khwaja Muhazzab al-Din her wazir and gave him the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk.

The kingdom of Raziyya gained considerable power. She sent an army under Qutb al-Din Hasan Ghauri against the Rajputs of Ranthambhore, which after the death of Shams al-Din, the Rajputs had invested. Qutb al-Din drew the Muslim forces out of the fort and destroyed it.

Malik Jamal al-Din Yaqut, an Abyssinian, who was Lord of the Stables (Amir-i-Akhur), became her confidant* and trusted adviser. This created jealousy among the Turkish nobles. Towards the end of her reign, Sultan Raziyya discarded her female attire by putting on tunic and kullah; sat on the throne without a veil and appeared in public riding on elephant. This was sufficient to the Turks to rebel. In 1239, Kabir Khan Ayaz, the governor of Lahore, broke out into rebellion, but when she led an army against him, he made his submission. He was removed from Lahore and Multan was placed in his charge.

When Raziyya returned victorious to the capital, Malik Ikhtiyar al-Din Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda, revolted with support of some of the Turkish Amirs of the court (April 1240). When Raziyya reached Bhatinda to put down the rebels, she was attacked by the Turks, who put Yaqut to death. They seized Raziyya and sent her a prisoner to Bhatinda. The Turk rebels returned to Delhi, where they elevated to the throne her half-brother Muizz al-Din Bahram (1240-1242). At this time Altunia married Razziya.

Death of Raziyyat: Raziyya and her husband Altunia won over certain amirs of Delhi and collected a large army of Jats and Khokhars, and marched towards Delhi. Bahram sent an army to oppose them and they were defeated. When Raziyya and Altunia reached Kaithal (in Haryana), the remaining troops abandoned them, and they both fell captive into the hands of Hindus, and were put to death (Oct 1240). Raziyya Sultan's reign lasted three years and six months. There are three claims regarding the location of Sultan Raziyya's tomb: Delhi, Kaithal and Tonk.


Tabaqat-i Nasiri written by Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani, during the reign of Sultan Nasir al-Din Mahmud (1246-1266), gives a detailed information about the history of Delhi Sultanate. Nasir al-Din Mahmud was born after the death of his eldest brother (1229), with the same name.

*the same term, Minhaj al-Siraj uses to describe Sultan Muhammad Ghori's favour towards his slave, Kutb al-Din Aibak, for which the Turk Maliks and Amirs were envious.

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