Baha Ud Din, also known as Ghiyas-Ud-Din Balban, was the ninth sultan of Delhi’s Mamluk Dynasty. From 1266 until 1287 A.D., he governed the Delhi sultanate. He is considered to be one of the greatest sultans of the Middle Ages. As with his master Iltutmish, he ascended to power and became Delhi’s sultan.
Ghiyas ud Din was the governor of Nasiruddin Mahmud, the last Shamsi sultan. He weakened the aristocracy and elevated the sultan’s status. Balban was a member of the renowned Iltutmish gang of 40 Turkic slaves. His reign has been hailed as an outstanding chapter in the Delhi sultanate’s history.
Early Years and Achievements
He was the child of a Turkic nobleman from Central Asia. He was born into the Ilbari tribe in Turkey. He and other members of his clan were abducted as children by the Mongols and sold as slaves in Ghazni. He was sold to Khwaja Jamal ud-din of Basra, a Sufi who gave him the nom de plume Baha ud din. He was taken to Delhi by the Khwaja, where he and the other slaves were purchased in 1232 by Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, himself a captive Ilbari Turk. Iltutmish was so taken with Balban’s intellect and skill that he enlisted him as a member of the renowned corps of the forty slaves during his stay in Delhi.
Balban was first assigned as a lowly water bearer, but the Sultan soon promoted him to the post of Khasdar (king’s attendant). He rose to prominence as one of Delhi’s forty Turkic nobility or the Chalisa. He was the amir-i-shikar or lord of the hunt during Razia Sultan’s reign, a post of considerable significance at the time, with military and political duties. He was initially devoted to Raziya. However, he subsequently joined forces with the nobility who successfully ousted Raziya Sultana from the throne of Delhi. Following her assassination, he made fast progress in succeeding reigns, acquiring the fief of Rewari under Bahram Shah and subsequently becoming the Jagir (lord) of Hansi, a significant fief.
He acted as a kingmaker. He also successfully repulsed a Mongol invasion under the reign of Bahram Shah as a renowned warrior. Balban played a key role in Ala ud din Masud’s demise, installing Nasiruddin Mahmud as Sultan and himself as his Vizier from 1246 until 1265. Nasir ud-din honored him by appointing him as the Sultan’s main advisor. He also cemented his relationship with the Sultan via the marriage of his daughter to him. Balban also named his younger brother Kishlu Khan as lord chamberlain (Amir-i Hajib) and his cousin Sher Khan as Jagir of Lahore and Bhatinda.
The Sultan, delighted with Bulban’s dedication and devotion, conferred upon him the title of Ulugh Khan and elevated him to the position of Naib-i-mamlikat or Deputy Sultan. This was perhaps because Nasir-ud-din was weak and inept and relied heavily on him to handle state matters. As a consequence, actual authority eventually shifted into Balban’s hands.
The other nobility took note of Balban’s status, and there was considerable animosity. His chief adversary was Imad ud-din Raihan, who is described as a Hindu Murtad (one who renounces Islam) in writings published after Balban’s period, but others say he is also of Turkic ancestry. Imad ud-din was successful in convincing the Sultan that Balban was a usurper. Balban and his brethren were scorned and even confronted in battle. However, talks between Balban and the Sultan resulted in the abolition of Imad ud din in 1254 and the reinstallation of Balban.
Ghiyas conquered many territories, some as vizier. He defeated the Mewats harassing Delhi and reclaimed Bengal, all while effectively confronting the Mongol menace, a conflict that claimed the life of his son and heir. Following his demise in 1287, his grandson Qaiqabad was appointed sultan, but his tenure damaged the achievements of his grandfather.
Despite his limited military successes, Balban reorganized civil and military lines, earning him a stable and wealthy administration and elevating him to the status of one of the Delhi Sultanate’s most prominent rulers alongside Shams ud-din Iltutmish and subsequently Alauddin Khalji.
His influence and popularity increased steadily. He suppressed a series of internal rebellions and also restrained foreign invasion, particularly from the Mongols. Nasir-ud-din, the Sultan, considered him essential. Nasir-ud-din had selected Balban to succeed him since he lacked an heir to the throne. Nasir-ud-din Mahmud died in 1266, and Balban succeeded him as Ghiyasuddin Balban.
Balban faced several issues after assuming the king. The state’s affairs had become chaotic, and the crown’s prestige had dwindled due to Iltutmish’s weak and inept successors. The nobles’ power had grown, and the famous Forty had become disloyal to the throne. They were proud in nature and were envious of Balban.
An empty royal treasury and a disorganized army The Mongol invasion was looming, as were internal rebellions. At this critical stage, Balban was charged with facing and fighting. But he showed himself more than equal to them.
Balban’s rule, according to political theorist Ziauddin Barani, was intended to instill ‘Fear of the ruling authority, which is the bedrock of all good governance.’ Additionally, he “preserved the Sultan’s status as the shadow of God’ and instituted strict court discipline.” He was dependent on Turkish aristocracy yet amassed a 2 lakh-strong army comprised of all classes. Commandos made up a part of this force. Balban achieved numerous military feats during his viziership, including lifting the Mongol siege of Uch in 1246 under Masud Shah.
When Tughral Tughan Khan, the ruler of Bengal, revoked Delhi’s sovereignty in 1275, Balban sent the governor of Awadh and subsequently a second army, both of which met with defeat. Balban then joined the third army in reconquering the region, where Tughral and his supporters were assassinated. Nasiruddin Bughra Khan, his son, aided him on this endeavor. Balban then appointed his second son as governor, Bughra Khan. However, after Balban’s death, Bughra proclaimed independence, which he retained for 40 years.
Balban’s most famous military expedition was against the Mayo, the Mewat tribe who used to pillage the inhabitants of Delhi even in broad daylight.
Balban took on the task of annihilating the Mewat and Awadh tribes, destroying strongholds and villages. He then constructed military outposts and distributed land to troops and Afghans for settlement. He garrisoned forts in strategic places, cleared woods, and supervised the construction of secure roadways. He also attempted but failed to lay siege to Ranthambore, but recaptured Gwalior from the Rajputs.
In 1247, Balban put down a rebellion led by Kalinjar’s Chandela Chief.
Balban’s military rule was notably notable for his victory against the Mongol army. This was possible because his cavalry horses were more adapted to the Indian climate and were naturally bigger than Mongol’s. Summer’s severe heat comprised the Mongols’ difficulty in India, as Juvaini explains. Their invasions seem to have been short, even while not beaten by Delhi’s troops, and to have occurred during the winter when the temperature was cold enough for the Mongols’ horses.
Balban first explained his idea of kingship to his people. Second, he stressed the need for outward dignity and reputation in establishing kingship. He kept a considerable distance from the populace and refused to interact with them. He structured his court after the Iranian model and adhered to the Persians’ etiquette and ceremonies to the letter.
He established Sijda (prostration) and paibos (feet-kissing) as the standard manner of greeting the monarch. He forbade courtiers and officials from drinking, making jokes, laughing, or even smiling. He also abstained from alcohol and revelry. He also removed all low-born individuals from high-ranking positions in his government. Thus, by demonstrating his might, authority, and dignity, Balban instilled fear in the populace and compelled them to submit. This was an appropriate move at the moment for reestablishing the crown’s status.
Iltutmish established the Forty, a select group of Turkish nobility, to ensure more efficient management. This body’s members were selected based on their devotion and distinguished service. However, after Iltutmish, the members of the Forty had unbridled authority as a result of his weak and inept successors. They saw the Sultan as little more than a puppet in their hands. Balban was well aware that the Forty would be a significant impediment to his dictatorship.
And without its elimination, he would be unable to accomplish his objective. As a result, he intended to subdue them by eliminating their organization.
Balban established an effective system of espionage as a tool of his despotic rule. He assigned reporters and news writers in each department, province, and district to gather information on the state’s different events. They conducted themselves with the greatest integrity and discretion. They faced serious repercussions if they failed to do their responsibilities.
Badaun’s news reporter was hung over the city gate for failing to report on Malik Baqbaq’s misbehavior promptly. They were well compensated and were free from the governor’s and commanders’ authority.
Balban reorganized his army, strengthening and modernizing it to serve as the cornerstone of his dictatorial administration. He selected Imad-ul-Mulk, a capable alert commander, as the army’s Diwan-i-Ariz (minister of war). The minister in command of the army was made independent of the Wazir’s financial supervision, and he had the Sultan’s complete trust.
Several serious rebellions occurred during Balban’s reign, which he put down with a hard hand. The most dangerous rebellious individuals were the Mewatis, the inhabitants of Mewat, who often pillaged the area around Delhi. Due to the presence of forests in the vicinity of Delhi, it was a commitment on their side to loot and flee.
Bengal was a province of the Delhi Sultanate, and Tughril Khan, the ruler, was a slave of Balban. Tughril Khan was a brave and ambitious man who first remained loyal to the Sultan. However, in 1279, he proclaimed Bengal’s independence and resisted Balban’s rule. He was most likely inspired by Balban’s advanced age and the recurrent Mongol invasions. However, Balban was not the kind to abandon him that quickly. He sent an expedition against him led by Amin-Khan. However, Tughril beat Amin-Khan. This infuriated Balban to the point that he ordered Amin-public Khan’s hanging.
Finally, Balban confronted Tughril personally. When Tughril learned of Balban’s approach, he escaped eastward but was apprehended and executed.
Balban’s actions against the aristocracy were so severe that his brother, Sher Khan, who is believed to have never visited Delhi, expressed skepticism. It seems as if the brothers’ animosity had to reach a point where the Sultan poisoned his sibling.
Ghiyasuddin Balban, however, continued to go on hunting trips, but they were more often utilized for military training. During his rule, there were widespread conversions to Islam in Punjab. Balban was the founder of the renowned Persian Festival of Nauroz.
Balban’s elder son, Prince Muhammad Khan, intended to succeed him, but he died in a fight against the Mongols on 9 March 1285. His second son, Bughra Khan, was averse to assuming the throne, preferring to remain king of Bengal. As a result, Balban appointed his grandson, Kaikhasrau, son of Prince Muhammad, as apparent heir assumptive.
Balban’s health deteriorated progressively after the shock of his son’s death. He was elderly and nearing the end of his life. He died at the age of eighty in 1287. However, after his demise, his nobles selected Qaiqubad to succeed him as Sultan.