Muhammad Bin Tughlaq - Famous and Infamous Rulers
30-07-2018    319 times
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq

Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, one of the most interesting personalities of medieval India, was the son of Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq, who founded the Tughlug Dynasty in India. After the death of his father, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq took the throne and ruled over a vast portion of the northern India along with the Deccan from 1324 to 1351 AD. He was a learned person with a streak of intellectual creativity. However, he had been a man of controversies and crisis. With good intentions, he tried to implement new administrative policies and his moves were bold for his time, but were poorly implemented and failed miserably at the end. In his hurry to fulfill his dreams, he severely punished anyone who opposed his hasty moves. This ruthless attitude, associated with his habit of acting without assessing risks and without providing for unforeseen difficulties, resulted in his administrative gambles ending in disaster.

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In 1329 AD, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq decided to shift his capital from Delhi to the more centrally located Devagiri in Maharashtra, which he renamed Daulatabad. He had good reasons to take the decision, since other than saving his capital from the recurring Mongol invasions, the move would secure his control over the rich fertile lands of the Deccan and ensure easy access to the important ports on the Gujarat and the Coromandel coast. Apparently, there was nothing wrong with this pragmatic decision. However, it was a great blunder on his part to order the entire population of Delhi to move to the new capital, instead of just shifting his official court. This mindless order had a chaotic effect and despite the elaborate arrangements made for the convenience of the people, many of them suffered terribly while covering the long distance and died on the way.

Daulatabad Fort
Daulatabad Fort

However, within a short time after shifting the capital to Devagiri, trouble broke out in Bengal as well as on the northwestern frontier and it became evident that, though the new capital was at a safe distance from the onslaught of the Mongol attacks, it was too far away to protect the integrity of the vast territory in the northern India. As soon as he realized the truth, the mercurial ruler re-ordered his people to return to Delhi. Again, thousands suffered and died in the punishing 1500 km return journey to Delhi. Probably Muhammad Bin Tughlaq felt bad for his people and did try to make amends by waiving multiple taxes and organising relief measures. However, the financial loss was immense and the consequences for Delhi were grave. The imperial city lost many of its people and also lost its former prosperity and grandeur. The widespread public resentment against the whims of the Sultan also led to revolts and bitterness that infuriated the Sultanate for years to come. Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan scholar and the famous traveler, who came to Delhi in 1334, wrote in his memoirs that, he found certain parts of the city still deserted. However, that is generally believed to be an exaggeration. It is true that as an impact of the unwise shifting, Delhi suffered a downfall in its stature and trade, but it is also believed that only the powerful and nobility suffered the hardships, if any.

Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta

Muhammad Bin Tughlaq had to face financial crisis due to famine-like situation and frequent revolts in the country and he found it difficult to maintain the supply of gold and silver coins on a large scale. To handle the situation, he introduced a token currency system in 1330 and minted vast quantities of new copper and brass coins that could be exchanged for fixed amounts of gold and silver. Initially, the system seemed to be a success, but the loopholes like the simple design and the absence of any royal seal made the task easier for forgers. Soon the market became flooded with fake coins. People started to pay revenue in brass and copper coins, while the traders refused to accept them. Within no time, the token coins became valueless, creating hyperinflation. Realising that his scheme had failed dismally, Tughlaq had no other way, but to withdraw the new currency in an attempt to stem the economic chaos.

Gold coins of Tughlaq
Gold coins of Tughlaq
Token currency coins
Token currency coins

Tughlaq increased the land tax in the Doab region, the land between the Ganges and Yamuna, but had to withdraw it, as the taxpayers protested vehemently, on the plea of the onset of a severe drought. For the first time in the history of Dehli, he introduced rotation of crops, established state farms, tended cultivation and improved artificial irrigation by establishing a department of agriculture. At the onset of a famine in the northern India (1338–40), he made his presence felt, when he personally supervised the relief measures.

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With the ambition to annex Turkistan, Iran and Iraq, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq raised an army of possibly up to three million and seven hundred thousand soldiers in 1329. However, though the soldiers were paid in one year advance, he did not care to take any step to check the ability of the soldiers or the brand of horses. As there was no advance planning for immediate action, the army was kept idle for one year with full pay. Finally, the Sultan realised that he was unnecessarily wasting money to pay the inactive soldiers and thus decided to disperse and disband the army in 1329. He projected a Khorāsān expedition during1327–1328, to secure more defensible frontiers in the west, which never materialized. In an attempted to adjust the boundary dispute with the northern hill states dominated by China, he started the Karajil expedition in1329-1330, but that ended in a disaster. In 1333, he led the Qarachil expedition to the Kullu- Kangra, with the intention to cross the Himalayas and invade China. However, as his army was not properly trained and lacked the technique to fight in the hills, he was defeated comprehensively by the Hindu Katoch kingdom of Kangra and was forced to retreat, as nearly all his 10,000 soldiers were perished in the combat.

Token currency coins

In 1351, while on his way to Sindh, to intervene a war between members of the Gujjar tribe, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq lost his life. It is said that, at the end he uttered verses of his own composition and died with a smile on his face.

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Sultan Muhammad was one of the most controversial and figures of the 14th century. Apart from his poetic talent, he possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Quran, Muslim jurisprudence, astronomy, logic, philosophy and medicine. A brave and unflinching soldier, he was tolerant in religion and was normally humane and humble, but these traits were impaired at times by harsh cruelty. He lived in constant conflict between the faith in the correctness of his policies and the way to implement them. He wished to create a more equitable social order by making Islam a religion of service, rather than a means of exploitation. Unfortunately, he had lived to see his empire fall apart during his reign by two fold resistances, from Rana Hammir of Mewar and from Harihara and Bukka of South India.

Token currency coins
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Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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