Medieval India

Razia Sultan: Birth, Early Life, Rise and Downfall

Razia Sultan

Introduction: Razia Sultan (also Razia Sultana, Raziya Sultan) was first and only women ruler to become sit on the throne of Delhi Sultanate. She reigned for the period between 1236 to 1240.

Birth and Early Life: Razia Sultan was born in 1205. She was the daughter of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish. She began to get military and administrative training at an early age. Iltutmish had great faith in her ability. She was equipped to ride on elephant.

She also preferred to wear men’s attire and had the qualities to become an effective leader. Even during the reign of Iltutmish, she took active participation in the administrative affairs of the state.

Rise of Raziya Sultan and Fall of Shah Turkan: Rukn-ud-din Firuz was raised to the throne after the death of Iltutmish on 30th April, 1236. He was not a capable ruler and left the administration of entire kingdom in the hands of his mother, Shah Turkan.

When the people were collecting for the midday namaz of Friday, Razia Sultan suddenly appeared dressed in red and besought the people to do justice by her. She delivered a powerful speech and swayed their emotions by narrating how the throne should have really gone to her according to her father’s will.

She gave a graphic account of the atrocities of Shah Turkan and made a dramatic appeal to the people to exercise their right of choosing the sovereign, of carrying out the last wishes of their popular monarch and of putting an end to the atrocities of Shah Turkan and Rukn-ud-din Firuz.

She concluded by solemnly affirming that if she did not prove worthy of their trust and devotion she would willingly embrace death as a penalty. The people were moved by her words to great excitement. They attacked the palace, threw Shah Turkan into prison and raised Razia Sultan to the throne. It was after this that Ruknuddin returned to the capital. He was immediately arrested and confined in prison where he soon died. Thus, the rule of Shah Turkan and her son, Rukn-ud-din Firuz came to an end within less than seven months.

Early Challenges and Problems before Raziya: Raziya had got the throne no doubt but it was a crown of thrones that had been placed on her head. Her supporters consisted of a few rebel military leaders and the common citizens of Delhi.

Junaidi and other rebel chiefs who were anxious to replace Rukn-ud-din Firuz by a person of their choice would never submit to assumption of power by her. They could gain adherents among other provincial governors also. This was one serious problem.

In the second place a number of Iltutmish’s sons were still alive and they had their supporters both among the nobles and the people of Delhi.

Thirdly, the Rajputs had started the offensive again and were laying siege to Ranthambhor. Then, there were people to whom Razia was unacceptable simply because she had been born a woman.

The new sovereign must suppress all such opponents and rehabilitate the dignity and power of her royal office. Besides by her tact, wisdom, diplomatic skill, industry and martial valor, she must prove her greater worthiness for the royal office than even men.

Achievements: The greatest achievement of Razia Sultan was that she successfully won the confidence of her people. She had all the support of the common people.

The governors of Multan, Hansi, Lahore and Badaun joined by Junaidi, the Wazir encamped their troops near Delhi. Razia did not possess adequate forces to engage them in an open conflict. She therefore led her forces out of the fort but tried to gain her end by diplomacy rather than by war.

Exploiting the mutual jealousy of the rebel chiefs, she won over Izzuddin Salari and Kabir Khan to her side and then gave wide publicity to the fact that a number of rebel chiefs had joined her and had promised to bring others in chains before her. This caused such distrust and dismay among the rebels that each one of them fled for his own safety without reference to anyone else. The prestige of Razia suddenly went up with a bounce and all provincial governors were so overawed that they willingly submitted to her authority and agreed to pay annual tribute.

Administration: She impressed everybody by her ability, love of justice, recognition of merit and capacity for hard work. She abandoned purdah, held open court, listened to grievances of her subjects and exercised general supervision over the work of every department.

Razia next took a number of steps to enhance the prestige of the sovereign. Muhazzabuddin, the Naib Wazir, was given the Wazarat. The Jagirs of Kabir Khan and Salari were increased.

In order to break the monopoly of Turks to high office and to make them dependent on her will she offered some of the higher posts to non-Turkish Muslims. One such was Jamal-ud-din Yaqut, an Abyssinian. He was appointed Amir Akhur.

Opposition to Razia: There was a section of the people, however, which could never bear the idea of a woman being the head of the state. Others felt unhappy because she would not allow them as much latitude as they desired.

All the early attempt against Razia but were suppressed. All those who feared being suspects in the eyes of the Queen became apprehensive about their security and became political rebels. Some Provincial governors became hostile and engaged themselves in conspiracy against Razia Sultan.

Downfall of Razia Sultan: The Turkish nobles now formed a plan of an organized resistance. They wanted to weaken royalty permanently vis-a-vis the nobility. The leader of this conspiracy was Malik Ikhtiyar-ud-din Aitigin who had risen from the office of the governor of Badaun. Aitigin felt that no large-scale rising was possible in Delhi as long as the queen was present there because of her precautionary measures. The plans were therefore laid out with great care. Altuniya the governor of Bhatinda first raised the standard of revolt. Razia immediately proceeded against him at the head of an army. Aitigin and his fellow-conspirators captured Yaqut and killed him and then made common cause with Altuniya to defeat and capture Razia. She was entrusted to the care of Altuniya and the rest of the nobles returned to the capital.

Bahram, the third son of Iltutmish, had already been elevated to the throne on the news of Razia’s imprisonment reaching the capital. The populace of Delhi, though overwhelmingly in favor of Razia, could offer no resistance because there was none to lead it. The nobles returning from Bhatinda recognized Bahram as the Sultan which made his position comparatively strong. He assumed the style of Muiz-ud-din Bahram and ruled from 1240 to 1242.

Death of Razia (1240): Muiz-ud-din Bahram had got the throne no doubt but he never enjoyed the substance of power. Before his accession, he had to agree to all the terms proposed by the nobles. But, Malik Altuniya did not figure anywhere in the division of loaves and fishes of office. Being absent from Delhi, nobody seemed to have remembered him.

In the meantime Altuniya succumbed to the charms and intelligence of Razia and married her. He now tried to seize Delhi on behalf of his wife and sovereign. But, both Altuniya and Razia Sultan were defeated and killed on 13th October, 1240.

Conclusion: Razia Sultan is a remarkable personality in the history of medieval India. She remained the only women ruler of Delhi during the rule of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire combined.