Ghiasuddin Balban was the 9th Sultan of Delhi Sultanate. He was already a powerful noble and leader of prestigious Chihilgani(the forty nobles)  under Sultan Nasiruddin Mehmud(Iltutmish's grandson) and was virtually the real administrator of Delhi Sultanate . 

He was quite popularly known as Ulugh-khan-i-azam. Author of Tabakat-i-Nasiri  Minhaz uz Siraj  has callsed him asylum of Iltutmish's dynasty and strength of the entire kingdom. Which shows the important role played by him in the reigns of Iltutmish's sons.

Due to the weakness and incompetence of the successors of the iltutmish he himself became Sultan in year 1266 CE after the death of Sultan Nasiruddin Mehmud. 

At the time of his accession the prestige of Sultanate had sunk very low. The Institution of 'The forty' created by Iltutmish had became a frankestine monster for his later heirs. These 40 nobles wielded real power and used later Sultans as mere puppets. 

In fact before coming to power Balban was himself a leader of these forty nobles. But unlike weak successors of iltutmish he was more experienced strong minded and quite assertive as a monarch. 

During his tenure under Nasiruddin Mehmud as a chief wazir he had already consolidated his position by achieving nominal success in dealing with three important challenges namely :-

  1. Suppression of the rebellious turkish nobles. 
  2. Vigilence against the rising power of the Hindu Chiefs. 
  3. Stemming the tide of Mongol menace.

Challenges before Balban at the time of his accession. 

However the Crown of Sultanate was still a Crown of thorns for him as he was faced with numerous political and administrative problems on his accession to the throne. 
  1. The turkish nobles , 'The forty' in particular had become power drunk, lately they had become king makers and considered themselves as to be partners in the state enterprise. 
  2. The provincial governors were usually insubordinate towards the Central government and autocratic, in the matter of administration of the territories under their charge. 
  3. Mongol raids were still common and they had been frequently ravaging the north west borders of empire. 
  4. Rajput chiefs in Rajputana had increased their military pressure on Southern borders of Sultanate. 
  5. Hindu Chiefs in Gangetic do-ab region were showing rebellious tendencies. 
  6. The royal treasury was empty. State revenue was insufficient to meet the defence requirements of state. 
During the time of Sultan Nasiruddin mehmud Balban as a chief wazir kept the situation under control for about two decades although it seems he maintained the status quo without seeking the permanant solutions to these problems. Once on the throne, he took up the task with great eagerness and enthusiasm. 

Sultan Balban theory of kingship
Sultan Ghiasuddin Balban 

Reorganisation of Army

First of all, Balban paid his attention to organising the military upon whose strength and solidarity depended the very existence of the state. He reorganised the army and put it on war footing. 

The army establishement was separated from the rest of the Civil departments, it was taken out if control of the wazir as well as the finance minister. He appointed his trusted friend imad ul mulk, a competent military general as Diwan-i-ariz or the Defence minister whose powers were equal to other Central miniters.

The new General was an efficient taskmaster who made several reforms within army like complete overhauling of recruitment and training process, rebuilding of important forts across the borders and redeployment of royal forces at strategic places. Despite of all the power entrusted upon him by the emperor, the supreme command of the royal forces still remained in the hands of the Sultan. 

Balban also dealt with corruption in army by taking away the rights of old/dead iqtadars who were hardly fit for military service in fact many were replaced by their wifes and sons who didn't have military skills/fit horses/competent soldiers and yet owned large tracts of fertile land in Do-ab as Iqtas

This was done by altering the registers in diwan-i-ariz by paying suitable bribe. Earlier there was no check over such practices but Balban's timely inspections and Vigilence considerably improved the efficiency and tone of the feudal contingents sent by these Iqtadars

Restoration of law and order by use of Blood and Iron policy.

1. Dealing with Meo menace

The very first problem of law and order was related to the protection of the life and property of the people in and around the capital itself. According to the historian Barani during the period of week successors of Iltutmish the Meos aur Mewatis in the neighborhood of Delhi had grown in power and multiplied in numbers. 

The thick jungles which had grown all around Delhi and the unreclaimed land of Haryana covered with thorny shrubs and sand dunes were their main hideouts. The meos had become so daring that they sometimes carried their plundering raids within the capital right beneath the walls of the Royal Palace. 

Balban dealt with this issue by using policy of blood and iron he moved out of the capital and set up his military camp in the heart of the Meo-infested areas. The Jungle around Delhi was cleared and roads constructed to facilitate the movement of armies ,a fort was built at Gopalgir and many police post established in the whole Iqtas of Delhi. 

Balban meted out a very cruel treatment to the mewatis and their families. According to historian Barani 

about a hundred thousand males and above 12 years were massacred in cold blood their women were enslaved, property pillaged and houses put on fire. Their lands were confiscated and distributed among the turko-afghan officers who were involved in the operations at Mewat. 

The blood and iron policy of Balban bore fruit and within a year the capital was made safe from the Mewati menace. 

2. Suppresion of rebellious hindu Chiefs in do-ab region. 

After effectively fixing Meos, Balban had to deal with another threat from the Hindu zamindars of Do-ab and Awadh. The people of these region were rich and prosperous owing to the fertility of their soil. They did not pay taxes to the the state regularly not permitted to the Sultanate officers to established their foothold in their areas and were resentful towards Muslim settlers. 

The only reason that their discontent didn't took the shape of a large scale rebellion was that they lacked a political leadership which could unite them. Balban took this seriously and to avoid a possiblity of Revolt in his neighbourhood he came up with a brilliant idea. 

He distributed the entire Gangetic valley  into small Iqtas or fiefs which were assigned to ambitious Turko-Afghan officers with the instructions to crush the insubordinate 'infidels' by an iron hand. 

He built strong forts at Kapil, patiyala and Bhojpur which were heavily garrisoned by the state Troops, ready to help the iqtadars in their punitive expaditions against the hindu rebels. The Muslim settlers were granted tax-free land with powers to defend themselves by force of arms. 

In the words of Ziauddin barani

He himself went to kampil and patiali and stayed in these territories for five or six months. He put robbers and rebels unhesitatingly to the sword, the route to pudhe was opened and caravans and merchant could come and go in Peace. In addition a lot of plunder of that region came to Delhi, where slaves and cattle became cheap. 

The other part where rebels took arms against Sultanate was Bundelkhand. The Sultan moved with a strong army from his Capital and marched upon the rebellion centre without wasting time. 

Barani describes 

He wreaked his vengeance over the rebels like a tyrant. Sultan ordered General massacre of tge male population a stream of blood flower in the Ground, corpses piled UP before every village, the stinking of which polluted the atmosphere, resulting in the spread of epidemics. 

At a later stage Balban led one such punitive expedition against the rebellious khokhars of the salt range (northwest) as well.  

Balban's policy against Mongols

When Balban became the Sultan, his cousin Sher Khan sunqar held charge of the north western frontier. He defended the region from the mongols in roads with ability and courage. After his death in 1270 CE the crown prince Muhammed was deputed to be the leader of the marches with general supervisory powers over the provinces of Lahore Multan and Uchh. 

Balban created a second line of defence under the command of his second son Bughra Khan. The latter was given charge of the iqtas of Sunam ,Samana and Dipalpur. He had under his control a chain of forts of all the strategic places, these were heavily garrisoned by the state troops. 

Balban himself stayed in the capital as far as possible and personally supervised the defence arrangements made against the mongol invasion into the empire. 

A special force of 30,000 well equipped cavalry was kept in reserve exclusively to reinforce the border contingents at a moment's notice. On the whole Balban's policy to checkmate mongol menace was defensive in nature he did not attempt to liberate the whole of North Western region from them. The major towns of Lahore, Multan and Uchh were of course, kept under control by the royal troops at a heavy cost in men and material. 

In 1285, the Mangol leader Taimur Khan of Afghanistan launched a major attack on the Punjab. Prince Mohammed gave him a bold fight but lost his life in the combat, and the towns of Lahore and Dipalpur were plundered by the marauders.

The provinces of Multan and Uchh were, however, protected from the mongol fury by the royal troops under the command of Kai Khusro, the youthful son of deceased prince muhammed.

Liquidation of gang of 'The Forty' nobles

When Balban became Sultan the gang of Forty nobles was holding almost all the high offices of the empire including the posts of military generals and provincial governors.

Balban who was once, one among them knew fully well that they were highly ambitious, resourceful and cunning politicians. They had collectively been responsible for downgrading the office of the Sultan by usurping the royal powers and privileges. 

Balban knew that, given the opportunity, they would not hesitate in establishing their dominance over him. Balban however was a strong headed monarch who believed in absolute power and was keen to established an absolute monarchy but these group of nobles were a stumbling block in the realisation of this objective. 

Balban therefore was determined to reduce their power so that to diminish their influence in all the departments of empire. He adopted a slow and steady Policy to undermine their political status and reduce the military power of these nobles. 

First he sent them on risky military assignments. For eg. he deployed many of these nobles on north western borders to check the incoming mongol menace. The mongol were no easy enemies to deal with the success against them wasn't possible without a cordinated military effort. The nobles failed many times and blamed each other for their failures which led to development of fissures in their close bonds. Those who suffered defeats were dismissed, disgraced and executed by Balban. 

Balban also ordered frequent transfers of the provincial governors which prevemted them from developing vested interests at a particular place. Many junior officers were also promoted to higher posts which put them at par with 'The forty'. Due to this a new class of nobility developed in the empire that was from the junior ranks and was loyal to its patron i.e Emperor Balban. 

Balban adopted a stern policy towards the group of forty he took them to task for the minor lapses in the discharge of their official duties and inflicted heavy punishments on the defaulters. Malik baqbaq governor of Badaun and Haibat Khan governor of Oudh were some of those who were publicly flogged to death. 

Balban set up a network of newswriters and spies(barids) throughout his empire. They were handsomely paid and were directly under the control of sultaan, quite independent of the provincial governors and Military generals. Their task was to keep a strict watch over the rebellious tendencies of nobles and all the high rank officials. The spies were severely punished in if they failed to submit correct and prompt reports to Sultan. For eg newswriters of Badaun who failed to report against Malik Baqbaq, was hanged on the city gate of Badaun. 

The efficient spy system of balban Stuck terror in the hearts of the government employees and strengthened the hold of ruling monarch over them. Which helped Balban in establishment of an absolute monarchy which he keenly desired. 

Ruthless suppression of revolt in Bengal (1279-81) 

In 1279 when Balban was confined to bed illness and mongol Attacks were increasing on north West frontiers, Tughril  Khan, the governors of Bengal declared his Independence . Incidentally he was a trusted slave officers of Balban himself. 

The Sultan ordered Amin Khan, the governor of Oudh , to bring him to the knees but he failed to subdue him. Balban called Amin Khan back and executed him. Another mission sent under Tirmati Khan met the same fate and Sultan also ordered for his beheading. It gave a strong message to other military generals that defeat was not an option for them. 

Third mission against Tughril Khan was led by ill Sultan himself. On hearing of Sultan's approach, Tughril Khan lost his heart and fled the capital, which was occupied by the royal armies without a fight. Tughril took shelter in the jungles of orissa but was discovered and killed. Later all the friends and relatives of Tughril became victim of Balban's barbaric vengeance. 

Balban's theory of Kingship

Balban's theory of Kingship was akin to that of the divine rights of Kings as professed by the Tudor and Stuart monarchs of England. 
He traced his descent from the Mythical turkish hero Afrasiyab and attempted to create a halo of superiority round the monarchy. 

He claimed divine sanction for the office of the Sultan and fully exploited the religious sentiments of his people strengthen his hold over the state. 

Balban popularised the term Zil-i-ilahi (shadow of god) in Hindustan for himself (Sultan). Caliph's name was no more but Balban inscribed his own name along with Zil-i-ilahi on the coins. So that his co-religionists might extend their unqualified obedience to him. 

As 'vice-regent of God on earth', Balban intented to make it known that:- 
  • He was above law as well as the turkish nobility. 
  • He ruled by divine sanction and was not answerable to any worldly authority for the discharge of his powers and functions as soverign. 
  • He attempted to raise the status and prestige of the crown by claiming divine powers for it. 
This was a subtle religious device to sanctify the exercise of his despotic authority.

According to Barani no other Sultan of Delhi ever laid stress on theory of Kingship as  shown by Balban through his personal conduct and his court proceedings. 

  • In order to established his claim of divine origin of the sovereign Balban effected a radical change in his dress, social behaviours and manners. 
  • He gave up drinking, cut of the jovial company of his courtiers,banned public drinking by the nobility and aquired aloofness from the people. 
  • Balban always maintained the external dignity, bore frowned looks and displayed an awe-inspiring personality. 
  • He was so particular about his demeanor that even his personal servants had not seen him without royal apparel, socks and the headgear. 
  • He organised a Grand darbar on the Persian Model which became famous throughout Central Asia for its pomp and magnificence. 
  • His courtiers put on prescribed costumes made of fine silken, woolen and cotton garments, studded with jewels, diamonds and gold ornaments. 
  • He himself sat on huge throne embellished with rich drapery and precious diamonds which dazzled the eyes of onlookers. 
  • Behind the Sultan stood his guards tall and muscular turkish slaves, in rich sttireand heavily armed, with drawn out swords. 
  • Sijdah or prostration and Paibos or kissing of the feet of the Sultan were the normal forms of Salutation in the court which left the nobility and visitors utterly humbled, terror striken and dumb-founded.
  • Stern discipline was enforced in his court, none was permittedto speak without the permission of the Sultan. He himself spoke very little and that too with only highest dignitaries. 
  • He practiced discrimination between High born and low born. He never gave high posts to the non turks or men of doubtful antecedents. Only people born in nobility were qualified for higher appointments. 
  • Balban conducted himself as some deeply religious man, he offered daily prayers and observed other Islamic rituals with regularity but that didnt stop him from inflicting barbaric punishments on those who didn't agreed with him or on those whome he percieved as threat. 
In this way Balban evolved his own methods to rule over Delhi sultanate with iron hand. He was a great warrior ,administrator and statesman. He further strengthened the roots of delhi sultanate which was laid by his illustrious master Iltutmish. He was a strong disciplinarian who would punish even his closest kins if found guilty of breaking the royal code. 

At the time of his accession he faced several threats which could have broken the will of an ordinary person but Balban was no ordinary person with his strong willpower and grit determination he sucessfully supressed the internal as well as external threats. He also brought rogue officials in order by inflicting severe punishments . 

His reign was full of challenges which he dealt one by one head-on successfully and by the time he died he already had deepened the roots of delhi sultanate, an empire that lasted for about 250 years more after death. In fact it later became an imperial state and further got extended to other parts of India under Khilji's, Tughlaqs as well as Lodis.


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