Ghiyas-ud-din Balban (1216-1287)

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban

Context: The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi unveiled six renovations in Mehrauli’s Archaeological Park, with one of the monuments being the restoration of the 13th-century tomb of Balban.

About Ghiyas-ud-din Balban


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  • Ghiyas-ud-din Balban, the ninth sultan of the Mamluk dynasty of Delhi and an Ilbari Turk, reigned from 1266 AD to 1287 AD.
  • Balban’s journey to power began when he was initially sold as a slave to the then-ruler Iltumish in 1232 CE, only to be later freed by him.
  • During his rule, Ghiyas achieved various conquests, including subduing the troublesome inhabitants of Mewat, reclaiming Bengal, and successfully defending against the Mongol threat, though it came at the cost of his son’s life.

Early Life: 

  • Initially, he served as the Sultan’s personal attendant or Khasdar and swiftly became one of the most distinguished members of the Chalissa, a group of forty Turkic nobles in Delhi.
  • During Razia Sultan’s reign, he held the significant position of Amir-i-Shikar, responsible for both military and political duties. 
  • Balban played a pivotal role in the overthrow of Alaud-din Masud and the installation of Nasiruddin Mahmud as Sultan, subsequently serving as the Wazir from 1246 to 1265.
  • During Nasiruddin Mahmud’s reign, he was granted the titles of Amiri-Hajib and Naib-i-Mamlakat, signifying his significant role in the administration.

Military Campaigns: 

  • Balban relied on the Turkish nobility for support but also raised a massive army of 2 lakh troops, encompassing individuals from various castes.
  • He identified four main problem areas: the vicinity of Delhi, the Ganga-Yamuna doab, trade routes, especially the one to Awadh, and rebellions in Rohilkhand.

Balban achieved several military feats:

  • He successfully lifted the Mongol siege of Uch under Masud Shah in 1246.
  • When the governor of Bengal, Tughral Khan, challenged Delhi’s authority in 1275, Balban initially dispatched the governor of Awadh and later a second army, both of which failed. Balban personally led a third army, ultimately reclaiming the region and eliminating Tughral and his followers, with the assistance of his son, Nasiruddin Bughra Khan. Subsequently, Balban appointed his second son, Bughra Khan, as the governor, who declared independence after Balban’s death, maintaining it for four decades. 
  • Balban’s military campaign against the Meo people of Mewat stands out as a significant endeavour. These raiders had been terrorizing the residents of Delhi, even in broad daylight. To quell this threat, Balban implemented his ‘Blood and Iron’ strategy. This involved a year-long effort to subdue the Meos, during which forests were cleared to eliminate their hiding spots, leading to a substantial reduction in their numbers. To further secure the region, Balban oversaw the construction of forts in the affected areas and granted control to iqtedar holders.

Reign as Sultan:

  • During Balban’s reign, his governance was marked by the establishment of an unwavering ‘Fear of the governing power,’ which he considered the fundamental basis for effective rule. 
  • To ensure unwavering loyalty to the crown, he implemented an efficient espionage system, modelled after the Umayyad Barid. This included the use of spies or barids to monitor his officials, who were placed under independent authority and answered solely to the Sultan.
  • Balban imposed severe punishments for any mishaps, even towards his nobles, and did not spare their own slaves. For instance, Malik Baqbaq, the governor of Budaun, was disciplined for ordering a slave to be beaten to death while intoxicated.
  • Balban also addressed the threat of the Mongols by reorganizing the military and restructuring the revenues of Iqtedar holders, discontinuing them for older Muqtas who could not serve as military commanders.
  • Balban was openly vocal about his concept of kingship, referring to himself as the representative of God on Earth and adopting the title ‘Zillullah’ or ‘shadow of God.’ His theory of kingship was based on the notion that a king’s power emanated solely from God, making his actions beyond public scrutiny.
  • Balban maintained a notable distance from the common masses, forgoing public drinking and never appearing in court without his full regalia.
  • He introduced the Persian festival of Nowruz and enforced customs like ‘Sijda’ and ‘Paibos’ in his court to instil a sense of wonder among ordinary people.
  • Balban took a stern approach to rule, breaking up the ‘Chahalgani,’ a group of the forty most influential nobles in the court. He promoted junior Turkish officers to positions of equality with the members of the Chalisa Dal. 

After his Death:

  • Ghiyas ud din Balban served as Sultan from 1265 until his demise in 1287.
  • Balban’s elder son, Prince Muhammad Khan, lost his life in a battle against the Mongols.
  • Balban selected his grandson, Kaikhasrau, the son of Prince Muhammad, as his designated heir.
  • However, after Balban’s passing, his nobles instead nominated Qaiqubad as the new Sultan. 
  • Qaiqubad’s reign lasted from 1287 to 1290, during which Bughra Khan asserted his independence in Bengal.
  • After Qaiqubad’s death, leadership was passed to his three-year-old son, Shamsuddin Kayumar. However, Shamsuddin Kayumars was later deposed by his guardian, Jalal-ud din Firoz Khalji, in 1290, marking the end of the Slave dynasty.
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Tomb of Balban

  • Balban’s Tomb is housed within the archaeological park, and it was originally constructed by the Sultan himself, known as the Dar-ul-Amaan or the Haven of Safety.
  • This tomb is historically significant as it represents the earliest example of Indo-Islamic architectural style in India, although its existence was only unearthed in the mid-20th century.
  • Near Balban’s tomb lies the resting place of his son, Khan Shahid or Mahmud, who died in 1285 AD while battling the Mongols. Mahmud’s tomb is adorned with exquisite Persian calligraphy.
  • Balban’s tomb is noteworthy for being the first structure in India to feature true arches, constructed using a circular arrangement of stones.
    • This architectural innovation was novel in Indian architecture at the time. 
  • The tomb was built using rubble masonry and it also demonstrates a fusion of Hindu and Islamic art in its construction.

Prelims Previous Year Question (2022): 

Q. With reference to Indian history, consider the following statements:

1. The first Mongol invasion of India happened during the reign of Jalal-ud-din Khalji.

2. During the reign of Ala-ud-din Khalji, one Mongol assault marched up to Delhi and besieged the city.

3. Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq temporarily lost portions of north-west of his kingdom to Mongols.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2

(b) 2 only

(c) 1 and 3

(d) 3 only

Answer: (b)

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