During the reign of the early Turkish dynasty, commonly referred to as the Slave dynasty (1206-1290), royal women held positions of power and authority, actively contributing to the governance and administration of the Sultanate. Notably, two influential women during this period were Raziyya Sultan and Shah Turkan.
Qutub-ud-din Aibak, originally a slave of Muhammad Ghori, was the first ruler of the early Turkish Sultanate of Delhi. He married his eldest daughter to Nasir-ud-Din Qabacha, who was also a slave of Muhammad Ghori. After the unfortunate death of his first wife, Qabacha entered into a marital union with Aibak's youngest daughter. Aibak's second daughter was married to Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, who himself had once been a slave of Aibak.
Khudawanda-i-Jahan Shah Turkan, the wife of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish and mother of Rukn-ud-din Firuz, was the first royal lady actively involved in political affairs. She was originally a Turkish hand-maid, but her generosity, benevolence and charity towards the Ulama, Sayyids, priests and recluses were truly remarkable.
After the death of Iltutmish in 1236, the maliks and nobles of the kingdom placed his eldest surviving son Rukn-ud-din Firuz on the throne. However, once he ascended to the throne, Rukn-ud-din became consumed by pleasure, neglected the affairs of the kingdom, leading to a state of disarray.
Taking advantage of this situation, Shah Turkan began to assert her influence over state affairs. Shah Turkan had always been envious of the other ladies in Iltutmish's harem. As her power grew, she sought revenge against her rivals, resulting in the murder of many of them. Shah Turkan and Rukn-ud-din even went so far as to blind Qutb al-Din, the infant son of Iltutmish, and ultimately put him to death.
The people, witnessing the cruelty and incompetence of their rulers, turned against them, leading to revolts erupting in various parts of the country. The first revolt was led by Ghias-ud-din Muhammad Shah, the younger brother of Rukn-ud-din, the governor of Oudh (Awadh). Joining forces with him were Malik Izz al-Din Salari, the governor of Budaun, Malik Ala-ud-din Jani, the governor of Lahore, Malik Kabir Khan, the governor of Multan, and Malik Saif-ud-din Kuji, the governor of Hansi.
Rukn-ud-din marched from Delhi to suppress the rebellion. However, his wazir, Nizam-ul-Mulk Junaidi, grew fearful and fled from Delhi, seeking refuge in Kol where he joined the confederates. Meanwhile, Rukn-ud-din continued his march towards Kohram, but upon reaching Mansurpur, seven of his principal chiefs deserted him and retired with their troops to Delhi.
Meanwhile, in Delhi, Shah Turkan conspired against Raziyya, the crown princess, to put her to death. However, the people of Delhi rallied in her defense, recognizing her as their rightful leader. Shah Turkan's treachery was swiftly exposed, leading to her imprisonment, while Raziyya ascended to the throne. The people, inspired by Raziyya's courage and determination, wholeheartedly pledged their loyalty to her, solidifying her position as the ruler of Delhi.
Raziyya Sultan's reign marked a significant departure from the traditional norms of the time, as she became the first and only female ruler of the Sultanate. Her favoritism towards an Abyssinian, Malik Jamal al-Din Yaqut, the Lord of the Stables, created jealously among the Turks. Moreover, her public appearance in male attire, without a veil, further angered them. In one of the rebellions, she was defeated by Malik Ikhtiyar al-Din Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda. Raziyya was deposed and imprisoned. However, Raziyya and Altunia later married and attempted to recapture Delhi. Tragically, they both lost their lives along the way.
Some other notable women of the Slave Dynasty include:
Turkan Khatun, the chief wife of Sultan Iltutmish, is believed to be the daughter of Qutub-ud-din Aibak and the mother of Raziyya.
One of Iltutmish's daughters, and the sister of Sultan Muizz-ud-din Bahram, was married to the Amir-i-Hajib Malik Ikhtiyar-ud-din Aitegin.
Another daughter of Iltutmish was married to Malik Iz-ud-Din Balban-i-Kashlu Khan.