Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the son of Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, was the second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty of Delhi. He is one of the most controversial figures in Indian History. During his reign from 1325 to 1351, Muhammad attempted to implement several ambitious administrative reforms, which earned him the titles of both the wisest fool and the most cruel king of the Delhi Sultanate. However, it is important to note that these labels are based on the accounts of Ziauddin Barani, Abdul Malik Isami, and Ibn Battuta, and may not accurately reflect the true nature of Muhammad's reign. While it is true that none of his ambitious schemes turned out to be successful, it is unfair to label him as a fool.
One of Muhammad Tughlaq's most significant projects was the relocation of the capital from Delhi to Devagiri, which he renamed Daulatabad.
According to Barani, the author of Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi, 'One of the projects of Sultan Muhammad which was ruinous to the capital of the empire, and distressing to the chief men of the country was that of making Devagiri his capital.'
This decision was made without any consultation or consideration of the advantages and disadvantages. As a result, he brought about the downfall of Delhi, a city that had prospered for nearly two centuries.
This once-envied city was reduced to ruins, with not even a cat or dog left among the buildings or suburbs. The native troops, along with their families and dependents, were forced to relocate. The inhabitants of the land, who had resided there for generations, were left heartbroken. Many perished on the long journey, and those who arrived at Devagiri could not bear the pain of exile. The infidel land of Devagiri saw graveyards of Musalmans spring up all around it.
The Sultan attempted to repopulate Delhi by bringing a diverse group of individuals, including scholars, tradesmen, and landholders from various towns in his territory. However, this influx of outsiders did not revive the city. Many of them died there, and more returned to their hometowns.
During the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq in 1334, the renowned Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta arrived in Delhi. In his account, he tells a fascinating and exaggerated story: 'One of the most serious criticisms against the Sultan is his decision to force the inhabitants of Delhi into exile.'
Some inhabitants of Delhi used to write anonymous abusive letters to the Sultan, which they would seal with the words "By the head of His Majesty, none but he may read this". These letters were then thrown into the council hall during the night. When the sultan opened them, he was appalled by the contents of the letters. He decided to take drastic action by laying waste to Delhi.
To achieve this, he purchased all the houses and dwellings from the inhabitants of Delhi and paid them the price. He then ordered them to leave Delhi and relocate to Daulatabad. However, the people refused to comply with his orders.
The Sultan then dispatched his crier to make a proclamation that all inhabitants must evacuate the city within three days. As a result, most of the people left, but some chose to hide in their homes.
Consequently, the Sultan ordered a search for those who remained, and his slaves found two men in the streets, one blind and one crippled. 'The Sultan ordered the cripple to be thrown up in the air by means of the ballista and the blind man to be dragged to Daulatabad - a distance of forty days' journey. He was torn to pieces on the way, and only a leg of his reached Daulatabad.'
After this horrific display of power, the whole of the population left Delhi, leaving behind their property and belongings. The once-thriving city was now a barren wasteland.
One night, the Sultan ascended to the roof of his palace and looked out over Delhi. When he saw no lights or signs of life, he declared that his heart was content and his soul at peace.
In an effort to repopulate the city, the Sultan then wrote to the inhabitants of neighboring provinces, inviting them to come to Delhi. However, the vastness and immensity of the city made this impossible, and the neighboring provinces were left in ruins.'
Ibn Battuta states that upon his arrival in Delhi, he was met with a ghost town, with only a handful of inhabitants.
Isami was among those who had left Delhi under the orders of the Sultan. He provides a detailed and exaggerated narration of the event:
The Sultan was suspicious of the population of Delhi and harbored bitter feelings towards them, which he had concealed for a long time. Eventually, he revealed his true colors of injustice and tyranny, behaving like Zahhak and killing many of them. However, when he realized that this did not weaken their strength, he devised a deceitful plan to destroy the city within a month.
The Sultan cunningly announced that anyone loyal to him must immediately vacate the city and head towards Maharashtra, with the promise of a generous amount of gold from the Sultan. Those who refused to comply would risk losing their lives and property.
Muslim women and pious saints were dragged out of their houses by police officers who pulled them by their hair and subjected them to tortures and afflictions.
My aged grandfather was dragged out of the city by the royal servants. Realizing that he would never see his beloved home again, he took his last breath while en route to Daulatabad, at Tilpat.
Six caravans were arranged to accommodate the people, but the Sultan supplied neither provisions nor conveyance. The once-inhabited houses became the dwelling places of demons, while the entire city was set on fire.
After some time, the accursed Sultan and tyrant decided to repopulate the city by bringing in rural inhabitants from the surrounding areas to settle there; however, this proved to be a disastrous decision, akin to replacing beautiful flowers with prickly cacti.
If the Muslims of this country unite and rebel against him, they may be able to remove this tyrant from power and kill him, for he is a danger to the principles of Islam.
This article presents a translation of the pertinent sections from three historical texts: Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi by Ziauddin Barani, the Rihla by Ibn Battuta, and Futuh-us-Salatin by Isami. To make it easier for you to digest, we have divided the content into three parts. We look forward to sharing Part 2 with you soon.
Note: Zahhak, an infamous king of ancient Persia, was notorious for his barbaric acts of cruelty and bloodshed.