Devagiri or Daulatabad, the New Capital of Muhammad Tughlaq

Muhammad, the son of Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq and the second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty of Delhi, is one of the most controversial figures in Indian History. He is popularly known as Muhammad bin Tughlaq (reign: 1325 to 1351).

Sultan Muhammad, who attempted to undertake a number of 'ambitious' administrative reforms, is often referred as 'the wisest fool' and 'the most cruel king of the Delhi Sultanate'. It is natural to feel so after reading the accounts of Ziauddin Barani and Ibn Battuta. Muhammad Tughlaq was a wise king but not a fool. However, it is true that none of Muhammad's ambitious schemes turned out to be successful. Of these projects, the most important was the transfer of the capital from Delhi to Devagiri. Devagiri was renamed as Daulatabad. Let's first examine the accounts of Barani and Ibn Battuta:

Ziauddin Barani, the contemporary writer, says: "The second project 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, under the title of Daulatabad. Without any consultation, and without looking into the advantages and disadvantages, he brought ruin upon Delhi, that city which, for 170 or 180 years, had grown in prosperity. The city, with its sarais, suburbs and villages, spread over four or five kos. All was destroyed. Thus this city, the envy of the cities of the inhabited world, was reduced to ruin. So complete was the ruin that not a cat or a dog was left among the buildings of the city. Troops of the natives, with their families, dependents and servants were forced to remove. The people, who for many years and for generations had been inhabitants of the land, were broken-hearted. Many, from the toils of the long journey, perished on the road, and those who arrived at Devagiri could not endure the pain of exile. In despondency they pined to death. All around Devagiri, which is an infidel land, there sprung up graveyards of Musalmans. The Sultan brought learned men, gentlemen, tradesmen and landholders into Delhi from certain towns in his territory, and made them reside there. But this importation of strangers did not populate the city; many of them died there, and more returned to their native homes. These changes and alterations were the cause of great injury to the country".

Ibn Battuta's Account: Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan traveler, reached Delhi in 1334 in the reign of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Below is his account:


"One of the most serious reprehensions against the sultan is that he forced the inhabitants of Delhi into exile. The cause of it was this. They used to write letters containing abuses and scandals, and would seal the letters writing on the cover 'By the head of His Majesty none except he should read the letter'. These letters they used to throw into the council hall in the course of the night. When he tore them open, he found abases and scandals in the contents. So he resolved to lay Delhi waste. He bought the houses and dwellings from all the inhabitants of Delhi and paid the price for them. Then he ordered them to leave Delhi and move on to Daulatabad, but they refused to do so. Thereupon his crier went forth proclaiming that no one should remain in Delhi after three days. As a result, most of the people went away; but some hid themselves in their houses. The sultan ordered a search for those who still lingered; and in the lanes of the city his slaves lighted upon two men: one being a cripple and the other a blind man. Both were brought to the court and the sultan ordered the cripple to be thrown up in the air by means of the ballista and the blind man to be dragged from Delhi to Daulatabad - a distance of forty days' journey. He was torn to pieces on the way, and only a leg of his reached Daulatabad. When the sultan had done that, all the inhabitants of Delhi came out leaving behind their property and baggage, and the city was reduced to a desert. I was informed that in the night the sultan mounted the roof of his palace and looked round Delhi. When neither a light nor even a smoke or a lamp came into sight he remarked, 'Now my heart is pleased and my soul is at rest'. Then be wrote to the inhabitants of other provinces to repair to Delhi to re-people it. As a result, those provinces were destroyed, but Delhi was not re-peopled on account of its vastness and immensity. It is one of the greatest cities of the world and when we entered it we found it in the state above referred to; it was empty and was but scantily inhabited".

Was the Sultan the most cruel, cold-blooded and mad as Ibn Battuta states?

Muhammad bin Tughlaq, Sultan of Delhi

According to Barani and Battuta, there was only one migration. In fact the transfer of capital was effected in two stages. Let's examine the following sources of Ferishta, Badauni and Yahya:

First Shifting (1326-27):

"The Sultan was so much pleased with the situation and strength of Devagiri, that considering it more centrical than Delhi, he determined to make it his capital. But, upon proposing this affair in his council, the majority were of opinion that Ujjain was a more proper place for that purpose. The Sultan, however, had previously formed his resolution. He therefore gave orders that the city of Delhi, then the envy of the world, should be evacuated, and that men, women and children, with all their effects and cattle, should migrate to Devagiri" ⎯ Ferishta.


"In 1326-27, the Sultan considering Devagiri as the center of his dominions made it the metropolis, and conveyed Makhduma-i-Jahan his mother, with all his family and relations, the maliks and amirs, the notables of the city, his servants and dependents, and all his treasure to Daulatabad: all the Saiyyids and Shaikhs and Ulama also proceeded thither, and the stipends and emoluments of all of them were doubled. But this desolation of Delhi and its desertion was a source of great discomfort to the inhabitants, large numbers of the feeble and widows, the helpless and indigent perished by the way, while even those who arrived in safety, could not settle there" ⎯ Badauni.

"Makhduma-i-Jahan, along with the entire family, the maliks and amirs, notable and renowned persons, attendants, slaves, elephants, horses, the treasury and the hidden wealth of the Sultan were carried over to Daulatabad. After Makhduma-i-Jahan had reached Daulatabad, the princes, prelates and the chiefs of Delhi were ordered to proceed to Daulatabad. The Sultan doubled the quantity of gifts and stipends paid to them, and also made a present of gold for defraying expenses in connection with the construction of their dwelling houses. Every one became contented" ⎯ Yahya.

The Rebellion of Bahram Abiya:

Bahram Abiya Kishlu Khan was the adopted brother of Muhammad's father Sultan Tughlaq. Muhammad respected him highly and used to address him as his uncle. He was the governor of Multan and Sindh.

The revolt of Bahram Abiya at Multan broke out while Muhammad was at Devagiri. The cause of his rebellion was this: Muhammad had issued orders to his officers to send their families to Daulatabad. Ali Khatati, a messenger, was deputed towards Multan to bring the followers of Bahram. Ali Khatati exercised severity in the dispatch of Bahram's household; he made Bahram sit in the court of justice and held out reproaches and strong expressions at him. One day he told Luli, Bahram's son-in-law, that he believed Bahram was meditating treason against the Sultan. High words arose between them, which ended in blows; and the messenger's head was struck off by Luli. The following day, Bahram Abiya broke out into rebellion. When Muhammad heard that Bahram had rebelled and was then reducing the country of Punjab with a great army, he left Daulatabad for Delhi, and collecting an army, marched against Multan. Bahram Abiya was defeated in the following battle. His head was cut off and was brought to the Sultan. The Sultan returned victorious to Delhi. [According to Ibn Battuta, Muhammad determined to kill Kishlu Khan because he buried the skins of Bahauddin Gurshasp and Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah of Lakhnauti, which Muhammad had ordered to parade over the city; and Kishlu Khan realising that Muhammad intended to punish him, rose in revolt. This statement of Battuta is incorrect because Bahadur's rebellion occurred three-four years afterwards.]

While the Sultan remained at Delhi the nobles and soldiers continued with him, but their wives and children were at Devagiri. Ferishta says that at sight of their native country, all those who had been forced to Daulatabad, deserted the Sultan's army and dispersed themselves in the woods. To prevent this, the Sultan, took up his residence in Delhi, where he invited them, and remained there for two years.

Second Shifting (two years later):

Ferishta ⎯ "...But again resolving to make Daulatabad his capital, he removed his own family, and compelled the nobles to do the same. He also carried off the whole of the inhabitants a second time to the Deccan, leaving the noble metropolis of Delhi a resort for owls and the wild beasts of the desert".

Badauni ⎯ "The Sultan gave orders for the remainder of the inhabitants of Delhi and the adjoining towns to start for Daulatabad, caravan by caravan, the houses were to be purchased from their owners, and the price of them to be paid in cash out of the public treasury, in addition to which large rewards were to be offered. By these means Daulatabad was populated, and Delhi became so deserted that there was not left even a dog or a cat in the city".

Yahya ⎯ "A royal mandate was issued enjoining upon the people of Delhi and its neighbourhood to move off in a mass to Daulatabad. The houses of the people were purchased. All the inhabitants of the city and its suburbs were dispatched towards Daulatabad. The city was so evacuated that the city-doors remained shut for days together; the dogs and cats made no noise in the city. The riff-raffs and the ruffians that remained in the city carried off chattels from the houses and put those things to plunder. At length, the royal order emanated to the effect that the theologians, prelates, the chiefs of the cities and the leaders of the villages should come up and settles down in the city. The Sultan rewarded them with presents and gifts. The whole of Daulatabad was populated by the inhabitants of Delhi".

Why did Muhammad shift his capital to Devagiri?

Devagiri was situated in the center of Muhammad's dominions: Delhi, Gujarat, Lakhnauti (Bengal), Satgaon, Sonargaon, Telangana, Ma'bar, Dwarasamudra and Kampila were about equidistant from thence. May be Muhammad wanted a large Muslim population in the Deccan [as the Deccan was a Hindu land]. The transfer of capital was not a thoughtless act.

The Sultan gave to each person the expenses of the journey and the price of his house. He populated the road from Delhi to Devagiri and started a courier service. For the comfort of people, shady trees were planted on either sides of the road. At every post, rest-houses and monasteries were set up and appointed a Sheikh to each. Proper arrangements were made for the supply of provisions, water, betel-leaf and lodging, everything, free of cost. Barani, who had accused the Sultan, says, "The Sultan was bounteous in his liberality and favours to the emigrants, both on their journey and on their arrival".

Muhammad raised several fine buildings in Devagiri, and built a deep ditch round the fort. On the top of the hill whereon the citadel stood, he formed new water reservoirs, and made a beautiful garden.

Was Delhi fully evacuated?

In fact only the upper class of Muslims were shifted to Daulatabad.  The Hindus of Delhi was not affected by this project. Two Sanskrit inscriptions of the years 1327 and 1328 confirm this. One of the inscriptions is about the foundation of a well by a Brahmin in 1327, and the other one of the year 1328, contains a sketch of the history of Delhi with special reference to Muhammad Tughlaq. Ibn Battuta's words were nothing but mere bazaar gossips.

What happened to Delhi? Was it ruined?

Delhi was never abandoned. In fact Muhammad had made Devagiri his second capital only, and not a substitute for Delhi. India has two capitals. We get this valuable information from another contemporary account, Masalik-ul-Absar.

Shahabuddin al Umari, the author of Masalik-ul-Absar, says that between Delhi and Devagiri, the two capitals of the government — drums were placed at every post station. When any event occurs in a city, or when the gate of one is opened or closed, the drum is instantly beaten. The next nearest drum is then beaten. In this way the Sultan is daily and exactly informed at what time the gates of the most distant cities are opened or closed.

"In Masalik-ul-Absar, it is related on the authority of Sheikh Mubarak ul-Anbati, that Devagiri was an old city which Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq Shah rebuilt. He gave it the name of Qubbat ul-Islam. The Sultan left it later while it was not yet completed. He had divided it in a wise that separate quarters were built for every class of people: a quarter for the troops, a quarter for the wazirs, a quarter for the secretaries, a quarter for the judges and the learned men, a quarter for the sheikhs and faqirs. In every quarter there were found mosques, bazaars, public baths, flour mills, ovens and workmen of all professions such as gold-smiths, dyers, washermen etc., so that the people of that quarter did not depend upon the other quarter for selling and buying and exchanging things, so that each quarter was in the position of an independent city".

Relocation of the People back to Delhi:

When the Sultan found that his scheme had failed he passed an order that the people might return to Delhi if they wish, but if they preferred Devagiri, they might continue to reside there. Most of the people came to Delhi with the Sultan, but some preferred to remain at Devagiri.

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