The So-called Transfer of Capital to Devagiri in the Reign of Muhammad Tughlaq

In the year 727 AH (AD 1326-27), Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (r: 1325-1350) made a significant strategic move by establishing Devagiri, located in the Deccan, as the new capital of his vast dominions. 

Historians such as Ziauddin Barani have noted that Devagiri held a central position in Muhammad's dominions, and hence he decided to transfer the capital to this location. However, modern analysis suggests that Devagiri was in no way situated in the heart of Muhammad's empire.

Preparations and Planning:


The decision to migrate to Devagiri was not a hasty one, but rather a well-thought-out plan that was systematically executed. The Sultan provided each person with the necessary expenses for the journey and the price of his house, ensuring their safety and comfort along the road from Delhi to Devagiri.

He established a courier service along the Delhi Devagiri road. Shady trees were planted on both sides of the road, and 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, all free of cost. The Sultan also directed the construction of several grand edifices in Devagiri, and erected a formidable moat around the fort. The citadel's elevated location was utilized to create innovative water reservoirs and a picturesque garden.

Barani, who had previously accused Muhammad, has stated that the Sultan was bounteous in his liberality and favours to the emigrants, both on their journey and on their arrival. 

Was Delhi fully evacuated?

Contrary to popular belief, Delhi was never completely evacuated or abandoned. While Barani and others have given exaggerated accounts of the so-called transfer of capital from Delhi to Devagiri, stating that 'not even a cat or a dog was left in the city', the reality is quite different.

In fact, only the upper class of Muslims, consisting of nobles, ulama, and sheikhs with their households, were shifted to Devagiri. The destruction of Delhi, as these writers put it, simply meant that the prosperity of the city was lost when those distinguished families were relocated. This is further substantiated by Barani's words that 'graveyards of Musalmans spring up all around Devagiri.' 

The general Hindus of Delhi were not affected by this project, as confirmed by two Sanskrit inscriptions from the years 1327 and 1328. One inscription is about the foundation of a well by a Brahmin in 1327, while the other, from 1328, contains a sketch of the history of Delhi with special reference to Muhammad Tughlaq and refers to the prosperity of a Hindu family. Moreover, the mint was also still operating in Delhi.

A new capital in the Deccan:

As crown prince Muhammad had formed close associations with the Deccan. He led two expeditions to Warangal in the Deccan. After his accession to the throne, Muhammad faced the first revolt at the hands of Baha-ud-din Garshasp, the governor of Sagar in Deccan, who had developed contacts with some Hindu chiefs.

Devagiri had no Muslim population, except for the sadah amirs (commanders of one hundred), who controlled the Rajas and tax collectors from Delhi. If the Hindu kings in the neighboring regions had united, they could have driven out these people from Devagiri, as well as from Rajputana and Malwa. The Hindu inhabitants of the south were not inclined to submit to the rule of the north. Therefore, it was necessary to bring religious people to the Deccan to spread Islamic culture there. 

Most probably, Muhammad's plan was to establish a large indigenous Muslim population in the Hindu land of Deccan, thereby eliminating the possibility of frequent rebellions in the area.

The work also mentions that Muhammad wanted to make Devagiri famous in the world by the presence of the ulama, mashaikh, and the sadrs. 

Devagiri, the second capital

The widely held belief that Muhammad Bin Tughlaq's Deccan experiment entailed the complete relocation of the capital from Delhi to Devagiri is not entirely accurate. In reality, Devagiri was established as a second capital under the name of Daulatabad, and not as a replacement for Delhi. This valuable insight is derived from the contemporary account of Masalik-ul-Absar.

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

Sheikh Mubarak ul-Anbati, as cited in Masalik-ul-Absar, asserts that the ancient city of Devagiri was rebuilt and renamed as Qubbat ul-Islam by Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq. However, the Sultan abandoned the city before its completion. He smartly segregated the city into various quarters for different societal classes such as troops, wazirs, secretaries, judges, learned men, sheikhs, and faqirs. Each quarter featured a range of amenities, such as mosques, bazaars, public baths, flour mills, ovens, and workmen of all professions, such as goldsmiths, dyers, and washermen. The distinctive design of the city ensured that the people of each quarter were self-sufficient and could buy, sell, and exchange goods and services within their respective quarters, effectively functioning as independent cities.

In addition, the discovery of two coins, minted almost simultaneously in Delhi and Daulatabad, bears inscriptions that read Takhtgah i Delhi and Takhtgah i Daulatabad respectively.

Isami's hatred towards Muhammad Bin Tughlaq:

During the lifetime of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, Isami composed his famous work, Futuh-us-Salatin, which he dedicated to Alaud-din Hasan Bahman Shah, the founder of the Bahmani dynasty of Deccan. Alaud-din was a rebel against and an enemy of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. At the age of sixteen, Isami was forced, under Muhammad's orders, to abandon Delhi and migrate to Devagiri with his 90-year-old grandfather, Izz-ud-din Isami. Unfortunately, Izz-ud-din Isami passed away at Tilpat on the way to Devagiri. This traumatic experience left a deep scar on Isami, and he expressed his hatred towards Muhammad Bin Tughlaq in his work. 

Journey from Delhi to Daulatabad:

For over a century, Delhi served as the capital of the Sultanate, boasting a unique style of living and cultural world. Mosques, madrasas, houses, and memorial buildings were not just impersonal monuments, but rather held memories of the people who lived there in days gone by.

Isami's writing suggests that the journey from Delhi to Devagiri was a grueling one, especially during the hot summer days. The journey proved to be prolonged torture, despite all the facilities provided by the Sultan. As Badauni writes, exile is the gravest of all calamities and banishment is the sorest of all afflictions. The harsh weather conditions, nostalgic memories of the past, the presence of women, children and elderly in the caravans, uncertainties of life in the Deccan, and apprehension of the Sultan's temperament culminated in an exceedingly distressing journey.

According to Isami, only one-tenth of the caravan endured the grueling journey to have finally arrived in Daulatabad.


"These measures, however, greatly affected the king's popularity, and disgusted the people." writes Ferishta.

The immediate effect of the relocation was the hatred of the people towards Muhammad, which lasted for a long time and caused them to lose faith in the Sultan. However, the distant result of the transfer showed the success of Muhammad Tughlaq's policy as it broke down the wall between the north and south, allowing northern Muslim culture to penetrate the south.

Barani states that nobles and scholars from other places were invited to settle in Delhi, resulting in a city full of religious and cultured people when Ibn Battuta arrived in 1334. Ibn Battuta's accounts of adverse results were merely bazaar gossips. 

Relocation of people back to Delhi (1341-42):

When the Sultan realized his scheme had failed, he issued a decree allowing the people to either return to Delhi or remain in Devagiri. Although the majority of them followed the Sultan to Delhi, a few decided to remain in Devagiri. These people and their descendants were later integrated into the Bahmani Kingdom, established in 1347 in Daulatabad, Maharashtra, before relocating its capital to Gulbarga in Karnataka.


The Sultanate of Delhi (1206–1526): Polity, Economy, Society and Culture By Aniruddha Ray