Mohammad bin Tughlaq

Mohammad bin Tughlaq: Story of Catastrophic Blunders and Downfall of Tughlaqs

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Background: Mohammad bin Tughlaq

The Sultan of Delhi Sultanates had been portrayed as tolerant, benevolent, and great strategists. However, the history was quite different. The ransacking of ancient cities, plundering of ancient jewels of architecture, and enslavement of native population and of conquered territories tells a whole different story.

Mohammad bin Tughlaq
Delhi Sultanate
Painting depicting the court of Mohammad bin Tughlaq

From the reign of Qutubuddin Aibak to the Mughals the medieval history of India witnessed continuous changes in tradition, decision-making, culture, and civilization.

The native Hindu population was treated as second-class citizens and were called Zimmis. Throughout the period of the Delhi Sultanate the decisions taken by the Sultan’s deeply affected the local of the sub-continent.

Whether in the field of administration, revenue or other the decision initiated by the Sultans many times cost immensely to the local populace. 

In this article, we will shed light on the policies of a sultan who despite being well-educated in the field of logic, astronomy, philosophy, etc took erroneous and illogical decisions which not harmed the local masses only but also proved to be the nemesis to his sultanate.

Mohammad bin Tughlaq (also called Jauna Khan) the ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty was the second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty who ascended the throne in 1325 CE.

In the history of medieval India Mohammad bin Tughlaq was the only sultan who had attained a good amount of education in the fields of philosophy, Arabic, Persian, logic, astronomy, and even mathematics.

Furthermore, he had great diplomatic ties with countries like China, Iran, etc. He was the builder of the city of Jahanpanah, and the famous fort of Adilabad.

He can be regarded as the most educated sultan of the Delhi Sultanate but chaos and misery struck his kingdom and completely shattered his dominion when he took certain decisions which were full of ambition but lacked correct implementation.

Five Blunders of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq

Five Catastrophic Blunders of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq

According to Ziauddin Barani, the five experiments of the Sultan were

Taxation in the doab to meet financial demands (1325-27)

It was one of the earliest reforms related to the administration which was taken by the Sultan.

According to famous author Barani, the Sultan increased the rate of taxation ten to twenty times more than the previous amount. This generated resentment among the peasant due to the shortage of rain and at that time the Doab region was witnessing famine.

Another historian known as Firishta suggests that the amount of increased tax was about 3-4 times the previous amount.

However, the Sultan instead of relieving the poor peasants from the famine punished them severely. Many people lost their lives and the ruler of Delhi didn’t provide any relief to his kingdom’s peasantry.

Furthermore, those citizens who couldn’t pay taxes were hunted down by the sultan.  

Transfer of the capital from Delhi to Devagiri (1326-27)

Mohammad bin Tughlaq decided to shift the base of the Delhi Sultanate from Delhi to Daulatabad (Deogiri) in 1326 AD. It is believed that the Sultan took this decision without consulting with his nobles.

One reason behind this catastrophic decision is that the Sultan wanted to have better administrative control over the empire and for this purpose, he shifted the capital to Daulatabad.

Another reason behind this decision was that the region of Daulatabad was located more centrally located as compared to Delhi which was constantly under threat from the central Asian hordes and Mongols.

Furthermore to manage the matters of South India effectively and to extend the region of the sultanate to far south kingdoms were also the cause behind this erroneous decision. 

Thousands of people lost their lives in this exhausting journey as the distance between the two places was more than 1500 kilometers. Which made the decision an absolute failure.

Many people were forcefully moved from their ancestral land, making Delhi look like an abandoned place. Ibn Battuta also mentioned the misery witnessed by the people of Delhi during this chaotic phase.

Introduction of Token Currency

The next decision of Mohammad bin Tughlaq which raised the eyebrows of historians was the introduction of his famous token currency system.

It is believed that the sultan took inspiration from the paper currency system which was prevalent in China and Persia at that period.

Silver coins of Mohammad bin Tughlaq
Silver Coins of Mohammad bin Tughlaq

Later the Sultan introduced copper tokens or coins and set their value equivalent to the gold and silver coins. Due to this, the local people minted fake token coins which greatly affected the treasury of the Sultan.

People paid their revenues in token currency and the merchants from foreign countries paid their expenses in the token currency. All in all both sides refused to accept or take the token currency for their own goods.

Invasion of Khorasan,Transoxiana and Iraq

Despite failing to successfully locate his new capital Mohammad bin Tughlaq made another daring but erroneous decision of invading the region of Khorasan and Transoxiana.

For this impossible and tiring campaign sultan ordered to increase the size of his army. According to Barani Sultan was able to raise an army of about 3,70,000 troops.

To keep this huge amount of army motivated for this campaign the sultan even paid the soldiers for one year straight. This reduced the royal treasury and generated chaos, rebellions, and misery throughout his kingdom.

Later the Sultan abandoned this decision and decided to invade Kangra region under the Qarachill expedition.

Qarachill expedition

Sultan shifted his mind towards invading the region of Kumaon Hills. The primary reason behind this expedition was that the sultan wanted to establish his suzerainty over the hill kingdoms.

According to Ibn Batutah Sultan sent an army of a hundred thousand horsemen and huge infantry. The army ransacked every region which fell in their path.

After conquering Nagarkot in 1337 he decided to move further and conquered the remaining hill regions. However, this time the invading army suffered huge losses in the hills.

The hill tribes blocked the route of the invaders and encircled their exit route. The royal troops of the sultan suffered terrible losses and the harsh climate also tested their will.

The campaign resulted in a disaster and according to Ibn Battuta, the royal army lost their treasure, men, and horses in huge numbers.

Due to this expedition the Delhi sultanate started to crumble like the house of cards and rebellion from the local chief further disintegrated the kingdom.  For example, the men like Rana Hammir Singh in Rajasthan and Harihara and Bukkar in the south carved out their independent empires.

All in all Mohammad Bin Tughlaq is regarded as the most educated sultan of the Delhi Sultanate but his policies and senseless decisions did more damage than relief.

“The Sultan was freed from his people and the people from the sultan”.

In Indian history, he is known as “The Wisest Fool” due to the above mention blunders. However, most historians haven’t shown this side of the sultans of medieval India.

For many years rulers of varying sultanates had been portrayed as great conquerors and secularists however in reality they were nowhere close to it and the story of Mohammad bin Tughlaq is one of them.   


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