The Tartar Dynasties
A.D. 1288 TO A.D. 1398
As can easily be imagined, India at the end of those ten Slave reigns
(which between them lasted but eighty-two years) was a very different
place to what India had been when Eibuk's iron hand first closed on
it. Half the Punjab, almost all Rajputana, and the better part of the
United Provinces, had run red with Hindu blood in those days; but as
the stream subsided, the
terrible legacy of the flood had remained as
a lesson welding the whole land into apathetic acquiescence, until
absorption set in with the years, and as time went on, the crushed,
half-dead organism began once more to feel life in its veins. For
Hinduism is India--India is Hinduism. When the last trace of the
metaphysical Monism which underlies every aspiration, every action,
has disappeared, India and Hinduism will have disappeared also, but
not till then.
So as time crept on, and under slack rule Mahomedan began to fight
Mahomedan, each petty governor playing for his own hand, his own
independence, the Rajputs raised their dejected heads, and, seizing
every opportunity, strove to recover part at least of their own.
Gwalior with its rock,--that almost impregnable fort--for instance,
changed hands many times, and, save during the reign of Nasir-ud-din,
no attempt was made on the part of the Mahomedans after the time of
Altamish, either to increase their conquests, or do more than
temporarily bolster up their rule.
Nor when the Slave dynasty ended, and one Jelal-ud-din, of the House
of Khilji, established himself on the throne of Delhi by the murder of
the three-year-old Kei-omurs, was there any change of policy. He was
seventy years old; old for kingship in any country, extraordinarily so
for India. And he was weak, hesitating. For a while distracted by
feeble remorse he refused royal honours, and after a very short time
delegated his authority to his nephew, Allah-ud-din, who succeeded
him, and who for many years prior to his uncle's death arrogated to
himself almost absolute independence.
The seven years of Jelal-ud-din's reign, then, are but a prelude to
A vigorous man this, and an unscrupulous. One of his first emprises
was the conquest of the Dekkan which, as yet, had been untouched by
He got no further, however, than Deogiri, the capital of the
Maharajah of the Mahrattas. Far enough, however, for pillage a la
Kutb-din-Eibuk. He found the Rajputs unprepared--they had strict
scruples of honour regarding the necessity for a formal declaration of
war, by which their adversaries were not bound--and the usual
slaughter took place. For the first time, also, mention is made of
merchants being tortured to make them disclose their treasures.
"L'appetit vient en mangeant," and a rich Hindu banya was to the
Mahomedan what the Jew was to a Crusader.
The result was prodigious. Allah-ud-din left Deogiri--surely misnamed
thus the "Shelter of the Gods"--with "2,400 pounds weight of pearls,
12 pounds of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, 6,000 pounds
of silver, 4,000 pieces of silk, besides a long list of other precious
commodities to which reason forbids us to give credit." In truth,
reason appears as it is somewhat over-taxed!
It was on Allah-ud-din's return from this campaign that he perpetrated
the foulest murder of Indian history; and that means much.
His expedition had been absolutely unauthorised by his uncle, the
king, who, almost dotingly affectionate though inwardly relieved at
his favourite's success, was persuaded to ask on Allah-ud-din's return
for explanations, and express displeasure. The latter feigned remorse,
went so far as to hint that the excess of his regret might put an end
to his melancholy life; so lured the old man to meet him on the banks
of the river Ganges, where the villain halted, fearful, he protested,
of just punishment. The king, deceived, crossed the river in the Royal
Barge almost unattended, bidding those who did accompany him unbuckle
swords lest the beloved prodigal might take affright. He reached the
landing-stage, and found Allah-ud-din backed by trusty friends. The
old man advanced, the prodigal fell at his feet, to be raised with
almost playful tenderness. "Lo!" said the tremulous old voice, as the
tremulous old hand patted the villain's cheek, "how couldst thou fear
me, Allah-hu? Did I not cherish thee from childhood? Have I not held
thee dearer than mine own sons?"
The words had hardly left his lips, the first step hand-in-hand
towards the Royal Barge had hardly been taken, when Allah-ud-din gave
the signal. The feeble old man was thrown down. One cry, "Oh,
Allah-ud-din, Allah-ud-din!" and all was over. His head, transfixed on
a spear-point, was paraded about the city, and his murderer, making a
pompous and triumphant entry into Delhi, ascended the throne in the
Ruby Palace, and thereinafter utilised part of his loot by spending it
on magnificent shows, grand festivals, and splendid entertainments,
"by which the unthinking rabble were made to forget in gaiety all
memory of their former king, or of the horrid crime which had placed
the present one on the throne."
So much for Allah-ud-din's accession. His reign is literally crammed
full of picturesque incidents, and would almost require a volume to
itself. Before attempting a few details, there is one tale of
Jelal-ud-din's which deserves record--that of the Mysterious Stranger.
He was called Sidi--Dervish Sidi. He appeared in Delhi suddenly,
opened a large house, and commenced to distribute charity on a scale
of magnificence which led instantly to the belief that he must possess
the philosopher's stone. He thought nothing of giving three thousand
pieces of gold in casual relief to some noble but distressed family.
Every day he expended about 8,000 pounds of flour, 400 pounds of meat,
with sugar, spices, and butter in proportion to feed the poor, while
he lived on rice alone, and foreswore both wine and women. So, after a
time, his influence almost exceeding that of Majesty itself, he was
accused of high treason, and by the king's orders condemned to the
ordeal by fire.
It was to be carried out coram populo. On the plain between the town
and the river all preparations were made: a circle round the blazing
pile to give fair view to the populace; Sidi Dervish, and his
companions in suspicion, saying their prayers; then, at the last
moment, objection raised and upheld by learned doctors that such
ordeals were both contrary to the law of God and against Reason. So
Sidi Dervish and his friends are being hauled off to prison once more,
until the foiled king gives a hint to some shaven monks hard by: "I
leave him to you to be judged according to his deserts."
Cut down by the shaven ones' razors, Sidi offers no resistance, begs
them to be expeditious in sending him to God, lays his curse heavily
on the king and his posterity, and dies; whereupon a black whirlwind
rises and envelopes all for the space of half an hour. A terrifying
end to one whose piety was unquestioned, but whose dogma was
disturbing; for Sidi Dervish held, we are told, "very peculiar
opinions, and never attended public worship."
A quaint, incomprehensible tale, surely, that reads true, and brings
wonder as to who the poor man could possibly have been.
To return to Allah-ud-din. One of the most picturesque stories of
Rajput history is associated with his name: the story of the Princess
Padmani and the first sack of Chitore--that terrible happening which
still haunts the memory of the race, and provides its ultimate
inviolable oath, "By the sin of the sack of Chitore."
Padmani, then, was peerless. Her very name survives to the present day
as synonymous with perfect womanhood. And Allah-ud-din--who seems to
have been eclectic in his pleasures--hearing of her beauty while still
only commander-in-chief to his uncle, forced his way to the sacred
stronghold of the Rajputs, and threatened instant attack if he were
not allowed to see her, if it were only her reflection in a mirror.
Now such hardy, yet in a way honourable, requests were not foreign to
the Rajput spirit, and Rajah Bhim-si, her husband, granted it. With
due pomp and ceremonial he escorted Allah-ud-din to his palace, with
due pomp and ceremony showed him the reflection of the most beautiful
woman in India, with due pomp and ceremony escorted the Mahomedan
general back to his tents, trusting to his honour. But Allah-ud-din's
honour was a mutable quantity: he seized the husband as ransom for the
wife, and swore instant death if the princess were not delivered to
him without delay. So forth from the frowning rock came seven hundred
litters, Padmani and her women offering themselves up in exchange for
a life that was the dearest thing on earth to every Rajput man and
woman. Into the camp they came; and then? Then each litter belched out
reckless manhood armed to the teeth; each disguised litter-bearer
threw off his swathing shawl and proclaimed himself warrior.
So the husband was brought back to the wife, and in the ensuing battle
the Rajputs died hard. There is a story of how one widow of the slain,
standing with foot ready to mount the funeral pyre of her dead hero,
called in a loud voice to the page who had followed him in the fight:
"Boy! Tell me once more ere I go how bore himself my lord?"
"As reaper of the harvest of battle! On the bed of honour, he spread a
carpet of the slain, whereon, a barbarian his pillow, he sleeps ringed
about by his foes."
"Yet once again, oh boy, tell me how my lord bore himself?"
"Oh mother! Who can tell his deeds! He left none to fear or to
The memory of Padmani's trick rankled. After ascending the throne
Allah-ud-din returned to Chitore. Up till then, A.D. 1303, the fort
was maiden, had been held unassailable, impregnable. But Allah-ud-din
was rich beyond belief. He gave gold for every basket of earth brought
to raise the pile, whence, overtopping the rock, he could pour his
missiles into the doomed city.
Night and day, day and night through the long hot weather the baskets
worked, the gold was paid, until the end drew near.
The tale which is still told round many a watch-fire runs that one
night Rajah Bhim-si, to whom twelve sons had been born by the
beautiful Padmani, woke in fear. Before him, in a lurid light, stood
Vyan-Mata, the tutelary goddess of his race. "I am hungry," she
wailed. "Lo! I drink Rajput blood, but I am hungry for the blood of
kings. Let me drink the blood of twelve who have worn the diadem, and
my city may yet be inviolate."
So one by one eleven of the young princes were raised to the throne.
Then, after three days' reign, they went forth to meet the foe, to
But the youngest, Prince Ajey-si, was the darling; so when his turn
came, his father's heart failed him, and he called his chiefs
together. "The child shall go free to recover what is lost. I will be
the twelfth king to die for Chitore."
"Yea-we will die for Chitore," was the reply.
So each Rajput man put on the bridal coronet and the saffron robe, and
every Rajput woman her wedding garment. And when the dawn came, the
city gates were set wide, and through them poured desperate manhood
surrounding a little knot of picked heroes who had sworn to see the
child safe; while from behind rose up on the still morning air a
column of smoke from the vast funeral pyre on which desperate women
had sought the embrace of death in the dark vaults and caves which
honeycomb the rock, and which, since that fatal day, have never been
entered but once by mortal man. Their very entrance is now forgotten.
So runs the story. This, at least, is fact: the great Sacrifice of
Honourable Death--the Johar--was performed at Chitore, and
Allah-ud-din, entering victorious, found a silent city.
Given an unscrupulous man, possessed of boundless wealth, and all
things are possible in a country distracted by jealousies as India was
at this time. And all things were achieved. The frequent incursions,
growing year by year on larger scale, of the Moghuls who had already
gained foothold to the west and north, were repelled. The Dekkan was
finally conquered and annexed by the king's worthless slave and
favourite, the eunuch Kafur, a man whose life was one long tale of
infamy. Originally the seat of the great Andhra dynasty, the Dekkan,
divided into many principalities, had passed into many hands. In the
seventh century King Harsha had attempted to gather it into his
empire, but had been foiled by the skill of Pulikesin the king, during
whose reign the wonderful caves in the Ajanta valley were excavated
Another dynasty, another king in the eighth century gave to the Dekkan
the marvellous rock-cut temple at Ellora. At first a stronghold of the
Jain religion, it oscillated between that and Brahmanism, until in the
twelfth century the latter finally came uppermost with the Haysala
line of kings.
It was in A.D. 1310 that Kafur swept through the kingdom, despoiled
the capital, laid waste the country, and carried off the reigning
Rajah, though its final absorption in the Mahomedan empire was not
until A.D. 1327. Kafur, however, set his mark so far south as Adam's
Bridge, opposite Ceylon, the furthest point yet reached by any
This was the zenith of Allah-ud-din's power. His health had yielded to
intemperance of all kinds; he became more and more despotic, more and
more cruel, more and more under the baleful influence of his creature
Rebellion grew rife. Little Prince Ajey-si's heir, Hamir, recovered
Chitore, Guzerat revolted, and almost ere it was annexed, the Dekkan
rose and expelled half the Mahomedan garrison.
These tidings coming to the already suffering king brought on
paroxysms of rage, and he died, his end accelerated by poison
administered by that slave of his worst passions, Kafur. Thereupon
followed the usual murders and sudden deaths of an Indian succession,
followed by the death of Kafur, and the final enthroning of
Allah-ud-din's third son, Mobarik. He was a weak sensualist, who,
nevertheless, was human. So he removed some of his father's more
oppressive taxes, and did away with his restrictions on trade and
property. After which he and his creature Khushru, a converted Hindu
slave, outraged all decency, and gave way to sheer dissolute devilry,
which ended in the master's murder by his favourite, who thereinafter
snatched at the crown.
But this man even the Mahomedan India of the time could not stand.
Mobarik, "whose name and reign would be too infamous to have a place
in the records of literature, did not our duty as historian oblige us
to the disagreeable task," was bad enough. Khushru was worse. So he
was killed, and a worthy warrior, by name Ghazi-Beg Toghluk, who had
repelled many invasions of Moghuls, was invited to the throne.
Ferishta's description of this is rather nice, and bears quotation:
"So they presented him with the keys of the city, and he mounted his
horse and entered Delhi in triumph. When he came in sight of the
Palace of a Thousand Minarets" (this must have been somewhere close to
the Kutb) "he wept, and cried aloud:
"'Oh, subjects of a great empire! I am no more than one of you who
unsheathed my sword to deliver you from oppression, and rid the world
of a monster. If, therefore, any member of the royal family remain,
let him be brought, that we his servants should prostrate ourselves
before his throne. But if none of the race of kings have escaped the
bloody hands of usurpation, let the most worthy be selected, and I
swear to abide by the choice.'"
Not a bad speech. Small wonder that there followed on it the first
historical notice of "chairing"--"the populace, laying hold of him,
raised him up, carried him to the throne, and hailed him as
Shahjahan, Master of the World; but he chose the more modest title of
For the curse of Sidi Dervish had been effectual, and the House of
Khilji was extinct.
Warned by the past, one of the first acts of Ghiass-ud-din was
formally to nominate his successor from amongst his four sons. He made
an unfortunate choice, for there is little doubt but that Prince Jonah
was accessory to his father's death four years afterwards, when he
invited him into a wooden palace which promptly fell upon, and crushed
the king and five of his attendants.
Neither was Prince Aluf-Khan--under which title Jonah became
heir-apparent--a lucky choice in other ways. He lost a large army in
attempting to regain Deogiri, and was not particularly successful
against the Rajputs. The king, meanwhile, spent most of his energy in
building a new citadel at Delhi, the ruins of which still survive
under the name of Toghlukabad. A fine, massive piece of work it must
have been, with its huge blocks of dressed stone and curiously sloping
walls, reminding one of a modern dam.
So with the death of honest Ghiass appears the typical Eastern
potentate, complete as to arrogance, cruelty, power, and pride, who
for seven-and-twenty years was to cry, "Off with his head!" to any one
He seems to have been clever. We are told that he was the "most
eloquent and accomplished prince of his time, and that he was not less
famous for his gallantry in the field than for those accomplishments
which render a man the ornament of private society."
It sounds well, but, judged by his acts, it appears doubtful if pride
and arrogance had not made Mahomed Toghluk partially insane. No other
supposition explains the extraordinary contradictions of his rule. He
"established hospitals and almshouses for widows and orphans on the
most liberal scale," but "his punishments were not only rigid and
cruel, but frequently unjust. So little did he hesitate to spill the
blood of God's creatures, that one might have supposed his object was
to exterminate the human species." On more than one occasion, going
out for a royal hunt, he suddenly announced his intention of hunting
men, and not beasts; so the unoffending peasantry were driven in by
the beaters and slain as if they were blackbuck. He imagined and
started vast schemes for conquering China and Persia, in order to
enrich his coffers, yet bribed a Moghul invasion to return whence it
came by a huge subsidy which completely crippled him. He attempted to
face famine--one of the worst India has ever known--by projects for
agricultural improvements, and then added to the horrors and distress
by ordering Delhi to be evacuated, and its inhabitants on pain of
death to migrate with his court to Deogiri, which he rechristened
Dowlutabad, or the "Abode of Wealth." He founded an admirably
regulated postal system throughout the country, but the roads
themselves were bad, and absolutely unsafe for travellers. He tried to
escape insolvency by coining copper at silver values--the first
instance of token money in India--then fell upon his people tooth and
nail because the public credit was not stable enough to stand the
strain. Consequently, vast tracts of land were left uncultured, whole
families fled to the woods to subsist on rapine and murder, while
famine desolated wide provinces.
But the potentate remained a potentate. So strong was his grip on the
people, that when, after having once been allowed to return to Delhi
he again ordered them to Dowlutabad, they obeyed, leaving "the
noblest metropolis, the Envy-of-the-World, a resort for owls, and a
dwelling-place for the beasts of the desert."
Thus it was not the hand of an assassin, but a surfeit of fish which
eventually carried him off. This much may be said in his favour--he
was no sensualist.
He was succeeded by his cousin Feroze in A.D. 1351, who until his
death, at the great age of ninety, in A.D. 1388, bent his whole mind
towards restoring peace and prosperity to his distracted empire;
which, while the largest, nominally, that India had ever seen, was in
reality at the breaking-up point from sheer disorder. His great
panacea appears to have been irrigation, and many an old canal in
India dates from the time of Feroze Toghluk. Despite his efforts,
however, the empire began to disintegrate. The Dekkan and Bengal
gained independence by the reception of ambassadors at court, and
various smaller states seceded into autonomy. India was, in fact, at
this time semi-fluid, half-gelatinous. Its form was for ever changing.
Each principality at one moment, am[oe]ba-like, reached out an
invertebrate arm and clutched at something, the next it had shrunken
to a mere piece of jelly, quiescent, almost lifeless. And Feroze
Toghluk's hand was not strong enough for the task set it. Yet he was a
good and kindly soul, as is evidenced by the resolutions which he
caused to be engraven on the mosque he built at Ferozebad (another
portion of Old Delhi). In one he abolished judicial mutilation,
claiming that God in His goodness having conferred on him the power,
had also inspired him with the disposition to end these cruelties.
Another orders the repeal of many vexatious taxes and licences. Yet
another reduced the share of war plunder due to the sovereign from
four-fifths to one-fifth, while it increased that of the troops to
four-fifths from one. A fourth recorded his determination to pension
for life all soldiers invalided by wounds or by age. A fifth declared
his intention of severely punishing "all public servants convicted of
corruption, as well as persons who offer bribes." The latter being a
nicety in legal morality which one would hardly expect of the
Feroze was followed in about six years by no less than five kings
whose only record of interest is that they stood by and watched the
great empire which Kutb-ud-din Eibuk had wrested from the Rajputs, and
which Allah-ud-din had consolidated by sheer tyranny, fall to bits.
Anarchy reigned supreme, civil war raged everywhere, and in Delhi
itself two nominal kings were in arms the one against the other when,
in A.D. 1398, news came that for an instant checked quarrel, and made
all India hold its breath.
The Moghuls, under Timur, on their way to Delhi, had crossed the
Indus, The long-dreaded, ofttimes-delayed invasion had come at last.