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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Raziya Sultan

¤ The First Women Who Ruled India

Altamash was the first king to appoint a woman as his official successor. However, the Turk nobility was not going to have any of this liberal stuff and after Altamash’s death his eldest son Rukn-ud-din Feroze Shah was raised to the throne. Soon it became apparent why Altamash had chosen his daughter above his many sons. Rukn-ud-din left all the hard work of governing to his scheming mother Shah Turkaan and whiled away his time with nautch girls. When not smoking opium, he could be found riding an elephant on the streets of Delhi, scattering gold coins to all and sundry. Unfortunately for him Shah Turkaan used her position to avenge all real and supposed insults handed to her in the days when she was a handmaid (before Altamash married her). Very soon rebellion occurred from all sides and the upshot of it all was that Shah Turkaan and Rukn-ud-din were put to death. He had lasted precisely six months and seven days.
Now the nobility turned to Sultana Raziya, the successor Altamash had selected. Raziya Sultan is a much-romanticized figure in Indian history. As late as three centuries later, the legal aspect of her accession was still a matter of heated theological debate. of course, what makes her more interesting was that she had an affair with her Assyrian slave, Yakut.

¤ Raziya Proved To Be A Capable Ruler

By all accounts Raziya vindicated her father’s faith in her. She was a very shrewd ruler, and for all her feminine beauty an autocrat who kept the nobility in their place. The army and the people of Delhi were solidly behind the queen. She needed all the support she could get for many of her most powerful governors were in revolt against her. It was in tackling them that Raziya gave evidence of her immense sagacity. She played such a skilful game of political intrigue that very soon the rebels were fighting each other. On the military front, she defeated one of their principal leaders Wazir Muhammad Junaidi so convincingly that he retired from active politics. Soon she was successful in winning over most of the remaining nobles to her side.

¤ Sultana's Unacceptable Love

In hindsight it seems that nothing could have stopped Raziya from becoming one of the most accomplished rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. Except love. What undid her was her relationship with Yakut. Though it happened behind many veils and doors, their relationship was no secret in the Delhi court. The thought of a woman of pure Turkish descent consorting with an Assyrian slave must have been poison for the insular Turkish Maliks.

The governor of Lahore was the first to react but Raziya sharply put him in his place. Hot on his heels came a more serious threat in the shape of Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda, who refused to accept Raziya’s suzerainty. The story goes that Altunia and Raziya were childhood friends. As they grew up together, he fell in love with Raziya and the rebellion was simply a way of getting back at Raziya for preferring a slave.

¤ The Love Tragedy

Tragedy followed swiftly. Yaqut was murdered and Altunia imprisoned Raziya. To save her own head, Raziya sensibly decided to marry him. While all of this was happening, Raziya’s brother Bahram had been named Sultan in Delhi. Raziya marched with her husband towards Delhi but to no avail. On October 13, 1240, she was defeated by Bahram and the unfortunate couple was put to death the very next day.

Raziya’s reign was followed by Bahram Shah (1240-42), Ala-ud-din Masud Shah (1242-1246) and Nasir-ud-din Mahmud (1246-66). However skipping these virtual unknowns let’s come to the next Sultan who mattered in the scheme of things.

Accounts by court flatterers would have us believe that Nasir-ud-din Mahmud was a very pious, simple and modest man. Don’t believe a word of this – just a cover up for his vacillating, indecisive and unassertive ways. Court politics and intrigue continued unabated. Clearly the need of the hour was a king of blood and iron. By a happy coincidence Delhi got one rather quickly.

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