Ghiyas-ud-din Balban

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Ghiyas-ud-din Balban

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban was a powerful Sultan of Delhi for the period between 1266 and 1287. He belonged to Slave Dyansty (Mamluk Dynasty).

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban was an Turk. He was captured by the Mongols in early life and sold to slavery to one Jamal-ud-din who later brought him to Delhi and resold him to Iltutmish. Balban was one of Iltutmish’s forty nobles. It was by the dint of his merit that Balban became the de facto ruler under Nasir-ud-din Mahmud. By giving his daughter in marriage to Sultan Nasir-ud-din he made his power over the Sultan unquestioned and unassailable. Balban’s work as naib of Nasir-ud-din has already been recounted. On his assumption of the crown he had to deal with problems of establishing an efficient administration, making arrangements for prevention of Mongol raids and to that end to strengthen the frontiers. According to Barni, Balban knowing as he did that fear of punishment generates loyalty to the government, determined to create that feeling among the nobility.

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban’s first task was to organize a strong army. By reorganizing the old army of the Sultanate, he increased the efficiency of the infantry and the cavalry. Experienced, efficient and loyal maliks and amirs were placed in command of the different sections of the army. With the help of this army Balban brought peace and order in the Doab. The marauders of Mewat had made the life of the people up to the outskirts of Delhi insecure. Balban suppressed them with a heavy hand. Kampil, Patiala, Bhojpur were the centers of the Mewati dacoits. Balban proceeded personally against them and by making repeated attacks on their centers liquidated them and thereby made the high ways safe for travels. Suppression of the Mewati dacoits not only brought security to life and property of the passerby, but also, largely helped in the development of trade and commerce. Balban’s action against the Mewati dacoits continued to yield good results for more than half a century. Barani writing after the about sixty years said that there was no depredations by dacoits in the country.

Balban sought to alter the conditions of enjoyment of the landed estates by the nobles in order to curb their over-grown power. But he desisted from the plan on the advice of a trusted Lieutenant that such a course would lead to great trouble. But Balban succeeded in curtailing the power of the Forty nobles and thereby making the administration both strong and respected.

Balban believed in a theory which was similar to that of the Divine Right of Kingship. He expounded his views in his advice to his son Bughra Khan: ‘The heart of the king is the special repository of God’s favor and in this he has no equal among mankind”. On a different occasion he stressed the sanctity of the person of the king. Balban also believed in depotism as inherent in kingship, for he sincerely believed that despotism alone could exact obedience from the subjects and ensure security of the State. He copied the Persian model in his court etiquette and introduced the system of sijda, i.e. lying prostrate and paibos, i.e. kissing the monarch’s feet in the royal court as normal forms of salutation.  To enhance the splendor of his court, he introduced the celebration of Persian Nauroz. Drinking by courtiers and officers was prohibited and a special dress was prescribed for the courtiers. Light moods of laughing or smiling in court were not permitted. In this way, by rigid formalities and enforced dignity and ceremonials Balban restored the reserve and prestige of the Sultanate.

Balban realized that his policy of despotism could not succeed unless he could keep himself informed of the happenings in the different parts of the kingdom. He, therefore, organized an efficient system of espionage by spending much money and time after it. Secret news-writers were appointed in every department and every province, in fact, in every district. He, of course took much care in selecting most loyal persons as secret news-writers, i.e. spies, who had to transmit secret information about important occurrences every day. The news-writer of Badaun who failed to do his duty was hanged near the city gate.

Balban having strengthened his position proceeded to suppress the tribals of many areas. Then he addressed himself to the task of providing security against Mongol raids. Sher Khan was a powerful jagirdar of a vast area of Lahore and Dipalpur. He was also a close relation to Balban. Sher Khan played a very important part in warding off Mongol inroads, and also in bringing the Jats, Khokars and other tribals under his control. His spectacular success excited the jealousy of Balban and his intentions were suspect. Balban, therefore, got him poisoned to death. But this was a highly impolitic step. Balban, however, promptly put his eldest son Muhammad and second son Nasiruddin Bughra Khan at Sunam and Saman with a strong force for defense of the frontier against Mongol raids. The good result of this arrangement for the defense of the country against Mongol raids were seen in 1279 when the Mongol raid was beaten off with great slaughter by the two sons of Balban. The Mongols had to leave the borders after this abject failure.

Taking advantage of the Mongol raids and the preoccupations of the government, Bengal under Tughril Khan declared independence, assumed the title of Sultan, struck coins and caused Khutba in his name. Balban sent Amir Khan and Malik Targhi against Tughril Khan in two expeditions against him one after another but both the attempts having failed, Balban himself proceeded against Tughril in a third expedition. Tughril fled his capital out of fear but was pursued and captured and killed. Balban’s second son Bughra Khan was placed as the Governor of Bengal.

Hardly the affairs of Bengal were over; the Mongols reappeared in the north-west and attacked Punjab. Muhammad, the eldest son of Balban lost his life in his attempt to drive out the Mongols. This untimely death of his most favorite son was too deep a shock for Balban to withstand and he also died within a very short time in 1287.

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban was far-seeing administrator. He clearly realized that the way to keep so vast a country under control, only a strong army would not do. Efficiency of administration must be the very basis of administration if it were to stand the test of time and win the allegiance of the people. He, therefore, struck a balance between military strength and administrative efficiency. At the top of the administration was the Sultan himself, and nothing could be done without his consent and approval. Even his sons did not enjoy any independence in this regard.

In matters of judicial administration, the principle followed by Balban was one of strict impartiality. His near relations also could not avoid the process of law and justice if they were in any way involved in any act of omission or commission. This had a salutary effect on the amirs and maliks who now did not venture to maltreat their servants, male or female or even their slaves, for they knew that they could not get away without punishment for their wrong-doings. A certain malik got one of his slaves killed by inhuman cruelties. The Sultan-came to know of this from the widow of the slave thus killed and ordered the malik to be flogged openly for the crime. Haibat Khan, a favorite of the Saltan himself, killed a man and in order to avoid punishment at the hand of Balban paid twenty thousand rupees to the widow of the man as compensation. The institution of an espionage system by Balban has already been referred to. The spies were also to report all cases of miscarriage of justice to the Sultan besides reporting on the occurrences of importance and about high ranking officers, even including Balban’s son Bughra Khan, to Balban.

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