June 14

Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban: The Ruler's Legacy

Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban is considered the greatest ruler of the Mamluk dynasty and among the most dynamic rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. He was the person who managed to put his hand over the Delhi Sultanate for about 40 years and administered the empire with high efficiency. For 20 years i.e.1246-1266, he acted as the regent of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud and the de-facto ruler of the empire as wazir. He further ruled the empire officially for 20 years as Sultan Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban. There were 2 major reasons why he could easily manage all his desires. The first was his prominence among the Chahalgani nobles and the other was his strategic plan of having matrimonial relations among his and Iltutmish’s descendants.

Balban, though initially a Turkish slave, managed to be in very close relations with the royal family. Both the sultans- Alauddin Masud and Nasiruddin Mahmud were his son-in-law. And his son Bughra Khan married the daughter of Nasiruddin Mahmud. Hence merging the lines of Iltutmish and Balban. And due to all of this arrangement, he had direct reach and authority over the throne. Both of his son-in-law Sultans is said to be the puppet rulers in the hand of Turkish nobility and specifically that of Balban.

His success as a strategist and ruler can be substantiated by the methods adopted by him to successfully keep the Mongol issue in control at the borders including the suppression of Rajput revolts done by him.

Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban, Mamluk dynasty, Razia sultan, Iltutmish, Delhi Sultanate, Nasiruddin Mahmud, Bughra Khan, Chahalgani nobles, Prince Muhammad, Mongols, Mongol raids,
Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban


Balban was a slave bought by Sultan Iltutmish by Khwaja Jamal ud-din Basri and appointed to the small position of the water carrier. But eventually Balban, due to his intelligence and skills, moved to a high position in the Sultanate. Soon he became among the Khasdar (personal attendant) of the king along with being an important part of the Chahalgani nobles. And it was due to the support of the Sultan (himself being of Turk origin) among the Chahalganis too he was successful enough to maintain a prominent position.

Even after the death of Sultan Iltutmish, he was given the post of amir-i-shikar along with being the noble, and later he also earned the fief of Rewari by Bahram Shah. Balban was among the big hands and the prominent face in the death of Alauddin Masud and the accession of Nasiruddin Mahmud. Along with this, he became the wazir of the Delhi Sultanate. It is believed that during the 20 years of the reign of Nasiruddin Mahmud, he was the de-facto ruler. It was he who managed all the rebellions, the Mongol issue, the vision of expansion, establishment of welfare and security for the empire. All the important positions and posts were allotted by him to his loyal people or the relatives such as Kishlu Khan (brother), who was given the post of Amir-i Hajib while Sher Khan (cousin) was given the Jagir of Lahore and Bhatinda.

The most important thing that separated Balban from all of his successors and predecessors was his views and ideology. He followed the policy of ‘Blood and iron’ which means he adopted all sorts of measures for the protection of the empire and even if the harsh methods were deemed necessary, he adopted them. He was ruthless to enemies and used all sorts of methods of harshness, strictness, and shedding blood against them.

All the steps and policies of Balban were not unnoticed by the other nobles, and although many of them had given their supporting hand to all the steps of Balban at the same time he also faced some resentment. One of his biggest opponents was Imad ud-din Raihan who was even successful in gaining Balban’s position for some time but later was deposed.


Balban is also described as the Anti-Hindu ruler by the steps he took to crush the Hindus. The Hindu men were slaughtered while the women and children were sold as slaves.

In 1246, Balban supported Nasiruddin Mahmud for the throne by laying a successful conspiracy against Alauddin Masud. And as a result, the major powers of the Sultan were surrendered in the hands of Balban by Nasiruddin Mahmud. In the same year, Balban married his daughter to Sultan Nasiruddin, giving a boost to his power and authority. Taking all the powers in his hands, he was appointed as Naib-i-Mumlikat (the most powerful office of the Sultanate) and got both of his brothers – Kishlu Khan and Sher Khan to be given essential fiefs and offices.

The first and major military campaign by Balban was laid in 1252. This was the campaign against the Mongols who had managed to capture the Uch region since 1246. This Mongol raid was supported by the local Khokhar tribes, a result of which these tribes were punished by the Delhi army harshly. This was initially a successful campaign as the Mongols fled from the region and the Khokhar tribe was punished, but later in 1258 Much was once again captured by Mongols.

Another issue that Balban had to deal with was related to Tughan Khan, the Governor of Bengal. Tughan Khan had declined the authority of Delhi, a result of which Balban instructed the Governor of Awadh to take action on behalf of the Sultanate. But this attack failed as Awadh was defeated and even invaded by Tughan Khan. The second attack by Balban also failed. Next, Balban sent Tamur Khan who was an able commander to get rid of the problems in Bengal. Tamur Khan was instructed to take control of Bengal Balban and this was accomplished. Still, there was continuous trouble in Bengal, for some time by the successor of Tughan Khan and later when Arslan Khan (Governor of Kara) ruled Bengal as an independent ruler till the end of the reign of Nasiruddin Mahmud.

In 1247, Balban suppressed the rising of the Chandela king of Kalinjar. And following this, in 1251 he led an expedition against the ruler of Gwalior but was unsuccessful in besieging the fort of Ranthambore even by many raids. He also took harsh steps for the settlement of the problems of Hindus in the Doab region. He is also described as the Anti-Hindu ruler by the steps he took to crush the Hindus. The Hindu men were slaughtered while the women and children were sold as slaves.

Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban, Mamluk dynasty, Razia sultan, Iltutmish, Delhi Sultanate, Nasiruddin Mahmud, Bughra Khan, Chahalgani nobles, Prince Muhammad, Mongols, Mongol raids,

BALBANS REIGN (1266-1286)

Balban built a chain of Fortresses with well-equipped garrisons at all the strategic points as a defence strategy against the Mongols

Balban took over the throne in 1266 after the death of Nasiruddin Mahmud. In some of the texts, he is even considered responsible for the death of Mahmud and all the further lineage persons of Iltutmish who could take over the throne. Balban probably poisoned them all. Still, when he took over the throne things were not easy and the circumstances were not comfortable. The political stability was in crisis, financially the empire had become weak and he had the responsibility of pulling the sinking empire up. Though he dominated among the Chahalgani nobles, the arrogance of Turkish nobility was always in his eyes and his ways.

Further, he also had to manage the state from internal and external threats. Mongols became highly active on the North and North-Western border during his reign. The important steps and actions of Balban are as follows:

Destruction of the Chahalgani nobles: The Chahalgani nobles were a group of 40 people who played an important role in the administration. This system was started by Iltutmish and most positions were occupied by the Turkish nobles. Balban too was a prominent part of these Chahalgani nobles but at the same time, as a ruler believed that this group was the only one that could challenge his administration in the Delhi Sultanate. So as soon as he sat on the throne, he had his eyes on the Chahalgani nobles. He did not forget that this was the group that was successful in reducing the Sultans to mere figureheads for more than 25 years. So, eventually, the power of these 40 was reduced, their positions shifted to the newer and junior Turks and they were executed eventually. All those who escaped death or dismissal became submissive on account of terror

New and efficient spy system: Balban became among those rulers in Indian history who managed to run his powerful administration through the establishment of a great espionage system. Secret and loyal undercover reporters were put in every department. News writers were centralized and made independent of the Governors, as were required to send correct news oblivious of the person involved. Reporters were even punished if they failed in their duty. Balban strengthened his empire with this efficient spy system.

Army: Imad-ud-Mulk was made in charge of the army. He was appointed as the Diwan-i-Ariz or Army minister. He acted as among the most powerful officers of Balban and took a keen interest in matters of recruitment and salaries. The equipment and weapons were put under his inspection and supervision. The Delhi army became efficient as a result of this regulated mechanism of discipline.

Establishing peace in the Doab region: As a strong and efficient army was successfully developed, Balban decided to restore peace and order in the Doab region. The region was near the capital Delhi and continuous predatory raids by Rajputs from Mewat and Awadh were disturbing the administration, life of people, and property. Balban took upon himself the responsibility of the peace establishment and successfully ran the military campaign against them in Mewat. Robbers and rebels were brutally punished and the jungles where they fled were cleared. In the Rohilkhand region near Awadh, the massacre of masses took place, and the army even burnt the entire village. Women and children were made slaves. The terror created was so great that the people did not raise their heads once again for a long time.

The Bengal issue: The Bengal issue was suppressed once by the efforts of Balban during the time he was Wazir. But now when he became the Sultan, the Bengal issue once again rose. In 1272, he appointed Amin Khan as the governor and Tughan Khan as the sub-governor of Bengal. But as the previous time, the intentions of Tughan Khan were not positive. Watching the old age of Balban, and the engagement of the Delhi army in Mongol raids, he once again rose to revolt. Tughan Khan deposed Amin Khan and called himself the independent ruler of Bengal. He ascended the throne by the name of Mughisuddin Tughral. In 1280, an expedition was sent toward Bengal under the leadership of Malik Targhi but was unsuccessful.

Balban became highly enraged against Tughral and decided to lay a Bengal invasion himself in 1281. He was assisted by his son Bughra Khan in this invasion. He took the massive army along with the massive navy in this invasion. Tughral fled to Jajnagar by the river and to find him, Balban split and sent his army to different regions. And a small group led by Malik Sher Andaz found Tughral in an attack. He was brought to Balban and executed.

After the execution of Tughral, Balban put his son Bughra Khan in charge of Bengal.

The Mongol issue: The issue of Mongol raids became very great during the time of Balban. The raids had become very frequent and comparatively powerful. Balban always was prepared and showed readiness for the attack. He decided not to go either too far from Delhi or part for very long. Instead of the policy of defence, he sought to follow the positive policy of aggression in the border area. He adopted an aggressive policy towards the Khokhar and other tribes supporting the Mongols. Two of the very important Mongol invasions took place during the reign of Balban – 1279 and 1285. Both invasions were so powerful that they brought a shaking of the Delhi Sultanate financially.

Prince Muhammad, the son of Balban who he had been training for the succession lost his life while fighting against the Mongols. This incident was not taken by Balban with leniency and he adopted several measures to protect his empire from the Mongols. Balban laid a lot of investment in the establishment of a defence strategy against the Mongols. He built a chain of Fortresses with well-equipped garrisons at all the strategic points. The command of defence was given in the hands of Sher Khan Sanqar. Despite his exceptional work in the field of security, Balban became jealous of his success and hence Sher Khan was poisoned. The measures adopted by Balban were strong enough to stop the Mongol forces during the raid at the time of Qaiqabad (Balban’s successor).


Balban is referred to as a true despotic dictator.

Regarding Balban, it is said that “He could be anything for power”. And this was proved by the harsh methods adopted by him. His conception of kingship was similar to that of the ‘Theory of divine right to the king’. He even assumed the title of Zil-i-Ilahi which means ‘Shadow of God’. He even used the name Khalifa of Baghdad on the coins, just to gain the respect of the people of the subcontinent.

Balban is referred to as a true despotic dictator. He kept the complete administration not only centralized but to himself. He abolished the offices of Chahalganis and Ulemas. And to show that the nobles were not equal to the king, he insisted on the practices of Sajda (Prostration) and Paibos (kissing the feet of the king). By all these means he wanted to re-establish the sanctity and respect for the throne. Amir Khusrau, the chronicler who is also known as the “Parrot of India” was patronized by him.


The death of Balban’s son Muhammad hit him as a huge shock and he could not live long after that.  When Balban noticed that his end was near, called his son Bughra Khan for the succession but when he expressed hesitation, Kai Khusrau (son of Muhammad) was made the heir. After the appointment, Balban died in 1286 itself.

As Kai Khusrau was dead and the throne got into the hands of the young son of Bughra Khan, Qaiqabad. 

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