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History of India

AD 650- 1550
Historiography & Sources
of the Delhi Sultanate

Smt. Uttara Chakraborty, Dept. of History, Presidency College, Kolkata


History writing in its proper sense began during the time of the Arabs and Turks who came to rule over this country.
This is because Islam itself had been a historical event. There were two trends in the writing of history; one is called the Arabic
style of writing, while the other was the Turkish or the Turki style of writing. Historian K.A. Nizami, a famous medievalist tells us
that the Arabs had been accustomed to writing genealogies which they called Quasidas in praise of their gods and goddesses in
the pre-Islamic days. This tradition did not disappear but continued even after the advent of Islam. The Arabic historians of the
Islamic period wrote about the people, the atmosphere, and about the surroundings. This Arabic style is evident in the
Chachnama, by an anonymous author. It provides not just the account of the conquering hero, Mohammad Ibne Qasim and his
achievements, but gives a detailed account of Sind, the region which he conquered, as well as the people, flora and fauna,
agriculture, trade and commerce. The Turks who were neo-converts, were influenced more by the Persian culture as it was they
who had conquered Persia and converted the Persians into Islam. In the process they too imbibed Persian culture, which is evident
in the Persian style of history writing that the Turks adopted, which involved writing about monarchs, and presenting a kind of a
genealogical account.
The variety of sources available, consist of Sirah, or biographies, Ansab or a kind of genealogical table, Tabaquat which
denotes the writing down of events(history), Tarikh or history, Malfuzats, in the form of conversations, were explanations of Sufi
ideas, (between Sufi teacher- the Murshid and the Sufi disciple- the Murid). While the Murshid and the Murid are in conversation,
they discuss a vast range of subjects including the contemporary situation, existing rulers, the people and provide significant
information that qualify them as sources of history. Then we have the Maktubat, or letters royal, individual, and personal letters.
Even today in the the post-modern period of history writing, letters do form an important source of history writing. There were
also the Maghazi , or chronologies. The historians of the medieval times were in a way conscious the continuous flow of time,
and the chronology of time. They followed a particular calendar, which was the Islamic calendar called Hijrat. Hijra starts from
the time when the Prophet fled from Mecca to Medina.
According to K.A. Nizami the Persian style was a very sophisticated style, and the language used was high-flowing. The
Persian style emanated from the court and concentrated on court surroundings only. Very little would be known about the
common people. Al Utbi’s Tarikh-i-Yamini was about the Ghaznavid and Ghori invasions. It explains why there was the necessity
for a sultanate. A similar book was Fakhre Muddabir’s Adab-al-Harb-Wah-Shujjat which was an account of how Mohammad Ghori
came down to this country and eventually won the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192 and the causes of the defeat of Prithviraj
Chauhan and of the success of Mohammad Ghori and his trusted lieutenant Qutub-ud-din Aibak. This is perhaps the only book
which gives us a detailed account of the medieval Turkish army, its formation, the battle tactics, the siege practices, the
battlefield, use of horses and elephants. It also attempts to legitimize and justify the cause of the sultan and the sultanate. Hasan
Nizami, was one of the eminent writers of the times was a religious man, who came from Central Asia. He was Turkish but wrote
in Persian. His book Taaj-ul-Maasir gives an account of how Qutub-ud-din Aibak, eventually settled down in Delhi and became
the founder of the city of Delhi.
Chronologically the next historian was Minhaj-us-Siraj Jurjani, who came from Jurjan, in Central Asia. He came along
with the Alberi Turks who were the first group of Turks who entered India and included the likes of Qutub-ud-din Aibak,
Mohammad Ghori and Iltutmish. He was a court official who lived in the court of Iltutmish. His book is the first example of the
Persian style of writing history, as he would be present at the durbar and therefore be able to witness the proceedings that went
on. The notes he jotted down would later be amplified by him and written down in his book. The focus of his book was therefore
centered around the court and the personality of Iltutmish. Minhaj-us-Siraj’s account continues even beyond the death of
Iltutmish, and relates the tragic tale of Razia. He tells goes on to discuss his own plight and how he had to flee from Delhi to
Lakhnauti or Bengal, as his life was in dangerdue to the powerful ulema and nobles. His book, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, refers to the
manner in which Bakhtiyar Khalji galloped with his horsemen along Bihar and came to the kingdom of Lakhnauti, and was able to
defeat, (there was no fighting of course) Lakshman Sen, the last Hindu Sen ruler who fled. This account is only found in Tabakat-
i-Nasiri.
Ziauddin Barani, was another famous historian of the pre-Mughal days, or the Sultanate period. He wrote the Tarikh-i-
Firozshahi and Fatwa-i-Jahandari. The former is a long narrative, from Ghiasuddin Balban right down to the time of Firuz Shah
Tughluq. The other book, Fatwa-i-Jahandari is a kind of a political treatise dealing with the characteristics of the Sultanate- why
the Sultanate had come into being and how the Sultanate was working and what should be the necessary characteristics and
duties of a Sultan. The Fatwa-i-Jahandari is significant for furnishing a full account of the market control system of Alauddin
Khalji.
A contemporaries of Barani was Amir Khusrau, the famous poet, scientist and historian. Amir Khusrau wrote several
books, of which the two historical accounts- Khazain-ul-Futuh and Qiran-us-Sa’dain. The Khazain-ul-Futuh deals with the military
conquests of Alauddin Khalji. It gives us a description of his army and its operations in North India, including Chitor, and
particularly about the Deccan campaigns of Malik Kafur, giving a very descriptive account of Devagiri which later came to be
known as Daulatabad. The Qiran-us-Sa’dain starts from the time of Balban’s death, the request of the Amirs to Balban’s son
Bughra Khan to come to Delhi and assume the reins of administration. Bughra Khan’s refusal and the succession to the throne by
Kaikobad, Bughra Khan‘s son, and other aspects of Sultanate history have been discussed in detail. But his other books like Ashiq
and Nur Sipr, serve as sources of history because these books depict a social picture of the time. In Nur Sipr, Amir Khusrau tells
us about the mixing of the two cultures, about the scientific and technological experiments that were taken up during that time.
The Nur Sipr by Amir Khusrau which serves as an important source book on the cultural synthesis of this period.
Isami was another contemporary writer who wrote the Futuh-us-Salatin.(salatin means ‘sultanate’, futuh means ‘march
of victory’). He writes right from the time of Mahmud of Ghazni. Isami wrote his entire history book in verse, while he was living
in the court of the Bahamani ruler in the South. His grandfather, father, uncle, and great uncle, had all served the Sultanate. Isami
provides an account of Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s different experiments, like his transfer of capital to Daulatabad or his
experiments in the Doab region, agriculture and revenue experiments, and his attempt to introduce a token currency. But his
attitude towards these reforms was bitter as he felt that all these were schemes were undertaken because the Sultan was not in
his senses, and was a kind of whimsical ruler who did whatever he pleased.
Of the other major historians of this time, writing on the Sultanate period, one was Hindu Ali Kasim Ferishta, who wrote
a book called Tarikh-i- Ferishta, probably written in the fifteenth century, and the other was Yahya-bin-Ahmad Sirhindi, who
wrote the Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi. The Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi, gives us an account of Timur’s invasion and the plunder and
ravages that he carried out in Delhi in 1398.
There was a tendency or custom among these writers to name the tarikhs and tabaqats after the Sultans in whose
reigns the works were completed. Minhaj named his book Tabakat-i-Nasiri, after Nasiruddin Mahmud, a son of Iltutmish who
ruled up to 1266, after which Balban took over. Similarly, Ziauddin Barani named his book Tarikh-i--Firozshahi, although he had
started on it from the time of Balban, and was present as a young man during Alauddin Khalji’s reign, and likewise under the
successive Sultans like Qutubuddin Mubarak Shah (Alauddin’s son), Ghiasuddin Tughluq, Muhammad bin Tughluq, and Firuz Shah
Tughluq. His huge book was finished in the time of Firoz Shah, and so was named the Tarikh-i--Firozshahi.
Coming to other written source materials, we can refer to the Malfuzats, written Malfuzats, the most important
Malfuzat of that time was Khair-ul-Majlis, this particular Malfuzat was about Nasiruddin Chirag-i Dehlavi, the famous Chishti Sufi
saint, who lived in Delhi in the time of Alauddin Khalji and was a very close friend of Alauddin. Just before Alauddin introduced
his famous price control system, he was in some doubt about the whole project and he was in conversation with Nasiruddin
Chirag. These conversations were put down in writing, a little later by one of his disciples called Hamid Kalandari and called it
Khair-ul-Majlis, Majlis as you know meaning ‘meeting’. One could say there was an awesome existence of historical texts all over
Hindustan not just centred in Delhi, written by the court historians, written in Persian in a very high-flown style, in a very good
Persian language. But there were histories written in the distant regions. Shamsi Siraj Afif who was a contemporary of Barani too
and who wrote a book, Tarikh-i-Firozshahi, in this book the term ‘Bangala’ was first used by Shamsi Siraj Afif ,that was in 1355-
56. Similarly, we find that so many books would be written in such regions as Bangala, or Kashmir, or Gujarat or even in the South
in the Bahamani kingdom and the Vijaynagara kingdom. The historians depended on these contemporary historical works to write
their own histories of the time.
What are the other sources of history apart from the literary sources?
Of course we have the archeological remains, the remains of monuments and also coins - silver, gold and copper and
of course inscriptions
What are the characteristics of the archeological remains in the Sultanate period?
The most important characteristics is that we see a kind of synchronization of two cultures- the Central Asian and the
Indian and this is very evident in the remains of monuments found in the Qutub Complex, in the Qutub Minar itself, the Alai
Darwaza, the Quatul Masjid on the walls of a mosque you see Hindu motifs and illustrations, this probably happened as Indian
artisans and skilled craftsmen who knew their own way of sculpting or own way of making constructions used their own styles
which was not interfered with because we still see them today like the lotus, like the bell. There could be another possibility.
Sometimes slabs, chunks, parts of non-Islamic structures whether Hindu or Jain, were used as building materials in the
architectural arrangement. That too was not interfered with. This is very evident and the fact that they were allowed to stay on,
allowed to remain on the walls of a mosque or on the wall of the Qutb Minar, and in the tombs is evident of the fact that the
sultans did not actually bother if they were non-Islamic motifs on the structures. I think I should mention another thing, that the
Sultanate architecture differed from region to region and they adopted local styles like the thatched roof, hut roofs in Bengal
were adopted in making of their mosques and other buildings and in the same way, the serpentine arches of Rajasthan and
Gujarat, typically indigenous to these places were used in the Sultanate architecture as well.
What kind of coins and inscriptions do we get during the Sultanate period?
The Sultans of course, maintained their own coins, but in the earlier period a very interesting characteristic is to be seen
that in most of the coins, we find the images of the rulers, in this case Mohammad Ghori or Qutubuddin Aibek, were impressed
upon the image of the defeated, in this case, Prithviraj Chauhan or any other Rajput ruler. Perhaps the impression to be given
was, to prove to the people the power of the conqueror, the over-writing and over-powering authority of the conqueror. We also
have the forged coins of Muhammad Bin Tughluq, as a kind of real evidence as to the textual information given by Ziauddin
Barani. Lots of forged copper coins have been found around Daulatabad and also in Delhi. There is also a very interesting use of
the Sanskrit language, and the Devnagiri script on the reverse side, probably to gain popularity and also to make the Sultanate
rule familiar to the people.
As for inscriptions, inscriptions provide us with information in a very interesting manner. I will mention just two
inscriptions. One inscription that had been found in the time of Firoz Shah Tughluq, it is inscribed on the walls of a mosque and
it gives us an account of Firoz Shah Tughluq’s activities and achievements, and it has been assumed by the historians that these
inscriptions were excerpts from his autobiography called Futuh-us-Firozshahi, the book, the text is lost, but excerpts of it have
been found in the form of inscriptions on the walls of a mosque in Firozabad in U.P. Another inscription belonging to an earlier
period, in the time of Ghiasuddin Balban is evident of Hindu attitude, Hindu mentality and feeling towards the Sultanate rule.
This particular inscription is also found in the U.P. region, U.P.-Bihar border, on the walls of a temple which tell us about how the
Hindus felt about Balban’s rule. In fact, the person who had written the inscriptions says that, “he is like Ramchandra, Balban is
an incarnation of Ramchandra’, the epic hero.
FAQs
Q1. Name some works that have a secular bearing?
A. Abu Rihan Al Beruni’s Qitab-ul-Hind and Ibn Khladun’s historical writings are narratives that have secular bearings.
Q2. What are the two trends in the writing of history?
A. There had been two trends in the writing of history- the Arabic style of writing and the Turkish or the Turki style of
writing.
Q3. What information do we get from the book Adab-al-Harb-Wah-Shujjat?
A. Fakhre Muddabir’s book, Adab-al-Harb-Wah-Shujjat is an account of Mohammad Ghori’s coming to India and his
victory in the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192. It depicts the causes of Prithviraj Chauhan’s defeat and the causes of the success
of Mohammad Ghori and his trusted lieutenant Qutub-ud-din Aibak. This is perhaps the only book which gives us a detailed
account of the medieval Turkish army, its formation, its battle tactics, its siege practices and the use of horses and elephants.
Q4. Why is the book Tarikh-i-Firozshahi by Ziauddin Barani important?
A. The book Tarikh-i-Firozshahi by Ziauddin Barani is important because the entire period from Ghiasuddin Balban right
down to the time of Firoz Shah has been recalled and put down in writing.
Q5. Explain how Amir Khusrau’s books like Ashiq and Nur Sipr, serve as sources of history?
A. Amir Khusrau’s books like Ashiq and Nur Sipr, serve as sources of history because they depict the social picture of
that period. In Nur Sipr particularly, Amir Khusrau tells us about the mixture of the two cultures, about the scientific and
technological experiments that were taken up during that time and about cultural synthesis.
Q6. Which historian criticized Muhammad Bin Tughluq?
A. Isami criticized Muhammad Bin Tughluq and described his different experiments, like his transfer of capital to
Daulatabad, his experiments in the Doab region, his agriculture and revenue experiments, or his attempt to introduce a token
currency in a bitter manner. He was of the opinion that the Sultan was a whimsical ruler who did whatever he pleased.
Q7. What trend was prevalent amongst the historians who wrote the tarikhs and tabakats?
A. The trend prevalent amongst the historians who wrote the tarikhs and tabaqats was to name their books after the
sultans in whose time they completed their work. For example, Minhaj named his book Tabakat-i-Nasiri, after Nasiruddin
Mahmud, a son of Iltutmish in whose time he finished writing his account Similarly, Ziauddin Barani named his book Tarikh-i--
Firozshahi, as his huge book was finished in the time of Firoz Shah though he started from the time of Balban.
Q8. What was the significance of the coins of the Delhi Sultanate that have been found /
A. The coins of the period had the image of the victorious Muslim ruler impressed upon the coins of the defeated kings.
This was done, perhaps to prove the power and authority of the conqueror to the people. A lot of forged copper coins have been
found around Daulatabad and Delhi where we find an interesting use of the Sanskrit language on the reverse side. This was done
probably to gain popularity and to make the Sultanate rule familiar to the people.
Q9. What kind of information do the inscriptions provide us with?
A. An inscription that belonged to the time of Firoz Shah Tughluq, has been found inscribed on the walls of a mosque
in Firozabad in U.P. It gives us an account of Firoz Shah Tughluq’s activities and achievements. It has been assumed by the
historians that these inscriptions were excerpts from his autobiography called Futuh-us-Firozshahi, which is lost. Another
inscription belonging to the time of Balban has been found on the U.P.-Bihar border on the walls of a temple. It depicts the Hindu
attitude, towards the Sultanate rule and about Balban’s rule.
Q10. What are the characteristics of the archeological remains in the Sultanate period?
A. The most important characteristic is the synchronization the Central Asian and the Indian cultures. This is very evident
from the remains of monuments found in the Qutub Complex, the Qutb Minar itself, the Alai Darwaza and the Quatul Masjid. We
find Hindu motifs like the lotus and bell possibly as a consequence of parts of Hindu or Jain structures being used in the
construction, and also because Hindu masons were employed to carry out this work. The Sultanate architecture differed from
region to region and they adopted local styles into their architecture.
Quiz
Q1. Arabs had been accustomed to writing genealogies which they called
1. Sirah 2. Malfuzat 3. Quasidas 4. Muktubat
Q2. The author of Chachnama is
1. Anonymous 2. Al Beruni 3. Amir Khusrau 4. Isami
Q3. The Rehla was composed by
1. Marco Polo 2. Al Beruni 3. Ibn Batuta
Q4. Chronologies written by historians during the medieval times were known as
1. Malfuzat 2. Maghazi 3. Muktubat 4. Quasidas
Q5. Which Sultan has been compared to Ramchandra in an inscription?
1. Alauddin Khalji 2. Balban 3. Firoz Shah Tughluq 4. Qutubuddin Aibek
Q6. Which historian lived in the court of Iltutmish
1. Isami 2. Fakhre Muddabir 3. Ibn Khladun 4. Minhaj-us-Siraj
Q7. The Lakhnauti kingdom referred to
1. Lucknow 2. Bengal 3. Ajmer 4. None of the above
Q8. Amir Khusrau’s book, Khazain-ul-Futuh deals with the military conquests of which sultan
1. FirozShah Tughluq 2. Ghiasuddin Baban 3. Iltutmish 4. Alauddin Khalji
Q9. Which writer wrote his entire history book in verse
1. Minhaj-us-Siraj Jurjani 2. Ziauddin Barani 3.Isami 4. Amir Khusrau
Q10. Who was the writer of Qitab-ul-Hind
1. Abu Rihan Al Beruni’s 2. Abu Rihan Al Beruni 3. Isami 4. Anonymous
Glossary
1. Chachnama -.An account by an anonymous writer which describes the conquest of Sindh by the Arab general
Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 CE. It also gives us detailed account of Sind, about its people, flora and fauna, agriculture, trade
and commerce.
2. Quasidas - Genealogies composed by Arabs in praise of gods and goddesses in the pre-Islamic days.
3. Devnagiri – A North indic script descended from Brahmi ; used to write Sanskrit and a range of north Indian languages.
4. Malfuzats- Conversations, between a Sufi teacher called the Murshid and the Sufi disciple called the Murid ; contain
explanations of Sufi ideas and doctrines. between a Sufi teacher called the Murshid and the Sufi disciple called the Murid.
5. Tabaqat-i-Nasiri- A book written by Minhaj-us-Siraj ; refers to the account of Bakhtiyar Khalji march to the kingdom
of Lakhnauti and the eventual defeat of Lakshman Sen, the last Hindu Sen ruler.
6. Qiran-us-Sa’dain- Written by Amir Khusrau ; a historical account which starts from the time of Balban’s death.
7. Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi -A book by Yahya-bin-Ahmad Sirhindi; furnishes an account of Timur’s invasion and the
plunder of Delhi in 1398.
8. Khair-ul-Majlis- One of the most important Malfuzats; about Nasiruddin Chirag-i Dehlavi, the famous Chishti Sufi
saint, who lived in Delhi in the time of Alauddin Khalji and provides information about his reign.
9. Minhaj-us-Siraj - A historian who came from Jurjan in Central Asia; lived in the court of Iltutmish ; the first example
of Persian style of writing history.
10. Fatwa-i-Jahandari- A political treatise by Ziauddin Barani dealing with the characteristics of the Sultanate.
OBJECTIVE
The students will:
Learn about the tradition of chronicling historical events that came with the Muslim invaders of India.
Know about the different categories of historical literature.
Know about the significant contributions of renowned writers of this period.
Learn about sources apart from literary for the Sultanate period.

ASSIGNMENT
1. Give an account of the different literary sources for the construction of the Sultanate history during the time of
Qutub-ud-din Aibak and Iltutmish.
2. Evaluate Ziauddin Barani as a narrator and a historian. What makes him different from the other writers of the
time?
3. How would you estimate Amir Khasru as a historian?
4. In what way did the Malfuzats help in constructing history?
5. What particular aspects of history are narrated by monuments?

SUMMARY
Medieval historians drew their information from various sources. There was a huge collection of information for
this period provided by written materials mostly in the form of numerous historical texts. The Quran, Hadish and the Shariyat
were important sources of medieval history. Abu Rihan Al Beruni’s Qitab-ul-Hind, Amir Khusrau’s various works and Ibn
Khladun’s historical writings are narratives and have secular bearings. Several contemporary writers recorded the events of
the different Sultans of Delhi, many among them receiving royal patronage. The Persian style was a very sophisticated style,
and the language used was high-flowing. The Persian style emanated from the court and concentrated on court surroundings
only. Very little would be known about the common people.
During the Medieval period, numerous historical texts were also written in different regions of India. One could
say there was an awesome existence of historical texts all over Hindustan not just centred in Delhi, written by the court
historians.
The archeological monuments of the period provided historical sources of the Delhi Sultanate. Numismatics is an
important source in supplementing literary history. The earlier Sultans often stamped their names and images on the coins
of the vanquished rulers. A few coins were inscribed in Devanagiri. Inscriptions are one of the main sources in constructing
history. Some Sanskrit inscriptions found on temple walls give a Hindu view of the Sultanate rule.