Monday, 6 January 2014

A Sultan with a difference

History is never kind to people who do not impose their will on others and people who do not conquer to rule. If Alexander is remembered today, it is because of  his invasions of Asia and his burning ambition to rule over the world.
Kings in India like Samudra Gupta, Raja Raja Chola, Rajendra Chola, Krishnadevaraya, Akbar and even Chatrapathi Shivaji are today remembered for their conquests and martial qualities. Others like Ashoka are remembered for transforming themselves from being ruthless to kind and gentle. However, history has never given importance to such attributes. Aurangzeb was a tyrant. He demolished Hindu temples and was a bigot. Yet, his simplicity and austere life has never been adequately highlighted.
Many Kings and Emperors of India had a huge number of concubines and mistresses. Some even had several queens. However, one Muslim King who is buried in the country’s first Islamic tomb, Sultan Garhi, in Delhi was married only once and he is reputed never to have had any other women.
He was the eighth sultan of the Mamulk or Slave dynasty that ruled Delhi from 1206 to 1290. He was the youngest son of Shams-ud- Din Illutmish (1211-1236) and he was known for as the Darvesi King.  
He was as pious as he was noble. He lead a simple and austere life and spent most of his life copying the holy Quaran or Koran. He  gave up all his powers to the Turkish noblemen, particularly, Ghiyasuddin Balban.
On one occasion, the fingers of  this King’s wife were burnt while cooking. She then came to the King and she requested him to provide a maid-servant for help. The King or Sultan replied that he was merely a trustee of the State, he could not spend money on his personal comforts. The wife of the Sultan was the daughter of Balban and the Sultan was Nasir-ud-din Muhmad (1244-1266).
However, there are contradictions about this incident and some historians point out that the Sultan had more than one wife and that he did have many slaves who were also his concubines. Whatever the truth about women in his life, it is historically accurate that he was highly religious, pious and that he lead a plain and simple life.
Nasiruddin Mahmud died in 1266 and since he had no male heir, he designated Balban to be the next Sultan. However, historians Isami and the African traveler Ibn Batuta claim that Nasiruddin was murdered by Balban. Another traveler, Yayiha bin Ahmad Sarhindi does not accuse Balban of regicide. He says Nasiruddin Mahmud died a natural death.
As a ruler, Mahmud was loved by his subjects. He spent most of his time in prayer and aided the poor and the distressed.
He sold the handwritten copies of the Koran he had copied and used the money for his personal expenses. He had no servants to carry out his personal tasks. His wife had to cook the food for him and his family.
Nasiruddin Mahmud was only sixteen when he ascended the throne. During his rule, he remained content in surrendering the power of the State to Balban. In 1249, he married the daughter of Balban.
Himself an expert calligraphist, the Sultan patronised Minhaj-us-Siraj (1193-1259), the Persian historian, who wrote Tabaqat-i-Nasiri and dedicated it to the Sultan.
History, however, remembers this Sultan as a mere puppet in the hands of Balban and a weak ruler, who was incompetent and who left the affairs of the State in the hands of his Turkish nobles.
Of course, it goes without saying that Nasiruddin cannot be compared to Ashoka, Samudra Gupta, the legendary Chandra Gupta, Raja Raja Chola, Rajendra Chola, Krishna Deva Raya or even Akbar. The point is that these kings were essentially known for their military prowess and single minded sincerity to protect their kingdom from their enemies and also extend the borders of their kingdom.

Nasiruddin, by comparison, was not even capable of defeating the Mongols without the help of his father-in-law Balban. The point is unlike his predecessors, Nasiruddun was content to lead a simple and uncomplicated life and this perhaps saved him from assassination and overthrow. It also helped him tide over the turbulent times. He perhaps was wiser than his sister Razia Sultan and was careful never to antagonize the nobles. All these clearly go to show that he was a Sultan with a difference.        

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