How Sultan Alauddin Khilji saved the Indian subcontinent from the Mongol invasion

On the 21st of October in 1296, the second Sultan of the Khilji dynasty, Alauddin Khilji was coronated (a crowning ceremony) in Delhi. Alauddin was certainly the most powerful Sultan of the Khilji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate that ruled India from 1290 to 1320.

Right after his accession to the throne, Alauddin got engaged in many wars against the Mongols. While the Mongol Ilkhanate of Iran maintained friendly relationships with the Sultan of Delhi, their rivals Chagatai Khanate made attempt to conquer India. But Alauddin successfully repulsed all the Mongol invasions and saved India from the Mongol wrath.

Alauddin Khilji has been a quite controversial figure. According to KA Nizami and Mohammad Habib, He [Alauddin] knew how to say his prayers, but he never fasted and, quite against the general tradition of Muslim kings, he did not go to the Friday congregational prayers.

According to Neelesh Chatterjee, Alauddin even planned to publicly denounce Islam. In his words as reported in Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi, “If I wish I could invent a religion on the strength of these four friends of mine, and then under the force of my sword and the swords of my friends, people would accept the regulations I would invent. This religion would ensure the survival of my name and the name of my friends [Ulugh Khan, Zafar Khan, Nusrat Khan and Alp Khan] till the end of time, as the name of the Prophet and his friends [the first 4 Rashidun Caliphs] has survived among the people.”

Ultimately, Ala ul Mulk, the Kotwal of Delhi brought Alauddin Khilji to his senses. After hearing Kotwal’s words, Alauddin promised that “after this nobody will hear any such thing in any of the assemblies.”

Mongol invasions of India

In 1297, the first major Chagatai Mongol invasion during the reign of Alauddin was made at a place near Lahore (Punjab region). This was larger than any Mongol invasion faced by Delhi Sultanate. But Alauddin’s army defeated the invaders on 6 February 1298, killing around 20,000 of them, and forcing the Mongols to retreat.

In 1298, he repulsed another Mongol invasion in the region of Sindh and expelled the Mongols from Sivistan.

In 1299, a Mongol force of 2,00,000 (conflicted numbers) under Qutlugh arrived to conquer Delhi. This was the first time the Mongols had launched a serious campaign to establish their rule over Delhi. Once again, the Mongols were expelled but a famous general of Alauddin Khilji, Zafar Khan lost his life in action.

In 1303, the Mongols appeared again with a force of 1,20,000. Alauddin again crushed the Mongols in Delhi. However, during this period, the people of Delhi had to face many hardships.

In 1305, the Mongols and Khiljis once again met in the Battle of Amroha (the modern-day district of Uttar Pradesh). As usual, the forces of Alauddin Khilji led by Malik Nayak defeated the Mongol army under Ali Beg and Tartaq.

In 1306, another Mongol invasion led by Chagatai ruler Duwa Khan himself was crushed by the forces of the Delhi Sultanate under Malik Kafur and Malik Tughluq. This was to avenge the Mongol defeat of 1305 CE. Alauddin’s armies crushed them again. After this defeat, the Mongols did not invade the Delhi Sultanate during Alauddin’s reign.

These previous invasions of Delhi showed that the Sultan of Delhi could match himself against the Mongols, something which the Central or West Asian rulers had not been able to do since then.

Apart from repulsing Mongol invasions, Alauddin Khilji is also known for his administrative reforms, related to revenues, price controls, and society.

According to Satish Chandra, for contemporaries, Alauddin’s measure to control the markets was one of the great wonders of the world. He sought to fix the cost of all commodities from food grains, sugar, and cooking oil to a needle, which was certainly a great concern of the medieval rulers. He died in 1316 after a powerful reign of 20 years.

References

Chandra, S. (2004). Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals-Delhi Sultanat (1206-1526) – Part One. India: Har-Anand Publications.

Habib, M. (1993). A Comprehensive History of India: Vol. 5. The Delhi Sultanat: A.D. 1206-1526. India: People’s Publishing House.

Chatterjee, N. (2022). The Second Alexander. India: Info OB.

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