Tughluqabad: The Sultan of Soul vs The Savior of Islam

“One who serves becomes the master” – Nizamuddin Auliya

In the center of sprawling south Delhi, lies the massive Tughluqabad fort in six square kilometers of desolation, its major part still un-encroached by flames of the expanding megapolis which has already swallowed few other historic cities of Lal Kot, Siri, Jahanpanah to name a few.  Strong ashlar-dressed towers with solid talus at their bases, punctuating the double layered wall-curtain every 50-100 mt, tapers up in semicircular , sometimes circular, cones. One may wonder if the Sufi Saint’s curse of “Ya rehey ujjar; ya basey gujjar” still keeping the modern encroachments at bay?

Nizamuddin Auliya was born in the 13th century; where  Delhi , the “darul auliya” : the home of the Sufis – his chosen city of residence for higher education and spiritual practice- was a violent playground of  the unabated march of the Mongol warriors, the conquering spree of nomadic Turkic Muslim warlords; and the attack & resistance of Hindu Kings. It was a time, when on one hand  Muslim military strategists competed with one another in re-drawing political boundaries  through their far-reaching conquests , on the other hand Muslim saints and mystics roamed the world in spreading the language of love; it was a time when Central & South Asia was on a violent turmoil, exemplified by Mongol warrior Genghis Khan’s  flattening the fine cities of Bukhara, Samarkand and Baghdad.

In Delhi, it was a time filled with fear, and uncertainties, and Nizamuddin was in constant pain to see his fellow  Sultans following extreme savagery and preferred to stay detached from the court politics, and lived his life among the poor and immersed himself in his books. Three dynasties – Slave, Khilji and Tughluq- and seven Sultans, changed power during Nizamuddin’s lifetime, but never once he played a sycophant’s role in any ruler’s court.

As one of constituents of the Chisti silsila, along with Bakhtiar Kaki and Baba Farid, Nizamuddin followed the practical aspect of Sufism: serving the poor and his acceptance to followers from all religions. He proposed that balance is possible in the society only when “Nafs” or the vengeful violent self is met with “qalb”, the spiritual self.

Tughluabad, abode of the first Tughluq  Sultan Ghiasuddin  aka Ghazi Malik – the agent of change from Khilji to Tughluq empire & the agent of continuity for the rule of Islam in Delhi-  who  lorded over Hind and Sind from 1320 to 1324; indeed a very brief time span in the country’s history ; but his undying tale is kept alive by such distinguished personalities –some contemporaries and some successors –  as the historians and chroniclers Barni and  Afif;  “toot-e-hind” poet Amri Khusrau, the Moroccan globe trotter Ibn Battuta;  King’s two successors  – the enigmatic and mercurial Muhammed-bin-Tughluq  and  Feroz Shah known for his mild and generous rule ;  and above all the greatest Sufi saint of Delhi: Nizamuddin Auliya.

Talking of contemporary architecture; when the Tughlaqs’ were busy erecting the massive  fort city in 1320, the Ganga Kings of Orissa had just finished the Konark temple by around 1250: an ambitious idea captured in stone : a massive chariot with 24 spectacular engraved giant wheels for the Apollo like Sun God, pulled by 7 stone-cut mammoth horses leaping towards the eastern sea board of Bay of Bengal . To the architects and builders of such an ingeniously conceptualized monument, the inward sloping double walled Cyclopean fort of Tughluqabad by a contemporary kingdom must have come across as pathetically crass and tasteless, but the Tughluq emperor had just one aim in mind: to sustain against the onslaught of a Mongol invading Army that has already paid few visits at the door steps of Delhi. For a frontier commander new to Delhi politics,  Ghias-ud-din’s fortified Tughluqabad surely highlights the troubled time he was in.


© Osprey Publishing

This image has been reproduced with the permission of Osprey Publishing. It appears in their book Fortress, 51, Indian Castles 1206-1526, The Rise and Fall of the Delhi Sultanate, Konstantin Nossov and is by Brian Delf.



Imagine if such a deadly Mongol invasion would have really taken place, the glee and enthusiasm with which the Delhiites would have warded them off. Crossing thousands of miles on horse backs across the Hindukush and plains of northern India, the Mongol army would have arrived at Delhi, as would have been described by Amir Khursu ‘ the Nightingale of Hind’ as an army “ as dense as sands of desert & as tumultuous as boiling water “;  and would’ve found themselves suitably awed at the vast impregnable fortress surrounded by a moat, even if we assume they are early by few years so that the sister fort of Adilabad  is not yet been erected  next door. By this time, the five levels of fire from the main fort and four tiers of fire from the tomb would have come up in position to shower down arrows on a tired army trying to be aquatic to cross the moat; and sluice gates would have opened up to make the tomb an island out of reach. Even if we grant the Mongols the valor and courage to overcome these obstacles, and they break into the main gate and enter the palace, they would have found themselves blocked by two more gates at 90 degrees one after another surrounded by fortified barbicans before they could even enter the Citadel:   the narrow passage with barbicans  would have ensured a thorough slaughter of the uninvited guests. In the end, only the super-humans could have broken into the citadel, only to find the King’s party long disappeared by  secret underground passages from the citadel.

Even the tomb of  Ghias-ud-din Tughlaq, with its pentagonal fortified raised walls with five towers is a small fortress. With its four tiers of fire in the walls, a baoli  and storage chamber inside the tomb suggest it was a self sufficient section of the defense system. The tomb was designed to turn into an island in an artificial lake, once the sluice gates at the fort are opened, to make it  inaccessible to the enemy. At the end, the tomb looks more like a place of confinement, rather than a place of rest. One can not banish the thought therefore, if the Sufi Saint’s eternal curse on the emperor confined even his  ghost to such a militaristic bondage.

The baolis in all parts of the city, and huge granaries  suggest the city planners’ seriousness in designing a city capable to be self sufficient in case of a long drawn siege. From Allauddin Khilji’s time; villages were required to pay their tributes in kind by sending half of their grain produce to the royal stores; which would be opened in case of scarcity of grains associated with seasonal  shortfall in the market. It was also rumored that the fort had a gigantic cistern containing all the gold of the world.

Ya rehey ujjar; ya basey gujjar:

Obsessed with building his new capital Tughluqabad ; Ghias-ud-din ordered all laborers to exclusively work on the fort, and even those who were working on  Nizamuudin Auliya’s Khanqah,  were asked to abandon their work for the Saint. The workers had no choice, but out of their compassion for the Saint, they continued their work for Nizamuudin in the night, after the days’ work was over. Furious on hearing the same, the emperor stopped sale and use of oil so that work can not continue at night. It is said, Nizamuddin asked his disciple Hazrat Naseeruddin to light the lamps with water, and as the lamps glowed miraculously, and the step-well was completed in a record 7 days,  Hazrat Naseeruddin was awarded the title of ‘Roshan Chiragh Dilli’. Then, prophetically, Nizamuddin cursed the emperor that his new city will either be deserted or be occupied by herds-men, and that’s what happened.  Today Tughluqs have gone, Tughlukabad is  a crumbled and imploded image of its former glory; and…only Nizamuddin Auliya lives on.










The Rise of Ghiasuddin Tughluk:

The transitory feeling associated with the frequent coming and going of Sultans those days had to be pivoted around a fleeting sense of destiny or fate.  Ghazi  Malik’s past is unclear except that he along with his two brothers came from Khurasan in Central Asia to Delhi during the reign of Alauddin Khilji, and that he became well known as Governor of Dipalpur & Lahore, in crushing the Mongols and protecting the western frontier of Khilji’s empire. After Aluddin Khilji’s death in 1316, hardly within a month, there was so much blood shed and power struggle and the new claimant to Dehi Durbar, Malik Naik Kafur of Deogir was soon killed and replaced by Alauddin’s son Mubarak Khan rechristening himself as Kutbuddin.

Kutbuddin one day was riding along with his commander Ghazi Malik &  dismissed  Malik’s suggestion to build a new capital near  the foothills of Aravali – by suggesting him to build it himself when he becomes the King one day;  and  only after 3 years, Ghazi Malik not only reclaimed Delhi from  Khusru Khan, but also started  building the new capital at that very spot.

The new king had his weakness: a young lad Khusroo Khan whom he promoted as the Chief Commander, but Khusroo did not lose much time in killing his master. After Khusroo killed the last Khilji ruler Kutbuddin in the dark of night on his palace terrace with a group of armed  parwaris disguised as Khusroo Khan’s friends and thus provided easy access,  it was considered the end of Islamic and rise of Hindu rule.

However, Ghazi Malik , stationed at the frontier , assembled an army and marched towards Delhi. At the battle at Inderpat, Ghazi Malik crushed the defenders and beheaded Khusroo . Ghazi Malik, took to the city of Siri, and asked the noblemen to find any descendants of Khilji who can be made the next Sultan; however when the noblemen informed him that Khusroo had already massacred every one of last dynasty; he accepted the Kingship of Delhi in 1320, rechristening himself as Ghias-ud-din Tughluq.  At that time, his nephew Firuz Shah was a lad of only 14 who would grow up under his guidance and  ascend the same throne one day….

Ghias-ud-din, or Ghazi Malik, was eulogized by Barani as a kind, just, and “Savior of Islam” who sympathized with the people , one who brought stability and peace in the kingdom. He was successful in reducing tax burden on  citizens to a large extent, warding off Mongols, annexing  the southern kingdoms of Arangal and Tilang; and in quelling an army revolt by  getting few revolting generals impaled live, and some others trampled by elephants, that caused a great sense of fear in the citizenry on the Sultan’s cruelty. However, when he demanded Nizam-ud-din Auliya to return the money he received from Khusroo, the Sufi saint could not do so as he had already spent on charity, thereby increasing  friction among the two.

During Allauddin Khilji’ s rule when Ghazi Malik was the commander of western front; there was frequent wars between invading Mongols and forces of Islam; and every time the Mongols were defeated, and thousands of prisoners would be brought to Delhi with ropes tied around their necks to be killed and trampled by elephants, and pyramids and towers would be made from their heads. The invading Mongols had such a fear of attacking Hindustan again that complete peace and order prevailed in this era.

Bazaars of Delhi were full of dirt cheap slave boys and girls from war spoils, and commanded  not more than few tankas each.  Regarding currency, one Red Lac was 100,000 gold tankas & one white lac was 100,000 silver tankas. One silver tanka equaled eight dirham hastkani, and each dirham hastkani consisted of eight jitals. Rice, wheat and other grains were sold at few hastkanis ; and an ox, sheep or buffalo was sold at 2-3 tankas.

The kingdom was covered with a network of horse-posts and runners set up within few kos-or mile, who would act as intelligence sources and also to transfer posts and other materials from city to city. Falconry  used to be a well developed hunting game, with falconers who would ride on horsebacks carrying the trained birds for hawking.  The hierarchy of state officials was laid down from the top as : Khans, followed by Maliks; then Amirs; and, Isfah-salars(generals); and lastly the officers (jand).







The Quick downfall of Ghiasuddin:

Hunuz Dilli Dur Ast:

While Ghias-ud-din was on a military expedition; his son Muhammed came to visit the Saint and Nizamuudin blessed him saying he would the next king very soon. As the word reached Ghias-ud-din; he was furious and sent a threatening letter to Nizamuddin  to evacuate him from Delhi once he returns from his military expedition. Nizamuddin Auliya calmly dismissed the threat saying Delhi is still far for him. Prophetically, as per Ibn Batuta’s record, on the way  from his victorious expedition from Bengal , he was killed from an imploding timbered pavilion erected by his son as a temporary accommodation , operated by ground thumping elephants ; the plan alleged hatched by his beloved son.

Ghiassudin was succeeded by Muhammed-bin-Tughlaq whose transfer of power after his father’s death was the smoothest in 100 years  of Sultanate history. His personality, however,  remains an enigma to historians –  torn between Ibn Batuta and Barani’s opposite portrayal of him as India’s Nero vs  Genius King; as a lunatic vs a visionary. However, he was not comfortable in the grand new fort erected by his father  and preferred to build a new city himself where he was aware of every secret doors, passages and trapdoors..and Tughlukabad was abandoned for ever.

This Heritage Walk was led by Kanika Singh of Delhi Heritage Walks.


  1. The History of India, as told by its own historians(Vol III) by  Sir H.M. Elliot & John Dowson.
  2. India: A History: from the Earliest Civilizations to the Boom of the Twenty-first Century; by John Keay
  3. Indian Castles 1206-1526: The Rise and Fall of the Delhi Sultanate; by Konstantin Nossov
  4. Aditya Pathak’s video blog ‘ Tughluqabad: Ruins Frozen in Time’ : https://youtu.be/opGIeUHA_Lw

6 thoughts on “Tughluqabad: The Sultan of Soul vs The Savior of Islam

  1. Thanks Kanika for making me a history-addict thro your walks. ‘Delhi Heritage Walks’ is, no doubt, a wonderful initiative to provide new insights on monuments that are off the beaten track.


  2. Debashis – This is a beautiful piece.. I loved reading it. You have a way with words… I really liked the details and the story telling. I have gone to Tughlaqabad and read about it, but on my own when I have spent hours walking around, exploring the fort area, the tomb and Adilabad as well… Keep writing, Amit

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s