For several months, her face was veiled
— her sword’s ray flashed, lightning-like, from behind the screen.
Since the sword remained in the sheath,
many rebellions were left unchecked.
With a royal blow, she tore away the veil;
she showed her face’s sun from behind the screen.
The [lioness] showed so much force
that brave men bent low before her.
If there is one woman from the medieval ages who cuts a very romantic and tragic hero it is Raziya al Din who took the title of Sultan Jalalut ud din Raziya after ascending the throne of the Delhi Sultanate.
Coins were stuck in the name of
As Sultánu-l ‘azam Jalálatu-d dunyá wau-d dín Malikatu-l bint Altamshu-s Sultán Mihrat Amíru-l muminín, the great Sultán, the glory of the world and the Faith, the Queen, the daughter of the Sultán Altamsh, the beloved of the Commander of the Faithful.”
(The Coins of the Kings of Ghazní” by Mr. Thomas in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society)
Her father was Altamash the third and most famous Mamluk ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Raziya was born of Altamash’s favourite wife, Terken Khatoon and I believe the daughter of Shamsuddin Aibak, though I haven’t been able to find any reference to this apart from the fact that Altamash was Aibak’s son-in-law..
Altamash’s eldest and most capable son was Nasiruddin Mahmud, whom he had groomed as his successor. Unfortunately he was killed in a battle in Lakhnauti , Bengal where he was the Governor,in 1229 and his remaining brothers were considered incapable by the father of becoming the Sultan. Altamash had trained Raziya in politics and warfare from childhood and she was his favoured child, whom he appointed as his successor. When Altamash went on a campaign to Gwalior, he left Raziya in charge of the kingdom. He is said to have compared her worth to that of twenty sons.
When the nobles protested, Minhaj us Siraj a contemporary historian reports that Altamash replied ,“engrossed in the pleasures of youth, and none of them possesses the capability of managing the affairs of the country”; whereas Raziya, his daughter, was the most worthy, as would be proven after his death.
This was a radical step for those days when women were confined to the harem alone. But Altamash who was a far-sighted visionary had not taken into account the aversion that the nobles had at being ruled by a woman. During the Mamluk reign there was a band of very powerful noblemen ( chihilgani) who had removed Aram Shah, Aibak’s son and put Altamash himself on the throne.
These nobles put Ruknuddin Firoz, (April 1236-Oct 1236) his younger son on the throne. Ruknuddin was a young man given to the pursuit of pleasure and the reigns of the kingdom were in the hand of his mother Shah Turkan, a vicious and ambitious lady. One of her first steps was to try and isolate Raziya herself from the day-to-day work of the kingdom. She also had Raziya’s youngest brother Muizuddin murdered. She used her new found status to settle old scores and attempted to have Raziya herself murdered. This led to an uproar and taking advantage of Ruknuddin’s absence who had gone out of Delhi for a battle, backed by the army, Raziya went to the Jami Masjid of Delhi ( Quwattul Islam Mosque in the Qutub )
Khwaja Abdullah Malik Isami in his Futuhas Salatin ( 1349-50) writes that she dressed herself in the garment which is worn by the aggrieved, and showed herself to the people assembled for the Friday prayers and in the name of her father appealed for help against the intrigues of Shah Turkan. The sight of her and her powerful words profoundly affected the people assembled there. This led to another radical step: an agreement between Raziya and the people of Delhi. lsami tells us that Raziya even entered into an agreement with the people to the following effect: “She was to be given a chance to prove her abilities and if she did not prove better than men, her head was to be struck off.”
By the time her brother came back in the city, Raziya’s enthronement was complete and Shah Turkan had been thrown into prison. Both mother and son were executed on 9 Nov, 1236.
These two steps along with Altamash’s decision in naming Raziya as his successor give an indication into the minds of the Turkish nobility and common men of that era. They were capable of taking such a bold step.
Prof. K. A. Nizami says that the accession of Raziya to the throne of Delhi was marked by very striking features. The people of Delhi, for the first time in the history of Delhi Sultanate decided a succession issue on their own initiative. The support of the Delhi population was the main source of the strength of Raziya.
She succeeded her brother on the throne with the title Sultan Jalalatud-din Raziya. She rejected the feminine ( normally used for a consort/ princess ) and in her eyes therefore a weak title for a sovereign of Raziya Sultana. She shrugged off her feminine dresses and donned the robes, tunic and turban of a man. She also stopped wearing a veil.
It lies forgotten in the bylanes of Old Delhi. Most people don’t even know how to reach there. I succeeded only because of my own and Asif Khan Dehlvi’s determination to meet Raziya.
For those who are interested, you have to go till Turkman Gate / Jama Masjid whichever is convenient.Then take a rickshaw to Bhojali Pahari and about a km down you can ask shopkeepers, where is Bulbuli Khana : there is a right turn into a narrow lane where you have to walk. You will see this board after a few yards.
Keep walking in the dirty, dingy lanes
And you will see the ASI board which is announces the last resting place of S. Asia’s first female monarch.
The modest entrance to the graves
Now for a look at the claims that this is not Sultan Raziya’s tomb as there are similar claims from Tonk in Rajasthan and Katihal in Haryana.
I quote the contemporary and medieval historians before drawing my own conclusions.
Abdullah Wassaf who wrote AZJIYATU-L AMSÁR WA TAJRIYATU-L ÁSÁR (“A Ramble through the Regions and the Passing of Ages,”) in 1300 A.D. as given in the preface. ( So we can presume it was in the writing for some years before that.)
“Ulugh Khán placed the virtuous Sultán Raziya, upon the throne, and himself became administrator, guide, counsellor, and ruler.
After some time, Ulugh Khán slew Sultán Raziya, and his son-in-law Násiru-d dín assumed the crown.”
(this endorses the fact that the Chihilgani was very powerful and that she was deposed and killed by them or at their command too.)
Here she rests in peace. And there is a strange sense of peace, in its starkness and simplicity.
The locals keep it neat and clean.
The residents have added a mosque to the grave complex and regular prayers are said here daily.
The Imam stays in the porta cabin visible behind the graves.
The identity of the second grave is unknown. It is possible that it was a loyal attendant or some relative. I found no reference to that anywhere in the books I read. And there is no reference of a sister named Shaziya. It is again one of the romantic stories attached to her name now.
Shams Siraj Afif
Tarikh e Firozshahi (History of India during the reign (1351-1388) of Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388) describes the building of the new city of Firozabad, known as Firoz Shah Kotla today. He describes the various villages and lands that were bought by the Sultan for its construction.
“The Sultán having selected a site at the village of Gáwín, on the banks of the Jumna, founded the city of Fíroz-ábád, before he went to Lakhnautí the second time. Here he commenced a palace, * * * and the nobles of his court having also obtained (giriftand) houses there, a new town sprang up, five kos distant from Dehlí. Eighteen places were included in this town, the kasba of Indarpat, the saráí of Shaikh Malik Yár Parán, the saráí of Shaikh Abu Bakr Túsí, the village of Gáwín, the land of Khetwára, the land of Lahráwat, the land of Andháwalí, the land of the saráí of Malika, the land of the tomb of Sultán Raziya, the land of Bhárí, the land of Mahrola, and the land of Sultánpur. So many buildings were erected that from the kasba of Indarpat to the Kúshk-i shikár, five kos apart, all the land was occupied.”
Even today land records are considered an authentic source of information and Afif wrote not too long after Raziya’s death.
Perhaps the most surprising and detailed account is that of Ibn Batuta in TRAVELS OF IBN BATÚTA. 1304 – 1368 or 1369
“When Ruknu-d dín had been killed, the soldiers agreed to place his sister, Raziya, on the throne. They proclaimed her Sovereign, and she reigned with absolute authority for four years. She rode on horseback as men ride, armed with a bow and quiver, and surrounded with courtiers. She did not veil her face. She was eventually suspected of an intimacy with one of her slaves, an Abyssinian by birth, and the people resolved upon deposing her and giving her a husband. So she was deposed and married to one of her relations, and her brother, Násiru-d dín, obtained the supreme power.
After the deposition of Raziya, her younger brother, Násiru-d dín, ascended the throne, and for some time exercised royal authority. But Raziya and her husband revolted against him, mounted their horses, and, gathering round them their slaves and such disaffected persons as were willing to join them, they prepared to give battle. Násiru-d dín came out of Dehli with his slave and lieutenant Ghiyásu-d dín Balban, who became ruler of the kingdom after him. The opposing forces met, and Raziya was defeated and obliged to fly. Pressed by hunger and overcome with fatigue, she addressed herself to a man engaged in cultivating the ground and begged for food. He gave her a bit of bread, which she devoured, and then she was overpowered by sleep. She was dressed in the garments of a man; but when the peasant looked at her as she slept, he perceived under her upper garment a tunic trimmed with gold and pearls. See- ing she was a woman he killed her, stripped her of her valuables, drove away her horse, and buried her corpse in his field. He then carried some of her garments to the market for sale. The dealers suspected him, and took him before the magistrate, who caused him to be beaten. The wretch then confessed that he had killed Raziya, and told his guards where he had buried her. They exhumed her body, washed it, and, wrapping it in a shroud, buried it again in the same place. A small shrine was erected over her grave, which is visited by pilgrims, and is considered a place of sanctity. It is situated on the banks of the Jumna, about a parasang from Dehli.”
Fellow seekers Supriya and Asif
Minhaj us Siraj in Tabaqat I Nasiri
“Together they ( Sultan raziya and Malik Altuniya after their marriage) marched an army towards Delhi, aiming to dethrone Bahrām Shah . But the new sultan led out a force to rout his sister and Altunapa and succeeded. The troops accompanying the couple abandoned them, and both Raziya and her husband were killed by Hindus on 25 Rabiʿ I 638/14 October 1240. “
Ferishta (1560-1620) writes inTarikh I Ferishta that Sultan Raziya fled to Bithunda after her defeat by her brother’s forces. Here she again recouped and made another advance against Delhi with an army.
She was defeated at Katihal by Malik Eizuddin Bulbun ( Aluf/ Ulugh Khan). Both she and her husband were seized by Zamindars and
Sir Syed in his book Asarus Sanadeed also refers to Sultan Raziya being buried near Turkman Gate and that she was a devotee of the saint Turkman Shah. To my mind it conjure up the last days of a brave Sultan who after having failed to win back her kingdom took refuge near her Peer o Murshid and was slain there or some kind soul brought her bodily remains to rest near the saint.
A piece of paper proclaiming this to be the Shahi Masjid Raziya Sultan in Bulbuli Khana.
Sadly they didn’t get her title right as she used Sultan Raziya – a monarch not Raziya Sultan which could be wife, sister, consort.
Ferishta adds that another historian says they were both captured and taken to Bairam Shah who imprisoned them and later had them assassinated.
The only reference to Kathihal is made by Ferishta who wrote at a much later date than the rest. It is therefore possible that as it was at this time that there was a burst of creative activity in the period that his version was accepted by the historians who followed him.
Tonk doesnot figure anywhere in any narrative of any medieval historian.
Yaqut was already long dead when Raziya fled Delhi, married Altunia and came back to Delhi to fight her brother and was killed so there is no question of both of them being buried together. These lurid tales of their love itself is not established and to my mind it is possible that familiarity with someone in whom I whose loyalty she could place utmost trust was mistaken.
In My Humble opinion the only proof which bears scrutiny is the account by Shams SIraj Afif where he talks of the land deeds of the 5th city of Delhi- Firozabad or Firoz Shah Kotla as its known today and they very clearly state that the land on which Sultan Raziya’s tomb stands was part of the city of Firozabad. Even today land deeds are clear proof of ownership, whether of the dead or alive.
A moment of silence in memory of a woman born to rule but doomed to die because of her sex.
Delhi Sultanate under Altamash and his family
- Altamash – 1211- 1236
- Ruknuddin Firoz ( son of Altamash) April – Oct 1236
- Sultan Raziya ( daughter of Altamash ) 1236- 1240
- Muizuddin Bahram I son of Altamash ) 1240- 1242
- Alauddin Masud ( grandson of Altamash, son of Ruknuddin ) 1242-1246
- Nasiruddin Mahmud ( son of Altamash) 1246-1266
- Ghiyasuddin Balban ( ex slave of Altamash and father in law of Nasiruddin Mahmud)