Razia Sultan, the first female ruler of India
Just like chess, when the Queen saves the day...
There's no title suitable enough for her. No introduction can define her. Even if Razia Sultan is among the well-known rulers, everything you have to know about her is an understatement. Let's not talk about how she was the first and only female Muslim ruler of the Delhi sultanate because this person's story will go beyond the expectations of every male rulers' standards.
A digital image of Razia Sultan. Image source: Tezzbuzz

Died on 14th October 1240

Iltutmish had done his part for ruling the Delhi Sultanate splendidly. The boy who was once a slave became a ruler who was not only fierce enough to fight his way to the throne and hold on to such an empire but also a man who loved his subjects like his own children. But who would succeed such a strong man? Who could possibly hold up to his legacy?

Great celebrations were in the procession. Iltutmish had his firstborn from his chief wife, Turkan Khatun who was the daughter of Qutb al-Din Aibak, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate. The girl was named Raziyyat-Ud-Dunya Wa Ud-Din but was called by her father as Razia. He knew that the girl would do great things, after all, she was his firstborn and was Qutb al-Din Aibak's granddaughter. How could the girl carrying the blood of two of the greatest rulers of the Slave dynasty not rule the sultanate?

Delhi had never seen a female ruler. It was obvious Iltutmish had no plans to train Razia to be the king instead he was training his eldest son, Nasiruddin Mahmud to be his successor. Much to Iltutmish's demise Mahmud unexpectedly died in 1229. Iltutmish was worried sick, not only was he sorrowful from losing a son but the kingdom lost their crown prince. He looked at his other sons who were involved in pleasurable activities and had no sense of responsibility. They couldn't possibly be entrusted with the future of his beloved subjects! He then looked at Razia and suddenly knew what he ought to do. He was leaving for the Gwalior campaign and decided to leave the sultanate's administration in the hands of Razia.

When Iltutmish returned, he was astonished to find Razia took care of everything so well. She completely went beyond his expectations. He decided it was in her blood to be a ruler and she had a natural talent for administration. He immediately ordered his officer to prepare a decree naming Razia as his apparent heir. His nobles questioned his decision saying he still had sons. Iltutmish didn't falter, he replied that his daughter was more capable than any of his sons. The Delhi Sultanate must prepare to hail before their worthy Queen.

The nobles under Iltutmish's reign had been conspiring and becoming powerful ever since Iltutmish's ill health. It wasn't the fact that she was a woman that was troublesome for them. They were looking for a puppet ruler, someone who they could control and get their work done but they knew Razia was no puppet. That woman marched to her own tunes.

As soon as Iltutmish died, comes the spice of the royal drama: the entry of the mistress who wanted her son to be the king!

The nobles and the mistress of Iltutmish, Shah Turkan conspired together and decided to name her son, Ruknuddin Firuz as the new king. As Iltutmish had already mentioned, his sons weren't able rulers. He was right because Firuz too got burdened under the commands of nobles and left the control to his mother. His mother blinded by power went on an assassination streak, executing anyone remotely trying to stop her from getting her way. Razia looking at the dismal condition of the place her father cherished knew she had to fight back.

Razia's moment to shine had come. She was going to make a mark in history. She went to a congregational prayer by Qutb Minar. She gathered an audience and spoke about how her brother was ruining the city his father ruled, the father they all loved so much. She continued to go on about how she is the rightful heir to the throne, how she carried the blood of not only one but two rulers of the slave dynasty. Her father's officer who wrote the decree claiming that Razia is his heir, pulled out the document and read it in front of the entire public gathering.

However, Razia's speech didn't end at the mere point that she must get the throne because she was born to do so. She proclaimed that her rule was only going to be for the people and if she didn't meet the standards of the rulers she claimed she was going to be, they were free to depose her off. Moved by her speech, the public accepted her as their ruler.

Instead of a perfect coronation in the palaces, Razia was crowned in busy streets under the heavy sun, among the people who chose her. Even 700 years before democracy was established in India, the Indian sub-continent saw a ruler who was crowned through such democratic principles; by rallying the support of the public. With the blessing of a Sufi saint, the Qutb Minar, built by her grandfather standing tall in the background, the new Queen marched towards the palace with the people whose hearts she moved with her speech, to claim her throne. Upon reaching the palace, the nobles, army and the people who pledged allegiance to her placed her on the throne making her the first female Muslim ruler, in the entire South- Asia.

Don't let the tale of her public support fool you. Razia fought off numerous opposition, especially from her Turkish origin. While fighting off the rebellion she started the work of being the ruler she promised to be. The nobles started feeling distressed again. Razia was no figurehead that they could control. She started printing the coins in her name which were earlier in her father's name. She started appearing in public in traditional male attire in a cloak and hat. She started greeting the public while she rode on elephants through the streets of Delhi. All these things were not expected from women. But she wasn't just a woman now, she was the Sultan of Delhi.

She went on to appoint many non-Turkish to important posts, causing resentment among the Turkish nobles but she was able to fight off the rebellion successfully. But it is said that when a lioness cannot be defeated by competition from other forests she is hunted by her own pride. When the governor of Lahore rebelled against her, Razia pursued him and he surrendered. She decided to show him leniency, assigning him iqta of Multan instead of Lahore. What she didn't know was while she was in Lahore, the purchased slaves of Iltutmish whom she had once bestowed favours upon were conspiring against her.

Ikhtiyaruddin Aitigin whom she made Amir-i Hajib in her court and Ikhtiyaruddin Altunia, whom she gave iqta of Baran and then Tabarhinda, conspired with other Turkish nobles to overthrow her. Razia arrived in Delhi on 3 April 1240 and came to know that Altunia had rebelled against her in Tabarhinda. Unaware that other nobles in Delhi had joined Altunia in conspiring against her, Razia marched towards Tabarhinda ten days later. At Tabarhinda, the rebel forces captured her.

Razia's rule ended in 1940 having to rule for 3 years, 6 months, and 6 days. Another son of Iltutmish was placed on the throne who was again just a figurehead that didn't last for long. Until 1266 when Ghiyas-ud-din Balban came to the throne the Slave dynasty didn't see a notable ruler.

The grave of Razia Sultan and her sister, Shazia. Image source: Wikipedia
She was killed on 14th October 1240. The body of Razia now lies alongside her sister Shazia near Turkman Gate in Old Delhi. Why was her body there not next to her father Iltutmish in Mehrauli? It seems her brothers didn't want her to steal the spotlight even in her death. After all, she was the pride of their father and the choice of the common people. In this abandoned and neglected space, lies the body of the woman who was one of the ablest rulers the Indian subcontinent has seen.
Astha Kumari Author
Currently a resident of neverland who is confused most of the time. Prefers to paint places that I am too lazy to visit and only bursts my bubble to yoke together my love for words and aesthetics.

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