By Harshmeet Singh
Though Delhi officially became the capital of India in 1911, its stature as ‘India’s heart’ had been established long before. A plethora of foreign rulers and Indian princes aspired to capture the seat of Delhi to proclaim themselves as the righteous rulers of India.
The Delhi Sultanate, as the Delhi ruling Persian speaking dynasties were called, witnessed some legendary rulers, one of whom was Raziya al-Din, or as the history fondly remembers her – Raziya Sultan.
The only woman to be ever crowned the ‘Sultan’ of Delhi, Raziya was truly an exception. After the death of Raziya’s father, Iltutmish, Rukn ud din Firuz, Raziya’s brother, was crowned the Sultan. However, he was killed less than seven months into the power. This brought Raziya to the throne – a move that didn’t go well with the powerful Muslim nobles who weren’t ready to accept a female ruler.
Though her rule lasted less than 4 years, it was enough to command a chapter in the Indian history. Minhaj-i-Siraj, the famous Persian historian commented that Raziya was “sagacious, just, beneficent, the patron of the learned, a dispenser of justice, the cherisher of her subjects, and of warlike talent, and endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualifications necessary for a king.”
Iltutmish was extremely fond of her daughter. He ensured that Raziya got the appropriate education and military training as a child. At the time of her birth, Iltutmish is believed to have said ‘This daughter of mine is better than many sons.’ Raziya took to the throne like it belonged to her all along. He set aside the customary veil and asked everyone to address her as ‘Sultan’ and not ‘Sultana’, since Sultana meant the wife of the Sultan. She adopted masculine costumes and led the army from the front. Though comparatively short, her rule was marked by upright law and order. She even managed to manipulate the strong nobles to oppose each other and not her.
With everything falling into place, Raziya looked set to take Delhi Sultanate to great heights under her reign. However, her fortunes took a sudden turn. Raziya had to leave for Bhatinda to tackle an uprising from the Turkish Governor of Lahore. While Raziya engaged in a battle against Malik Altunia (believed to be her childhood lover), who sided with the rebels out of jealousy arising due to Raziya’s closeness with Jalal-ud-din Yaqut, the nobles crowned her brother, Bahram as the Sultan of Delhi.
Raziya lost the battle and was imprisoned by Malik Altunia, who ensured that she was kept in royalty. Soon after, Raziya married Altunia and the couple rode back to Delhi to regain the lost throne. This turned out to be the last ride for the couple who were defeated and killed by Bahram’s forces.
Raziya’s legacy is as decorated by her love story as it is by her administrative skills. It was probably due to her courage to stand against the mighty nobles and her love for Delhi that she has been given such a special place in India’s history despite her short reign.