Muhammad bin Tughluq

Muhammad bin Tughluq (reigned 1325-1351) was a medieval Indian ruler whose reign saw the beginning of the disintegration of the empire of Delhi.

The son and successor of the Turk Ghiyas-ud-din (reigned 1321-1325), the founder of the Tughluq dynasty that replaced Khilji rule in Delhi, Muhammad bin Tughluq displayed an extraordinary capacity for classical learning and military leadership. He was formally crowned in 1325, when his father met an accidental death in which Muhammad was implicated.

In spite of a wealth of information on Muhammad's reign from contemporaries—such as Zia-ud-din Barani, the well-known chronicler of medieval India, and the Moorish traveler Ibn Battuta, who was in India during 1333-1346— there is a great deal of confusion about the sequence of events in his reign and their precise nature. Muhammad's regime of 26 years seems to have largely been occupied with fighting rebellions (some 22 are listed), planning ambitious projects of conquest of farflung areas, and making administrative innovations that brought disgrace to the ruler and suffering for his subjects.

The most serious of these rebellions were in the Deccan (1326, 1347), Måbar (tip of the Indian peninsula, 1334), Bengal (1338), Gujarat (1345), and Sind (1350). These rebellions led to Delhi's loss of control over the south and the Deccan, Bengal, Gujarat, and Sind. The rebellions in Gujarat and Sind exhausted Muhammad, for it was in the course of his expedition in Sind that he died near Thatta in 1351.

Among Muhammad's ambitious military projects was his plan to invade Khurasan in Persia in 1329; a large army was raised and paid for, all of which was a wasted effort because the Sultan realized its impracticality. During 1337-1338 he attacked the kingdom of Nagarkot in the Punjab and secured a limited success.

Muhammad's administrative innovations also smacked of the spectacular. In 1327 he ordered that the imperial capital be shifted from Delhi in the north to Daulatabad in the Deccan, a distance of over 750 miles. After moving by force a part of the Delhi population, Muhammad realized that his move was ill-advised, and the capital was moved back to Delhi.

In 1328-1329 Muhammad ordered an enhancement of agricultural taxes in the Doab (area watered by the Ganges and the Jamuna rivers), and the impost was collected with such severity that it bred rebellions and led to devastation of large tracts. In 1330-1332 Muhammad conceived the idea of introducing a token copper currency without taking the necessary precautions against private minting of copper coins. The result was the flooding of the market with spurious coins which were then withdrawn in exchange for gold and silver coins.

In his religious views Muhammad was a liberal, though he requested recognition from the Caliph in Egypt in 1340. He loved holding discussions with philosophers and men of learning and was undoubtedly an extraordinary man who combined within himself numerous contradictions.

Further Reading on Muhammad bin Tughluq

Agha Mahdi Husain, Tughluq Dynasty (Calcutta, 1963), is largely devoted to a detailed discussion of the career of Muhammad bin Tughluq. Wolsley Haig, ed., The Cambridge History of India (Delhi, 1958), and R. C. Majumdar, ed., The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. 6: The Delhi Sultanate (Bombay, 1960), also have substantial sections dealing with the reign of Muhammad.