Razia Sultan was the first and only female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate in India, ruling from 1236 to 1240. Razia al-Din, the royal name “Jalolat ud-din Raziyo”. She was the daughter of the Sultan Shams ud-Din Iltutmish and assumed the throne after her father’s death. During her reign, Razia Sultan faced many challenges, including opposition from powerful nobles and military leaders, but she was known for her intelligence and political savvy.
She implemented several reforms during her time in power, including improvements to the administration of justice and the taxation system. Despite her efforts, Razia Sultan was eventually overthrown and imprisoned, and she died in 1240. Despite her short reign, Razia Sultan is remembered as a trailblazer and an important figure in Indian history.
The exact details about Razia Sultan’s family and education are not well documented, as most of the records from the time have been lost or destroyed. However, it is known that she was born into a Turkish noble family in Delhi and was the daughter of Sultan Shams ud-Din Iltutmish. Razia’s mother – Turkan Khatun (aka Qutub Begum) – was a daughter of Qutb al-Din Aibak. Razia was Iltutmish’s eldest daughter, and probably her first child.
There is little information available about Razia Sultan’s education, but it is believed that she was well-educated for her time. As the daughter of the Sultan, she would have been exposed to the political and cultural influences of the court, and would have likely received a comprehensive education in matters of governance and administration. Some historical accounts suggest that she was fluent in several languages, including Persian, Turkish, and Hindustani, which would have further contributed to her political savvy and intelligence.
Iltutmish had decided his elder son Naseeruddin Mahmud to be his successor, but this son died suddenly in 1229. According to the historian Minhaj-e-Siraj, Iltutmish stated that his other sons were engaged in pleasing activities, and would be unable to manage the kingdom after his death.
While leaving for his Gwalior expedition in 1231, Iltutmish left his daughter Razia as in charge of Delhi’s administration. Razia performed her duties so well that after returning to Delhi, Iltutmish decided to choose her as his successor. Iltutmish ordered his officer, mushrif-i mamlakat Tajul Mulk Mahmud Dabir, to prepare a declaration to nominate Razia as successor. When his nobles questioned the premise that his son was still alive, Iltutmish replied that Razia was more capable than his sons.
However, after Iltutmish’s death, the nobles collectively appointed his son Ruknuddin Firoz as the new king. It appears that during his final years, Iltutmish agreed to appoint a son as his successor.
This shows the fact that after being seriously ill, he had summoned Ruknuddin from Lahore to Delhi. Another possibility is that the story that Iltutmish named Razia as his successor is a false story circulated by Razia’s supporters after his ascension.
Minhaj is the only near-contemporary source who narrates this story, and was not himself a witness to events or alleged declaration: he was in Gwalior at the time and did not return to Delhi until 1238.
Ruknuddin was not an able ruler and surrendered control of the administration to his mother Shah Turkan. The murder and killing of Iltutmish’s popular son Qutbuddin’s pair, combined with the high-ranking of Shah Turkan, led to a rebellion by many nobles, and even Wazir (Prime Minister) Nizamul Mulk Junaidi also joined the rebels.
This situation worsened when slave officials of Turkic-origin close to Ruknuddin planned to kill the Tajik (non-Turkic) officials of the Sultanate. This killed many important Tajik officials, including Junaid’s son Ziaul Mulk and Tajul Mulk Mahmud, who had decided to declare Razia a successor.
While Ruknuddin traveled towards Kuharam to fight the rebels, Shah Turkan planned to kill Razia in Delhi. In congregational prayer, Razia incited the general public against Shah Turkan.
A mob attacked the royal palace and took Shah Turkan into custody. Many nobles and army promised loyalty to Razia, and placed her on the throne, making her the first female Muslim ruler in South Asia.
Ruknuddin traveled back to Delhi, but Razia sent a force to arrest him: he was imprisoned on 19 November 1236 and murdered for less than 7 months.
Razia’s ascension to the throne of Delhi was unique not only because she was a woman, but also because the support of the general public was the inspiration behind her appointment.
According to the 14th-century text Futuh-us-Salatin, she told the people that if he did not live up to their expectations, he should be fired.
Opposition to ascension
Right from the beginning of his reign, Razia faced stiff opposition from nobles of Turkic origin. She ascended the throne with the support of the general public of Delhi rather than the provincial governors of powerful Turkic-origin. Razia attempted to offset the power of the nobility of the Turks by creating a class of non-Turkic nobles, leading to further opposition to the Turks’ nobles.
Nizamul Mulk Muhammad Junaidi, a ‘Tazik’ (non-Turkic) officer who held the post of Wazir (Prime Minister) since Iltutmish, did not accept her ascension. He was joined by four Turkic nobles who also revolted against Ruknuddin, Razia’s predecessor.
These nobles included Malik Izzuddin Muhammad Salari of Badayun, Malik Izzuddin Kabir Khan Ayaz of Multan, Malik Saifuddin Kuchi of Hansi, and Malik Alauddin Jani of Lahore.
When these nobles marched against Razia from different directions, she sought help from Malik Nusratuddin Taisi, whom she appointed as the governor of Awadh. However, shortly after crossing the Ganges en route to Delhi, Taisi was captured by Kuchi’s army and died in captivity.
Razia then led an army from the fortified city of Delhi to fight the rebels and set up a camp on the banks of the Yamuna River. After some coarse clashes, the rebel leaders Muhammad Salari and Izzuddin Kabir Khan Ayaz decided to join Razia.
They secretly met up with Razia, and the group planned to arrest other rebel leaders, including Junaidi. However, Junaidi and other rebel leaders came to know about the plan, and escaped, and were pursued by Razia’s forces.
Saifuddin Kuchi and his brother Fakhruddin were captured, imprisoned, and later executed. Junaidi fled to the hills of Sirmaur and died there. Alauddin Jani was killed in the village of Nakawan, and his head was later brought to Delhi.
Soon after his ascension to the throne, Razia made several important appointments. She appointed Khwaja Muhazzabuddin as his new wazir (Prime Minister) and awarded him the title of Nizamul Mulk.
Muhzabuddin previously served as deputy to Wazir Junaidi. Razia appointed Malik Saifuddin Aibak Bahtu in charge of his army and conferred upon him the title of Qutlugh Khan.
However, Saifuddin died soon thereafter, and Razia appointed Malik Qutbuddin Hasan Ghuri to the newly created office of Naib-i Lashkar (in-charge of the army).
Razia entrusted the Iqta of Lahore, which was given to Malik Izzuddin Kabir Khan Ayaz by the formerly slain rebel Alauddin Jani. Razia appointed his loyalists to the royal houses, including Malik-e Kabir Ikhtiaruddin Aitigin as Amir-e Hajib and Malik Jamaluddin Yakut as Amir-e-Akhur.
Minhaj mentions that soon, all the nobles from Lakhanuti in the east to Debal in the west accepted her authority. Razia’s first military campaign directed at non-rebels was the invasion of Ranthambore, whose Chahamana ruler claimed his sovereignty after Iltutmish’s death.
Razia instructed Malik Qutubuddin Hasan Ghuri to march up to Ranthambore: he was able to drive out the nobles and officers of the Turks from the fort but was unable to subdue the Chahamanas.
Making alliances with the Mewatis, the Chahamanas occupied a large part of present-day north-eastern Rajasthan and waged a guerrilla war around Delhi. Razia sent a force to re-assert Delhi’s control over Gwalior, but the expedition had to end.
During Razia’s reign, the Shias revolted against the Sultanate, but the rebellion was suppressed. In a major incident, Jama Masjid in Delhi was attacked by the Shia Qarmatians.
The Qarmatians leader Nuruddin Turk had earlier denounced the Sunni Shafi and Hanafi doctrines and gathered around 1,000 supporters from Delhi, Gujarat, Sindh, and Doab.
On 5 March 1237, he and his supporters entered the mosque and began beating Sunnis gathered there for Friday prayers before being attacked by civilians.
In 1238, Malik Hasan Qarlugh, the former Khwarazmian governor of Ghazni, faced a Mongol threat, and sent his son to Delhi, perhaps seeking a military alliance against the Mongols. Razia politely received the prince, assigning him the revenue of Baran for his expenses, but refused to ally against the Mongols.
The nobles who supported Razia intended to make him a figurehead, but she increasingly asserted herself. For example, her earliest coins were issued in her father’s name, but by 1237–1238, she began to issue coins entirely in her name. Isami mentions that initially, she celebrated Purdah: a screen separated her from the courtiers and the general public, and she was surrounded by female guards.
However, later, she began to appear in public wearing a traditional male dress, wearing a cloak (qaiba), and a cap (kulh). She rode elephants through the streets of Delhi, appearing in public like the Sultans of earlier years.
Razia’s growing assertiveness and her appointment of non-Turks to important positions created resentment among the Turks’ nobles. The post of Amir-e Akhur was held by officials of Turkic origin, and Yaqut was of Abyssinian origin: therefore, Turkic officials of Razia opposed this appointment.
Chroniclers such as Isami, Sirhindi, Badayuni, Farishta, and Nizamuddin Ahmed attribute Razia’s intimacy with Yaqut as a major reason for her downfall.
In 1238–1239, Malik Izzuddin Kabir Khan Ayaz – the governor of Lahore – revolted against Razia, and she marched against him, causing him to flee to Sodhara.
As the area beyond Sodhra was controlled by the Mongols, and as Razia continued to pursue him, Izazuddin was once again forced to surrender and accept Razia’s authority.
Razia lovingly treated him: she snatched the iqta of Lahore from him, but handed him the iqta of Multan, which Iltutmish had entrusted to Ikhtiaruddin Qaraqash Khan Aitigin.
Razia recalled Iltutuddin Aitigin, a Turkic slave bought by Iltutmish, taking him to her court in Delhi and making him Amir-e-Hajib. She also favored another Iltutmish slave – Ikhtiyaruddin Altunia, appointing him the first Baran’s iqta and then the Tabarhinda iqta. However, both of these officers, together with other Turkic officials, conspired to overthrow her while she was on a Lahore expedition.
Razia reached Delhi on 3 April 1240 and it was discovered that Altunia had revolted against her at Tabarhinda. Unaware that other nobles in Delhi had involved Altunia in plotting against her, Razia left for Tabarhinda ten days later. In Tabarhinda, rebel forces killed Yaqut and imprisoned her. According to Minhaj, Razia ruled for 3 years, 6 months, and 6 days.
Alliance with Altunia and death
When the news of Razia’s arrest reached Delhi, the rebel nobles there installed Muizuddin Bahram – a son of Iltutmish – on the throne. He formally ascended the throne on 21 April 1240, and the nobles pledged allegiance to him on 5 May 1240.
The nobles hoped that the new king would be a figurehead and wanted to control the affairs of the state through the newly created office of Nayab-i mamlakat (equivalent to regent), assigned to Ikhtiyaruddin Aitigin. However, the new king killed Ikhtiaruddin Aitigin within 1 to 2 months.
After the submission of Razia, the nobles in Delhi, disregarding the claims of Ikhtiaruddin Altunia, who had arrested Razia in Tabarhindahad, divided important offices and iqtars.
After Aitigin’s death, Altunia lost all hope of gaining any benefit from the overthrow of Razia and decided to ally with her. Razia also saw this as an opportunity to win back the throne and married Altunia in September 1240. Both were supported by some other disgruntled Turkic nobles, including Malik Qaraqash and Malik Salari.
Altunia assembled an army which, according to Isami, consisted of Khokhars, Jats, and Rajputs. In September – October 1240, Sultan Muizuddin Bahram led an army against the armies of Altunia and Razia and defeated them on 14 October 1240.
Altunia and Razia were forced to retreat to Kaithal, where they were deserted by their soldiers, and killed by a group of Hindus. Razia was assassinated on 15 October 1240.
Tomb Of Razia Sultana
Razia’s tomb is located in Mohalla Bulbuli Khana near Turkman Gate in Old Delhi. Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century traveler, mentions that Razia’s tomb had become a pilgrimage: a dome was built over it and people sought blessings from him.
It is said that Razia’s tomb was built by her successor and half-brother Bahram. Another tomb of her sister Shazia is located next to his tomb. Razia was a devotee of the Sufi saint Shah Turkman Baybani, and the place where she is buried is called his hospice (Khanqah).
Today, the site is largely neglected: the Archaeological Survey of India maintains it yearly but has been unable to further beautify it as it is surrounded by illegal construction, and is approachable only through a narrow, congested lane. At the end of the 20th century, residents built a mosque near it.
A ruined building of Kaithal is described as replacing the original tomb of Razia.
Read about Harshavardhana
4 thoughts on “Razia Sultan – The First Female Ruler of India”