Essay on Muhammad Bin Tughluq

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There is a lot of controversy regarding the character and achievements of Muhammad Tughluq. Elphinstone was of the view that Muhammad Tughluq was affected by some degree of insanity and writers like Havell.

Edward Thomas and Smith have followed him. Gardiner Brown has ignored altogether the dark aspect of the life of Muhammad Tugluq and has absolved him of the charges of madness, blood-thirstiness and of being a visionary. Zia-ud-Din Barani and Ibn Batuta have opposite views about the personality, virtues and faults of Muhammad Tughluq. The controversy is as fresh as ever.

Muhammad Tughluq was one of the most learned and accomplished scholars of his time and no wonder he has been praised by his contemporaries. He had a keen intellect and a wonderful memory. He knew logic, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and physical sciences.

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He was a perfect master of composition and style. He was a brilliant calligraphist. He had a very good knowledge of Persian poetry and took pleasure in quoting verses from Persian poetry in his letters. He knew medicine and was skillful in dialectics. He was an expert in the use of similes and metaphors. Zia-ud-Din Barani describes him as a learned scholar, a veritable wonder of creation whose abilities would have taken by surprise even Aristotle and Asaf. He was generous.

He gave lot of gifts to all those who crowded his gate at all times. His habits were simple. He was free from the prevailing vices of the age. Ibn Batuta describe him “as the most humble of men and one who is most inclined towards doing what is right and just.”

Barani, Yahiya-bin-Ahmed Sarhindi, Badauni, Nizam-ud-Din Ahmed and Ferishta have wrongly stated that Muhammad Tughluq was not a religious person and he was responsible for the slughter of the pious and the learned persons. Ibn Batuta positively asserts that “He (Muhammad Tughluq) follow the principles of religion with devoutness and performs the prayers himself and punishes those who neglect them.” Ibn Batuta is supported by two other contemporary writers, namely, Shihab-ud-Din Ahmed and Badr-i-Chach.

It appears that the only fault of Muhammad Tughluq was that “he ignored the canon of law” as expounded by the Qazi and other Muslim divines and did what he considered to be just and proper.

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According to Ibn Batuta, “Notwithstanding all his modesty, his sense of equity and justice and his extraordinary liberality and kindness to the poor that we have described, he had immense daring (sic) to shed blood.

His gate was hardly free from the corpse of a man who had been executed. And I used to see frequently a number of people killed at the gate of the royal palace and the corpses abandoned there. One day as I arrived there my horse was startled, and as I looked round I saw on the earth some white thing. ‘What is it?’ said I. One of my comrades replied, ‘It is the torso of a man who has been cut into three pieces.’

“The Sultan used to punish all wrongs whether big or small and he would spare neither the men of learning (Ahl-ul’ilm) and probity (Salah), nor those of high descent (Sharaf). Every day hundreds of people in chains with their hands fastened to the neck and their feet tightened were brought into the council hall.

“Those who were to be killed were killed and those who were to be tortured were tortured and those who were to be beaten were beaten. May God save us from the calamity?”

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Muhammad Tughluq had a lot of imagination but he lacked practical judgment and commonsense. He was hasty and hot tempered. He could not tolerate any opposition from any quarter and was ready to punish all those who dared to defy him of differ from him.

According to Zia-ud-Din Barani, “Whatever he conceived, he considered good, but in enforcing his schemes, he lost territories, disgusted hit; people and emptied his treasury. Embarrassment followed embarrassment and confusion became worse confounded. The ill-feeling of the people gave rise to out-break and revolts.

The rules for enforcing the royal schemes grew daily more oppressive. The tribute of most of the distant countries and provinces was lost and many of the soldiers and servants were scattered and left in remote lands. Deficiency appeared in the treasury. The mind of the Sultan lost its balance.

In the extreme weakness and harashness of his temper, he abandoned himself to severity. When he found that his orders did not work so well as he wished, he became yet more embittered against his people.”

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Muhammad Tughluq declared to Barani: “My kingdom is diseased and no treatment curtest it. The physician cures the headache and fever follow; he strives to allay the fever and something else supervenes.

So in my kingdom disorders have broken out; if suppresses them in one place, they appear in another; if I allay them in one district, another becomes disturbed.” Again, “I visit them with chastisement upon the suspicion or presumption of their rebellious and treacherous designs and I punish the most trifling act of contumacy with death.

This I will do until 1 die or until the people act honestly and give up rebellion and contumacy. I have no such Wazir as will make rules to obviate my shedding blood. I punish the people because they have all at once become my enemies and opponents. I have dispensed great wealth among them, but they have not become friendly and loyal.”

Again, “My remedy for rebels is the sword. I employ punishment and use the sword so that a cure may be affected by suffering. The more the people resist, the more 1 inflict chastisement.”

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Muhammad Tughluq has been described as “a mixture of opposites.” If he had his virtues, he had his faults also. While he was kind, generous and humble, he was also most cruel. While he gave gifts to all those who came to him, he was responsible for the deaths of many.

The temperament of the Sultan was such that nobody was sure as to what he would get; it was possible that he might get something in charity. It was equally possible that he might be hanged. He did not bother about the sentiments of the people. He had no balance or patience. He had no sense of proportion and no wonder he failed.

Muhammad Tughluq has been described as an amazing compound of contradictions. Dr. Ishwari Prasad points out that the charge of blood-thirstiness and madness are mostly unfounded. No contemporary writer has stated anything from which it can be concluded that Muhammad Tughluq was mad.

It is possible that Elaphinstone and other European writers were misled by the statement of Ibn Batuta that some dead bodies were always found in front of the palace of the Sultan. If he inflicted the penalty of death even fro petty offences, that was due to the fact that he had no sense of proportion and also because such was the custom prevailing in Europe and Asia at that time.

The charge of blood-thirstiness was leveled against the Sultan by the members of the clerical party. Barani has he condemned the rationalism of the Sultan. In very strong language, he condemns his philosophical speculations. There is nothing to show that the Sultan took pleasure in the destruction of human species and organised man-hunts.

According to Dr. Ishwari Prasad, “The truth is that the Sultan combined a headstrong temper with advanced ideals of administrative reforms and when his people failed to respond to his wishers, his wrath became terrible. His impatience was the result of popular apathy, just as popular apathy was the outcome of his startling innovations,”‘

According to Dr. R. C. Majumdar, “No ruler in medieval India has evoked so muck discussion concerning his policy and character as Muhammad Tughluq. Muslim chroniclers, without exception, describe him as a blood-thirsty tyrant and severely condemn his various measures.

It has also been held by many modern Historians that he was a blood-thirsty tyrant almost verging on in sanity. Whose policy ruined the Sultanate of Delhi? In recent times, however, some reputed Historian’s have challenged this almost universal belief of both scholars and laymen and sought to exonerate his character. The truth, as usual, perhaps lies midway between the two extremes and Muhammad Tughluq’s character was probably a mixture of opposites.

It must be admitted that he had many good qualities of head and heart, while his cruelties were shocking and horrid and he showed a capricious temper and a sad lack of judgment and commonsense on many occasions. We may, therefore, begin by a general description of both the good and bad qualities of Muhammad Tughluq.

Again, “It would appear from what has been said above that although the current view about Muhammad Tughluq was not true to the whole extent, the attempts of some recent historians to exonerate him from all blemishes have not proved successful.

He was not a monster or a lunatic, as has been suggested by some, but there is no doubt that he was a mixture of opposites, for his many good qualities of head and heart seem to be quite incompatible with certain traits of vices in his character, such as revolting cruelty, frivolous caprice and an inordinate belief in his own view of things. He might have had good ideas but he had not the capacity to execute them.

This was best exemplified in his ambitious projects like change of capitals, issue of token currency and foreign expeditions and the appointment of new class’s officials.

All these indicate a want of judgment which is undoubtedly a great defect in the character of a ruler and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his character and policy largely contributed to the decline of the Delhi Empire.”

According to Gardiner Brown, “That he was mad is a view of which contemporaries give no hint: that he was a visionary, his many-sided, practical and vigorous character forbids us to believe. To call him a despot may be true, but no other form of government was conceivable in the Middle Ages: to use the term as though it were the name of a vice or a disease is to ignore the fact that a despotic prince who us accessible to now ideas or who embarks on measures of reform can do much to advance the prosperity of his people in an age when education is but little advanced and conservatism deeply rooted.

Such a ruler, however, has in his own time series of difficulties to face: the inevitable disturbance of vested interest, the innate preference for established custom, raise up for him numerous enemies: officials carrying out unpopular reforms shelter themselves beneath the plea of the master’s orders: should unmerited disaster befall his schemes, should corrupt or incompetent officials pervert their ends, it is he-because he is a despot-who must bear the blame if he has been a warrior and Death finds him when engaged on some small campaign-like Muhammad bin Tughluq beneath the walls of Thatta-the judgment of Heaven is cited to confirm the popular verdict and literature records :

“He left a name at which the world grew pale to point a moral or adorn the tale.”

According to Lane-Poole, “Muhammad Tughluq was the most striking figure in medieval India. He was a man with ideas far beyond his age.

Ala-ud-Din had brought a vigorous but uncultivated mind to bear upon the problems of government; Muhammad Tughluq was even more daring in his plans, but they were the ideals of a man of trained intellect and tutored imagination. He was perfect in the humanities of his days, keen student of Persian poetry-the Latin of Indian education-a master of style, supremely eloquent in an age of rhetoric, a philosopher, trained in logic and Greek Metaphysics, with whom scholars feared to argue, a mathematician and a lover of science.

The contemporary writers extol his skill in composition and his exquisite calligraphy and his beautiful coinage bears witness to his critical taste in the art of engrossing the Arabic character, which he read and understood though he could not speak the language fluently.

“In short, he was complete in all that high culture could give in that age and country and he added to the finish of his training a natural genius for original conception, a marvelous memory and an indomitable will.

His idea of a central capital and his plan of a nominal token currency, like most of his schemes, were good; but he made no allowance for the native dislike of innovations; he hurried his novel measure without patience for the slow adoption of the people and when they grew discontented and rebelled he punished them without truth.

To him what seemed good must be done at once and when it proved impossible or unsuccessful his disappointment reached the verge of frenzy and he wreaked his wrath indiscriminately upon the unhappy offenders who could not keep pace with his imagination. Hence with the best intention, excellent ideas, but no balance or patience, or sense of proportion, Muhammad Tlighluq was a transcendent failure.

His reign was one long series of revolts savagely repressed; his subjects, whom he wished to benefit and on whom he lavished his treasure, grew to loathe him; all his schemes came to nothing and when after twenty-six years he died of a fever on the banks of the Indus, he left a shattered empire and an impoverished and rebellious people.'”

According to Sir Wolseley Haig, “The delineation of a character so complex and contradictory as that of Muhammad Tughluq is no easy task. He was one of the most extraordinary monarchs who ever sat upon a throne.

To the most lavish generosity he united revolting and indiscriminate cruelty; to scrupulous observance of the ritual and ceremonial prescribed by the Islamic law an utter disregard of that law in all public affairs; to a debasing and superstitious veneration for all whose descent or whose piety commanded respect a ferocity which when roused respected neither the blood of the Prophet nor personal sanctity.

Some of his administrative and most of his military measures give evidence of abilities of the highest order; others are the act of a mad man. His protege Zia-ud-Din Barani, the historian, whom he admitted to a considerable degree of intimacy and whom he often designed to consult, attributes many of the atrocities which he commanded or sanctioned to the evil influence of twelve wicked counselors, stigmatized as ‘miserable’, ‘accursed’ or ‘most accursed’, whose delight was to shed the blood of Muslims, but Muhammad Tughluq was no weakling and was never a tool in the hands of his counselors.

If his advisers were vile and blood-thirsty men, it was he that chose them and if he followed evil counsels he did so because they commended themselves to him. In like manner Barani attributes his disregard of the Islamic law in administrative and punitive measures to his early association with Sa’d, the heretical logician, Ubaid, the infidel poet and Alim-ud-Din, the philosopher, but this is mere special pleading.

His association with these free thinkers never diminished his faith in Islam, his careful regard in other respects for its law, or his veneration for its traditions.

It was not the fault of logicians, poets, or photospheres that he scandalized the orthodox by deliberately preferring human reason to divine revelation as a guide in mundane and by openly avowing his preference. His private judgment misled him, but this was due to his temperament.

His peculiar vice as a judge and administrator was his inordinate pride, which deprived him of the power of discriminating between offences. All his commandments were sacred and the slightest deviation from an impracticable regulation and the most flagrant act of defiance and rebellion were alike punished by a cruel death.

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