Monday, June 25, 2007

Razia Sultana

The Sultans (a king is called Sultan in Turky language), who ruled over India from Delhi have were reputed for a their colourful lifestyle. They ruled with passion, and perhaps it was their passion (for debauchery) that spell their doom. However, there was one remarkable women ruler among the Sultans of Delhi. She was Razia Sultana. She succeeded her father Iltutmish to the Sultanate of Delhi in 1236. Iltutmish became the first sultan to appoint a woman as his successor. He designated his daughter Razia as his heir. (Iltumish's eldest son had initially been groomed as his successor, but had died prematurely.) But the Muslim nobility had no intention of acceding to Iltutmish's disregard for tradition in appointing a woman as heir, and after death of sultan in 1236, Razia's brother, Ruknuddin Feroze Shah, was elevated to the throne. Ruknuddin's reign was short. With Iltutmish's widow Shah Turkaan for all practical purposes running the government, Ruknuddin abandoned himself to the pursuit of personal pleasure and debauchery, to the considerable outrage of the citizenry. On November 9, 1236, both Ruknuddin and his mother Shah Turkaan were put to death--after only six months in power. With reluctance, the nobility next agreed to allow Razia to reign as sultana of Delhi. As a child and adolescent, Razia had had little contact with the women of the harem, so she had little opportunity to learn the customary behavior of women in the Muslim society in which she was born. Even before she became queen--during her father's reign--she was preoccupied with the affairs of the state. As sultana, Razia adopted men's dress; and contrary to custom, she would later show her face when she later rode an elephant into battle at the head of her army. A shrewd politician, Razia managed to keep the nobles in check, while enlisting the support of the army and the populace. Her greatest accomplishment on the political front was to manipulate rebel factions into opposing each other. At that point, Razia seemed destined to become one of the most powerful rulers of the Delhi sultanate.
But the sultana miscounted the consequences that a special relationship with one of her Assyrian slaves,
Jalal-ud-din Yaqut, would have for her reign. According to some accounts, Razia and Yaqut were lovers; other sources simply identify them as close confidants. In any case, before long she had aroused the jealousy of the Muslim nobility by the favoritism she displayed toward Yaqut. Eventually, the governor of Bhatinda, a childhood friend named Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Altunia, rebelled, refusing any longer to accept Razia's authority.
A battle between Razia and Altunia ensued, with the result that Yaqut was killed, and Razia taken prisoner. To escape death, Razia agreed to marry Altunia. Meanwhile, Razia's brother, Muiuddin Bahram Shah, had usurped the throne. After Altunia and Razia undertook to take back the sultanate from Bahram through battle, both Razia and her husband--neither more than 30 years of age--were killed on October 14, 1240. Bahram, for his part, would later be dethroned for incompetence.

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