A new book The New
Cambridge History of India: Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates
(Cambridge University Press, Rs 15,00) with the imprint of Cambridge and
established authors like George Michell and Mark Zebrowski appears to hold
promise of a standard or model work, which could become a text for those
learning or teaching the subject.
This promise is however, betrayed in the very first chapter by the casual
treatment of the political history of the country. The howlers offered as
history are a disgrace and we reproduce them to encourage Cambridge to
withdraw the publication.
"Unprepared for Alauddin’s onslaught, Ramachandra the Yadava Raja
(of Deogir ) was compelled to pay an annual tribute. Returning directly to
Delhi Alauddin was proclaimed Sultan in October of the same year, ––"
Alauddin Khilji, nephew and son-in-law of Sultan Jalaluddin Firoz Khilji
was the iqtaadaar or governor and commander-in-chief of eastern areas with
headquarters at Kara Manickpur which is close to Pratabgarh near Allahabad.
Without permission from his Sultan Jalaluddin Firoz and on his own
initiative almost entirely for personal aggrandisement and gain, Alauddin
took an army to Deogir and invested the fort. His victory won him the
accumulated treasures of 25 generations of Yadava rulers. He took all the
gold jewels elephants horses textiles etc, directly back to his iqta or
fief of Kara Manikpur and there was no question of "returning to
Delhi." In any case, he had not started from Delhi.
When the Sultan, his master and uncle asked Alauddin to present himself in
Delhi and hand over the treasure Alauddin feigned the role of a very
frightened but most loyal vassal. He pleaded that his enemies had poisoned
the Sultan’s mind against him and he needed to be reassured and
sympathised with to come near the majesty of the throne and the Sultan. He
could not risk coming to Delhi but the Sultan could travel to Kara
Manikpur and receive the homage, the submission and the treasure won from
Jalaluddin was lured to Alauddin’s stronghold. As he came near Alauddin
pretended that the entourage was too large and frightening. That he wanted
to run away to the wilderness rather than risk meeting which could lead to
injury. The Sultan, to reassure Alauddin, went forward to Kara Manikpur
without his army. The personal bodyguard was next disposed off by having
the Sultan cross a river.
It was while Sultan Jalaluddin Firoz was crossing the river alone in the
boat that the assassin attacked. The head of the victim fell in the boat
while the body floated off in the water. On hearing the news in Delhi the
nobles and Jalaluddin’s widow proclaimed his son as the new Sultan. It
was at this point that the Deccan gold came into play.
Alauddin had gold stars fashioned from the bullion. He then started to
march for Delhi from Kara Manikpur. At each stage the march would commence
at dawn with five maunds of golden stars being scattered in the area with
the help of manjaaniks which were enormous catapults used to throw rocks
at fort walls to demolish them. This helped make friends and influence
people and Alauddin became the Sultan of Delhi.
If this was the only "howler" and there were no others it could
be condoned and ignored. But our authors appear to be "fact
proof" as the examples following will demonstrate.
remained in the Deccan to plan further forays southwards but his influence
came to an end when the Khiljis were overthrown by the Tughluqs."
In fact it was not the Tughluqs who overthrew the Khiljis. It was Khusro
Khan. He and his brother had both been made eunuchs and it was the wont of
Qutbuddin Mubarak Shah Khilji to use them for assuaging his sexual
desires. When the wealth and power of Khusro Khan became sizeable he
rebelled against what he considered "abuse" by the Sultan. One
night he held his tormentor immobile by seizing his kaakul (the tresses
framing his face in arabesque lines) while an assassin plunged a dagger
repeatedly into his back. The deed done the body was flung down from the
height of the Bijoymandal palace to the ground many stories below.
In the morning Khusro Khan assumed rulership and struck coin in the name
and title Sultan Naseeruddin Khusro.
The next step was to extinguish the lives of the members of the Khilji
dynasty. As Khusro was a Parvenu the Turki nobles could not stomach his
being Sultan. The Warden of the Marches, Ghazi Malik (Ghayasuddin
Tughluq) who had defeated the Mongols in 24 pitched battles and prevented
their overrunning the Sultanate and India rose in revolt. He was supported
by the Hindu tribe of Ghakkars and succeeded in defeating Khusro in a hard
fought battle. Khusro was deposed, tried for treason ad murder and killed
at the site of Qutbuddin Mubarak Shah’s assassination as retribution for
being a namakharaam or "betrayer of the salt."
The most odious mistake made by Michell and Zebrowsky relates to the great
16th century intellectual, Abul Fazl Allami. On page 11, we learn
was taken in 1600 by Akbar’s commander, Abul Fazl who had Chand Bibi
If the authors had taken the trouble to read the Akbarnama, the
encyclopaedic biography of Akbar to which there is no equal in the genre
in Europe, America or wherever they would have known that Abul Fazl held
Chand Bibi in high regard and they had common objectives. Also that
"taking" Ahmadnagar was an achievement reserved for a prince
of the blood imperial and Abul Fazl was prevented from earning this glory.
Chand Bibi fell to internal conspiracy and not to imperial machination.
Perhaps if our authors had included coins in "Art" they would
have been saved from these bloomers. The padmatankas of Deogir and the
coins of Nasiruddin Khusro would have made handsome illustrations and
The architectural illustrations are of indifferent quality. The picture
illustrations are competent and would have improved if a gold block had
been used. An Indian painting whether Mughal, Rajput, Pahari or Deccan
usually has a great deal of gold. The European mind appears to resent and
reject this resplendent dimension. This makes the reproductions insipid.
Fortunately, there are important dimensions other than gold and the reader
cannot but be attracted by what little he can see.
The titling "Sufi receiving a visitor: attributed to the Bodleian
painter" is quaint and misleading. To have "the Dublin
painter" is indicative of an obsolete mindset.