Ghiyas-ud-din Balban’s Tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi
Giyas-ud-din Balban’s Tomb
Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi
Also see: Monuments of Mehrauli
Ghiyas-ud-din Balban was the ninth and the last major ruler of the famed slave dynasty. A Turk by origin Balban had a humble beginning as a water carrier boy, who was captured by the Mongols and sold as a slave in the bazars of Ghazni, Afghanistan.
The word “slave” is actually a misnomer, as the slave traders provided education and imparted military training to these slaves, because an educated slave with military training would fetch a higher price.
This is what happened with Balban, his master Khwaja Jamaluddin Basra, provided him with education and military training.
Many of these military trained educated slaves rose to the positions of commanders and governors and even went on to become kings and sultans.
Balban followed the same path. He was purchased by Sultan Shamshuddin Iltutmish (Ruled 1211 – 1236), who was himself a slave. Balban rose rapidly under the patronage of Iltutmish.
After the death of Iltutmish, her daughter Razia asscended the throne but was disposed within 4 years. A period of turmoil followed till, Balban’s son in law, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud ascended the throne in 1246 and ruled for 20 years. He was a pious religious man, spending most of his time in prayer and was renowned for aiding the poor and the distressed. It was Balban. who delt with the state affairs from the background.
In 1266 Nasir-ud-din Mahmud died under mysterious circumstances and Balban ascended the throne, at the ripe old age of 66, with the title Ghiyas-ud-din Balban.
For the next two decade (1266 – 1287) Balban ruled with a iron fist, crushing rebelions of Hindu kings and preventing the Mongols and Afghans for invading his kingdom.
He followed the practice of never forgetting and forgiving and wiped out the entire male population of areas he was annoyed with and turned the remaining women and children population into slaves.
Balban’s eldest son Muhammad was posted in the frontier town of Multan (now in Pakistan) to prevent the attack of Mongols. In 1286 he was killed in an encounter and the sultan never recovered from the the tragedy and died a few months later.
His younger son Bughra Khan, governor of Bengal, was so terrified that he refused to come and see his father in his death bed, heart broken Balban declared his grandson Kai-Khusrau (Muhammad’s son) as his heir, he died soon after ascending the thrown and was followed by Muiz-ud-din Kaiqabad (son of Bughra Khan).
He ruled for only three years and was more interested in alcohol and women than state affairs. In 1290 Muiz-ud-din Kaiqabad was murdered by Jalaluddin Feroz Khilji, marking the end of slave dynasty and the beginning of the Khilji dynasty.
During his reign Balban used his unlimited funds to create a mausoleum in the middle of what must have been a flourishing metropolis complete with bazars, mosques and residential quarters.
Sadly today the massive tomb, of rubble masonry, lies in a miserable condition surrounded by further ruined structure in Mehrauli Archaeological Park in south Delhi. The tomb is locate west of the Jamaili – Kamali Mosque and can be approached from the Mehrauli – Gurgaon road.
This place served a pleasure house for British officers during the mid nineteenth century. Thomas Metcalfe, British officer at the court of Bahadur Shah II, turned the nearby tomb of Quli Khan into his pleasure house Dil Khusha. But after the revolt of 1857 the whole area was abandoned, only to be discovered a century later.
What makes Balban’s tomb unique is that it is the first structure in the sub continent to have a true arch and a true dome. Prior to the Balban’s tomb, Iltutmish tomb did have a dome but it was constructed by adding concentric circles, one above the other. Sadly both the domes have long collapsed.
Indian architects were familiar to the corbelled arch, where the stones are laid horizontally with upper layer extending the lower one. The extended sides are rounded to give an arch shape.
The true arch, consisting of circular arrangement of stones, was unknown to the Indian architects. It was the Muslims who introduced the true arch in India. Balban’s tomb had the distinction of having the first true arch in India and unlike the dome the arches stands to this day.
The roofless Balban’s tomb is now empty as the tomb has long vanished. Next to tomb lies a beautiful red sandstone tomb inscribed with flowing Persian calligraphy. It belonged to Muhammad, Balban’s favourite son, who died defending the kingdom from the Mongols. He was initially buried in a nearby tomb. After his fathers death, a few months later, Muhammad mortal remains were removed next to his father’s tomb.
A short distance away from Balban’s grave is a square gate way to the tomb complex. The wall of the complex have long crumbled to dust but the gate stands as a mute witness of the glorious days of the slave dynasty and of the Mehrauli region.