Alexa Razia Sultana: First lady ruler in India

Dhaka, Monday   16 September 2019


Razia Sultana: First lady ruler in India

 Salahuddin Ahmed

 Published: 04:54 PM, 23 August 2019   Updated: 04:05 PM, 25 August 2019

Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

In 712 AD India was first introduced with Muslim reign by Muhammad bin Qasim defeating Shindu’s Raja Dahir while Muhammad bin Qasim was only 17 years old.

A Muslim woman was harassed by pirates in the Indus River in 711 AD. She wrote a heart-touching letter to Hajjaj bin Yousuf, the governor of Iraq. Hajjaj bin Yusuf complained to Raja Dahir of Sindhu after receiving the letter of torture of the woman. Raja Dahir wrote to Hajjaj bin Yousuf he had no effect on the pirates, so he had nothing to do for the incident. Hajjaj bin Yusuf decided to launch a raid in India after receiving this letter.

But the first two attempts failed. Then Hajjaj bin Yousuf sent his nephew Muhammad bin Qasim in invading India. At that time (712) he succeeded.


For the next three centuries, the Rajput states of North India continued to battle with the Muslim empire. Gradually it was ahead to the establishment of Muslim sultanate rule in northern India.

In the first battle of Tarain in 1191, Muhammad Ghori was defeated by Rajput Veer Prithviraj Chauhan. But in the second battle of Tarain in 1192, Mohammad Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan and established his sovereignty over India. Mohammad Ghori died without having a child in 1206. Then the empire of Mohammad Ghori was divided among all his trusted generals.

Qutubuddin Aibek, a Turkish Mamluk commander, took over Delhi's rule. He is the founder of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate in India. He ruled Delhi from 1206 to 1210. He died from horseback while playing polo in 1210.

Aram Shah sat on the throne after Qutubuddin Aibek. It is not clear what relationship attained between Aram Shah and Qutubuddin Aibek. However, Abul Fazal, the historian of the Mughal Emperor Akbar's Rajya Sabha, said that Aram Shah was the brother of Qutubuddin Aibek.


Shams Ud-Din Iltutmish belonged to the Ilbari tribe in the Eurasian steppes of Turkestan and was sold into slavery at an early age. He became a favorite one of his master Qutubuddin Aibak, the first Sultan of Delhi. Aibak bestows his daughter, Qutb Jaan to Iltutmish. The couple welcomed their daughter Razia Sultana.

Aram Shah did not feel comfortable sitting on the throne. At that time there was a council consisting of about 40 members of the elite of the Rajya Sabha in Delhi, which were collectively called 'Chahalgani'. After the accession of Aram Shah to the throne, Chahalgani started conspiring against him. Actually the ruler Aram Shah showed his inability to run the state. ‘Chahalgani’ wanted Iltutmish, governor of Budaun, Uttar Pradesh to replace the Aram Shah. Iltutmish gladly accepted this proposal and took Delhi throne.

In his personal life, Iltutmish was a very courageous and capable ruler. He ruled Delhi from 1211 to 1236. During that time he had to face several rebellions, he skillfully resisted them. He even had to fight with the infamous Mongol forces a few times. At the end of his rule, Iltutmish became very worried about his successor. The only son worthy of sit on the throne after his absence. But since he died, Iltutmish had to think of an alternative way. In this case, there was no other better option for his daughter Razia Sultana. Because none of his other younger sons were fit to run the reign. Sultan Iltutmish, therefore, succeeded his daughter Razia as heir after his death.


Razia sultana was born in 1205. She was a talent, wise, brave, excellent administrator and a great warrior. Razia grew up as a brave young girl who took training in military skills and professional warfare like her brothers. Iltutmish would allow his favorite child Razia to be around him while he handled affairs of the state. She also received training on how to administer an empire in the absence of a male ruler like some of the princesses of those times. She thrived in impressing her father with her skills and perseverance in carrying out her tasks and duties.

Razia demonstrated her capability by acting as an able regent with the support of a loyal minister of Iltutmish while the latter left Delhi in 1230 to invade Gwalior. After a one-year siege, Iltutmish captured Gwalior and returned to Delhi in 1231 and was impressed to see his daughter’s performance. He nominated Razia as his heir apparent while in death bed in 1236 and with this he made history by becoming the first-ever Sultan to break all norms and designate a woman as successor. However, the nobles of the court were not happy to have a woman as a ruler and thus did not support Razia. Upon her father’s death on April 30, 1236, her half-brother Rukunuddin Firuz was made the fourth sultan of the Mamluk Sultanate.

The newly crowned Rukunuddin Firuz was a self-endowed person and indulged himself in personal pleasures. He always involved with resolving in music, and debauchery which caused much indignation among the people of the kingdom. His mother Shah Turkaan took advantage of his casual attitude as a king and grasped all powers in her hand and started running the government. Shah Turkaan proved to be a despotic ruler who directed the execution of several people of the kingdom. Eventually, Rukunuddin Firuz was considered an unfit ruler and on November 9, 1236, he and his mother were murdered. The nobility then reluctantly agreed with the ascension of Razia to the throne as the fifth sultan of the Mamluk Sultanate. This made her the first and only female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Her coronation ceremony was held on November 10, 1236.


Razia proved her efficiency as a ruler. She gave up purdah as also the women's attire for Muslims and wore attire that was similar to the ones worn by rulers before her. The conservative Muslims were however shocked and did not like her move of breaking the custom by giving up the veil and displaying her face in public. She ran her government adroitly and confidently and at the same time demonstrated her warrior skills by riding an elephant and leading her forces from the front in the battles as the chief of her army. She captured new territories thus fostering her kingdom.

During her reign, Razia made significant reforms in government thus displaying her skills as a competent administrator. She established proper law and order in her empire and made attempts to better the infrastructure of the country by digging wells, building roads and encouraging trade. A secular ruler, Razia made efforts in safeguarding and conserving the inherent culture of the Hindu subjects in her reign. She attempted to do away with the tax imposed on non-Muslims but was opposed by the nobility. She set up schools, centers for research and academies apart from public libraries that had the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet as well as works of ancient philosophers. Schools and colleges also imparted lessons from Hindu works in literature, astronomy, philosophy, and science. She was also a patron of art and culture and supported musicians, poets, and painters. She ordered coins that would be minted with her name engraved.

However, once the supported Turkish Nobles became very jealous of her and not digested how the woman could become the Sultan. Sultana Razia appointed Abyssinian Sidi Jamal Uddin Yakut as her personal adviser. She trusted Yakut very much. There is no clear documentation on how she met Razia. However, first Sultana Razia appointed Sidi Yakut as head of the royal stables. Many are jealous of Razia's strong faith in Yakut. Being an Abyssinian, many in need compared to Yakut began to think of themselves as deprived. In retaliation, they also rumored that Yakut had an illicit affair with Razia.

Malik Ikhtiar-Ud-din Altunia was a childhood friend of Razia. According to many, the two were childhood sweethearts who were very much in love with each other. Despite all adversities, Altunia struck by her through thick and thin during her reign which also included aiding her in the downfall of Rukun Uddin Firuz’s rule. His services were acknowledged by Razia who inducted him as governor of Bathinda. Some historians even suggest that it was the constant support of Altunia that led Razia to rule the Sultanate successfully. Such suggestions make sense to some extent as the Turkish nobles began a conspiracy against Razia only after Altunia left for Bhatinda

On the other hand, the Governor of Bathinda was Malik Ikhtiyaruddin Altunia. He was playing with Razia in his childhood. He liked Razia as well. But upon hearing this rumor about Razia. He too angrily denied Razia's authority and declared a revolt. Declared the revolt of other territories under Delhi's authority, the Kazi of Delhi sought refuge. Delhi's Kazi Sultanate overthrows Razia. Soon chaos began to spread throughout the state. News of the uprising began to come from all around. The governor of Lahore first rebelled. However, Razia was able to suppress the rebellion with a strong hand.

They made a plan to revolt against the queen to dethrone from Delhi Sultanate. Then Malik Ikhtiar-Ud-din Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda raised a revolt against her and taken Razia as the prisoner with the support of Altunia, the childhood friend of Razia.

In the meantime, while Razia was in Bathinda, her half-brother, Muiz uddin Bahram declared himself sultan of the Mamluk Dynasty with backing from forty chiefs. Razia in an attempt to regain her throne assembled forces and marched towards Delhi along with Altunia. They were however defeated by Bahram on the 24th of Rabi-Ul-Awal 638 A.H. (October 1240). The next day the couple fled from Delhi and reached Kaithal, but were deserted by their remaining forces. On the 25th of Rabi’ Rabi-Ul-Awall 638 A.H. the couple were killed.

A biopic was made on her titled ‘Razia Sultana’ that released on September 16, 1983, and had Indian actress Hema Malini in the titular role. A historical drama television series on her life titled ‘Razia Sultana’ with actress Pankhuri Awasthy playing the main role started broadcasting in ‘& TV’ from 6th March 2015.