The Sultans of Delhi came from relatively humble origins. They were slaves who rose to become generals in the armies of the Afghan ruler Muizz al-Din Ghuri. Their transformation into rulers of a kingdom of great political influence in North India was a slow and discontinuous process that occurred through the thirteenth century.
For the better part of that century, there were many centres of social and political power in the early Delhi Sultanate. There were military commanders with contending political ambitions, as well as urban elites with contrasting social constituencies, religious ideologies, and personal commitments. Such people did not always support authoritarian interventions seeking to create a monolithic state.
So, for decades, the Sultanate seemed to disappear from political reckoning, and its resurrections were more in the nature of reincarnations. It made its periodic reappearances in bodily forms different from those of its precursors. Ultimately, the Delhi Sultanate survived not just because of the political and military acumen of its rulers and military agents, but because of the ideological investment of a variety of Muslim émigrés that saw the Delhi Sultanate as a sanctuary for Muslims during the period of Mongol holocaust.
In The Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate, Sunil Kumar charts the history of the structures that sustained and challenged this regime, and of the underlying ideologies—eliding its sometimes ephemeral form—that gave meaning to the idea of the Delhi Sultanate.
SUNIL KUMAR is a Reader in Medieval History at the History Department, Delhi University. His Ph.D. was at Duke University, USA, and his publications include The Present in Delhi’s Pasts; an edited volume, Demolishing Myths or Mosques and Temples? Readings on History and Temple Desecration in Medieval India; and a forthcoming book provisionally titled Sites of Power and Resistance: A Study of Sultanate Monumental Architecture. He is also the managing editor of the Indian Economic and Social History Review.