An imaginary portrait of Iltutmish Source: Wikiimages
  • He was the first independent Muslim ruler to sit on the throne of Delhi.
  • It was he who consolidated the entire north India from Bengal to the borders of Afghanistan and founded the Delhi Sultanate.
  • It was he who made Delhi, the capital of Hindustan for the first time.
  • He freed the Delhi Sultanate from the claim of suzerainty by the rulers of Ghazni and laid the foundation of an independent reign.
  • He introduced a bimetallic coinage system to Northern India which served as the basis for coinage for much of later period.
  • It was he who as a successor of Qutub uddin Aibak and son-in-law completed a further three storeys of Qutub Minar.
  • It was he who lead the funeral prayer (Namaze-Janaza) of great Sufi Saint Hazrat Qutub-ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki d.1235
  • He was the first Muslim Ruler from India who received the investiture of Khalifa of Baghdad, Al-Mustansir Billah.

According to Dr. RP Tripathi ‘The history of Muslim sovereignty in India, properly speaking, begins with Iltutmish. Historians agree that It was he who gave the country a capital, an independent state, a monarchical form of government and a governing class.

Iltutmish was the first real Sultan of Delhi.

Shams ud-Din Iltutmish (1211-1236) was the first Muslim sovereign to rule from Delhi and the real founder of the Delhi Sultanate. ltutmish’s full name was Shams-ud-din Iltutmish . His father Ilam Khan was a leader of the Ilbari Turkic tribe. According to Mihaj’sTabaqat-iNasiri, he was a handsome and intelligent boy, that made his brothers grew jealous of him. They sold him to a slave dealer at a horse show. After a series of sale and re-sale at Baghdad , Bukhara and Ghazni, finally he was sold to Qutab-uddin-Aibak, the first mamluk ruler of India. Historian Isami tells that Iltutmish also spent some time in Baghdad, where he met noted Sufi mystics such as Shahab-ud-Din Abu Hafs Umar Suharwardi and Auhaduddin Kirmani.


The name “Iltutmish” means “holder of the realm or conquerer “but unfortunately his name has been mis-spelt throughout the history variously as “Altamish”, “Altamash”, “Iyaltimish”, and “Iletmish but a contemporary account Tajul-Ma’asir confirms that “Iltutmish” is the correct spelling of the name.

Hard work, discipline and good luck

Due to hard work, discipline and good luck, Iltutmish rose from one position to another. Just before ascending as Sultan he was the iqta-daar of Badaun. Keeping in view his character and talent, Aibak made him his son-in-law . After Aibak’s death his unpopular and inefficient successor Aram Shah was dethroned by Iltutmish and Iltutmish ascended the throne as Sultan in 1211 AD. By dint of his dauntless bravery and wisdom,  he transformed a weak and vulnerable kingdom into a stable empire in India. He freed the Delhi Sultanate from the claim of suzerainty by the rulers of Ghazni. During his twenty six year reign , he extremely busy in military expeditions, facing rebellions and consolidating the state against the invasions.

He made Delhi the capital of Hindustan

One of the momentous decision of Iltutmish was the shift of Capital from Lahore to Delhi, and it was for the first time that Delhi became the capital of such a vast dominion namely ,Hindostan. It was Iltutmish who enforced its dominance over northern India until the Mughal invasion and set up the capital at Delhi . Delhi for all practical purposes became the capital of Sultanate or Hindustan for the first time. In the words of Prof. K.A. Nizami “Who gave the country a capital (Delhi), an independent state, a monarchial form of government and a governing class.” 

As per Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, after declaring Delhi the capital of his kingdom he invested in numerous waterworks, mosques and learning institutions. His patronage of scholars and artists made Delhi an important cultural center. He promoted Delhi as royal metropolis and encouraged immigration of nobles and scholars from all over the world. He was very particular about the people of noble ancestry and blue blooded gentries coming from Arabia and Persia. It is a fact that a lot of notable Muslim families of Indian sub-continent owe their migration to Iltutmish. Among his other achievements, beautification of the city of Delhi as well as execution of a better administration were important. The population of Delhi remained loyal to Iltutmish’s name and legacy even after his death. The coinage issued by Iltutmish’s progeny demonstrates that Iltutmish’s name remained a symbol of legitimacy for nearly a century after his death.

A picture of Silver Tanka issued by Iltutmish

The Independence of Sultanate

He freed the Delhi Sultanate from the claim of suzerainty by the rulers of Ghazni, he got it as a hereditary kingdom, but by separating it from a subordinate position to Ghazni, he created an independent & stable entity. After the death of Qutab-ud-din Aibak, the Rajput Kingdoms such as Ranthambhor, Jalor, Mander ,Kalinjar, Gwalior, Ajmer, Bayana declared independence and many other had raised the standard of rebellion and put an end to the Aibak’s supremacy. Iltutmish dealt with them one after another and re-annexed those states. He was an able administrator, whose efforts brought stability in the kingdom.

Safety and stability

He kept the throne of Delhi safe from the danger of Mongol invasion as well as from the attacks of both Yeldiz and Qubacha. In 1221 A.D, Chengiz Khan came near the border of India following Jalal-ud-din, the defeated Shah of Khwarizm empire. Jalal fled into Punjab, took shelter and sent an envoy to Iltutmish with an appeal for help and shelter. Iltutmish was a very wise and clever ruler. He knew that sheltering Shah of Khwarizm would provoke Chengiz Khan and he could face the wrath of Mongol invasion. So he refused to gave any help to Jalal and requested to withdraw from the Punjab. This attitude of Iltutmish satisfied Chengiz Khan who withdrew instead of invading India. Due to this wise policy of Iltutmish, not only Delhi but the whole country was saved from Mongol invasions. He was an able administrator, whose efforts brought stability in the kingdom.

Iqtadari System and Chihilgaan

In order to reduce the power of hereditary feudal lords, he introduced the Iqtadari system. It was basically grant of revenue from a territory instead of a salary. In this system the officers were paid in land grants which were known as Iqtas. They were given the right to collect revenues from those specific lands grants.


He constituted a corp of forty loyal slaves Known as Turkan-i-Chihalgani. This select body of Turkish nobility consisted of important and highly placed officers in the court of Iltutmish, who were very loyal to him and kept a watch on the activities of nobles

Coinage System

The reign of Iltutmish stands out as a landmark in the coinage system of Delhi. He introduced a new bimetallic coinage system to Northern India consisting of an 11 grams silver (Tanka) and the Jital. The new system served as the basis for coinage for much of the Sultanate period and even beyond, though periodic shortages of silver caused further debasement. The Tanka is a forerunner to the Rupee. Iltutmish founded schools for civil servants that were later revived by Feroze Shah Tughlaq.

Investiture from the Khalifa

He was the first Sultan from India who was recognised and bestowed the titles from the Khalifa of Baghdad. In 1229 A.D. the Khalifa of Baghdad, Al Mustansir Billah, bestowed on Iltutmish the titles of “Yamin Khalifat Allah” or Right Hand of the Khalifa and “Nasir-amir-al-Momineen” or the Deputy of the leader of faithful. This investiture increased his power and prestige in the Sultanate. As a mark of commemoration of this event, Iltutmish introduced a coin inscribing his name there on as the representative of Khalifa. He considered this to be a great achievement of his life.


During his iqta-dar-ship in Badaun, Iltutmish built the city’s fort, Eidgah, & the Jama Masjid Shamsi of the city, which remained the biggest and most famous mosque in Medieval India until the expansion of Delhi’s Jama Masjid in Alauddin’s time. Still in India, its considered in the list of oldest & with one of largest mosque dome that have a circumference of around forty three feet. Shams ud-din built many Khanqas (Sufi Hospices) for Sufi saints. Gandhak-ki-Baoli, a step-well for the Sufi saint, Qutabuddin Bakhtiar Kaki is one of its remnants that was build by him. He moved to Delhi during his reign.

A view of Shamsi Jama Masjid at Badaun from its eastern gateway. According to inscription in mosque, it was completed in 1223 Pic source: Tawarikh Khwani

Hauz Shamsi

Hauze Shamsi

Near the Gandhak ki Baoli, Shams ud-din also built the Hauz-i-Shamsi, a water tank which he erected in 1230 . Actually Sultan Iltutmish was thinking of erecting a water tank to find a a solution to the ever increasing problem of shortage of drinking water in the newly founded capital. It is reported that Sultan lllutmish was unsure where to choose the site of the reservoir when one night he saw the Prophet (SAW) in the dream mounted on a white horse guiding him to a spot. Next morning when the Sultan went to the place indicated in his dream, he found the hoof print of the prophet’s horse at the same site. He then erected a pavilion to mark the sacred location and excavated a large tank (reservoir) around the pavilion to harvest rain water. It was built on an area of about two miles long and a mile wide. This Tank has a special mention in the malfuzat of Shaikh Nizamuddin Awliya titled “Fawaid ul Fuaad“.

He is said to have completed the construction of the Qutab Minar, originally started by Qutub -ud-din, and he expanded the Qutab complex and the Quwwat al-Islam Mosque as well.

In 1231, following the demise of his oldest son and heir apparent, Nasir ud-Din Mahmud, he built Sultan Ghari the mausoleum for him, which was the first Islamic Mausoleum in Delhi. The tomb lies within fortified grounds, which also include the graves of several other members of Iltutmish’s family.

A view of Qutub Minar by water color on Ivory C 1860-65, by Royal painter of Delhi, Ismail Khan with caption “The Khutub Minar Delhi”, Source: British Library
Sultan Ghari, the grave of Iltutmish son, Nasir Ud Din

A noble soul

All contemporary and later writers have lauded Iltutmish’s pious lifestyle and his strong moral chracter. He was very considerate towards the poor and the needy had a respectful attitude towards the ‘ulama and scholars but he did not gave them liberty to interfere in affairs of the state. Several saints flourished during his reign such as Sheikh Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Qazi Hamiduddin Nagauri, Sheikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi and Sheikh Bahauddin Zakariya Multani. Iltutmish himself was a devout Muslim and respected the scholars highly but at times he overruled Ulama’s suggestions who wanted to follow a stricter religious policy. He understood the limits to which Islamic Law could be implemented in a largely non-Muslim country. When some Ulama asked for a ban of musical gatherings in Delhi , the Sultan did not favor them and ruled against them.

As a young man in Nishapur, Iltutmish had spent time with Sufi masters and in Delhi he allowed the mystical movement to flourish under his reign. Iltutmish visited Multan, a key center of learning, to pay respects to Bahauddin Zakariya Suharwardi. It is noteworthy that Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya Multani was quite favourable and sympathetic towards the sultan and it was he who had helped Iltutumish and warned him of malicious designs of Qubacha.

In 1221 , Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki RA came to Delhi where he was warmly welcomed and extended support by Sultan Iltutmish who reportedly became a disciple of the saint. He remained aloof from the political affairs of the state and acquired great respect and esteem throughout the dominion. Sultan offered him the office of Shaikh ul Islam which he had declined politely.The Sultan had great respect for Shaikh Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. There is a strange but true incident quoted in several books of Sufism. Khazinat al Asfiya and Bazm i Soofia report that Khwaja Qutub- ud-din Bakhtyar Kaki had left a will that his funeral prayers be led by someone who had never committed adultery, never missed the Sunnah Prayers before Asr, never missed the opening announcement of all obligatory Namaz (Takbir-i-Ula), the one who must be steadfast on the late night prayers ( Tahajjud). The report goes on to say that none had the courage to come out and lead the prayers. Iltutmish who was present there, waited for a while, then came forward saying “I did not want pedantic display of piety but the will of the shaikh must be fulfilled“. Finally he lead the funeral prayer (Namze-Janaza). He even carried the bier to the graveyard for burial.


Iltutmish fell ill in 1235 A.D. due to continuous military operations. During his last expedition against Bayana, he was struck down by severe illness and was brought to Delhi immediately for treatment but his health deteriorated and could not fully recover and finally breathed his last in 1236. With his death the country lost a great ruler and also there came to an end the long twenty-five years glorious reign of Delhi Sultanate. He was buried in the Qutub complex at Mehrauli.

The death of Iltutmish was followed by years of political instability at Delhi. During this period, four descendants of Iltutmish were put on the throne and murdered. Iltutmish’s eldest son, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, had died in 1229 while governing Bengal as his father’s deputy. The surviving sons of the Sultan were incapable of the task of administration. In 1236, Iltutmish, on his death-bed, nominated his daughter Razia as his heiress.

On account of Iltutmish’s achievements in bringing about political consolidation out of turmoil, Dr. R.P. Tripathi has observed, “Qutub-ud- din cannot be regarded ever as sovereign ruler of Muslim India because no coins of his name are available and his name is conspicuous by its absence in the list of kings prepared by IbnBatuta and in that prepared by Firoz- Shah Tughlaq for Khutba.” He has further observed, “The history of Muslim sovereignty in India begins properly speaking with Iltutmish.”


  • B.N. Puri, M.N. Das , A Comprehensive History of India: Comprehensive history of medieval India.
  • P. Tripathi, Some Aspects of Muslim Administration, reprint (Allahabad, 1972).
  • The Delhi Sultanate: A Political and Military History. Cambridge University Press.
  • Peter Jackson (2003). Muslim Rule in India & Pakistan S. M. Ikram (1966).
  • Satish Chandra (2004), Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals-Delhi Sultanat (1206-1526) , Har-Anand Publications.
  • Fouzia Farooq Ahmed , Muslim Rule in Medieval India: Power and Religion in the Delhi Sultanate.
  • Tabaqat-i- Nasiri – Minhaj Siraj -1863- Calcutta
  • Futuh us Salatin – Isami – 1948 p.110-119
  • The Book of Muinuddin Chishti by Mehru Jaffer
  • Khazinatul Asfia P.275
  • Fawaid al Fuad –Hasan Sijzi Urdu translation.
  • Khaliz NIzami , Salatin-i-Dehli ke mazhabi Rujhanat (1958), pp 102-108.
  • KA Nizami , Studies in Medieval History & Culture – Allahabad (1966)- pp.15-18.
  • The Indian Historical Quarterly – – Volume 13 – Page 122 -1937
  • The Present in Dehli’s past 2002 – pp.10-45
  • Sultan Iltutmish -Rekha Joshi-Bharatiya Publishing House, 1979 – Delhi (Sultanate) – page 57
  • Lucy Peck (2005). Delhi – A thousand years of Building. Hauz Shamsi. New Delhi: Roli Books Pvt Ltd.
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Khalid Bin Umar is a history buff who writes on Micro-history, Heritage, Sufism & Biographical accounts. His stories and articles has been published in many leading magazines. Well versed in English, Hindi, Urdu & Persian, his reading list covers a vast arrays of titles in Tasawwuf & Oriental history. He is also documenting lesser known Sufi saints of India


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