Battle of Delhi 1398: The Rising of Timur and Setting of the Delhi Sultanate

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The Battle of Delhi fought in 1398 was one of the greatest victories of Timur against the Delhi Sultanate. The history of such a battle is marked by extreme violence against the masses including warriors and civilians. The plunder, the loot caused so much destruction that it took nearly a century to recover from the great loss. The treasury that once remained plentiful was reduce to naught by the Timurid invasion.

In this article, we will talk about the battle of Delhi 1398 and the causes that led to the Timurid invasion of Delhi. You can even go through brief notes on Timur and Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud at the beginning of the article. We will also state the description of the battle of 1398, the results and the aftermath.

A Brief Note on Timur 

Timur was a Turkic-Mongol emperor who laid the foundations for the Timurid empire. He ruled over Central Asia from his capital at Samarkand. Timur was a military genius as could be concluded from his several conquests and the strategies opted to win them. He was highly intelligent and was educated in several languages like Persian, Mongolian and Turkish. A great patron of art and architecture, he conquered many territories in India, Persia and even fought against the Ottomans and the Mamluks. Timur was also called Taimur or Timurlame because he was disabled in his childhood.

A brief note on Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah Tughlaq  

Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah Tughlaq was the last ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty or the Delhi Sultanate who ruled from March 1394- February 1413. His predecessor and successor were Ala ud-din Sikander Shah and Khizr Khan respectively. Mahmud’s succession to the throne was not an easy affair as his relative Nusrat Shah was also contending to become the Delhi Sultanate. The war of succession followed for three continuous years from 1394 to 1397 that resulted in Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah occupying the position of the Delhi Sultanate. Following his coming to power, Timur, the Chagatai ruler of the Timur empire led an invasion to Delhi which brought an end to his rule and the demise of the Tughlaq dynasty.  

Why Timur planned to invade India?  

  • Timur invaded India with the pretext that the current ruler of Delhi (India) Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud was highly tolerant of his non-Muslim population. This clearly points out that Timur was not lenient towards the Hindus by any amount. There are several other reasons that invited Timur to conquer Delhi. The circumstances or the situation in Delhi was an ideal one that propelled Timur to occupy the region. 
  • Delhi was ruled by the Delhi Sultanate Firuz Shah Tughlaq in the 14th century. After his demise in 1388, a series of succession followed where his sons and grandsons contested to enthrone themselves as the ruler. In a matter of 10 years, 5 kings followed successively as heirs or rather “transient and embarrassed phantoms” in the words of historian Sir George Dunbar. This persisting situation of not having a strong ruler further inspired Timur from advancing his conquests towards Delhi. 

Background of the Battle of Delhi 1398  

  • Timur crossed the Indus river on 30 September 1398 and sacked Tulamba where he massacred the population. He further advanced into the region and occupied Multan in October of the same year. His invasion remained mostly unopposed by the greater nobility except for the Rajputs and the Muslims at Bhatner who challenged him for a fight. 
  • The Rajputs were led by their king Dulachand but he eventually surrendered at the hands of the Timurids. His brother left him outside the walls of Bhatner where he was killed by Timur. Although the garrison of the Bhatner relented against the Timurids, they succumbed under their pressure. Each man was slaughtered, treasures looted and the territory was scorched to the ground. 
  • Timur was also opposed by the Jats as he proceeded towards Delhi. The Jat peasantry looted their caravans but they suffered at the hands of the Timurids. Nearly 2000 Jats were killed and many were taken as captives. Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud did not however, take any steps to fortify his empire or be a good match against the Timurids. 
  • As Timur plundered all his way to Delhi, the number of his captives equalled 100,000. This forestalled his military efficiency and there was even a possibility that the mass captives may unite and take action against Timur by revolting. As a result, Timur commanded their mass execution and were prepared with weaponry to fight against the Delhi Sultanate. 

Description of the Battle of Delhi 1398  

  • The Battle of Delhi took place on 17 December 1398. On one side were the Mallu Iqbal army and the Sultanate of the Tughlaq dynasty with their weapons and trained beasts like the war elephants while on the other hand was the army of Timur and his tribal Steppe horsemen. 
  • There was too much of clamour in the battlefield resulting from the revved up troops and sounds of cymbals, common kettle drums, trumpets, bells etc as per the description given by Yazdi, a biographer of Timur. 
  • The archers of Timur striked against the Indian rightwing that dispersed the Sultanate army. Taimur’s advancing army drove the Sultanate’s vanguard at the rear and to the flanks. Things were proving advantageous for the Timurid troops as several men of the Sultanate were killed. The opposing forces tried to halt the progress of the Timurid army by launching hundreds of elephants against them. 
  • These elephants were armored with chain mail and had men in heavy armour ready to strike firm blows. The elephants even had poison on their tusks that were enough to kill the rivals. Timur was aware of the panic among his army regarding the elephants as the beasts could lead a stampede and crush them underfoot. Therefore, Timur commanded his men to dig trenches and have ramparts to block the incoming war elephants. This established a sense of security amongst his army. The horsemen of Timur fought decisively and dispersed the Indian troops “as hungry lions scatter a flock of ship.” 
  • Incendiary tactics were also employed by the Timurid army to win over the Tughlaq dynasty. The camels of the Timur army were loaded with wood and hay and set on fire. In case, the animals don’t turn back on their masters, they were prodded with iron sticks to charge upon the rivals. When the elephants saw the maddened camels, with leaping flames from their backs, the elephants retreated and stampeded the army of the Sultanate. 
  • As per a description by Khwandamir, the heads of the Indians were “reduced to atoms” and they dropped to the ground like coconuts falling from trees. Moreover, the catapults of the Timurids threw pots full of inflammable liquid that caused severe burns and scared the beasts. 
  • In the end, the Timurid troops under Pir Mohammed charged at the head of the right-wing which made the Indians retreat within the city’s walls to safety.  

Results and Aftermath of the Battle of Delhi 1398  

  • The battle of Delhi 1398 went in favor of Timur and his army. His military strategies of using a beast against another and incendiary techniques worked quite well. With the animals charging one after the other and the tribal horsemen progressing valiantly, advantages got quequed up for Timur in the battlefield. He emerged victorious at the end of the battle and his troops plundered and lay waste to Delhi. There were heaps of corpses not just on the battlefield but also in the areas he ransacked. 
  • Following the defeat of the Delhi Sultanate at the hands of the Timurids, the latter ransacked the entire city and robbed Delhi of its vital treasures. The citizens started their revolt against the invasion. The warriors of Timur retaliated by a bloody massacre against the population. After three days of the massacre, the city consisted of only heaps of dead bodies that reeked of decomposition. The severed heads were erected as structures and their bodies were left to be gnawed by the birds. 
  • The crops and grain stores were destroyed by the Timurids. As a result, people were diseased and famine became widespread leading to more destruction of human life and consecutively chaos. 

Final Thought!  

The Tughlaq dynasty ruled for more than half a century starting from 1320 with Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq as it’s founder. With the battle of Delhi 1398, the Tughlaq dynasty consequently ended. Some historians report that Timur wanted to carry forward the vision of Genghis Khan, who was an in-law of sorts, establishing and consolidating a strong empire. On one hand, we have his exquisite military prowess, on the other hand we have his deplorable pillaging expeditions. Overall, we can conclude that he was a great ruler but mostly at the cost of severed heads of rivals including civilians.  

Hopefully this article has been able to discuss the battle of Delhi 1398 and helped you gain some good knowledge about it. If you have something to add to this article, please share it via comments.

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