The Khilji dynasty succeeded the seven Slave Sultans who ruled Delhi between 1206 and 1290. The first Khilji sultan was Jalaluddin Khilji. His nephew Alauddin Khilji was also his son-in-law and his chief general. Alauddin had vast ambitions of his own and was ruthless, cruel, disloyal and cunning to boot.
Hearing of the wealth of the Hindu kingdoms of the Deccan, Alauddin persuaded Jalaluddin to allow him to attack Devagiri in 1296 from which he obtained huge amounts of gold and precious stones. He used this loot to bribe the royal army and Delhi elite after murdering his unsuspecting uncle. The annual tribute from Devagiri then helped him expand his conquest of Hindu kingdoms in the north and west of India.
The famous Muslim chronicler Ferishta writes that Alauddin Khilji was ‘wholly illiterate’ and ‘not conversant with Islamic law’; so Alauddin asked the Kazi to explain it to him. “According to the Law of the Prophet, it is written, regarding infidels, ‘Tax them to the extent that they can pay, or utterly destroy them … So it is commanded that the jizya (poll tax) and khiraj (tribute) should be extracted to the uttermost small coin from them, in order that the punishment may approximate as nearly as possible to death’.” The Sultan replied: “You may perceive that, without reading learned books, I am in the habit of putting into practice, of my own accord, that which has been enjoined by the Prophet.”
Alauddin raised the land tax to 50 percent. Hindu kings were directed by shastra to tax only one-sixth, so the effect of Khilji’s orders on Hindu peasantry in North India was predictably disastrous. He levied the jizya on all his Hindu subjects. He was also ruthless in ordering large-scale massacres and destroying Hindu temples.
As the historian of the Khilji dynasty, Kishori Saran Lal writes: “Alauddin’s measures were truly oppressive. The very idea of leaving the bare minimum to the peasantry, which formed the bulk of the population, was to impoverish the countrymen. In years to come, Ghyasuddin Tughlaq also more or less followed the same policy. His instructions to revenue officers were that: there should be left only so much to the Hindus that neither on one hand should they become intoxicated on account of their wealth, nor on the other hand should they become so destitute as to leave their lands and cultivation in despair.”
By 1301, Alauddin decided to attack the Muslim nobility and imposed upon them all the three conditions of slavery: the Sultan would inherit the noble’s property, no marriage in their family could be arranged without the Sultan’s permission and the sons of noblemen became slaves of the king.
Despite these territorial and political successes he had not forgotten the wealth of the Deccan which had empowered him. He sent his eunuch general Malik Kafur to attack the Kakatiya kingdom of Telangana. It was battered by seven successive raids and invasions by the armies of Alauddin. These were not conquests as such but extraction of tribute by force. The first raid took place in 1309. But it failed to succeed in its objective and was defeated.
Historian Ferishta writes: ‘The King (Alauddin), being informed that an expedition, which he sent by way of Bengal to Warangal, in the country of Telangana had failed, and that his army on that side had been obliged to retreat in great distress, he sent Malik Kafur with another army to invade that country by way of Devagiri … Kafur having marched from Devagiri, appeared at Indur, on the frontiers of Telangana, and issued orders to lay waste to the country with fire and sword. This confounded the inhabitants, who had never injured their wanton enemies.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring rajas hastened with their forces to support Prataparudra at this alarming crisis; but as the Muslim army proceeded by forced marches, the Raja was compelled, before the arrival of his allies, to shut himself up in the fort of Warangal, a place of great strength. The allied rajas also occupied several strongholds in the country. Kafur … began his attacks, which were repelled with great bravery. Notwithstanding the interruptions that Kafur received from the auxiliary rajas outside the place, the town of Warangal, after some months’ siege, was taken by assault and many of the garrisons put to the sword; because the inner fort, to which Prataparudra had retired, was insufficient to contain the whole. Prataparudra, driven to this extremity, purchased peace by presenting 300 elephants, 7,000 horses and money and jewels to a large amount; agreeing at the same time, to pay annual tribute.”
Another chronicler Abdullah Wassaf states:
“It is related that 6,000 kharwars or loads of gold were dispatched to Delh—much yellow gold was in large sacks—and in consequence of the abundance of diamonds obtained by plunder, they became so cheap that, one weighing a miskal could be purchased for three dinars”.But Prataparudra was buying time and getting his forces organised. In 1312, Prataparudra even sent word that the tribute was ready and Malik Kafur came to collect it and enjoy his hospitality. He supported and even accompanied the Delhi forces in a raid into the Tamil country. While Delhi was in the post-Khilji crisis, Prataparudra did not pay the annual tribute.
In 1322, he was successful in defeating the armies of the Tughlaq sultan of Delhi in the sixth invasion. But as the people of Warangal and their King rejoiced and celebrated, the defeated Delhi armies returned in surprise within three months and the final conquest of the Kakatiya kingdom was made in 1324. With that, a long dark period began for Telangana and it did not emerge with a government made of its own people till 2014.