The Delhi Sultans were absolute monarchs and possessed unlimited powers. The Sultan’s main duty was to maintain law and order in his empire. The Sultan carried on the work of administration with the help of his advisors and ruled according to the Quranic law or the Shariyat. But many of the Sultans disregarded the Shariyat in practice. There were the ulemas who acted as advisors to the rulers but Sultans like Alla-ud-din khilji and Firoz Tughlak did not give them much importance. These Sultans actually ruled with the power of the military. The wazir (prime minister), the naik (viceroy), the qazi (chief judge), mir bakshi (paymaster) and the ariz-i-mamalik (commander-in-chief), besides the amirs and the maliks, were the important advisors of the Sultan.
The empire was divided into many provinces or Parganas which were further divided into villages. The village administration was managed by a muquaddam or a village headman. This office was generally hereditary. The munsif managed the accounts of the village while the patwari kept the local records.
The chief source of income was the land revenue which varied from time to time. Each sultan fixed his own percentage of land revenue. For instance, Alla-ud-din raised it to 50 per cent while Firoz Tughlak reduced it. The other taxes were the jazia, the kharaj, the zakat and the kham. Justice was administered by a qazi, but the highest court of appeal was the king himself and the “decisions of the qazi were upset by him when there was sufficient ground to do so”.
The Iqta System:
The kingdom was divided into a number of tracts known as iqtas. These tracts were given to officers who were called iqtadars. This was like the feudal system prevalent in India before the advent of the Muslims. The land was granted to these officers in lieu of salary. The iqtadars paid a fixed revenue to the Sultans. A part of the revenue was kept by the iqtadars for their personal use and for maintaining soldiers for the Sultan. The amount paid to the king was fixed and the account was recorded. The iqtadars were also responsible for the maintenance of law and order in their territories. Firoz Tughlak made the iqta system hereditary.
Agriculture was the main occupation of the people. It was the peasants who paid the land revenue to the Sultans. Many Sultans like Firoz Tughlak did a lot for the betterment of agriculture. He got many canals dug for irrigation purposes. Loans were given to farmers to improve agriculture.
Besides agriculture, other industries were also encouraged. Karkhanas or workshops were set up in towns where metal work and other works of technical nature were undertaken. Traders formed their guilds to develop industries. According to the Moorish traveller, Ibn Batuta, Delhi became very prosperous during the period.
Both external and internal trade flourished. Delhi became a great trading centre. Goods like silk, cotton, grains, ivory, etc., flowed from other parts of the kingdom into Delhi. The Gujarati merchants traded with central Asia. The sea-ports of Cambay, Surat and Broach were important centres of trade.
India also had trade relations with the south-east Asian countries. The Sultans also minted beautiful coins for the promotion of trade.
Initially the Hindus and the Muslims were hostile to each other. But with the passage of time, both came closer to each other and as a result, there was a change in their outlook. Besides, the religious reformers of both Hindus and Muslims brought them closer to each other. Both the Sufis and the Bhakti reformers discarded religious fanaticism and preached love and devotion to one God.
Ancient universities like those of Nalanda, Vikramshila and Benaras had been destroyed by the invaders but pathshalas still existed. The Sultans were generous in their patronage to education. Many madarsas had been established which were financed by the state. But these emphasised on religious teaching in particular. Vocational training was of course, hereditary.
The court language of this period was Persian. Arabic too was commonly used by those who came from the west. Persian poetry and prose greatly progressed under the Sultans. Some of the Sultans themselves were learned scholars. Amongst the poets, Amir Khusro, Amir Hassan Dehlani and Badaruddin deserve special mention. Amir Khusro was a great follower of Sheikh Nizam-ud-din Aulia, and sang song in his praise. He is also referred to as Tut-i-Hind or the parrot of India.
Works on historical literature too were written during this period which is a very valuable source of information for students of history. Among the noted works is Tabagat-i-Nasiri of Minhas Siraj, Tarikh-i-Alai of Amir Khusro and Tarikh-i-Firoz by Zia-ud-din Barani.
Although the Delhi Sultans were Muslims and patronized Persian, they did not completely ignore Sanskrit. In fact, many great works of Sanskrit were written during this period such as Jaideva’s Gita Govind and Kalhan’s Rajtarangini. Ramanuja the Bhakti reformer wrote a commentary on the Sutras. Firoz Tughlak himself got many Sanskrit books translated into Persian, the chief among them being Dalayal-i-Firoz Shah.
Regional languages such as Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada and Tamil also grew in importance and fine literature was produced in these languages. This period also saw the rise of Urdu, a language which is widely spoken even today.