Razia Sultana was the first woman Sultanate of India, and ruled the court of Delhi from the end of 1236 to 1240. The only ever woman to do so, she defied all odds to occupy the throne, including overcoming conflicts over her gender and her slave ancestry. During her reign, she proved her mettle as a just and capable ruler, and was renowned for her subversive actions, which varied from sporting men’s attire to printing coins in her own name and image.
In 1205, Razia Sultan was born into the household of Shams-us-din Iltutmish as his only daughter. Although he had entered Delhi as a slave worker under Qutb-ud-din, he had impressed the ruler with his efficiency, and had been appointed as a provincial governor. Iltutmish sought to impart these same qualities to all his children, including Razia, and ensured they were all well educated and trained in archery, martial arts, and administration.
On 30th April, 1236, Iltutmish passed away, appointing Razia as his rightful heir. The Muslim nobility refused to accept this, and therefore, they installed her incompetent brother, Rakn ud din Firuz, on the throne. His rule, which was managed by Shah Turkaan, Iltutmish’s widow, came to an abrupt end a mere 6 months later, when both he and his mother were assassinated. Razia was finally handed the reigns to the kingdom on 10th November, 1236.
Razia ascended the throne as Jalâlat ud-Dîn Raziyâ, and immediately dropped her veil, replacing it with men’s attire instead. She authoritatively issued coins in her name, proclaiming herself to be the ‘pillar of women’ and ‘Queen of the times.’
She was proud of her kingdom, and worked on conquering new territories and strengthening it. She also made breakthroughs in its administration, and established schools, academies, and public libraries. She gained many supporters and admirers through her reign.
The Turkish nobles were displeased by Razia’s efficient rule as well as her rumoured involvement with Jamal ud-Din Yaqut, an Abyssinnian Siddi slave. Despite her courageous efforts, she was taken into capture, and her brother, Muizuddin Bahram Shah, usurped the throne once Yaqut was murdered.
Malik Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda grew to fall in love with Razia’s charm and wit, and took her as his wife. He rebelled against the Turkish nobles and was determined to win Razia back her kingdom; he planned a siege on behalf of his sovereign. Together, they marched towards Delhi, but were unsuccessful in their conquest. They were defeated by Bahram on 13th October, 1240.
Raziyâ and Altunia fled Delhi after their defeat and reached Baithal the very next day. With their remaining forces abandoning them, they met their unfortunate ends at the hands of the Hindu Jats there, who robbed and killed them.
Till date, the final resting place of Razia remains unknown, with no supporting archaeological or documentary evidence. The site of her grave could be in Baithal, Delhi, or Tonk. Her legacy, however, has stood the test of time; women throughout the ages have invoked her name in their lyrics and in their folklore, spreading her story across distant lands.