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Diadems of death

Illustration: Tony Smith

Illustration: Tony Smith

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” is an old saying and, what is worse is that kings, queens, princes and princesses were all at risk of meeting a violent end from scheming rivals. It is interesting to note that the first Sultan of Delhi Mohammad Ghori was murdered in 1206 while on his way to Ghazni after suppressing the Khokhar rebellion by a fanatical member of the Mulahida sect. His viceroy and successor, Qutbuddin Aibak, then died in a fall from his horse while playing chowgan (a game akin to polo). Aram Shah, his son, was defeated and deposed by Iltutmish, who had been purchased as a slave by Qutbuddin (himself a slave of Ghori).

After Iltutmish's death his daughter Razia Sultan came to the throne in 1236, but in 1240 she and her husband, Altunia, Governor of Lahore, were killed by a rebellious mob of villagers. Her successors were incapable and two of her brothers and a nephew were ultimately killed. Then another brother Nasiruddin Mahmood became ruler. Though weak, he found a strong assistant in Ghiasuddin Balban. On his death Balban took the throne in 1266 and ruled with an iron hand for 20 years, but the death of his eldest son Mohammad was a big blow, and he died of a broken heart.

His grandson Kaikubad succeeded him, but he was murdered at a very young age and Jalaluddin Khilji became sultan in 1290. However in 1296 he was murdered at the behest of his nephew, Alauddin, who then seized the throne and stayed on it till his death in 1316.

Alauddin's younger son, Shiabuddin Omar, a child, was propped up on the throne by his general Malik Kafur but was killed after 35 days. Another son, Mubarak Khan then took over, but he was a debauched and in 1320 was assassinated by his favourite, Khusrau Khan, who then usurped the throne but after a few months was defeated and beheaded on the orders of Ghiyasuddin Tughlak.

The new emperor met his end in a conspiracy hatched by his son, Mohammad bin Tughlak, in 1325. Mohammad died in Sindh, after a reign of 26 years, of fish poisoning. Then the Lodhi dynasty came to power and its last ruler, Ibrahim, died in the first battle of Panipat while fighting with the Moghul army of Babar. The latter reigned for a brief four years and died in 1530. He was earlier lucky to survive poisoning by the vengeful mother of Ibrahim Lodhi. His son Humayun died in 1556 after a fall from the steps of his library. Before that Sher Shah, who had ousted him in 1540, formed his own Sur dynasty but died in 1545 in a gunpowder explosion during the siege of Kalinjar. His son Salim Shah was succeeded after his death by Firuz (Sher Shah's grandson) who was killed at the age of 12. Then Sikander Sur took over but was defeated by Humayun, who regained his throne in 1555 — the year his death.

Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shah-I died natural deaths, but Prince Khusrau, his son Dawar Baksh, and Prince Shahriyar (Shah Jahan's brother) died violently — as did his sons, Dara, Sheja and Murad.

Jahandar Shah was strangled in 1712. His successor and assassin Farukh Siyar too met a violent end. In 1754, Ahmad Shah, the next ruler, was blinded and deposed and Jahandar's son became ruler under the title of Alamgir-II but was assassinated. Shah Alam was blinded though he continued to reign until his death in 1805. His grandson, Bahadur Shah Zafar, died in exile in Rangoon in 1862 but two of the latter's sons and a grandson were shot dead by a British officer, Hodson.

Available records shows that at least 28 rulers and princes (if not more) were killed between 1206 and 1858, when the British took over, counting Sulaiman Shikoh Dara's son. How insecurely the alluring halo of the crown rested on their uneasy heads is evident from their fate. In our own times, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi also died violently but, though rulers, they were not monarchs.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 10:06:45 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Diadems-of-death/article15679414.ece