It is Valentine’s Day, and the town is decked up in red ribbons, heart-shaped balloons, and teddy bears. Are you part of the crowd that laps up all the love in the air and whispers sweet nothings in the ears of their sweethearts? Or of the cynical other half, that frowns at these excesses of pink fluffiness? Either way, I think you’d all agree that even the sanest and the wisest among us – when in love – have turned wobbly-kneed, blank-headed, and downright foolish. Take the case of the queen herself!
What queen, you say? I am talking of the very first queen of India, Sultan Razia. How could a wise woman like her be so foolish when it came to matters of the heart! But let me begin this tragic love story right at the start….
The year is AD 1236. Sultan Iltutmish lies on his death-bed. He has been a very able ruler, captured lands far and wide, and made the Delhi Sultanate a seat of power and prosperity. He is worried, however, that his sons are incapable of taking his place as lord of an empire he has struggled so hard to build. So he nominates his wise daughter Razia as successor instead, and dies. With Iltutmish’s death start umpteen intrigues and power struggles, much like the politics of today, only bloodier! First the nobility frown at the idea of a woman ruler, so they place on the throne her brother Ruknuddin. The brother, as expected by the dead father, whiles away his time in the company of nautch girls. The city is neglected, the citizens enraged.The nobility soon realize that the erstwhile king was right! So the brother is put to death in a matter of 6 months, and the sister reluctantly elevated to the throne of Delhi.
Now Razia is exactly what her father would have wished. A shrewd administrator. An able warrior. A politician who manages to appease the populace and play the rebellious nobles against one another. A surprisingly secular ruler for the times. All in all, a very wise queen. She leads wars and fearlessly abandons the purdah. She seems to be destined for great things….but something goes wrong. She falls in love. That too, with an Abyssinian slave!
This is a love story fraught with trouble from the start. A woman of pure Turkish blood, liaising with a slave! The jealous Turkish nobles will have none of it. And when she shows her favoritism towards her slave Yaqut by making him in-charge of the royal stables, the nobles are enraged. Rebellions start erupting in various quarters of the empire. Altuniya – a childhood friend of Razia’s, who according to some sources is also in love with her-leads the angry nobles to fight a battle against the queen and her lover. In this momentous battle, Yaqut is killed, Razia taken prisoner and eventually forced to marry Altuniya, and Delhi loses its first and only queen as her brother Muizuddin usurps the throne. Razia, ironically aided by her new husband, makes one final attempt to take Delhi…she is defeated. They both then flee the capital, fall into the hands of robbers, and are killed. Delhi goes back to dealing with incompetent rulers for another 20 odd years…
All for a foolish love story.
Afterthought: Have you seen the queen’s dilapidated grave in Old Delhi? Check it out here.