culture and took the Persian title Badshah to
not only as an army commander but also as a spiritual and moral
• A sultan’s grandeur emerged from the work of people around him.
Putting halos on Muslim sultans was a job for poets, scholars (imams
and ulema), architects, chroniclers, biographers, spiritual guides
(sufis) and Friday prayer leaders at the masjids.
• For Hindu rulers, the same job fell to brahmins, priests, genealogists,
myth makers, dramatists, singers, temple builders and festival
organisers. Skilled service providers and cultural activists competed
for the honour to glorify sultans, and in doing so, advanced their own
careers and spiritual stature at the same time.
Model Conduct for Sultan Public debate, drama, and glamour surrounded
sultans and formed their legacy. Mahmud of Ghazni became his own
publicist. To impress the Caliph, he probably exaggerated his damage to
Somnath temple, where local accounts do not suggest the same destruction to
temples that he claimed to have wrought.
• Three centuries later, Barani and Isami described Mahmud as an ideal
ruler and as the founder of Muslim rule in India, both inaccurate
claims; and clearly, these two poets were using Mahmud’s fabricated
image for their local political purposes. They were probably engaged
in debates about patronage, which were often intense around sultans.
• Should the sultan support leaders of various religions, promote his
sufi guides over others, persecute non-Muslims and ‘deviant’ Muslims
like Ahmadis and Ismailis, patronise Hindu temples, ally with
Christians, or tax Muslims and non-Muslims at the same rate?
• Such questions became matters of recorded public dispute among the
intelligentsia who prodded sultans and gave guidance and support for
dynastic politics. For Mahmud, looting Hindu pilgrims (which he did)
was clearly not as praiseworthy as breaking the Somanath temple idol
(which probably he did not do). So, it was the latter deed that
preoccupied contemporary and later publicists seeking allies among
• Early sultans like Mahmud of Ghazni relied entirely on kin and close
ethic allies. As the political landscape became more complex, more
complex personalities emerged and under the Mughals, assumed epic