Alauddin’s Cantonment: Siri

A century of Mongol invasions has paved the way for Delhi to be a colossal military camp. The Mongol raids of Balban’s era were the work of independent groupings based in and around Afghanistan. They were brought under Qaidu and Dua towards the end of the century that resulted in a significant boost in Mongol striking power. In 1299-1300, Dua’s son invaded India and moved directly to Delhi. Alauddin Kahlji’s reign witnessed an increase in the military establishment. Different sources attribute different value to the strength of the Sultanate militia. They are tabulated as follows:

Sl.noSources/ PersonalitiesAttributed strength
1Iranian Sources- Beginning of 14th century3,00,000
2Iranian Sources- 20 years later4,75,000
3Umari9,00,000
4Al-Safadi6,00,000
5Mufaddal7,00,000
6Barani4,70,000

Keeping a formidable standing army was not very easy. The requirements of soldiers needed to be met. For instance, Juzzani reported that Balban raided Hindu territories just to amass booty for the maintenance of a large army. 

Sunken City Siri: Alauddin Khilji's Dar-ul Khilafat – My Heritage Walks
Siri Fort

Alauddin Khalji was known for his economic intervention even though it was aimed at supporting his army. Firstly, the entire doab region was designated as the ‘State land’. Secondly, the revenue derived from the State land was exclusively devoted to the maintenance of the troops. Thirdly, the revenue was also collected in form of the produce of the peasants and it led to an increased capacity of the State granaries. This has led to deflation that resulted in lower prices of goods in the Capital. His economic measures abolished intermediaries between the government and the cultivators and this resulted in an increase of state revenue that would’ve been lost to the intermediaries, middlemen and agents.

The very first reference to Siri was made by Amir Khusraw who mentions Siri as a site that existed between Delhi-i-Kuhna (Old Delhi) and Khilokri. 

The Mongol commander Dua dies in Delhi on his return march nonetheless, his lieutenant Taraghai subjected the outskirts of the city to a two-month-long investment. The exposed position of Delhi came to the limelight after this event and Alauddin moved his residence to Siri, towards the North-East and he built a new fortress there. 

Ziauddin Barani suggests that albeit his investments and large-scale construction activities in Old Delhi, Alauddin Khalji didn’t like living there. Fed up with the resistance of the entrenched elites and chose to live outside the city. 

Siri was critical in preserving Alauddin Kahlji’s authority. Firstly, the shifting of residence to Siri gave Alauddin Khalji a chance to escape from the entrenched political elites of the old city. Secondly, Siri was the best location for deploying a huge standing army that could counter the threat of Mongol invasions. Thirdly, the Sultan could monitor politics in the old Delhi from a safer distance. 

The water requirements in the new cantonment city were met by the re-excavation of Iltumish’s Hauz-i-Shamsi by removing large amounts of sand and silt from the tank. Also, the alluvial soil in Siri made it easier to dig wells compared to the rocky terrain of old Delhi. 

After the demise of Alauddin Khalji, Mubarak Shah Khalji consolidated his position after his potential competitors were erased after an intra-dispensational conflict. Mubarak Shah developed Siri as his capital and he gave Siri an urban splendour. Firstly, he commissioned a new congregational mosque in Siri. Secondly, he refurbished the fortifications of Siri and thirdly, Siri came to be known as the ‘residence of the Caliph’, owing to the grandiose title of ‘Khaifa’ assumed by Mubarak Shah
Mubarak Shah Khalji was murdered in Siri by Khusraw Khan Bawari and Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq succeeded him to the throne of the Sultanate. Tughlaq kept his capital at Siri to emphasise continuity with the Khalji regime and to gain support from the erstwhile political elites and military commanders. Later, he shifted his capital to Tughlaqabad. Further, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq enclosed Siri along with Qutb Delhi (Old Delhi) and Tughlaqabad within a fortification wall and named it Jahanpanah.