Malik Kafur

Malik Kafur (died 1316), also known as Taj al-Din Izz al-Dawla, was a prominent eunuch slave-general of the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khalji. He was captured by Alauddin's general Nusrat Khan during the 1299 invasion of Gujarat, and rose to prominence in the 1300s.

Malik Kāfūr
The last act of Malik Naib Kafur, 1316 CE., a 20th century artist's imagination
Other name(s)Tāj al-Dīn 'Izz al-Dawla, Malik Nā'ib, Hazār-Dīnārī, al-Alfī[1]
DiedFebruary 1316
AllegianceDelhi Sultanate
RankNa'ib (Viceroy)

As a commander of Alauddin's forces, Kafur defeated the Mongol invaders in 1306. Subsequently, he led a series of expeditions in the southern part of India, against the Yadavas (1308), the Kakatiyas (1310), the Hoysalas (1311), and the Pandyas (1311). During these campaigns, he obtained much treasures and many elephants and horses for the Delhi Sultanate.

During 1313-1315, Kafur served as Alauddin's governor of Devagiri. When Alauddin fell seriously ill in 1315, he was recalled to Delhi, and held the actual power as the Na'ib (viceroy). After Alauddin's death, he tried to usurp the power by appointing Alauddin's minor son Shihabuddin Omar as a puppet monarch. His regency lasted for about a month, and he was assassinated by Alauddin's former bodyguards. Alauddin's elder son, Mubarak Shah, succeeded him as the regent, and usurped the power shortly after.

Early life and career

Kafur is described as of Hindu[2][3] ("Marhatta" according to Isami) descent.[1] In his youth, he was a slave of a wealthy Khwaja of Khambhat.[1] He was a eunuch slave[1][4][5] of great physical beauty,[1][3][6] who is said to have been purchased by his original master for 1,000 dinars, resulting in the epithet hazar-dinari.[6] It is very unlikely that the price was actually 1,000 dinars: the description seems to be a metaphorical compliment for Kafur.[7] Ibn Batuta (1304 – 1369) refers to Kafur by the epithet al-Alfi (the Arabic equivalent of hazar-dinari), again in reference to the price paid for him[5] but Ibn Batuta may be in error in stating that the epithet refers to a sum paid by the sultan (Alauddin) himself for Kafur.[1]

Kafur was captured from the port city of Khambhat by Alauddin's general Nusrat Khan, during the 1299 invasion of Gujarat,[8] and converted to Islam.[4] He was presented by Nusrat Khan to Sultan Alauddin in Delhi.[1][9] Nothing is known about Kafur's early career in Alauddin's service.[10] According to the 14th-century chronicler Isami, Alauddin favoured Kafur because "his counsel had always proved appropriate and fit for the occasion".[11] Kafur rose rapidly in official position, mainly because of his proven ability as a wise counsellor and military commander.[12] By 1306, Kafur held the rank barbeg,[10] which was used to designate a chamberlain who also served as a military commander.[13] By 1309-10, he held the iqta' (administrative grant) of Rapri.[10]

Military career

In 1306, Alauddin sent an army led by Kafur to Punjab to repulse a Mongol invasion from the Chagatai Khanate.[14][1] The Mongol army had advanced up to the Ravi River, ransacking the territories along the way. This army included three contingents, led by Kopek, Iqbalmand, and Tai-Bu.[15] Kafur completely routed the Mongol army, with support from other commanders such as Malik Tughluq.[16] By this time, Kafur was referred to as Na'ib-i Barbak ("assistant master of ceremonies") from where his name Malik Na'ib may have originated, although some historians believe he was called Malik Na'ib because of his later and more important role of Na'ib-i Sultan.[1] The 16th-century chronicler `Abd al-Qadir Bada'uni also credits Kafur with leading Alauddin's army in the 1305 Battle of Amroha, but this claim is based on the erroneous identification of another officer called Malik Nayak (a.k.a. Malik Nanak) with Malik Kafur.[17][18]

Kafur was next sent as commander of a series of great military raids into the Deccan, which laid the foundations of Muslim power in that region.[1] In 1307,[1] Alauddin decided to invade the Yadava kingdom of Devagiri, whose king Ramachandra had discontinued tribute payments to Delhi for three or four years.[19] Alauddin had originally thought of selecting another slave Malik Shahin to lead this invasion. However, as a governor of Chittor, Malik Shahin had fled fearing a Vaghela resurgence in the neighbouring territory of Gujarat. Therefore, Alauddin selected Kafur instead. Alauddin took definite steps to place Kafur above all other officers: The royal canopy and the royal pavilion were sent with him; the officers were directed to pay respects to Kafur every day and to take their orders from him.[20] Kafur easily subjugated the Yadavas, and took Ramachandra to Delhi with rich spoils, where the Yadava king acknowledged Alauddin's suzerainty.[21][22][1]

In 1309, Alauddin sent Kafur on an expedition to the Kakatiya kingdom.[23] Kafur's army reached the Kakatiya capital Warangal in January 1310, and breached its outer fort after a month-long siege.[1][24] The Kakatiya ruler Prataparudra decided to surrender and agreed to pay tribute. Kafur returned to Delhi in June 1310 with a huge amount of wealth obtained from the defeated king.[1][24] The Koh-i-Noor diamond was said to be among the loot.[25][2] Alauddin was very pleased with Kafur, and rewarded him generously.[26]

In Warangal, Kafur had learned that the southernmost regions of India were also very wealthy. Therefore, he obtained Alauddin's permission to lead an expedition there.[27] On 19 October 1310 he was dispatched upon that expedition, which reached the extremity of peninsular India.[1] On 25 February 1311,[1] Kafur besieged Dwarasamudra, the Hoysala capital, with 10,000 soldiers.[28] The Hoysala king Ballala surrendered a huge amount of wealth as part of a truce negotiation, and agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Delhi Sultanate.[29] From Dwarasamudra, Kafur proceeded to the Pandya kingdom, where he raided several places, obtaining much treasure and many elephants and horses.[30][31] Kafur occupied Madurai on 24 April and later reached Delhi in triumph on 18 October 1311.[1]

At court, Kafur seems to have excited the enmity of a faction led by Mahru (the second wife of Alauddin), Khizr Khan (Alauddin's eldest son by her) and Alp Khan (Mahru's brother, Khizr Khan's father-in-law and governor of Gujarat).[1][32] In 1313, probably at his own request,[1][32] Kafur led another expedition to Devagiri, when Ramachandra's successor Singhana (or Shankaradeva) refused to continue the tribute payments. Kafur subdued him, and annexed Devagiri to the Delhi Sultanate. Kafur stayed in Devagiri as the governor of the newly annexed territory for two years, until he was urgently summoned to Delhi when Alauddin's health began deteriorating.[33][1] He had administered the territory with sympathy and efficiency.[33]

As the viceroy

Kafur ultimately rose to the position of Na'ib (viceroy),[34] although the date of his appointment to this position is not known.[10] In 1315, when Alauddin fell seriously ill, he was recalled from Devagiri to Delhi.[33] Kafur handed over charge of Devagiri to Ayn al-Mulk Multani.[35]

During Alaudidn's last days, Kafur held the executive power.[34] During this period, Alauddin became very distrustful of his other officers, and started concentrating all the power in the hands of his family and his slaves. He removed several experienced administrators, abolished the office of wazir (prime minister), and even executed the minister Sharaf Qa'ini. It appears that Kafur, who considered these officers as his rivals and a threat, convinced Alauddin to carry out this purge.[36] Alauddin had greater trust in Kafur than other officers because unlike the other officers, Kafur did not have family or followers.[37] According to Isami, during the last days of the Alauddin’s reign, Kafur did not allow anyone to see the sultan and became the de facto ruler of the Sultanate.[12]

Relationship with Alauddin

Kafur was captured by Khalji forces in 1299, and caught the fancy of Alauddin.[38] A deep emotional bond developed between the two.[6] During his reign (even before his illness), Alauddin was infatuated with Kafur, distinguished him above all his other friends and helpers, and Kafur held the highest place in his regards.[39] Regarding the time when Alauddin was ill, the chronicler Ziauddin Barani (1285–1357) states:[7]

Based on Barani's description, scholars Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai believe that Alauddin and Kafur were in a homosexual relationship. Other historians and scholars[40][41][42] also believe Alauddin and Kafur were lovers in a sexually intimate relationship. Historian Banarsi Prasad Saksena states that during the last years of his reign, Alauddin was infatuated with Kafur but believes that the closeness between the two was not sexual.[43]

Murder of Alp Khan

Kafur's control over the power was threatened by Alp Khan, an influential noble whose two daughters were married to Alauddin's sons Khizr Khan (the heir apparent) and Shadi Khan. Kafur convinced Alauddin to order the killing of Alp Khan in the royal palace.[36] He also had Khizr Khan first banished from court to Amroha and then imprisoned in Gwalior, and had Khizr's brother Shadi Khan imprisoned. According to stories that circulated as far as Persia, Khizr Khan, his mother and Alp Khan had hatched a conspiracy to poison Alauddin, so that Khizr Khan could be appointed as the new Sultan, but Alauddin was able to execute them all before he died. This story was corroborated to some extent by Ibn Battuta. The story may just have been Kafur's propaganda.[36]

Next, Kafur convened a meeting of important officers at Alauddin's bedside. At this meeting, Alauddin's 6-year-old son Shihabuddin was declared as the new heir apparent, and it was decided that Kafur would act as his regent after Alauddin's death. According to Isami, Alauddin was too weak to say anything during the meeting, but his silence was taken as his consent.[44]

The officers supportive of Kafur included Kamal al-Din 'Gurg', whose family came from Kabul. It appears that Kafur and other officers of non-Turkic origin allied to counter the Khalaj establishment of the Sultanate.[45]

As the regent

When Alauddin died on the night of 4 January 1316, Kafur brought his body from the Siri Palace and had it buried in the mausoleum that had already been built before Alauddin's death.[44] Ziauddin Barani claims that according to "some people", Kafur murdered Alauddin.[7]

The day after Alauddin's death, Kafur convened a meeting of important officers and nobles in the palace, read out a will of the late sultan that named Shihabuddin as his successor while disinheriting Khizr Khan, and then seated Shihabuddin on the throne as the new Sultan.[44][12] As the regent, Kafur held the power for a short time (35 days according to Barani, 1 month according to Isami, and 25 days according to Firishta).[46][47] During this period, he used to hold a daily ceremonial court in the morning at the Hazar Sutun Palace. After the short ceremony, Kafur would send Shihabuddin to his mother, and dismiss the courtiers. He would then meet the officers in his chambers on the ground floor, and issue various orders. He ordered the ministries of revenue, secretariat, war and commerce to maintain the laws and regulations established by Alauddin.[48] The officers of the ministries were asked to consult Kafur on all policy matters.[35]

Kafur took several actions to maintain his control over the throne. Before burying Alauddin, he had taken the royal ring from the Sultan's finger. He gave this ring to his general Sumbul, asking him to march to Gwalior, and take control of the fort using the ring as a symbol of the royal authority. He asked Sumbul to send the fort's governor to Delhi, and also ordered Sumbul to return to Delhi after blinding Khizr Khan, who had been imprisoned in Gwalior.[44] Sumbul carried out these orders, and was appointed as Amir-i Hijab as a reward.[44] On his first day as the regent, Kafur also ordered his barber to blind Khizr Khan's uterine brother Shadi Khan.[35] This incident intensified resentment against Kafur among the Turkish nobles.[12] Kafur also deprived Alauddin's senior queen, who bore the title Malika-i Jahan, of all her property, and later imprisoned her at the Gwalior fort. He also imprisoned Mubarak Shah, another adult son of Alauddin. According to the 16th-century historian Firishta, Kafur married Alauddin's widow Jhatyapalli, the mother of Shihabuddin. Becoming the new Sultan's step-father was probably Kafur's way of legitimizing his power.[1][35]

Alp Khan's murder had led to a rebellion in Gujarat, and Kafur had sent Kamal al-Din 'Gurg' to suppress it.[49] Meanwhile, Kafur summoned the Devagiri governor Ayn al-Mulk Multani to Delhi with all his soldiers.[35] While Multani was on his way, Kamal al-Din was killed in Gujarat.[50] Kafur then appointed Multani as the governor of Gujarat, and asked him to march there to suppress the rebellion. The rebellion could be suppressed only after Kafur's death.[35]


The former bodyguards (paiks) of Alauddin disapproved of Kafur's actions against the family of their deceased master. Led by Mubashshir, Bashir, Saleh, and Munir, these bodyguards decided to kill Kafur. When Kafur became suspicious about a conspiracy against him, he summoned Mubashshir to his room. Mubashshir, who was permitted to carry his arms in the royal quarters since Alauddin's days, wounded Kafur with his sword. His associates then entered the room, and beheaded Kafur, also killing 2-3 gatekeepers who attempted to protect Kafur.[51] This event took place sometime in February 1316.[47]

According to an account mentioned by the 16th-century chronicler Firishta, Kafur had sent some paiks to blind Mubarak Shah, but the captive prince gave them his jeweled necklace, and convinced them to kill Kafur instead.[52] Another legend attributes Kafur's death to his mother's prayers to the mystic Shaikhzada Jam. However, these accounts are latter-day fabrications. According to Barani's near-contemporary account, the paiks took the initiative to kill Kafur on their own.[53]

Kafur's killers freed Mubarak Shah, who was appointed as the new regent.[54] A few months later, Mubarak Shah usurped the power by blinding Shihabuddin.[11] Kafur's killers claimed credit for making him the king, and started demanding high positions in the royal court.[35] Instead, Mubarak Shah had them executed.[1][35]

The chronicler Barani was severely critical of Kafur but historian Abraham Eraly believes that Barani's criticism of Kafur is not credible as Barani was deeply prejudiced against Kafur, presumably because of Kafur's non-Turkic, Hindu origins and eunuch status.[55]


The location of Kafur's grave is now unknown, but his mausoleum existed in the 14th century, when it was repaired by Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq (r. 1309-1388).[35] Firuz Shah's autobiography Futuhat-i-Firuzshahi states:[56]

In the 2018 Bollywood film Padmaavat, Malik Kafur is portrayed by Jim Sarbh.


  1. S. Digby 1990, p. 419.
  2. Hermann Kulke & Dietmar Rothermund 1998, p. 160.
  3. Romila Thapar 1990, p. 342.
  4. Wendy Doniger 2009, p. 420.
  5. Peter Jackson 2003, pp. 175-177.
  6. Shanti Sadiq Ali 1996, p. 35.
  7. R. Vanita & S. Kidwai 2000, p. 132.
  8. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 86.
  9. Mānekshāh Sorābshāh Commissariat (1938). A History of Gujarat: Including a Survey of Its Chief Architectural Monuments and Inscriptions, Volume 1. Longmans, Green, and co. p. 3.
  10. Peter Jackson 2003, p. 175.
  11. Abraham Eraly 2015, pp. 178-179.
  12. Abraham Eraly 2015, p. 177-8.
  13. Iqtidar Alam Khan 2008, p. 28.
  14. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 171.
  15. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, pp. 171-172.
  16. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 172.
  17. Peter Jackson 2003, p. 227.
  18. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 168.
  19. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 400.
  20. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 401.
  21. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 192.
  22. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, pp. 401-402.
  23. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 194.
  24. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, pp. 408-410.
  25. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 410.
  26. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 200.
  27. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 201.
  28. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 412-414.
  29. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, pp. 413-414.
  30. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 213.
  31. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 417.
  32. Abraham Eraly 2015, p. 177.
  33. Shanti Sadiq Ali 1996, p. 38.
  34. Iqtidar Alam Khan 2008, p. 84.
  35. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 426.
  36. Peter Jackson 2003, p. 176.
  37. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 421a:"...since Kafur, unlike all other officers, had no family or followers, the Sultan had a greater trust in him."
  38. Shanti Sadiq Ali 1996, p. 35a:"As a young slave he was snatched away [...] by Nusrat Khan, one of Alauddin's generals, in the year 1299. Malik Kafur, an attractive man, then caught the fancy of the Sultan."
  39. Abraham Eraly 2015, p. 177a:"...Ala-ud-din, according to Barani, ‘was infatuated with Malik Kafur, and made him the commander of his army and vizier. He distinguished him above all his other helpers and friends, and this eunuch and minion held the chief place in his regards.’"
  40. Judith E. Walsh (2006). A Brief History of India. Infobase Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 1438108257.
  41. Nilanjan Sarkar (2013). "Forbidden Privileges and History-Writing in Medieval India". The Medieval History Journal. 16 (1): 33–4, 48, 55.
  42. Gugler TK (2011). "Politics of Pleasure: Setting South Asia Straight". South Asia Chronicle. 1: 355–392.
  43. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 421:"During the last four or five years of his reign, Alauddin was infatuated with Malik Naib... There was no element of homosexuality in Alauddin's character; and though Kafur was a eunuch, there was nothing wrong in Alauddin's relations with Kafur, apart from the fact that since Kafur, unlike all other officers, had no family or followers, the Sultan had a greater trust in him."
  44. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 425.
  45. Peter Jackson 2003, p. 177.
  46. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 428.
  47. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 322.
  48. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, pp. 425-426.
  49. Iqtidar Alam Khan 2008, p. 85.
  50. I. H. Siddiqui 1980, p. 105.
  51. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, p. 427.
  52. Kishori Saran Lal 1950, p. 321.
  53. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, pp. 428-429.
  54. Banarsi Prasad Saksena 1992, pp. 427-428.
  55. Abraham Eraly 2015, p. 178:"Barani is severely critical of Kafur, but his excoriations are not quite credible, for he was deeply prejudiced against Malik Kafur, whom he invariably described as a 'wicked fellow', presumably because he was not a Turk but an Islamised Hindu and a eunuch."
  56. S. R. Bakshi & Suresh K. Sharma 1995, p. 276.


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