In December 1398, the Central Asian conqueror Timur attacked and captured the city of Delhi. A seat of government since the establishment of an independent Delhi Sultanate in 1206, it had been the most important center of Islamic culture in India until the death of Sultan Firuz Shah in 1388. Like Babur a century later and his Mughal descendants, Timur was keenly interested in architecture and cities. He was generally impressed with the prosperity, size, and appearance of the great city, and, though he permitted his army to run wild and destroy several palaces and murder thousands of people, he carefully described Delhi in his "memoirs", the Malfuzat-i Timuri (or Tuzuk-i Timurn). Sharaf al-Din Yazdi's biography of Timur, the Zafarnama, essentially repeats this account in most regards but adds a few details of its own. The following paragraphs summarize the valuable information the two provide for late-fourteenth-century Delhi.1

  • 1. For English translations see H.M. Elliot and J. Dowson, The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians, (London, 1867, repr. Allahabad: Kitab Mahal, n.d.), 3: 431-49, 495-505. Timur had a keen understanding of the importance of managed history and kept scribes in his service to write down his words and deeds. While it is likely that the Tuzuk-i Timuri itself is a later Mughal composition, the data in it are of great value and create a broad image of Delhi in which the Hauz Khas madrasa can be set.