If you have watched Padmaavat, you may recall the character of Malik Kafur – presented to Alauddin Khilji almost like a gift, Malik Kafur is unveiled as a mysterious, cold, seductive, eunuch who is as ambitious and ruthless as his master, yet prepared to remain his slave. Throughout the film there is a strong homosexual undercurrent to his relationship with Alauddin Khilji.
While the name Alauddin Khilji is well known, and the ruler is remembered as a cruel, violent tyrant, Malik Kafur’s story is relatively unknown, with him only coming into the narrative in relation to Khilji.
So who was Malik Kafur? Where did he come from? How did he meet Khilji? What was the true nature of their relationship?
Malik Kafur was originally a Hindu who later converted to Islam. Not much information is available on his early life, and his story seems to begin with him as a notoriously handsome slave to a merchant in the port city of Khambat. He was later captured by Nusrat Khan during an invasion in 1299; Nusrat Khan was Alauddin Khilji’s general.
And thus, Malik Kafur was introduced to Alauddin Khilji.
Unfortunately, there is no concrete understanding of the real relationship between Khilji and Kafur, but it is well known that it was very close. Some say that Khilji trusted Malik Kafur more because he had no family and followers. Malik Kafur was also a shrewd and intelligent counsellor to the king, and rose quickly in the ranks.
There were rumours of a homosexual relationship between the two. Ziauddin Barani, who was a historian of the time, had this to say about the latter part of Khilji’s life:
In those four or five years when the Sultan was losing his memory and his senses, he had fallen deeply and madly in love with the Malik Naib. He had entrusted the responsibility of the government and the control of the servants to this useless, ungrateful, ingratiate, sodomite.
The source of this information was Barani’s uncle, who was a member of Alauddin Khilji’s court. However, Barani was heavily biased against Malik Kafur, so the credibility of his account in this regard might be questionable.
But the fact remained that Kafur had an intimate relationship with Khilji. He seemed to have a strong influence over the king, for Kafur’s rivals and enemies kept surreptitiously disappearing or dying.
Malik Kafur eventually rose to the rank of military general. He defended the Delhi Sultanate against a Mongol invasion in 1306, and led expeditions against numerous kingdoms in Southern India till 1311.
Kafur proved himself to be loyal to the throne, which is why, when Alauddin Khilji fell terribly ill a few years later, he would only allow Malik Kafur in his presence. As the king’s illness worsened, his already existing paranoia increased. He feared his own sons, abolished his wazir (prime minister) and even killed another minister (interestingly the two latter characters were rivals of Malik Kafur).
Here too, rumours began to emerge, this time about Malik Kafur’s overarching ambition. In A History of the Deccan, Volume 1, James Dunning Baker Gribble paints a rather romanticised picture of this time, describing how the gold Malik Kafur collected from the Southern kingdoms was cursed, infecting him with the same ambition that led his master to kill his own uncle in order to take the throne. Consumed with ambition, Malik Kafur used poison to hasten the king’s death, that he may be the one to succeed him.
When Khilji died, Malik Kafur immediately established one of his younger sons on the throne as a puppet monarch, and continued to retain the power that was conferred to him during the period of Khilji’s illness. Kafur had all of Khilji’s other sons either blinded (it was a rule that a blind man could not be king) or imprisoned. Thus secured, Kafur proceeded to take over administration of the Khilji dynasty.
However, his reign did not last long, and his ambition became the reason for his downfall. In order to further secure his position, Malik Kafur ordered a group of assassins to kill Mubarak Khan, one of Khilji’s sons, who was imprisoned. But Mubarak Khan managed to bribe his assassins into killing Kafur instead. And so, the group of assassins returned to Delhi and murdered Malik Kafur.
The location of Malik Kafur’s grave remains unknown, but his was a story of resourcefulness, ambition and intrigue, and his death marked the beginning of the end of the Khilji dynasty.
Chavan, Akshay. “Malik Kafur’s Betrayal” Live History India. March 1st, 2018. Web. <https://www.livehistoryindia.com/snapshort-histories/2018/03/01/malik-kafurs-betrayal > as seen on September 8th, 2020.
Maddy. “Malik Kafur in Malabar – A Myth” Historic Allies. August 20th. Web. <https://historicalleys.blogspot.com/2011/08/malik-kafur-in-malabar-myth.html > as seen on September 8th, 2020.
Pillai, Manu S. The Courtesan, the Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin. Chennai: Westland Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2019. Print.