Chapter 14 The Deccan and South India (Up to 1656)


We have mentioned in an earlier chapter that following the break up of the Bahmani kingdom, three powerful states, Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golconda emerged on the scene, and that they combined to crush Vijayanagara at the battle of Bannihatti, near Talikota, in 1565. After the victory, the Deccani states resumed their old ways. Both Ahmadnagar and Bijapur claimed Sholapur which was a rich and fertile tract. Neither wars nor marriage alliances between the two could resolve the issue. Both the states had the ambition of conquering Bidar. Ahmadnagar also wanted to annex Berar in the north. In fact, as the descendants of the old Bahmani rulers, the Nizam Shahis claimed a superior, if not a hegemonistic position in the Deccan. Their territorial claims were contested not only by Bijapur, but also by the rulers of Gujarat who had their eyes on the rich Konkan area, in addition to Berar. The Gujarat rulers actively aided Berar against Ahmadnagar, and even engaged in war against Ahmadnagar in order that the existing balance of power in the Deccan was not upset. Bijapur and Golconda clashed over the possession of Naldurg.

The Mughal conquest of Gujarat in 1572 created a new situation. The conquest of Gujarat could have been a prelude to the Mughal conquest of the Deccan. But Akbar was busy elsewhere and did not want, at that stage, to interfere in the Deccan affairs. Ahmadnagar took advantage of the situation to annex Berar. In fact, Ahmadnagar and Bijapur came to an agreement whereby Bijapur was left free to expand its dominions in the south at the expense of Vijayanagara, while Ahmadnagar overran Berar. Golconda, too, was interested in extending its territories at the cost of Vijayanagara which was divided into small nayakhoods. All the Deccani states were, thus, expansionists.

Another feature of the situation was the growing importance of the Marathas in the affairs of the Deccan. As we have seen, the Maratha troops had always been employed as loose auxiliaries or bargirs (usually called bargis) in the Bahmani kingdom. The revenue affairs at the local level were in the hands of the Deccani Brahmans. Some of the old Maratha families which rose in the service of the Bahmani rulers and held mansabs and jagirs from them were the More, Nimbalkar, Ghatge, etc. Most of them were powerful zamindars, or deshmukhs as they were called in the Deccan. However, unlike the Rajputs, none of them was an independent ruler, or ruled over a large kingdom. Secondly, they were not the leaders of clans on whose backing and support they could depend. Hence, many of the Maratha sardars appear to be military adventurers who were prepared to shift their loyalty according to the prevailing wind. Nevertheless, the Marathas formed the backbone of the landed aristocracy of the Deccan and had a position similar to the one held by the Rajputs in large parts of north India. During the middle of the sixteenth century, the rulers of the Deccan states embarked upon a definite policy of winning over the Marathas to their side. The Maratha chiefs were accorded service and positions in all the three leading states of the Deccan. Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur who ascended the throne in 1535 was the leading advocate of this policy. It is said that he entertained 30,000 Maratha auxiliaries (bargis) in his army, and showed great favour to the Marathas in the revenue system. He is supposed to have introduced Marathi in revenue accounts at all levels. Apart from increasing his favours to old families, a few other families such as the Bhonsales who had the family name of Ghorpade, the Dafles (or Chavans), etc., also rose to prominence in Bijapur as a result of this policy. Maharashtrian Brahmans were regularly used for diplomatic negotiations as well. Thus the title of Peshwa was accorded to a Brahman, Kankoji Narsi, by the rulers of Ahmadnagar. Marathas played an important role in the states of Ahmadnagar and Golconda as well.

It will thus be seen that the policy of allying with local landed classes which were military-minded had been initiated by the Deccani rulers even before such a policy was implemented by the Mughals under Akbar.

Mughal Advance Towards The Deccan

It was logical to expect a Mughal advance towards the Deccan after the consolidation of the empire in north India. Although the Vindhyas divided the north and the south, they were not an insurmountable barrier. Travellers, merchandise, pilgrims and wandering saints had always passed between the north and the south, making the two culturally one, though each had its own distinctive cultural features. The conquest of the Deccan by the Tughlaqs and the improved communications between the north and the south had let to a strengthening of the commercial and cultural relations between the two. However, for twelve years, between 1586 and 1598, Akbar lived at Lahore, watching the northwestern situation. In the interval, affairs in the Deccan deteriorated.

The Deccan was a seething cauldron of politics. War between the various Deccani states was a frequent occurrence. The death of a ruler often led to factional fights among the nobles, with each party trying to act as king-maker. In this, hostility between the Deccanis and the newcomers (afaqis or gharibs) found free play. Among the Deccanis, too, the Habshis (Abyssinians or Africans) and Afghans formed separate groups. These groups and factions had little contact with the life and culture of the people of the region. The process of the assimilation of the Marathas into the military and political system of the Deccani states which had started earlier did not make much headway. The rulers and the nobles, therefore, commanded little loyalty from the people.

Akbar was also apprehensive of the growing power of the Portuguese. The Portuguese had been interfering in pilgrim traffic to Mecca, not sparing even the royal ladies. In their territories, they carried out proselytizing activities which Akbar disliked. They were constantly trying to expand their positions on the mainland, and had even tried to lay their hand on Surat which was saved by the timely arrival of a Mughal commander. Akbar apparently felt that the coordination and pooling of the resources of the Deccani states under Mughal supervision would check, if not eliminate, the Portuguese danger.

These were some of the factors which impelled Akbar to involve himself in the Deccani affairs.

Conquest of Berar, Ahmadnagar and Khandesh

Akbar claimed suzerainty over the entire country. He was, therefore, keen that like the Rajputs, the rulers of the Deccani states should acknowledge his suzerainty. Embassies sent by him earlier suggesting that the Deccani states recognise his over-lordship and be friends with him, did not, however, produce any positive results. It was obvious that the Deccani states would not accept Mughal suzerainty till the Mughals were in a position to exert military pressure on them.

In 1591, Akbar launched a diplomatic offensive. He sent embassies to all the Deccani states ‘inviting’ them to accept Mughal suzerainty. As might have been expected, none of the states accepted this demand, the only exception being Khandesh which was too near and exposed to the Mughals to resist. Burhan Nizam Shah, the ruler of Ahmadnagar, was rude to the Mughal envoy; the others only made promises of friendship. It seemed that Akbar was on the verge of making a definite move in the Deccan. The necessary opportunity was provided to him when factional fighting broke out among the Nizam Shahi nobles following the death of Burhan in 1595. There were four candidates for the throne, backed by different parties. The strongest claim was that of Bahadur, son of the deceased ruler. Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the ruler of Bijapur, was inclined to support Bahadur’s claim. Chand Bibi also supported Bahadur, her nephew. It was against this background that the leaders of the rival party, the Deccanis, invited the Mughals to intervene. The struggle which now began was really a struggle between Bijapur and the Mughals for the domination of Ahmadnagar state.

The Mughal invasion was led by prince Murad, who was the governor of Gujarat, and by Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan. The ruler of Khandesh was asked to cooperate. After a close siege of four months in which Chand Bibi played a valiant role, the two sides came to an agreement. They agreed to cede Berar to the Mughals in return for their recognition of the claim of Bahadur. Mughal suzerainty was also recognised. This was in 1596.

The Mughal annexation of Berar in neighbourhood of the Deccani states alrmed them. Hence, they sided with Ahmadnagar and created obstacles in the Mughals taking possession of Berar. Soon, a combined force of Bijapur, Golconda and Ahmadnagar led by a Bijapur commander invaded Berar. In a hard-fought battle in 1597, the Mughals defeated a Deccani force. The Bijapuri and Golconda forces now withdrew, leaving Chand Bibi alone to face the situation. This resulted in a second Mughal siege of Ahmadnagar. In the absence of any help from any quarter, Chand Bibi opened negotiations with the Mughals. She was, however, accused of treachery by a hostile faction and murdered. The Mughals now assaulted and captured Ahmadnagar. The boyking, Bahadur, was sent to the fortress of Gwaliyar. Balaghat, too, was added to the empire and a Mughal garrison was stationed at Ahmadnagar. This was in 1600.

The fall of Ahmadnagar fort and city, and the capture of Bahadur Nizam Shah did not solve Akbar’s problems in the Deccan. There was now no Nizam Shahi prince or noble with sufficient standing to negotiate with. The situation became further confused due to constant wrangling among the Mughal commanders. To study the situation on the spot, Akbar advanced into Malwa and then into Khandesh. Akbar was also keen to secure the fort of Asirgarh in Khandesh which was reputed to be the strongest fort in the Deccan. After a tight siege fort was conquered by Mughals. Khandesh was incorporated to the Mughal empire.

Meanwhile, prince Daniyal, the youngest son of Akbar, who had been placed in command of Mughal armies in the Deccan, concluded a peace with Murtaza Nizam Shah II who after the fall of Ahmadnagar had been proclaimed ruler, by a group of Nizam Shahi nobles. According to the agreement, Ahmadnagar, Balaghat and parts of Telengana were surrendered to the Mughals, and the remaining portions of the kingdom confirmed to Murtaza Nizam Shah on condition of loyalty, and the promise that he would never rebel. This was in 1601. After the capture of Asirgarh, Akbar returned to the north to deal with the rebellion of his son, Salim.

Although the conquest of Khandesh, Berar and Balaghat, and Mughal control over the fort of Ahmadnagar were substantial achievements, the Mughals had yet to consolidate their position in the Deccan. Akbar was conscious that no lasting solution to the Deccan problem could be arrived at without an agreement with Bijapur. He had, therefore, sent messages of assurances to Ibrahim Adil Shah II who offered to marry his daughter to prince Daniyal. But soon after the marriage (1602), the prince died of excessive drinking. Thus the situation in the Deccan remained nebulous, and had to be tackled afresh by Akbar’s successor, Jahangir.

Rise of Malik Ambar and Frustration of Mughalattempt At Consolidation

After the fall of Ahmadnagar and capture of Bahadur Nizam Shah by the Mughals, the state of Ahmadnagar would have disintegrated but it would not happened so due to the rise of a remarkable man, Malik Ambar. Malik Ambar was an Abyssinian, born in Ethiopia. After the fall of Ahmadnagar, Malik Ambar found a Nizam Shahi prince and with the tacit support of the ruler of Bijapur, set him up as Murtaza Nizam Shah II, with himself as the Peshwa. Malik Ambar gathered around him a large band of Maratha troopers or bargis. The Marathas were adept in rapid movements, and in plundering and cutting off the supplies of the enemy troops. Although this guerilla mode of warfare was traditional with the Marathas in the Deccan, the Mughals were not used to it .With the help of the Marathas, Ambar made it difficult for the Mughals to consolidate their position in Berar, Ahmadnagar and Balaghat.

The Mughal commander in the Deccan at the time was Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan. He inflicted a crushing defeat on Ambar in 1601. However, after the death of Akbar, Ambar again unleashed a fierce campaign to expel the Mughals from Berar, Balaghat and Ahmadnagar. In this enterprise he was helped by Ibrahim Adil Shah, the ruler of Bijapur. Fortified with the support of Bijapur, and with the active aid of the Marathas, Ambar soon forced Khan-i-Khanan to retreat to Burhanpur. Thus, by 1610, all the gains in the Deccan made by Akbar were lost. Although Jahangir sent prince Parvez to the Deccan with a large army, but even Ahmadnagar was lost, and Parvez had to conclude a disgraceful peace with Ambar.

The affairs of Malik Ambar continued to prosper and the Mughals were not able to re-assert themselves as long as he had the solid support of the Marathas and other elements in the Deccan. But in course of time, Malik Ambar became arrogant and alienated his allies. The Khan-i-Khanan, who had again been posted as the Mughal viceroy of the Deccan, took advantage of the situation and won over to his side a number of Habshi and Maratha nobles, such as Jagdev Rai, Babaji Kate, Udaji Ram, etc. Jahangir himself was well aware of the value of the Marathas. With the help of the Maratha sardars, Khan-i-Khanan inflicted a crushing defeat on the combined forces of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golconda in 1616. The Mughals occupied the new Nizam Shahi capital, Khirki. This defeat shook the Deccani alliance against the Mughals. However, Ambar continued his resistance.

To carry forward Khan-i-Khanan’s victory, Jahangir sent a grand army under his son, prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan). Faced with this threat, Ambar had no option but to submit. Despite these reverses, Ambar continued to lead the Deccani struggle against the Mughals and there was no peace in the Deccan. However, two years later, the combined Deccani forces again suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Mughals. Ambar had to restore all the Mughal territories.

This second defeat, coming so soon after the first, finally shattered the united front of the Deccani states against the Mughals. The old rivalries among the Deccani states now came to the surface and led them to mutual struggle again.

The chief significance of the rise of Ambar, however, is that it represented a clear recognition of the importance of the Marathas in Deccani affairs. The success of the Marathas under the leadership of Malik Ambar gave them confidence which enabled them to play an independent role later on. Malik Ambar tried to improve the administration of the Nizam Shahi state by introducing Todar Mal’s system of land revenue. He abolished the old system of giving land on contract (ijara) which was ruinous for the peasants, and adopted the zabti system.

After 1622, when the Deccan was in turmoil due to the rebellion of prince Khurram against Jahangir, Malik Ambar was able to recover once again many of the old territories which had been ceded to the Mughals. Jahangir’s attempt at consolidating the Mughal position in the Deccan was, thus, frustrated. However, the long-range benefits to Ahmadnagar for reopening the dispute with the Mughals may be considered doubtful. It led to the situation in which Shah Jahan decided that he had no alternative but to extinguish Ahmadnagar as an independent state. Malik Ambar breathed his last in 1626 at the ripe age of 80. But the bitter fruits of his legacy had to be reaped by his successors.

Extinction of Ahmadnagar, and Acceptance of Mughal Suzerainty By Bijapur and Golconda

Shah Jahan ascended the throne in 1628. Shah Jahan’s first concern as a ruler was to recover the territories in the Deccan which had been lost to the Nizam Shahi ruler. Shah Jahan was of the opinion that there could be no peace for the Mughals in the Deccan as long as Ahmadnagar would continue as an independent state. This was a major departure from the policy which had been followed by Akbar and Jahangir. However, Shah Jahan was not keen to extend Mughal territories in the Deccan beyond what was absolutely necessary.

In 1629, Shah Jahan deputed large armies against Ahmadnagar. Under relentless pressure, large parts of the Ahmadnagar state were brought under Mughal occupation. The Nizam Shah now sent a piteous appeal to the Adil Shah of Bijapur to help. At the same time the Mughals had refused to hand over to the Adil Shah the areas allotted to him under the agreement. As a result, the Adil Shah made a somersault and decided to help the Nizam Shah who agreed to return Sholapur to him. This turn in the political situation compelled the Mughals to retreat. However, the internal situation in Ahmadnagar now turned in favour of the Mughals. Fath Khan, the son of Malik Ambar, had recently been appointed Peshwa by the Nizam Shah in the hope that he would be able to induce Shah Jahan to make peace. Instead, Fath Khan opened secret negotiations with Shah Jahan and, at his instance, murdered the Nizam Shah and put a puppet on the throne. He also read the khutbaa, and struck the sikka in the name of the Mughal emperor. As a reward, Fath Khan was taken in Mughal service, and the jagir around Poona previously allotted to Shahji was transferred to him. As a result, Shahji defected from the Mughal side. These events took place in 1632.

It will thus be seen that the Mughals and Bijapur were, in reality, engaged in a contest for dividing between themselves the prostrate body of Ahmadnagar. The Adil Shah (Bijapur) sent a large army for the surrender of Daulatabad and for provisioning its garrison there. Shahji also was enrolled in Bijapur’s service to harass the Mughals and cut off their supplies. But the combined operations of the Bijapuri forces and Shahji were of no avail. Mahabat Khan closely invested Daulatabad,and forced the garrison to surrender (1633). The Nizam Shah was sent to prison in Gwaliyar. This marked the end of the Nizam Shahi dynasty.

However, even this did not solve the problems facing the Mughals. Following the example of Malik Ambar, Shahji found a Nizam Shahi prince, and raised him as a ruler. The Adil Shah sent a force of seven to eight thousand horsemen to aid Shahji, and induced many of the Nizam Shahi nobles to surrender their forts to Shahji. Many disbanded Nizam Shahi soldiers joined Shahji whose force swelled to 20,000 horses. With these he harassed the Mughals and took control of large portions of the Ahmadnagar state.

Shah Jahan now decided to give personal attention to the problems of the Deccan. He realised that the crux of the situation was the attitude of Bijapur. He, therefore, deputed a large army to invade Bijapur, and also sent feelers to the Adil Shah, offering to revive the earlier accord of dividing the territory of Ahmadnagar between Bijapur and the Mughals.

The policy of the stick and the carrot, and the advance of Shah Jahan to the Deccan brought about another change in Bijapur politics. The leaders of the anti-Mughal group including Murari Pandit were displaced and killed, and a new treaty or ahdnama was entered into with Shah Jahan. According to this treaty, the Adil Shah agreed to recognise Mughal suzerainty and not to interfere in the affairs of Golconda which was brought under Mughal protection. Any quarrel between Bijapur and Golconda was, in the future, to be referred to the Mughal emperor for his arbitration. The Adil Shah agreed to cooperate with the Mughals in reducing Shahji to submission and, if he agreed to join Bijapuri service, to depute him in the south, away from the Mughal frontier. Shah Jahan completed the settlement of the Deccan by entering into a treaty with Golconda as well.

The treaties of 1636 with Bijapur and Golconda were statesmanlike. In effect, they enabled Shah Jahan to realise the ultimate objectives of Akbar. The suzerainty of the Mughal emperor was now accepted over the length and breadth of the country. Peace with the Mughals enabled the Deccani states to expand their territories towards the south.

In the decade following the treaties of 1636, Bijapur and Golconda overran the rich and fertile Karnataka area from the river Krishna to Tanjore and beyond. This area was ruled over by a number of petty pricipalities. A series of campaigns were conducted by Bijapur and Golconda against these states. Thus, in a short span of time, the territories of these two states were more than doubled and they reached the climax of their power and prosperity. However, rapid expansion weakened whatever internal cohesion these states had. Ambitious nobles such as Shahji, and his son Shivaji, in Bijapur, and Mir Jumla the leading noble in Golconda, started carving out spheres of influence for themselves. The Mughals, too, found that the balance of power in the Deccan had been upset and demanded a price for their benevolent neutrality during the expansionist phase of these states. These developments came to a head in 1656 following the death of Muhammad Adil Shah, and the arrival of Aurangzeb as the Mughal viceroy of the Deccan. These developments would be dealt with in a subsequent chapter.

Cultural Contribution of The Deccan States

The Deccani states had a number of cultural contributions to their credit. Ali Adil Shah (d. 1580) loved to hold discussions with Hindu and Muslim saints and was called a Sufi. He invited Catholic missionaries to his court, even before Akbar had done so. He had an excellent library to which he appointed the well-known Sanskrit scholar, Waman Pandit. Patronage of Sanskrit and Marathi was continued by his successors.

The successor of Ali Adil Shah, Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580–1627), ascended the throne at the age of nine. He was very solicitous to the poor, and had the title of ‘abla baba’, or ‘Friend of the Poor’ He was deeply interested in music, and composed a book called Kitab-i-Nauras in which songs were set to various musical modes or ragas. Due to his broad approach he came to be called ‘Jagat Guru’. He accorded patronage to all, including Hindu saints and temples. This included grants to Pandharpur, the centre of the worship of Vithoba, which became the centre of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra. The broad, tolerant policy followed by Ibrahim Adil Shah II was continued under his successors.

Golconda was the intellectual resort of literary men. Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, a contemporary of Akbar, was very fond of literature and architecture. The sultan was not only a great patron of art and literature but was a poet of no mean order. He wrote in Dakhini Urdu, Persian and Telugu and has left an extensive diwan or collection. He was the first to introduce a secular note in poetry. Apart from the praise of God and the Prophet, he wrote about nature, love, and the social life of his day. The growth of Urdu in its Dakhini form was a significant development during the period. In addition to Persian, these writers drew on Hindi and Telugu for forms, idioms and themes as well as vocabulary. Urdu was patronized at the Bijapuri court also. The poet laureate Nusrati who flourished during the middle of the seventeenth century wrote a romantic tale about Prince Manohar, ruler of Kanak Nagar, and Madhu Malati. From the Deccan, Urdu came to north India in the eighteenth century.

In the field of architecture, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah constructed many buildings, the most famous of which is the Char Minar. Completed in 1591–92, it stood at the centre of the new city of Hyderabad founded by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. It has four lofty arches, facing the four directions. Its chief beauty is the four minarets which are four-storeyed and are 48 metre high. The double screen of arches has fine carvings.

The rulers of Bijapur consistently maintained a high standard and an impeccable taste in architecture. The most famous Bijapuri buildings of the period are the Ibrahim Rauza and the Gol Gumbaz. The former was a mausoleum for Ibrahim Adil Shah and shows the style at its best. The Gol Gumbaz which was built in 1660 has the largest single dome ever constructed. All its proportions are harmonious, the large dome being balanced by tall, tapering minarets at the corner. It is said that a whisper at one side of the huge main room can be heard clearly at the other end. Painting also flourished in the Deccan, and reached a high state during the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah (1580–1627).

It will thus be seen that the Deccani states were able to overcome the phase of sectarian violence during the sixteenth century, and maintain fine standards of communal harmony, and also contributed in the fields of music, literature, architecture and painting.



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