Indian History Part 66 The Adil Shahis of Bijapur; Sect I: Yusuf Adil Shah Establishes a Kingdom

 Canberra, 25 April 2018

The death of Muhammad Shah in 1482 was the virtual end of the Bahmani dynasty, although a few more Bahmani sultans nominally ruled from Bidar. On Muhammad Shah’s death, Mahmud Shah his 12-year old (only eight years old according to some reports) son was placed on the throne. He was rapidly followed by three more child kings, who were mere puppets. After the first few years of this rule by proxy, the kingdom was plunged into a series of power struggles and intrigue. Effective governance came to an end in the Bahmani kingdom. From the time of Sultan Muhammad, the Bahmani kingdom of was fully consumed by internecine wars and its power was at the lowest ebb. Understanding the weakness at the centre, a number of powerful and opportunistic nobles started to declare independence.

Taking advantage of the prevailing confusion, Yusuf Adil Khan declared independence. He assumed the title of Shah, made Bijapur the capital of his fledgling kingdom and started to rule under the title Yusuf Adil Shah. By early 16th century, five nobles had divided the erstwhile Bahmani kingdom amongst themselves and established five Muslim kingdoms in the Deccan.

Yusuf Adil Shah

The story of Yusuf’s birth and later adventures is a highly romantic tale. It appears that he was born to Sultan Murad II of Turkey in 1443. When Murad died in 1450-51, his eldest son Muhammad succeeded to the throne. In conformity with the accepted wisdom and custom of the times, Muhammad immediately ordered the execution of all his male siblings, as well as other royal male children, in order to prevent the possibility of a later-day rebellion from someone with even a remote claim to the throne. When the executioners came to collect the seven-year old Yusuf to be put to death, his mother bribed them sufficiently for them to accept a substitute for Yusuf who looked reasonably similar and who was then put to death.

The queen/princess entrusted Yusuf to the care of a Persian merchant, having given him a large sum of money to ensure the safety and upkeep of the prince. The Persian merchant—Khawaja Imad ud-Din—took the prince initially to Ardebeel where he was tutored by Sheikh Suffee, who was the founder of the Suffee royal family. Thereafter, Yusuf was moved to Saweh where he was educated with the merchant’s own children. Yusuf’s mother kept in touch and also provided additional funds when required. Yusuf remained in Saweh till he was 16 years old and so derived the surname ‘Sewai’ in later years.

At this time, Yusuf decided to try his fortune in Hindustan, as a number of ambitious Persian youth were inclined to do, and arrived at the port of Dabul, to the south of Goa, in 1458. From Dabul he made his way to Bidar, the capital of the Bahmani kingdom, where another benefactor introduced him to the royal family as one of his Turkish slaves. Yusuf was diligent and hardworking and was placed under Nizam-ul-Mulk Turk who was the ‘master of the house’. Nizam was the officer who had murdered the Khawaja Jehan in open court on the orders of the boy Sultan Muhammad and was therefore in great favour with the Sultan. Nizam-ul-Mulk treated Yusuf as a brother, an attachment that was wholeheartedly returned, with Yusuf remaining loyal to Nizam till the latter’s death.

In 1467, the Sultan ordered Nizam-ul-Mulk to capture the fort at Kherla, then a tributary and part of the kingdom of Malwa. Yusuf, by now having earned the title Adil Khan, accompanied Nizam on the expedition. The fort was captured after prolonged fighting and at great cost. However, two Rajput warriors, seeking to avenge the extraordinary abuses that were heaped on the defeated Hindu population of the fort, murdered Nizam-ul-Mulk in a suicide mission. Yusuf and another Turk, Dariya Khan, took charge of the army and returned to Bidar with Nizam’s body and a large amount of plunder from the expedition. The Sultan was happy with the performance of the young officers and promoted both of them. The captured fort at Kherla was given to Yusuf Adil Khan as his ‘jagir’. However, the Bahmani Sultan soon signed a peace treaty with Malwa, according to which Kherla reverted to the control of Malwa.

Yusuf Adil Khan now attached himself to Mahmud Gawan, the rising star in the Bahmani kingdom. Mahmud Gawan held Yusuf in great esteem and styled him as his adopted son, formalising the relationship a few years later. Mahmud Gawan appointed Yusuf the governor of Daulatabad. Yusuf assumed the role with gusto and fairly quickly recovered some border forts that had been lost to Malwa in earlier times. Yusuf also managed to subdue two Maratha chieftains operating in the fringes of the Daulatabad governorate, which brought a great amount of booty. In an astute move, Yusuf Adil Khan returned to Bidar with this immense wealth and presented it to the Sultan. This move entrenched the position of Mahmud Gawan, his mentor, as well as his own position with the Sultan. Together, father and adopted son became the Sultan’s favourites and the toast of the capital.

The Sultan of Bijapur

When Yusuf declared independence, the fledgling kingdom of Bijapur extended from Sholapur and Gulbarga in the north to Goa in the south. In the east it shared a border with the Vijayanagar kingdom along the River Krishna. The forts at Raichur and Mudgal were under the control of the Bijapur kingdom, while the Doab between the Rivers Tungabhadra and Krishna remained contested between Bijapur and Vijayanagar.

Bijapur, from now on ruled by the Adil Shahi dynasty, endured as a kingdom for a little more than the next two centuries. This period also coincided with an era of great restlessness and of momentous events in the history of the Peninsula. Of the successor Muslim kingdoms to the Bahmani kingdom that sprang up in the Deccan on its break-up, Bijapur was the greatest and last but one to succumb to the Mughal onslaught. The power of the Muslim rulers were limited at this juncture when one kingdom was being pulverised and from its ashes five kingdoms were being forged. Taking advantage of this relative weakness, the Vijayanagar kingdom rose to great power. This rise was further profited by the successor kingdoms also being weak in their initial period of formulation. The partitioning of the Bahmani kingdom and the formation of the successor kingdoms culminated in the rise of the Vijayanagar Empire to the zenith of its power and glory. A less conspicuous development was that the same period bore witness to the commencement of the development of Maratha power—an event of great import at a later stage in Indian history.

Muslim power in the Peninsula was continually waning, a downward slide that was speeded on by the arrival of the Europeans. The Portuguese had established a foothold on the western coast, their power centred on the port of Goa, which had for all practical purposes been taken over by them. The partitioning of the Bahmani kingdom also made it easier for the Mughals to destroy the successor states one-by-one, in a development that was to take place almost two centuries later.

Bijapur – The Capital of the Adil Shahi Dynasty

Bijapur stands on the site of an ancient Hindu village called Bichkhanhalli and five surrounding villages. Even today, inscriptions from the 11th and 12th centuries and some broken down Hindu victory towers are visible in Bijapur. In its Hindu identity, the city was called Vijaypur or the city of victory, which is corroborated by the ruins of the victory towers.

Bijapur had been the seat of a governor of the Bahmani kingdom for a period of time before Yusuf Adil Shah took over control.

Yusuf Shah improved the existing buildings as well as the citadel and commenced building protective city walls, which took almost his entire reign to complete.

As was to be expected, on Yusuf declaring independence, Qasim Barid, the powerful minister in Bidar who was actually ruling the crumbling Bahmani kingdom although proclaimed as the regent nominally ruling on behalf of a puppet Sultan, decided to put down the rebel. Barid incited the Vijayanagar king to join him in declaring war against Bijapur and the upstart Yusuf Adil Shah. However, Adil Shah easily defeated the combined attack and thereafter peace prevailed for a few years.

After consolidating his position in Bijapur, Yusuf attacked and captured the Raichur fort. Repeated attempts by Vijayanagar to recapture the fort were repelled and defeated. In this victory, Adil Shah obtained immense wealth as plunder, which he very wisely used to further establish his own kingdom. He gave generous gifts to the nobles who had followed him, thus further binding them to his own fortunes.

A Token Gesture

Although established fully as an independent kingdom, in a surprise move, Adil Shah sent two robes and a gold-studded horse to Sultan Mahmud nominally ruling in Bidar, as a token acknowledgement of Bahmani supremacy. The Adil Shahi kings continued this practice of acknowledging the supremacy of the Bahmani Sultans for some more time to come.

Sultan Mahmud Bahmani also visited Bijapur, where he was lavishly entertained. The story goes that the Sultan refused to take the presents that were given to him on his departure, stating that if he took them with him, his Minister Qasim Barid would confiscate them on his arrival in Bidar. This demonstrated the real state of affairs in the crumbling Bahmani kingdom.

This action of Yusuf Adil Shah, of acknowledging Bahmani supremacy has never been rationally explained since he did not need the blessings or approval of the Bahmani Sultan to continue ruling his newly founded kingdom. Adil Shah had by then accrued sufficient power to withstand an attack or invasion by any of his neighbours. In any case the Bahmani Sultan did not possess any semblance of power to act on his own. An unexplained quirk in the character of Yusuf, otherwise a bold and charismatic leader!

The Gulbarga Revolt

The Peninsula, especially the Deccan, was going through tumultuous times. In 1495, the governor of Gulbarga, Dastur Dinar, revolted and declared independence. Qasim Barid, ruling in Bidar, requested Adil Shah’s assistance to put down the rebellion. Dastur was easily defeated by the joint forces and taken prisoner. Barid wanted to put him to death, but Adil Shah prevailed in preventing the execution and also restored Gulbarga to Dastur. Adil Shah had cultivated a personal friendship with the nominal Bahmani Sultan, Mahmud, and now conspired with him to cut off Qasim Barid from his estates. Barid became alarmed by this development and after collecting a large army, attacked Adil Shah. Yusuf was victorious in the ensuing battle fought near Kinjooty in 1497.

After this battle, which could be considered the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the Bahmani kingdom, the five emerging Muslim kingdoms partitioned the Deccan between them. Yusuf Adil Shah was given the provinces that Dastur Dinar had been ruling, including Gulbarga. The Bahmani Sultan remained the only nominal king with no territory to rule other than the capital Bidar, which was also ruled by his minister in reality. Even the minister did not have the wherewithal to capture any territory to increase his holdings. By the time of this partition, Qasim Barid had been replaced by his son Ameer Barid who had inherited his father’s position. Ameer Barid instigated Dastur Dinar to rebel again and attempt to regain possession of his provinces, sending him some Abyssinian forces as assistance. In a fierce battle on the banks of the River Bhima, Yusuf Shah defeated the rebel forces and Dastur was killed in battle. Yusuf Adil Shah’s adopted brother who was instrumental in ensuring Bijapur victory also succumbed to injuries sustained in this battle. This decisive victory firmly established the status of Yusuf Adil Shah as an independent king and also increased his already considerable prestige. Gulbarga now became an indelible part of the Adil Shahi kingdom.

Change of Religion

During his sojourn in Persia, Yusuf Shah had ‘imbibed’ the basics of Shia doctrine from the Royal House of Suffee, by now governing Persia. In 1502, he changed the religious affiliation of his newly founded kingdom from Sunni to Shia. The introduction of this somewhat drastic change was done with great moderation and pre-calculated temperance. Usually, new religious converts and also the people who could be considered ‘born-again’, tend to be bigoted zealots of the new religion that they have adopted. In the case of Yusuf, he remained extremely tolerant and was careful to let his subjects know beforehand that he would not interfere in their individual religious beliefs or practices. He went to the extent of promulgating a royal decree that no one was to be coerced to renounce his or her faith and that no forced conversions were to be attempted. This show of extreme tolerance resulted in most of the nobles and officers of the state remaining loyal to Yusuf Adil Shah.

The change of the official religion of the Adil Shahi kingdom in Bijapur however created great animosity from the other four sultans ruling the Deccan kingdoms. They formed a league against Yusuf and declared what has, in later days, come to be called ‘the holy war of the four brothers’ against Bijapur. They decided to attack Bijapur. The two armies facing each other were in complete contrast to each other in their capabilities and characteristics. Yusuf Shah’s forces were numerically smaller, but extremely well-trained; whereas the opposing force of the alliance was large, but disorganised hordes of individual soldiers. Even so, Yusuf Shah decided to be cautious in engaging the enemy forces arrayed against him and resorted to an astute guerrilla campaign. Through well-calculated moves, Yusuf managed to draw the bulk of the opposing forces into the territory of Imad-ul-Mulk ruling in Berar and an ally and mentor of Yusuf.

Imad had sufficient influence on Yusuf to persuade him to restore Sunni practices in his kingdom, which somewhat pacified the other sultans. Further, Imad-ul-Mulk wrote to the other sultans that they were being used by Ameer Barid for his own purposes. Ameer was one of the principal instigators of the military action against Bijapur. Imad let it be known to the other sultans that Ameer wanted to annex Bijapur for himself and the religious angle was only a ploy to achieve this objective. On considering this missive, the sultans of Ahmadnagar and Golconda returned to their kingdoms, leaving Barid isolated. Once Barid was isolated, Yusuf Shah confronted him and defeated him in battle. Then he returned to Bijapur in triumph, since he had been away from his capital ever since the ‘holy war’ had been initiated against him. The entire episode took place in a span of a mere three months. The rest of Yusuf Adil Shah’s reign was peaceful from a domestic perspective. The people and the administration were devoted to creating a stable and prosperous kingdom.

The Portuguese Interlude

On 26 August 1498, the Portuguese naval commander Vasco da Gama effected a landing on the island of Anjidiv in south Kanara. This was an event with enormous consequences for the Indian sub-continent, although at that time no king, sultan or chief of any consequence attached much importance to it. Vasco da Gama then landed on the mainland Peninsula near the mouth of the River Kalinadi. Yusuf Adil Shah send an expedition under the command of a Muslim Jew to evict the foreigners. However, the expedition was defeated by the Portuguese and the commander captured. He was subsequently taken to Portugal, converted to Christianity and was given the name Gasper da Gama.

From 1498 onwards, every year increasing number of Portuguese ships started to arrive on the west coast of the Peninsula. In 1509, they captured Goa. Goa was a favourite seaside retreat of Yusuf Shah and he personally led the forces send to liberate the port. Goa was recovered but Yusuf Adil Shah died a few months later. Taking this opportunity, the Portuguese re-captured Goa. The Portuguese chronicles are silent about this see-saw control of the port, mentioning only the ‘re-capture’. However, it is obvious that a re-capture can only take place if it had been taken away in the first place. Therefore, it is obvious that Yusuf Shah’s expedition had been successful. Yusuf Adil Shah died in 1510 and was succeeded by his son Ismail Adil Shah who was only 14 years old at the time of coming to the throne.

Yusuf Adil Shah – The Person

In any analysis of the times, Yusuf Adil Shah comes out as one of the most remarkable medieval rulers in the Deccan. He was a fearless warrior, a great general and also an astute statesman. He was highly educated, humane and tolerant in all aspects of governance. He wrote poetry, put the poems to music and sang them himself. In a clear departure from the normal, there are no reports of bigotry during the entire period of his rule. Considering that bigotry and religious zealotry are the dual stains that mar the reputation of almost all other Deccan Muslim rulers, this is no small achievement. Even the temporary change of the official faith of the kingdom from Sunni to Shia was effected with singular care, moderation and extreme tolerance.

Yusuf was a patron of art, literature and learning. He spent liberally on buildings and public works, a trend that was followed through by his successors. The Adil Shahi kings left noble memorials behind, more than any of the other Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan with the exception of the Qutb Shahi rulers of Golconda. Yusuf’s private life was without blemish. He did not maintain a harem, as was the standard practice of sultans of the age, and also did not spend any of the royal treasure on personal pleasure. He had only one wife, a Hindu Maratha princess, daughter of a chieftain called Mukund Rao. Yusuf Adil Shah was a temperate and virtuous human being. He could be considered an aberration in an age of debauchery and indulgence by sultans and nobles.

The queen was given the title Boobooji Khanun and Yusuf’s religious tolerance is partly attributed to her direct influence on his religious thought process. Khanun was a lady of great ability and political acumen with a strong character. The king had three daughters and a son. The daughters were married to the sultans of Berar, Ahmadnagar and Bidar—with the family ties strengthening the unity of the Muslim kingdoms.

Throughout the reign of Yusuf Adil Shah, Hindus were given offices in the state administration, based purely on merit with no preference or bias being bestowed on account of an individual’s religious persuasion. Similarly, credit and promotion to officials were bestowed on pure merit. Religion was relegated to the back when recruitment to public employment was being undertaken, a novelty in the Deccan of the time. Equality of all people in front of the state administration was a concept far ahead of its time when Yusuf Adil Shah instituted it in a decidedly Muslim kingdom.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2018]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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