Indian History Part 66 The Adil Shahis of Bijapur Section III Growing Strength

Canberra, 28 May 2018

On Ibrahim Adil Shah’s death, even though the succession was trouble free, the Bijapur kingdom was thrown into a brief period of confusion. Taking advantage of this limited time of uncertainty the ruler of Ahmadnagar, Hussein Nizam Shah invaded Bijapur. He was assisted by the Qutb Shahi ruler of Golconda.

Ali Adil Shah

Ali Adil Shah succeeded his father easily, without any serious contenders laying claim to the throne. He decided to avenge the unprovoked attack by the Ahmadnagar king and also wanted to regain Sholapur and Kalyan that had been captured by the Nizam Shahis earlier. Ali Shah formed an alliance with the Vijayanagar king Rama Raja and also induced the Golconda king to abandon Hussein Shah and join the Bijapur combine. The Imad Shahi ruler of Berar, traditionally supporters of the Bijapur state, was cajoled by Hussein Shah to join his alliance. This realignment if forces is a classic demonstration of the fluid geo-strategic situation that prevailed in the Deccan.

The Value of Friendship with Vijayanagar

The contemporary narratives of the time, including those of different court chroniclers, indicate that friendship with Vijayanagar was highly prized by the Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan because of the former’s power and military strength.

Around the time that Ahmadnagar and its allies were preparing to invade Bijapur, a son of Rama Raja then ruling Vijayanagar died. Ali Shah took the extraordinary step of paying a condolence visit to the king in his capital, accompanied only by a 100 followers. This action of a king going almost unprotected into the territory and capital of a sometime rival king was unprecedented. The voluntary action of the Bijapur king clearly indicates the importance of nurturing friendship with Vijayanagar.

Ali Shah was received in Vijayanagar with great hospitality. Further, the Queen adopted him as a son, sort of cementing the relationship between the two countries.

After paying his condolences, Ali Adil Shah returned to Bijapur. Although a great deal of comradery was exhibited in Vijayanagar between the two monarchs, the reality was somewhat different. Rama Raja was at this stage almost 90 years old and had, over time, become arrogant in his behaviour. He had made Ali Shah feel like a supplicant by his overbearing and haughty behaviour. Ali Shah had felt slighted by this behaviour but did not show any signs of discomfiture or anger while in Vijayanagar. However, he returned home bearing a grudge against the old king.

The turn of events now moved along in similar lines to what had transpired about 150 years ago between Firuz Shah Bahmani and Deva Raya, then ruling Vijayanagar. A year into Ali Shah’s rule the anticipated invasion by Hussein Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar and his allies took place. True to his promise, Rama Raja send a large army to assist Ali Shah. On the arrival of the Vijayanagar army, Hussein Shah was abandoned by his allies and in the ensuing battle the Ahmadnagar forces were routed. The Sultan fled to his capital and shut himself in the fort, while the entire country was ravaged by the victorious forces. From here on, a progression of events started that was later to have serious consequences for the Vijayanagar kingdom. This point in history could be identified as the time that the seed that finally led to the decline and final fall of that magnificent empire was planted.

The Hindu forces of Vijayanagar, now buoyed by an easy victory, avenged the number of massacres that they had suffered at the hands of Muslim forces in earlier campaigns by committing similar atrocities on the Muslim population of the Ahmadnagar kingdom. The long oppressed local Hindus also joined the fray, making the massacres, rape and plunder take on the shade of a divisive and sectarian civil war. More than the immediate massacre and looting that followed the defeat of the Nizam Shahi forces, there was another factor, perhaps more important, at play. Rama Raja, by now an old, but extremely vain and authoritative king had become extremely arrogant regarding his own power and the stature of his empire. During this campaign he habitually treated the Muslim kings of the Deccan as his vassal supplicants. It is reported by both Muslim and Hindu chroniclers that he would make the Muslim kings walk considerable distances within his entourage before permitting them to mount and ride alongside him. If this is indeed a true depiction of his behaviour, it demonstrates a degree of arrogance far surpassing that displayed by any other monarch of Vijayanagar. It is not surprising that the Muslim kings were disgusted by the king’s attitude and the treatment meted out to them.

In the meantime, Ahmadnagar defied all attempts at subduing the fort and at the approach of the monsoons, the siege had to be lifted. An uneasy peace was declared. At the end of the war, Rama Raja made all the Muslim kingdoms cede at least two districts each to Vijayanagar control. Ali Adil Shah who had invited the Vijayanagar king to intervene on his side took stock of the situation. He realised that Sholapur had not been retaken; Ahmadnagar still continued to be an independent kingdom ruled by the same king who had invaded his country; and on top of this humiliation, he had lost two districts to the Vijayanagar Empire. Adding to his discomfiture, he also felt that he had been disgraced by Rama Raja—the epitome of a Hindu monarch—in front of the other Muslim kings and nobles. In an unbiased overall assessment Ali Adil shah realised that he had not gained anything and had instead suffered a loss of prestige, dignity and territory. Most importantly, Ali Shah realised the growing power of Vijayanagar, which permitted it to treat all the Muslim kingdoms with disdain and roughshod over them at will. It opened his eyes to the danger that Vijayanagar posed to the sovereignty of the Deccan Muslim kingdoms. He was astute enough to realise that the situation eventuated because the Muslim kingdoms were perpetually at odds with one another, constantly chipping away at each other’s power base. Ali Shah established this as one of the primary reasons for the ascendancy of Vijayanagar.

Alliance against Vijayanagar – Sound of the Death Knell 

After deep consideration, Ali Adil Shah conceived the idea of creating a league of the Muslim kingdoms to attack and break its powerful stranglehold over the region that the Hindu kingdom exercised, which was overshadowing all of them. He first convinced the Qutb Shahi king of Golconda regarding the need to defeat the king of Vijayanagar. Once this was achieved, he undertook serious negotiations with the other Muslim kings. A trusted noble of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, Mustafa Khan, was send to Ahmadnagar to persuade Hussein Nizam Shah to come into the fold. Although Hussein and his kingdom had been subjected to a great amount of abuse during the recently concluded war, he accepted the invitation to join the league. The extent of animosity felt by the Muslim kings against the Hindu king can be understood by this one event alone. It is obvious that all the Muslim kings were smarting under the shabby treatment meted out to them by Rama Raja and that they harboured great hatred against him for his high-handed behaviour.

During these negotiations within the three more powerful Shahi kingdoms, Hussein Nizam Shah, the king of Ahmadnagar was persuaded to give his daughter Chand Bibi in marriage to Ali Adil Shah and gift Sholapur to him as dowry. In return, Ali Shah gave his daughter in marriage to Hussein’s eldest son, Murtaza. (The description of the influence that Chand Bibi exerted on the history of the Deccan will be provided later in this volume. At this stage it is only necessary to mention that Chand Bibi belonged to a long list of heroine queens who adorn the historical narrative of the Indian sub-continent.)

This ‘holy’ league being formed against Vijayanagar was joined by The Barid Shahi ruler of Bidar with alacrity. Barid Shahi rulers habitually were inclined to join and even instigate all kinds of intrigue, against any kingdom or ruler who they felt were standing against the Barids’ self-interest. For some inexplicable reason the Imad Shahi sultan of Berar was not invited to join the anti-Vijayanagar league. The reasons for this omission could be speculated. It could either be because it was felt that the Imad Shahis were not powerful enough to contribute meaningfully to the forces that the league was putting together, which was indeed true; or it could be because the Berar rulers were known to be fickle in their allegiances and changed sides according to their contextual convenience. In fact, it could actually have been a combination of both these factors. Whatever the real reason(s) for its exclusion, it is clear that Berar was not part of the league.

In 1565, the armies of the four Muslim Deccan kingdoms came together on the plains of Bijapur and marched to Tellikota on the banks of River Krishna. The Battle of Tellikota that ensued is one of the most important battles, a momentous event and a major turning point in Indian Peninsular history. In the battle, the Raja of Vijayanagar was conclusively defeated, marking the beginning of the rapid decline and final end of a magnificent Empire—the last standing evidence of great Hindu power not only in South India, but the whole sub-continent. [The Battle of Tellikota is covered in great detail in the section that covers the history of the Vijayanagar Empire, since the consequences of the outcome of the battle was felt almost exclusively in the Hindu Empire rather than in the Muslim Deccan kingdoms.]

Continuing Rivalry in the Deccan

Even though they combined effectively to break the power of Vijayanagar, as soon as that objective was achieved, the Deccan kingdoms returned to their old ways of infighting and intrigue against each other. Each kingdom undertook activities aimed at preventing any of the others from increasing their power and becoming strong. The only ambition of each of the kingdoms seemed to be to bring each of the others aspiring for power to heel. Almost immediately after Vijayanagar was defeated, Ali Shah invaded parts of the kingdom with the intention of annexing territory. Rama Raja’s brother Vekatadri appealed to Hussein Nizam Shah in Ahmadnagar for assistance, which was promptly provided. Facing this combined force, the Bijapur troops were forced to withdraw. In the ensuing peace, the Deccan kingdoms agreed between themselves that no one would invade Vijayanagar without the mutual approval of all the others. This agreement was typical of the disunity that prevailed amongst the Deccan kingdoms and reinforced the inherent distrust that existed between the Shahi dynasties.

Soon after, the two Muslim armies that had recently faced each other, marched together against Berar where the Prime Minister Tufal Khan had deposed the Imad Shahi king and usurped the throne. The army ravaged the countryside of Berar in this invasion. During this joint invasion of Berar, Ali Adil Shah made a surreptitious attempt to usurp Ahmadnagar from the young Murtaza Nizam Shah who had inherited the throne from his father, Hussein. However, this attempt proved to be unsuccessful and Ali Shah returned to Bijapur. Even so, this attempt at deposing Murtaza led to three years of continual conflict between Bijapur and Ahmadnagar.

In 1569, a large Bijapur army under the command of General Kishwar Khan invaded Ahmadnagar territory. Murtaza Nizam Shah and the Queen-mother, who was acting as the Regent and was for all practical purposes the de-facto ruler during the young prince’s minority, marched out to meet the Bijapur forces. Murtaza had by this time attained majority and was not only more mature, but also impatient of being controlled by a woman Regent, even though the lady was his own mother. He asserted his independence with the help of some nobles and imprisoned the Queen, removing her from the exalted position she had so far assumed. Murtaza went on to attack the Bijapur army at the head of his own forces and besieged and captured the fort at Dharur, where Kishwar Khan was killed in battle.

Murtaza was assisted in this battle by the Qutb Shahi king of Golconda. However, the combined army could not take advantage of this victory over the Bijapur forces. They were unable to follow through with an attack on Bijapur territory because of disunity and distrust between the two armies. Ali Adil Shah shrewdly concluded a peace treaty with the Nizam Shahis, thereby averting further damage to his prestige and also protecting his territorial integrity. According to this treaty, Ali Shah was permitted to conquer as much of Vijayanagar territory as he could and Murtaza Shah was permitted to annex Berar to his kingdom.

Ali Adil Shah now embarked on a conquering march into Vijayanagar territory to the south of his kingdom. He conducted an effective siege and starved into submission the fort at Adoni, which had so far been considered impregnable. After this spectacular success, he moved further into the Carnatic, the core home territory of Vijayanagar. He captured Dharwar, Binkapore and Gandikota, reaching River Pennar in relatively quick time. The capture of ‘territory’ mentioned in the chronicles of the Deccan kingdoms followed a particular pattern, which was true of all Muslim conquests in the peninsula. The military forces would fight for and capture the forts and other strongholds of the adversary, while the countryside was normally left untouched. The forts would either be destroyed or garrisoned by Muslim soldiers. The peasants in the countryside continued to live the same life, oppressed by a new master, and paying taxes to a Muslim landlord instead of a Hindu chief.

In these battles and victories only the royal families faced any change in circumstances, since they were forced to retreat or even flee from their territories on being defeated. Artisans, traders and craftsmen continued to ply their craft and trade, paying taxes to the victor. Nothing changed for them. Some Hindu landlords were also permitted to stay on, paying a fixed rent to the Muslim government. Muslim governors, residing in the captured forts and backed by a small contingent of soldiers, kept order within the ‘conquered’ territory. The large, and majority, Hindu population remained in situ as an integral part of the kingdom while also being separate from the ruling entity and the religious persuasions that were officially practised. The entire system worked the other way too, the situation being the same for the minority Muslim populations who resided in Hindu kingdoms. In the Deccan, the general population continued to practice their own religious rites and age-old customs and traditions. It is true that temples were desecrated and even destroyed during war, but this was done as much for looting the wealth of the temples as for religious bigotry. The situation returned to normal during times of peace and in many instances the destroyed temples were even re-built.

The Changing Face of the Deccan Army

From the end of the 15th and through the 16th centuries, a subtle change took place in the demographic constitution of the Deccan Shahi armies. Three major but gradual changes contributed to and entrenched this alteration in the constitution of these armies. First, many Hindu zamindars, meaning nobles and landlords, changed their loyalty and became aligned to the Muslim rulers. In order to demonstrate their faithfulness to the new rulers, they contributed Hindu retainers to the Sultan’s army, making amalgamation a necessity. Second, the constant feud between the foreign and the Deccani Muslims was coming to a head during this time, with the foreigners being pushed out of favour. This increased the Deccani, or local, influence within the army. Third, the foreigners, who normally came from the north-west were now attracted to the larger and more opulent army of the Mughals in Delhi. In turn, this reduced the number of foreign adventurers wanting to travel to the hot, humid and sultry peninsula to join the armies of the Deccan Shahi kingdoms.

It was not surprising that gradually the Deccan armies became predominantly manned by Hindu ‘warlike’ tribes and groups—mainly the Marathas, Rajputs and also the Beydars. However, they were still mainly officered by Muslims. There were also exclusive Muslim battalions who were a mix of Arabs, Abyssinians and other foreigners. By the end of the 16 century, the armies had become predominantly Hindu in composition, which in turn brought about changes in the basic tactics that were employed and altered the warfighting style itself. There is also opinions expressed by some analysts that the religious mix and mercenary nature of the armies of the Deccan also contributed to a gradual decline in their fighting efficiency. In effect it was though that the army had been ‘weakened’. However, there is no evidence to substantiate this claim. The Deccan armies remained as good or as bad as in previous years.

The Rise of the Marathas

The Marathas first came into prominence as soldiers when they distinguished themselves as superb irregular cavalry during the rule of the Bahmani kings. They were especially adept at warfare in the hilly and jungle terrain, whereas the majority Muslim forces of the Deccan kingdoms were not very good in conducting warfare in this terrain and/or in an irregular mode. The Muslim forces excelled in set-piece battles in the plains where the employment of freewheeling cavalry was their forte. However, when it came to having to innovate in unconventional battles conducted in harsh and inhospitable terrain, they were no match for the intrepid Maratha warriors. This fact was to be proven repeatedly in later days.

The mixing of Muslims and Hindus in the Deccan armies brought into focus and emphasised a clear difference between the nobles of the two religions. In the Deccan Shahi kingdoms, the Muslim nobles and other prominent citizens chose to be granted ‘jagirs’, or land grants, in the plains close to the capital. They did not reside in their estates far away from the seat of power, but preferred to stay close to the luxury of the capital so that they were able to indulge in the intrigues, which were almost always percolating in the royal court. The outlying provinces, the hilly parts of the Deccan, were largely left to the Hindu zamindars who provided retainers to the Shahi armies. Gradually there emerged a cadre of tough and hardy Hindu soldiers, mostly Marathas from the region who were brought up in their own faith, customs and traditions but were also well-versed in the Muslim art of warfighting.

Inevitably this development paved the way for revolt and rebellion as these soldiers and their leadership started their quest for more freedom and ultimately independence itself. The minor rebellions and other developments in the Deccan could, in some ways, be identified as the planting of the seed that became the beginning of the Maratha nation, which subsequently grew in later days to lay claim not only to the Deccan but to the sovereignty of the entire Indian sub-continent.

The Maratha Revolt

Around 1578, a number of Maratha chiefs owing allegiance to the Adil Shahi dynasty rebelled in the outer reaches of the kingdom. Ali Shah send an army to subdue them. However, the army consisted of ‘plains’ soldiers and could not make any headway against the tough Maratha irregular forces of the hills. The army returned after a year of fruitless campaigning without achieving any success and having suffered considerable losses. Ali Shah’s minister, Mustafa Khan, then devised a devious plan, which was to lure the Maratha chiefs to Bijapur with promises of gifts and by declaring a truce, after which they would be slaughtered. Accordingly a Brahmin, Vasuji Pant, was send to invite the chiefs to Bijapur. A number of them accepted and were subsequently assassinated in Bijapur, according to the plan.

The principal chief of the Marathas, Hanumanta Naik, had refused the invitation suspecting planned foul play and had rapidly withdrawn with his followers to his stronghold of Bilkonda. This act of extreme treachery by the Adil Shahi king and his minister had serious consequences that influenced future events. First is that this action does not merit even a single mention in the chronicles written by the Muslim court historians of the time. Since the event has been confirmed by other sources as having taken place but is not mentioned by the ‘official’ historians, it throws into doubt the authenticity of the entire chronicles and also lends the narrative to the question as to how many other incidents that would have brought out the ruling dynasty in bad light have been consciously omitted. The art of ‘re-writing’ history is obviously not new.

Second, the treachery that was perpetuated lived on in the collective Maratha memory and gradually became a factor in inculcating a long-lasting race hatred towards the Muslims in the region. The followers of Islam were considered untrustworthy in an overarching manner. On the positive side, this hatred also proved to be a uniting factor, bringing the Marathas together against a common ‘foreign’, mainly Muslim, enemy, who was considered an invader. Third, this act of treachery was a turning point in the Hindu-Muslim relationship in the Deccan. Till this act, a certain amount of amicability was prevalent in the relationship between the religions in the Deccan. With the perpetuation of the Bijapur massacre, there emerged a clear estrangement between the two religious communities that never healed thereafter.

Soon after the Bijapur massacre, in 1580, Ali Adil Shah was assassinated by one of his favourite eunuchs, apparently for some offence that Ali Shah had given him. He was succeeded on the throne by his nine-year old nephew.

Ali Adil Shah presided over a kingdom that was almost constantly at war. He was also continually engaged in the political intrigues involved in making and breaking alliances, which seemed to have been a common practice amongst the Deccan Shahi kingdoms. Ali Shah was also a builder, with the Jumma mosque and some waterworks in the capital Bijapur being attributed to him. Perhaps the most important event of his reign was the arrival of a Mughal embassy in Bijapur, where the ambassador stayed for a period of time. This was the first foray of the Mughals into the Deccan.

© [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 Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

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