Indian History Part 66 The Adil Shahis of Bijapur Section IV The Zenith

Canberra, 9 June 2018


At the time of Ali Adil Shah’s death, the most popular and prominent person in the kingdom was his wife, Chand Bibi, who was also the sister of the ruling Nizam Shahi king of Ahmadnagar. She was a level-headed woman of great intellect, energy and sagacity.

The Story of Chand Bibi – Part I

While Ali Shah was the reigning king, his intrepid Queen, Chand Bibi, had accompanied her husband on many military expeditions, at times even taking to the battlefield alongside the Bijapur forces in action. In times of relative peace and also when Ali Shah was away from the capital on expeditions, Chand Bibi conducted the affairs of state with aplomb and also gave public audiences in open court. She was just and firm in her dealings and was therefore revered by the common people of the kingdom. Ali Adil Shah died without having sired any sons. He had two nephews—Ibrahim and Ismael who were in the line of probable succession. Chand Bibi took the lead in deciding the succession and was instrumental in crowning Ali Shah’s nephew, the minor Ibrahim Adil Shah II, as the new king. After the crowning of the young prince, Chand Bibi took over the running of the kingdom’s affairs, ably assisted by a senior noble, Kamil Khan Deccani.

Although Chand Bibi was the power behind the throne, she ensured that she was not mistaken to be ruling as the queen, making sure that the young, nine-year old king Ibrahim Adil Shah was always seated on the throne in the public hall of justice whenever the court was in session and judgements were passed. She scrupulously maintained her role as the regent and nothing more. Gradually, Kamil Khan, her co-regent started to usurp disproportionate power and Chand Bibi fell out with him on this account. She brought in Kishawar Khan, one of the old and trusted generals as the co-regent, dismissing Kamil Khan from the post. Kamil Khan was killed while fleeing from Bijapur.

It was not long before Kishawar Khan also started to display his proclivity to be high-handed and to bypass the queen-regent in taking decisions on matters of state. He was also rude to some of the nobles and considered them to be his vassals rather than of equal status. The nobles therefore advised Chand Bibi to remove Kishawar Khan from the position that he occupied and to bring in Mustafa Khan, then the governor of Binkapur, as the co-regent. [The need for the queen, powerful, capable and liked by the people, to have a noble as the co-regent is indicative of the social system prevalent in the Muslim community of the time, where a woman, even though she was the queen, was not considered capable enough to rule the kingdom effectively without the assistance of a ‘man’. The noble appointed co-regent was supposed to be the lead in the duo that was ruling on behalf of the young prince. This perception of the weakness of women had, by this time in the development of the religion, further developed into subjugation of women in the Muslim society. Even in the 21st century, Muslim women are subjected to ridiculously callous treatment as ‘belonging to’ either the father or the husband. In contrast, Hindu women in ancient and medieval times were completely free. However, the Muslim influence on the Indian society gradually made them observe the social etiquettes that were imposed on Muslim women and also became unfairly subjugated by the male members of their families. This retrograde move is more observable in the Northern parts of the sub-continent, where Muslim influence has been observed to be the greatest and played out for the longest time.] Kishawar Khan got wind of the plan to relieve him of his regency and had Mustafa, his likely successor murdered by a lower level jagirdar in Binkapur, before he could start his journey to the capital.

At this stage, the power struggle between the queen and Kishawar Khan took an ominous turn. Kishawar Khan physically took the young prince into his custody and confined Chand Bibi in the fort at Satara. He provided a reason and/or pretext for this action by accusing her of conspiring with and inciting her brother—the Nizam Shahi king ruling Ahmadnagar—to invade Bijapur. It was obvious to all that this was a blatant lie and that the charges were trumped up.

Chand Bibi’s conduct as a just and fair regent had made her a well-liked sovereign. Kishawar Khan had not bargained for the loyalty she evoked within the army and also amongst the general population. On he being incarcerated, the soldiers garrisoned outside Bijapur started to march to the capital in order to depose Kishawar who had become a tyrant by this time. Kishawar realised the turning tide against him and fled from Bijapur, seeking asylum in Ahmadnagar. It was obvious that the Ahmadabad king would refuse any request for refuge since his sister was the one that had been imprisoned. Kishawar fled further to Golconda, seeking sanctuary. In Golconda, a relative of Mustafa Khan murdered him in revenge.

Chand Bibi was brought back from imprisonment and resumed the role of the Regent and appointed Ekhlas Khan as the new minister and co-regent. Ekhlas was an Abyssinian with a violent temper and personality. Till this time the Abyssinians had always sided with and been considered part of the Deccani faction amongst the nobles at court, especially in their fight against the Phirangis, the foreigners. [Being considered part of the Deccani faction could perhaps be attributed to their physical appearance of being black because of their African origin, whereas the Arabs and others who constituted the Phirangi faction were fair-skinned and with distinctly different facial features. The current obsession that Indian’s have with ‘fair skin’ goes back not only to the medieval times but can be traced to ancient times!] With Ekhlas appointed to the high position as the senior minister, the Abyssinians now separated from the Deccanis, forming a third faction amongst the nobles in the Deccan kingdoms. The factious fights within the Bijapur kingdom continued unabated and was intensified because of the Abyssinians. It gradually took on the hue of a civil war. The kingdom was in turmoil.

Taking advantage of the domestic upheaval in Bijapur, the kings of Berar, Bidar and Golconda formed an alliance, invaded the country and surrounded the capital. Ekhlas Khan, even though impetuous and inclined to violent outbursts, was extremely loyal to the Adil Shahi dynasty while also being an able soldier and a determined military commander. Further, the dowager queen-regent, Chand Bibi, herself joined the defending force accompanied by the young king. This act of exemplary courage greatly improved the morale of the Bijapur forces and they held out despite the fact that the siege was imposed with great severity. At one stage of the siege, the invaders blew a 20-foot breach in the defending walls but the Bijapur forces managed to hold the invading forces back. It is said that Chand Bibi personally led the forces that guarded the breach while it was being repaired.

At this time of extreme danger, the Abyssinians, who were the primary cause of the division within the kingdom, ‘surrendered’ to the indomitable queen. Chand Bibi appointed a new minister and continued with the defence of the kingdom. Her army now numbered around 20,000 loyal soldiers—led by a mix of Deccanis, Phirangis and Abyssinians. After more than a year, being unsuccessful in conclusively defeating the Adil Shahis, the invading forces lifted the siege of Bijapur. The Queen-Regent had almost single-handedly redeemed the kingdom, by sheer will power and open demonstration of personal example and steadfast courage. The Bijapur forces had achieved victory of sorts, if not succumbing to an extended siege could be classified as a victory. Chand Bibi had expected to bring peace and stabilise the turmoil within the kingdom after this victory. However, it was not to be.

During the conflict with the invading force, one of the military commanders, Dilawar Khan, had shown exemplary courage and leadership. He had gradually risen to the position of the senior most military commander of the kingdom. At the end of the external invasion, after the invading forces had withdrawn, Dilawar blinded the new minister who had replaced Ekhlas Khan and took over the role himself. He then went on to commit many atrocities, all aimed at curtailing the queen’s power and influence in the affairs of state. Gradually the queen-regent was reduced to running the royal palace and educating the young king, while Dilawar Khan became the de facto ruler of the kingdom. Despite his inherent cruelty, which was regularly displayed, Dilawar was an able administrator. He improved the governance of the kingdom and ensured that the court and its rulings were respected.

During this time when Dilawar Khan had taken over the reins of the kingdom, the Kingdom of Ahmadnagar was convulsed by patricide and factional conflict to claim the throne. (The events that transpired in Ahmadnagar will be described in a later chapter.) Chand Bibi, whose brother was the ruling king in Ahmadnagar was physically there, on a visit to her brother and as a princess of the Nizam Shahi dynasty. She had undertaken the journey since her ward, Ibrahim, was maturing and coming of age. In this growing confusion, the Bijapur army intervened in Ahmadnagar and concluded a peace. Chand Bibi returned to Bijapur with the returning army. She was now devoid of all power in her country.

On her return, Chand Bibi realised that the Bijapur that she had come back to was very different to the one that she had left. Bijapur had changed a lot during her absence. The political situation had altered considerably, with the young king Ibrahim Adil Shah having taken over the public conduct of all royal business. However, Ibrahim received his aunt with great affection, welcoming her home with pomp and ceremony. Even the common people celebrated her return, since she was held in great affection by them. Chand Bibi was shrewd enough to understand and judge the altered circumstances and gracefully retired from public life, giving advice only when asked for by the young ruler. She lived in peace, administering locally when the king was out of Bijapur, but only on his explicit request to do so.

Chand Bibi was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was a woman of equal ability, political talent, education and accomplishment as the English monarch. Further, Chand Bibi’s realm was in no way inferior to the one that Elizabeth ruled—it was as large, as populous and as rich as England was at that time.

‘…a woman who, surrounded by jealous enemies, preserved by her own personal valour and endurance her kingdom from destruction and partition; who through all temptations and exercise of absolute power, was at once simple, generous, frank, and merciful as she was chaste, virtuous, religious and charitable—one who, among all the women of India, stands out as a jewel without flaw and beyond price.’

Colonel Meadow Taylor in The Noble Queen,

Quoted in J. D. B. Gribble,

History of the Deccan, pp. 221-22.

(The story of Chand Bibi does not end here; the second part of her biography will be continued in a later chapter.)

Ibrahim Adil Shah II

Ibrahim Adil Shah had grown up to be a young man of considerable talent and ability under the meticulous tutelage of his aunt, the redoubtable queen Chand Bibi. On achieving majority, he assumed full powers in the running of the kingdom, while his aunt, the regent, was away visiting her brother in Ahmadnagar. At this stage the Nizam Shahi kingdom was going through internal strife because of an intense succession struggle. Ibrahim’s first action as king was to advance with a large army to Ahmadnagar with the intent of placing his brother-in-law Meeran Hussein on the throne. During the march, he came to know that Meeran had killed his own father. In a rare case of a medieval monarch displaying ethics and morality as opposed to grabbing the opportunity to better his own situation, Ibrahim withdrew support for Meeran and returned with his army to Bijapur.

When Meeran Hussein was subsequently murdered by a rival faction, Ibrahim once again attempted to advance on Ahmadnagar. However, the campaign was not successful because of the rivalry between the two commanding generals—Dilawar Khan who was also the chief minister and Bulleel Khan who had been brought back by Ibrahim from a campaign he had been leading in Malabar. In the process of marching towards Ahmadnagar, Dilawar Khan managed to capture and blind Bulleel Khan, through intrigue. Ibrahim Shah was incensed at this wanton act of Dilawar, but could not act against the all-powerful minister at that time. He wowed to get rid of the minister when an appropriate opportunity arose.

In Ahmadnagar, Dilawar Khan now at the head of the Bijapur forces was almost defeated and barely managed to retreat and rejoin Ibrahim Shah’s camp. At this stage Ibrahim, although the nominal king, was a virtual prisoner of Dilawar Khan and his cronies. However, Ibrahim managed to escape from the camp one night. Assessing that he may not any longer be able to control the king, Dilawar took fright and sought refuge in Ahmadnagar. Burhan Nizam Shah, now ruling Ahmadnagar, gave asylum to Dilawar Khan forgetting the assistance that he had received from the Bijapur king in an earlier crisis.

Not content with receiving asylum and treatment befitting his earlier position in Bijapur as the chief minister, Dilawar precipitated another war between Ahmadnagar and Bijapur. He was now fighting on behalf of the Ahmadabad king against his own country. Obviously it was acceptable in the medieval Deccan to change loyalty and forget the human quality of integrity to fit the evolving circumstances and one’s own personal situation. Dilawar leading the Ahmadnagar army, first attempted to reduce and annex Sholapur, a fort that had long been the bone of contention between the two kingdoms.

Ibrahim Shah permitted the invading Nizam Shahi forces and Dilawar’s army to advance well inside Bijapur territory, pretending that he was too weak to resist the invasion. When the adversary forces reached the River Bhima, on the banks of which they started to build fortifications, Ibrahim invited Dilawar Khan to come back to Bijapur and resume his old employment as chief minister. Lulled by the obviously weak situation of the Bijapur king, Dilawar went to Bijapur expecting to be reinstalled as the minister and to once again assume control of both kingdom and king. Instead he was taken prisoner, blinded and locked up in the fort at Satara, where he remained till his death.

Ibrahim Adil Shah now marched against the invading force, forcing Burhan Nizam Shah to retreat and then sue for peace. The Adil Shahi king granted peace on the condition that the fortifications that the Nizam Shahi forces had built on the banks of River Bhima would be razed to the ground by the Ahmadnagar forces themselves. This was agreed to, and Burhan was forced to initiate the process by ritually removing the first stone from the fortifications. The Ahmadnagar forces returned to their kingdom—a much chastised king and army. Following the retreat of the Nizam Shahi army, peace and stability prevailed in Bijapur for a few years. Ibrahim Shah send an army under Munjum Khan to bring few recalcitrant Hindu kings of Malabar under control, in order to stabilise the kingdom. Munjum advanced towards Malabar, first capturing a fort at Mysore. However, before the Malabar kings could be subdued, rebellion broke out in the Bijapur kingdom, and Munjum was recalled by Ibrahim.

A Brother’s Rebellion

Ismael, Ibrahim’s younger brother, had been made governor of Belgaum but was kept within great constraints. His governorship was nothing more than a glorified and honourable confinement. It is not surprising that Ismael was unhappy about the situation. Over a period of time he managed to get the support of a number of nobles and in 1593, he rebelled, declaring independence from the Bijapur kingdom. The chief minister of Bijapur at this time was Eyn-ul-Mulk and he too was disgruntled with the lack of stature and power given to him by Ibrahim. This situation made him only minimally influential in the affairs of state. He felt that Ismael would be a more malleable king and therefore supported him. The open support of the minister for the younger brother resulted in fomenting a general revolt across the countryside.

Burhan Nizam Shah, smarting under the humiliation of the earlier defeat by Ibrahim Shah, moved against Bijapur with an army to support Ismael. In addition, spying an opportunity, the vassal Hindu rajas of Bijapur also rose in rebellion. The Portuguese in Goa, always on the lookout for any opportunity to interfere in local politics, also send some forces to assist Ismael. These developments placed Ibrahim Shah under enormous pressure. In this time of critical danger to his continued rule and also to the integrity of the kingdom, Ibrahim turned to his aunt Chand Bibi for advice and assistance. As usual her advice was sagacious and well-thought through.

Chand Bibi advised Ibrahim to deal with his adversaries one at a time, individually and in isolation before they could effectively combine to form a joint force; an advice that Ibrahim followed to the letter. Accordingly, he send his senior commander Humeed Khan to meet Eyn-ul-Mulk who had by this time openly joined the Belgaum forces of Ismael. Humeed Khan pretended to have abandoned Ibrahim’s Bijapur forces and enticed Eyn-ul-Mulk to come outside the Belgaum fort. At this juncture, the Nizam Shahi forces of Ahmadnagar were only a few days march away from Belgaum. However, Eyn-ul-Mulk did not wait for these forces to join up and went out to parlay with Humeed Khan. Moving out of the safety of the Belgaum fort was a tactical blunder. Eyn-ul-Mulk may have wanted to end the rebellion with the help of Humeed Khan and also may not have wanted to take the assistance of Ahmadnagar in placing Ismael on the throne. If he managed the usurpation on his own, his influence on Ismael would have been increased. In any case, this decision led to a debacle.

In this instance, when Eyn-ul-Mulk came to meet Humeed Khan, Humeed Khan charged him and cut off his head and took the young prince Ismael prisoner. On knowing this development, the rebel army scattered in panic and confusion. Seeing the major part of the rebel force disintegrate, Burhan Nizam Shah withdrew to his kingdom, his ambition to avenge the earlier defeat once again put on hold. Thus ended the ill-fated rebellion led by Ismail, but instigated by older nobles who had their own grievances to redress.

The Ahmadnagar Episode

On returning to Ahmadnagar, Burhan Shah took ill and died soon after. The kingdom was already suffering from multiple dissentions ever since Burhan had come to power. These, till now simmering under the surface of stability, now broke out into the open. Burhan was succeeded by his son Ibrahim Nizam Shah, who was haughty by nature. He ill-treated and was rude to the Bijapur Ambassador in his court, who decided that it would better for him to return to Bijapur, rather than suffer further indignities.

Ibrahim Adil Shah set out with an army to avenge the direct insult to his ambassador, which was obviously indirectly aimed at himself. The ensuing battle against Ahmadnagar was hotly contested with the advantage swinging both ways and the result hanging in the balance for a while. As was his wont, Ibrahim Nizam Shah rashly advanced into the periphery of the Bijapur army with only a small retinue of guards and then plunged into the thick of the battle. A small contingent of Bijapur cavalry surprised the Ahmadnagar group guarding the king during his foray deep into the Bijapur forces. In the ensuing melee, a stray arrow struck Ibrahim Nizam Shah who was killed instantly. On the death of their king, the Ahmadnagar army fled the battlefield in disarray.

The death of Ibrahim Nizam Shah plunged Ahmadnagar into a succession struggle and into further chaos. Chand Bibi, who was a princess of Ahmadnagar, was requested to become the regent for an infant prince who was raised to the throne at the end of the succession struggle. (The detailed narrative of this part of Chand Bibi’s contribution to the Deccan Muslim kingdoms will be given in the next chapter.) It is sufficient here to state that during her regency in Ahmadnagar, Chand Bibi received unrestrained support from her nephew, Ibrahim Adil Shah, whenever she faced any trouble.

Chand Bibi’s regency in Ahmadnagar—till her death and the annexation of the Nizam Shahi kingdom by the Mughals—is intimately connected to the history of Bijapur. The annexation of Ahmadnagar by the Mughal forces was a debilitating blow to Ibrahim Adil Shah. He withdrew into his capital after the catastrophe that befell Ahmadnagar, which was followed by desultory inactivity within the Deccan. Ibrahim did make some attempt at regaining his status by making overtures to Akbar, the ruling Mughal Emperor of the time. An alliance was agreed upon, which also included a Bijapur princess being given in marriage to Akbar’s son. At this time, Bijapur was at the height of its splendour and magnificence. Asad Beg, a noble from the Mughal court who was send to escort the Bijapur princess to Delhi, provides an unbiased report of Bijapur.

Asad Beg’s Description of Bijapur

‘That palace, which they call Hajjah, was so arranged that each house in it had a double court. … All round the gate of my residence were lofty buildings with houses and porticos; the situation was very airy and healthy. It lies in an open space in the city. Its northern portico is to the east of a bazaar of great extent, as much as thirty yards wide and two kos [four miles] long. Before each shop was a beautiful green tree, and the whole bazaar was extremely clean and pure.

…the whole bazaar was filled with wine and beauty, dancers, perfumes, jewels of all sorts, palaces and viands. In one street were a thousand people….; none quarrelled or disputed with another, and this state of things were perpetual. Perhaps no place in the wide world could present a more wonderful spectacle to the eye of the traveller.’

H.M. Elliot & John Dowson,

The History of India: as told by its own historians, The Muhammadan Period, Vol VI, p. 163

Also quoted in J. D. R. Gribble,

The History of the Deccan, variously pp. 245-47.


Ibrahim Adil Shah’s rule is considered the zenith of the power of the Adil Shahis of Bijapur. He died in 1626 after a long and eventful reign. Ibrahim was a great patron of architecture and during his reign was built some of the finest buildings to be seen in Bijapur. His tomb, the construction of which was begun immediately on his assuming the throne, took 36 years to complete and is a spectacular group of splendid buildings, called ‘Ibrahim Roza’. This group of buildings is considered to be the most brilliantly and elaborately adorned of all the Muslim structures in the entire Indian sub-continent. The tradition of commencing the construction of one’s own tomb on accession to the throne was practised by various dynasties, across the world, in medieval times. The custom could have been adopted to provide a stark reminder to the king of the ultimate fate of all human beings, irrespective of the person’s brilliance, bravery, power or the splendour of his/her achievements. Death was, and continues to be, a great equaliser. The significance of this philosophy and the reasons for its adoption by many dynasties, which crosses the boundaries of race, religion and location of the dynasties concerned, would form a fascinating study.

Ibrahim Adil Shah was a man of learning and refined taste. On his death he left behind a kingdom that was extremely wealthy, guarded by a large and powerful army. He is considered to have been the best of the Adil Shahi kings. Perhaps the ultimate testimony to the greatness of Ibrahim, as a ruler and a human being, is the fact that throughout his life he was extremely devoted to his aunt, who had brought him up with love as her own son and had taught him the ways of a good king. Such gratitude and affection were uncommon traits for a monarch to display during the times that he ruled.

© [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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