Indian History Part 67 The Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar Section II: Consolidation: Burhan Nizam Shahi II

Canberra, 4 August 2018

Burhan Nizam Shah was only seven years old when his father, Ahmad Nizam Shah the founder of the dynasty, died. Ahmad had elicited an oath of allegiance towards the young prince from his nobles. They were true to the oath and the business of governance was undertaken by nobles loyal to Ahmad Shah. These nobles were led by Mukammal Khan and his son Mian Jamal ud-Din, who was conferred the title Aziz-ul-Mulk. The combination of ambition and perceived opportunities to achieve them have the capacity to lead astray even strong-willed and loyal people and Mukammal Khan was no exception. In short order he started to behave as an independent king rather than a benign Regent to a minor king, which irritated the ‘phirangi’ faction of nobles. In addition, Jamal ud-Din was vain and insolent, treating everyone with disdain and harshness.

In order to bring down Mukammal Khan and his son, the opposing nobles formed a group and plotted to remove Burhan from the throne with the intention of replacing him by his brother Rajaji. This proposed coup failed and the phirangi group fled to Berar, where they were provided shelter by Ala ud-Din Imad Shah then ruling that country. This group, resident in Berar under the leadership of Rumi Khan, continued to stir trouble in Ahmadnagar. They cited a number of reasons and instigated Ala ud-Din, then only titled Imad-ul-Mulk not having assumed the more exalted and royal title of Shah, to invade Ahmadnagar. On the advance of the Berar forces, Regent Mukammal Khan marched out to meet the invaders who were encamped near Ranubari. In the ensuing battle the Berar army was soundly defeated.

On the army being defeated, the phirangi group abandoned Ala ud-Din who then fled the battlefield and was forced to seek refuge with Adil Khan Faruqi III, then ruling the kingdom of Khandesh. Faruqi negotiated a peace between Berar and Ahmadnagar, facilitating the reinstatement of Ala ud-Din to his throne in Berar.

Burhan’s Early Years

The Regent Mukammal, although harbouring great ambition, ensured that the young king was properly educated and from an early age was well-versed with the ‘duties of a king’. Therefore, Burhan was aware of the events taking place within his kingdom and also in the neighbourhood. At a very early age he had started to take a keen interest in the geo-political developments in the Deccan.

Immediately after the Ahmadnagar-Berar clash, Ali Barid the Regent ruling Bidar on behalf of the Bahmani prince, attacked the Adil Shahi kingdom of Bijapur. Ali Barid was comprehensively defeated by the Ismail Adil Shah and his powerful army. Burhan made his first foray into diplomacy at this stage, negotiating with the Adil Shahi king and ensuring that Ali Barid was reinstated to the regency to continue to control both the capital Bidar and the hapless Bahmani prince/nominal sultan. At this stage, the Bahmani dynasty existed only in name, since the sultan was retained on the throne as a puppet by the Barids to provide legitimacy for their de facto rule of the last remnant part of the once extensive Bahmani kingdom. Unhappy with his condition the Bahmani Sultan, Mahmud Shah, displayed some vigour and escaped to Berar. In the acrimony that ensued, Burhan sided with Ali Barid, while the Deccan was rapidly marching towards yet another self-defeating conflict. Before conflict could actually break out, Mahmud Shah re-joined the Barids. The Bahmani Sultan’s rebellion against the Barids was stillborn.

Watching this fiasco unfold, Ala ud-Din Imad-ul-Mulk realised that the real strength behind the Barid clan was the Nizam Shahis, with the young Burhan starting to flex his muscles and influence the complex and flexible political scenario. Ala ud-Din therefore felt the need to cut the young prince of Ahmadnagar down to size. As a result two battles ensued between Berar and Ahmadnagar—one at Boregaon and the other on the banks of the River Deonati—which were both indecisive. Young Burhan now mounted a vigorous invasion of Berar, forcing Imad-ul-Mulk to flee and seek sanctuary in Gujarat. Considering this a sort of victory, Burhan initiated negotiations to annex the district of Pathri from Berar, reportedly on the request of the local inhabitants. To be fair, he offered one of his own districts producing equal revenue in exchange for Pathri. Although in an inferior position, the Berar king refused the deal. Therefore, Burhan laid siege to Pathri and even though the Berar forces defended the fort strenuously, the fort and the district were annexed to Ahmadnagar.

Fall and Rise Again

During this time Burhan fell in love with a dancing girl, Ameena, and was besotted by her. He married her and made her the principal queen. More importantly, he started to spend all his time with her, neglecting his kingly duties and gradually fell to debauchery. Mukammal Khan, his chief minister, who was already fairly old attempted to bring the king back to his senses by asking him permission to retire. He requested Burhan to assume responsibility of the administration and retired to his estate, where he died soon after. Instead of realising the mistake he was making and taking charge of the administration, Burhan appointed Mukammal’s son, Aziz-ul-Mulk, as the prime minister and continued his profligate lifestyle.

Jamal ud-Din Aziz-ul-Mulk was tyrannical in his behaviour and cruel and unjust in his dealings. He gathered all power in his hands and, as was usual in such circumstances, started to entertain ambitions of becoming an independent ruler, and of supplanting the Nizam Shahi dynasty. Accordingly, he succeeded in gradually isolating Burhan from all his attendants, permitting only old nurses to look after him. Thereafter Aziz-ul-Mulk attempted to poison the king, which was thwarted by one of Burhan’s old wet nurses. This episode made Burhan appreciate the threat to his own safety and to his dynastic rule. He and some loyal nobles wanted to get rid of Aziz, but realised that they were not strong enough to do so, since all power now lay with Aziz-ul-Mulk. Burhan therefore recruited the governor of Antur, Jai Singh Ji, to help him get rid of Jamal ud-Din. A plan was hatched to lure Aziz-ul-Mulk to Antur by Jai Singh who pretended to have rebelled against Ahmadnagar. This would in turn make it necessary for Jamal to march to Antur. However, Jamal ud-Din send troops under the command of his brother to quell the rebellion.

Burhan and Jai Singh’s forces in Antur defeated the Ahmadnagar forces and after having captured the commander, insulted him, cut off his nose and sent him back to Ahmadnagar. This act angered the Aziz-ul-Mulk who personally marched to Antur. On the way he was waylaid by Burhan, who captured and blinded him. Burhan Nizam Shah then assumed full administrative responsibilities of the kingdom personally and appointed a pious and learned man, Mir Rukn ud-Din, as the chief minister. However, piousness is not an anti-dote to ambition when power is thrust on a person and Rukn ud-Din became arrogant and egotistical, forcing Burhan to remove him from the post on the appeal of the people.

The Story of Shah Tahir

Shah Tahir was a descendent of the Fatimid Caliphs of Egypt and was an unrivalled genius, learned and skilled in statesmanship. His ancestral home was in Khurd, a village in the Qazim district of Persia at the border of Gilan. He reached a very high degree of spiritual and secular attainment and became famous across Persia and also the greater Islamic world for his knowledge, attracting students from far and wide, especially from Egypt and Bokhara.

He followed the Shia sect and therefore a large number of his students also converted to the Shia sect. Gradually his fame came to the attention the Shah of Persia, Ismail Safvi, who invited Tahir to the royal court. Tahir became a courtier of the inner circle, becoming extremely popular and influential in court. His influence and fame reached a level where the Shah himself was irritated with the rapid rise of Tahir’s stature. In order to reduce his direct influence and keep him away from the capital, the Shah appointed him the principal of the school at Kashan.

Such was the reputation of Tahir that students now flocked to Kashan, which was soon turned into a great centre of learning. Shah Tahir continued to rise in prominence and therefor elicited the jealousy of local nobles and other officials, even though Tahir was personally not an ambitious man. Lesser men becoming jealous of the achievements of genuinely great personages is a recurrent theme in history. In order to damage Tahir’s reputation the nobles of Kashan wrote to the Shah alleging that Tahir was engaging in the propagation of the Ismailia faith, which was abhorrent to both the Shias and the Sunnis. Further, they accused Tahir of corresponding with the kings of the neighbourhood to instigate them to rebel against the Shah of Persia. On receiving these missives and without verifying the correctness of the accusations, the Shah ordered Tahir’s execution.

The Diwan (Prime Minister) at the court of the Shah was Tahir’s friend and send him an early warning regarding the impending execution. This facilitated Tahir’s hurried departure from Kashan in mid-winter, leaving all his wealth behind. He sailed across the Arabian Sea reaching Goa on 19 April 1520. From Goa he proceeded to Bijapur, but could not find favour with Ismail Adil Shah. Tahir then went on the Haj to Mecca and returned to settle in Parenda under the patronage of Makhdum Khwaja Jahan.

The wheels of fortune turn in inexplicable ways. While Tahir was resident in Parenda, a nobleman from Ahmadnagar visited Khwaja Jahan and was very impressed by Tahir’s learning and erudite lectures. On returning to Ahmadnagar, he explained to Burhan Shah the excellence of Tahir’s learning and the effectiveness of his religious discourses. Burhan in turn invited Tahir to his court and was also deeply impressed by his learning. He settled Tahir in Ahmadnagar and appointed him to give discourses in the Jami-Masjid.

Relationship with Other Deccan Kingdoms

The last Bahmani Sultan, Kalimullah Bahmani, continued to harbour ambition to regain the old status of his once powerful dynasty. Since he did not have the wherewithal to achieve this objective, he surreptitiously approached the Mughal king Babur, freshly enthroned in Delhi after defeating the last Lodi emperor, for assistance in regaining his balkanised kingdom. In return he promised to cede to Babur the districts of Berar and Daulatabad. Unfortunately for Kalimullah, this correspondence leaked out and in the acrimony that followed, he was forced to flee the country. The Adil Shahi ruler in Bijapur refused him sanctuary, whereas Burhan Nizam Shah offered to provide shelter. However, Shah Tahir advised Burhan against giving refuge to the hapless Bahmani Sultan and accordingly he was banished from Ahmadnagar. This event, where Burhan was considered an alternative to the Adil Shahis and his banishment of the Bahmani Sultan, could be considered the real declaration of the Nizam Shahi kingdom’s independence.

Almost immediately after the final eclipse of the Bahmani kingdom, Bijapur initiated actions to form an alliance to fight the growing power of the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire. Ismail Adil Shah send Ahmad Haravi as the envoy to fashion what was an uneasy peace with Ahmadnagar as a prelude to mounting a war against the Raja of Vijayanagar. Ismail also gave his sister, Bibi Maryam, in marriage to Burhan Shah to seal the peace treaty. Burhan had demanded Sholapur as dowry for the marriage which was not forthcoming, which led to some misunderstanding that threatened to turn ugly and break the peace initiative. Tahir intervened again and persuaded Burhan to drop the demand for Sholapur to be handed over. The situation was controlled. However, thereafter Sholapur became the bone of contention between Bijapur and Ahmadnagar.

In Ahmadnagar, Ameena gave birth to a boy, named Muhammad Hussein. With the arrival of a son who was presumed to be the heir apparent, Ameena was celebrated as the ‘would be queen-mother’. She and the other wives started to ill-treat Bibi Maryam, who in turn complained about her treatment to her brother, ruling in Bijapur. Ismail Shah remonstrated with Burhan and also abused and insulted the Ahmadnagar ambassador in his court. Tensions between the two kingdoms continued to mount and war became inevitable.

Burhan Shah’s Wars

Understanding that war with Bijapur was certain, Burhan solicited the assistance of Ali Barid in Bidar and Ala ud-Din Imad-ul-Mulk in Berar and decided to take the initiative. The combined army of the three kingdoms advanced into Bijapur territory, initially to wrest Sholapur from Ismail Adil Shah. In turn, the Bijapur army moved to protect its territory. In the ensuing battle, Asad Khan Lari, the Bijapur commander, opposed and defeated the Imad-ul-Mulk who left the battlefield and retreated to Berar. On the Berar army leaving the field, Burhan Shah also withdrew from the battle, leaving a large booty that was captured by the Bijapur forces. Ismail Adil Shah now forced Ala ud-Din to join him against Burhan Shah and their joint forces captured Pathri. Almost immediately, Burhan joined hands with Ali Barid and recovered Pathri.

The Nizam Shahi–Barid combine now marched against Berar forcing Al ud-Din Imad-ul-Mulk to flee his kingdom and take refuge with Muhammad Shah I, then ruling Khandesh. In turn now, the Khandesh and Berar armies jointly attacked Burhan but was defeated by the Nizam Shahi–Barid armies. Sometime during this continuous series of battles and skirmishes, Ala ud-Din proclaimed himself equal to the other rulers and took for himself the title of ‘Shah’, becoming known as Ala ud-Din Imad Shah. Obviously, the trappings of royalty was an important part of establishing the stature of the king. To avenge the defeat at the hands of his erstwhile ally, Ala ud-Din appealed to Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, for assistance. This provided the Gujarat Sultan with an excuse to interfere in the Deccan, which had been his long time ambition. The internal squabbles of the Deccan now assumed a different hue.

The Gujarat Sultan Invades the Deccan

In 1528, Bahadur Shah I, the Sultan of Gujarat marched into the Deccan. On his way he was met by Ala ud-Din Imad Shah’s son who escorted him to Daulatabad. Bahadur Shah’s army consisted of 100,000 cavalry and 900 elephants. It is obvious that he had come with a different objective than to purely assist the Imad Shahi king. Burhan send a military contingent to assist the Daulatabad garrison, but they were easily defeated by the Gujarat forces. Since the fort could not be easily overrun, Bahadur Shah laid siege to Daulatabad. Burhan played for time, repeatedly requesting audience with Bahadur Shah and then delaying the meeting citing different reasons. Daulatabad was not an easy fort to capture and failing to bring the siege to a successful conclusion in a reasonable time, Bahadur Shah started to march towards Bidar.

During this march, Bahadur Shah was approached by envoys from Burhan Shah, Ismail Adil Shah and Ali Barid bearing presents, pleading with the Sultan to establish peace in the Deccan. The ulterior motive was also to convince him that the real culprit in creating the current chaos in the Deccan was Ala ud-Din Imad Shah, and that he was the real aggressor. These initiatives confirm three facts: first, the Gujarat Sultan was far more powerful than any of the Deccan kings, individually or in combination; second, the Deccan kings were aware that the Sultan was not in the Deccan for altruistic purposes but harboured ulterior motives to conquer and annex at least some parts of the Deccan for himself; and third, the Shahi kings were incapable of presenting a combined front even in the face of a common and powerful enemy. In the event, Bahadur Shah established peace between Berar and Ahmadnagar, accepted the token subservience of the other two kingdoms and returned to Gujarat. The real reason for this benign return to his own country could have been the fear of being away from his country for far too long, when the newly established Mughal Empire in the north was rapidly growing in strength and ambition.

Peace in the Deccan did not last long. The very next year Jafar Khan, son of Ala ud-Din Imad Shah, was back in Gujarat, complaining to Bahadur Shah that Burhan Nizam Shah had breached the peace conditions that had been established the previous year. He requested another Gujarat expedition to the Deccan. Accordingly, Bahadur Shah embarked again to pacify the Deccan and was joined on the way by the king of Khandesh with his forces. Other minor kings along the route submitted meekly to the powerful Gujarat army lumbering towards the Deccan. As they approached Ahmadnagar, Burhan became alarmed at the immense size of the Gujrat army and started to request assistance from his neighbours and friends. He asked for help from both Bijapur and Golconda and even wrote to Babur in Delhi for aid. However, the Mughal had his hands full establishing his kingdom and battling local opposition, and therefore did not have the spare capacity to involve himself in the Deccan, even if he had wanted to. The opportunity was being offered to him at too early a stage in his Indian adventure. Similarly Golconda was preoccupied with the struggle inside Telangana and declined to assist the Nizam Shahi king.

Both Ismail Adil Shah and Ali Barid however, realised the full import and the possible cascading effects of letting Bahadur Shah overthrow Burhan Shah and provided full assistance. The Gujarat army easily expelled Burhan from the areas he had annexed from Berar—the districts of Mahur and Pathri—and then proceeded deeper into Ahmadnagar territory. During this march, Ali Barid came across a Gujarat contingent that had become separated from the main body and defeated it, also putting to flight a rescue party that had been send to bail out the original contingent. However, a larger Berar force, under Ala ud-Din Imad Shah fighting alongside the Gujarat army, forced Burhan Shah to retreat further into Ahmadnagar territory.

Bahadur Shah reached Ahmadnagar, occupied the Nizam Shahi palace for 40 days and then proceeded to Daulatabad, leaving Ala ud-Din to complete the capture of Ahmadnagar. Burhan attempted to defend Daulatabad and was defeated in a battle near the town, although he had also been joined by Ali Barid’s forces. Even after this battlefield defeat, the siege of Daulatabad continued, since the commander of the fort was a resourceful and active soldier, who managed to hold the Gujarat forces at bay. At this juncture, Ali Barid the ever self-centred noble, switched allegiance from Burhan to the Gujarat Sultan and also made peace with Ala ud-Din Imad Shah. While the siege of Daulatabad was continuing, the Gujarat forces continued its winning march, laying siege to Pathri that had been recaptured by Burhan. Pathri was a strong fort and the fighting continued unabated.

The Deccan kings were, if anything, astute in their calculations of the geo-political developments. Burhan now started to send out peace overtures to Bahadur Shah, while also opening a conversation with Ala ud-Din Imad Shah. Ala ud-Din and Burhan had already realised that Bahadur Shah’s ultimate intention was to annex both their independent kingdoms to the Gujarat Empire. To thwart this ambition, when the lull in the fighting at the onset of the monsoon season took place, Imad Shah took the opportunity to withdraw from the campaign and went back to his capital. Bahadur Shah was also a canny ruler and immediately realised the precariousness of his own situation—far away from his power base and with an extremely stretched logistical supply line that passed through enemy territory. He hastily concluded peace with Burhan on advantageous terms and returned to Gujarat. Burhan reclaimed Mahur and Pathri, which remained Ahmadnagar territory thereafter.

The Gujarat – Ahmadnagar Alliance

Burhan Nizam Shah was by now grown into an experienced statesman, having shed his irresponsible behaviour of his younger days. He carefully used the sagacity, learning and diplomatic skills of Shah Tahir to inveigle himself into the good graces of Bahadur Shah. In the interim period, Bahadur Shah had become even more powerful by defeating his long-standing adversary Malwa, and annexing it to the expanding Gujarat Empire.

An Far-fetched Report

An unsubstantiated report regarding Shah Tahir’s mission to Gujarat states that he managed to get the Gujarat Sultan to pronounce Burhan with the title ‘Shah’, changing his title from Nizam-ul-Mulk to Nizam Shah. If this is true, the event would have to be considered the official establishment of the Nizam Shahi kingdom. This report is difficult to believe and would have to be discarded as incorrect.

The embassy of Tahir to Gujarat took place in 1531-32. It is reliably learned that the Nizam Shahi rulers assumed all the trappings of independence including royal titles as early as 1490. Further, the Gujarat Sultan was only a neighbouring sultan of equal status, at least nominally, albeit more powerful. Burhan would not have approached an equal to bestow royal titles to the Ahmadabad king. It is obvious that this claim was an embellishment added to the report in later days to establish the importance of Shah Tahir’s diplomatic mission.

Bahadur Shah was by this time was cognisant of the political changes taking place in North India and also extremely aware that with the annexation of Malwa, he shared a common border with the fledgling Mughal kingdom. He could foresee the on-coming competition with the Mughals and therefore wanted as many allies as possible to stand by his side to withstand the oncoming storm of the future. He therefore welcomed the move by the Nizam Shahis to cement their relationship.

In creating an avowed friendship and alliance between the two kingdoms, both the kings had their own ulterior motives. Creation of alliances, throughout history and even in modern times, has always been done with carefully calculated advantages that accrue to each of the parties. [There are no instances of a nation, especially if it is powerful and independent, entering into an alliance with another country purely on altruistic reasoning. In the modern day, some of the more developed nations have a minority of people believing that material aid being provided to a less developed nation should be without any caveats. This belief is naïve at best and foolish at worst. Aid is the precursor to the creation of alliances. Alliances are made, and aid provided only if they bring some political, geo-strategic or trade advantages to the more powerful of the participating nations.] In this instance, Bahadur Shah, ever the ambitious and active Sultan, wanted assistance from Ahmadnagar to subsequently confront the Mughals in the north and drive them out of the sub-continent. The annexation of Malwa had sharpened Bahadur’s vaulting ambition. He envisaged a possibility to become the ruler of the entire north and western part of the sub-continent.

Burhan Nizam Shah, by now a proficient king, harboured his own designs regarding the alliance with Gujarat. He wanted to make use of the alliance and, if necessary the powerful Gujarat military machine, to reduce his rival Deccan kings to servitude. He would then become the undisputed power in the Deccan. It is clear that ambition underpinned the basis of the alliance. On the creation of the alliance it also became clear to the other Deccan kingdoms that Burhan was on an equal standing with Bahadur Shah, who had so far dominated the Deccan kings at will. Ahmadnagar and Berar had become sort of vassal states to Gujarat during the Gujarat campaigns of the previous decade, unable to stand up to the overwhelming power that Bahadur Shah was able to bring to bear. Both Burhan and Ala ud-Din now threw away the yoke that had been imposed on them during the two consecutive Gujarat campaigns into the north-western Deccan. Essentially, both the Shahi kingdoms had bent in the Gujarat storm, but had not been broken.

The Fall of Gujarat – An Aside

Bahadur Shah was a Sultan of restless ambition, although this was not without cause; after all he had managed to annex Malwa, with whom Gujarat had harboured a long-standing rivalry. After the annexation of Malwa, it was inevitable that Gujarat would come into confrontation with the Mughal kingdom that had been established to the north of Malwa and with whom they now shared a common border.

Although Burhan Nizam Shah was in an alliance treaty with Bahadur Shah, he instigated the Mughal king, Humayun, to attack Gujarat. Humayun first drove Bahadur Shah out of Malwa and then defeated and expelled him from Gujarat itself. (The details of this confrontation will be provided in a later volume in this series, which deals with the Mughal Empire.) While he was engaged in these battles of survival, Bahadur Shah had sought assistance from his ‘allies’ in the Deccan. Both Burhan and Ala ud-Din had refused to help, which obviously hastened the fall of Bahadur Shah. Both the Deccan kings did not have the foresight to visualise that a similar fate would befall them at a later time. Bahadur Shah, from being a powerful Sultan became a fugitive. Gujarat came under Mughal control and was never again able to interfere or dictate terms to the kingdoms of the Deccan as an independent entity.

The Deccan Shahi kingdoms fell back into their usual routine of—fighting internecine wars that did not amount to any lasting victory or defeat; creating alliances between themselves that the kings felt no compunction in breaking at will even within months of them being formed; being completely self-absorbed in all actions that they initiated; and all the while carefully ensuring that no one individual king became powerful enough to establish a hegemony.

Dealings with Vijayanagar

The internecine wars and rebellions in the Deccan led to a situation wherein the rebel nobles in one country took refuge in another one inimical to the first. In these manoeuvrings, invariably the Nizam Shahis and Adil Shahis in Bijapur almost always found themselves in opposing sides, supporting adversarial groups. However, all these conflicts remained indecisive, and therefore festered along with no obvious conclusion. The times were uncertain and the Deccan kings were paranoid regarding any one of them becoming relatively more powerful either own their own or through external alliances.

In such a geo-political climate, it was not surprising that in 1552, Burhan entered into an alliance with the powerful Hindu king Sadashiva Raya ruling Vijayanagar. The alliance was meant for mutual assistance in two independent enterprises. Ahmadnagar would deploy its army alongside that of Vijayanagar  to assist Sadashiva Raya in recapturing Raichur and then the combined armies would help Burhan take Sholapur, both from the Adil Shahi kingdom of Bijapur, then ruled by Ibrahim Adil Shah. Although the alliance was not as smooth as was expected because of mutual mistrust between the two rulers, they managed to achieve their individual objectives of enlarging their own territories as planned.

Buoyed by the success of their enterprise, the combined army now proceeded to lay siege to Bijapur itself. At the very beginning of the siege, Ibrahim Adil Shah fled to the safety of another fortress at Panhai. While the Bijapur siege was underway, Burhan Shah took ill and on the advice of his court physicians, returned to Ahmadnagar. When he was informed of this development, Sadashiva Raya lifted the siege and retired to his capital. Thus the attempt by one Deccan kingdom to subsume another remained ‘half-baked’ without reaching successful completion.

A Religious Struggle

At the height of his power, Burhan Nizam Shah changed the official religion of his kingdom to the Shia sect. Some reports suggest that this was done under the influence of Shah Tahir who adhered to and propagated the Shia persuasion of Islam. In any event, Burhan’s decision was opposed by a large number of his subjects led by Maulana Pir Muhammad, who had been his tutor for some time when he was a young boy. The Maulana led his followers in rebellion and also started to correspond with some army officers, instigating them to revolt against the king.

The Maulana and his followers then went on to surround Tahir’s house, accusing him of being the root cause for the king’s actions. Burhan was encouraged by his nobles to act against the rebels but hesitated to initiate any drastic action, stating that he had vowed not to injure his own teacher, the Maulana. Finally under pressure from the nobles to control an emerging chaotic situation, the Nizam Shahi army was send to attack the rebels. On the arrival of the army, the Maulana was deserted by his followers. He was captured and was to be executed, but his life was spared on the intervention of Shah Tahir. Further, he was released from prison after four years and permitted to leave the Nizam Shahi country. The Maulana is reported to have entered into the service of Bairam Khan, the regent ruling the Mughal Empire on behalf of the child-king Akbar and to have been the king’s tutor for a brief period of time.

Even though the incipient revolt against the imposition of the Shia sect was stamped out quickly, the unilateral change of religion brought Burhan Shah into conflict with the rest of the Deccan kingdoms. These kingdoms started to organise and anti-Nizam Shahi confederation. Surrounded by adversarial neighbours, Burhan made an attempt to appeal to Humayun in the north for assistance. Once again no help was forthcoming from the Mughal, who was at that time engaged in a life and death struggle with Sher Khan (later Sher Shah Suri) for the throne of Delhi. Realising that military resistance to the combined might of the other kingdoms would be futile, Burhan resorted to diplomacy. He managed to win over the Sultan of Gujarat, the most powerful member of the anti-Nizam Shahi confederacy. In the meantime he was strengthening his army. Having split the confederacy, Burhan went on to defeat Ibrahim Adil Shah in battle, thus ending the confederacy against Ahamadnagar. Around the same time, the Persian Sultan, Shah Ismail Safavi, heard of the Nizam Shahi conversion to the Shia sect and send an embassy to Ahmadnagar that increased Burhan Shah’s stature. The confederacy against Ahmadnagar was still born.

Relations with Persia

The Persian embassy was headed by Aga Salman Tehrani and was received cordially by Burhan Shah. Subsequently it was reported that Shah Tahir had been insulted by the Persian ambassador, which made Burhan reduce the status of the Persian delegation in the court. However, Tahir managed to maintain good relations with the Persian Sultan. The on-going relationship culminated in the arrival of few Sayyids to the Ahmadabad court. The Sayyids were learned persons of noble parentage who claimed to be the descendants of the Prophet. Burhan Shah favoured some of them, giving a Nizam Shahi princess in marriage to the son of one of them, Sayyid Hasan. Burhan also reached out to Persia for military assistance, but the impracticality induced by the enormous distance between the two kingdoms precluded any such enterprise being undertaken. Further, the Safavids were pre-occupied by their interaction with the Mughals and other neighbours for any permanent contact to be maintained with a small kingdom in the Deccan. The Nizam Shahi’s contact with Persia seems to have petered out thereafter.

Last Days

Burhan Nizam Shah returned from the siege of Bijapur to Ahmadnagar to recoup from the illness that had afflicted him. However, his condition continued to deteriorate on a daily basis. Burhan had six very capable sons and with his declining health being visible the struggle for succession started to come out in the open. The eldest son was Miran Shah Hussein, who was wise, generous and brave. His younger brother Abdul Qadir was also considered a model prince, but perhaps a bit more ambitious than Hussein. Both were born to the same mother, Burhan’s favourite wife Ameena.

On realising that their father was actually on his death bed, the sons started to manoeuvre and continued to stay at the capital rather than at their own estates and other jagirs, presumably to be with their father during his last days, but actually to be in position to stake a claim to the throne, if the opportunity arose. Although not the eldest, Abdul Qadir had been Burhan’s favourite to succeed him to the throne. However, he had fallen out with his father when the state religion was changed to the Shia sect when Qadir had refused to change his religion in accordance with his father’s instructions. At this ‘rebellion’ Hussein was installed as the crown prince, a move that disappointed Abdul Qadir and made him anti-Hussein.

The rivalry between the two princes was reflected in the factions of the nobles, with the phirangi group supporting Miran Hussein and the Deccani faction supporting Abdul Qadir. The rivalry continued to gather momentum till it reached a stage that threatened to engulf the entire kingdom in a civil war. Alarmed at this development, Burhan ordered all his sons to leave the capital and return to their own forts and provinces. On this order being promulgated, Hussein acted decisively and took over the entire elephant and artillery corps, bringing them directly under his command. Further, he moved a few miles out of the capital and camped there. Abdul Qadir had the same thought and instead of returning to his own territory, attacked Hussein outside the capital. Hussein had anticipated such a move by his brother and was prepared for battle. He defeated Qadir’s army and Qadir was forced to flee to Berar. The Imad Shah in Berar refused to give him refuge and asked him to leave his kingdom. Abdul Qadir then sought asylum in Bijapur, which was granted. He spent the rest of his life under the protection of the Adil Shah.

Hussein was shrewd enough not to pursue his defeated brother and held his army together, remaining close to the capital, in preparation to put down any other rebellious claims to the throne. Immediately on the defeat of Abdul Qadir, Hussein went to pay his respect to Burhan, who endorsed him to the throne. Burhan Nizam Shah died soon after, aged 58 years, after having ruled for 50 tumultuous years.

Burhan Shah had built many gardens and buildings in Ahmadnagar, as well as an Alms House along with many mosques with attached ‘colleges’ or madrasas. He was a liberal king, seeking the counsel of his nobles before embarking on any new enterprise. Burhan was methodical in his approach to governance, tactful in his decision-making and human dealings. The methodical approach translated to his taking personal interest in administrative and revenue matters. Perhaps more important to the welfare of the state was his meticulous inspection of defences and military equipment before his army went out to battle. The many successes that he achieved in consolidating the small kingdom he had inherited is testimony to his shrewd and calculated moves.

© [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) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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