Indian History Part 67 The Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar Section III: Turmoil – Hussein Nizam Shah

Canberra, 19 August 2018

On his father Burhan Nizam Shah’s death, Hussein controlled his brothers and disposed off those that seemed to be rebellious, misguided and/or had the propensity to create trouble into the future. He consolidated power rapidly and commenced his rule without any anxiety, believing that any possibility of revolt had been nipped in the bud. However, this belief was proven to be without substance. Almost immediately on his assuming the throne, his position as imperial ruler was questioned. Makdum Khwaja Jahan, father-in-law of Miran Shah Haider who was one of Hussein’s six brothers, was the governor of the fort at Parenda. He saw the accession of Hussein, the young prince, to the throne as an opportunity to declare independence. Khwaja Jahan had neither offered condolences on the death of his king Burhan Shah, nor had he made the traditional and formal submission to Hussein on his coronation. Therefore, he was technically guilty of rebellion on two counts.

Hussein took the counsel of his nobles and decided to crush this rebellion at the earliest. First a letter of warning was send to Makdum Khwaja in Parenda asking him to accept Hussein as the Nizam Shahi king and to pay homage to him in Ahmadnagar. Khwaja was not inclined to defy the Nizam Shahi publicly, but also did not want to travel to the Ahmadnagar court to pay homage and thereby submit to Hussein, losing his new-found independence. He put off going to Ahmadnagar on the pretext that he feared for his life in the capital since he had already been accused of rebellion. Hussein took this delaying tactics as confirming rebellion and decided to march against Khwaja. He collected an army and moved towards Parenda. Although Makdum Khwaja initially came out to face Hussein, his nerve failed him and he fled to Bijapur, seeking refuge with Ibrahim Adil Shah. The fort at Parenda was besieged. The local commander and the forces in the garrison defended the fort stoutly with bravery, but were eventually overcome and the fort captured. Hussein did not institute any reprisals on the defenders, on account of his order there was no plunder and all lives were spared. Hussein appointed a loyal noble to rule the fort and returned to his capital.

Establishing His Rule

In Ahmadnagar an incipient rebellion by a group of dissatisfied nobles was brewing, which was crushed immediately on the return of the king to the capital. It was suspected that the Imad Shah of Berar had assisted the rebels. Hussein decided to deal with this infringement of peace by a neighbouring king through diplomacy rather than by initiating military action against the instigator of the rebellion. Accordingly he send Shah Rafi ud-Din Tahir, the eldest son of the late Shah Tahir, as the ambassador to Berar and renewed the alliance with the Imad Shah. Around the same time a contingent of Adil Shahi troops of Bijapur had invaded Ahmadnagar territory. Hussein responded by sending his own forces to oppose the Bijapur forces. The Nizam Shahi forces pushed the invaders out of their territory and also captured large booty, arms, camp tentage as well as some elephants, horses and even the royal insignia of Bijapur. This defeat further weakened an already precarious position of Ibrahim Adil Shah in Bijapur and he subsequently faced rebellion at home from a number of his nobles.

Hussein was now well-established as a strong king with no enemies of consequence and no viable threat to his kingdom. He now entertained ideas of territorial expansion—a common enough thought amongst kings who were safely ensconced in their kingdom with no immediate threat being perceived to their position. Accordingly, he captured the fortress at Galna from the kingdom of Vijayanagar without much difficulty. Vijayanagar had earlier taken the fort from Bijapur. Thereafter he sought the assistance of the Qutb Shahi king of Golconda to capture Gulbarga. The joint armies made a half-hearted attempt to capture the fort, but the result was indecisive and both the kings returned to their own countries with their forces.

The inherent nature of politics in the Deccan was one of continuous intrigue against each other by the five successor kings of the Bahmani kingdom. Since Ibrahim Adil Shah’s forces had been defeated and unceremoniously pushed out of Ahmadnagar territory and Bijapur weakened, Ali Adil Shah his son who had succeeded him to the throne of Bijapur, had gradually formed an alliance with Vijayanagar to safeguard his own interests. Through this alignment, he was creating an insurance against the belligerence and growing influence of Ahmadnagar. Hussein also understood the importance of alliances. In order to counter the emerging Bijapur-Vijayanagar alliance, he initiated talks with the Imad Shah in Berar aiming to form an alliance. As a result, in order to seal the alliance Hussein married Khanzada Humayun Sultana, a princess of Berar, in 1559. Kahnzada Humayun was to play an important role in the immediate future of the Nizam Shahi kingdom.

Clashes with Bijapur-led Alliances

Once the Bijapur-Vijayanagar alliance was functioning on an even keel, the combined armies of the two countries entered Ahmadnagar territory and started to march towards the capital, devastating the countryside on the way. Hussein’s advisors recognised that the enemy forces were far too large for the Ahmadnagar army to counter or hold-back. Accordingly they advised the king to leave the capital and retreat to the countryside where he could be better protected and wait for the monsoons to force the enemy to withdraw for lack of provisions. Accepting this tactful advice, Hussein left the capital under the control of a ‘holding’ party and left with the majority of his army, marching away from the invading forces. He crossed the River Godavari and moved to Paithan, which he established as the interim capital. The Ahmadnagar garrison continued to hold the fort against the invaders.

The king of Vijayanagar, Rama Raya (also referred to as Sadashiva Raya in some accounts) had camped outside Ahmadnagar with his army and had established a campaign of plundering the countryside while simultaneously laying siege to the capital itself. Joined by the Bijapur forces, the combined armies of the two nations instituted wanton carnage on the people of the Nizam Shahi kingdom, which affected the poor farmers the most. Then the monsoons set in with great ferocity. Almost immediately, Hussein’s forces started to mount harassment raids against the Bijapur-Vijayanagar armies. Rama Raya, irritated by this affront to his command and stature, send a detachment to the River Godavari to attack Hussein’s temporary camp. Hussein send a force to oppose the Hindu army. In the ensuing battle, which was extremely vicious, the Vijayanagar forces were defeated.

On their withdrawal, the Vijayanagar forces captured the fort at Kalyan fairly easily as they had overwhelming numerical and force superiority. The fort was subsequently handed over to Bijapur and remained in Adil Shahi control for long thereafter. Seeing the ease with which the fort at Kalyan was captured, Hussein felt it prudent to make peace with Rama Raya of Vijayanagar. The Hindu forces withdrew from the areas around Ahmadnagar, after which Hussein returned to his capital, now assuming a much diminished stature. This minor debacle made Hussein realise the need to strengthen his position through creating his own alliances. He made overtures to the Golconda king Ibrahim Qutb Shah and sealed the blossoming alliance by giving his daughter in marriage to the Qutb Shahi king. Almost immediately, the two kings laid siege to the fort at Kalyani that had been captured by Vijayanagar earlier and then gifted to Bijapur.

Once again the Bijapur-Vijayanagar alliance sprang into action. This time they were joined by Ali Barid ruling Bidar. Throughout the history of the successor kingdoms in the Deccan, the Barids were the most opportunistic of rulers, joining any strong alliance that was being formed in the hope of gaining some advantage for themselves. This may have been the result of Bidar being the weakest, and territorially smallest, of the five kingdoms. The Barids also lacked the legitimacy of the other four, since they were considered proxy rulers for the original Bahmani kings, whose successors still sat on the throne nominally. The reasons for their self-centred behaviour pattern are complex and extraneous to this discussion. At this stage, the typical conduct of the Shahi kings came to the fore once again. Ibrahim Qutb Shah assessed the strength of the adversaries and realised that the combination of his own and that of Ahmadnagar armies would not be able to stand up to the Bijapur-Vijayanagar combine. Promptly, he disregarded the new alliance with Hussein, as well as the matrimonial arrangements that had been made to seal it, and joined the Vijayanagar army.

At this betrayal, Hussein prudently retired to his capital in Ahmadnagar. The Vijayanagar king Rama Raya, accompanied now by the Shahi kings of Bijapur, Bidar and also Golconda, marched on Ahmadnagar. Hussein, adhering to his previous practice of withdrawing from his own capital on being attacked by superior forces, withdrew to Junafir. The invading army, again as was customary practice, laid siege to the fort and ransacked the countryside around Ahmadnagar. The contemporary reports mention atrocities committed by the ‘infidel’ army besieging Ahmadnagar on the common Muslims of the countryside. This claim is rather strange for two reasons. One, the Vijayanagar army and the presence of its Raya in the siege was only incidental to the main invasion that had been planned and executed by the three Shahi kings, led by Bijapur. Therefore, the majority of the besieging forces would have been Muslim. The Hindu army was present only as the contribution of an ally and partner. Second, the subjects of the Shahi kings in the Deccan were predominantly Hindu and therefore, the reporting of the atrocities of an infidel army on Muslims is a tenuous claim to make. If atrocities were indeed committed, which is a distinct possibility considering the norms of the time, then it is more likely that they were perpetrated by Muslim armies on the Hindus of the region. [This reportage of the infidel army troubling Muslims seems to be a classic case of re-writing history for posterity.]

Recognising the seriousness of the situation, Hussein initiated back-channel communications with Ibrahim Qutb Shah of Golconda in an attempt to break the confederacy against him. He played the religious card to bring the Qutb Shahi king to his side. He emphasised that his entire kingdom was being oppressed by an infidel army, which was not a fact but a fanciful twist of the ground reality. It was made to seem that the Vijayanagar army was singling out Muslims to commit atrocities. The two erstwhile allies met in Kalyani. Hussein’s daughter, Jamil Bibi, was given in marriage to Ibrahim Qutb Shah. The Golconda king, his religious zeal fired by the exaggerated accounts of the supposed atrocities committed by the infidels on Muslims, resolved to retreat. He declared that he was no longer a party to the siege of Ahmadnagar. In order to not seem that he was abandoning his old alliance with Bijapur and Vijayanagar, he reasoned that since Hussein was totally elusive and not giving battle, there was uncertainty regarding the successful completion of the siege.

Ibrahim Qutb Shah then put forward three proposals to the anti-Ahmadnagar confederacy—all the armies retreat to their own countries and reconsider an attack next year; in case this was not acceptable to the other kings, he himself be permitted to return to Golconda to reorganise his army after which he would re-join the confederacy; and that since the war was being fought at the instigation and on behalf of Bijapur, the Adil Shahi king should compensate the others for the expenditure being incurred in conducting the campaign. Rama Raya agreed to the proposals, which was then put to Ali Adil Shah, who maintained a diplomatic silence and did not reply. This reaction was not surprising, since agreeing to the proposals would have meant he would have to compensate the other three kings from his treasury.

At this stage of indecision within the confederacy, the Imad Shahi king of Berar joined the alliance, hoping to gain some advantage from the action being taken against Ahmadnagar. At the same time, Ibrahim Qutb Shah formally left the confederacy and joined Hussein Nizam Shah. The convolutions in the Deccan kingdoms were such that even during the progress of a campaign, the kings changed sides without any thought of loyalty and integrity. This character trait was not unique to the Shahi kings and has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout the narrative of Indian history. The new Hussein-Ibrahim combine now took on the older coalition. Hussein opposed the Vijayanagar forces of Rama Raya and Ibrahim Shah fought against the Muslim forces of the Shahi kings arrayed against Ahmadnagar. Hussein did not fare well in his battle. He was defeated by the Vijayanagar army and all his artillery was captured. Hussein retreated initially towards Ahmadnagar and then fled to Junnar. Ibrahim Qutb Shah also did not have any better luck, he was conclusively defeated in battle and narrowly escaped being personally captured by the timely intervention in the battlefield of his minister Mustafa Khan Ardistani. He hurriedly retired to Golconda.

The siege of Ahmadnagar continued unabated for some more time. The allies also pursued Hussein to Junnar. However, Hussein once again adopted the Maratha tactics of never giving engaging in pitched battle, but resorting to the harassment of the main body of the adversary army with light forces. The Marathas were renowned for their hit and run tactics. Although the Nizam Shahi forces had been decisively defeated in battle, at the onset of monsoons the tables were turned. The coalition broke up, with each of the kings returning to their individual kingdoms. In the return to Vijayanagar, it is reported that Rama Raya lost 300 elephants and 12,000 cavalry who were caught in a flooded river being forded.

The Aftermath – Creating an Alliance

Hussein Nizam Shah, although peeved by the Adil Shahi’s asking for Vijayanagar assistance, could not complain about it since his own father had been the first to do so amongst the Deccan Shahis. Again there is a snippet in contemporary Muslim records to state that the behaviour of the Hindu forces had ‘scandalised’ all the Muslims, not only the ones that were supposed to have been oppressed. While the report of widespread oppression of the general population is questionable, there are other records that describe Rama Raya’s conduct during the campaign.

Rama Raya’s Conduct

During this invasion of Ahmadnagar, the Vijayanagar Empire was at the zenith of its power. Rama Raya was an established and accomplished king, having ruled a stable and prosperous empire for a long time. He was also older than the Shahi kings who had mostly come to the throne only recently. It was not surprising that he behaved as the overlord of the entire enterprise to defeat Ahmadnagar. This attitude of the Raya has been repeatedly commented on in a number of available records.

There are also reports that the Vijayanagar forces treated the Muslim forces with disdain. Further, they did not pay proper respect even to the Shahi kings, belittling them by the off-hand treatment that was meted out to them. These reports, while certain to have been exaggerated, could also have a kernel of truth in them. After all, the Vijayanagar army had not been defeated in battle for a very long time and a certain amount of haughtiness is a common trait of commanders of unbeaten armies the world over. At the same time, Rama Raya is supposed to have treated the envoys of the Muslim kings, who were his alliance partners, as vassal agents come with supplications to him as the overlord. He even refused permission for the envoys to sit in his presence.

After the siege of Ahmadnagar was called off, when he was returning to Vijayanagar, Rama Raya forced Ali Adil Shah to cede two districts and annexed three districts from Golconda to his own territories. This action was, for the Shahi kings, like adding insult to injury. The final effect was that the Deccan kings were left with a feeling of having been wronged and, being proud kings on their own right, felt the need to avenge the actual and perceived insults.

On the withdrawal of the besieging coalition army, Hussein returned to Ahmadnagar. The one lesson he took away from this second debacle that he faced within the span of a few years was that Vijayanagar was far too powerful to be dealt with on his own and that its power was the magnet that drew the Shahi kings to seek alliances with Rama Raya, the imperial king of the empire. Hussein thought through this situation and decided that Vijayanagar power had to be whittled down and the king defeated if the Deccan Shahi kingdoms were to be really independent and have some semblance of stability and peace.

The Vijayanagar Empire

Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Vijayanagar was an empire that held extensive territories and was served by a great and powerful army, undefeated in battle by a Muslim army for centuries. The Empire had 60 sea ports and generated vast revenues, which was more than the combined revenue and income generated by all the Shahi kingdoms of the Deccan. At this juncture in history, Rama Raya was the distinguished king of Vijayanagar, ruling in pomp and ceremony for a long time; the proud and haughty scion of a venerated dynasty.

Hussein consulted with his nobles and they came to the firm conclusion that the power of Vijayanagar was such that the Nizam Shahi kingdom could not hope to defeat the Hindu kingdom on its own. This fact was magnified by the alliance between Bijapur and Vijayanagar. Hussein therefore decided to tackle the challenge through careful diplomacy tinged with the call for Muslim religious unity against an infidel but powerful king. He opened simultaneous negotiations with both Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur and Ibrahim Qutb Shah of Golconda. His proposal to both of them was to create an alliance of Muslim kings against the Hindu Empire to their south, carefully emphasising the religious aspect of the proposal. Ibrahim, perhaps because of the matrimonial alliance with Ahmadnagar and also the ignominy of the shared defeat earlier, agreed to the proposal without much debate. Ali Adil Shah was more obdurate, especially since he was still bound by the alliance to Rama Raya. He was brought around to join the Muslim coalition with the argument that even when the Deccan was ruled by a single king, the Bahmani Sultan, the region had always been open to the depredations of the Vijayanagar army and its Hindu king, who invaded and despoiled the Deccan at will. With the Deccan now divided into three major kingdoms, there was even lesser chances of standing up to stop any invasion by Vijayanagar. The argument went on to declare that in fact the Deccan was at that time at the mercy of the Vijayanagar king.

Once again the religious card was used profusely, alleging that the Muslim subjects of all the Shahi kingdoms were being persecuted and oppressed, even though the majority of the subjects of these kingdoms were Hindus. In an obtuse manner, this assertion of Muslim subjects being ill-treated could also indicate a mindset in the Shahi ruling elite that only Muslims were their legitimate subjects, even though they were a minority in all the kingdoms. The Hindus were obviously not considered worthy of being citizens of equal status to the Muslims.

A three-cornered alliance was thus created to deal with the overwhelming power of the Vijayanagar Empire. Historians are in disagreement over who was the prime mover in creating and pushing forward the alliance against Vijayanagar. They are divided over whether Hussein Nizam Shah or Ali Adil Shah was the leader of the group. There is no doubt that the initiative to create a Muslim coalition against the Hindu kingdom was taken by Hussein, after being defeated twice in a row by the Vijayanagar king. However, the alliance activities were further progressed by Ali Adil Shah who was the king to actually throw down the gauntlet to Vijayanagar, an action that subsequently led to war. Ali Shah send an envoy to Vijayanagar demanding that Rama Raya relinquish control of the Raichur Doab to Bijapur. As was expected, the envoy was unceremoniously evicted from the Vijayanagar court, which was sufficient reason for the Adil Shahi to declare war against Vijayanagar.

It is obvious that the three Shahi kings were serious about staying within the alliance and taking the fight to the Hindu kingdom by the fact they hurried to cement the coalition through creating matrimonial alliances. This was done to prevent debilitating internecine wars breaking out over trivial issues, which would then fracture the alliance. Hussein’s daughter, Chand Bibi, was married to Ali Adil Shah (her exploits in Bijapur has been described earlier in the chapters that dealt with the Adil Shahi dynasty). Sholapur, the region that had been a bone of contention between the two kingdoms for long, was given as dowry to Ali Adil Shah. However, this gift of the area that was in perennial dispute did not terminate the dispute, it only laid to rest the disagreement for a brief period of time. In return for this marriage, Ali Adil Shah’s daughter was married to Hussein’s son Shahzada Murtaza. The three kings decided to march against Vijayanagar after one year. Burhan Imad Shah was invited to join the coalition, but declined on account his old enmity with Hussein. However, Ali Barid the opportunist, readily joined Ibrahim Qutb Shah with his forces.

A year later, the three armies met at Sholapur in late 1564 and jointly marched to the village of Talikota. (A full and detailed account of the Battle of Talikota, fought on either 23rd or 26th January 1565, will be given in the next volume of this series of books. Here it is sufficient to mention just the bare facts.) First, Vijayanagar definitely fielded the superior force. It is highly probable that they would have been overconfident of the outcome of the battle in their favour, not having tasted defeat in a long time, and never from the Deccan forces. Second, the Muslim armies were lighter in their footprint, employed more innovative tactics based on rapid manoeuvre and were able to perform much better than the heavy forces of Rama Raya. Third, from all descriptions of the battle that ensued, it is clear that Hussein Nizam Shah was considered the overall leader of the combined forces that was arrayed against the Hindu kingdom.

The Battle of Talikota was a keenly fought battle in which the Vijayanagar forces were defeated and Rama Raya captured alive in the battlefield. In the ensuing confusion a very large number of Vijayanagar soldiers were killed. The Raya was produced in captivity before Hussein Nizam Shah, who immediately ordered his execution, an order that was carried out with unusual haste. The illustrious king was summarily beheaded. The Vijayanagar Emperor’s head was placed on a spear and displayed on an elephant—an undignified action that stood condemned even in the blood thirsty medieval times. The beheading of Rama Raya was done without any consultation with the other Shahi kings who were part of the alliance and was resented by them. Further, both the Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi kings felt repentant on the treatment meted out to the Hindu king who had assisted both of them in times of their need. There was a general feeling that the beheading was an incorrect action initiated against a worthy adversary who had been defeated in honourable battle.

The three victorious Shahi kings marched to Vijayanagar and stayed there for almost four months, taking their time to destroy much of the capital, especially the architecturally magnificent temples—after all they had fought a religious war against an infidel and prevailed. They collected enormous booty and returned to their individual kingdoms. Hussein Nizam Shah claimed the victory of the alliance as his personal victory and send letters far and wide to establish the fact that this was his victory over the Hindu Empire, rather than the victory of the combined Deccan Shahi alliance. Obviously this was resented by the other Deccan Muslim kings. Hussein died on 6 June 1565 soon after returning to Ahmadnagar, because of excessive drinking and sexual debauchery according to some sources. His son Shahzada Murtaza succeeded to the throne, assuming the royal title Murtaza Nizam Shah.

©[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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