Indian History Part 67 The Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar Section V: Stagnation and Confusion – Murtaza’s Last Days

Canberra, 15 September 2018

Shah Haidar had been installed as the Peshwa, helped with the influence of Asad Khan who was an honoured and influential noble of the realm. However, Haidar repaid the good-will by banishing Asad to Daulatabad. Further, Haidar ignored the advice that Murtaza had given him on his appointment and started to behave in a high-handed manner. One of his first acts was to gather the jagir that had been given to his father Shah Tahir and were now in the possession of other nobles, for himself. The king had asked him to desist from such an action because it would antagonise the nobles—an advice that was also ignored. Even though compensatory grants were given to the deprived nobles, there was an undercurrent of discontentment amongst their ranks.

Murtaza Nizam Shah now removed himself to Daulatabad and once again declared his intention to abdicate the throne and proceed on the long-wished for pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Once again he was persuaded to give up taking such a drastic decision and acting on it. Murtaza now removed Haidar from the position of peshwa and appointed Asad Khan in his place. Haidar was appointed governor of Daulatabad. Asad Khan in turn appointed Salabat Khan as his ‘deputy’ in order to share the onerous duties of the peshwa. The shrewd king Murtaza, warned Asad Khan against this arrangement of sharing the duties of the Peshwa, as it could lead to the dilution of his own power and hold on the administration. Once again, the sane advice was ignored, but his warning came true in later days. Murtaza and the new Peshwa now returned to Ahmadnagar.

War against Bijapur

In Bijapur, Ali Adil Shah was murdered, leading to confusion regarding the succession to the throne since he did not have a son. His nephew Ibrahim, only nine years old, was raised to the throne with a powerful noble Kamil Khan as the Regent. There is an obscure story, not fully corroborated, that Kamil Khan murdered Ibrahim’s elder brother, who had reached the age of discretion to rule on his own, so that he could become regent with absolute power. As is usual under such circumstances, the other nobles in the Adil Shahi court immediately started to plot to improve their own power and influence while trying to diminish Kamil Khan’s influence.

Murtaza decided to invade Bijapur to take advantage of the prevailing confusion. As a first step, he reconfirmed the alliance between Ahmadnagar and Golconda. Ibrahim Qutb Shah send a large army contingent to assist in the proposed invasion. The combined forces were placed under the command of Malik Bihzad-ul-Mulk, a Turkish noble of the Ahmadnagar court and hence a member of the foreign or phirangi faction. There was some resentment in the Golconda army since they would be fighting under the command of a foreigner. The same sentiment was echoed in the Berar army, which was also part of the combined force since Berar had been annexed and was an integral part of the Nizam Shahi kingdom. This sentiment would play a major part in the future failure of the expedition. [Factionalism was the bane of the Deccan Shahi kingdoms, as has been explained earlier and will also be demonstrated in the narrative of the events to come. It led to enormous divisiveness and was always one of the major reasons for the failure of the military enterprises of each of the kingdoms. The inherent division between the phirangis and Deccanis also led to civil wars, which in turn brought about unnecessary weakening of the power and stature of the kingdom itself.]

The Nizam Shahi army and its allies marched into Bijapur, laying waste the countryside on both sides of the route. The Bijapur army, gathered under their brilliant commander Kishavar Khan, was numerically inferior but did not lack tactical capability. They intercepted the reinforcements coming from Golconda to join the Ahmadnagar army and forced that contingent to retreat in confusion. In the meantime, there was a great deal of infighting between nobles of the Ahmadnagar army, primarily regarding their individual precedence and protocol. The internal squabbles were accentuated by the fundamental and prevalent resentment at the appointment of the phirangi Bihzad as the commander-in-chief.

Bihzad-ul-Mulk was relatively young and inexperienced to have been given command of such a large and multi-national force. He was not guided and mentored by any of the more senior nobles who were relatively more competent veterans of calibre, nor was he receptive to any such initiative. There was a definitive disconnect between the commander and most of the other officers of the large army. In any case, he did not institute sufficient precautions to safeguard the forces while they were camped. Further, Bihzad kept the part of the army that he personally commanded separate from the main body, leading to a loss of cohesiveness of the entire force, a quality that should have been one of the primary strengths of such a large force.

The unfocussed Ahmadnagar army was attacked and defeated by the Bijapur forces, which was well-led and concentrated on victory, since defeat would have meant the death knell of their kingdom. The Nizam Shahi army suffered great loss in terms of horses, elephants, baggage and other warfighting resources. Even after this defeat, Ahmadnagar forces continued to be riven with factionalism and mismanaged because of internal power-rivalry, leading to the army becoming completely disarrayed. At the same time, the Bijapur forces were reinforced by the return of a contingent that had been send to suppress another minor rebellion within the kingdom.

Even though the initial engagement had gone in favour of Bijapur, the Nizam Shahi army was overwhelmingly powerful and were also assisted by the Golconda forces. Their numerical superiority continued to play an important role even when their overall strategy and battlefield tactics were inferior to their opponents. However, although the Bijapur forces presented a unified external appearance, they were also riddled with infighting amongst the nobles of the phirangi and Deccani factions. The numerical constraints and the continuous infighting of their leadership left the Bijapur forces in a demoralised state. In the ensuing battle, the first day went overwhelmingly in favour of Ahmadnagar. Bijapur attempted, in their time-honoured manner, to divide the opposing army by trying to keep the Golconda forces from joining up with the main body. However, this attempt failed. The Ahmadnagar army besieged Bijapur, which was now in dire straits. The continuing internal divisions further diminished the Bijapur army’s ability to withstand the siege and the coming onslaught.

The Bijapur forces had been initially commanded by Ain-ul-Mulk, an able and loyal general. However, he had fled to Ahmadnagar for fear of his life from the African faction of nobles, called the Habshis. Seeing that the situation was becoming dire, the nobles of Bijapur induced him to return and take command of the besieged army, which greatly enhanced the morale of the Bijapur forces. Yet another ferocious battle ensued. Even though the Bijapur forces fought with great bravery, by the afternoon the Ahmadnagar forces had broken through the centre of the Bijapur army, putting them to flight. The remaining Adil Shahi forces in the fort did not have the strength or internal leadership to come out and fight, which may have turned to tide in their favour.  Therefore, they shut the fort gates from within, leaving even some of their own forces outside at the mercy of the adversary. The siege continued.

Once again Bijapur resorted to dubious diplomacy and intrigue, adopting the tactic of ‘divide and win’. Overtures were made to the commander of the Qutb Shahi forces of Golconda to separate him from the Ahmadnagar forces. However, in this instance the commander proved to be incorruptible and the alliance continued to hold. The failure of diplomacy to lift the siege forced Adil Shah to prepare for a prolonged war. He started to make use of the Maratha forces under his control, who were adept at guerrilla warfare. The Marathas commenced a campaign intended to disrupt the supply lines of the besieging army. The interdiction was effective and the Ahmadnagar army was forced to move away from their siege positions and ravage the countryside in order to ensure adequacy of supply. Gradually the siege started to be eased, and Bijapur heaved a sigh of relief. Realising that the siege was on the verge of collapse, the allies offered Ibrahim Adil Shah lifting of the siege and peace. This offer was promptly refused by the Adil Shahi king, who had by now sensed that the invaders were at the end of their tether.

The Ahmadnagar and Golconda forces lifted the siege and returned home, giving the impression of a Bijapur victory. They had not achieved anything for the effort that had been put in for the invasion and the siege. In addition they had lost prestige because of their perceived defeat at the hands of the inferior Bijapur forces. Throughout the retreat the combined army plundered and laid waste the Bijapur countryside at will—even at this stage the Adil Shahi forces did not have the strength to oppose the Ahmadnagar forces in direct battle. The withdrawing forced killed many citizens, wantonly destroyed many towns and villages, and collected enormous wealth through the unrestricted looting that took place. Although the armies of the two countries had remained together throughout the expedition, when they separated to go their own ways, there was some misgivings in the Golconda forces regarding the alliance and Ahmadnagar’s commitment to it.

Renewed Attack on Bijapur

Ibrahim Qutb Shah died on 6 June 1580 and was succeeded on the throne by his son Muhammad Qutb Shah. Murtaza Nizam Shah was preparing yet another military expedition against Bijapur, his continuing obsession. The nobles of Golconda persuaded the new king Muhammad to take to the field and join Ahmadnagar in this enterprise—as a display of strength for the young king himself and as a show of solidarity with Ahmadnagar. In October 1581, the allies reached and camped before the fort of Naldurga. This fortress was considered impregnable and one of the strongest in the Deccan. Even so, the invading army laid siege to the fort. The siege was led by artillery—both Ahmadnagar and Golconda possessed sufficient heavy guns to continue a controlled siege successfully. However, they faced a confident defending force, who would carry out sorties out of the fort at unexpected times. These marauding raids created confusion amongst the besieging forces and resulted in heavy loss of life for the invading forces.

Reinforcements coming to the aid of Naldurga from Bijapur were able to fight their way into the fort. This was a great morale booster for the defenders who continued to hold out against a constant artillery barrage. After the walls had been breached sufficiently to permit an in-strength attack, Muhammad Qutb Shah personally led an attack on the fort. Although the walls had been broken, the approach to the fort was extremely steep and it was impossible for the soldiers to invest the fort effectively and capture it. While the attack was floundering on the steeply inclined slopes, the Bijapur Maratha irregular forces appeared on the flank of the Golconda forces. Muhammad Qutb Shah prudently withdrew from the attack, followed by the Ahmadnagar forces.

Muhammad Qutb Shah felt that he had shown sufficient solidarity with Ahmadnagar, grew weary of the campaign, and decided to return to his own country. Golconda had achieved nothing during the campaign other than the loss of some forces. It is even doubtful whether their efforts had made an impact or influenced the relationship with Ahmadnagar in a positive manner. On the withdrawal of the invading forces, Bijapur managed to recapture all the territory that they had lost. In a holistic analysis, the Ahmadnagar expedition can be counted as a total failure.

Why the State of Constant War?

At this juncture in the narrative, it is necessary to analyse the reasons that forced the three major Deccan Shahi dynasties to be in a state of war with each other on a continuous basis. What were the underlying complexities and motivation that compelled these states to fight one another, change alliances at the drop of a hat, and keep each other from prospering? Four fundamental reasons can be clearly identified for the disunity that prevailed in the Deccan during the period of medieval Islamic rule. They are not particularly applicable to one dynasty, but encompassed all three major dynasties that sprouted in the territories of the Bahmani kingdom even before the end of that dynasty. One: the successor kingdoms to the Bahamani Empire were created by powerful nobles without much effort; the kingdoms could be considered to have been gifted to them on the proverbial platter. These nobles, the founding kings, had all been governors of the provinces that they carved into independent kingdoms with a minimum of effort at the collapse of the Bahmani dynasty. It is a universal fact that anything that is achieved with relative ease, or is gifted free, is not valued as much as a possession or prize that is hard won. The first Deccan Shahi kings and their progeny were ‘accidental’ kings who were elevated to the throne of minor kingdoms by a series of events that they did not initiate, but which favoured them. An innate sense of the sublime and God-given ‘right to rule’ was pervasive in the senior princes of all these dynasties.

Two: although the Deccan has an inhospitable appearance and is not blessed with temperate climate, it is resource-rich. Even small kingdoms of the Deccan were able to sustain themselves in a fairly opulent manner without much effort. Even under conditions of very lax economic administration, the successor kingdoms continued to flourish. The conflicts and wars did not deplete their treasuries as would have been the case in other resource-constrained kingdoms. Further, none of the kings were really welfare-oriented as such, providing the common people with minimal aid and that too only to the Muslim subjects, who were in the minority. The kings, uniformly, ruled for themselves and nothing more. They indulged in their whims and fancies and a number of them verged on the debauched—even relative to the accepted licentious ways of kings of the time—throughout their reigns. Three: the kings had a sense of ruling an alien land because of their religion and the foreign customs and traditions that were adopted in court. This mindset was obvious and pervasive despite that fact that most of them had at least some amount of local blood in them and were ‘Deccani’. By the time the Deccan Shahi kingdoms were established, sufficient intermingling of the races had happened and there was a distinct class of nobles called the Deccanis. However, the kings continued to cultivate Persian culture within the royal court and stood apart from the common people, even those of the Islamic faith. While this made the royalty standout from the plebeians, it also created a sense of insecurity within the ruling class, which translated to them being wary of the rising power of a neighbouring king. The infamous ‘tall poppy syndrome’ was rampantly prevalent within the Deccan throughout the three centuries of the Shahi rule. Any powerful and ambitious king had to be cut down to size—alliances were accordingly formed, based purely on ambition and jealousy of the ruler of a kingdom.

Four: since the founders of the prominent dynasties—Adil Shahis (Bijapur), Nizam Shahis (Ahmadnagar) and Qutb Shahis (Golconda)—were all derived from a group of prominent nobility of the Bahmani kingdom, they were obviously adept at administration and warfare. However, a deeper analysis brings out the fact that none of these first kings produced any successor of great merit or capability. The kings were mediocre in their ruling essence, never being able attain the level of distinction that would make them stand above and apart from the run-of-the-mill rulers of the time. They remained small-time chieftains, incapable of rising above the average. Pettiness was rampant and aspiring to prominence was not only rare but immediately punished by the others as suspicious behaviour. The Deccan Shahi kings displayed in abundance all the human frailties, which invariably bring down dynasties. Considering these factors, a state of continuous conflict that prevailed for a few centuries was unavoidable.

Internal Turmoil

In Ahmadnagar, Salabat Khan, the appointee of the Prime Minster Asad Khan, had started to increase his influence and the squabbles between the two had taken acute proportions, as had been predicted by Murtaza earlier. This contest for greater influence drew in other nobles and created factionalism, which is the beginning of chaos and confusion in any centralised administration. Dual-control is never a good system for the efficient functioning of a pyramidal organisation. In addition, division at the apex invariably invites external intervention that consistently brings further divisions and splintering of unity. Berar and Bidar started to support different factions in Ahmadnagar to add to the confusion. Around the time that the division between the two co-Prime Ministers was becoming uncontrollable, Jalal ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, the Mughal Emperor, send Khwaja Fathullah Khan as his envoy to Ahmadnagar. This appointment indicates the stature of the Nizam Shahi, at least from an external assessment, as being considered somewhat of equal status as the Mughal kingdom to the north. It is also possible that Akbar had an ulterior motive in initiating this gesture. He would have wanted his envoy to judge the power of the kingdom and assess the situation in terms of the expansionist ambition of the Mughal king. In any case, the envoy was received graciously by Murtaza Nizam Shah and housed in an appropriately grand palace in the capital.

The rivalry between Asad Khan and Salabat Khan reached its vicious height with Salabat gathering all power into his hands. However, he kept the reclusive king Murtaza in the dark regarding his activities and had him secluded in a palace in Ahmadnagar, mainly in the company of courtesans. The king was oblivious of the trouble into which the kingdom was descending. The power struggle also eventuated in the cancellation of matrimonial alliances that the Nizam Shahi kingdom had earlier entered into with other kingdoms. Miran Husain, the heir apparent in Ahmadnagar had been informally betrothed to the sister of the Golconda king, Ibrahim Qutb Shah. Salabat Khan cancelled this plan and started to negotiate a matrimonial alliance with a princess of Bijapur, to the annoyance of the Qutb Shahi king, who felt insulted.

The Berar Rebellion

The disunity in Ahmadnagar prompted the nobles of Berar, struggling under Nizam Shahi rule, to rebel in an attempt to regain the independence of their kingdom. A serious battle took place very close to Ahmadnagar. Salabat Khan, now the de facto ruler of Ahmadnagar, took decisive and brave action. The Berar army was overconfident and had under-estimated the warfighting qualities of Salabat Khan. They had also attempted to bribe some of the Ahmadnagar nobles to defect at a crucial moment in the battle. However, these nobles did not act according to the agreement. The combination of these factors led to a resounding defeat for the Berar army.

Although Salabat Khan was in power, the constant bickering and grab for power that characterised the royal court in Ahmadnagar continued unabated. His control was not such that he could put an end to the intrigues that were gradually debilitating the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Murtaza who was far removed from the affairs of the court was told by some astrologers that his son and crown prince, Miran Husain, would be the cause of his death. Further, it was predicted that Husain would also be the cause of the subsequent ruin of the Nizam Shahi dynasty itself. Murtaza, without considering the consequences, ordered the execution of his son Miran Husain. While these events were unfolding, the indomitable Chand Bibi—Murtaza Nizam Shah’s sister and the Queen of Ali Adil Shah—re-enters the historical narrative of Ahmadnagar. She had accompanied the Bijapur princess, Khadeija Sultana who was to be married to Miran Hussein, back to her Ahmadnagar home, seeking a life of peace and quiet. However, she found that Ahmadnagar was convulsed by intrigue and strife, mainly because of the irrational behaviour of Murtaza, who vacillated between ruling and withdrawing from the royal court.

Even though Murtaza issued orders for the execution of Miran Husain, Salabat Khan was reluctant to carry out the irrational order and therefore made excuses for not carrying out the king’s orders. This was the first instance of inaction by Salabat Khan that irked Murtaza and started to make him lose faith in the loyalty of the minister.

A Failed Mughal Enterprise

Seeing that there was debilitating in-fighting going on in Ahmadnagar, a rebel general Sayyid Murtaza, who was so far ensconced in Berar, went to Akbar’s court and reignited the Mughal’s nascent ambition to conquer the Deccan. Akbar decided to mount an campaign to the Peninsula and appointed his foster brother and governor of Malwa, Mirza Aziz Kuka, commander of the proposed expedition. Accordingly an army was gathered and marched to the town of Hindiya, situated at the junction of the borders of Malwa, Burhanpur and the Deccan plateau.

Murtaza Nizam Shah prepared to repel the on-coming assault and marched his forces to the Burhanpur border, reaching and camping on the banks of the River Tapti. The Mughal army did not give battle and is reported to have fled to safety in Gujarat. [This may be an exaggeration, but the Mughal army did not offer battle and Murtaza was happy to let the situation rest, rather than force the issue.] Contemporary records state that it was only providential for Ahmadnagar that the nobles of Malwa were divided on the action to be taken and therefore did not offer pitched battle. The Mughal forces were battle hardened and would have prevailed if their commanders were able to unite and agree on one course of action against the Nizam Shahi forces.

Indeed, Ahmadnagar was in no shape to face an invasion and was lucky at this stage to have avoided facing the wrath of the mighty Mughal army. The immediate reason for the Mughals not attacking may have been disunity at the local commanders’ level. However, the real reason were two other strategic aspects. First, Akbar did not think that the time had come to annex the Nizam Shahi kingdom, since it was still very strongly held by Murtaza and his prime minister. An expedition to annex the kingdom would have proved too costly in lives and treasure and the Mughal was not willing to enter into battle just for the sake of a pointless victory. The strategic intent of all his military actions was expansion through annexation, not mere military victories. Second, Akbar’s own assessment of the military capabilities of the Deccan kingdoms did not match the equation for an assured conquest with minimal loss and bloodshed. Ahmadnagar had survived by the barest margin, for the time being. A visionary king would have seen the writing on the wall and initiated whatever actions were required to safeguard the sovereignty of the kingdom. Sadly, the Nizam Shahis were anything but visionaries—they were immersed in the pursuit of their own happiness, steeped in self-centred pastimes. No cognisance was given to the on-coming military deluge.

Murtaza Nizam Shah – ‘The Madman’

During his self-imposed secluded life, Murtaza became infatuated with a dancing girl called Tulji (also named Fathi in some accounts). In one of his magnanimous moods, Murtaza wanted to gift this dancer with two extremely costly necklaces and a large quantity of gems and rubies, from the Vijayanagar booty that was kept separately in the treasury. Worried about the high value of these gifts, Salabat Khan initially refused to agree to this gift and then substituted them for replicas of lesser value. The chagrined dancing girl complained to the king regarding this act of the prime minister.

Murtaza was enraged at the defiance of the prime minister and set fire to the entire treasury. The ensuing flames also engulfed and destroyed the royal library that had contained a magnificent collection of books. Only a minimal amount of pearls and gems could be salvaged from the fire-ravaged treasury. From that day onwards Murtaza was referred to as ‘The Madman’ by courtiers and commoners alike, obviously out of earshot of the king.

The outcome of the above episode was that the concubines, courtesans and dancing girls started to poison the king’s mind against the Peshwa, Salabat Khan. They had started to exercise complete emotional control over Murtaza. The king, already suspicious of his loyalty, started to order the Peshwa to do belittling tasks, far away from the capital. Although Salabat Khan continued to be a loyal and obedient minister, the stature of the position of Peshwa was gradually diminished by these actions of an uncaring king.

The Gradually Changing Fortunes

Another issue was gnawing at the stature and power of Ahmadnagar, which was more important than the prestige of the Peshwa. At the marriage of Miran Husain to the sister of Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur, a part of the dowry was to have been the transfer of the fort at Sholapur to Ahmadnagar. However, long after the wedding ceremonies were completed, Bijapur had not effected the transfer. In retaliation, Ahmadnagar kept the marriage unconsummated and threatened to annul it. The issue assumed larger proportion and became a point of contention between the two kingdoms. Ibrahim Adil Shah now deployed his forces to the Ahmadnagar border. Murtaza was unhappy with the evolving situation.

Murtaza indirectly blamed Salabat Khan for the deteriorating situation and had him imprisoned at the fort in Parenda. He appointed Bihaz-ul-Mulk and Mirza Sadiq as co-Peshwas and on perceiving a contest between them for power, imprisoned Bihaz and favoured Saqiq as the only Prime Minster. Sadiq was loyal and efficient. He managed to banish the dancing girls under whose influence Murtaza Nizam Shah had been ruling his kingdom for some time. During the time that Murtaza was appointing and removing a succession of Peshwas—Salabat Khan, Bihaz-ul-Mulk, Mirza Sadiq—the affairs of the kingdom had become completely confused. There was a rotating feast of the cycle of arrests, internments, releases and re-appointments, which repeated itself ad nauseam with nobles being appointed to positions of power and being removed within days.

The marriage of the sister of the Bijapur Adil Shahi king to Miran Husain had been an alliance initiated by Ahmadnagar. The fact that it had not been fully solemnised irritated Ibrahim Adil Shah who by now was considering the marriage a fiasco. He approached Muhammad Qutb Shah to form an alliance, which was formalised with the sister of the Qutb Shahi king being given in marriage to Ibrahim Adil Shah. Bolstered by the alliance, Ibrahim Adil Shah invaded Ahmadnagar territory and ransacked a large tract of land. The state of affairs in the Nizam Shah kingdom had reached a low that did not permit the king or his ministers to respond to the latest Bijapur invasion. The Bijapur invasion and depredations went unanswered.

Understanding the precariousness of the situation, Murtaza instituted some steps to revitalise the administration. Murtaza brought in the sons of some of the older and loyal nobles to run the administration; and appointed Maulana Habibullah, the son of Inayatullah (an earlier Peshwa), as the Peshwa, although he also did not last long in the position. The king also anointed his son Miran Husain (referred to as Mirza Khan in some accounts) as the heir apparent, ignoring the predictions that had earlier made him order the prince’s execution. However, confusion continued to prevail since Murtaza could not enforce all the writs that he proclaimed—his control over the court had diminished to such an extent that the nobles could easily ignore his orders without fear of any serious repercussions. This open disobedience was led by none other than Prince Husain himself. There was no saving the administration of Murtaza who now openly blamed Miran Husain for the decline of the kingdom into chaos.

With Ahmadnagar in chaos, Miran Husain was raised to the throne by some rebel nobles at Daulatabad. On the spread of this news, the entire royal army defected to Husain and an enormous military force assembled at Daulatabad. Husain now marched to Ahmadnagar at the head of this army. On reaching the capital, Husain marched into the city in royal state and at a selected auspicious hour went to meet his father the king. It is certain that Husain met his father, who is reported to have advised and blessed him. By this time Murtaza was in a totally weakened state both physically and in spirits. The further actions attributed to Husain are speculative and unconfirmed. One narrative states that he wanted to kill Murtaza immediately, but his father told him that he, Murtaza, had but few days remaining to live and therefore he should be permitted to die of natural causes. Husain is supposed to have let this happen. The second narrative states that Murtaza was murdered a few days after the meeting on Husain’s orders, by leaving him in a very hot bath for about nine hours rather than the prescribed thirty minutes or so.

Irrespective of whether Murtaza Nizam Shah was permitted to die a natural death or murdered by his son, the new king, the fact is that Murtaza died on 14 June 1588 after ruling for 24 years.

Murtaza – An Appraisal

Official records, made during various stages of his rule, state that Murtaza Nizam Shah excelled in basic kingly virtues—bravery, valour, justice and generosity. This seems to have been an exaggerated and congratulatory appraisal done during his reign and directly oriented towards currying favour from an erratic but generous monarch. The fact remains that he inherited what was an exceptionally wealthy treasury when he came to power, which he methodically bankrupted. Even though some commentators mention this fact as a tribute to his inherent generosity, the distribution of treasure and wealth was not done to help the deserving, but as gifts to people who pleased him in some inane manner or the other. State treasure was used in a self-serving manner, of course this was the accepted prerogative of the ruling king in medieval times, but that does not make the behaviour ‘right’. Murtaza’s use of state-treasure was wasteful with no thought given to the welfare of the common people, the subjects of the king who should have been his primary concern.

The above assessment should not be written off as applying today’s standards to the medieval times when kings were self-centred tyrants. Medieval times also provide sufficient examples of thoughtful and exemplary rulers who placed the welfare of their subjects as their highest priority at all times. However, the attitude of most of the Deccan Shahi kings could not be considered anything but self-serving.

Murtaza Nizam Shah was definitely a learned person, demonstrated by the discussions that he held with philosophers and theologians. These meetings have been confirmed by multiple sources. It is also confirmed that he possessed an inquisitive and well-ordered mind as well as having great acumen and foresight. The charges of insanity and his being nick-named ‘The Madman’ is based on one single episode that he conducted in a fit of extreme rage while he was probably under the influence of intoxicating substances. However, a life that was led bordering on excess, was bound to have an effect on the health of the king. Towards the end of his reign, his decisions bordered on being made without any thought whatsoever and decidedly lowered his status as a capable ruler. Murtaza presided over the golden era of the Nizam Shahi dynasty and also brought it to its knees towards the end of his rule. The golden era however cannot be attributed to him, but to pure fate that decreed it to so.

© [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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