Indian History Part 68 The Qutb Shahis of Golconda-Hyderabad Section III Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah

Canberra, 18 November 2018


Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah was the first of the dynasty to assume royal regalia and the title ‘Shah’, the accepted title for a king. He was also the first to be accepted by other contemporary kings as the ruler of the newly established kingdom with Golconda as the capital—the Qutb Shahi kingdom. It is not surprising that he was also the first of the dynasty to mint his own coins as well as to have the royal name embossed on his tomb.

Political Manoeuvring

By the time Ibrahim came to the throne, Burhan Nizam Shah had died and been succeeded by his son Husain Nizam Shah. In 1557, with the reluctant assistance of the Golconda army, Husain marched to capture Gulbarga from the Adil Shahis of Bijapur. Ibrahim Qutb Shah was advised by his friend and benefactor, the Vijayanagar minister Ramaraja, to desist from providing assistance to Husain in this endeavour. He also cautioned Ibrahim against straining his relations with the Bijapur king. Meanwhile, Gulbarga fort proved to be vested with very strong defences and extremely difficult to breech. Ibrahim Adil Shah wrote a letter to Ibrahim Qutb Shah asking him not to be part of the siege of Gulbarga, upon which the Qutb Shahi monarch withdrew with his troops to Golconda.

The tide of events now started turn in unexpected ways. Almost immediately after the withdrawal of the Golconda forces, Ibrahim Adil Shah died and was succeeded by his son Ali Adil Shah. Ali was immature and impetuous, and invaded Qutb Shahi territory in a sort of revenge attack, with the assistance of Vijayanagar. Once again, the fickleness of alliances in the Deccan and the Peninsula is demonstrated in this quick change of loyalty by the Vijayanagar forces. While this realignment was unfolding, Ramaraja’s brothers rebelled in his kingdom and captured the fort at Adoni. In an about turn, he now asked for Ibrahim Qutb Shah’s assistance, which was readily given. The combined Vijayanagar-Golconda army recaptured the fort at Adoni and forced the rebels to surrender.

This turn of events is full of paradoxes and clearly indicates the confused and complex state of political affairs and military alliances in the Deccan. Vijayanagar even while continuing to attack Golconda territory, asks the Golconda Qutb Shahi king for assistance to put down a domestic rebellion. In a sort of stranger than fiction situation, the requested assistance is readily given and the Vijayanagar rebellion is contained. It is obvious that within the Deccan, alliances were made, broken and then reinvigorated, at times within the span of a single year. In an obtuse manner, these manoeuvrings could be seen as the outward display of the lack of sincerity towards the forging of alliances. It also placed on display the utter lack of earnestness with which these kings looked at the serious business of ruling a country—a mockery of the exalted concept of kingship.

Jagadeva Rao, who had been the prime mover in bringing Ibrahim back into Golconda at the death of Jamshid, was used to exercising control over the court and the administration at his will and fancy. Jagadeva had got used to issuing independent orders, without the kings permission, even to high officials. After Ibrahim took control of the kingdom, Jagadeva felt constrained and started to feel a loss of power. In keeping with his volatile nature, Jagadeva moved away from the court in a semi-rebellion and established his headquarters at Elgandal; moving later to the Imad Shahi capital of Ellichpur. He became overbearing in his attitude at the Berar court and was subsequently expelled from Imad Shahi territories. Jagadeva then collected an army to oppose Ibrahim Qutb Shah, which was defeated in battle by Golconda forces. Jagdeva fled and sought refuge in Vijayanagar. This episode was the consequence of blatant personal ambition taking over the good sense of an otherwise shrewd and capable noble.

Wars against the Nizam Shahis

Vijayanagar was virtually controlled by the powerful minister Ramaraja who kept the actual king Sadasiva Raya in close confinement and ruled on his behalf as a dictator. Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur joined forces with Ramaraja and started a campaign to recover Sholapur and Kalyani from Ahmadnagar. Ramaraja in turn requested Ibrahim Qutb Shah for assistance, although he had given Jagadeva Rao refuge when the latter was fleeing after rebelling against Ibrahim. Once again the Qutb Shahi forces joined the alliance against Ahmadnagar. Considering all the facts on the ground, this was an act that defied any logic in such matters. Ahmadnagar was under siege with all the other major kingdoms arrayed against it. However, Ibrahim Qutb Shah maintained contact with the Nizam Shahi king besieged in the fort. This act indicates that Ibrahim was not interested in fighting Ahmadnagar. He had been left with no choice but to join the coalition since the Vijayanagar strongman had asked him to do so. The power of Vijayanagar was such that none of the other kings could deny the wishes of its virtual ruler.

This campaign sowed the seeds for the later formation of a confederacy against Vijayanagar, which ultimately brought down the great empire. There are many reports of the depredations that the invading army visited on the countryside around Ahmadnagar where the siege was being conducted. Some of the chronicles of the time mention separately that the Vijayanagar forces oppressed the ‘Muslim’ population and hurt their religious sensibilities by their wanton acts of cruelty. This is one of the first instances when religious sentiments have been mentioned in relation to military campaigns in the Deccan. Till this time, reports only mentioned oppression of the people of a territory. The introduction of the religious angle into what was almost a routine campaign led to further actions and events in the Peninsula that would have long-lasting consequences. It is to be noted that this was one of the earliest instances of religion, and the divisions it would bring, entering the Deccan and South India.

Ibrahim Qutb Shah was unhappy about the manner in which the Ahmadnagar people were being treated by the invading forces and privately devised a plan to have the siege, of which he was part, lifted. He voluntarily surrendered the fort at Kondapalli to Vijayanagar and advised Ramaraja, presumably in private, of the possibility of an intervention from Gujarat to assist Husain Nizam Shah. Under these circumstances, Vijayanagar felt it prudent to raise the siege without having achieved anything. Ibrahim lost a fort in the bargain. Even so, contemporary chronicles laud the raising of the Ahmadnagar siege as a diplomatic victory for the Golconda king. This claim of victory could be because the all-powerful Vijayanagar army was ‘forced’ to retreat into their own territory through negotiations. The reports are also indicative of the animosity that had developed against Vijayanagar in the other kingdoms, primarily born of jealousy in its power and stature, and the arrogant and wilful nature of its rulers.

The reason for Ibrahim joining the anti-Ahmadnagar coalition being the fear of Vijayanagar is confirmed by the fact that he married Husain Nizam Shah’s sister in 1563 and went on to forge a close alliance with Ahmadnagar. The Golconda-Ahmadnagar combined forces captured Kalyani, which had been under Bijapur control for a long time. In retaliation, Bijapur forces, aligned with the Vijayanagar army besieged Kalyani. They were joined this time by Ali Barid from Bidar and Tufal Khan who was the de facto ruler of Berar. Kalyani was recaptured and went back to the Bijapur fold.

The Bijapur-Vijayanagar alliance then marched to Ahmadnagar and laid siege to the Nizam Shahi capital. During this march the countryside was ransacked and after the siege was laid, the surrounding areas were once again pillaged and destroyed. The siege this time was much fiercer than the previous attempt and Husain was forced to remove his family from Ahmadnagar to Ausa and he himself fled to Junnar, which was the original seat of power of the Nizam Shahis. Alongside the continuing siege of Ahmadnagar, the Bijapur-Vijayanagar combine also moved into Golconda territory, coming close to the capital itself. The extensive power of Vijayanagar was once again in full display. There were only three major kingdoms in the Deccan—Bijapur, Ahmadnagar and Golconda—and Vijayanagar could lay siege to the capital of one and maraud the territory of another almost to its capital. During the Vijayanagar incursion into Golconda territory, Jagadeva Rao who was now fully integrated with the Vijayanagar king, fomented trouble across the entire Telangana region.

Ibrahim Qutb Shah was in a quandary. According to some reports he wanted to fight the invasion. However, his council of ministers prevailed in dissuading him and Golconda once again returned to the negotiating table with Vijayanagar and Ramaraja. The senior ministers knew that Golconda could not withstand the might of the Vijayanagar forces. A treaty was arrived at; Golconda surrendered two forts to Vijayanagar, while Ramaraja returned all the forts that his forces had captured during their sojourn into Golconda territory. Ramaraja was now supreme in the Deccan and South India. Although peace had been enacted, it was at best strained and Ramaraja continued his efforts to whittle down the strength of Golconda and neutralise the power of Ibrahim Qutb Shah. It speaks volumes about the sagacity of Ibrahim that despite concerted efforts by Ramaraja of Vijayanagar, he was able to ride out the intense turmoil that was being generated in his kingdom, by conclusively putting down rebellions wherever they broke out.

A Union of the Successor States

For more than a decade Vijayanagar had been treating the Bahmani successor dynasties, the Deccan Shahis—Adil Shahis in Bijapur, Nizam Shahis in Ahmadnagar, Imad Shahis in Berar and Qutb Shahis in Golconda—with ill-concealed disdain, at times even as vassal kings. By the mid-1560s each one of these kingdoms had some score or the other to settle with the high-handed and arrogant Vijayanagar dynasty and leadership. Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur had aligned himself with Vijayanagar against Ahmadnagar on the stipulated condition that the invading army would not harm the common people of the kingdom, the non-combatants, nor desecrate religious monuments and places of worship. The Vijayanagar army had reneged on this promise and done both during the invading march as well as during the subsequent siege. Husain Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar had the misfortune to have his people put to the sword indiscriminately and he himself had to flee the capital with his family in front of the Vijayanagar onslaught. Ibrahim Qutb Shah of Golconda was enraged that Vijayanagar had given shelter to Jagadeva Rao who had rebelled against him and later permitted him to enter Golconda territory to spread discontent. He had also had to cede few forts to Vijayanagar to ensure peace and stability in the region.

The antagonism ran deep against Ramaraja, the dictator who had usurped power in Vijayanagar, converting the actual Raya or king into a mere puppet. In an once-in-a-lifetime effort, the Deccan kingdoms decided to unite against the might of Vijayanagar. Ali Barid, the de facto ruler of Bidar, had no personal animosity against Vijayanagar as such, but was willing to go with the initiative of the rest of the Muslim kingdoms. He was an opportunist who was on a perpetual lookout to better his own position. Only Tufal Khan, the minister who had usurped power in Berar, refused to join the coalition or confederacy. However, his dissent was not because of any liking for Vijayanagar but because of the humiliation that had been heaped on him by Ibrahim Qutb Shah after he had been humbled in battle earlier. Effectively Tufal Khan was sulking in his small kingdom.

1564-65 were epoch-making years in the history of South India—the Deccan and the Southern Peninsula. This was the only time period during which the perennially warring Bahmani successor kingdoms united to face a common adversary. Only the unity of purpose—the defeat and elimination of Vijayanagar as the predominant regional power—kept the alliance united. The three major kingdoms were earnest and serious about the unity of purpose, thus managing to keep the cohesiveness of the confederacy till the objective was realised. In order to put an end to minor irritants between them, the three major kingdoms enacted a number of initiatives. Ali Adil Shah married Husain Nizam Shah’s daughter, Chand Bibi, and Ali’s sister Hadia Sultana was married off to Husain’s son Murtaza. (These events have been described in detail in the earlier section on the Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar.) Husain also gave away control of Sholapur to Ali Adil Shah, thus bringing to an end a perennially contentious issue between the two kingdoms.

The confederacy, some historians have labelled it the ‘League of Four Sultans’, gathered and moved south, arriving on the northern banks of the River Krishna. The famous Battle of Talikota ensued.

A Wrongly Named Battle

The critical battle that once and for all extinguished the greatness of Vijayanagar was fought on 23 January 1565. However, it has wrongly been called by historians as the ‘Battle of Talikota’. For a little while after the battle it was referred to as the Battle of Raksasi-Tangadi, which is also a wrong name.

Factually, the battle was fought at a place called Bannihatti, a small hamlet about 34 miles south of Talikota. Some historians have also called this important battle, the Battle of the River Krishna, since it was fought on its banks. The three places mentioned in relation to this battle—Talikota, Rakasgi and Tangadgi (the last two places are incorrectly spelt as Raksasi and Tangadi in the early reports)—are all on the north bank of the River Krishna. The actual fighting and the defeat of Vijayanagar, it has been confirmed, took place in the south-bank of the river, where the village of Bannihatti is located.

There is no valid reason not to call this historically pivotal battle, the Battle of Bannihatti.

In the Battle of Bannihatti (Talikota), Vijayanagar was conclusively defeated. The powerful minister Ramaraja was either killed in battle or captured and almost immediately beheaded. (The details of the battle itself will be explained in the next volume, which will also elaborate on the fall and sacking of the glorious Vijayanagar Empire and its prominent towns.)

It is reported that at the end of the battle, a Vijayanagar noble called Tirumala managed to remove great wealth, mentioned as being in excess of one hundred million sterling worth, the royal insignia and crown from the capital and installed them at the fort in Penukonda, which was then made the new capital of the defeated kingdom. Tirumala is reported to have imprisoned the king Sadasiva Raya. It is no exaggeration to state that the Battle of Bannihatti (Talikota) was disastrous for the great Vijayanagar Empire and its ruling dynasty. Before moving on to the further actions of the Deccan Shahi kings, an attempt to ‘white-wash’ history by some biased historians must be put right here.

Some modern-day historians have vociferously mentioned that after the defeat of Vijayanagar and the ensuing sacking of its capital, no temples were desecrated or destroyed. They point to the few temples that exist today in the territory that was the erstwhile Vijayanagar kingdom as proof of this assertion. This claim has to be considered a blatant attempt at re-writing history for the sake of bringing out the victorious Muslim rulers as paragons of virtue and religiously tolerant rulers. These narratives are untrue. The assertions of the Hindu temples being spared are incorrect. Considering that religion and religious differences with the powerful neighbour were the underlying principles that united the confederacy and that religious hatred percolated the armies of the Deccan, it is certain that the temples were looted, desecrated and then destroyed. The few temples that today spread across the countryside that was once Vijayanagar was definitely rebuilt at some later date. Religiously biased persecution indeed took place in the aftermath of the Battle of Bannihatti (Talikota).

The Aftermath

Not long after the momentous victory, the confederacy fell apart, because of the normal bickering between the kings on trivial matters. This development is not surprising, considering the inherent and common character of the Shahi dynasties of selfish pettiness. The immediate cause for the breakup was the procedure adopted to divide the captured territories, which did not meet the approval of all the participants. The real reason was the fundamental and underlying disunity brought about by individual aspirations, ambition and the exaggerated sense of self-worth that each of the Shahi kings cultivated within highly overstated egos. They were petty beings, and continued to be mean and frivolous in all their dealings. There are descriptions of the magnanimity of the Deccan rulers in a large number of books and articles and these may indeed be true to some extent. However, there is no evidence to prove that any of these kings were able to rise above their self-centred behaviour at any stage during the nearly three centuries during which the Deccan was under their control. One must therefore surmise that their magnanimity was displayed for some ulterior motive that concerned them at that moment when these actions were supposed to have been taken.

Ibrahim Qutb Shah played a pivotal role in maintaining the balance of power between the three major Deccan kingdoms. Further, he was also instrumental in keeping in check the ambitions of both the Barids of Bidar and the Imad Shahis in Berar. Although both these kingdoms were relatively weaker than the other three, they were continually initiating actions to disrupt the stability of the region with an eye to gaining some advantage for themselves from the ensuing chaos. With the Vijayanagar power almost completely neutralised, Ibrahim undertook the conquest of the region around Rajamundry that had earlier been parcelled out to minor chieftains. The territorial extent of the Qutb Shahi kingdom was enhanced by this move.

Other Military Exploits

Vijayanagar had also been partitioned between few chiefs, the most prominent of them being a noble called Vidhyadhar. On Rajamundry being invaded, he ensconced himself within the fort at Qasimkota, although he was ousted by the Qutb Shahi forces who surrounded and captured the fort. After settling the Rajamundry region, the Qutb Shahi army moved to southern Orissa where they seized some territory and a few forts. The forces were commanded by Malik Naib and his objective seems to have been to secure the north-east borders of the country. Malik Naib continued his victorious march till the Deccan army reached the Bengal border, where the king Vasnadeo was ruling. Vasnadeo sued for peace, accepted Ibrahim’s nominal suzerainty, and paid a large tribute to the Qutb Shahi commander. This was the northern-most limit of the Golconda army’s march.

Berar had been going through some turmoil for almost a decade. Tufal Khan, who had not joined the confederacy against Vijayanagar had become the de facto ruler and was keeping Burhan Imad Shah under palace arrest. Tufal had so far enjoyed the tacit protection of Ahmadnagar. However, in 1572, Murtaza Nizam Shah demanded that Burhan be released, without citing any reason for the ultimatum. Starting with the founder of the dynasty, Qutb-ul-Mulk, the Qutb Shahi rulers of Golconda had always attempted to maintain the balance of power between Bijapur, Ahmadnagar and Golconda. Ibrahim, also involved in the same endeavour, felt that Murtaza had become too powerful and was acting in an overbearing manner. Accordingly, he send a message to Ali Adil Shah in Bijapur stating that Murtaza’s pretensions to being the lead power in the Deccan should be checked before it became a threat to them. Ali Barid in Bidar supported the Bijapur-Golconda initiative.

Murtaza Nizam Shah proved to be agile in diplomatic manoeuvring. Before any action against him could be initiated, he embarked on a personal visit to Bijapur. He proposed to Ali Adil Shah that by joining forces they could enhance their individual territorial holdings—Murtaza would annex Berar and Ali could annex some territories of the defeated Vijayanagar, although the three Shahi kings had jointly decided, after the Battle of Bannihatti (Talikota), that Vijayanagar territory was not to be invaded or annexed. Subsequently, the combined Ahmadnagar-Bijapur armies could also invade and capture Qutb Shahi territories.

The Ahmadnagar forces easily overran Berar and the kingdom was annexed, even though the initial pretext for the invasion was the necessity to free its rightful ruler Burhan Imad Shah. This annexation marked the end of the independent existence of the Imad Shahis, a minor dynasty amongst the Bahmani successor states of the Deccan. Bijapur armies went into the Karnataka region and annexed a swath of territory that had been part of the Vijayanagar Empire. Ibrahim Qutb Shah was now placed in a situation wherein Golconda was forced to share a border directly with Ahmadnagar, with the annexation of Berar; and also with Bijapur, with the territorial expansion that the Adil Shahi kingdom had undertaken. The buffer states between Golconda and the other major Deccan kingdoms had been swallowed by Ahmadnagar and Bijapur.

Last Days

Forever the keeper of the balance of power, Ibrahim had to check the burgeoning strength of Bijapur, since Ali Adil Shah had made deep inroads into erstwhile Vijayanagar territory and bolstered his own power. Since Ali Adil Shah was campaigning deep in Vijayanagar territory, Ibrahim agreed to help Sriranga, the ruling chief of the truncated Vijayanagar kingdom. He send an army to invade Bijapur territory as a diversion. This ruse worked and Ali Adil Shah returned to Bijapur to safeguard his kingdom. Further incursions into Vijayanagar by the Bijapur army was curtailed.

Ibrahim saw the withdrawal of the Bijapur army from South India as an opportunity to enlarge his own kingdom and the Qutb Shahi forces ventured into Vijayanagar territory. He changed his policy towards Sriranga and captured the province situated around Udayagiri. The Qutb Shahi forces went on to capture few sundry forts in the region and in April 1579 occupied the Kondavidu fort. At this stage, Ali Adil Shah died in Bijapur and was succeeded on the throne by his minor son Ibrahim. Ahmadnagar and Golconda took this opportunity to attack Bijapur with a combined force, once again demonstrating the in-built opportunistic trait of the Deccan Shahi kings. In this invasion, the Qutb Shahi forces won many skirmishes. (The siege of Bijapur has been covered in detail in an earlier section.)

While the Qutb Shahi forces were still engaged in Bijapur territory, Ibrahim Qutb Shah died in Golconda—5 May 1580.

Ibrahim Quli – An Assessment

Ibrahim Qutb Shah—the first to assume the title and rank—ruled for 31 years, essentially as a man of peace, which was a rarity in those times. There are only two recorded instances of his initiating major offensives against any of the other kingdoms of the region. It can be assumed that the provocation was extreme for the Golconda forces to have been deployed offensively. Ibrahim was also the first king from the dynasty to mint his own coins, although only a few of them have survived to this day. It is noteworthy that none of the Bahmani successor states struck gold or silver coins of their own; they used the Vijayanagar coins for gold and the Mughal rupaya for silver coins.

From available records it is seen that Ibrahim’s administration followed the same pattern as those of the other Deccan Shahi kingdoms. The Qutb Shahi country was not sub-divided into provinces or districts till much later in the dynastic rule and was centrally administrated as one entity. As was common in the Deccan kingdoms, there were ministers appointed to look after the important functions of the state such as the army, treasury etc., and also a prime minister; an advisory council of the more senior nobles was also a common element in the Deccan.

A factor to note, which was unique to the Qutb Shahi kingdom, was the complete harmony that existed between the Hindus and the Muslims within the Golconda territories. Even though there were almost continuous clashes with the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar to the south, the discord was not religious and has to be considered enmity and competition that is bound to exist between immediate neighbours. Ibrahim, as a ruler, did not display any bias between his Deccani, Hindu or phirangi nobles, a really notable achievement in a time when religion and race-based factionalism had started to become the norm.

Ibrahim himself was a lifelong student and built schools in all the villages across the countryside, making attendance compulsory for the children of the kingdom. This was a revolutionary concept at a time when education was restricted to the upper strata of the society. By imparting free education to his subjects, irrespective of social and economic class, Ibrahim Qutb Shah laid the foundation for the building of a great cultural edifice that Golconda became in the later years of the Qutb Shahi rule.

© [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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