Indian History Part 68 The Qutb Shahis of Golconda-Hyderabad Section VI: The Obliteration of a Dynasty

Singapore, 27 December 2018

Abdullah Qutb Shah left no male heirs to succeed him. He had three daughters—the eldest was married to the Mughal prince Muhammad Sultan, who was imprisoned for life by his father during the succession struggle for the Mughal throne. The second was married to Mirza Nizam ud-Din Ahmed of Mecca who had been assisting Abdullah in matters of the state for a few years. The third had been betrothed to Syed Sultan of Najaf, however the engagement had been broken off. She had therefore been married off to Abul Hasan, a recluse living outside the Qutb Shahi capital, but with some vague and unexplained connection to the royal family.

A Twist in the Succession

Even before Abdullah took ill, his second son-in-law, Nizam ud-Din had become the right hand man of the king. He advised the king on all matters of state and was considered the obvious choice as the next king. When Abdullah was on his deathbed, Nizam ud-Din was certain that he would be anointed the next king and started to display his inherent autocratic character. He started to curtail the power vested in the nobles, particularly targeting the senior nobles holding positions of influence and authority. He also started to be rude to the nobles and became haughty in all his dealings.

Abul Hasan, the other son-in-law available as a contender to the throne, was almost an ascetic with no pretensions to royalty or ambition to be powerful. In fact he was meek by nature and courteous to all. The senior nobles, led by Syed Muzaffar, decided to take action against Nizam ud-Din. They produced Abul Hasan in front of Abdullah and had the king proclaim Hasan as his chosen successor before he died. Nizam ud-Din did not have any support and therefore was removed from the equation.

On Abdullah’s death, the nobles wanted to avoid a debilitating succession struggle within an already weak kingdom and found it expedient to crown Hasan immediately. On 21 April 1672, Abul Hasan Qutb Shah became king by default. Syed Muzaffar assumed the role of Mir Jumla.

Syed Muzaffar was an efficient and strict administrator and controlled the treasury and disbursement of funds with a tight fist. Muzaffar also appointed a trusted Hindu and an acknowledged learned man Surya Prakash Rao aka Madana Pandit as his personal secretary. Muzaffar’s zeal to stabilise the administration brought him into conflict with the new king. Abul Hasan, who had lived his entire life in a simple, almost abstemious manner wanted as king to spend money lavishly. Muzaffar on the other hand, was miserly with the allocation of funds for the king’s pleasure. The resistance from the Mir Jumla to the king’s more egregious demands for funds gradually becoming a bone of contention between him and the king. This division continued to fester as Hasan’s rule progressed.

Syed Muzaffar believed that had it not been for him, Abul Hasan would have continued to be the relatively poor recluse outside the capital and therefore could not get himself to treat Abul as the king with sufficient respect. He approbated all power to himself, was full of pride regarding his position in the kingdom, and became unbearably overpowering in his dealings with the king. Historical narrative is over-crowded by instance such as this, where a noble starts to consider himself the de facto ruler, and completely oversteps his remit. The fundamental difference between being a noble, even the highest ranking one in the kingdom, and belonging to the royal house gets diluted in these cases and invariably it is seen that the noble finally gets cut down by the higher authority vested in the royal dynasty. The same turn of events took place in Golconda.

With the Mir Jumla Muzaffar taking over almost the entire administration of the kingdom, Abul Hasan perceived and felt his power waning on a daily basis. He wanted to rectify the situation and took into confidence Madana Pandit, who advised the king to start filling all key positions in the court by people who were personally loyal to him. Hasan started to gradually send nobles belonging to the Muzaffar faction to the outlying districts and replacing them in court with nobles loyal to him. When Abul Hasan had altered the constitution of the court sufficiently and was confident that he could act and enforce his orders, he asked Syed Muzaffar to vacate the position of Mir Jumla and retire to his jagir. Hasan promised that Muzaffar’s jagirs would not be confiscated and the powerful Mir Jumla was reduced to the status of a retired noble. Hasan then appointed Madana Pandit as the Mir Jumla.

Madana Pandit – Prime Minister

Madana Pandit’s first action as the Mir Jumla was to pay tribute to the Mughal Emperor and then send a petition to Aurangzeb with a request to recognise Abul Hasan as the legitimate ruler of Golconda. The petition was acknowledged by the Mughal, but not in the manner that Madana had anticipated. In his reply, the Mughal Emperor firmly placed Hasan in the ranks of the vassal rulers, calling him Qutb-ul-Mulk, the title by which the founder of the dynasty, Sultan Quli, had been known throughout his life. The royal ‘Shah’, indicating independent rule and sovereignty, was completely omitted from the acknowledgement. More important in the long term than the dropping of the title of Shah, was the fact that the Mughal reply clearly mentioned that although Hasan was governing ancestral property, he had promised that on his death the territories would revert to the control of the Mughals, becoming part of the imperial Mughal Empire. The fact that the Qutb Shahi dominions had never been Mughal territory did not merit a mention in the Mughal missive. Obviously such ‘minor facts’ were below the level of consideration of the emperor. Abul Hasan was also instructed to send 40 lakh rupees (Rupees 40,00,000) per annum to Delhi as tribute. Hasan was left with no choice but to accept the terms in the most abject manner.

Even if Hasan did not realise the implicit threat in the Mughal reply, the shrewd Madana Pandit did, and he immediately set about strengthening the fortifications of the capital. Further, he started to strengthen the forts on the western borders of the kingdom from which direction the Mughal invasion, when it eventually came, was anticipated. As is obvious from his background, Hasan was not inclined to pursue military and security matters. However, in the gradual build up to what the nobles of Golconda knew would be the eventual show down with the Mughals, Hasan was persuaded to visit Vijayawada and inspect the Kondapalli fort—an effort to raise the morale of the people and the military.

It is clear that Madana realised the threat to the kingdom and started to prepare for an impending invasion and the siege that would invariably follow. However, at the same time, he also displayed a streak of nepotism and inherent corruption that was to dilute the defence preparations. First, he appointed his kith and kin to positions of power and influence in the court. Perhaps more debilitating to the organisational structure of the kingdom was his asking for and receiving monetary benefits personally for himself in return for the appointment of nobles to coveted positions. In one blow, he had killed the concept of meritocracy in the kingdom. The result was the unchecked spread of endemic corruption and bribery throughout all level of the bureaucracy—from the highest to the lowest. Madana’s acts of personal corruption that led to inefficiency and chaos has been recorded by the English agents in court as well as by some local Brahmins who were themselves aligned with Madana Pandit.

Interaction with the English

In his single-minded pursuit of nepotism, Madana Pandit also made changes to the various governorships—notably in Karnataka and Poonamalai. Neknam Khan, the efficient and honest governor of Karnataka had died and was replaced, initially by Madana’s brother and then his nephew Podili Linganna. Almost immediately on assuming governorship Linganna, an avaricious person by all accounts, raised the rent of the English in Fort Saint George for their use of Qutb Shahi territories. He told the English that the petty rent being paid by them was not sufficient and that he, the Governor, would be the authority who would determine the correct rent. While this change in the administrative process was being played out, Linganna also enforced a surreptitious embargo on rice and other food stuff entering the fort without paying the newly established and exorbitant custom duty.

The English initially tried to reach King Hasan directly to appraise him of the situation and clarify matters by attempting to make contact with him during one of his infrequent travels outside of Golconda. However, this attempt did not work out. The English were forced to move out the recalcitrant governor and bring in someone with a more diplomatic and tactful approach to the situation. The new governor managed to bribe his way out of the tricky situation, which must not have been difficult considering the greed that was displayed by Madana’s family. Linganna was removed from the governor’s position subsequently, during the turmoil that rocked Hyderabad at a later date.

The Rise of the Marathas

The rise of the Maratha people as a regional, and then an Indian, power was of direct import to the successor Deccan Shahi kingdoms. (The trajectory of the upsurge of the Marathas and the establishment of one of the grandest empires in the sub-continental history is not being covered here, as the narrative is only peripherally connected to the events taking place in medieval Deccan. The history of the Marathas will be the central topic in a forthcoming volume.) A brief summary of the Maratha influence in the Deccan, particularly as it pertains to the narrative of the Qutb Shahi history, is given below.

In 1672, when Abul Hasan ascended the throne, Shivaji, the Maratha chief and king, was the most prominent figure in the whole of the South Indian Peninsula. Further, he was crowned as Chhatrapati—a title that can be roughly translated to ‘all-encompassing monarch’—at Raigarh on 6 June 1674. The Deccan was now divided between the Marathas, the Bijapur Adil Shahi and Golconda-Hyderabad Qutb Shahi kings. On Abul Hasan coming to the throne, Shivaji had demanded and received 20 lakh (20,000,000) pagodas from the Qutb Shahis as a peace offering, to ensure his non-interference. This single episode demonstrates the enhanced and predominant status of the Maratha king without any doubt.

By 1676, Shivaji had already planned a campaign that would ultimately give him control over all the territories in the Peninsula to the south of the River Tungabhadra all the way to Bangalore and Tanjore (Tanjavore). The indirect objective of this campaign was also to restrict the increasing influence of Bijapur in the extreme southern region. In order to achieve this objective, he wanted to neutralise the Golconda kingdom first and accordingly send an emissary, Raghunath Narayan Hanumante, to Hyderabad. A year later Shivaji himself descended on Hyderabad on an official visit and forced Abul Hasan to sign a treaty of peace. As per this unequal treaty, the Qutb Shahi was required to pay a tribute of Rupees 3000 per day to the Maratha king, for the entire duration of the Maratha campaign in South India.

Shivaji’s sojourn to the southern part of the Peninsula was a great success from the Maratha point of view. He managed to contain both Bijapur and Golconda and put down a nascent rebellion by one of his step-brothers. Perhaps more importantly, he was able to fortify the southern part of the peninsula against Mughal incursions by bringing the warring factions together under his overall suzerainty. From a holistic perspective of Indian history, it was unfortunate that Shivaji died a few years later at the relatively early age of 53. His son who succeeded him had rebelled against his father at one stage and was in any case not as astute as his father.

The Mughals Extinguish the Qutb Shahi Dynasty

When the Deed of Submission had been signed and accepted without demur by the Qutb Shahi ruler in 1636, the dynasty had forfeited their claim to suzerainty and independence as well as surrendered the sovereignty of Golconda as a kingdom. Nearly forty years later when Abul Hasan signed the Agreement with Aurangzeb to hand over the Qutb Shahi kingdom to the Mughals on his death, he was in effect driving the last nail into the coffin of the dynasty. Even so, Abul Hasan the reluctant king, felt the necessity to strengthen his kingdom’s defences in view of the unabated progress of the Mughal army into the Deccan. He was also acutely aware of his own precarious situation, both in person and that of the kingdom. The alignment with Shivaji, the Maratha king, was an attempt at breathing a fresh lease of life into the moribund kingdom that he was ruling. It was also an endeavour to retake some of the territories from the Karnataka region that had been lost earlier to the Mughals.

Hasan also started to think about creating a united front against the advancing Mughals by joining hands with Bijapur, now ruled by a child-king. He offered military and economic assistance to Bijapur. Contemporary chroniclers and later-day historians often wonder at the audacity displayed by the meek Abul Hasan in attempting to create a common front against the Mughals. In less than two years after signing off his inheritance and accepting the reduced status of a vassal and ‘disciple’ of Aurangzeb the Mughal Emperor, Abul Hasan was now signing a pact with Shivaji and a bit later providing active help to the beleaguered Bijapur. The newfound assertiveness of the Qutb Shahi has to be marvelled at, if not for anything else, but for the assertion of an ‘independent’ foreign policy that he was displaying. (The assistance provided to Bijapur by Abul Hasan and the tumultuous events taking place in that kingdom have already been enumerated earlier.)

Abul Hasan’s actions however had unintended effect on the evolving overall situation. The assertion of independence by both Bijapur and Golconda; their coming together to present a joint and united front against the Mughal army; and the continuing intransigence by Shivaji and the Marathas made Aurangzeb personally march out of Delhi towards the Deccan. He was never to return to his imperial capital. The Mughal entourage reached Aurangabad on 22 March 1682 and Ahmadnagar a little over a year later, in November 1683. Aurangzeb send a message, actually an order, to Abul Hasan to desist from providing assistance to Bijapur. However, the once meek king had grown brave, perhaps knowing fully well that his independence was already forfeit and that he and his kingdom would not last long as autonomous entities. He disobeyed the Mughal edict and continued to assist Bijapur—the last hurrah of the Qutb Shahis. So while Bijapur was being ground down by the Mughal forces, Golconda continued to attempt to send military assistance. The communications between Bijapur and Golconda were intercepted by the local Mughal commander.

Aurangzeb decided to conquer both Bijapur and Golconda-Hyderabad simultaneously, without waiting for Bijapur to capitulate. Just this one presumptive action is indicative of the strength of the Mughal army—the emperor did not consider it a difficult task to annex two major kingdoms in faraway Deccan, simultaneously, through military action.

The Battles of Malkher

Aurangzeb ordered Prince Muazzam (mentioned as Muhammad Azzam in some records), the commander of the Mughal forces in the Deccan to attack Qutb Shahi territories with a force that included more than 35,000 cavalry. Madana Pandit, monitoring the movements of the Mughal forces, ordered his commanders to move the Qutb Shahi forces to the border with the Mughals near Ahmadnagar. The two armies met at Malkher. In the ensuing battle, the Qutb Shahis won the initial skirmishes. However, the engagement lasted a number of days but was indecisive in the end, although the Mughals had gradually started to become ascendant as the battle progressed. The First Battle of Malkher was an impasse.

Aurangzeb was angry at this stalemate, especially since the Mughal forces had not taken advantage of their better position and superior strength to defeat the adversary. He send word to the commander of his displeasure at the emerging situation; the message immediately led to the Second Battle of Malkher. This battle involved very heavy fighting and loss of life. The Qutb Shahis knew that they were fighting for the survival of their kingdom and were especially valiant in their actions. However, they were pushed back, one step at a time, retreating to the capital Hyderabad in early October 1686.

At this critical juncture in the struggle, the age-old Indian malady of betrayal rose its head in the Qutb Shahi kingdom. Khalilullah Khan, one of the two senior Qutb Shahi military commanders chose this time to defect to the Mughals and joined Prince Muazzam. It is certain that he was enticed with bribes and promises of a position of power and prestige. While he was one of the top echelon in the Qutb Shahi kingdom, it is possible that he knew in his heart that the struggle would only have one outcome—the defeat and annexation of the Golconda-Hyderabad kingdom. Therefore, he obviously hedged his bets and went over to the winning side at an opportune time, when his defection would have been considered by the Mughals to have created the maximum effect. As anticipated, for his defection the Mughals immediately gave him a mansab of 10,000-horse and the title of Mahabat Khan.

Khalilullah’s defection was just the beginning, it was followed almost immediately by a series of betrayals and defections—minor to ones of serious consequence. These increasing number of incidents finally culminated in Abul Hasan fleeing Hyderabad for the ancient citadel of Golconda with just his immediate entourage. In turn, the king’s departure from the capital opened the floodgates and started a veritable deluge with almost the entire population hurriedly leaving the city by any and all means at their disposal. The city of Hyderabad was now open to the Mughals. Prince Muazzam gave instructions that the city was not to be despoiled, an order that was obeyed in the breach. Hyderabad was looted, pillaged, burned and destroyed in short order by the victorious Mughal army. Only an empty shell was left of the once magnificent city.

The Final Fall of Golconda

After the sacking of Hyderabad, Prince Muazzam gathered his forces and started the short march towards Golconda. He send his ultimatum to Abul Hasan in advance. The demands placed on the Qutb Shahi king was straight forward, if strict—the Qutb Shahi was to pay an annual tribute of 120,000 rupees to the Mughals; he was to vacate all the palaces in the Mughal conquered areas of the Golconda kingdom; and the Mir Jumla Madana Pandit and his brother Akkanna, who the Mughals considered the strength behind the Qutb Shahi resistance, were to be immediately dismissed. While negotiations were still on-going, both Madana and Akkanna were murdered on the streets of Golconda. Madana’s severed head was immediately despatched to Emperor Aurangzeb camped at Sholapur. Hasan also send gifts direct to Aurangzeb in an effort to gain favour with him and pleaded for clemency.

Aurangzeb was, however, in no mood for reconciliation and firm of purpose, which was to annex Golconda to the growing Mughal Empire, continued his march. The Mughal was in Sholapur in October 1686; by November he was already in Bidar; in January 1687 he had reached the outskirts of Golconda; and was taking charge of the siege. The siege of Golconda lasted eight months and must be included in the list of great sagas of the medieval ages. The siege is to be remembered for the stubborn resistance of the Golconda army and people; equally for the tenacious manner in which Abul Hasan, the meek and reluctant king, led his people; and for an exemplary display of organisational ability by the king. Abul Hasan had all through his reign suffered the demands of the Mughals in silence and acquiesced to being treated as a vassal and a ‘chieftain’ of no consequence. However, in the last days of his turbulent rule he demonstrated exemplary king-like qualities that stands even today as a beacon of greatness to lesser mortals.

The defences of the Golconda fort were entrusted to Sheikh Minhaj and two other commanders, who tenaciously held fast. An year earlier, Bijapur had been overrun and had freed the entire Mughal army to concentrate on Golconda and the on-going siege.

Of Heroes and Brave Hearts

The defence of Golconda is suffused with admirable tales of bravery, heroism and absolute loyalty to the crown. In an era when betrayal and cowardice were the more common traits, these tales provide a glimpse of the better traits of human beings. The stories are heart-warming as exemplars of human dignity and selfless valour—of Khwaja Abid Qilich Khan, an old general whose arm had been severed from the shoulder blade, sitting and sipping coffee with the other hand while the surgeons were suturing the wound without anaesthetics; of tired and near starving Qutb Shahi guards waking up at night to defend and push back a night attack by the Mughals because of the barking of a pariah dog; and the stories go on.

By now the interdictory missions that were continually mounted behind enemy lines by the Golconda forces led by Mustafa Khan had started to create semi-famine conditions in the Mughal camp. Along with these rids, Sambhaji’s Maratha forces were laying waste the countryside, thereby making sure that the Mughals were not able to gather provisions, which could have helped the army. Gradually the Mughal army was being pushed into a stressful situation. At the same time Abul Hasan continued his diplomatic initiatives, approaching the Mughal Emperor through emissaries, entreating Aurangzeb to ‘pardon’ him; promising that he would rule Golconda according to the Mughals whim and fancy if only the siege was lifted and his people spared.  However, Aurangzeb was unrelenting—he demanded that Abul Hasan present himself in the Mughal camp with his hands tied behind him and a rope around his neck, in order for any negotiations to even start. The siege was tightened. The Mughal army now came under further stress with the unseasonal and heavy monsoons assisting the Qutb Shahis in following their interdiction and scorched earth policy.

At this critical juncture in the battle for survival, when their very existence hung on the balance, the Qutb Shahi kingdom was once again plagued by internal betrayal. The prolonged siege had started to unnerve some of the leadership, meaning the nobles, within the fort. Sensing the unease, the Mughals had been quick to bribe the wavering nobles with promise of high titles and wealth. Gradually some of the Qutb Shahi nobles started to defect to the Mughals. While the initial defections were not debilitating to the defence, they were the beginning of more serious moves. In September 1687, Abul Hasan’s adopted son defected and paid homage to Aurangzeb—a great blow to the morale of the besieged fort that was already in dire straits.

Militarily, Golconda remained impregnable and unconquered with the garrison continuing to make effective sorties into the Mughal forces with great effect, especially after the monsoon had set in. Even as the defenders of Golconda were resisting the siege effectively, the leading nobles of the regime had come to the conclusion that in the end the siege would succeed, considering the might of the Mughal army. They continued to defect in small numbers till such times that only two senior nobles were left loyal to Abul Hasan and supporting the defences of the fort.

One of the nobles, called Abdullah Khan Panni, had earlier been in the service of the Adil Shah of Bijapur and then an employee of the Mughals. His loyalty to the Qutb Shahis now severed completely—he betrayed the beleaguered citadel by leaving a gate open on a pre-arranged night through which the Mughal forces were able to storm the fort and invest it after a bitter struggle. The other noble who had remained loyal, Abd-ur-Razak Lari, was on the other end of the spectrum on the loyalty scale—he fought the invading army with a handful of faithful followers, attacking the triumphant Mughal forces inside the fort, till he was overwhelmed by the sheer numerical superiority of the invading forces and beaten down. Lari’s act of significant courage and loyalty was indicative of the manner in which the fort finally fell to the northern army.

With the failure of the last desperate defensive fight led by Razak Lari, Abul Hasan knew that the end had come. It is reported, by chroniclers from both sides of the equation, that Abul Hasan’s act of surrender that ended the reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty was done with a ‘collectedness and composure’ that is very seldom seen and has no parallel in Indian history. It is said that even the haughty Mughal commanders were uncharacteristically compelled to defer to the nobleness of the king and his royal demeanour. Abul Hasan, the meek, had acquitted himself as a king better than any of his more powerful ancestors. Perhaps because of the manner in which Abul Hasan conducted himself as the king, Aurangzeb himself treated the Qutb Shahi with the dignity that he deserved, taking him to Bijapur, where the Mughal monarch was heading.

Later, on Abul Hasan’s request to be allowed to live in the Deccan rather than be transported to Delhi, Aurangzeb set him up in the Nizam Shahi palace at Daulatabad. Abul Hasan spend his last days in splendid isolation as a virtual prisoner and died around 1699-1700 after a brief illness. There is no doubt that, despite his individual character flaws, he met the final defeat and annexation of his kingdom with the grace and dignity that could not be bettered by any other king.

Abul Hasan left four daughters and a son named Khudah Banda who was born while he was a captive in Daulatabad. Aurangzeb, always shrewd and ruthless, perceived a threat from the young prince who could become the spearhead for a rebellion in the now subdued Deccan, and had him removed to an unknown place. Nothing more is heard about the prince named Khudah Banda. Thus ended the Qutb Shahis. The only epitaph that can be written for the Qutb Shahi dynasty is that they faced the end with great dignity and that they were ultimately brought down by the collective avarice and disloyalty that led to betrayal of the kingdom by its nobles.

© [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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