Black clouds gathered on India’s north western borders adjoining Afghanistan in the middle of 12th century AD. The defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan at the hands of Muhammad of Ghor would create a vaccuum so powerful in the north, that it would suck hordes of invaders. These black clouds as if consolidated into a storm that would batter the Indian sub-continent for almost two centuries.
After having established foothold of Ghurid empire in India, Muhammad of Ghor would leave Delhi and India to his trusted slave and general – Qutbu l-Din Aibak, who would go on to establish the Delhi sultanate under the first dynasty, called the Mamluk or Slave dynasty. The Slave dynasty then would give way to the Khiljis, within a century of Prithviraj Chauhan’s death. The Khiljis would then give way to the Tughluqs in another thirty odd years. The Tughluqs would rule India for another century. Under Muhammad bin Tughluq (of Delhi to Daulatabad fame, also known as the “wise fool”), the Delhi sultanate would reach its maximum size, a size that could rival the Mauryan empire under Emperor Ashoka millenia earlier, or the Mughal empire under Aurangzeb centuries later.
One thing in common between the first three dynasties of Delhi sultanate was the fact that they ruled over this vast expanse of land not as their own, but as invaders. The mindset of invaders and plunderers coupled with insecurities of losing their reigns to their kin or the fear of an uprising by the masses, made most of the early Sultans of Delhi sultanate some of the cruelest rulers the world would ever see. These rulers were so cruel, that even a slightly lenient/tolerant ruler in their comparison will come across as a Messiah. Please refer to Ibn Batuta’s travelogues and other contemporary accounts for better understanding of their cruelty.
Having amassed an empire that could easily rival the largest empires of the world of that time, Muhammad bin Tughluq left it to his trusted generals and governors to take care of the different provinces of his sultanate, before retiring to Delhi. Foreseeing the fading influence of the Sultan, these generals started declaring independence one after the other. No, this wasn’t unusual! In fact, this was the standard practice of the time – Qutbu l-Din Aibak served Muhammad of Ghor, Firuz Khilji (founder of Khilji dynasty) served Qutbu l-Din Aibak’s Mamluk dynasty, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (founder of Tughlaq dynasty) served the Khiljis.
The Bahmani Sultanate and emergence of Adil Shahi:
Image: Bijapuri skyline from top of the Gol Gumbuz, in Bijapur, Karnataka, India
As per the norm prevalent at that time, appeared in the scene Ala-ud-Din Hasan Bahman Shah, also known as Hasan Gangu. Bahman Shah was the then governor of Deccan under Muhammad bin Tughluq, and declared independence to establish the Bahmani sultanate, with its capital at Gulbarga (now Kalaburgi) and later moved to Bidar, in Karnataka. Per some historians, Bahman is actually derived from the word Brahmin (the Hindu caste), questionably either because of Bahman Shah’s Brahmin ancestry, or the caste of his earlier master Gangadhar Shastri Wabale (from whom he also got his other name, Hasan Gangu).
Bahman Shah could not have chosen a worse time to lay the foundation of his Bahmani sultanate, as only a decade earlier, further south in the peninsular India had emerged another power – the Vijayanagara empire. For the major part of its existence, the Bahmani sultanate would find itself engaged in mutliple battles with Vijayanagara empire contesting for power and control over land, especially the Raichur doab, before being weakened and disintegrating into five sultanates of Deccan, together called as Deccan sultanates – The sultanates of Nizam Shahi of Ahmednagar, Imad Shahi of Berar, Barid Shahi of Bidar, Qutb Shahi of Golconda and Adil Shahi of Bijapur.
Yusuf Adil Shah, founder of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur served the Bahmani sultanate before declaring independence. For the next five decades, the five Deccan sultanates would be played against each other by Vijayanagara empire’s diplomacy, before coming together in a confederacy in the battle of Talikota in 1565 AD and defeating Vijayanagara. Vijayanagara empire would not recover from this defeat, paving way for consolidation of power in southern India. Hence, the battle of Talikota is seen as a pivotal point in history of India and southern India in particular. The confederacy of the Deccan sultanates was the brain child of Ali Adil Shah I, the fifth Sultan of Bijapur.
Off the topic, but worth mentioning here that the battle of Talikota also saw the Nizam Shahi of Ahmednagar pressing Malik-e-Maidan, the largest canon of its time into service.
Image: Malik-e-Maidan the second largest medieval canon in India, which now adorns a bastion on the western wall of the fort, in Bijapur, Karnataka, India
After having tackled the dangers to the south, the Adil Shahis under Ali Adil Shah I and later Sultans, focused on consolidating their power, through a clever combination of marriage alliances (with Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar and Qutb Shahis of Golconda) and military campaigns (against Barid Shahis of Bidar).
The plundered wealth from Vijayanagara gave the Adil Shahis the much needed capital infusion at the end of a very tumultuous period. The wealth was used to launch numerous ambitious projects under succeeding Sultans. The absence of any real threat for the next eight decades meant that the Adil Shahis focused more on culture, and art and creation of architectural marvels.
While the Adil Shahis were busy consolidating their powers to the south of Vindhyas, the Mughal empire under Akbar was making steady progress into peninsular India, having subdued Malwa and Khandesh in the process. Here, again a precious piece of history is lost as a footnote in the history books, because some historian mistook Akbar and Delhi for India.
I have been reading about history of ancient and medieval India for some time now. It fascinates how (un)related events of India of the past that shaped up the India of today, are (conveniently) ignored by our history books. Few weeks ago, I had written a small piece on drawing parallels during medieval India, and called it “Drawing Parallels”. You can read it here.
END OF PART I
In frame (in order of appearance): 1) Cotton candies and Bijapuri skyline, from top of Gol Gombuz, Bijapur, Karnataka. Gol Gombuz is the second largest freestanding dome in the world. The outer as well as inner side of the dome is accessible through staircases inside the minars on all four sides of the structure.
2) Malik-e-Maidan, the second largest medieval canon in Indian subcontinent. Made of five metals, this canon weighs 55 tonnes and had a range of 3-5 kilometers. Noticed closely, you can notice the legs of a horse (signifying the canon’s range), an elephant body (signifying the canon’s weight), inside a lion’s mouth (signifying the canon’s roar when fired). Originally cast by the Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar in 1549 AD, the Malik-e-Maidan now adorns a bastion on the western wall of the Bijapur fort.
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