In the aftermath of the Muslim incursions of the south by Khilji, two kingdoms emerged in the south, one Hindu and one Muslim. Hindu Vijayanagara was founded in the 1330’s and spearheaded the resistance to the influence of Islam in the peninsula. Ten years later, Hasan Shah, who was under the service of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, founded the Bahmani kingdom. He rose rapidly in the ranks in Deccan and at the end of Tughlaq rule, defied Delhi’s authority. Gujarat had done likewise and now Hasan was known as Bahman Shah and made Daulatabad as his headquarters.
However, Bahman Shah has different beginnings according to legend. He was said to have been a servant in the household of a Delhi Brahman (brahmin) called Gungu. Once while ploughing the fields he chanced upon a pot of gold buried in the ground. Gungu, who also could foretell the future predicted a glorious and rich future for Hasan and told him never to forget his master. Hasan headed south to Deccan to make his fortune and carved himself the Bahmanid kingdom when Tughlaqs were in decline in Delhi. Later Hasan assumed Gungu as one of his titles. Even the name Bahman is close enough to Brahman for some historians to think that the legend may have some merit though the Muslim historians believe that the word Bahman comes from the ancient Persian King Bahman.
Ferishta, the Muslim historian writing a century after the demise of the Bahmanid kingdom, makes particular reference of destructions of idols and temples carried on by the Bahmani Sultans. However, this may be more a dream or based on other biased Persian writers’ accounts. Continuous conflict with the neighboring Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara ensued and subsided only when either of the kingdoms disintegrated. There were also skirmishes with the Malwa in the northern borders. A rich tract of land between the Krishna and Tungabhadra attracted the Bahmanids to change their capital first to Gulbarga and then later to Bidar. They expanded their kingdom to both coasts and became a true nation-state. Truce was also achieved with Vijayanagara and Malwa and peace was at hand, at last. Due to in fighting, in the 1490’s Bahmani kingdom suddenly collapsed and was divided into several smaller sultanates.
The sultanate of Gujarat lasted a long time. Ahmad Shah built his capital Ahmadabad and the long reigning sultan Mahmud Shah expanded territory into Saurashtra and created a sultanate that would last well until the seventeenth century. Sultan Mahmud Khilji ruled Malwa and made Mandu its capital. It is recorded that this sultan once had a harem with ten thousand women that needed their own city to live in. What eventually became of this city is unknown. Mandu later fell to Gujarat incursions.
During the last Bahmani sultan Mahmud Shah’s reign (1482-1518), four major power centers would emerge and become independent states. The capital of Bahmanids, Bidar would be one but more powerful were Bijapur (Karnataka), Golconda (later Hyderabad), and Ahmadnagar in the northwest. A fifth would have Berar as its capital. The Vijayanagara kings utilized the splintering of the Bahmanids, initially to their advantage. The rivalry between Bijapur and Golconda was exploited well by Rama Raja, the successor of Krishna Deva Raya. This exploitation led to the extent that the four sultanates finally feared for their own existence. They patched up their differences and joined together to defeat the Vijayanagara Empire in the battle of Talikot in the year 1565.
Golconda and Bijapur would continue to dominate the scene well into the Mughal rule in the north. Akbar finally annexed Ahmadnagar and Bijapur and Golconda became Mughal suzerainties during Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s rule. During this time, with the Mughal protection, the sultanates expanded their territories well into southern Karnataka and Tamil lands. Aurangzeb, in late seventeenth century, unhappy with the Shiite sultans and Hindu nobility in the south, went south and made both Bijapur and Golconda part of a vast Mughal empire.
Bijapur and Golconda thrived alongside the Mughal glory in the north. Many mosques and tombs were built as if to match those built by the aesthete Mughals. The Bijapur architecture climaxed in building of the great masculine tomb, the Gol Gumbaz. An engineering marvel that has a dome second in size only to the Basilica in St. Petersburg, Vatican, it was completed in 1659, just after Shah Jahan completed his Taj Mahal in Agra. It was built for Muhammad Adil Shah who had died in 1657. His father Ibrahim Adil Shah had ruled over the golden period of Bijapur but was drawn into war when Akbar invaded Ahamadnagar sultanate. Son Muhammad, however, expanded south into Mysore and Tamil Nadu with the help of Shahji, father of Shivaji. The Nayaks of Madurai and Tanjavur acknowledged Muhammad Adil Shah. During Shah Jahan’s rule, Aurangzeb who was the governor of Deccan took Hyderabad and besieged the Golconda fort. Taking advantage of the death of Muhammad Adil Shah he also defeated the Bijapur Sultan. Aurangzeb was asked to cease hostilities by Shah Jahan on the advice of his first and favorite son Dara Shikoh. This eventually led to a rift between the brothers and Aurangzeb marched on Delhi to depose his father and pursue his brothers. Rest is history.
While the Mughal Empire declined and the British slowly gained a foothold in India, the geography of the sultans of the south also changed. In the mid eighteenth century two prominent Muslim sultanates remained in the south, namely Hyderabad and Mysore. Marathas had taken control of most of the northern part of the Peninsula and the various Maratha households came into prominence. Thus the Gaikwads of Baroda, Scindias of Gwalior, Peshwas of Pune, Bhonsles of Nagpur and the Holkars of Indore came to power under the broad heading of Maratha states or confederacy. Shivaji’s protégés would eventually settle in Kolhapur and outlive the Mughals and the British to finally surrender its autonomy after independence of India from the British. In the 1970’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi disestablished the long surviving Shivaji’s Bhonsles of Kolhapur.
Next: Nizam of Hyderabad and Tiger of Mysore