Our childhood was populated by Shivaji’s tales of valour, but did you know that long before he was born, the Deccan was already an incredible place with an eclectic mix of warriors and intellectuals? Here are 3  incredible rulers from the Deccan you never knew about – 

  • Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar

Krishnadeva, the Raya of Vijayanagar, was a man who breathed magnificence. Poets heaped praise on him by the dozen. Krishnadeva was a man destined for greatness, one subsequent text even painting him as an incarnation of Vishnu. Though his ancestral origins lay along the coast of Karnataka, the king donated more generously to temples in the Andhra and Tamil regions of his empire – starting in 1513 he visited Tirupati six times, showering the deity with riches, presenting also an arresting bronze image of himself with his two favourite queens. For all this, however, he was tormented by matters of succession. He had daughters (one of whom was a poet), and three sons. The first two died untimely deaths well before their illustrious father and the third was too young. So, in the end, Krishnadeva’s heir would come from that very fortress where he had locked up those blue-blooded rivals he feared could challenge his power and state. 

  • The Bahmanis

The Bahmanis, like most royal houses of their time, occupied a world of power, greed and the most intense internecine rivalries. Jealousies swirled all around them, poisoning bonds of blood and fidelity, brothers fighting brothers, suspicion breeding hatred. Cognizant of this, before he died in 1358, the first Sultan counselled his offspring to stand united, lest quarrelling drag their newly obtained state down an irreversible spiral of peril. One of his descendants, Muhammad Shah was called the ‘Aristotle of the Deccan’. One of his first deeds was to inaugurate a madrasa to educate the poor at the court’s expense, and a number of other benevolent acts were to follow – a train of 10,000 bullocks regularly went out to markets beyond his realm to bring grain to moderate the impact of the famine.

Another descendant, born, however, from a manumitted slave, was raised to the throne by the disloyal courtier, with the lady in question acquiring for herself the fancy title of Malika-i-Jahan. For her and her creator, though, glory was short- lived. The blinded ex-king’s brothers-in-law, also descendants of Hasan, rescued him now, and eventually orchestrated a coup – the courtier who maimed his royal guest died painfully, and the dowager queen, who barely had time to savour her new-found position, was exiled to Mecca with her dethroned progeny. And so it was that Firoz Shah, the older of the brothers-in-law, ascended the Turquoise Throne as its eighth ruler in fifty years.

This monarch was something of an unusual creature for his time. Possessed of extraordinary intellectual capacities, he was a polyglot who knew Persian, Arabic and Turkish, as well as Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali.He composed poetry under the names Firozi and Uruji, and read the Hebrew Bible. 

Nothing, however, could surpass Firoz Shah’s harem, which came to include women from Russia, China, Afghanistan and Central Asia and it was rumoured that he conversed, in bits and pieces at any rate, with each of them in her own tongue. 

  • Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur 

Ibrahim II was a Sunni but when he died, such were the suspicions around his true loyalties that his epitaph served primarily as a reassurance to all concerned: ‘No, Ibrahim in truth was not a Jew, neither a Christian; but he was a Muslim, and one pure of faith; certainly he was never of the idolators.’ The last line, as we will see, was insincere. This most fascinating of all the Adil Shahs of Bijapur had succeeded Ali Adil Shah and mounted the throne as a boy in 1580, two years before Akbar began his own experiments with faith and religious philosophy in the form of Din-i-Ilahi. The circumstances of Ibrahim II’s installation, though, were awkward – his uncle, Ali, a key constituent of the league that destroyed Vijayanagar, was put to death in his chambers one evening by ‘two handsome eunuchs who had for a long time excited his perverse attention’. With his heir, Ibrahim II, aged only nine, Chand Bibi, the Nizam Shahi princess married to the deceased Ali as part of the alliances that were formed in 1564, now assumed the regency.

This dowager was an extraordinary figure, described as ‘one of the greatest women that India has produced’ – and who would one day rank among the staunchest warriors for the independence of the Deccan.Notwithstanding her husband’s glances at eunuchs, she seemed to have enjoyed a successful marriage with him. Portraits of her show her hawking, and she could play the sitar, paint as a pastime and reportedly speak five languages. Evidently, she did not care very much for purdah and the established rules of feminine etiquette for, we are told, she frequently ‘accompanied her husband in his campaigns and rode by his side to battle. During times of peace a large portion of the public affairs were entrusted to her, and she gave audiences and transacted business in open durbar. She was beloved by all, not only for her daring, but also for her justice and firmness.’

Read more about incredible leaders from the Deccan in ‘Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji’ by Manu S. Pillai, which will be free on the Juggernaut App as part of #ReadersChoice.


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