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, 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