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The Rise and Fall of Bijapur’s Adil Shahi Sultans

The Adil Shahi dynasty (1489–1686), was the ruling family of the kingdom of Bijapur. Fueled by ambition, the nine rulers of the dynasty navigated a tumultuous century, leaving behind a vibrant and complex legacy. The Adil Shahi dynasty was extinguished by emperor Aurangzeb with the capture of Bijapur in 1686.

A rundown on the Adil Shahi Sultans of Bijapur:

1. Yusuf Adil Shah

Origin unknown. Some call him an Ottoman scion, others think he was a Persian, and still others think he was from Georgia. No matter his roots, he was a talented man who made the most of Bahmani decay. The dawn of the 16th century found Yusuf declaring independence and proclaiming Shiism as the state religion, having found inspiration in the Safavids of Persia. His talents, however, couldn’t save him from Krishna Deva Raya, the Vijayanagara king who did him in a battle.

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2. Ismail Adil Shah

A kid when he became the king, he found his throne a bed of thorns. An evil regent was eyeing his throne, while his neighbor was egging the regent on. Ismail’s Marathi mother ultimately saved the throne for his son, but not before Goa had been lost to the Portuguese. Soon, Krishna Deva Raya dealt Ismail a bloody nose, asking him to come and ‘kiss his foot’. The insult was still outstanding when Ismail took leave of the world at only 35.

3. Mallu Adil Shah

At a point when kings were allowed virtually everything, Mallu did something so outrageous in his palace that his grandmother had to step in. The old Marathi woman blinded her dissolute grandson, dumped him behind the bars, and replaced him on the throne with his brother.

4. Ibrahim Adil Shah I

Turning Sunni, he turned on the Shias with a vengeance. He’s supposed to have bumped off as many as 70 Shias on a whim, apart from sacking 3000 more of them. Ibrahim ultimately died due to a lack of medical care; the top physicians in his realm were Shias, and none dared approach the ailing Sultan for fear of his sudden wrath.

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5. Ali Adil Shah I

Going back to Shiism, he signed up an army of Shias to publicly abuse the first three Caliphs of Islam. Apart from his theological craziness, Ali was seriously into military activities, and he daily popped 12 eggs into his mouth to keep himself fit for military action. The fitness paid off, as did his Shia camaraderie with his neighbors, when Vijaynagara fell and Bijapur grew fat on its ashes. Apart from his battles, Ali also loved books, having authored one himself. But the love of his life were eunuchs, and it was in the bloody embrace of one of them that Ali was one day found lying dead.

6. Ibrahim Adil Shah II

Without going overboard, Ibrahim could be called Akbar’s Deccani counterpart. Ibrahim prayed to Ganpati and Saraswati, and he also went into raptures praising the Muslim saint Gesudaraz. So eclectic was he that his tombstone had to tell people that Ibrahim was actually of the Islamic faith. Ibrahim’s fashion game was also ahead of his time; he wore Rudraksha Mala and painted his nails red, apart from rocking pink outfits. Other than faith and fashion, Ibrahim developed Bijapur so much that 5 million souls came to live within its walls. He was at the top of his game when he croaked in 1626, leaving behind a sea of devotees who mourned the passing of their “Jagat Guru”.

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7. Muhammad Adil Shah

He came to the throne after crossing a river of blood on the back of his African friend. The Mughals soon brought pressure to bear on the new king, and he had to cave in. A treaty was signed in 1636, confirming Bijapur’s subordination to the Mughals. But the next decade saw Muhammad Adil Shah launch a vigorous expansion drive so that his kingdom became the second largest in India in terms of size, its frontiers stretching from the Bay of Bengal all the way to the Arabian Sea. But a paralytic attack on the Sultan was followed by the eruption of the Marathas, and Muhammad Adil Shah died in 1656, unhappy and acutely conscious of his kingdom’s decline.

8. Ali Adil Shah II

Many doubts were raised about his legitimacy, and the new Sultan thought that massive success was the best answer to his detractors. So he strained every nerve in his body to stem his kingdom’s decline. But success still wouldn’t come. Shivaji proved too formidable a foe, as did Aurangzeb. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Ali Adil Shah quietly slipped into a life of dissipation. The overdose of sex and booze ate away at his strength, and this king of Bijapur was dead before he had reached his 35th year.

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9. Sikander Adil Shah

A baby when he was placed on the throne, he was more of a phantom king than real. The Africans and the Afghans jockeyed for what little power was left in Bijapur, with the Marathas intervening every now and then. The kingdom was gone in all but name. When Aurangzeb dragged Sikander down his throne and ended his dynasty’s rule, he was merely snuffing out a lamp that had long since run out of fuel.

From the enigmatic origins of Yusuf Adil Shah to the tragic demise of Sikander Adil Shah, the Adil Shahi dynasty stretched across nearly a century, marked by religious reforms, military conquests, artistic splendor, and, inevitably, decline.

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Neelesh Chatterjee

Neelesh Chatterjee is an aficionado of medieval Indian history, and counts among his passions writing telling episodes down from that epoch. He is also an out and out secular, who intends to uphold through his write-ups the secular ethos enshrined in the Indian constitution.