– by Dr. Rahul A. Shastri
Without a preliminary knowledge of the Shia-Sunni conflict we cannot understand the history of Deccan.
- THE SHIA-SUNNI CONFLICT
After the prophet died, his daughter and son-in-law Ali were marginalised and bullied by the first three Caliphs. Ali became the fourth caliph, but was murdered by Sunnis. When his descendants tried to escape to India, Sunnis starved to death or killed in Karbala, all of them, including Hasan and Hussain.
The followers of Ali are called Shias. Shias have their own kalima – or confession of faith which adds a third line to the Sunni kalima proclaiming Ali to be Wali, i.e., guardian-friend-protector. Their religious leaders are ‘Imams’. In their Friday qutba, they give allegiance to Ali and the Imams. They don’t go to Sunni mosques to avoid the Sunni qutba. Shias also practice ‘Tabarrah’: cursing those who persecuted and killed the Prophet’s family and his descendants. Among those whom they curse are the first three Sunni Caliphs.
Shias were greatly persecuted by Sunnis. It was the boast of the Seljuk Vizier that no Shia or Parsi dared to appear in public before sunni Turks. Almost all Shia Imams were killed or poisoned. Soon Shias started to conceal their beliefs under taqqiya but avoided mosques and Friday prayers.
To escape Sunni persecution and sharia-fication, many Shias and other Muslims migrated to India through Gujarat, settling in Deccan where the power of Sunni Delhi Sultans did not reach. They were called Dakkhanis.
Dakkhanis were mostly devotional Muslims, weak on Shariah and more integrated with Hindus. Many were attached to Sufis, both Shia and Sunni. In the last period of Bahmani rule, Dakkhanis joined Hindu naikwaris in a major rebellion.
In 1500, Safawid shias captured Iran. Soon, Sultans of Bijapur and Qutb Shahis of Golkonda declared their Shia beliefs. Shia kalima, qutba and practice of Tabarrah became public.
The Qutb Shahis patronised Telugu literature, took care not to attack temples, promoted Hindus against the Deccanis and imported Irani Shias to islamicise Muslim society. Many foreign Muslims: Iranians and Afghans, made huge fortunes in Golkonda and returned rich to their homelands. Others defected to the Moghals. On the other hand, Hindus and dakkhanis remained rooted to the soil. They were ‘mulkis’.
Moghuls, Afghans and Arabs immigrated in large numbers into Golkonda. There were many Shia-sunni riots. In 1635, Shah Jehan invaded and subdued the kingdom. He imposed a huge annual tax on the Sultan to cripple him financially. He banned tabarrah and replaced in Friday qutbas, Shiah imams with Sunni Caliphs and the Moghal emperor. In response, the defeated Shias absconded from rural mosques where Moghal spies could not report on them.
- NATIONALIST INITIATIVE OF AKKANNA & MADANNA
In strange circumstances, a recluse in Sufi Shah Raju’s khanqah – Abul Hasan Tane Shah, was married to Golkonda Sultan’s third daughter. In 1672, he became the Sultan. Two years later, Tane Shah replaced his Muslim Dewan with Madanna, the Dewan’s secretary. In turn, Madanna raised his brother Akkanna and other relatives to high status.
Madanna was a good administrator and concentrated on raising revenues. But his efficiency in tax collection alienated many zamindars and Akkanna’s tactlessness alienated some rajas. Ultimately this contributed to their downfall.
A historian Siddiqui notes that Madanna tried to unite Hindus and Deccani Muslims against foreigners and was “animated by ultra patriotic favour tinged with a regional bias.” Actually, Madanna’s patriotism had a nationalist tinge, since he was aware of the huge fortunes that vanished from Golkonda when foreign appointees’ returned with riches to their homeland.
Referring to such rootless foreigners as Mooren, his brother Akkanna told a Dutch trader:
“for you yourself can imagine which government serves the king best, ours or that of the Moors;
ours being full heartedly devoted to the welfare of the country, while we are not people who have or seek other countries,
but that of the Moors is only to the end of becoming rich and then to leave for those places which they consider to be either their fatherland or holy.” [Kruijtzer 2009: 247]
In other words, like Dadabhai Naoroji, Akkanna was complaining of the drain of wealth from Golkonda. By ‘moors’, he meant recent immigrants: Pathans, Arabs and afaqi Iranians who were still tied to their land of birth. They were unlike the long-settled Shias or Dakkhanis who had become: ‘sons of the soil’ like Hindus. Madanna and Akkanna were actually advocating rule by Mulkis: an idea that resurfaced under the last two Nizams.
While Madanna and Akkanna were trying to build an alliance of Hindus and Dakkhanis, Shivaji also was trying to mobilise Dakkhanis against Afghans and foreign factions in Bijapur [ibid.: 171].
This may have been a coordinated move. On March 14, 1677, Madanna received Shivaji grandly in Hyderabad, and arranged a “very friendly” interview with the badshāh Abul-Hasan (ibid.: 173).
The visit unveiled the cleavage between Bhāgyanagar and Hyderabad as it were. “Moors”: possibly Afghans, Moghals or Arabs, told Dutchman Havart that Shivāji was “stuffed” with gold to avert plunder. They were troubled and panic stricken. However, the general populace received Shivāji jubilantly and the bādshāh went along.
Abul Hasan financed Shivaji’s invasion of the south, but his failure to pay the promised second instalment and Shivaji’s failure to turn over some promised forts to Golkonda, soured their relations later.
Shivaji’s death in 1680 revived Aurangzeb’s ambitions. He declared both Shia kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkonda as ‘Dar ul Harb’, clearing the decks for jehad. His son came to Deccan in 1685 with an army. Hyderabad was ransacked.
In fatwa e alamgiri, Aurangzeb wrote that the two brothers deserved beheading. In 1686, Africans, Arabs and Pathans beheaded them, sent their heads to the Moghals, robbed and massacred brahmins as far as Masulipatnam and destroyed the magnificent Shiva temple complex at Maheshwaram [ibid.: 240-41]. This loot and massacre of Brahmins is the first reported instance of Hindu-muslim “riots” in Hyderabad [ibid.: 9, 91].
This was Aurangzeb’s first gift to Hyderabad. A year later, Aurangzeb captured Golkonda and sunnified Deccan.
- MORU & RAMDAS: THE REBEL HEROES OF DECCAN
After the fall of Golkonda, a prolonged rebellion by Deccan Brahmins against Moghals seems to have been organised by two men Moru and Ramdas. Overlooked by written history, these two unknown heroes are mentioned only in the first Nizam’s will.
Nizam’s will has only five names. Three names are those of his advisor, of his wayward son and his Dewan: Puran Chand. The other two names are Moru and Ramdas who are mentioned in the fifteenth point of the testament.
There are two translations of this will. The Tajalli Ali Shahi translation reads:
“The Dakhini Brahmins are all fit to be killed and their heads severed.
Special mention should be made of two leaders (sar-i guruh) of this community: one is Moru and the other is Ramdas. These two have been undermining the state (daulat) for a hundred years. I have imprisoned them (in pandit khanas) They should never be released!
It is added: “The word Pandit Khana is well known in the world. It means the house of imprisonment of this community” [Faruqui 2009: 40]
The Husain [1936,1963] translation reads:
“…the Brahmins of the Deccan, although able, are fit only to be locked up in prison, on account of their rebellious attitude. … Hazrat Khuld Makan (the Emperor Aurangzeb) had also observed the same.
They have two ring-leaders … Moru and Ramdas, who are the upsetters of this Muslim state. I have confined these two in the fort of Ahmednagar … in their continued confinement lies our well-being.
By Pandit Khana is meant the prison where all these people are kept. Since the time of Hazrat Alamgir Padshah, the standing order has been that wherever a refractory Brahmin is found, he should be taken away forthwith and imprisoned.” [Husain: 1936,1963]
Several points of historical interest stand out.
i) Aurangzeb maintained a special jail or jails, called Pandit Khana(s), for Brahmins who had a ‘rebellious attitude’ towards the rule of Islam. These jails were established either in Deccan only or in all his dominions.
ii) The Muslim state of Deccan was being upset by two ‘ringleaders’ – Moru and Ramdas who led a prolonged brahmin rebellion. It was so long that it could be described as a ‘hundred years’.
iii) Even after imprisoning the two heroes, the Nizam feared them so much, that he asked his descendants never to release them. This fear must have had good reasons, because Nizam Mir Qamruddin was a redoubtable warrior and not easily scared.
iv) Whether the Nizam wanted all Deccani brahmins beheaded as Tajalli says, or only locked up as Hussein says, his approval of pandit khanas shows that he shared the anti-brahmin policy of Aurangzeb. One cannot say for certainty why he did not implement such policies, but it could possibly because of the need for qualified administrators, the number of Hindu subjects and the sorry fate of Aurangzeb’s religious policies [Faruqui 2009: 41-42].
4. ANTI BRITISH CONSPIRACY IN HYDERABAD & 1808 SHOLAPUR REVOLT
After the first Nizam died, two new foreign players entered Deccan politics. The English East India Company and the French.
By 1765, the second Nizam entered into a treaty with the British, agreeing to keep the French away. But he got French trained troops from Adoni and in 1786, appointed Monsieur Raymond as their commanding officer. Hyderabadis called Monsieur Raymond: Moosa Ram. Since his troops were stationed on a hill in Malakpet, it was called Moosarambagh (now TV Towers).
From Nizam’s side, Raja Mahipat Ram was made liaison officer and peshkar to Raymond. Raymond’s troops increased from 300 to 14,000 and Raja Mahipat Ram developed good relations with these soldiers and the French officers. Over time, he became a General in Nizam’s army. As French influence increased, pro-British elements became nervous.
After Raymond died in 1798, the pro British Dewan Arastu Jah led the Nizam into subsidiary alliance with East India Company. The French trained regiment was disbanded. Mahipat Ram became the Commander of the western army where reemployed the ex-soldiers of the disbanded French regiment.
In 1803, Sikandar Jah became the third Nizam. He was a sullen and reluctant ally of the British [Briggs 1861a: 88]. He held Raja Mahipat Ram in “grateful recollection” due to some “acts of kindness” and pecuniary assistance rendered by the Raja before he became Nizam.
When Baji Rao became an English vassal, Wellesley invaded Maratha lands accompanied by Hyderabad army. Mahipat Ram commanded this army and was secretly in touch with the Marathas. The experience was unhappy. After the war, company officers complained that Nizam’s ‘local authorities’ retarded operations by “negligent and in some instances, hostile proceedings,” that some killedars refused asylum to British wounded and in one case even fired on a British detachment [Briggs 1861a: 86].
These offending ‘local authorities’ included Mahipat Ram. The British complained that his troops came only “after many vexatious delays,” and were “productive of little or no advantage” [ibid.]. They also suspected that Mahipat Ram’s troops were French trained and anti-British [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam]. One report says that instead of assisting the British, Mahipat Ram “and his undisciplined troops actually looted the camp of the Company army” [Hoover quot. Mallampalli 2017: 68n5].
Mahipat Ram masked his true intentions in the guise of confusion, bad leadership and even fear. Repeated British complaints against him had no effect on Nizam, because some companions of the Nizam, like Ismail Yar Jung, supported him. Under great British pressure, Mahipat Ram was removed from Army command. But he became the governor of Berar [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam, Berar under the Nizams] and its jagirdar.
When Arastu Jah died in 1804, the British Resident Sydenham prevented Mahipat Ram’s appointment as Dewan, fearing that he would break Nizam’s alliance with the company [Chaudhuri 2016: 49].
Mahipat Ram and Raja Raghottam Rao were advising the Nizam against the British and Mir Alam [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam]. Countering them, the British warned the Nizam against equivocal behaviour, gave him some Maratha lands and made him appoint Mir Alam as Dewan and Raja Chandulal as Peshkar. Mahipat Ram was forced to return to Berar and Nizam was forbidden to interact with him [Briggs 1861a: 89-90].
The Nizam complied reluctantly, but it was soon discovered that Mahipat Ram wrote letters from Berar goading him to defy the British, making Mir Alam nervous [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam, Chaudhuri 2016: 50]. Through Ismail Yar Jung, Mahipat Ram kept personal contact with the Nizam and plotted with Holkar and Scindia to subvert the Nizam’s subsidiary alliance with the Company [Briggs 1861a: 89].
The British suspected “tacit connivance” if not “avowed consent” of the Nizam in this plot, but they had no direct evidence [Briggs 1861a: 89]. Meanwhile reports reached Resident Sydenham that Raja Rao Rambha and Nur ul-Umra were having treasonous discussions with British sepoys in the Secunderabad cantonment [Rao 2017, Mallampalli 2017: 94]. Possibly Raja Chandu Lal who was supposed to be an important source for inside information to the British [Mallampalli 2017: 74] may have leaked this.
Barlow, the Governor General, warned Sydenham that this plot would subvert the “very foundation” of British power in India because:
Nizam’s “power and resources which we have now a right to command for our support and security would be turned against us” [Chaudhuri 2016: 52].
Swinging into action, Sydenham brought Mir Alam into British Residency at Kothi and put him in protective custody [Briggs 1861a: 90]. At the same time, the Commander of subsidiary forces was alerted for rapid deployment. This news scared the local anti-British faction and Ismail Yar Jung pleaded with Mir Alam for mercy [Chaudhuri 2016: 54].
On November 28, 1806, Sydenham met the Nizam and demanded
a) the dismissal of Mahipatram and Ismail Yar Jung,
b) retirement of the Yar Jung to his jagir,
c) replacement of all followers of Mahipat Ram in districts as well as in army by Company loyalists,
d) Channelling of all correspondence of the Nizam through Mir Alam,
e) acceptance of all ‘just proposals’ of the company and
f) adjudication by the British Resident on any differences between the Nizam and Mir Alam [Chaudhuri 2016:].
The Nizam surrendered. Raja Rambha Rao was banished, Nur ul Umrah and Raja Mahipat Ram were dismissed [Rao 2017: 54-55]. The Company began to rule Hyderabad through the Dewan.
Mir Alam returned to his palace with a permanent guard. All offices of followers of Raja Mahipat Ram were given to the followers of Mir Alam. Govind Baksh, brother of Raja Chandulal, went with British troops as Governor of Berar [Briggs 1861a: 90-1] and Mahipat Ram was banished to Sagar in Shahpur [Chaudhuri 2016: 145].
Although banished, Mahipat Ram remained popular with soldiers. Two thousand men under Muhammad Riza Khan Sindhi and Nabi Yar Jung followed Raja Mahipat Ram to Sagar, defied orders from the Dewan to return and were dismissed.
But maintaining so many rebels became a problem. In order to pay his loyalists, Mahipat Ram looked to Sholapur, a tributary of Nizam, that was chronically in arrears. Conspiring with a malcontent Inkuppah Naik, he marched on Sholapur, defeated its army, took its king Pid Naik into custody and installed Inkuppah as its Dewan. In return, Inkuppah paid the rebels, while Mahipat Ram assured the Nizam of regular tributes from Sholapur and got his approval [Chaudhuri 2016: 145-6].
Since initial British representation on Sholapur developments fell on deaf ears, a complaint by Shums Ul Umrah against raids on Paigah lands by Mahipat Ram’s men was added. This forced the Nizam to give his assent to intervention. Mir Alam then dispatched troops under Nizamat Jung and Gordon to Sholapur along with the following terms:
a) Mahipat Ram would be given a monthly allowance of Rs. 2,600; plus 4,500/- for his troops whose strength was to be limited to 500 only;
b) All others were to be dismissed;
c) Muhammad Riza Khan, Nabi Yar Jung, Inkuppah and their followers were to be abandoned,
d) the ruler of Sholapur, his retinue and property were to be released and
e) Sholapur was to be left alone [Chaudhuri 2016: 147-8].
When Palmer reached Mahipat Ram with these terms, Riza Khan and Inkuppah had gone to get Maratha support. Mahipat Ram engaged the envoy in talks, released the ruler of Sholapur and his retinue, and waited for all his men to gather. Since Maratha help was not forthcoming, Inkuppah surrendered to Gordon after returning and was sent to Hyderabad [Chaudhuri 2016: 148]. But the other rebels stayed to fight.
The Battle of Sholapur
On February 10, 1808, Mahipat Ram embraced all his principal officers and they collectively swore to defend one another with their lives. Then they moved out to engage Nizam’s army, attacking with such fury that the whole of Nizam’s cavalry and infantry retreated in confusion and some European generals were killed or wounded. As his forces evaporated, Commander Gordon approached Mahipat Ram with an obeisance, but was met by a sword blow to the neck and killed [Chaudhuri 2016: 149].
At Hyderabad, the British were puzzled at the furious attack by Mahipat Ram who, they had previously thought, did not have the talent or courage for war. They attributed his open rebellion to his dislike and distrust of Mir Alam. But unknown to them, a letter from the Raja’s brother Sripat Ram had reached Mahipat Ram hinting that the Nizam ‘would not be displeased at any measures which Mahipat Ram might be reduced to adopt for his own security’ [Chaudhuri 2016: 149].
Mahipat Ram’s hands were thus freed from the ‘bond of salt’ and he could strike a blow for liberty or death.
Writing two separate letters to the Nizam, one for his eyes only and the other for the British Resident and Mir Alam, Mahipat Ram protested his innocence in public. What he wrote for the Nizam’s eyes can only be guessed. But the news of a private letter reached the Resident. So, when the Nizam suggested negotiation with the rebels, the British Resident expressed his suspicion of a clandestine correspondence with Mahipat Ram and silenced him [Chaudhuri 2016: 149-50].
After this, the British sent their own subsidiary troops to Sholapur Colonel Doveton blockaded the Berar border. Facing better equipped and trained troops, Mahipat Ram retreated. Relentlessly chased by the British force, most of his friends and soldiers deserted leaving him with only Muhammad Riza Khan and his men.
Incapable of fighting further, Mahipat Ram left Nizam’s territory and took shelter with Holkar, who received him, his brother Sripat Ram and Muhammad Riza Khan Sindhi with great distinction [Chaudhuri 2016: 151]. He is believed to have joined in the service of Holkar thereafter [Gribble 1896: 146].
A year or two after Holkar signed the subsidiary alliance, Raja Mahipat Ram was killed in Indore. The circumstances are unclear. Some attribute it to a faction fight [Chaudhuri 2016: 151], others to a mutiny over unpaid arrears ending in death at the hands of Holkar’s troops [Gribble 1924: 146] and still others to treachery of his employer [Briggs 1861a: 91].
In mid 1960s, the MCH under the mayoralty of Smt. Sarojini Pulla Reddy recognised Raja Mahipat Ram as the first freedom fighter of Hyderabad and named the lane adjacent to Koti Women’s College after him. The lane carried a plaque with his name until the Telangana agitation failed. The plaque disappeared sometime thereafter and has not reappeared since.
Mahipat Ram belonged to the Sehgal family and some of his direct descendants live on in Hyderabad. He is still remembered fondly by the Brahmakshatriya community of Hyderabad.
Men die, circumstances change, but memories live on.
Briggs H.G. (1861a) The Nizam: His History and Relations with the British Government, v1, Bernard Quaritch, London
Chaudhuri Nani Gopal (2016) British Relations with Hyderabad (1795-1857), unpublished Ph.D. Thesis submitted to Calcutta University.
Faruqui M. (2009) At Empire’s End: The Nizam, Hyderabad and Eighteenth-Century India, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 43, No. 1.
Gribble JDB (1924) A History of the Deccan v2, (ed.) Mrs. M. Pendlebury, Luzac & Co, London.
Husain Yusuf (1936,1963) The first Nizām: the life and times of Nizāmu’l-Mulk Āsaf Jāh I, 2nd rev. enlarged edition Asia Publishing House.
Kruijtzer G. (2009) Xenophobia in Seventeenth Century India, Leiden University Press.
Maharashtra Gazetteers, Berar under the Nizams
Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam
Mallampalli C (2017) A Muslim Conspiracy in British India? Politics and Paranoia in Early Nineteenth Century Deccan, Cambridge University Press.