Malik Ambar was born at Harrar in Euthiopia in 1549 and was sold as a slave in the market of Baghdad to the chief qazi of Mecca. He was resold to Khwaja Mir Baghdad from whom he was purchased by Changiz Khan, Minister of Murtaza Nizam Shah I. Changiz Khan had one thousand slaves and Ambar was one of them.
But he was very shrewd and ambitious. He found great scope for rise in the troubled conditions of the region. The sudden death of his patron obliged him to try his luck elsewhere. He joined the army of Abhang Khan when it was opposing Bahadur and was promoted to the rank of one hundred and fifty horsemen as a reward for showing bravery and courage.
He felt bitterly about the defeat of the Deccanis at the hands of the Mughals and after the fall of the fort of Ahmadnagar, he made it his mission in life to revive the defunct Nizam Shahi Kingdom.
Ambar was now in search of a scion of the royal family who could become rallying point of the Deccan. Bahadur and other members of the family had been imprisoned at Gwalior fort and it was not possible to bring them.
He, therefore, declared Murtaza, son of Shah Ali, king with Parenda as the headquarters. He married his own daughter to Murtaza and himself assumed reins of the government as wakil-us-saltanat or Prime Minister. He was actively helped by Raju Deccani, adopted son of Munna Deccani, a mahaldar of Saadat Khan.
He also sought the help of the Portuguese against the Mughals. Both Ambar and Raju harassed the Mughals by making surprise attacks and plundering their provisions. The Mughal commanders Abdul Fazl and Khan-i-Khanan were not able to get rid of them.
In fact, Ambar took advantage of Abul Fazl’s engagement with Raju to raid Tilangana and capture some parts of it after defeating the Mughal general Bahadur Gilani. Meanwhile Khan-i-Khanan sent his son Abdur Rahman to recover the lost territory from Ambar.
In one of the battles fought at Nander, Ambar was defeated and wounded. A treaty was finally signed fixing the boundaries (1602). Ambar was comparatively free to deal with Raju who had taken full advantage of the prevailing chaos to bring under his rule a substantial position of the Nizam Shahi kingdom including Daulatabad.
He transferred the capital to Jannar in 1607 from where he could effectively deal with his rival Raju whose oppressive and high-handed policy was greatly resented by his subjects and there was deep discontentment.
Ambar took full advantage of it and proceeded against Raju. The fort of Daulatabad was captured and Raju was taken a prisoner. He was put to death after 3 or 4 years when a plot was hatched to create a rebellion in his favour. Thus Ambar was able to deal with his powerful rival, of course with the connivance and even active help of the Mughals.
The death of Emperor Akbar, the rebellion of Prince Khusrau and other internal problems which followed the accession of Jahangir gave Ambar an excellent opportunity to deal with Khan-i-Khanan and his sons.
With the help of the other Deccani rulers, Ibrahim Adil Shah and Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, he advanced as far as Malwa, ravaging the Mughal country. Khan-i-Khanan took refuge in the fort of Burhanpur and asked for reinforcements from Delhi.
But before the help could arrive, he took effective measures to settle the affairs at home. He put to death the intriguing Murtaza Nizam Shah II and placed his son Burhan on the throne in A.D. 1610.
Jahangir had meanwhile deputed his son Parviz to Deccan as supreme commander. But the Mughal generals Raja Man Singh, Bir Singh Deo, Shujaat Khan and others had to beat a hasty retreat against the superior military tactics of their rival Ambar.
The Prince attempted to invade Murtaza’s territories by the eastern route which was little known and was also arduous. Maratha gureillas cut off his supplies and harassed him. Prince Parviz was obliged to sign a peace treaty.
It gave some respite to Malik Ambar who made the necessary preparations to meet the Mughals. He tried to replenish his army by recuriting more soldiers who were trained in guerilla warfare which he knew was a most effective weapon against the Mughals. He introduced reforms in the revenue system.
He adopted Todar Mai’s method of surveying and classifying the cultivable land. The land was, however, not measured but a rough survey was made due to uncertain political conditions. Malik Ambar probably fixed the rent at 1/4th of the yield.
The peasant seemed to have been quite happy as the survey and assessment was made sympathetically. The work of collection of revenue was no doubt done by brahmans but they worked under the supervision of muslim officers and thus a system of checks and balances was provided.
In spite of apparent defects in the system, the income of the Nizam Shahi kingdom increased and they had not to face any financial crisis. His next step was to transfer the capital from Junnar to Daulatabad and thence to his newly founded town on Khirki which he called Fatehnagar after his son. Later on it came to be known as Aurangabad. He built many palaces, mosques and laid out beautiful gardens. Most of these buildings are now in ruins.
Jahangir had already deputed Khan-i-Jahan Lodhi to suppress Malik Ambar but he had failed in his mission. Now he sent Khan-i-Khanan again with a huge force. The time was also opportune as a large number of Habashis and Marathas who were the backbone of Ambar had deserted him and joined hands with the Mughals.
He was defeated in a fierce battle with the Mughals and Khirki was plundered and ravaged by the invaders. Khirki which had taken twenty years in the building was so devastated that “it was doubtful whether another 20 years would suffice to restore it to its pristine splendour.”
He had to cede the fort of Ahmadnagar to the Mughals and after their withdrawal he waited for an opportune time to avenge his defeat. To quote Sir Wolseley Haig, “Shah Jahan now experienced a foretaste of the Maratha warfare which brought his son to the grave.
He had driven before him like chaff before the wind an enemy who dared not withstand him in the field, he had confined his principal antagonist within the walls of a fortress but his own troops were starving. By all the rules of war, he was the victor.
In fact, he was as helpless as his adversary, and was obliged to come to terms, which, however, were honourable to the empire.”
He was able to recover most of his lost territory when Prince Khurram (later on Shahjahan) arrived at the head of a large army. Ambar had to sue for peace and agreed to pay a huge sum of money (Rs. 50 lakhs) as war indemnity, on behalf of the three kingdoms of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golkonda, besides ceding a portion of his territory (fourteen kos of the adjoining country).
Khurram on his return was received with great honours by the king. He was promoted to the rank of 30,000 horses and given the title of Shahjahan. The Emperor expressed his happiness over the defeat of Ibrahim Adil Shah whom he considered as a new vassal. For Ambar, it was only an adroit bargains which for the time being saved the situation.
It must also be said that the rulers of Golkonda and Bijapur failed to realize the importance of the struggle with the Mughals and contended themselves by giving some financial help to Malik Ambar.
When Prince Shahjahan revolted against the Emperor and proceeded to Deccan, Malik Ambar did not like to incur the hostility of the mughals and therefore gave an evasive reply. He was not on good terms with Ibrahim Adil Shah and was, therefore, anxious not to annoy the Mughals.
It is important at this stage to understand the causes of friction between Ahmadnagar and Bijapur. The fort of Sholapur was a bone of contention between the two states for a very long time.
Ibrahim II of Bijapur took advantage of the chaos and confusion in Nizam Shahi kingdom and took possession of some part of its territory. The Bijapur ruler was sore at the growing power and influence of Nizam Shahi kingdom under the able and dynamic leadership of the great general Ambar.
The nobles at the Bijapur court felt jealous of Malik Ambar, an Abyssinian slave. Some of the fugitives from Ahmadnagar had been given refuge by the Bijapuri ruler under whose patronage they flourished. It was a constant source of irritation to the Nizam Shahi rulers and nobles.
Mahabat Khan was completely aware of the internal situation in Deccan but he was shrewd enough to keep his counsels to himself. Ultimately, he decided to support Ibrahim Adil Shah. Ambar was left alone.
He took the necessary precautions in view of the impending Mughal invasion. He removed the Nizam Shahi family from Khirki to Daulatabad. He marched towards Golkonda and realized the arrears of fixed subsidy and formed an offensive and defensive alliance.
Having secured his position, he marched towards Bidar which was under Bijapur since 1619, defeated their army and plundered the city. Ibrahim II took shelter in the fort which was besieged. Ibrahim appealed to the Mughals for help and recalled his general Mulla Muhammad Lari.
The Mughal governors of Ahmadnagar and Bir and many other officers proceeded to the rescue of Ibrahim. Ambar had to raise the siege of Bijapur but was pursued by the Mughals. Ambar was in a desperate situation but he showed exemplary courage and resourcefulness in dealing with his enemies who advanced upto Bhatvadi.
“By cutting the embankment of the Bhatvadi Lake he filled the adjoining areas with mud and water and rendered it impossible for his enemies to approach the place. A heavy rain worsened the situation.
To make the position still more miserable, Ambar carried on surprise night attacks, plundering the enemy camps and making it impossible for them to receive any supply of provisions.”
Both sides organized their forces and the fateful battle took place at Bhatvadi (1624). The Mughal and the Bijapur armies suffered a crushing defeat and many of their commanders including Mulla Mughammad Lari were killed.
Ambar now laid siege to Ahmadnagar and Bijapur and occupied the territories of Adil Shahi kingdom upto the Mughal frontier Balaghat. Sholapur was also occupied while Burhanpur was besieged.
Ambar formed an alliance with him but inspite of their combined efforts, the fort of Burhanpur could not be taken. Meanwhile Prince Parviz and Mahabat Khan also arrived in pursuit of Shahjahan.
Ambar had to return to Khirki but because of his old age, he did not live to take advantage of the rebellion of Mahabat Khan to drive out the Mughals from Deccan but he had been able to restore the independence of Ahmadnagar kingdom when he closed his eyes on 14 May, 1626.