Fragmentation of the Bahmani Sultanate Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The breakup of the Bahmani sultanate of the Deccan, namely because of the empire’s losing control over its provincial governors, saw the emergence of five successor sultanates in the region.

Summary of Event

During the first half of the fourteenth century, the Delhi sultanate Delhi sultanate , a north Indian power, expanded its frontiers to include the great tableland of the Deccan (traditionally defined as extending from the Narmada River to the Kistna River) and the far south. The expansion was the work of two sultans, ՙAlā՚-al-Dīn Muḥammad Khaljī (d. 1316) and Ghiyās-ud-Dīn Tughluq (d. 1325). The result was territorial over-extension, which the logistics of the age could not sustain. Around 1347, a breakaway regime independent of Delhi was established in the Deccan by an ambitious military commander, ՙAlā՚-ud-Dīn Bahman Shah. Bahmani sultanate ՙAlā՚-ud-Dīn Bahman Shah Shihāb-ud-Dīn Aḥmad I Maḥmūd Gāwān Qāsim Barīd ՙAlā՚-ud-Dīn Bahman Shah Shihāb-ud-Dīn Aḥmad I Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Shah III Makhdum Khwaja Jahān Humāyūn Niẓām Maḥmūd Gāwān Maḥmūd (Bahmani sultan) Qāsim Barīd Amir ՙAlī Barīd Faṭh Allāh ՙImād-ul-Mulk Yūsuf ՙĀdil Khan Malik Aḥmad Niẓām-ul-Mulk Akbar Qulī Quṭb Shāh

Bahman Shah founded the Bahmani Dynasty, which numbered nearly twenty sovereigns, and it survived until 1527. In addition to consolidating his state by almost continuous warfare, he established his capital at Gulbarga, which he adorned with fine buildings, and encouraged the migration from Delhi to the Deccan of charismatic Sufi Sufism;India sheikhs (Muslim mystics) of the Chishti Order, who would leave a distinctive imprint on the religious life of the region.

The Bahmani sultanate reached its apogee under Shihāb-ud-Dīn Aḥmad I, who transferred the capital from Gulbarga to the more-central location of Bīdar in 1429 and who overthrew the Hindu kingdom of Warangal (northern Telingana) in 1425. By then, the sultanate extended from the Narmada to the Kistna, where the Rāichūr Doab, the land between the Kistna and Tungabhadra Rivers, was bitterly contested with the mighty Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar Vijayanagar Empire , whose capital city lay on the south bank of the Tungabhadra River.

Against Vijayanagar, Aḥmad I won a crushing, if temporary, victory. In the west, his realm extended to the Western Ghats and touched the Arabian Sea at Chaul, but the Bahmanis were never able to absorb effectively the narrow coastal plain. Contacts across the Arabian Sea were, however, extremely important to them, bringing recruits (mainly from Persia), cavalry mounts, and close cultural contacts. In the east, the gentle slope of the Eastern Ghats presented no significant barrier to expansion, and Bahmani rule there extended to the Bay of Bengal.

The Bahmani Dynasty was a formidable military power against Warangal, Vijayanagar, and the Muslim sultanates of Malwa and Gujarat, but, nevertheless, the Bahmanis suffered from certain systemic weaknesses. Constant warfare, especially against Vijayanagar, over which it never secured a permanent advantage, drained the material resources of the sultanate, with dire consequences. In the Deccan, the Muslims were a diverse minority, dependent on Hindu acquiescence and given to fierce internecine rivalries. On one hand, there were the Deccanis (mostly the descendants of earlier conquests and local converts), together with Ḥabshī (Abyssinian) mamlūks (slave-soldiers) imported from Africa, all of whom were Sunni Muslims. Set against them were the afaqi (outsiders), foreign recruits to the sultan’s service, who were either Turks, Arabs, or, increasingly over time, Persians. The Persian recruits were Shīՙites, reflecting the growth of Shīՙite tendencies in Persia itself. Thus, sectarian rivalry reinforced cultural differences and fierce competition for office and patronage. Islam;Shīՙites[Shiites]

Inevitably, too, a long-lived dynasty produced rulers of mediocre caliber in its later reigns, with harem rivalries, child rulers, and the offspring of competing wives. Ineffective rulers, as was often the case in the history of medieval Islamic dynasties, inaugurated a process whereby the reality of power gravitated into the hands of dominant outside figures, such as chief ministers or army commanders. These trends came to the fore in the middle decades of the fifteenth century, during the long reign of Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Shah III, who ascended the throne at the age of nine. At first, the government was in the hands of a very experienced vizier (administrator), Makhdum Khwaja Jahān, originally a merchant from Khorāsān, who served a succession of fathers and sons: Aḥmad I, Aḥmad II (r. 1436-1458), Humāyūn (r. 1458-1461), Niẓām (r. 1461-1463), and Muḥammad Shah III (r. 1463-1482).

Inevitably, Jahān made enemies, especially with the queen mother, who procured his death. He was succeeded by another Persian, who had served almost as long in the administration, Maḥmūd Gāwān, who also received the title of Khwaja Jahān. One of the greatest figures in Deccani history—a statesman, soldier, and patron of learning and the arts—he too provoked the jealousy of his suspicious master. So in 1481, Muḥammad Shah III had him beheaded. His madrasa, or theological college, in Bīdar, remains one of the finest surviving Bahmani monuments and serves as testimony to Persian architectural and decorative influence in the Deccan.

Muḥammad Shah III died a year later and was succeeded by his equally ineffective and long-reigning son, Maḥmūd (r. 1482-1518), the first of five rois faineants (idle kings), who were puppets in the hands of a Turkish noble at the Bīdar court, Qāsim Barīd, and after the latter’s death in 1504, of his son, Amir ՙAlī Barīd, who became the effective ruler of the capital Bīdar and the surrounding districts.

When the last Bahmani died in 1527, the Barid-Shāh Dynasty Barid-Shāh Dynasty[Barid Shah Dynasty] took over part of the Bahmani sultanate, which it ruled until 1619, when it was annexed by the ՙĀdil Shah Dynasty ՙĀdil Shah Dynasty[Adil Shah Dynasty] of Bijāpur.

Meanwhile, during the feeble reign of Maḥmūd, the outlying provinces became separated under local governors bent on independence. Thus, the former Bahmani state, including the Barīd-Shāh regime in Bīdar, disintegrated into five fragments. The first to break away, as early as 1485, was the governor of Berar, Faṭh Allāh ՙImād-ul-Mulk, whose descendants, the Imad-Shāhis, maintained their independence until 1572, when Berar was annexed by the Niẓām-Shāh Dynasty of Ahmadnagar. The ՙĀdil Shah Dynasty of Bijāpur (1489-1686) descended from a former governor of Bijāpur, Yūsuf ՙĀdil Khan, a Turk, formed a powerful dynasty that came to rule much of the southwest of the peninsula, fiercely resisting Mughal expansion into the Deccan until the sixth Mughal emperor, ՙĀlamgīr (1658-1707), captured Bijāpur in 1686.

In 1491, Malik Aḥmad Niẓām-ul-Mulk, son of a former Bahmani chief minister, proclaimed himself independent, seized Ahmadnagar and Daulātabād, and established a powerful sultanate in the northwest Deccan, with its capital at Ahmadnagar. It was partially conquered by the third Mughal emperor, Akbar (r. 1556-1605), in 1600, but the resilient ruling line survived as a result of the vigorous opposition to Mughal rule offered by an Abyssinian slave-soldier, Malik ՙAmbār (d. 1626). It was formally annexed by Akbar’s grandson in 1633.

Finally, a Turkish commander belonging to the powerful Kara Koyunlu Kara Koyunlu Dynasty tribe of northwest Iran, Sultan Qulī Quṭb Shāh, who had been appointed governor of Telingana by Maḥmūd Gāwān, acquired in 1512 a vast territory in the southeast Deccan, comprising much of the former kingdom of Warangal and the future Hyderābād state. He established his capital at Golconda, although he also founded the nearby city of Hyderābād. The Quṭb-Shāhī sultanate survived until 1687, when Golconda was overrun by the armies of Mughal emperor ՙĀlamgīr (r. 1658-1707).


Despite a record of dynastic rivalry and usurpation, the Bahmani sultanate brought to the Deccan a diverse and cosmopolitan florescence of Indo-Islamic culture, which it passed to the successor-states that followed it. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Bahmani was the diffusion of Sufi or Muslim mystical thought and practice. At the same time, the later Bahmani displayed a proclivity for Shiism, which was emulated by the Niẓām-Shāh, ՙĀdil Shah, and Quṭb-Shāh Dynasties.

In architecture, decoration, miniature painting, and music, the Deccani sultanates drew upon many elements—Persian, Turkish, and indigenous Hindu—to sustain a rich, syncretistic cultural and linguistic tradition.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eaton, Richard M. Sufis of Bijāpur, 1300-1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978. A brilliant and sensitive study of the Islamic religious culture of the Deccan in Bahmani and later times.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ernst, Carl W. Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. This monograph perfectly complements Eaton’s work (above) and provides marvelous insight into Deccani Islam.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Firishta, Muhammad Qāsim Hindushah Astarabad. Tarikh-i Firishta. In History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India. Translated by John Briggs. 4 vols. 1829. Reprint. Calcutta, India: 1966. Firishta, who died around 1570, served at the Niẓām-Shāh and ՙĀdil Shah courts, writing a comprehensive history of Muslim rule in India, including a highly informative account of the Bahmani sultans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goron, Stan, and J. P. Goenha. Coins of the Indian Sultans. Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001. Indispensable for the complicated chronology of the Bahmani Dynasty and its five successors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Michell, George, and Mark Zebrowski. Architecture and Arts of the Deccan Sultanates. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. The essential reference work for the visual arts of the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tabatabai, Ali bin Aziz-Allah. “History of the Bahmani Dynasty.” Indian Antiquary (1899). Translated by J. S. King. A contemporary of Firishta (see above), Tabatabai served the Niẓām-Shāh court. His chronicle complements that of Firishta.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. This widely accessible and well-written work includes a description of the Delhi sultans and Bābur’s conquest of India.

1489: ՙĀdil Shah Dynasty Founded

Early 16th cent.: Devotional Bhakti Traditions Emerge

Categories: History Content