Telugu Literature and Culture of Qutub Shahi Dynasty


The history of India from the conquest of North India by Mohammed of Ghur in 1192 AD to the beginning of Mughal Empire in 1526 AD is usually considered the history of Delhi Sultanate. However, this sultanate was only a North Indian state for most of the time. Many Hindu states continued to exist throughout this period.   Many more Hindu and Muslim states rose and declared independence from the Delhi sultanate after Mohammed Tughlak returned to Delhi from Doulatabad.  The most important states in the Indian Continent besides Delhi sultanate at this time were Gajapati kingdom of Orissa, Bahmani sultanate of Central India, and the Vijayanagar Empire in the South India.  Bahmani sultanate of Central India included the state of Telangana.  This sultanate was established by Zafar Khan in 1345 AD after conquering Doulatabad.  Zafar Khan, also known as Bahman Shaw, was a Turkish or Afghan officer of unknown descent.  Bahmani sultans were as cruel as Delhi sultans. Bahman Shaw’s successor, Mohammed Shaw (1358-73) killed about half a million people in his incessant campaigns. Despite their many wars Mohammed Shaw and his successors could not expand their sultanate very much.  Afnasiy Niktin, a Russian merchant, spent four years (1470-1474) in the sultanate and noted in his writings the great contrast between the enormous wealth of the nobility and the grinding poverty of the rural population.

Bahmani kingdom disintegrated slowly and resulted in five new sultanates by 1526 AD.  One of those sultanates was Golconda (Hyderabad), ruled by Qutub Shahi dynasty (1512-1687).  The remaining were Imad Shahi Dynasty of Berar, Nizam Shahi Dynasty of Ahmad Nagar, Barid Shahi Dynasty of Bidar.  In the north, notable dynasties were sultanates of Bengal, Malwa, Gujarat, and Kashmir.

Qutub Shahis were Shia Muslims and  belonged to a Turkman tribe from the Turkmanistan-Armenia region.  Quli Qutb-ul-Mulk migrated to Delhi with some of his relatives and friends in the beginning of the 16th century.  Later he migrated to Deccan (south) and served Bahmani sultan Mohammed Shaw. He conquered Golconda and became the Governor of Telangana State.  Soon after, he declared independence from Bahmani sultanate took title Qutub Shah and established Qutub Shahi dynasty of Golconda.  He was a contemporary of Srikrishnadevaraya and Achyutaraya of Vijayanagara dynasty.  Qutubshahi dynasty was the first Muslim dynasty to rule Telugus.  This effectively divided the Telugu nation into two countries, one Muslim ruled country (Telanagana State) and the other a Hindu ruled country.   The Muslim rule of Telangana State continued until the Hyderabad State joined the Indian Union in 1948 with the military intervention (the police action) of New Delhi.

Qutub Shahi dynasty included the rule of  Quli Qutub Shah (1512-1543), Jamshed Qutub Shah (1543-1550), Ibrahim Qutub Shah (1550-1580), Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah (1580-1611), Abdulla Hussain Qutub Shah (1611-1658), Abul Hasan Qutub Shah (1658-1687).  Quli Qutub Shah extended his rule by capturing forts at Warnagal, Kondapalli, Eluru, and Rajamundry, while Krishnadevaraya was busy fighting the ruler of Orissa.  He defeated Sitapati Raju alias Shitab Khan, the ruler of Khammam Mettu (Khammam) and captured the fort. He also forced Orissa ruler to surrender all the territories between the mouths of Krishna and Godavari rivers.  He was able to occupy Eluru, Rajamundry and Machilipatnam extending his rule to coastal Andhra. Quli’s campaign against Krishnadevaraya continued until Timmarusu, the Prime Minister of Krishnadevaraya, defeated the Golconda army.

The main part of Golconda State was Telangana.  Though, Telugu was not their mother tongue, Golconda rulers learned Telugu language.  Quli didn't discriminate against Hindus. He employed eligible Hindus in his court as governors (subedars) and officers. Quli’s son Jamshed was very cruel. He murdered his father, blinded his brother Kutbuddeen, the heir to the throne, and took over the throne.  His younger brother Ibrahim ran away to Vijayanagara Empire. Emperor Aliya Ramamrayalu gave him shelter.  During this period Ibrahim acquainted himself with Telugu literature and learned from the Ashtadiggajas like Bhattumurti.  After the death of Jamshed, Ibrahim took over the Golconda throne.  He respected Telugu poets in his court along with Arabic and Persian poets.  Notable poets of Ibrahim Qutub Shah period were Singanacharyudu, Addanki Gangadharudu, and Kandukuru Rudrakavi.  Singanacharyudu wrote Niroshthyaramayanamu, which described the story of  Rama, son of King Dasaradha.  Addanki Gangadharudu wrote Tapateesamvaropakhyanamu and dedicated it to Ibrahim Qutub Shah.  Kandukuri Rudrakavi wrote a Prabandhamu called Nirankusopakhyanamu. He also wrote a yakshaganamu entitled Sugreeva Vijayamu.  Yakshaganamu is a form of poetry in which an event or a series of events are narrated, intended to be chanted with action (on stage.)  Ibrahim Qutub Shah gifted Rudrakavi with an entire village of Chintalapalem.  Ibrahim Qutub Shah was praised by poets as “Malkibha-rama.”  Gangadharudu described Ibrahim Qutub Shah as being drowned and absorbed in the “Bharataksheeramaya sindhu bandhu madhyalalita punyakatha sudhaalahari (waves of virtuous stories of Indian milky ocean).”  A Telugu poet praised him as the greatest Rama on earth so far and any Rama of Puranas was lesser than Malkibharama (Ibrahim Qutub Shah)! During his rein, even his courtiers and tributary kings followed his example and supported Telugu poets and writers. Ponniganti Telaganacharya dedicated his Yayaati Charitra to Ameer Khan, a prominent courtier of Malkibharama.

Malkibharama took not only kaavya kanyakalu (Kaavya= poem, Kanyaka = virgin), but also real Telugu virgin (Telugu Kanyaka) Bhageeradhi and married her.   However, there is one black spot in the portrait of this great king.  In 1565, he attacked Emperor Aliya Ramarayalu who protected him in his difficult time and destroyed Vijayanagar Dynasty by joining in the war of Tallikota, when all Muslim countries formed an alliance against the Hindu Vijayanagara Dynasty. This treacherous act tarnished the image of Malkibharama, the greatest of Ramas on earth!

After Ibrahim Qutub Shah, his son born to Bhageeradhi, Mohammed Qutub Shah became the ruler of Golconda.  Similar to his father, Mohammed married Bhagyamati, a Telugu girl.  He built a new city on the banks of river Moosee and named it Bhagyanagar.  Later he gave a title “Hyder Mahal” to his wife Bhagyamati and renamed the city as Hyderabad.  Mohammed Quli was a scholar in Arabic and Persian. He wrote poetry in Persian.  His poetry was compiled and entitled “Quliyat Quli” in the Urdu literature.  It is said that the Urdu language acquired the status of literature due to his contributions.  Like his father, he supported Sanskrit and Telugu literature.  During his period, Krishnayamatyudu wrote a Vaishnava Prabandha entitled Rajaneeti Ratnaakaramu.  Saranga Tammayya was the accountant (karanam) of Golconda during this period and he wrote Vaijayantee Vilasamu.  Raja Mallaareddy was also in the court of Mohammed Qutub Shah. He wrote Shatchakravarti Charitramu, Shivadharmottaramu, Padmapuranamu etc.  Mallareddy was a tributary king of Metuku (Medak) region of Telangana state. He ruled Medak area from Bikkanavolu, as Capital City.   Pattamata Somayaji was the court poet of Qutub Shah at that time.  It is not a surprise that Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah was able to speak Telugu and write poetry in Telugu, being son of Bhageeradhi and husband of Bhagyamati, both Telugu women. Unfortunately, none of his Telugu writings are available.

Mohammed Qutub Shahi (1612-1626), son-in-law of Mohammed Quli, became sultan of Golconda.  Later his son, Abdulla Qutub Shah took over the reins of Golconda.  Abdulla was also a polyglot. He was a lover of poetry and music. He invited to his court and respected Kshetrayya, a famous lyric writer.  Kshetrayya is known for his sexually explicit poetry.

Abulhasan Qutub Shah, Abdulla’s son-in-law, became ruler of Golconda State in 1672.  Tana Sha or the benevolent ruler was his tittle.  He was the last and the most popular ruler of Qutub Shahi Dynasty. He was a very good statesman and was an equal opportunity employer!  He hired Brahmins as his ministers and generals, e.g., Madanna, a Telugu Brahmin from Hanamkonda City, was his Chief Minister (Mir Jumla).  Tana Sha gained an eternal place in the Telugu literature due to Kancharla Gopanna, nephew of Madanna.  Kancharla Gopanna is famously known as “Ramadasu.”  Ramadasu lived in Nelakondapalli City in Palvancha county.  Tana Sha hired him as Tahasildar (head of the revenue department) of Palvancha county.  Ramadasu diverted the public funds to construct a Rama temple in Bhadrachalam and for the jewelry for the idols of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana.  Tana Shah found Ramadasu guilty of misappropriation of public funds and put him in jail.   Later, according to legend, Tana Sha released Ramadasu from jail because Lord Rama appeared to him in person and paid back the money.  For this goodwill gesture to Ramadasu, Tana Sha gained praise of Telugu nation.

After the battle of Tallikota (1565), the sultans of the Southern Indian States reverted back to their internal fighting.  By this time the Delhi Sultanate died and a dynasty came into power-The Moghul Dynasty, a Sunny Muslim Dynasty founded by Babur from Afghanistan.  Emperor Akbar attempted to conquer the Sounthern Indian sultanates, without success.  Emperor Sha Jahan didn't like the Shia states of Golconda and Bijapur, largely because of Qutub Shah's relationship with Iran and respect for the Shah of Iran.   Abdulla Qutub Shah acknowledged the suzerainty of Shah Jahan.  Aurangazeb was appointed as viceroy of Deccan. At that time Deccan consisted of Khandesh, Berar, Daulatabad and part of Telangana.  In 1682 Aurangazeb went on a campaign of crushing southern States like Marathwada, and also Shia kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda.  He attacked Golconda on 28 June 1685.  Tana Shah defended bravely the fort for eight months.  Aurangazeb succeeded in capturing Golconda by bribery at the end in October 1687.  With the defeat of Abul Hasan Qutub Shah Tana Sha the Qutubshahi dynasty ended and a new dynasty Nizam dynasty began under the control of Mughal Dynasty.  After the fall of Golconda, Aurangazeb continued war against Marathwada for 20 years and failed to conquer it completely.  The fall of Mughal Dynasty began with Aurangazeb’s death in 1707.

European historians and Indian historians have highlighted the destructive role of Sultanates, which were established on the ruins of flourishing Hindu countries.  However, Muslim historians have drawn attention to the blend of Indian and Persian culture as an achievement.  These Muslim dynasties certainly contributed to the development of new cultures in the Southern states.    Distinct culture, economics, language and literature have developed because of approximately 800 years of interaction with Muslims and their rule in Telangana.  Even fifty years after the reunification of Telangana with Andhra and Rayalaseema to form greater Telugu State of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana remains backward economically, although, Hyderabad that was famous for its diamonds and pearls in the world is gaining a new place in the world map recently because of its Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industry and Information Technology.  Unfortunately, the statement of Afanasiy Niktin is true even today: “that there is a great contrast between the enormous wealth of the nobility and the grinding poverty of the rural population.”

A History of India, by Herman, K. and Dieter, R.
History of Modern Andhra, by Raghunadharao, P.
History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh, by Raghunadharao P.
Telugu Sahitya Sameeksha, by Nagayya, G.
A Cultural History of India, by A. L. Basham.
A History of India, by Romilla Thapar

Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 07/07/2000

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