Though in battle’s dreadful turmoil her courage never failed,
In the softer arts of peace she was gentle and serene.
To the feeble, tender-hearted; to the needy, ever kind,
Was the noble Chand Sultana, Bijapur’s beloved Queen.
The year was 1564. Chand Bibi had just assumed regency, for a 9-year-old Ibrahim II had been placed on the throne because Chand Bibi’s husband, Ali Adil Shah was murdered in his bedroom by two eunuchs he allegedly fancied.
Thus begins the tale of the woman who would one day be the Deccan’s last chance against Mughal imperialists.
Make no mistake; Chand Bibi was very well suited to the task. In addition to handling a large portion of public affairs and transacting business in an open durbar, she could play the sitar, paint for pleasure and reportedly speak five languages. Despite her husband’s apparent penchant for eunuchs, she seemed to enjoy a happy marriage with him; she would even ride with him into battle, openly disregarding the purdah system and other rules of feminine etiquette.
She was a just and firm leader, beloved by all.
However, she never had much luck with her inner circle of nobles. One nobleman she appointed as her advisor became intoxicated with power to the point of openly being rude to her (she had him killed – he tried to jump out of the fort walls into a swamp, but was fished out and executed), and another accused her of betraying Ibrahim II and conspiring with her brother, Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar, when he invaded Bijapur. The latter proved to be the more vexing of the two, as he had Chand Bibi imprisoned. Thankfully she was not a prisoner for long, for another power that later emerged in the court released her.
When Ibrahim II grew up, he married Nizam Shah’s sister. Chand Bibi understood this to mean the end of her regency, so she escorted the bride back to the land she herself was born in – Ahmadnagar – and prepared to spend the rest of her life living in peace in her homeland.
Alas, this was not to be.
For when Chand Bibi arrived in Ahmadnagar, she found the kingdom to be in the throes of turmoil, due to multiple rounds of struggles for succession by a plethora of contenders for the throne. To make matters worse, the Mughals had sensed the kingdom’s weakness and were arriving to conquer it.
Instead of remaining passive, Chand Bibi leapt into action to save her homeland. She immediately rallied the nobility and – with much difficulty – convinced them to put aside their differences in the face of a common enemy.
Meanwhile, the Mughals surrounded Ahmadnagar.
The next thing Chand Bibi did was to ask the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda for help, following which she prepared herself for battle and charged into the frontlines.
She fought tirelessly from sunrise to sunset, forcing the Mughals back. But Chand Bibi knew that she was running out of ammunition. Yet she refused to give up, and when the ammunition ran out, she had the cannons loaded with gold and silver from the palace treasuries!
Thankfully the kingdom’s treasures did not have to suffer such a plight for long, for soon enough, the reinforcements from Bijapur and Golconda arrived.
The Mughals recognised defeat and ceased their attack. Thanks to Chand Bibi, the Deccan had won!
However, there was still the politics to sort out. A treaty was signed in which the Mughals received Berar, their first territory in the Deccan. Though they gave Chand Bibi the title of Chand Sultan (essentially calling her a king, which at the time commanded more respect than the title of ‘Begum’, i.e. Queen), this was mere flattery, and throughout the negotiation process for the treaty they taunted her noblemen, comparing them to eunuchs who had to run to a woman for protection.
Moreover, after winning the battle, the succession struggles resumed with full vigour in Ahmadnagar, despite the enemy being so close by. Once more, the Mughals seized the opportunity presented by the turbulent kingdom, and proceeded to unleash a multitude of small attacks, capturing the kingdom, one piece at a time.
Once again, Chand Bibi united with Bijapur and Golconda to lead a joint attack against the Mughals. But alas, the allies were defeated.
Ahmadnagar’s response to Chand Bibi’s defeat was to immediately make plans to strip her of her power.
The Mughals took full advantage of this unrest, and in 1599, Prince Dariyal arrived at Ahmadnagar. Now Chand Bibi had a choice to make: fight the Mughals while also fighting the nobles who were trying to overthrow her, or make peace with the Mughals. She chose the latter.
Sadly, this would be the cause of her downfall. As one narrator puts it:
“Hamid Khan, one of the principal officers in the fort, and the head of an opposite faction, came to know of this, and at once ran into the streets, exclaiming that the Queen wished to betray the people. The excitable and turbulent soldiers of Ahmadnagar, forgetting all the noble devotion which Queen Chand had always shown, at once assembled in front of the palace. Headed by Hamid Khan, they rushed inside, sword in hand, and not finding the Queen in the audience hall, they broke open the private apartment. There they were confronted by this courageous woman who was undismayed, though she saw that the end had come. Too excited to listen to her, the crowds rushed on, and Hamid Khan cut her down, and so died Chand Bibi, one of the noblest characters in the History of India.”
Pillai, Manu. Rebel Sultans. New Delhi: Juggernaut Books, 2018. Print.