In February-March 1325, Prince Juna (Jauna) alias Ulugh Khan occupied the throne of Delhi and became Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughluq after the murder or bizarre accident in which his father Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq perished. Tomes have been written about the eccentricity, outlandishness, cruelty, and the genius of Muhammad Bin Tughluq including an ill-informed play by Girish “anti-communal” Karnad, which overtly glorifies an insane and cruel ruler.
Barely a year or two after he became Sultan, rebellion broke out in South India, which called for stringent action.
Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s Southern Adventures
The rebel was a family member. Bahauddin Gurshasp (or Garshap), Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s sister’s son was ruling as a governor at Sagar near Gulbarga, Karnataka. Over time, he had amassed tremendous wealth and had managed to maintain extremely cordial relations with most of his neighbouring Hindu kings and chieftains. He was also popular among and commanded the loyalty of all his nobles. Around 1326-27, he attacked and chased away those who were loyal to the Sultan in the region.
Around that time, Kampiladeva, the powerful Hindu ruler of Kampili, a small kingdom on the banks of the Tungabhadra river in today’s Karnataka began to grow increasingly assertive. Kampiladeva was a proud Hindu ruler who openly scoffed at the officers of Tughluq and treated them with contempt when they demanded tribute from him. Bahauddin entered into a strong alliance with Kampiladeva.
Meanwhile, an enraged Muhammad Bin Tughluq sent a substantial contingent of his imperial army headed by general Majir Abu Rija to crush Bahauddin. The army marched unimpeded via Devagiri and Warangal, which were already reporting to the Delhi durbar. In the ensuing battle, Bahauddin was badly beaten and chased all the way till Sagar. Distraught, he appealed to Kampiladeva for refuge.
Kampiladeva’s Heroic Resistance
Kampiladeva faced Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s massive army head on in two ferociously-fought battles and won both. The imperial army hadn’t bargained for this kind of determined resistance from such a tiny kingdom. Rija sent for fresh reinforcements from Devagiri. Now, Kampiladeva had no alternative. He fled and ensconced himself in the fort at Hosadurga (today’s Anegondi).
Before Tughluq’s army surrounded the fort from all sides, Kampiladeva made arrangements for the safe passage of Bahauddin. Bahauddin left for Dwarasamudra to seek shelter under the roof of the Hoysala king Vira Ballala III. Kampiladeva could hold out for about a month. His supplies had nearly run out. And so, rather than surrendering, he resolved to fight and kill as many enemy soldiers as he could. Before he left for battle, he instructed the womenfolk to perform Jauhar because he knew the fate that awaited them if they were caught alive. In the battle that followed, he and his men fought and died like true heroes.
Those officers and soldiers who survived were taken prisoners, forcibly converted to Islam, and marched off to Delhi. Among these were two brothers named Harihara and Bukka. Some historical accounts also mention that Harihara and Bukka were among the eleven sons of Kampiladeva.
The End of Bahauddin Garshasp
After the fall of Kampiladeva, Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s imperial army marched towards Dwarasamudra under Malik Zada in 1327. When Vira Ballala III heard of this, he primed his forces and put up a firm opposition. In the battle that followed, Dwarasamudra was destroyed on a massive scale. Evidence of this destruction has survived till today in the ruins of the temple and its precincts at Halebeedu. In the end, Vira Ballala III surrendered, accepted the Sultan’s supremacy, and handed over Bahauddin Gurshasp, who was bound hand to foot. Large parts of Ballala’s territory were annexed by Tughluq.
Bahauddin Gurshasp met a truly ghastly end. In the words of R.C. Majumdar, “the rebellion of Gurshasp…also displayed the darker side of [Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s] character . Gurshasp was carried as prisoner to the Sultan [who] ordered the rebel to be flayed alive. But he was not satisfied with this; Gurshasp’s flesh, cooked with rice, was sent to his wife and children, while his skin, stuffed with straw was exhibited in the principal cities of the kingdom.” [THE HISTORY & CULTURE OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE, VOL VI, PG 63-64, BHARATIYA VIDYA BHAVAN]
The Germination of the Madura Sultanate
In a way, Bahauddin Gurshasp’s barbaric death also carried with it the seeds of the chaos that Tughluq’s empire soon descended to.
Tughluq’s administrative and personal eccentricities wreaked monumental damage on his empire. While his ill-advised campaigns ended in failure, his hare-brained economic policies emptied his treasury. His currency had no value. In its wake, rebellion broke out in rapid succession in various parts of his empire—from Punjab to Bengal to Rajaputana. An additional blow came in the form of a bloody Mongol invasion, which he was unable to counter, and had to pay a humiliating tribute in addition to abject defeat. Another uprising in Warangal was subdued with great difficulty only to end in disaster when heavy rains broke out. This was followed by the outbreak of a deadly disease, which wiped out thousands of his soldiers. Those who remained were killed by the erstwhile-defeated Hindus who had hidden in crevices and hilltops and bided their time. Only three officers survived, according to Ibn Batuta. [THE HISTORY & CULTURE OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE, VOL VI, PG 74, BHARATIYA VIDYA BHAVAN]
Muhammad Bin Tughluq’s empire was in comprehensive disarray, a fact that didn’t escape the notice of his Kotwal in Ma’bar. His name was Sayyid Ahsan Shah or Jalal-u-din Ahsan Shah, who in 1334-35 declared himself independent and even began to mint coins in his own name. A furious Tughluq immediately dispatched an army to Ma’bar. However, the calibre of the imperial army or whatever was left of it wasn’t like before. Ahsan Shah emerged the victor. The Sultan himself hurried to Ma’bar via Devagiri (which he had renamed to Daulatabad) and Warangal. Cholera struck at Warangal and the Sultan himself was infected. When he recovered, he learnt that Delhi and Malwa were hit by famine, and that rebellion had erupted in Lahore. Muhammad Bin Tughluq abandoned his Ma’bar campaign and returned to Delhi.
The rebel Ahsan Shah now crowned himself the Sultan of Madura and became the precursor to a Muslim state in Madurai that saw an astonishing succession of kings in the extremely short span it existed.
To be continued…