An Afghan noble, Alauddin Hassan established the Bahmani kingdom in AD 1347.
Prior to the foundation of the Bahmani kingdom, Hassan’s ancestors rose to prominence in the service of Alauddin Khilji.
A tradition in circulation, as recorded in Ferishta of later times informs that Hassan rose to importance in the service of a Brahmin, Gangu and was therefore known as Hassan Gangu.
After founding the Bahmani kingdom, Alauddin Hassan claimed his descent from the Iranian heroes, Isfandar and Bahman and added Shah to his name. Consequently, the kingdom was called the Bahmani Kingdom.
The political fortunes of the Bahmani kingdom can be divided into two phases. The first phase was between AD 1347-1422 and the second phase was between AD 1422-1538. In the first phase, the centre of activity was Gulbarga and in the second, the centre of activity was shifted to Bidar because of its strategic location. The Bahmani kingdom was a contemporary of the Vijayanagara power, which was founded in AD 1336.
Throughout their existence, both the Vyayanagara and the Bahmanis constantly fought for supremacy in three distinct areas, in the Tungabhadra Doab, in the Krishna Godavari delta and in the Marathwada country. The reasons for continued hostility were primarily the economic interest, but the religious dimension also influenced the hostility between the two powers to some extent. Alauddin Hassan Bahman Shah ruled from AD 1347 to 1358.
He was followed by his son Muhammad I (1358-1375). He was followed by his son Alauddin Mujahid (1375-78). Mujahid was killed by his uncle Dawood I, who ruled for nearly a month and was followed by his brother Muhammad II (1378-1397). Muhammad II was succeeded by Tajuddin Firoz Shah, who ruled from AD 1397 to 1422. He was followed by Shihabuddin Ahmad or Muhammad Shah, who ruled for a period of 14 years from AD 1422 to 1436.
He was followed by Alauddin Ahmad II or Alauddin II, who ruled from AD 1436-1458. He was succeeded by Alauddin Humayun who ruled form AD 1458 to 1461. He was followed by Muhammad III, who ruled from AD 1463-1482. The last noteworthy Bahmani ruler Shihabuddin Ahmad died in AD 1518. After him, his sons Ahmad Shah IV, Alauddin Shah, Kaliyuka and Kalimulla ruled till AD 1528. With the death of Kalimulla, the Bahmani kingdom disappeared.
Throughout this period, the wars between the Bahmanis and the Vijayanagara rulers were taking place affecting the fortunes of these two kingdoms. There was hardly any decade that passed without a clash of arms between these two kingdoms. Though, contemporary chroniclers describe the wars as Jihads or holy wars, this perception do not appear to be quite true. Of the twelve Bahmani Sultans, the most remarkable was Firuzshah Bahamani who ruled for a quarter of a century from AD 1397 to 1422. Firuz was a well-read scholar, a good calligraphist and a poet of eminence; he was also proficient in many languages. He had the vision of making Deccan a cultural centre of India.
He was liberal in outlook and inducted Hindus in large number into administrative cadres. He took all the necessary measures to improve the principal parts of his kingdom Chaul and Dabhol, where the foreign ships used to anchor. He was defeated by Devaraya-I. His successor Ahamad Shah shifted the capital from Gulbarga to Bidar.
In the early decades of the foundation of Bahmanis, there arose strife among nobles. The nobles were divided as old timers or newcomers or Deccanis and Afaqis. This division created havoc in the history of the Bahamani kingdom, between AD 1482-1518, the clash among nobles reached its climax, which led to the dismemberment of the Bahmani kingdom. In the history of the Bahmani kingdom, the period between AD 1463-1482 saw the rise of Muhammad Gawan as the Prime Minister of the kingdom. Nothing important is known about the early life of Muhammad Gawan. Gawan was an Iranian by birth and he was first noticed in AD 1456 and in 1461 he was made a member of the council of regency.
In AD 1463 he was appointed as Vakil-i-Sultanat with the title of KhawaJa-i-Sehan and Malik-ul-Tajjar. He dominated the affairs of the State for twenty years. Gawan tried his best to extend the frontiers of the Bahmanis and the expansion of the Bahmanis kingdom towards the east and west led to a resurgence of the conflict with Vijayanagara. Gawan appears to have annexed the Tungabhadra Doab and made a deep raid into the Vijayanagara territories reaching as far south as Kanchi. Gawan also introduced a number of internal reforms which benefited the Bahmani kingdom.
He was a great patron of arts. He built a magnificent Madarsa in the capital city of Bidar and on his invitation some of the most famous scholars of Iran and Iraq visited the Madarsa. The Deccani nobles poisoned the ears of the Sultan and got him executed at the age of 70. The death of Gawan sounded the death knell of the Bahmani kingdom.
The Bahmani rulers followed the administrative structure of the Delhi Sultanate. The Sultan was the head of the state and supreme authority followed by Wakil, Wazir, Bakshi and Qazi and a host of officials like Dabir or Secretary, Mufti or interpreter of law, Kotwal, Mehtasib or censor of public morals and Munhihans or spies. The Bahmani kingdom was divided into 4 Tarafs or provinces. They maintained a strong army of soldiers, cavalry and elephants and they knew the use of gun powder in the battles.
Systematic measurement of land fixing boundaries of the villages and towns was undertaken by Muhammad Gawan. By this process, Gawan streamlined the revenue system and improved the revenue collection of the state. Further, by this process the income of the state was known in advance and corruption of the nobles was also minimized. From the statements of Nikitin, a Russian traveller who visited Deccan during AD 1469-1474, we come to know that trade and commerce too flourished in the Bahmani kingdom.
Nikitin mentions that horses, cloth, salt, and pepper were the main items of merchandise and Mustafabad-Dabul as a centre of the commercial activity. Horses were imported form Arabia, Khurasan and Turkistan. Musk and fur were imported from China. Interestingly, trade and commerce was mostly in the hands of Hindu merchants, whereas in Vijayanagara kingdom, coastal trade and long distance trade was in the hands of foreign and indigenous Muslims.
Bahmani rulers were mostly Sunnis, but the Bahmani society was cosmopolitan in character. The Muslims, local and foreign, Hindus and the Portuguese were the components of the society. Consequent to multi-Jati composition of the society, we notice multiple languages Persian, Marathi, Dakhini or proto-Urdu, Kannada and Telugu being spoken by different social groups. Economically, the population of the Bahmani state appears to be divided as poor and the affluent nobles, according to Nikitin.
He says that the nobles were carried on their silver beds, preceded by 20 gold caparisoned horses and followed by 300 men on horseback and 500 on foot along with 10 torch bearers. Nikitin also describes the luxurious lifestyle of Muhammad Gawan. He observes that every day, 500 men dined with Gawan and 100 armed personnel kept watch over his palace. Besides these two social classes, we also come across the community of merchants who were not as affluent as nobles and as poor as common people.
In the Bahmani kingdom, we notice the predominant influence of the Sufis of the Chisti, Qadiri and Shattari orders. Bidar has emerged as one of the most important centres of the Qadiri order. Sheikh Sirajuddin Junaidi was the first Sufi to receive the royal honour. The famous Chisti saint of Delhi, Syed Muhammad Gesu Daraz migrated to Gulbarga in AD 1402-03 and Sultan Firuz granted a number of villages for the maintenance of Khanquah of Gesu Daraz.
With the influx of Afaqis, the Shia population of the Bahmani kingdom also increased. An interesting feature of the communal life is the mingling of Muslim and Hindu traditions and in particular, during the Ursu celebrations, the Jangam, a Lingayat in a Muslim cap blew the conch and offered flowers to the Muslim saint. Thus, the Bahmani culture was composite and tolerant.
In the art and architecture, the Bahmanis were influenced by the style of the Delhi Sultanate. The Bahmani rulers generously patronized art, science, learning and the court was the centre of poets, scholars and artists. Art critics and historians of architecture noticed the influence of the military architecture of Europe and civil architecture of Persia.
The Persian architects’ hand and skill is very visible in the Jamil Masjid of Gulbarga. The Chand Minar of Daultabad and the Madarsa at Bidar also reflect Persian craftsmanship. The capital cities of Gulbarga and Bidar were the centres of the civil architecture of the Bahmanis.
The royal tombs of Gulbarga fall into two patterns:
(1) Single tombs, and
(2) Double tombs.
Single tombs consist of simple square chambers, crowned with battlements and comer turrets and roofed by a single dome, the whole standing on a low square plinth while the double tombs are merely duplicate of the single ones. The Bahmani architecture has its own peculiarities like square arches of its cloisters.
In conclusion, it can be said that the Bahmani kingdom acted as a cultural bridge between the north and the south and had close contacts with some of the leading countries of West Asia, including Iran and Turkey. The culture which developed as a result had its own distinctive features which were continued by the successor states and also influenced the development of Mughal culture.