By Sajjad Shahid
Apr 29, 2012,
I saw fragrance fleeing, when the bee came/ What a wonder!/ I saw intellect fleeing, when the heart came/ I saw the temple fleeing, when God came. (Allama Prabhu, 12th century mystic poet of the Deccan)
In contrast to north India, where the first incursions by those professing the Islamic faith had been of a violent nature, the initial encounters between original inhabitants of the Deccan and Muslim settlers had been in the field of trade and commerce. This crucial difference was instrumental in promoting amicable relations between the two communities, providing an atmosphere conducive for interfaith dialogue leading to a better understanding of the other.
In consequence there evolved a distinct culture, tangible in its varied manifestations, which was enthusiastically patronized and nurtured by the Deccan monarchs leading to a distinct identity for the region. Unfortunately, due to its vilification by bigots over the recent past this glorious legacy which was sustained over centuries has come under a grave threat of complete obliteration as evident from the increased polarization between different sections of society.
Quite a few academics, predominantly international scholars attempting to evaluate the contemporary schism in Indian polity, are unable to fathom the rapid deterioration in interfaith relations. As such their general conclusions are almost always unanimous in claiming that medieval Indian society was pluralistic and did not achieve any significant degree of synthesis. While it is freely admitted that there was a considerable degree of successful integration in the Deccan, the notion of a distinct cultural identity for people of the region is rarely conceded. The argument put forth often relies primarily on the inability of this famed homogeneity of the Deccan to holding together in the face of religious fanaticism.
However, an unbiased evaluation, especially in the historic perspective will convince even the most hardened skeptic that friction between communities has almost universally been the result of maneuverings by individuals or groups seeking political control and economic gain. Revisiting medieval Deccan through a perusal of its history and an evaluation of cultural remains of the era leave no doubt about the remarkable degree of synthesis achieved in the region.
Starting from the very first incursion from across the Narmada in 1296, when Alauddin Khilji raided the Yadava capital at Deogir, one finds an absence of hostility against the local Muslim population. Although politically marginal, these communities enjoyed unbiased state patronage with a few of its representatives gaining employment in local administration. Most importantly, the raid was not viewed in terms of a Muslim invasion into a Hindu kingdom which ensured the continued well being of Deccani Muslims.
Mainly settled in clusters in and around the empire's ports of Goa, Dabhol and Chaul along the Konkan coast, Muslims continued to receive grants, even for their religious institutions, from officers and vassals of the Yadava Empire subsequent to the Khilji incursion. The founding of Vijaynagar as a bastion of Hindu revivalist aspirations brought about a polarization among the lesser players who initially aligned themselves on communal lines.
However 'the religious sting between the Bahmanis and Vijaynagar, if it ever existed in a pure form was removed soon', for within a few decades of their coming into existence one finds the Bahmani forces joining ranks with the Velamas of Nalgonda against the Vemas of Kondavidu supported by Vijaynagar. The two empires were thus deep into regional power struggles, siding with rebels and recalcitrant feudatories in attempts at increasing their area of influence. In the process, alignments on religious grounds became passe with the increasing acceptance of the Bahmanis as merely a regional power without communal taint, as is evident in contemporary records; the most notable being the copper plate inscription of one Annadeva Choda, ruler of a principality in the Godavari district, who triumphantly proclaims his assistance to Feroz Shah Bahmani (1397-1422), 'the Turushka king in defeating the king of Karnataka at Sagar' in 1399.
Feroz Shah, determined to achieve reconciliation with the culture of his Hindu subjects, embarked on a policy of integrating the local nobility into the ranks of the Gulbarga grandees. In conformity to the prevailing trends of the Deccan he showed a marked bias in favour of Brahmins who were increasingly accommodated in state service. His marriage with the daughter of Devaraya I in 1408, drew strong cultural responses at the Bahmani court leading to the much desired cultural synthesis. Conflicts in the Deccan thereafter were purely of a political nature with the rare communal overtones often being the result of machinations by manipulative administrators.
(This is the first part of a three-part series on cultural evolution in the Deccan. The writer is a heritage activist.)
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi