Malik Ambar

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Malik Ambar
Portrait of Malik Ambar by Mughal court artist in 1620[1][2]
Birth nameWako[3]
Born1548[4] Adal Sultanate
Died11 May 1626 (aged 77–78)
Khuldabad, Ahmadnagar Sultanate
(Modern day Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India)
AllegianceNizam Shah of Ahmednagar
Spouse(s)Bibi Karima
ChildrenFateh Khan
Changiz Khan

Malik Ambar (1548 – 13 May 1626) was a military leader who served as the Peshwa (Prime Minister) of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in the Deccan region of India.[5]

Born in the Adal Sultanate, which comprised parts of present-day Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti, Malik was sold by a slave merchant and brought to India as a slave. There he created a mercenary force numbering greater than 50,000 men. It was based in the Deccan region and was hired by local kings. Malik became a popular Prime Minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate, showing administrative acumen.[6]

He is also regarded as a pioneer in guerrilla warfare in the region. He is credited with carrying out a revenue settlement of much of the Deccan, which formed the basis for subsequent settlements. He is a figure of veneration to the Siddis of Gujarat. He challenged the might of the Mughals and Adil Shahs of Bijapur and raised the low status of the Nizam Shah.[7][8]

Early life[edit]

Malik Ambar was born in 1548 in Harar[9] as Chapu.[10] Mir Qasim Al Baghdadi, one of his slave owners eventually converted Chapu to Islam from traditional religion and gave him the name Ambar, after recognizing his superior intellectual qualities.[11] Ambar is believed to have been of Oromo descent[10] While other sources claim he was from the Maya tribe.[12]

Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the Orthodox Christian Ethiopian Empire (led by the Solomonic dynasty) and adjacent Muslim states such as the Oromos gathered many of their slaves from non-Abrahamic communities inhabiting regions like Kambata, Damot and Hadya, which were located to the south of their territory. Malik Ambar was among the people who were converted to Islam, and later dispatched abroad to serve as a warrior.[3] According to the Futuhat-i `Adil Shahi, Malik Ambar was sold into slavery by his parents. He ended up in al-Mukha in Yemen, where he was sold again for 20 ducats and was taken to the slave market in Baghdad, where he was sold a third time to the Qadi al-Qudat of Mecca and again in Baghdad to Mir Qasim al-Baghdadi, who eventually took him to the Deccan Plateau. He was described by the Dutch merchant Pieter van den Broecke as, "a black kafir from Abyssinia with a stern Roman face."[13][14]

Malik Ambar was then purchased by Chengiz Khan, a former Habshi slave who served as the peshwa or chief minister of the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar.[15]

Political Background[edit]

Muslim slaves known as habshi, were recruited in the Deccan since the rule of the Bahmanid empire, founded by North Indian Muslims known as the Deccanis. Slaves were generally recruited where hereditary authority was weak, such as in the case of the Deccan, where a deadly and violent struggle between the two dominant and antagonistic factions within the Bahmanid empire, the Deccanis (Indian Muslims) and the Westerners (Persian migrants from the Gulf), caused a chronically unstable environment which created a market for culturally alien military labor. The interdependent relationship between the Deccanis and the Habshis engendered bonds of mutual trust, as the Deccanis had both kin and inherited authority, but lacked sufficient numbers, while the Habshis were able to provide support while lacking kin and inherited authority. This explained why high ranking army commanders were willing to entrust their most important official duties to their Habshi slaves. As the Habshi slaves became freemen on the death of their masters, continuing the military careers as freelancers, they generally allied themselves politically and culturally with the Deccani class in their rivalry against the Persians, embracing the Deccani Muslim identity and language.[16]


Portrait of the Nizam Shahs
Malik Ambar and Murtaza Nizam Shah II
Portrait of Malik Ambar c. 1610-20

Once his master died, Malik Ambar was freed by his master's wife. He got married, and after getting freed, Ambar briefly served the Sultan of Bijapur and gained the title "Malik" during this time. But Ambar quit this service after citing insufficient support before entering service in the Nizam Shahi Army.[11]

Malik Ambar was the regent of the Nizamshahi dynasty of Ahmednagar from 1600 to 1626. During this period he increased the strength and power of Murtaza Nizam Shah II and raised a large army. He raised a cavalry which grew from 150 to 7000 in a short period of time and revitalized the Ahmadnagar sultanate by appointing puppet sultans to repel Mughal attacks from the North.[15] By 1610, his army grew to include 10,000 Habshis and 40,000 Deccanis.[15] Over the course of the next decade, Malik Ambar would fight and defeat Mughal emperor Jahangir's attempts to take over the kingdom.[15] Jahangir considered Malik Ambar his arch-nemesis and had publicly expressed his anger towards him. He criticized Ambar as "the ill-starred" and "the black fated". Abu'l Hasan, a chief painter at Emperor Jahangir's court, has created a painting, under Jahangir's commission in 1615, depicting Jahangir shooting arrows at the severed head of Ambar.[17][18]

Malik Ambar changed the capital from Paranda to Junnar and founded a new city, Khadki which was later on changed to Aurangabad by the Prince Aurangzeb in 1650s when he was viceroy of Deccan.

Malik Ambar is said to be one of the proponents of guerrilla warfare in the Deccan region. Malik Ambar assisted Shah Jahan wrestle power in Delhi from his stepmother, Nur Jahan, who had ambitions of seating her son-in-law on the throne. Malik Ambar had also restored some credibility to the Sultans of Ahmadnagar, who had been subdued by the earlier Mughals (Akbar had annexed Ahmadnagar).[19] However, he was defeated later when Shah Jahan led a massive army against the dwindling Ahmednagar. Later Malik Ambar offered full control of Berar and Ahmadnagar to the Mughal as a sign of surrender.[20]

Second conflict with Mughals[edit]

Malik Ambar defeated the Mughal General Khan Khanan many times and often attacked Ahmadnagar. Lakhuji Jadhavrao, Maloji Bhosale, Shahaji Bhosale, Ranoji Wable and other Maratha chiefs had gained great prominence during this period. With the help of these Maratha chiefs, Malik Ambar had captured Ahmednagar Fort and town from the Mughals. But in one of the battles Malik Ambar was defeated by the Mughals and had to surrender the fort of Ahmadnagar. Many Maratha Chiefs and especially Lakhuji Jadhavrao joined the Mughals after this. Shah Jahan once again laid a crushing blow to Malik Ambar in one of the battles and further decreased his power.


Malik Ambar's Tomb at Khuldabad in 2022

He died in 1626 at the age of 77. Malik Ambar had by his wife, Bibi Karima two sons; Fateh Khan and Changiz Khan and two daughters.[21][22]

Fateh Khan succeeded his father as the regent of the Nizam Shahs. However, he did not possess his predecessor's political and military prowess. Through a series of internal struggles within the nobility (which included Fateh Khan assassinating his nephew, Sultan Burhan Nizam Shah III), the sultanate fell to the Mughal Empire within ten years of Ambar's death.

One of his daughters was married to a prince of the Ahmednagar royal family, who through Malik Ambar's aid was crowned as Sultan Murtaza Nizam Shah II.[23] The eldest and youngest daughters respectively were called Shahir Bano and Azija Bano, the latter of whom married a nobleman named Siddi Abdullah.[24]

His youngest daughter was married to the Circassian Commander of the Ahmednagar army, Muqarrab Khan, who later became a general under the Mughal Emperor and received the title Rustam Khan Bahadur Firauz Jang.[25][26] He became famous for his involvement in several important military campaigns, such as the Kandahar Wars against Shah Abbas of Persia. He was killed by Prince Murad Baksh in the Battle of Samugarh during the Mughal War of succession in 1658.[27]

Malik Ambar's tomb lies in Khuldabad, near the shrine of the famous Sufi saint Zar Zari Baksh.[28]


There are conflicting perspectives on Ambar's long-term impact in Deccan, and its surrounding Indian states. Western historians have tried to project him as symbolic of Africa, even though his life had little to do with Africa. There was little impact he left in India and certainly zero impact with respect to any African legacy.[29] Others agree more with historians like Richard Eaton. He cites Ambar's military prowess as the reason he rose to such influence during his life, but claims that a string of decisive defeats at the end of his career instigated distrust and resentment amongst those in his close administration. Eaton and his proponents claim Ambar's journey is an impressive story of success, and gave Africans representation in India for a short while, but also believe his lack of positive leadership in the final years of his tenure prevented him from solidifying his influence, as his successors quickly worked to reverse many of Ambar's policies.[30] Regardless of his posthumous impact on the Deccan, and Indian states generally, it cannot be disputed Ambar was an avid supporter of education and a patron of the arts. Historians Joseph E. Harris and Chand cite Ambar's patronship of the arts and learning as a shining achievement of his tenure as Malik of Deccan.[31]

Malik Ambar cherished strong love and ability for architecture. Aurangabad was Ambar's architectural achievement and creation. Malik Ambar the founder of the city was always referred to by harsh names by Sultan Jahangir. In his memoirs, he never mentions his name without prefixing epithets like wretch, cursed fellow, Habshi, Ambar Siyari, black Ambar, and Ambar Badakhtur. Some historians believe that those words came out of frustration as Malik Ambar had resisted the powerful Mughals and kept them away from Deccan.[32]

Foundation of Aurangabad[edit]

He founded/inhabited the city of Khirki in 1610.[33] After his death in 1626, the name was changed to Fatehpur by his son and heir Fateh Khan. When Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor invaded Deccan in the year 1653, he made Fatehpur his capital and renamed it as Aurangabad. In 2023 the city was renamed Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar. Two former imperial capitals - Pratisthana, the capital of Satavahanas (2nd BC to 3rd AD), and Devagiri, the capital of Yadavas and Muhammad bin Tughluq, are located within the limits of Aurangabad District.

Aurangabad canal system[edit]

Malik Ambar is especially famous for the Neher water system of the city of Khadki (modern Aurangabad). Malik Ambar completed the Neher within fifteen months, spending a nominal sum of two and a half lakh Rupiyahs. This city is situated on the banks of the Kham, a small perennial stream which rises in the neighbouring hills.[34]

Water was supplied to the city from the famous Panchakki water mill which drove the water down the canal from the Kham. The blades of the Panchakki used to rotate by the water falling on them from that stream and with the aid of a wooden valve turn the flow into that canal for the city.[35]

The canal was an impressive engineering feat as it consisted of a 7 feet (2.1 m) deep tunnel large enough for a man to walk through. The canal had 140 manholes and it worked efficiently without the need for any maintenance or cleaning for 321 years until it finally needed cleaning in 1931.[36]

Janjira Fort[edit]

Malik Ambar is credited with the construction of the Janjira Fort in the Murud Area of present-day Maharashtra India.[37] After its construction in 1567 AD, the fort was key to the Sidis withstanding various invasion attempts by the Marathas, Mughals, and Portuguese to capture Janjira.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sheikh Chand, Malik Ambar,"Ehde Afreen; Hyderabad; 1929
  2. ^ Times of India, Plus Supplement, July 1999,
  3. ^ a b c Kenneth X. Robbins; John McLeod (2006). African Elites in India. Mapin. p. 50. ISBN 81-88204-73-0. OCLC 701823920.
  4. ^ a b "Malik Ambar: The Ethiopian slave who became a kingmaker in India".
  5. ^ "Malik Ambar: The African king who built Aurangabad and ruined the game for Mughals in the Deccan". 15 May 2020.
  6. ^ Sohoni, Pushkar (30 August 2018). The architecture of a Deccan sultanate: courtly practice and royal authority in late medieval India. London. pp. xx–xxv. ISBN 978-1-83860-927-6. OCLC 1090743377.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ Maciszewski, Amelia (Winter–Spring 2005). "From Africa to India: Music of the Sidis and the Indian Ocean Diaspora (review)". Asian Music. 36 (1): 132–135. doi:10.1353/amu.2005.0008. S2CID 191611760.
  8. ^ Michell, George & Mark Zebrowski. Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates (The New Cambridge History of India Vol. I:7), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, ISBN 0-521-56321-6, p.11-12
  9. ^ Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia. Routledge. 6 October 2015. ISBN 978-1-317-32127-9.
  10. ^ a b Malik Ambar: The African slave who built Aurangabad and ruined the game for Mughals in the Deccan, 15 May 2020, retrieved 15 May 2020
  11. ^ a b Slavery & South Asian history. Chatterjee, Indrani., Eaton, Richard Maxwell. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-253-11671-0. OCLC 191950586.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  12. ^ Tourism Potential in Aurangabad: With Ajanta, Ellora, Daulatabad Fort. Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. 1999. p. 6. ISBN 978-81-86050-44-6.
  13. ^ E. V. Donzel, "Slave-Trade in Ethiopia," p.185
  14. ^ Ali, Omar H (2011). "Malik Ambar: The Legacy of an Ethiopian Ruler in India" (PDF). Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  15. ^ a b c d Chinmay Tumbe, India Moving: A History of Migration (2019), p.29
  16. ^ Richard M. Eaton (2005). A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761: Eight Indian Lives · Part 1, Volume 8. Cambridge University Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-521-25484-7.
  17. ^ "Malik Ambar: The African slave who built Aurangabad and ruined the game for Mughals in the Deccan". The Indian Express. 15 May 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  18. ^ Dokras, Uday. "The Siddhis of India The Chronicle of an African Diaspora-Two Part Paper PART II" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ "The Indomitable Marathas by Neria H. Hebbar". Archived from the original on 20 July 2012.
  20. ^ Richards, John F. (1995). The Mughal Empire. Cambridge University Press. pp. 112–113. ISBN 978-0-521-56603-2.
  21. ^ Omar H. Ali,"Malik Ambar: Power and Slavery Across the Indian Ocean, p.44"
  22. ^ Shanti Sadiq Ali,"The African Dispersal in the Deccan: From Medieval to Modern Times" p.99
  23. ^ Richard M. Eaton,"Slavery and South Asian History" p.126
  24. ^ Shanti Sadiq Ali,"The African Dispersal in the Deccan: From Medieval to Modern Times" p.104
  25. ^ Edward J. Rapson,"The Cambridge History of India, Volume 1" p.189
  26. ^ John Cadgwan Powell Price,"A History of India" p.313
  27. ^ Muni Lal,"Aurangzeb" p.93
  28. ^ Sohoni, Pushkar (1 April 2018). "Imbrication and Implication". Archives of Asian Art. 68 (1): 33–46. doi:10.1215/00666637-4342393. ISSN 0066-6637. S2CID 194963690.
  29. ^ The African Presence in Asia, Northwestern University Press Evanston, 1971, pp. 91–99.
  30. ^ Eaton, Richard M. "Malik Ambar (1548-1626): The Rise and Fall of Military Slavery." The New Cambridge History of India, edited by Gordon Johnson, 8th ed., vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 104–130. A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761 Eight Indian Lives.
  31. ^ Harris, Joseph E. "Malik Ambar: African Regent-Minister in India." The African Presence in Asia, Northwestern University Press Evanston, 1971, pp. 91–99.
  32. ^ Qureshi Dulari,Tourism Potential in Aurangabad, p.6
  33. ^ Jogindra Narji Chowdhuri, Malik Ambar, A Biography Based on original sources, 1940, page 70
  34. ^ Qureshi, Dulari (1999). Tourism Potential in Aurangabad. Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. ISBN 81-86050-44-2.
  35. ^ Sohoni, Pushkar (2015). Aurangabad with Daulatabad, Khuldabad, and Ahmadnagar. Mumbai: Deccan Heritage Foundation. ISBN 978-81-8495-702-0. OCLC 907272072.
  36. ^ Salahuddin, Mirza (April 2012). "MALIK AMBAR AND HIS CANAL". Pakistan Historical Society.Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society. 60 (2): 101–102 – via ProQuest.
  37. ^ Sohoni, Pushkar (2020). The Fort of Janjira. Greensboro, NC; Ahmedabad: University of North Carolina Ethiopian and East African Studies Project; Ahmedabad Sidi Heritage and Educational Center. pp. 167–183. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  38. ^ Kainthla, Anita (August 2011). "The Invincible Fort of Murud Janjira". India Currents. 25 (5): 56–57 – via ProQuest.

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