One of the historical figures who is lesser known in the history of Maharashtra as well as India is Malik Ambar. He was a great warlord who gave a tough fight to the Mughal Empire.
Born in Khambata region of South Ethiopia in 1548 as Chapu in Oromo tribe that constitutes 35% of Ethiopian population today, he was sold as a slave many times before arriving in Deccan.
He spent years as a slave in Mecca where he converted to Islam and then spent several years in Baghdad. In Baghdad, he was sold to Khwaja Mir Baghdadi, better known as Mir Qasim who changed his life. He was named Ambar after the amber gemstone. He learnt reading, writing and finance.
Mir Qasim took him on a trip to India and sold him to Chengiz Khan, a former slave who rose to the power of Prime Minister of Ahmednagar Sultanate. Initially as many of Khan’s slave soldiers, he quickly rose to power and became one of Khan’s personal slaves. This is where he learnt how to manage a state and more about army and finance.
After Khan was killed by his court officials, he was set free and he was given the choice of joining a lower rank at the army of the Sultanate or become a mercenary.
He served as the mercenary of the neighbouring Sultanate of Bijapur for the next 20 years and gained the title of ‘Malik’ by protecting Chand Bibi from the rebels that broke out against him.
Malik Ambar on returning to Ahmednagar served under another slave who rose to power. Around this time, Akbar planned his expedition to conquer Ahmednagar which was his last expedition as well.
Akbar’s army took control of the fort of Ahmednagar and Malik Ambar with a troop of 150 people conducted a siege with stealthy night attacks and managed to conquer the fort. After this, the fort of Ahmednagar resisted Mughal invasion for 4 years.
In 1600, the Mughal army entered the fort again and conquered it. Malik Ambar went underground and raised around 7000 troops that included Marathas and Dakhinis, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic force which shared different identities from those of Mughals.
In 1605, he managed to regain control of Ahmednagar fort after the death of Akbar. The war to gain control of Ahmednagar by Jahangir, successor of Akbar continued but he failed to do so mainly due to the guerilla tactics of Malik Ambar against the Mughal army.
He gave a tough fight to the Mughals and was able to unite the Deccan against the Mughals. He taught the Marathas about guerilla tactics that Chhatrapati Shivaji used against them in the next century.
Apart from being a warlord, he is also accredited to be an able administrator. He built the city of Khirki and made it his base, which was later renamed by Malik Ambar’s son Fateh as Fatehpur.
The Deccan couldn’t resist the Mughals for long after Malik Ambar’s death in 1626 and finally fell to Aurangzeb in around 1658. The city was named as Aurangabad by Aurangzeb as it is known today.
He is also said to have designed a more systematised land revenue system that was used by Marathas under Shivaji. Shivaji referred to him ‘as brave as the sun’ in his grand epic poem called ‘Sivabharata’.