Madanna: Golconda’s Visionary Prime Minister

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    The Qutub Shahi Kingdom of Golconda was one of the richest kingdoms of the medieval world, whose wealth and glory came to an end in 1687 CE, following the brutal Mughal conquest. Two men, whose names absolutely stand out in Hyderabad’s history, are Madanna, Golconda’s visionary Prime Minister, and his brother Akkanna. Prominent members of the Qutub Shahi court, they were the wise guardians of Golconda who resisted the Mughals till the end, and it was their brutal murder that led to the downfall of the kingdom.

    A small temple, dedicated to Goddess Kali, near Charminar known as the Akkanna Madanna Temple is the only surviving legacy of these brothers, whose administration was considered the ‘Golden Years’ of Golconda by 17th century travelers. But few have heard of them outside Hyderabad.

    Qutub Shahi Kingdom of Golconda

    The Kingdom of Golconda was established in 1512 CE, by Sultan Quli Qutub Ul Mulk, a governor of the fast-disintegrating Bahmani Kingdom of Bidar. Thanks to its vast deposits of diamonds, ivory, sandalwood and a thriving trade in textiles, the Qutub Shahi Kingdom became one of the richest kingdoms in the world. By 1591 CE, the fortress town of Golconda had become so crowded with traders, artisans and fortune-seekers that a new city called ‘Hyderabad’ had to be established by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutub Shahi.

    But by the time the two brothers, Madanna and Akkanna, came to power, the glory of Golconda was in its last days. The wealth of the Deccani Sultanates had attracted the attention of the Mughals in the North, and in 1636 CE, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had forced the Qutub Shahis to accept Mughal suzerainty and pay tribute.

    Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah (r. 1626-1672) did not have any male heirs and after his death in 1672 CE, his son-in-law Abul Hasan Qutub Shah, better known as ‘Tana Shah’, ascended the throne. Known for his love for pleasure, Abul Hasan was a weak ruler, which gave the Mughals an opportunity to further subjugate this rich kingdom.

    But for all his faults, unlike a number of rulers in medieval India, Abul Hasan was an extremely tolerant ruler, who gave equal opportunities to Hindus. Till then, the Qutub Shahi Court elite and the army had been dominated by Islamic immigrants from the Middle East and Central Asia. It is only due to Abul Hasan’s patronage that Madanna and Akkanna could rise to power.

    Rise of Madanna and Akkanna

    Noted Telugu Historian, K V Bhupala Rao extensively studied the lives of these two brothers in his book The Illustrious Prime Minister Madanna (1984). Studying contemporary Persian, Telugu, Marathi as well as Dutch and English sources, Bhupala Rao presents a comprehensive account of their lives from varied perspectives.

    There are different stories and legends about the origins of these two brothers. What we know is that their father, Bhannaya Pantulu or Bhanoji Pant Pingle, was a resident of Hanumakoda, about 4 miles west of Warangal. Bhannaya had four sons – Madanna, Akkanna, Visanna and Mallana – who were given a good education and came to Hyderabad in 1645-50 CE to seek employment.They began their careers as low-ranking employees in the Revenue Department and over the next two decades steadily moved up the ranks.

    When Abul Hasan became the Sultan of Golconda on 30rd April 1672 CE, Madanna was made the ‘Mjmuwadar’ or the Revenue Minister of the kingdom. This was when the European trading companies were exerting their power along the Coromandel coast. Due to the great demand for ‘Coromandel textiles’ in Europe, a number of European powers like the Dutch, the French and the British has set up trading posts all along the coast.

    These Europeans competed for this lucrative trade with the Indian, Armenians and Persian traders, who had been trading here for centuries. Taking advantage of the weak central authority in Golconda, the Dutch and the French started attacking Golconda ships as well as ports on the coast. Due to his inability to handle the situation, Abul Hasan dismissed the then Prime Minister Sayyad Muzaffar and appointed Madanna in his place. His brother Akkanna was appointed as ‘Peshkar’ ’Chief Secretary’.

    The appointment of Madanna as Prime Minister in 1674 CE with the title ‘Surya Prakasa Rao’ was an extraordinary event for the Hindus of the Deccan. Traditionally, the Deccani Sultanates had appointed Hindus only in the lower ranks of the bureaucracy with the senior positions and the army being reserved for Persians and Turks.

    Historian Gijs Kruijtzer from Leiden University, in his research paper Madanna, Akkanna and the Brahmin Revolution: A Study of Mentality, Group Behaviour and Personality in Seventeenth-Century India (2002), points out how there is a clear divide between the Hindu and Muslim factions of the Qutub Shahi Court at this time, each of which was competing for wealth and power. Some time in 1678 CE, Akkanna is said to have remarked to Janzoon, a Dutch East India Company employee (who in turn mentioned it in a letter to a fellow Dutch merchant):

    You can imagine which government serves the King best, ours (Hindu) or that of Muslims. Our being devoted to the welfare of the country, for we don’t have any other country except this. Or that of the Muslims who only want to became rich to leave for their fatherland or holy lands.’

    Kruijtzer, in his paper, refers to the large number of enemies that the brothers made due to their administrative reforms, which had threatened numerous powerful interest groups in the kingdom.The brothers were accused of favoring Brahmins over all other communities.

    Administrative Reforms

    Madanna and Akkanna, with two decades’ experience in revenue, carried out large-scale administrative changes in the kingdom, which was in a state of chaos due to numerous Mughal invasions.

    Till Madanna came to power, agricultural lands, villages, towns and ports would be auctioned to the highest bidder for collecting revenue. This led to large-scale embezzlement as revenue farmers had no interest in local development. Due to Madanna’s reforms, permanent officials who were paid a salary from the treasury were appointed to collect revenue.

    The yearly auctioning of the villages and the forced extractions by the zamindars meant that farmers deserted their villages and fled to the forests to escape taxes. A comprehensive program was undertaken to resettle these abandoned villages and establish new ones, with a policy that no tax would be collected for nine years from them.

    The mines, land and sea trade were managed by the Sultanate but, here too, there was large-scale corruption. Due to bad management, internationally renowned diamond mines like Gollapalli, Kollur, Ravalkonda had been shut down in 1670 CE. Madanna restarted these mines and a plan to improve the lives of the miners was undertaken. Proper houses with thatched roofs were built for the miners, who till then lived in little more than tents. They also started to receive a fixed salary, with each worker getting 15 Hons (Golconda Currency). To promote trade and commerce, a large network of Caravansarais or Chowltries was established along the road that connected the capital Golconda with its chief port Masulipatnam.

    It was during Madanna’s administration that the famous Kuchipudi dance form took shape. During a tour of the kingdom with Sultan Abul Hasan in 1678 CE, Madanna camped at the sleepy village of Kuchipudi, where the locals performed the dance-drama for them. As a result, the Sultan gifted the entire village to these artistes, whose descendants still continue the tradition.

    Madanna and Akkanna also tried to establish close relations with other Indian powers to resist the Mughals. The most notable among them were the Marathas led by Chhatrapati Shivaji. In 1677 CE, the Golconda Sultanate and the Marathas signed a treaty against the Mughals.

    Murder of Madanna and Akkanna

    The financial prosperity and sound administration, which had brought the two brothers to power, also earned them many enemies. They were particularly hated by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who in his Fathwa-i-Alamgiri wrote:

    Jannardaran-e-Daccan Qabil-e-Gardan-e-Jadan’ (The brothers from Deccan deserve to be beheaded)

    Sadly, with the powerful enemies that they had made, their fate was sealed. In 1685 CE, the Mughals invaded Golconda with a large army under the command of Auranzgeb’s son Prince Shah Alam. The Golconda army was defeated in the Battle of Malkhed and soon the Mughal army reached Hyderabad.

    Instead of fighting back and protecting his capital Hyderabad, Abul Hasan fled to Golconda and barricaded himself in the fortress. With the King and the Army gone, the residents of defenceless Hyderabad were left to fend for themselves. The triumphant Mughal Prince Shah Alam entered Hyderabad and imposed a humiliating treaty on Golconda, one of the main terms being the dismissal of Madanna and Akkanna (and death) from their positions.

    This was the moment that the enemies of the two brothers had been waiting for. Some members of the Qutub Shahi family encouraged an assassination plot, which was executed by an African slave named Jamsheed. On 16th March 1686 CE, Madanna and Akkanna were returning home from work when the assassins ambushed them, dragged them out of their palanquins and beheaded them. Their mutilated bodies were dragged through the streets of Golconda. This was followed by an orgy of killings of Hindus in Hyderabad and Golconda.

    With Madanna and Akkanna gone, the Deccani kingdom soon crumbled. Two years after they were assassinated, the Mughal army marched into Golconda and annexed the kingdom. Abul Hasan spent the rest of his days in captivity in the fort of Daulatabad.

    The Goddess Kali temple, in Shalibanda area of old Hyderabad, that the two brothers had built was desecrated and destroyed soon after their murder. It was only centuries later that it was revived and is now a thriving shrine known for its Ghatam procession during the festival of Bonalu. It is the only tangible legacy of the brothers, who revived the famous Golconda kingdom but paid with their lives for it.

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