On the history trail: Fall of the Sayyid Brothers

The new ruler installed in Delhi by the Sayyid brothers in 1719 began to intrigue with their enemies to bring about their ruin. Chin Qilich Qamaruddin Khan (Nizam-ul-Mulk) the only worthy opponent of the Sayyids was appointed to the government of Malwa. He left Delhi on 15 March 1719 and upon reaching Ujjain, began gathering a large number of troops.


It appeared to the Sayyid brothers that Chin Qilich Qamaruddin Khan planned to attack the Marathas who were stationed there and drive them away from his lands. However, the wily Mughal was in fact waiting for the opportune moment to throw out the brothers.


His cousin Muhammad Amin Khan, the governor of Agra was also making plans to fight the Sayyid brothers. Alarmed on hearing these developments, the brothers despatched their trusted aide Dilawar Khan to tackle Nizam-ul-Mulk and take him down. They instructed their cousin Alam Ali Khan who had been appointed as Subahdar of the Deccan to march from Aurangabad with his men towards Malwa.


The Sayyid brothers thought that the mighty armies from two sides would be sufficient to crush the ambitions of Nizam-ul-Mulk once and for all. The news reached the ruler of Delhi and he and his mother wrote personal letters to Nizam-ul-Mulk urging him with promises of honours and rewards to release them from the control of the Sayyid ministers.


Though Alam Ali Khan and Dilawar Khan were equal to the task entrusted to them, Nizam-ul-Mulk who has been regarded to be one of the shrewdest commanders of the Mughals prepared his movements with utmost caution. The war veteran was recalled to Delhi by the Sayyid brothers but chose to ignore their summons and instead proceeded to the south, crossing the Rewa River in May 1720.


He took possession of Asirgarh Fort and left it in the protection of his son Ghazi ud-Din Khan Feroze Jung II. He then took his position at Burhanpur on the north bank of the Tapti River. Aiwaz Khan from Berar joined him there.


Alam Ali Khan learned of these moves and despatched Anwar Khan and Rao Rambha to recapture Asirgarh and Burhanpur. These two were captured by Nizam-ul-Mulk forcing Alam Ali Khan to leave Aurangabad in June 1720.


Dilawar Khan in the meantime had crossed the Narmada River and rushed ahead to fall upon Nizam-ul-Mulk. It was imperative to prevent the two forces from uniting and therefore, Nizam-ul-Mulk hatched a plan to destroy both the forces individually.


Both chiefs had sought the help of Peshwa Bajirao, but Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj asked him to remain neutral. Nizam-ul-Mulk took post near Ratanpur, about 30 miles north of Burhanpur and waited patiently. Dilawar Khan should have waited for the arrival of Alam Ali Khan from the south but instead chose to push forward and attack him on 19 June 1720 without sufficient men and supplies.


He was decisively defeated in three hours and lost his life in the senseless war. Many of his followers were killed and those who survived fled to safety. This Battle of Khandwa was the crowning glory for Nizam-ul-Mulk who did not wish to rest on his laurels and instead calculated precisely the next move of Alam Ali Khan.


Alam Ali Khan was shocked on hearing the fall of Dilawar Khan and was nearing Burhanpur. Nizam-ul-Mulk arrived at Burhanpur on 27 June 1720 and wrote to Alam Ali Khan that he did not desire to become the Subahdar of the Deccan and wished only peace. He wrote that he wanted to end his life in Mecca after discharging his troops and settling his monetary affairs.


Alam Ali Khan was advised by his Maratha allies and close friends to avoid confrontation at all costs as the rainy season had commenced and instead to retire to a safe location either at Aurangabad or Ahmednagar. Alam Ali Khan however declined to accept their advice and worked on his strategy.


Nizam-ul-Mulk knew that the hot-headed youth would prefer war and death over a peace treaty and hence, waited coolly. The two armies marched towards Balapur along the Purna River with Nizam-ul-Mulk by the north bank and Alam Ali Khan by the south.


Nizam-ul-Mulk managed to get his forces across the overflowing river by means of bridge and boats and came face to face with Alam Ali at Balapur. Khanderao Dabhade, Santaji Sinde, Kanhoji Bhosle and others led a Maratha contingent of about 18,000 troops to support Alam Ali Khan.


Shankaraji Malhar did his utmost best to rally the Marathas to fight along with Alam Ali Khan though Shahu Raje had given explicit orders to stay out of it. On 10 August 1720, Alam Ali Khan attacked the Nizam. He received a mortal wound from a bullet and continued fighting bravely. He goaded his elephant to move forward but the elephant had gone out of control.


The Nizam’s captains took advantage of this and rushed upon the mad elephant, cut off Alam Ali Khan’s head and carried it to their master. Shankaraji Malhar was wounded and captured alive. He died a few days later.


The Marathas lost about 700 men. The victories of Khandwa and Balapur within a few weeks of each other marked the beginning of the end for the Sayyid brothers and the rise of Nizam-ul-Mulk. The Sayyids were deeply disturbed upon hearing the defeat and death of Alam Ali Khan.


The clever intrigue of Amin Khan and Nizam-ul-Mulk supported wholeheartedly by the ruler of Delhi and his mother scripted the fall of the Sayyid ministers. The ruler of Delhi gave a call to march against Nizam and asked Husain Ali Khan to join him leaving Abdulla Khan in Delhi.


The ruler left Agra on 11 September 1720 for Jaipur, all the while plotting the murder of Husain Ali Khan. When the party was camping at a spot about 60 miles east of Jaipur, Husain Ali Khan was assassinated on 8 October 1720 by agents instigated by three high officers of the ruler.


Overjoyed at this event, the ruler held a grand Darbar and distributed gifts to all those who had contrived to bring it about. He appointed Muhammad Amin Khan as the Wazir and returned to Delhi. He was joined by Muhammad Khan Bangash, another powerful opponent of the Sayyids.


Abdulla Khan became easy prey upon the demise of his brother. He tried to fight for some time but once his Hindu cashier Ratan Chand was put to death, he was captured and imprisoned on 14 November 1720. He was put to death on 11 October 1722.


Thus, ended the remarkable rise and fall of the Sayyid brothers who were considered to be kingmakers and effectively ran the Delhi court after the death of Aurangzeb for a few years.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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