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A chain of events that kick off with the Sultan’s fondness for wine, ends with him banning all distilleries in his capital. (Image composition features 17th C portrait of a Persian prince in Golconda)

CELEBRATIONS AROUND THE NEW THRONE, feature wine, at least in the Court. One particular event combines that with a spectacular performance by 300 singers brought in from Delhi specially for the event. Flushed and energised after their performance, the Sultan orders his Minister to reward the troupe with a draft on the treasury of the neighbouring Kingdom of Vijayanagar. Audacious as it is, what makes the demand even more reckless is the detail that Vijayanagar is one of the strongest kingdoms of the South at the moment – a rival to be feared.

The capital of the Vijayanagar Empire of the 16th Century will be described by Portugese visitors, as the “best provided city” in the world.  Its markets are stocked with excellent home grown grains, millets and vegetables. It is described as abounding in oranges, limes, grapes, brinjals, and a stupefying range of green vegetables. Popular vegetables included plantians, pumpkins, gourds, and cucumber. This is a prosperity built on unrivalled political strategy. But right now, in the 14th Century, it would be fair to say that the fledgling kingdom of Vijayanagar is still learning the ropes.

The Bahmani forces vanquish the superior forces of Vijayanagar and the Bahmani Sultan has the satisfaction of seeing his draft honoured. Almost as soon as he concludes this matter, he is informed of a revolt at Daulatabad. Here too, his venture ends in victory. In Daulatabad, he makes the acquaintance of an inspired fakir who persuades him to abstain from wine. The Sultan of course will of course go one step further and have all distilleries in his capital destroyed.

But there remains a variety of other drinks to enjoy – fruit juices including the juice of pomegranate and the madala fruit. There is also the trusty milk and buttermilk concoctions. For those unfortunate residents who missed their fix of liquor, they’d probably make plans to visit neighbouring kingdoms where they would have their fill at toddy shops and nibble on salted snacks in between.

Sultan Mohammed Shah I returns to his capital with the major battles of his career behind him. The best of these prove to be master classes in strategy, extracting victory with limited forces. At the end of his life and rule, the treasury of Gulbarga has amassed enormous reserves and the Bahmani Sultanate has earned a redoubtable reputation in the Deccan, whose fortunes the Sultanate will decide for some time to come.

  • A History of the Deccan, by James Dunning Baker Gribble
  • Food and Food Habits in Vijayanagara Times, by Jyotsna Burde