Q.5 (b) Discuss the state of society and economy of the Bahmani kingdom as gleaned from historical sources.
Society of Bahmani Kingdom
The social structure of the Bahmanis was cosmopolitan in character. There were Muslims, Hindus, Iranians, Transoxonians, Iraqis and Abyssinians (Habshis). The Portuguese came during the early 16th century.
This heterogeneous character looks more prominent from linguistic point of view also: Persian, Marathi, Dakhni (proto-Urdu), Kannada and Telugu languages were widely spoken in various parts of the kingdom.
Social life was greatly influenced by the Arabic, Persian and Indian practices. The Muslim society was divided into two classes- one, comprising the original inhabitants of the region, and the other, coming from countries like Africa, Arabia, Persia, Turkey, etc. Mutual rivalry existed between these two groups.
Broadly, two classes existed in the society. According to Nikitin, a Russian traveler, there were poor, and the nobles who were “extremely opulen”. He says that “the nobles were carried on their Silver beds, preceded by twenty horses caparisoned in gold and followed by three hundred men on horseback and five hundred on foot along with ten torchbearers.”
The life of the upper classes, both Hindus and Muslims, was very luxurious. They lived in beautiful houses, wore lavish dress and ornaments. The shoes of the officials belonging to the upper classes were decorated with rubies and diamonds. Nikitin (a Russian traveler) gave a graphic account of the grandeur of the Bahmani Wazir Muhammad Gawan. He mentions that everyday along with him 500 men used to dine. For the safety of his house, 100 armed personnel kept vigilance round the clock. In contrast, the general population was poor. Though Nikitin mentions only two classes, there was yet another class-the merchants (the so-called midde class).
Among the Muslims, purdah was common and divorce easy. Polygamy was widely prevalent among the upper classes.
There was harmony among different sects and religions in the society. Sultan Feroz’s (1397-1422) marriage with a daughter of the royal family of Vijaynagar helped greatly in the Hindu-Muslims cultural harmony. There is a legend that Feroz even once went to Vijaynagar in the guise of a Hindu faqir. Even in the most important ceremony like the celebration of urs, Hindu influences are to be seen. During the urs celebrations, the Jangam (the head of the Lingayats of Madhyal in Gulbarga district) would perfom the ceremony in typical Hindu fashion-conch-blowing, flower offerings, etc. What is interesting is that the Jangam wore Muslim apparel with the usual cap that the Muslim danvesh (hermit) used.
Economy of Bahmani Kingdom
Agriculture was the main occupation of the people. Muhammad Gawan introduced the system of measurement of land and fixing the boundaries of the villages and towns. In this regard, he was a forerunner of Raja Todar Mal. His measures brought stability to the exchequer. First, the income of the kingdom was ensured; secondly, it curbed the corruption of the nobles to the minimum, thereby increasing the state income.
The most important industries in the Bahmani kingdom were molasses making industry, metal industry, oil processing, weaving, leather works, weapon making, etc. Ornaments of gold and diamonds were made in large quantity.
Trade and commerce was in a flourishing state in the Bahmani kingdom. Golkunda and Bijapur were known for foreign trade. Cotton, woollen and silken cloths, spices, indigo, etc were exported. Important items of import were rose water, raisins, dry fruits, opium, Persian plums, horses, musk, fur and wine.
Nikitin, who was in India during 1469-1474, gives information regarding the commercial activities of Bidar. He says that horses, clothes, silk and pepper were the chief items of merchandise. He adds that at Shikh Baluda Peratyr and Aladinand bazaar, people assembled in large numbers where trade continued for ten days. He also mentions the Bahmani seaport Mustafabad Dabul as a centre of brisk commercial activity. Dabul was well-connected not only with the Indian but also with the Africa ports. Horses were imported from Arabia, Khurasan and Turkistan. Trade and commerce was mostly in the hands of the Muslim merchants. Musk and fur were imported from China.