Malik Ambar was an Ethiopian who was caught and sold by a slave merchant; subsequently, he ascended to become a formidable military leader and a crucial figure in the Deccan Sultanate of India during the late 16th century. During his time, he established a mercenary force exceeding 50,000 men.
Malik Ambar’s early life was marred by the harsh realities of slave trade. He was born in the Harar region of Ethiopia in 1548. At a young age, he was captured and sold into slavery. His journey eventually led him to the Indian subcontinent, where he was bought by a prominent nobleman, Chengiz Khan.
His fortunes changed when Chengiz Khan passed away, leading to Malik Ambar’s liberation by his master’s wife. Enjoying newfound freedom, he married and briefly served the Sultan of Bijapur, gaining the title “Malik” during this period. However, dissatisfied with the lack of support, he left the Sultan’s service and joined the Nizam Shahi Army.
Malik Ambar’s transformation from a slave to a powerful military leader began when he was made the regent of the Nizamshahi dynasty of Ahmednagar from 1600 to 1626. During this period he increased the strength and power of Murtaza Nizam Shah II and raised a large army. He raised a cavalry which grew from 150 to 7000 in a short period of time and revitalized the Ahmadnagar sultanate by appointing puppet sultans to repel Mughal attacks from the North.
Malik Ambar’s military prowess came to the forefront during the turbulent times of the Deccan Sultanates, which were often at odds with the Mughal Empire. He organized and trained a formidable army, which included infantry, cavalry, and a significant number of archers. By the early 1600s, his army grew to include 10,000 Habshis and 40,000 Deccanis. Over the course of the next decade, Malik Ambar successfully resisted Emperor Jahangir’s attempts to annex the kingdom. It was during this time that he emerged as a pioneer of guerrilla warfare in the Deccan region, showcasing innovative military tactics.
In 1610, Ambar founded the city of Khirki, present-day Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India. Later expanded by Aurangzeb, it played a crucial role in facilitating military activities under Mughal rule during the 17th century. Notably, Ambar’s legacy extended to the Neher water system in the city of Khadki (modern Aurangabad), providing clean water to the residents and its suburbs.
Another of Malik Ambar’s most significant achievements was the construction of the Janjira Fort in the Murud Area of present-day Maharashtra India. This fortress not only served as a military stronghold but also as a center of economic and cultural activity. His reforms extended beyond the military, as he focused on improving the administration and infrastructure of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate.
Ambar’s military campaigns against the Mughals, led by Emperor Akbar, left a lasting impact on the history of the Deccan region. His ability to resist the mighty Mughal Empire earned him respect and admiration.
In 1626, Malik Ambar passed away at the age of 77, leaving behind a wife and four kids and a rich history of overcoming adversity. His tomb, a testament to his influence and power, rests in Khuldabad, near the shrine of the renowned Sufi saint Zar Zari Baksh.