The first part of this article traced the life story of Mir Jumla from his meagre existence in Esfahan to the summits of state power – becoming the highest ranking official in the Qutb Shahi kingdom of Golconda.
Now we are in a position to understand how he accumulated his fabled wealth.
As commander of the kingdom’s forces, Mir Jumla had conquered large swathes of territory along the Western coast of southern India. The British factories at Madras and the Dutch ones at Pulicat came under his authority and they conducted their trading under agreements with him. He had inherited half the customs and revenues of the port and city of Madras. For the collection of his share, he had stationed his own officials at all British establishments. He also supported and licensed the unfortunate export of Tamil slaves by the British. John Leigh, a factor at Pettapoli, observed,
They will venture their necks for 9d, for the custom is but 18 d and the Nabob hath 9 of it.”
Mir Jumla never lost sight of the commercial activities that were the source of his wealth, prosperity and power. He had entered Golconda’s state service to safeguard his business success. He then used his high offices to further his commercial activities. By 1651, he owned 4,000 horses, 300 elephants, 400 camels, and 10,000 oxen. His goods were carried to all states in the Subcontinent – including the Mughal territories. He had his agents in every major trading centre. His trading relations extended to Burma, China, the Mergui islands off the Burmese coast, various Indonesian islands, Persia, Arabia and Bengal. He treated his part of Karnataka as his own fiefdom to be exploited, while the eastern part of the region was occupied by the rival kingdom of Bijapur. He enjoyed a monopoly over the entire trade and received a fair percentage of all customs duties and octroi in the region. In addition to this, he exercised complete control over several diamond mines. His own personal trade to Persia and China was carried customs free. Even everyday items like cloth and grain were sold within his zone of control at 20 to 25% higher prices – as part of his share.
His international trading activities were extensive. He procured spices from the East Indies; slaves, tin and rice from Indonesian islands; and seashells – used as currency called cowries – from the Maldives. He preferred selling his best diamonds to the Portuguese, who paid him the highest price. The Portuguese Viceroy of Goa was his friend and chief customer. He made use of English trade in the region for his own good. In 1642, the English factors borrowed 5 thousand gold coins from him at an interest of 1.5% per month. He also lent 16,000 rials to the English at Madras.
Mir Jumla preferred selling his best diamonds to the Portuguese, who paid him the highest price. The Viceroy of Goa was his friend and chief customer
Mir Jumla established trading relations with Burma to procure the “perfect rubies and sapphires”. He sent his agent to Pegu, a trading centre north east of Rangoon, to get a permit for annual visits by his ships. His ships, laden with goods, sailed regularly from Masulipatam to Pegu. In fact, he even employed English private traders and Dutch shipping to conduct his trade with Burma. Trade with Persian ports was particularly valuable, using ships of all sizes. His ships had priority of loading over every other vessel. He used English ships without paying freight or customs. There is a note in the East India Company’s records of his ship sailing in 1651-52 to Bandar Abbas – then known as Gombroon – via Gwadar.
He used his wealth to finance his political ambitions. When he visited Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in Delhi, he made a present of Rs. 1.5 million and many valuables including, it is believed, the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond. While in Golconda, he maintained his own army, equipped with artillery manned by European gunners.
Proximity to the throne is always dangerous. The rewards and accolades of a monarch are always accompanied by the grudge and resentment of jealous courtiers. There are numerous instances in history of the quick downfall of favoured nobles. The Barmaki family during the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and Khawaja Gawan in the Bahmani Kingdom in the Deccan are but a few examples of those who faced a sudden and complete downfall.
However, there are other shrewd personalities in history who are well prepared to pre-empt such an eventuality. Mir Jumla was one of them. He had become fabulously rich and invited the jealousy and suspicion of his master, the Sultan of Golconda. Moreover, due to the frequent visits of Mir Jumla to the palace and his intimacy with the household in Golconda, there were rumours of an improper intimacy with the Queen-Mother. Nizamuddin writes that Mir Jumla performed many services on behalf of the Queen-Mother and that they frequently exchanged gifts. Some contemporary European travellers, too, referred to rumours of “improper intimacy” between the two and that this had alienated the Sultan from his Vizier.
Mir Jumla was far too cunning to lose in this vile game. Fearing his master in Golconda, he sought Mughal protection
This placed Mir Jumla in a perilous position. He was now in danger of being the target of sinister plots. The Qutb-Shahi sovereign even tried to kill him during one of his visits to Golconda. His son and family were eventually imprisoned there. Bernier writes that the Sultan’s jealousy was “naturally awakened”.
Mir Jumla was, however, far too cunning to fall in this vile game. Fearing his master in Golconda and his rival Adil Shah in Bijapur, he sought the protection of the Mughals and developed close ties with the Prince who went on to become Aurangzeb, the most ambitious and wily son of Emperor Shah Jahan.
When the Sultan turned against him, Mir Jumla prospered under Mughal protection and also brought about the downfall of the Golconda Kingdom. First as the Mughal governor of the Deccan and then as the Emperor, Aurangzeb had his eyes on the riches of that region.
Mir Jumla’s acumen and Aurangzeb’s ambitions made a fine pair.
It led to Mir Jumla’s glorious service under the Mughal empire, altering the history of India forever. This phase of his career will be explored next week.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on historical and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: email@example.com