The Story Of An African Slave Who Built The City Of Aurangabad

by Bharat Duggal
The Story Of An African Slave Who Built The City Of Aurangabad

January 8, 2021

Once again, Aurangabad is surrounded by controversy as Shiv Sena has been demanding that the city be renamed Sambhajinagar.

Over the years, because of some reason or the other, the name-change has been pushed besides. As Shiv Sena is back in power, this dispute has led to a feud between the Sena and Congress, while the BJP is playing its political cards to corner the Sena on the issue.


The history of the city is a mix of wonder, successes, failures, and wars! A not-so-known fact is that Aurangabad was actually built in 1610 by Malik Ambar, who was once an African slave.  The journey of Ambar recently came into the highlight, thanks to an Indian Express report titled ‘Malik Ambar: The African slave who built Aurangabad and ruined the game for Mughals in the Deccan.’

Born in 1548 in the Khambata region of southern Ethiopia, Ambar is believed to have been related to the now-extinct Maya ethnic group – a group renowned in their homeland as skilled warriors.

He wasn’t born to a royal family; historians believe that his parents were impoverished and had to sell him as a slave. Some others believe that he was kidnapped during a war and then sold to different owners.  Mir Qasim Al Baghdadi, one of his slaveholders, ultimately converted Chapu to Islam and granted him the name- Ambar after recognizing his superior intellectual qualities.

Through all the trades,’ Chapu’, as he was called back in Africa, somehow reached the Deccan (southern India) in the early 1570s and was sold to Chengiz Khan, a former Habshi slave reigned as the Peshwa or chief minister of the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar. What twisted this fellow’s monotonous story was that unlike other societies in the Deccan community, the slaves did not have a permanent status.

So, upon the death of their masters, slaves were usually set free and served as per their free will in service of powerful commanders in the Empire.

Murtaza Nizam Shah II, Sultan of Ahmadnagar from 1600 to 161 and Malik Ambar. Source: Flickr


After five years of being captive, Ambar was set free by his master’s wife when Chenghiz Khan died. That was when his journey to riches and power began.  After getting free, he got married, became the Sultan of Bijapur, and acquired the title “Malik” during this tenure. But Ambar quit this service because of insufficient support prior to entering service in the Nizam Shahi Army.

Ambar then returned to the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in 1595 and became a popular Prime Minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate. He is credited with bringing out a revenue settlement of much of the Deccan, which formed subsequent colonies.

In the coming years, Mughal Emperor Akbar laid eyes on the Deccan and launched a massive military expedition to Ahmednagar. Amber played a crucial role in preventing the seizure by the Mughals. After many such tales of fight and glory, Ambar married one of his daughters to a 20-year-old scion of Ahmadnagar’s royal family in neighboring Bijapur.

By now, his courage was such that even the Mughals knew that Ambar would be one of the most significant barriers if they were to win this land. Over the next decade, Malik Ambar would fight and defeat Mughal emperor Jahangir’s attempts to take over the kingdom.  As per Indian Express, in 1610, after briefly expelling the Mughals from Ahmednagar, Ambar established a new capital, a city named Khirki (some historians believe the name was Khadki) for the sultanate, which is now known as, you guessed it, Aurangabad!

Historian Manu S Pillai wrote in his book Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji that the city eventually became home to over 2,00,000 people, including the Marathas.

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While Malik Ambar was able to push away the Mughals many times, historians believe that the reign was finally taken by Mughals when Shah Jahan led a massive army against Ahmednagar and Malik Ambar offer full control of Berar and Ahmadnagar to the Mughal as a sign of surrender.

After his death, Ambar’s son Fateh Khan succeeded his father as the regent of the Nizam Shahs. However, through a series of internal struggles within the nobility, the sultanate fell to the Mughal Empire within Ambar’s death ten years. Malik Ambar rests in a tomb in Khuldabad, near the shrine of the famous Sufi saint Zar Zari Baksh, almost 30km from the modern city of Aurangabad.

Under the 17th-century Mughal monarch, Aurangzeb, the Mughals named the city as ‘Aurangabad’.  The topic being discussed in modern times revolved around the event when Aurangzeb made Aurangabad his capital; he tortured and killed Chhatrapati Sambahji Maharaj, son of the great Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Now, the sena believes that the city’s name should be renamed from ‘Aurangabad’ to ‘Sambhajinagar’, in remembrance of Chhatrapati Sambahji Maharaj, instead of naming it after the ruler who tortured and killed the warrior.

Malik Ambar's Tomb in Khuldabad. Photography credits: Tervlugt


Now that you know what the entire story is about, it’s time to look at what has happened recently. The Shiv Sena has been trying to rename Aurangabad since the 1980s.

The Sena has been using Sambhaji Nagar instead of Aurangabad in political rhetoric, and the party newspaper Saamna and the renaming issue resurface ahead of every election. Now that the Sena is back in power with the NCP and Congress, the name change has become a point of tension between the
Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance partners ahead of the AMC elections.

Meanwhile, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has been cornering and daring its former ally to bring into effect the name-change. They seem in full favor of it. The primary opposing force here looks to be Congress (INC), which has opposed the move for fear of upsetting its Muslim supporters in the city. Meanwhile, if the MVA coalition breaks, the BJP will push all its efforts to win the state once again and reclaim its lost seats.

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