Born in Ethiopia and traded many times over as a slave, Malik Ambar rose through the ranks to finally command an army and become the Regent of one of the South Indian Sultanates. Mughal era miniatures, including his portrait, part of the Muraqqa collection, will be on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit till mid November.
India abounds in throwing up colourful personalities from its chequered pages of history. It is not often easy to cope with the shifting patterns and kaleidoscopic images of India’s rich past where people and forces engage with structures and resources to write each chapter of its singular saga. Even this caveat is woefully inadequate when one attempts to introduce the richness Malik Ambar has added to our heritage. His origins and career were as unusual as his accomplishments and legacy are. Malik Ambar was born in Ethiopia, began his adult life as a slave, rose to be a powerful military commander and Regent in one of the South Indian Sultanates, proved to be an unbeatable nemesis for the mighty Mughals and finally laid the foundation of Maratha power which would rise to its zenith with Chatrapathi Shivaji. Far from resembling a mummified chapter from a crumbling old book, Malik Ambar’s life holds a lesson or two for India’s troubled present — where the bickering of divisive voices gets shrill by the passing day. And his life can show that sometimes our jaundiced eyes of the present can even prevent a fuller understanding of the past.
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