Sarvai Papanna (18th August 1650- August 1710)


K. Surender- Collation and compilation


Sarvai Papanna rebelled against the Islamic rule at Golkonda Fort until he was apprehended and subsequently executed by the Mughal forces.

An extensively recounted oral interpretation of a poem asserts that Papanna hailed from Shapur, presently recognized as Khila-shapur, in the Jangaon region, and was born in the mid to late 16th century. His sibling served as a minor army commander (sardar), his father held the position of a local headman (patil), and he had a prosperous sister. As he matured, he embarked on constructing a modest hill fort close to Tarikonda, now renamed Tatikonda. Safeguarding it with his personal army, he and his troops disrupted the bustling trade route in Warangal, the former capital and Golkonda fort, which was the hub of Islam rule in Deccan part. Sarvai Papanna fortified his positions at Kilashapur and Tatikonda.

Local faujdars and zamindars, denoting military governors and hereditary Telugu landholders/chiefs, were the first to discern Papanna’s activities, recognizing the burgeoning threat to the supply chain structure. Subsequently, they lodged their objections with the monarch of Golkonda. In the year 1702, the king took this concern into account and dispatched his deputy governor, Rustam Dil Khan, to besiege Shahpur and eliminate Papanna. However, after a two-month-long siege, Papanna and Sarva managed to escape, prompting Rustam Dil Khan to destroy the fort before departing for Hyderabad.

Following his expulsion from Tarikonda by prominent locals, Papanna ventured as far as Kaulas, covering a distance of 110 miles west. There, he commenced service under the zamindar of that area, Venkat Rao, as a troop-captain (jama-a-dar). Later, Venkat Rao transitioned from being a zamindar to a mansabdar, affiliating with the Moghul circles and commanded a contingent of 2000 soldiers and 500 horsemen. During this period, Papanna noticing these royal modifications, journeyed to Shahpur and united his supporters.

Simultaneously, the Qutb Shahi dynasty was nearing its end, while the Moghul era was in its infancy at Golkonda Fort. The earlier fort at Golkonda was replaced with a sturdier stone and mortar structure equipped with fixed cannons. In 1687, Golkonda was captured, a year after Bijapur met a similar fate. Following this conquest, a Mughal governor was positioned in Hyderabad, while Abul-Hasan Qutb Shah, the last sultan of Golkonda, was transported to the imperial prison within Daulatabad fort by a small cavalry regiment. Additionally, his ascendancy in central Telangana unfolded during a two-year span (1702–1704) marked by the absence of trade caravans arriving in Hyderabad. These two facts appear not to be coincidental. During this period, Rustam Dil Khan occupied posts outside Hyderabad from May 1703 to December 1705, before returning to the city in early 1706.

Historical documents authored by Khafi Khan outline Rustam Dil Khan’s allocation of a `brave soldier seeking employment’ to subdue Papanna. However, Papanna ultimately prevailed by employing substantial sums of money rather than physical coercion to achieve his objectives. This bribe, accepted by Rustam Dil Khan, succeeded in diminishing the deputy governor’s zeal for military actions. Following the lifting of the siege, the Mughal cavalry regiments discreetly withdrew to their barracks in Hyderabad.

The ailing Aurangzeb’s demise in February 1707 precipitated the anticipated upheaval accompanying the inevitable power struggle for succession. Subsequently, the new emperor, Bahadur Shah, extended the post of governor of Bijapur and Hyderabad to his other brother, Kam Bakhsh. However, the latter, who already held the governorship of Hyderabad, declined the offer and declared himself the `King of Golkonda’ in January 1708.

During this period, Papanna launched an assault on Warangal city and fort, aiming to consolidate his dominance. Concurrently, the city’s inhabitants, along with soldiers and Muslims, observed the Moharram Ashura celebration, mirroring the observance at Husain’s tomb in Karbala.

On the evening of 31 March 1708, Papanna’s forces, comprising 2000–3000 infantry and 400–500 cavalry, drew close to Warangal’s stone walls, coinciding with the onset of Ashura on 1st April. While one group secured ropes with slip knots to scale and breach the walls, another group blocked access routes. Taking advantage of the city’s oblivious state due to preparations for the upcoming event, Papanna’s main troops surged into the city after the gates were unlocked from within.

Reports suggest that during the attack, the wife and daughter of the city’s senior Shia judge, Shah Inayat, were abducted. This left the cleric in mourning after pleading with Golkonda to convey his incapacity to intervene. Numerous Muslim soldiers also perished during the raid, substantially altering Papanna’s surroundings and disposition. With some of the spoils from his raids, Papanna procured additional weaponry, including 700 double-barreled muskets. Buoyed by the triumph of his Warangal assault, Papanna turned his attention to a similar raid on Bhongir, a renowned fort situated between Shahpur and Hyderabad, a mere thirty miles from the latter. He selected a day of distraction, the feast of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, which occurred on 1st June1708, mirroring his approach of the Warangal attack. However, this venture yielded significantly diminished results.

This phase of Sarvai Papanna’s life is deemed pivotal, as he marshaled his own army and expanded his dominion. Accumulating a substantial cattle herd for agricultural endeavors, estimated between 10000 and 12000, underscores the extensive extent of his rule. Local historical accounts indicate that he held sway over territories including Kolanupaka, Tatikonda, Vemulakonda, Elagandala (Karimnagar), Cheriyala, Husnabad, Bhuvanagiri or Bhongir (Nalgonda district), and Jangaon (Warangal district).

Meanwhile, the Mughal authorities in Hyderabad found themselves unable to apprehend Papanna due to the intricate web of imperial politics. Several weeks after the Warangal campaign, Kam Bakhsh, known as the `King of Golkonda’, was in Gulbarga, seeking divine favor at the Gisu Daraz shrine, ostensibly to bolster his position for an impending confrontation with his elder brother, Bahadur Shah.

Disparate versions of events emerge. One narrative asserts that during this period, Papanna assaulted the Golkonda fort, killing numerous Muslim soldiers and seizing property. He returned laden with wealth pillaged from Golkonda’s coffers. Viewing this as a severe affront to Moghul rule, Bahadur Shah dispatched a sizable, well-equipped army to eliminate Papanna. Conversely, an alternate version suggests that he reached Golkonda fort and presented a gift of 14 million to Bahadur Shah, receiving a robe of honor in return. This gesture incited the ire of Muslim and Nayak rulers who perceived his rise and royal recognition as a threat. Muslims, especially, remembered him for the death of their religious leader and the fate of his family members. Amid growing dissent within the Muslim ranks, Bahadur Shah publicly disavowed dealing with `a simple toddy-tapper’. Consequently, Governor Yusuf Khan, who was newly appointed to oversee Hyderabad, received orders to `eradicate’ Papanna. Dilawar Khan, an Afghan, was tasked with leading an invasion force against him.

During this period, shown in records, Papanna was besieging a nearby landowner’s fort in June 1709, and concurrently learned of Dilawar Khan’s advancing expeditionary force. Consequently, upon Papanna’s arrival in Shahpur, his former hostages employed his own artillery to launch cannon-balls at him. Incensed by this turn of events and desperate to gain entry, Papanna ordered his troops to ignite a fire. In an attempt to breach the burning gates, his soldiers donned the hides of slain buffaloes as makeshift shields. However, the intensity of the heat impeded their advance, while Papanna’s charging elephants were obstructed by debris and fallen trees.

Coinciding with these events, Dilawar Khan’s expeditionary force arrived. In response, Papanna and his men sought refuge within the walled enclosure at the fort’s base, where they had previously held their captives. They hesitated to directly confront the Mughal cavalry. As the situation appeared dire, some of Papanna’s disheartened soldiers dispersed by evening. Faced with this situation, Papanna abandoned Shahpur and relocated his forces to the nearby Tarikonda fort. Dilawar Khan chose to remain in Shahpur, overseeing the inventory of Papanna’s wealth and revenue accounts (malwa band-u-bast). Subsequently, the governor dispatched 5000 to 6000 new cavalry to lay siege to Tarikonda.

Time passed, and in March 1710, Yusuf Khan led 5000 to 6000 horsemen out of Hyderabad, and resolved to personally confront Papanna. Local landowners rallied to his side, amassing between 10000 and 12000 cavalry and 20000 infantry, deeming Papanna as a threat to their interests.

Papanna withstood the siege at Tarikonda against a formidable host for several additional months. In May 1710, the governor offered Papanna’s troops double pay in exchange for their defection. Exhausted and famished, many soldiers switched sides. Depleted of ammunition, Papanna resorted to a final, desperate ploy. Altering his appearance to conceal his identity, he left the fort through one gate, while placing his sandals and hookah near another to mislead potential pursuers. Sustaining a leg injury from a bullet, he remained concealed and anonymous for two days, evading even his sons, who continued to fight within the fort.

Eventually, he arrived in Hasanabad, stumbling upon a toddy seller’s establishment. Given his shared Gouda community affiliation, and his role in its establishment, Papanna felt secure there. Despite this, he maintained his disguise for safety. Seated in the shop, he requested the finest glass of toddy he had ever tasted, all while preserving his incognito status. He was pursued by the Moghul deputy faujidar, leading to his capture. The captors presented their captive before Governor Yusuf Khan, subjecting Papanna to several days of interrogation about the whereabouts of his amassed fortune. On 18th August 1710, Papanna was dismembered, his severed head delivered to the royal court in Delhi. Subsequently, his body was suspended from the city gates of Hyderabad as a cautionary display, marking the poignant conclusion of Papanna’s extraordinary ascent from humble origins without any royal or aristocratic lineage, creating his own army and capturing several forts and ruling from Golkonda close to an year.



Moghul Administration in Golconda – JF Richards
A social History of Deccan, 1300-1761 Eight Indian Lives- Richard M. Eaton
The Muntakhab Al-Lubab of Khafi Khan