Malik Ambar, who went on to become the Prime Minister of Ahmadnagar, was born in 1549 at Harar in Ethiopia, and was sold as a slave in the market of Baghdad to Qaziu’l Quzat of Mecca and then to Changiz Khan, a nobleman who was the Prime Minister of Ahmadnagar. Here Malik learned about governance. After Changiz’s death, Malik was released from slavery and joined the service of Abhang Khan, an Abyssinian noble. He raised an army of mercenaries and became recognized for his military acumen and was sought out by the ruler of Ahmadnagar. Malik Ambar rose to such a position that when the Sultan of Ahmadnagar died, he was able to place his candidate Murtaza Nizam Shah on the throne in 1595 and then became the Prime Minister and Regent of the kingdom. He also married his daughter to Murtaza Shah.
At this time, the Mughals were pressing south and captured Ahmednagar fort. With the help of the Maratha chiefs, Malik Ambar re-captured the fort from the Mughals. But eventually Malik Amber was defeated in battle by the Mughals and had to lose the fort of Ahmadnagar after all. However, the Sultanate retained large parts of its territory and shifted its capital elsewhere and Malik Ambar continued to successfully resist the Mughals. Both Abul Fazl and Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan were unable to overpower him. Later, Jahangir and Shahjahan also continued to fight him. Shahjahan laid a crushing blow to Malik Ambar in one of the battles and further decreased his power. Still, Malik Ambar did humble the might of the Mughals and of the Adil Shahs of Bijapur and raised the falling status of the Nizam Shah. Though defeated by the Mughals he was never cowed down by their might.
Malik Ambar organized the Sultanate’s military system, recruited new soldiers, and trained them in guerilla tactics of fighting. He introduced the revenue reforms known as Malik Ambar Dhara, which became the basis of all future revenue system in Deccan. He was known for his tact, farsightedness, administrative capacity, judgment, liberality, diplomatic skill and superb generalship. His death on 14th May, 1626, at ripe age of 80, ended an adventurous career.
In this rare portrait, Malik Ambar stands against a violet background, wearing a striped turban, white shawl, white straight-edged jama, red flowered trousers, saffron slippers and golden kamarband or patka with geometrical patterns edged with floral meander on the borders. He is holding a sword, a dagger and a knife. The green writing case, attached to the red belt, is also visible in this powerful portrait of Malik Ambar.
The painting is inscribed with the name of Malik Ambar in Persian and Devanagari characters. A very similar portrait in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has been identified not as Malik Ambar, but as his son, Fateh Khan.