Such was the condition of painting in Islamic India on the eve of the sixteenth century, nor was it to change, it seems, for another fifty years. But this half-century was a momentous period in the political history of the country. In 1525 Babur, latest descendant of Timur and the first of the Great Mughals of Delhi, left the hills of Afghanistan for the hot plains of India. His son, Humayun, was driven back to Kabul, only to return a year before his death in 1556 and bequeath Delhi to the greatest of the line, his son Akbar. In the meantime the Bahmani kingdom had swiftly disintegrated. The dynasty retained for a while a small territory around Bidar. The rest was parcelled among four great provincial governors, who soon declared themselves independent. The resulting kingdoms were Berar in the north, Ahmadnagar in the north-west, Bijapur in the south-west and Golconda in the east. Berar and Bidar were later absorbed by their more powerful neighbours Admadnagar and Bijapur: their role in the development of Deccan painting remains obscure. The five kingdoms and Vijayanagar, each allied against the others in every conceivable combination, were almost continuously at war. In 1565 the Islamic rulers finally composed their differences and made a concerted attack on the Hindu kingdom, which was heavily defeated at the battle of Talikota. Vijayanagar itself, then the finest capital in India, was spoiled of its treasure and, no doubt, of its craftsmen and artists, and left to moulder into the sombre and magnificent ruin which still stands on the south bank of the Tungabhadra. The Islamic confederacy fell apart immediately after the battle, the kingdoms reverting to their old habit of incessant and ineffectual bickering, blind or indifferent to the danger threatening from the north. Akbar, soon after his accession, had begun the systematic conquest of north India, annexing Malwa in 1560-1, and Gujarat in 1572—3. He was now well-placed to assault the Deccan, but it was not until the last decade of the century that he felt sufficiently secure to engage his forces south of the Narmada.
This lull of thirty years witnessed the first flowering of Islamic painting in north India and the Deccan. The prime mover in the Islamic confederacy against Vijayanagar had been Husain Nizam Shah I of Ahmadnagar. He died a few months after the victory, leaving his chief queen Khanzada Humayun regent for his young son, Murtaza I. It was almost certainly during her regency (1565-9) that a Persian poem celebrating Husain's reign was composed and illustrated at Ahmadnagar. Most of the pictures contain gauche reminiscences of the Nimat Namah painted some sixty years earlier in Malwa. One however is remarkable, and a fitting introduction to the Deccan achievement. The landscape - the gold sky, the high white-rimmed horizon, the trees and flowering shrubs - derives ultimately from Persia, probably through Malwa. But there is nothing in the Malwa book of this quality. The Ahmadnagar artist has manipulated these simple elements as if freshly coined for his purpose. By disposing them symmetrically against the intense blue ground he has succeeded in expressing a theme and an excitement foreign to Persia and new in Indian painting. The bold and vivid palette, by which the picture really makes its impact, is an invention of the Deccan painter. Original too are the tall, slender figures with their long, looped saris.