Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji

REBEL SULTANS jacket..jpgIn 1707, when Emperor Aurangzeb went to his grave, the Mughal empire began to crack into a hundred fractured pieces. It was the lure of the Deccan that drained this conqueror’s energies, putting him on a course of collision with his most threatening adversaries. After all, the Deccan was a land that inspired wonder. Its treasures were legendary, and its kings magnificent. It was a horizon of rousing adventure, attracting talent from beyond oceans. A traveller here might encounter bands of European snipers available for military hire or forbidding fortresses where African nobles scaled the heights of power. Diamonds and pearls lay heaped in the Deccan’s bazaars, while in its courts thrived Persians and Marathas, Portuguese and Georgians, presiding over a world of drama and betrayal.  A thousand fortunes were made in the Deccan, drawing the formidable envy of generations of Mughal emperors.

In Rebel Sultans, Manu S Pillai narrates the story of the Deccan from the close of the thirteenth century to the dawn of the eighteenth. Packed with riveting tales and compelling characters, this book takes us from the age of Alauddin Khilji to the ascent of Shivaji. We witness the dramatic rise and fall of the Vijayanagar empire, even as we negotiate intrigues at the courts of the Bahmani kings and the Rebel Sultans who overthrew them. From Chand Bibi, a valorous queen stabbed to death and Ibrahim II of Bijapur, a Muslim prince who venerated Hindu gods, to Malik Ambar, the Ethiopian warlord, and Krishnadeva Raya on Vijayanagar’s Diamond Throne–they all appear in these pages as we journey through one of the most arresting sweeps of Indian history. Unravelling a forgotten chapter in our medieval past, Rebel Sultans reminds us of a different age and a different time in the Deccan–one that ended an empire and rewrote India’s destiny.

Praise for Rebel Sultans

“Deftly and with great vividness, Manu S Pillai takes us through 400 years of roiling history and returns the Deccan to the centre of our attention–where it belongs.”
Sunil Khilnani

“Minutely researched and yet instantly accessible…Rebel Sultans will bring the fascinating history of the medieval Deccan to a whole new generation of readers.”
William Dalrymple

“In this lively study, Manu S Pillai does a superb job of re-orienting the narrative of late medieval and early modern South Asia towards the Deccan.”
Muzaffar Alam

“In Rebel Sultans, the Deccan is presented in seven engaging chapters, each focused on a pivotal moment, character or symbol, that together trace the dynamic history of the region and convey its unique flavour.”
Navina Najat Haidar

Reviews for Rebel Sultans

“[Rebel Sultans] is dazzling storytelling. Pillai has employed an extraordinarily powerful imagination and a prodigious talent with words to write a genuine thriller that is near impossible to shut before reaching the end.”- The Indian Express

“For all its meticulous detail, Rebel Sultans is an enjoyable read.”- India Today

“…this rather remarkable young author is back with Rebel Sultans…a fast-paced greatest hits of the [Deccan’s] medieval roller-coaster ride…”-

“…this fine book…(is) nuanced…convincing when assertive…(this) is scholarship.”- The Business Standard

“…Rebel Sultans is a remarkable, daring book.”- The Hindustan Times

“…a fascinating book, with delectable minutiae in practically every page…”- Outlook

“Writing in an eloquent and lucid style, Pillai holds his readers spellbound…”- The Hindu

Publisher: Juggernaut
Buy: Amazon India

The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore

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In 1498, when Vasco da Gama set foot in Kerala looking for Christians and spices, he unleashed a wave of political fury that would topple local powers like a house of cards. The cosmopolitan fabric of a vibrant trading society – with its Jewish and Arab merchants, Chinese pirate heroes and masterful Hindu Zamorins – was ripped apart, heralding an age of violence and bloodshed. One prince, however, emerged triumphant from this descent into chaos. Shrewdly marrying Western arms to Eastern strategy, Martanda Varma consecrated the dominion of Travancore, destined to become one of the most dutiful pillars of the British Raj. What followed was two centuries of internecine conflict in one of India’s premier princely states, culminating in a dynastic feud between two sisters battling to steer the fortunes of their house on the eve of Independence.

Manu S. Pillai’s retelling of this sprawling saga focuses on the remarkable life and work of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the last – and forgotten – queen of the House of Travancore. The supporting cast includes the flamboyant painter Raja Ravi Varma and his wrathful wife, scheming matriarchs of ‘violent, profligate and sordid’ character, wife-swapping court favourites, vigilant English agents, quarrelling consorts and lustful kings. Extensively researched and vividly rendered, The Ivory Throne conjures up a dramatic world of political intrigues and factions, black magic and conspiracies, crafty ceremonies and splendorous temple treasures, all harnessed in a tragic contest for power and authority in the age of empire.

Reviews for The Ivory Throne

“…a gem of a book…”- The Indian Express

“…the wealth of information crammed into this book is bewildering…Especially when you keep in mind that Pillai is only 25 and this is his first book, The Ivory Throne is a magnificent effort.”- Mint

“This 700-page whopper of a book…swirls through Kerala’s history like a dervish possessed by the intention of telling a magnificent story, and telling it marvellously well.”- The New Indian Express

“A detailed work of history…The achievement of the book matches its ambition…You will not regret the many hours you commit: It is an absolute delight.”- Business Standard

“…a brilliant debut…The Ivory Throne is an exceptional work; the achievement falls into perspective when you realise that Pillai is just 25 years old.”- DNA

“…a particularly fascinating account…The Ivory Throne is also a sociological study– perhaps the first of its kind…”- The Tribune

“A riveting read…Even a cursory glance makes one forget that it is a debut work by a writer in his mid-twenties…an awesome achievement.”- The Hindustan Times

“…a gripping historical account…”- The Telegraph

“A clear-headed history…Well-researched and well-written, The Ivory Throne adds a new point of view to the study of Kerala.”- Outlook Magazine

“…vast and learned…Pillai has given us a wonderful book.”- Asian Review of Books

“…a distinguished piece of work…”- The Deccan Herald

“…Pillai’s work breaks new ground…”- Fountain Ink

“…a thoroughly enjoyable read…”- India Currents

Publisher: HarperCollins India
Buy: Amazon India 

Serena Chopra: Bhutan Echoes (with an essay by Manu S Pillai)


Bhutan Echoes features a selection of evocative black and white photographs taken over a decade ago by Serena Chopra in Bhutan, that form a unique personal photographic study of the landlocked Himalayan country. The publication, produced in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name, also features an introductory essay by Manu S Pillai.

Having travelled extensively across the length and breadth of Bhutan, Chopra captures the unique landscape of this country with its surprising blend of the secular and the religious, myth and reality, the traditional with the modern, and the immense contrast between its smaller townships and faraway ancient villages. A rich archive of human emotions, these photographs offer a window into the lives of the Bhutanese people as they move towards a certain modernity.

Publisher: Tasveer
Buy: Amazon India