Indian History Part 64 South India Section II: Prologue to Hindu Revival

Canberra, 4 March 2018 

 

As in any number of cases in history before and after, there was an interim period of uncertainty and confusion following the overthrow of the Khilji dynasty by the Tughluqs. No doubt, the Tughluqs went on to establish one of the more significant dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate and also encroached into the Deccan and South India like the Khiljis. However, the kingdoms of the Deccan took this state of confusion as an opportunity to rebel and declare independence from the control of the Muslim Sultans of Delhi. Khilji militarism had completely dismembered the erstwhile kingdom of the Yadavas around the region around Devagiri, which therefore remained under the control of the Delhi Sultan. In effect the Yadava dynasty had ceased to exist. The lead to break away from Delhi was initiated by the other Deccan kingdom, the Kakatiyas, then ruled by King Pratapa Rudra.

While the Deccan was starting to get embroiled in rebellion, Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq, after establishing his right to rule the northern Sultanate, resolved to do away with the Hindu kingdoms of the Peninsula. His ambition was to bring the entire sub-continent all the way to Cape Comorin the southern-most tip of the Indian Peninsula under the sway of Islam. The Tughluq’s war against the Kakatiya dynasty and the eventual destruction of the Telugu kingdom was the initial part of this plan and has been covered in earlier chapters in this book. As a result of Tughluq incursions into the Deccan, at the time of Muhammad bin Tughluq’s ascension to the throne, large parts of the Deccan and even some parts of South India acknowledged the sovereignty of the Delhi Sultanate. Both Devagiri and Warrangal, the strongholds of the Yadava and Kakatiya empires had been reduced to submission and the once flourishing regional kingdoms were under the effective control of officers of the Delhi Sultanate. Sultan Muhammad had also appointed a viceroy to rule the distant southern enclave in Ma’bar.

Only two prominent and independent Hindu states remained to offer resistance to the encroaching moves of the Delhi Sultanate—the kingdom centred on Kampili and the Hoysala kingdom with its capital at Dwarasamudra. More importantly, from religious and cultural viewpoints, they formed the bulwark against the rampant spread of Islam in the Peninsula.

The Fall of Kampili

The kingdom of Kampili was situated near the River Tungabhadra in the north-east of the current Indian state of Karnataka. It was ruled by a king, appropriately called Kampilideva, who was in regular feuds with both the Kakatiyas and Hoysalas. He was also a consistent and vehement opponent of Islam and in territorial dispute with the Delhi Sultanate after Devagiri had been conquered by the Muslim army. Kampilideva had managed, over a period of time, to extend the boundaries of his kingdom till it could have been considered a geographically large kingdom. It included the present day Anantpur, Chitaldurgh, Simoga, Raichur, Dharwar and Bellari districts. Kampili was separated from the Maratha province of the Delhi Sultanate, Daulatabad (old Devagiri) by the River Krishna in the north-west. Kampilideva was a shrewd diplomat and made overtures of friendship to Baha ud-Din Garshap, the Muslim governor of Sagar, near Gulbarga to counter the Daulatabad governor. Garshap was the cousin of Sultan Muhammad Tughluq and was in a running feud with the Sultan having laid claim to the throne of Delhi against him. After cultivating a sufficiently strong friendship with Garshap, the king of Kampili stopped paying the annual tribute to Delhi. At the same time, Garshap also decided to declare his independence and once again reiterated his claim to the Delhi throne.

Muhammad Tughluq deputed the governors of Gujarat and Daulatabad to deal with the upstart. In the ensuing battle on the banks of the River Godavari, Garshap was soundly defeated and was forced to flee to Kampili for refuge. Muhammad Tughluq now arrived personally at Daulatabad/Devagiri and took charge of the campaign. A number of battles and sieges ensued between the two armies, where in the initial phase victory alternated between both sides. Kampilideva withstood two attacks on his fortress at Kummata. However, in the third attack Muslim army, led by Malik Zada the governor of Gujarat, had overwhelming superiority over the Kampili forces. The odds made it impossible for the Hindu forces to defend the fort, which was overrun. Kampilideva made a strategic retreat to Hosadurgh which was also besieged by the Delhi Sultanate army. In 1327, when Kampilideva could no longer effectively withstand the siege, the ladies committed the rites of the (in)famous ‘jauhar’ and Kampilideva led his forces out to face the Delhi army on his last battle. The valiant king and his loyal troops were killed in battle. That the ladies of the kingdom of Kampili committed ‘jauhar’ at Hosadurgh, in keeping with ancient Hindu traditions, is confirmed by different sources and cannot be doubted. This episode is one of the few confirmed and corroborated instances of this ‘ritual suicide process’ having been carried out in South India.

Before embarking on his last battle, Kampilideva, ever the magnanimous king and mindful of his duties as a host, had send Garshap and his family to Dwarasamudra, the Hoysala capital, entrusting their safety to Ballala III. In earlier years Kampilideva had supported and saved the throne of Ballala III when t Hoysala king was attacked by king Ramadeva of the Yadava dynasty. This was before the time of the Khiljis destroying the Yadava dynasty. Kampilideva had relied on this fact when sending Garshap and his family to Ballala III to ensure their safety. However, unlike Kampilideva, the Hoysala king had no such exaggerated sense of honour or compunctions regarding the duty to protect guests who had sought refuge with him. On Kampilideva’s defeat and battlefield death, Ballala surrendered Garshap and his entourage to Malik Zada, made peace with the Gujarat governor and acknowledged the supremacy of the Delhi Sultan. Malik Zada did not invade the Hoysala kingdom.

At this juncture, Muslim historians include the entire Deccan and South India as being part of the Tughluq Empire and some of the modern maps also depict this claim. They indicate that the Peninsula was divided into five provinces ruled by the Delhi Sultanate—Devagiri, Tiling, Kampili, Dwarasamudra, and Ma‘bar. While it is true that militarily these regions had been defeated, this assertion of Delhi rule over these provinces is factually incorrect. The exaggerated claim could be forgiven given the fact that the scribes were all beholden to the Delhi Sultan for their livelihood and in most cases also their physical well-being. The reality is that the Delhi Sultanate exercised only very tenuous control over these areas except for Devagiri. The rest of the areas had accepted Delhi suzerainty after being militarily defeated, but continued their autonomous rule and their connection to Delhi was almost non-existant. Muhammad Tughluq who had been camping at Devagiri during the campaign against Kampilideva left for Delhi in 1329.

The Wars of Liberation

Almost immediately on the Delhi Sultan leaving the Deccan, a concerted campaign to rid the Deccan and South India of Muslims commenced. It was obvious even to the casual observer that the people of the Peninsula had not taken kindly to Muslim rule and the imposition of a foreign set of religious and social rules that accompanied it. Simultaneously and perhaps also prodded by the forced imposition of Islam, there was a strong revival of Shaivism in the Peninsula. Underlying these developments was a sense of revulsion across the Peninsula at the widespread desecration and destruction of temples that usually followed the defeat of a Hindu king or chief. The Hindu population was unwilling to accept such behaviour without fighting back. [This retaliation and push back against Islam is in sharp contrast to some of the current analysis being made, which depict the Hindus of the sub-continent, especially of South India, as being servile and easy to subjugate. Some modern historians have even propagated the concept that the Hindus ‘welcomed’ the imposition of Islam and thrived under the ‘benevolent’ rule of the Muslim kings/sultans. Nothing could be farther than the truth. A conscious attempt at making the Muslim rulers look ‘presentable’ in the eyes of the modern population is clearly apparent in these narratives that do not produce any shred of evidence to support the claims. A number of modern narratives of medieval Indian history are replete with such attempts. The reader would do well to be astute in his/her selection of readings for their study.]

Shaivism that rose in the Deccan and South India was a strong and fanatical force that could be compared to militant Islam in some aspects. They were intolerant of even other forms of Hindu worship and cults. The role that this virulent form of Hinduism played in defeating Muhammad Tughluq’s attempt to colonise and then Islamise the southern Peninsula is an under-studied and less understood part of South Indian history. Along with the militant stance of Shaivism, the inherent arrogance of the Muslim governors who were left behind to rule the conquered territories added to creating a severe back lash from the local population who were predominantly Hindus. (A major part of the liberation movement has been covered in detail in Chapter 1 of this volume.)

Somadeva, who claimed the position of scion of the ancient Chalukya dynasty, led a revolt by the Hindus of western Telangana against the governor of Kampili, Malik Muhammad. Ballala III, true to his nature, conveniently forgot his allegiance with the Delhi Sultanate and joined the rebellion at Kampili. The success of the rebellion that had the governor fleeing to North India, troubled the Delhi Sultan sufficiently for him to send two princes of the region who were captive in the Delhi court, Harihara and Bukka, to subdue it and restore order. These princes had a vague connection to the royal house of Kampilideva and their origins are the subject of some fanciful stories. (These stories, facts and fiction, have been covered in the second section of this book.) While these two princes embarked on their own journey, which was to lead to the creation of one of the most celebrated empires of South India, other equally momentous events that would change the political landscape of South India were gathering pace.

The Ascent of Hindu Kingdoms

Opposition to the heavy oppression by Muslim governors and officials in the conquered areas coalesced into a concerted movement for liberation in the Peninsula. This struggle for independence was led in the Deccan by Prolaya Nayaka and his cousin Kapaya Nayaka (mentioned in some Muslim chronicles as Kanhaya Nayaka). The uprising is confirmed by some inscriptions that also mention that as many as 75 minor nayakas, or chieftains, of the region joined or helped the cousins in their struggle. The rebellion was a great success and in a short span of two years the entire eastern coastal region from River Mahanadi to Nellore district was freed from Muslim overlordship. The Hindu chiefs who took over power, rapidly restored status quo ante and reconstructed social, political and civic life in the old style.

Kapaya Nayaka, other than being a brave and successful general, was also a shrewd observer of the socio-political developments in the broader community. He instinctively appreciated that even though Islamic control of the region was broken, the scattered Muslim diaspora of amirs, slaves, merchants and local converts would be a direct hindrance to establishing complete and true Hindu rule. He entered into an alliance with Ballala Hoysala III, who was undoubtedly the most powerful Hindu king in the Peninsula at that time. Through a combined effort, Kapaya hoped to contain and then eliminate the Muslim pockets that were still existing in the region. Ballala who was busy improving the defences to the north of his kingdom to ward of an anticipated incursion by the Muslim governor of Devagiri/Daulatabad, send reinforcements to Kapaya to continue the task of overthrowing Muslim rule and rejecting the effects of Islamic occupation.

Kapaya Nayaka, now at the head of a much larger army, defeated the governor of Warangal, Malik Maqbool, who was forced to flee to Delhi. With this victory, the entire Telangana was made free of Muslim rule. Now Ballala and Kapaya started a joint campaign against Ma‘bar, initially entering the region called Tondaimangalam adjacent to Madurai sultanate. They cleared the region of minor Muslim garrisons and reinstated the royal house of the Sambuvaraya dynasty who were the traditional rulers of the region. At this stage the entire territories of the old Kakatiya kingdom had been divested of Muslim rule. Further, other than the Maratha province around Devagiri that had been ruled by the Yadava dynasty, the whole of the Deccan was outside the influence of the Delhi Sultanate. In South India, the Madurai Sultan himself was a rebel against Delhi and more than half the Madurai territory had already been recovered from Muslim rule.

The Independence of Madurai

Jalal ud-Din Ahsan Shah, the Tughluq viceroy of Ma‘bar had earlier declared independence and established the Sultanate of Madurai. He is said to have ‘got rid of’, a euphemism for murdering, officers loyal to the Delhi Sultan. Simultaneously the Hindu chiefs of the region also declared independence. As mentioned earlier, Ekambaranatha, the head of the Sambuvaraya clan, aided by Vira Ballala III and Kapaya Nayaka liberated the northern parts of South India from Muslim rule. Muhammad Tughluq was sufficiently alarmed by the developments in South India to start a march south from Delhi with a sizeable army to quell the rebellions in the incipient stage itself. However, the hapless Sultan was once again plagued by bad luck. (For details of Muhammad Tughluq’s military campaigns, read Volume V: The Delhi Sultanate, of this series of books.) On the Delhi army reaching Warangal, there was an outbreak of an epidemic that decimated it, forcing the Sultan to return to Delhi without even having made contact with the rebels. This was the low-ebb in the prestige of the Delhi Muslim army in South India.

Ballala, the prime-mover in reinstating the Sambuvaraya dynasty to parts of Ma‘bar, started a series of continuous skirmishes with the newly established Madurai Sultanate. Jalal ud-Din was assassinated after ruling for five years by one of his nobles, Ala ud-Din Udauji. The Sultanate of Madurai was at this time surrounded and hemmed in by Hindu kingdoms and fiefdoms. The break-up of the Pandya kingdom had resulted in most of the surrounding countryside being controlled by small but effective fiefdoms ruled by Pandya princes. The Madurai Sultan was forced to fight continuous, and at times simultaneous, battles with them to keep the sultanate intact. Udauji was a warlike noble and immediately on ascension planned an expedition against the Hoysala kingdom. In the ensuing battle at Tiruvannamalai, Udauji had the upper hand but was struck and killed by a stray arrow before he could claim victory. In the resultant confusion, Ballala managed to convert almost certain defeat into victory for the Hoysalas.

Udauji was replaced by his son-in-law Qutb ud-Din who was an incapable ruler. In true Islamic tradition he was murdered by the nobles after 40 days of rule. They brought Jalal ud-Din’s son-in-law, Ghiyas ud-Din Muhammad Shah Damaghani to the throne. Madurai was in dire straits. Damaghani was a capable ruler but a violent and blood thirsty person. He became a ruthless ruler who killed people and carried out mass executions for pure pleasure. He started to practice unheard of cruelties on his Hindu subjects.

Buoyed by his earlier victory and spurred by the atrocities being committed against Hindus in Madurai, Ballala III now 80 years old, invaded Ma‘bar, defeated the Muslim army and laid siege to the fort at Kannanur-Koppam. The siege continued for nearly 10 months before the besieged fort sued for peace. Ballala now committed an uncharacteristic error of judgement and permitted the commander of the fort to get in touch with Sultan Damaghani in Madurai. This was a strategic blunder. In an audacious move, Damaghani collected all available forces, which by some account were only 4000-strong, and force-marched to Kannanur and attacked the Hoysala camp. Ballala was taken by surprise, defeated and taken captive to Madurai. There he was first deprived of all the wealth of the Hoysalas and then killed, flayed, the skin stuffed with straw and the body hung outside the ramparts of the Madurai fort. Ibn Batuta reports seeing the body hung outside the Madurai walls. This was an ignoble end to a long-ruling king and a steadfast champion of Hinduism.

Damaghani died soon after this victory, reportedly of an overdose of aphrodisiac. His only son and wife had died earlier of cholera that was raging in Madurai and therefore his nephew Nasr ud-Din succeeded to the throne. Nasr ud-Din had earlier been a domestic servant in Delhi. His first act as sultan was to kill his cousin so that he could marry the widow who was Damghani’s daughter. The detailed and coherent narrative of the Madurai sultanate finishes with this episode, since Ibn Batuta, who is the primary source for the information, left Madurai at this juncture. It is undoubtedly certain that around 1363-64, less than a decade after Nasr ud-Din came to power, Madurai was annexed by Bukka to the Vijayanagar Empire.

From the time of its foundation, the Madurai Sultanate was in the throes of a continual and prolonged war with its neighbouring and surrounding Hindu kingdoms. From various sources it can be gleaned that the war against the Muslim holding of Ma‘bar was a series of battles that give the impression that it was a campaign that reduced the sultanate. The Madurai Sultanate was whittled down over time, rather than brought down as the result of one great battlefield defeat. Muslim power in the Peninsula was broken by 1370. There were feeble struggles for few more years after which it was completely extinguished. Madurai was an enclave geographically too far from the seat of Islamic power in North India to have survived for long. The fact that it survived for as long as it did, and not its eventual collapse, should come as a surprise to the historian.

Conclusion

Ballala III was succeeded to the throne by his son Virupaksha Ballala IV, of whom there is almost no information available. Nothing is known about him and the Hoysala kingdom was very soon overrun and annexed by the newly formed and rising Vijayanagar Empire. (The rise and dominance of Vijayanagar is covered in the next section in this book.)

The co-founders of Vijayanagar Empire realised very early the danger that Islam posed to the integrity of South India. They understood the need to present a combined Hindu resistance to the Muslim invasions from the north. This meant that the smaller Hindu states of the Deccan and South India must not be allowed to continue hostilities with their neighbours on a regular basis in pursuing the age-old Mandala theory of state security. Accordingly, the founders of Vijayanagar embarked on a conquering consolidation of the Deccan and South India, which would see the empire stretch across the Peninsula, from sea to sea.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2018]
All Rights Reserved
No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. You may quote extracts from the website or forward the link to the website with attribution to http://www.sanukay.wordpress.com/. For any other mode of sharing, please contact the author @ (sanukay@hotmail.com)

 

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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

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