Indian History Part 71 South India – 14th Century Section I: Islamic Rule Permeates the Deccan

Canberra, 1 March 2019

The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate altered the character of North India irrevocably. However, this event did not have any direct impact on the lands to the south of River Narmada and the Vindhya Mountain ranges that could be called, in a very generic manner, Peninsular or Southern India. The historical narrative of the Peninsula had remained separate to the on-going chronicle emanating from the North.  The histories of North and South India started to converge only from the beginning of the 14th century with the start of the Islamic armies’ invasion of the south. The initial Muslim expeditions were purely exploratory campaigns, primarily oriented towards gaining loot and wealth—marauding raids by a people with a voracious appetite for plunder and pillage.

At the time of these initial raids, and for a few centuries before, four principle dynasties ruled Peninsular South India. They were: the Yadavas of Devagiri whose king Ramadeva ruled the entire north-western part of the peninsula from the River Narmada to the River Tungabhadra; the Kakatiyas of Warangal under Pratapa Rudra II controlling the entire eastern block from River Mahanadi to the Pulicat Lake; the Karnata empire of the Hoysala Ballalas of Dwarasamudra whose king Viswavardhana Ballala III, also called Veera Ballala III, ruled the region from the River Tungabhadra to the southern reached of the River Kavery; and the Pandyas of Madura under Kulasekhara Pandya ruling the smallest of the four kingdoms in the deep south. Superficially these four kingdoms appeared large, although their territorial boundaries fluctuated constantly because of the feuds and wars that erupted regularly between these dynasties. The entire region was riven by jealousies, rivalries and disunity. The big three—Yadavas, Hoysalas and Kakatiyas—fought each other continually, while the Pandya kingdom was engulfed in a fratricidal war between the sons of Kulasekhara Pandya—Vira and Sundara Pandya.

Ala ud-Din Takes the First Steps

The Delhi Sultanate took over a century to consolidate power in North India and become accepted as the rulers, although desultory rebellions continued to plague the ruling sultan regularly. Ala ud-Din Khilji, at that time called Garshasp Malik, was the nephew and son-in-law of the ruling sultan and obtained permission to invade Malwa. This was the first expedition to the south that was sanctioned and could be considered a quasi-private campaign since Al ud-Din’s ulterior motive was to gather sufficient wealth for himself to mount a claim to the Delhi throne. Accordingly, Ala ud-Din far exceeded the remit to invade Malwa and went much further. In February 1296, he attacked the Yadava kingdom of Devagiri, when the Yadava army was far away on a southern expedition. Thus he became the first Muslim warlord to penetrate the Deccan.

Devagiri was besieged and Ramadeva the Yadava king, being caught unawares sued for peace within a week. He gave a great deal of wealth to Ala ud-Din and also gave one of his daughters in marriage to him. Ramadeva’s son and heir apparent, Singana (Sankara Deva?), had been leading the southern expedition and hurried back to the capital but could not resume hostilities, since an uneasy peace had already been concluded. This was the first defeat of a Deccan kingdom by a North Indian Muslim army, and Devagiri became destined to be extinct in short order. More importantly, the Yadava kingdom became the willing stepping stone for the Delhi Sultanate’s further incursions into the Deccan.

Ala ud-Din subsequently murdered his uncle and claimed the throne of Delhi Sultanate. He pursued a policy of mounting expeditions to the Peninsula, purely for plunder and loot and did not harbour any territorial ambitions. An expedition against Warangal was mounted through Bengal under the command of a young Muhammad Tughluq, then known as Malik Fakhs ud-Din Jauna, which turned out to be a near disaster, ending in complete defeat of the Delhi army. Appreciating this defeat of the Khilji army, Singana who had been biding his time to extract revenge for the defeat of his father, rebelled. He stopped paying tribute to Delhi and also gave refuge to the Gujarat king and his daughter who was fleeing the Sultanate invasion of their kingdom. For some inexplicable reason, Ramadeva who was still the nominal ruler of Devagiri, denounced the actions of his son and requested Ala ud-Din to restore his authority over Devagiri. This was bizarre behaviour for a king who had been independent till his first defeat during the earlier expedition of Ala ud-Din.

Malik Kafur in the Deccan

Ala ud-Din Khilji send a large army under the command of his favourite slave Malik Kafur to subdue the rebellion. The Delhi army defeated Singana who fled, plundered Devagiri, and then annexed the kingdom to the Sultanate. Ramadeva and family were captured and taken to Delhi as prisoners. Ala ud-Din treated Ramadeva kindly, then restored his kingdom and send him back to Devagiri as the king. This was an astute move by the Delhi Sultan. Ramadeva remained loyal to Delhi for the rest of his life and repeatedly provided invaluable assistance to the Sultanate armies operating in the Deccan.

Later, around 1309-10, Malik Kafur was once again send to the Deccan, this time to invade the Kakatiya kingdom of Warangal. He made first base in Devagiri and received complete assistance from Ramadeva to prepare for the assault on the Kakatiya king, Pratapa Rudra. Warangal was besieged and when the outer wall of the double-walled city was breached after a month, Pratapa Rudra sued for peace. Kafur retired to Devagiri after collecting enormous booty and instituting an annual tribute on the Kakatiya king.

The next expedition was planned to Dwarasamudra, the Hoysala capital. Ramadeva was eager to assist this expedition since Ballala III, the reigning Hoysala king, had previously annexed some Yadava territory. Kafur waited till Ballala was away in the south on an expedition to the Pandya territories and then mounted an invasion on the Hoysala kingdom. He was able to advance without any resistance deep into Hoysala territory. Although Ballala rushed back to defend his kingdom, he realised that a fight back would be futile and consented to become a ‘vassal’ of Delhi. He paid a large tribute and also presented some elephants and horses to Malik Kafur.

Kafur now planned to move against the Pandya kingdom in the far south. Ballala now willingly assisted the Delhi army to negotiate the mountainous tracks that led from the Deccan Plateau to the plains of South India. When viewed in an overarching manner, it can be readily appreciated that the Delhi Sultanate army could not have been successful in the Deccan without the repeated assistance from one or the other of the the major kingdoms of the region. It is obvious that these dynasties did not realise the grave danger they faced from the Muslim armies that were pouring into the Peninsula.

The Pandya princes were notorious for their infighting, the current tussle for the throne being between two brothers—Vira and Sundara Pandya. One account states that Sundara Pandya was driven out of the kingdom and sought the assistance of Ala ud-Din, instigating him to mount an invasion of the Pandya kingdom. This assertion is negated by others who state that the brothers put up a joint resistance to the Muslim invasion from the north. The Pandya princes were astute enough to avoid pitched battles with the Sultanate army and resorted to guerrilla tactics. They also did not shut themselves inside their forts, an action they realised played to the strength of the invading army and was therefore, bound to fail. Laying siege to forts and starving them into submission was a strength of the Muslim armies that had been demonstrated time and again.

Kafur captured Bir Dhul, Prince Vira Pandya’s capital, although the prince adroitly managed to escape. The Delhi army then went on to plunder Kanchipuram, referred to as Marhatpuri in Muslim chronicles of the time, and desecrated its famous temple. Kafur then sacked the temples at Chidambaram and Srirangam, burned the famous Chokanatha temple near Madura and returned to Bir Dhul. By this time the Pandya armies has sunk their differences and was a single combined force under the command of Vikrama Pandya, an uncle of Prince Sundara Pandya, who had come out of retirement to face the Muslim army from the north. When the Delhi army moved towards Madura, they were faced by the Pandya army under Vikrama Pandya who inflicted a resounding defeat on the Sultanate army. Malik Kafur quickly wound up the campaign in South India and returned to Delhi with most of the plunder he had collected still intact.

Until now, only the Deccan kingdoms had accepted the sovereignty of the Delhi Sultanate. South India had only suffered a prolonged military raid, that too not a very successful one, and experienced a limited drain of its wealth. Conquest is different from consolidation and the invading Muslim commander left only a few scattered garrisons in the region before returning to Delhi. It was impossible to annex and administer such a vast area as the entire Peninsula without great resources.

The Yadava king Ramadeva died in 1312 and was succeeded by his son Singana who was hostile to the Delhi administration. Malik Kafur once again undertook an expedition to the Deccan, this time with the express purpose of stamping out the Yadava rule and annexing Devagiri. As the Sultanate army approached, Singana absconded and the kingdom was seized and annexed without a fight. On Kafur’s instructions, the people were treated properly and he also instituted some administrative reforms. However, he destroyed all the temples in the kingdom and built mosques in their sites with the material of the demolished temples. However, large areas of the erstwhile Yadava kingdom remained unsubdued.

At this stage, there was a change of Sultans in Delhi following the demise of Ala ud-Din and the Muslim government was withdrawn from Devagiri. Ramadeva’s son-in-law, Harapala Deva re-established Yadava rule for a short time, but was defeated by an expedition under Khusrau Khan, send by the new Delhi Sultan. Harapala was taken prisoner to Delhi and killed in the most gruesome manner by being flayed alive; his skin was stuffed with straw and hung on the ramparts of Delhi. Thus came to an end the once glorious Yadava dynasty of Devagiri. Khusrau Khan was then given the task of reducing the Kakatiya kingdom of Warangal. He also put down an incipient rebellion by the Muslim governor appointed to administer Devagiri.

Internal Squabbles

Even after watching the downfall of the Yadavas, the surviving three major dynasties of the Peninsula did not desist from continuing their internecine conflicts that steadily sapped their individual and collective strength. They did not seem to have taken cognisance of the impending assault by the Muslim armies that would invariably lead to their own obliteration. In the Pandya kingdom, the succession struggle continued unabated and Sundara Pandya was at the receiving end. He appealed to the local Muslim commander for assistance, although it would seem that the Delhi army was unable to provide help at the level that could have made a difference. Obviously, the Muslim occupation army in Devagiri had their hands full in controlling their own conquered lands without taking on other obligations.

The ruler of South Travancore, also mentioned as Quilon country in some records, Vira Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, took advantage of the instability in the Pandya kingdom and invaded Pandya territory. Ostensibly the objective was to rid South India of Muslim garrisons, but the obvious aim was to enhance Travancore’s territorial holdings. Ravi Varma was joined by Vira Pandya and jointly they expelled Muslim forces, marching up to Kanchipuram. Ravi Varma had himself crowned (or recrowned, since he was already a crowned king) in Kanchipuram in 1312.

Having failed to obtain sufficient assistance from the Muslim governor, Sundara Pandya appealed to the Kakatiya king Pratapa Rudra II for help. The Kakatiya send a large army into Pandyan territory under the command of the governor of Nellore, Muppidi Nayaka, who was renowned as a great military commander. The combined forces of the Travancore king and Vira Pandya were conclusively defeated and Sundara Pandya was installed on the throne at Bir Dhul, now renamed Viradhavalapattanam. Around the same time, Khusrau Khan attempted to mount an expedition into Pandya territory but was thwarted at the border.

Although Ravi Varma’s foray into the Pandyan kingdom was short-lived and finally ended in defeat, the short victorious march of the Travancore forces is important in the broader sweep of South Indian history for two reasons. First is that by clearing out the early Muslim garrisons in Pandya territory he prevented the establishment of Muslim strongholds in the Deep South. Thereafter, the Muslim presence in the region and their ability to rule the southern plains always remained transient. Second, the strong rebuke to Muslim attempts to establish a foothold resonated with the Hindu princes and chieftains of the region. The spread of awareness of the insidious nature of Muslim conquest, enabled the organisation of a concerted Hindu resistance to the spread of Muslim rule. A quarter of a century later, the line was drawn on the River Tungabhadra.

The Kakatiya Dynasty Bites the Dust

While these events were taking place in South India, the Tughluq dynasty had taken over Delhi. Taking advantage of the confusion and instability accompanying the dynastic change in Delhi, Pratapa Rudra II re-established his independence. This was the catalyst for the rebellion to spread across the Peninsula with even some minor chieftains getting out of their vassal status with the Delhi Sultan. These developments prompted Ghiyas ud-Din Tughluq, now ruling in Delhi, to decide to annex the entire Peninsular India and to destroy all the Hindu kingdoms of the South.

The first kingdom to feel the brunt of this decision was Warangal. The first expedition from Delhi to annex Warangal was led by the Sultan’s son Ulugh Khan and resulted in a long siege. However, internal dissentions within the Delhi army made the prince raise the siege and retreat to Devagiri, which was now a principality of the Sultanate. Pratapa Rudra considered the withdrawal a signal victory and for some unfathomable reason believed that he had seen the last of the Muslim invaders. He does not seem to have even considered the possibility that the setback or defeat would only spur the Delhi Sultanate to even greater efforts to subdue him and annex his kingdom.

The Delhi Sultan send reinforcements to his son in Devagiri and the internal dissentions were squashed by Ulugh Khan, who now mounted a second expedition against Warangal. At the end of a five-month long siege, Warangal surrendered to the Muslim army who plundered and destroyed the magnificent capital of the Kakatiyas. Pratapa Rudra II was captured and while being taken to Delhi, committed ritual suicide. The Kakatiya kingdom was annexed to the Delhi Sultanate as yet another province and placed under the administration of a Muslim governor. Although several minor chieftains rebelled in the aftermath, they were all subdued easily and effectively.

Kampili and Dwarasamudra

When Muhammad bin Tughluq came to the throne in Delhi, large swaths of the Deccan already acknowledged the Sultanate’s suzerainty, especially the northern half of the plateau. The Yadavas of Devagiri had been completely extinguished, and the Kakatiyas of Warangal also followed suit. These dynasties never made a reappearance in history. In distant Ma’bar the viceroy of Delhi was struggling to establish and extend the Sultanate’s authority. Kampili and Dwarasamudra continued to remain Hindu kingdoms and fiercely independent. Although the story of Kampili and Dwarasamudra are intertwined, it is necessary to segregate the narrative for the earlier times of their history.

In early 1300s, Mummadi Singeya Nayaka, a small-time chieftain of Karnata entered the service of Ramadeva, the Yadava ruler of Devagiri. During Ramadeva’s rule, Singeya and his son are known to have assisted him to beat back an invasion by the Hoysala king Ballala III. On Devagiri being annexed to the Delhi Sultanate, Singeya Nayaka returned to Karnata and served under a chief called Mallaraja, who was probably the chieftain of Gandikota. Mallaraja is reported to have died without an heir and Singeya Nayaka took over the fiefdom. This was the beginning of the Kampili kingdom. Singeya’s son, also named Kampili, succeeded him to the throne soon after. [The name Kampili for the prince seems to be suspect, since he assumed the title of Kampilideva on ascending the throne of Kampili. However, records do not provide another name for this king.] During the confusion of succession in Delhi following Ala ud-Din’s death, Kampilideva declared independence and embarked on a campaign to extend his territorial holdings. [There is slight confusion regarding this declaration of independence with some records showing that it was Singeya Nayaka who declared independence before his death and not Kampilideva as mentioned in a large number of other texts. In any case, at this stage, Kampili as a kingdom declared independence from the vassal status of the Delhi Sultanate.]

Kampilideva’s son Kumara Ramanatha was a warlike prince and went out on a campaign in which he defeated the Rajas of Gutti and Mudgal and subdued the Reddi chiefs of Kondapalli. The Kampili kingdom expanded to the north and east through these conquests. Other generals of the kingdom campaigned to expand to the south and west. Although Devagiri had already been annexed, the Delhi Sultanate, which was going through its own turmoil and instability, did not have proper control over the region. This resulted in the Kampili and Hoysala forces coming into conflict through contradictory claims to some tracts of territories of the erstwhile Yadava kingdom. During 1318-25 the two Hindu kingdoms fought many battles for control over the contested territories. However, since they were equally matched, no decisive advantage accrued to either side. The Kampili kingdom encompassed the present day districts of Bellary, Raichur, and Dharwar districts and also contained the three prominent forts of Kampili, Kummata and Hosadurg (also called Anegondi).

Kampilideva had always been a staunch opponent of the Islamic invasions of the Peninsula. However, his strength was diluted because of the regular internecine struggles with the Hoysalas and the Kakatiyas. These kingdoms were still following the age-old custom of Hindustan, of the Mandala Theory in the conduct of foreign affairs. The immediate neighbour being an enemy percolated deep into the psyche of all Hindu rulers. However, this attitude acted as a power-reducer in the medieval Indian context. The Mandala Theory, propagated by Chanakya in ancient times, may have been viable for large empires but does not hold good when applied to small kingdoms with limited resources having to fight at the borders on a continuous basis. Such a situation only leads to the dissipation of strength and the overall weakening of the kingdom. This was the case in Kampili and Dwarasamudra.

By the standards of the time in South India, Kampili was a relatively large kingdom and shared a border on the River Krishna with Delhi Sultanate territories. Kampilideva did not pay the tribute demanded by Tughluq officials and also entered into negotiations with the governor of Sagar, Baha ud-Din Gharshasp, a cousin of Muhammad bin Tughluq who had ambitions to usurp the throne of Delhi. Sultan Tughluq despatched Malik Zada, the governor of Gujarat to subdue Gharshasp. The two armies met on the banks of the River Godavari and on being conclusively defeated, Gharshasp fled and took refuge in Kampili with his family.

Muhammad bin Tughluq now arrived at Devagiri and decided to personally deal with the defiant Hindu ruler who had dared to provide refuge to the rebel governor. He invaded Kampili, but the first two expeditions to reduce the fortress at Kummata failed. However, the Delhi forces captured the fort in their third attempt. Kampilideva was besieged at Hosadurg (Anegondi). As the siege continued unabated, Kampilideva, ever the gracious and honourable host, sent Gharshasp and his family to the Hoysala king requesting him to look after them. The Kampili king continued to fight the invaders with determination and courage, but realised that the power of the Muslim armies far exceeded his own capabilities to withstand them. Accordingly, he had the families commit the age-old Hindu custom of jauhar, where the women and children voluntarily commit themselves to a funeral pyre. Thereafter, Kampilideva and his followers sallied forth from the fort and died fighting on the battlefield—their honour and status unsullied.

Kampili was annexed to the Delhi Sultanate with a Muslim garrison at Hosadurg controlling the region.

The Appearance of Hakka and Bukka

When Muhammad bin Tughluq was annexing Warangal, two brothers, Hakka and Bukka, the guardians of the Kakatiya treasury, escaped the carnage and fled the scene. They arrived in Kampili and sought service with the crown prince Kumara Ramanatha. They gradually rose in status and had become a minister and a treasurer when Kampili was invaded. On Kampili being overrun and Ramanatha being killed in battle, the two were captured by the Delhi forces and compelled to embrace Islam.

Tughluq had adopted a policy of appointing rebel chieftains who had been subdued and captured, as the governors of territories where they had ruled earlier, making them renegades against the Hindu kings who were defeated.

In pursuance of this policy, on being informed of the fall of the Kampili kingdom, he released Hakka and Bukka and send them back to South India to rule on his behalf and to restore Muslim authority. Tughluq administered an oath of fealty on the brothers and made Hakka the vassal king and Bukka the governor of Anegondi. The year was 1336.

After stabilising, to the level possible, the conquered Kampili, Malik Zada turned his attention to the Hoysala kingdom and started to plan its invasion. There was urgency since the rebel Baha ud-Din Gharshasp was resident in the Hoysala court and had to be captured and taught a lesson. However, Hoysala Ballala III was not one with any exalted sense of hospitality like Kampilideva and surrendered Gharshasp to Malik Zada, acknowledged Muhammad bin Tughluq’s supremacy and thus saved his kingdom and his throne.

An Overarching View – Unanticipated Consequences

The Muslim chroniclers and historians of the time, around 1330-35, claim that the entire Peninsula was under the rule of Muhammad bin Tughluq and formed a part of the Delhi Sultanate. They go on to provide details of the manner in which the Deccan and South India were divided into five provinces—Devagiri, Tiling, Kampili, Dwarasamudra and Ma’bar—with some adding a sixth, Jajnagar (Orissa). This addition cannot be justified. Each province was administered by a governor titled ‘naib’, who was assisted by a military garrison commander and a ‘kotwal’, the police chief who controlled the capital.

The above claim however, provides a false impression. Out of the five provinces, only Devagiri was fully under the direct control of Delhi with the other four prophesying nominal allegiance. Further, the bulk of the population in the region did not accept Delhi rule. On the other hand it must be admitted that territorially, the Delhi Sultanate reached its zenith under Muhammad bin Tughluq. Even though the peninsular region was not under the direct rule of the Tughluqs, their influence and sway over the region was unmistakable. At the peak of the Tughluq reign, their writ ran from Lahore in the north-west to Dwarasamudra in the south, and from Sindh and Gujarat in the west to Lakhnauti in the east.

The Delhi Sultan’s system of parcelling out the conquered lands as ‘iqtas’, or military fiefdoms, to Muslim chiefs, nobles and commanders in return for producing a laid down number of soldiers for the Sultan’s army led to incessant feuds between the nobles. The region was never stabilised under the Delhi Sultanate, continuing in a state of turmoil for the next few centuries. Under these conditions, the region was ripe for rebellion.

‘The Muslim conquest of the Deccan was nothing more than a mere military occupation. Fired by the lust of dominion and plunder, the Muhammadans carried death and destruction wherever they went, and reduced the Hindus, even of the far south, to a state of extreme misery and helplessness. No institutions were devised for the better government of the conquered peoples; religious toleration was not extended to them, and the provincial satraps always behaved as independent rulers within their jurisdiction.’

Ishwari Prasad,

History of Medieval India, pp. 390-91.









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 Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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