Indian History Part 71 South India – 14th Century Section II: Uprisings, Revolts and Rebellions

Canberra, 10 March 2019

By the end of the 13th century, Southern India—Deccan and the Deep South—was characterised by Hindu religious progress. However, the Peninsula remained politically divided although the major kingdoms were in decline, thereby becoming vulnerable to the Islamic invasion that had started to become an unabated flood from the north. Succeeding rulers of the Delhi Sultanate pursued different agendas towards South India—varying from purely plundering raids to dedicated invasions with the explicit purpose of conquest and occupation—but since the initial raid by Ala ud-Din Khilji had not let up on incursions into the Deccan and further south. The objectives of such raids gradually changed from short term gains of plunder and loot conclusively to the long term aims of conquest and annexation over the years. By the time the Tughluq dynasty came to power in Delhi, much of the Deccan had already been subjugated and the ruling kings were paying tribute to the Delhi Sultan.

The Hindu religion as practised in South India, had been relatively modernised by the 13th century and had become the religion of the masses, not merely that of the elite. However, the fundamentals of the religion were thrown into confusion during the Islamic invasion from the north. This situation led to deep soul searching, thinking and debates amongst the intelligentsia, who realised the threat to the religion that was coalescing with the slow but calculated establishment of Islamic settlements in the Peninsula. The result was the strong revival of Shaivism in the region that in turn spread the idea, and indirectly urged, the liberation of the Deccan and South India from Islamic influence and the encroaching Muslim rule. Shaivism directly opposed the Muslim credo of the desecration and destruction of Hindu temples and further forced changes to centuries old traditions and customs within the Hindu belief system itself.

The resurgent Shaivism of the South emphasised the equality of worshippers, who were single-minded in their devotion to Lord Shiva, perhaps taking a page out of the classless society advocated by Islam. Shaivism was as rigid in its fundamentals as Islam as a religious practice and also made inroads into the political developments of the state. Hinduism as a religion had so far stayed away from political activity, which could be considered the first manifestation of the separation of religion and the executive. Of course, other than Buddhism and Jainism—themselves offshoots of Hinduism—there were no competing religions to compare this state of affairs, till the arrival of Islam into the sub-continent. It could be considered that the revived Shaivism consciously intervened in the political practices of the region as an antidote to the virulence of Islam as a religion. This Hindu revivalist movement can be considered one of the main reasons for the short life span of the Tughluq rule in the Deep South.

The extortion of farmers and artisans, which was normal in Muslim governance practices, caused resentment within a large part of the conquered population in South India. When this antipathy was combined with religious awakening mentioned above, it created a concerted opposition to Muslim rule in the region and strengthened an already nascent movement to ensure liberation from religious and social oppression.

The Uprisings

The uprisings started almost immediately on the major kingdoms of the south being obliterated by repeated expeditions ordered by a succession of Delhi Sultans. In the eastern part of the Deccan, the demise of the Kakatiyas of Warangal brought about a spurt in rebellious activity. The leaders of the uprising were two cousins, Prolaya and Kapaya Nayakas, who were minor chieftains under the Kakatiyas in their glory days. (Kapaya is mentioned as Kanhaya in most Muslim records.) They were assisted by a number of other minor ‘Nayakas’ with the figure being put at 75 in some traditional records. Prominent amongst the chiefs assisting the Nayaka cousins was Prolaya Vema, famous as the founder of the Reddi kingdom of Kondavidu.

Prolaya and Kapaya took up the leadership of the rebellion and within a few years of campaigning managed to recapture from Muslim rule the eastern coastal region from River Mahanadi to Nellore. Simultaneously, the minor chiefs started to reconstruct destroyed temples and also to restore the old ways of civic and social life that had been abruptly interrupted by the imposition of Islamic norms.

While the Nayakas were consolidating their gains in the east, Somadeva who claimed descent from the ancient Chalukya dynasty, rose up in rebellion in western Deccan against the Muslim governor of Kampili, Malik Muhammad. With this revolt, the entire Deccan was up in arms simultaneously. Somadeva established his headquarters in Kurnool and captured the forts at Raichur, Mudgal and Anegondi. At the same time Ballala III, still smarting under the ignominy of having made obeisance to the Delhi Sultan, broke his allegiance with Delhi and invaded Kampili from the south. Malik Muhammad was besieged in his fort by the common people and in any case did not have the strength to withstand the two-pronged attack on Kampili. He managed, with great difficulty, to withdraw to the north, into Sultanate controlled territories.

At this stage, the confusion that surrounds the origins of the Vijayanagara Empire starts to come to the fore, with the first mention of Hakka (Harihara) and Bukka surfacing clearly. Some narratives state that Sultan Muhammad Tughluq was advised by a group of his nobles that order could be re-established in Kampili if someone related to or connected with the vanquished and killed Kampilideva could be send as the governor and given assured autonomy.

Hakka and Bukka – First Story

Heeding the advice of his nobles, Muhammad Tughluq chose the brothers, Hakka (Harihara) and Bukka, to go as his governors to Kampili. In this narrative, it is reported that Hakka and Bukka had been taken prisoners at the fall of Kampili earlier and had also been converted to Islam. On Tughluq’s orders, they were administered oaths of allegiance and loyalty to the Sultan and despatched to Kampili, Hakka as the governor and Bukka as the minister.

The subsequent sequence of events—their arrival in Kampili, further actions that they initiated, and the manner in which they founded a new kingdom and dynasty are not clear. The accounts given are conflicting and different in the Muslim records and the traditional Hindu narrative of the time. However, both the records agree that they gave up Islam soon after arriving in South India and also that this return to the Hindu fold was followed by their severing their allegiance to Delhi.

Harihara and Bukka, reverted to Hinduism and started to set up a decidedly Hindu state, which would soon blossom into the famed Vijayanagara Empire, considered by most historians to be the greatest medieval Hindu kingdom. (A more descriptive narrative of the origins of Vijayanagara Empire, and the various stories associated with it will be covered in later chapters of this book.)

It was not only the Hindu rebellions that doomed Muhammad Tughluq’s control of the Deccan and parts of the Deep South of the Peninsula to an inglorious end. Spurred by the successful revolts and rebellions in the Deccan, the Muslim governor of Ma’bar, Jalal ud-Din Hasan Shah quietly assumed independence from Delhi suzerainty and started to rule from Madura, issuing his own coins to indicate his independent status. Unable to find a lasting solution to the confusion in the Deccan and South India, Muhammad bin Tughluq marched personally to Warangal to take charge of the campaign against the on-going rebellions. Unfortunately for him, his army was decimated by an epidemic, the Sultan himself being affected, and had to withdraw. Although the withdrawal was precipitated by events beyond his control, the failure to achieve any tangible result from the massive campaign marked the end of the prestige of the Delhi Sultanate and rapidly led to their losing control of the Deccan.

The Nayaka-Ballala Combine

Prolaya Nayaka died soon after the uprising had achieved initial success and the movement was led forward by Kapaya Nayaka. Kapaya was an astute strategist and realised that the in-fighting with other Hindu rulers was one of the principle reasons for the ease with which Muslim warlords were able to defeat local rulers. He also realised that over the past century of repeated Islamic invasions, the region had become denuded with Muslim nobles, their slaves, Muslim traders and also Hindu converts to Islam, creating geographic pockets adhering to the Islamic faith. This Muslim diaspora of the Delhi Sultanate was spread across the country unevenly and was considered a hindrance to re-establishing homogeneous Hindu rule. For Kapaya, the fact that these Islamic pockets would offer religious resistance and hold back consolidation in the Deccan was more important than the revival of the Hindu dharma in the region.

In order to strengthen the consolidation initiative, Kapaya first entered into an alliance with Ballala III who was also engaged in a similar enterprise in the Hoysala kingdom, ruling from his capital Dwarasamudra. By this time Ballala had regained power and prestige that had been somewhat diminished by his meek acceptance of Tughluq dominance earlier. He had also learned the lessons from the fall of Devagiri and Warangal and had strengthened the fortifications in the north of his kingdom, in preparation for an eventual Muslim invasion from Devagiri. Ballala therefore was not only in a position to assist Kapaya in his efforts but also understood the need to support the eastern rebellion. Accordingly, he send an army to help the Nayaka rebellion.

With the additional forces from the Hoysala king, Kapaya defeated Malik Maqbul, the Muslim governor of Warangal, who initially fled to Devagiri and then to Delhi. This was around 1336 and Telangana was relieved of Muslim rule, for a period of time. Soon after, the combined armies of the Nayakas and Hoysalas invaded the northern parts of the newly established Sultanate of Madura and ousted a number of Muslim garrisons in the region. They then handed over the conquered areas to a scion of the Sambuvaryas, the traditional rulers of the region.

Hoysala Kingdom

Ballala III now had a common border with the Sultanate of Madura. The invasion of the northern districts of the Madura Sultanate, capture of some of the districts and the installation of the Sambuvarya chief as the ruler of the captured lands led to the Hoysalas having to continually fend off Madura forces. Border skirmishes became common. Hasan Shah had been murdered and was succeeded by Ala ud-Din Udauji as the Sultan of Madura. The new sultan mounted an invasion of the Hoysala kingdom and was on the verge of successfully defeating Ballala III, when a lucky strike by a stray arrow killed Udauji. The tide of battle turned and Ballala was able to convert certain defeat into a tenuous victory. In reality, death of the sultan and the subsequent victory should have led to the dismemberment of the Madura Sultanate, but Ballala III was unable to consolidate his victory or capitalise on it. This inability to bring to a firm closure, events that were happening slightly outside his control would subsequently lead to Ballala III’s eventual downfall, leading to the obliteration of his dynasty and kingdom.

The Madura Sultanate went through a brief period of turmoil, when Udauji’s son came to power initially, was murdered, and Ghiyas ud-Din Damghani was raised to the throne. In the on-going conflict with Madura, Ballala defeated a Muslim force in the field and then besieged the fort and Kannanur-Koppam, which sued for peace. Ballala III was never a strategist and naively permitted the besieged forces within the fort to make contact with the newly installed Madura Sultan. Perceiving an opportunity, Damghani attacked Ballala’s camp. The Hoysala forces were defeated and Ballala himself taken prisoner. After being forced to surrender all his wealth, Ballala III was murdered and his body hung from the ramparts of Madura for all to see—a humiliating end to a long-term ruler.

Dwarasamudra was briefly ruled by Ballala’s son, but the beginning of the end for the Hoysala kingdom was already visible. Hoysala power had been whittled away by kings who did not measure up to the requirements of the time and the kingdom had been weakened beyond repair. Soon after, the kingdom was absorbed into the rising Vijayanagara Empire.

Other Hindu Kingdoms

With the Muslim garrisons being overrun across the region, some other Hindu ‘kingdoms’ came up in the Deccan and the South. These were small holdings that should realistically have been termed chiefdoms, rather than kingdoms. The coastal region in the east, from the River Godavari to Kalinga was ruled for some time by the Koppula chiefs of Pithapuram. Similarly, the Reddis of Kondavidu formed a fiefdom that ran from Srisailam to the Bay of Bengal; and the Velamas created a small state around Rajakonda in the hills of the Nalgonda district.

It is true that the invasion of Delhi Sultanate did not succeed in annexing the region south of the River Narmada to the expanding territorial control of the Muslim kingdom of North India. However, it is equally true that the uprisings, revolts and rebellions that took place in the Deccan and the Deep South did not manage to expel the Islamic faith from the region, which was the primary aim, at least of the leaders of the rebellion. The Islamic religious faith stayed in the Peninsula, took root and thrived on the strength of its philosophy and the enforcement of its writ by the sword. The Deccan perhaps provides the best example of a relatively peaceful amalgamation of Islam and Hinduism.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2019]
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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 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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