Indian History Part 73 The Sangama Dynasty Section I: An Astute Beginning

Canberra, 13 April 2019

Sangama was a relatively obscure person, said to be the son of one Bukka. Some have identified this Bukka as a minor noble Bukkarayulu, which could also mean that he was a Reddy chief. However, this information cannot be corroborated with any other available source. Sangama was Bhava Sangama a valiant general endowed with noble qualities and is reported to have had eight wives. Some obscure inscriptions refer to him as ‘king’ but this title is questionable. It is certain that his sons brought fame and reputation to the father and also that Sangama himself was in no way famous during his lifetime beyond his immediate social circle. Considering that he was the father of the founding kings of the Vijayanagara Empire, there have been concerted efforts in later days to elevate him to the status of a great warrior and a senior noble of the realm that he served. Factually, he was a nobleman and warrior and at best a minor chieftain in the Hoysala country. It is possible, though not confirmed, that he fought in the Hoysala army against the Muslim invasion from the north and also against the Madura Sultanate.

However, it is firmly established that the first two kings of the Vijayanagara Empire were his sons and therefore, the dynasty that founded the Hindu kingdom is called after his name—the Sangama Dynasty. Hakka (Harihara), the eldest son, and his successors were most probably Kurubas but later-day chroniclers claim them to have been Yadavas and Soma-vansis, meaning of lunar descent. This claim could have been a later day attempt to make the origins of the kings look more exalted than that of having been mere military commanders in the service of a ruling king.

Vira Harihara I

Hakka, from now on referred to merely as Harihara, is said to have succeeded to the throne of his master, Ballala IV, the last independent Hoysala king of any merit.

Harihara – Royal Connections

Kampilideva and his son Kumara Ramanatha had been killed in battle with the Delhi Sultanate forces. Muhammad bin Tughluq had carried away all their sons to Delhi and converted them to Islam. Therefore, there was no one left to claim the throne of Kampili, after this significant defeat of the dynasty. Ibn Battuta, writing years later, states that Harihara and his brothers were considered to be related to the dead king and crown prince and therefore, the rightful heirs to the throne.

Another report mentions that Harihara’s sister was married to the Hoysala king. Considering the dates of the events, the Hoysala king must have been Ballala IV, mentioned as Ballappa Danayaka in the Vijayanagara records. It is also significant that this king is mentioned many times in the early state records, especially during the period when the kingdom was being established and new territories were being conquered and annexed, while consolidation was also being undertaken.

Another record states that Muhammad bin Tughluq, unable to stem local rebellions, raised one of the senior ministers called Harihara Deva or Deva Raya to be the chief administrator of the territory as a way of stabilising the turbulent region by restoring Hindu rule to the defeated kingdom. Harihara initially established himself at the fort of Anegundi and took charge of the lands around the fort, starting his administration as a vassal of the Delhi Sultan. Thereafter, the rest of the narrative regarding the founding of the kingdom falls into place. However, the above is not the only story making the rounds regarding the actual events that led to Harihara coming to the throne.

Another story goes that Harihara and Bukka had entered the service of the Muslim governor of Warangal, subsequent to the fall of the Kakatiya kingdom in 1309. Soon after, they were send with the Delhi forces that were invading the Hoysala kingdom under the command of Malik Kafur. Although the Hoysala kingdom was destroyed and the capital Dwarasamudra captured, the contingent in which the Sangama brothers were serving, suffered a defeat and Harihara and Bukka fled to the forests and mountains around Anegundi. This narrative further states that they met the sage Vidyaranya who was living as a recluse, while wandering in the forests. Vidyaranya is credited with having assisted the brothers in establishing an independent kingdom.

A later-day story discounts the brothers’ service with the Muslim forces and their role in the invasion of the Hoysala kingdom and has the brothers fleeing direct to Anegundi at the fall of the Kakatiya dynasty in Warangal. This slight modification of the tale could have been an addition made at a later date to ensure that the Hindu antecedents of the brothers remained honourable and outwardly unsullied by any hint of friendly interactions with the Muslim forces. The mention of their fleeing from Warangal to Anegundi also indicates that the patriotism and religious fervour of the brothers triumphed over worldly and material compulsions that would have induced them to serve under Muslim conquerors. Considering the great success of the kingdom the brothers’ established, these kind of embellishments to the core story should be accepted as being normal. The core to be taken away from all these narratives is that Harihara and Bukka were in Warangal in the service of the Kakatiyas when the Muslim onslaught denuded the once great dynasty. The events in Warangal and the destruction that it suffered would have made a great impression on the brothers, regarding the ruthlessness of the Muslim commanders and their armies.

Establishing a Base – Anegundi

When Harihara established himself at Anegundi, it had been completely destroyed by the invading Muslim army with only the basement of the demolished fort remaining intact. The population that remained in the vicinity was sparse and extremely poor. There were only a few nobles left in the immediate region, and they readily started to obey Harihara, easily transferring their loyalty to a Hindu ruler than to the invading foreign conquerors of a different and alien faith. The few nobles who had continued to stay in the region had bitterly opposed attempts to impose Islamic rule and were relieved to welcome Harihara as their chief.

On his part, Harihara made all efforts to ensure that the people of the region were pacified and that the groups that had revolted against Muslim occupation once again started to feel safe in their country. All his efforts were directed towards providing stability for the people who remained in the region. At least in the initial stages of establishing a base, Harihara did not even consider raising a standing army, either for defence or for conquest—his resource base did not permit such a move. However, his capital gradually became a refuge for the Hindu rebels who had been fighting the invasion and had been displaced and driven out of their strongholds by the invading Muslim armies. These groups became the core of the gradually developing Sangama army. It is at this stage in his career that Harihara met the famous sage Vidyaranya.

Vidyaranya – ‘Forest of Learning’

Vidyaranya, whose original name was Mahadeva Bhatta and was later known as Madhavacharya, was a Smartha Brahmin of Karnataka born to Mayanna and Srimati around 1268 in a town on the banks of the River Krishna. He, along with his brothers, were sent early in their lives to study at Kanchi under the renowned and learned Shaiva scholar Sreekanthanatha. It is stated that at Kanchi the famous Vaishnava saint of later-days, Vedanta Desika, was Vidyaranya’s classmate.

On completion of his studies in Kanchi, Vidyaranya returned home and settled down to domestic life after having got married. At this time, South India was witnessing and experiencing firsthand the ferocity, ruthlessness and horrors of repeated Muslim invasions. The Vidyaranya family were always poor Brahmins and were now further reduced in circumstances because of the recurrent Muslim invasions and Islamic persecution. It is reported that Vidyaranya decided to appeal to the Goddess Bhuvaneswari to better his circumstances and accordingly withdrew to Hampi, considered to be holy surroundings, and performed penance for five years.


The legend goes that the brothers Hakka and Bukka were on a hunting trip (also mentioned in the previous chapter) and crossed to the southern banks of the Tungabhadra from their stronghold at Anegundi. The story continues that during the hunt the brothers witnessed the strange sight of hares turning upon the hounds. On their return from the hunt, they communicated this extraordinary event to their spiritual mentor Vidyaranya, who declared the spot where the brothers witnessed this event as the spot fit to build a great metropolis. This story of the hares and hounds and the narrative of the Sage’s interpretation is repeated in a copperplate inscription at Bestahalli (Bagepalli) that was unearthed in 1905.

The Bestahalli Copperplate

The copperplate of 1905 provides some detailed information of the event mentioned. It gives the date of the occurrence of the hunt and following events as Magha Saptami, although the year is not determinable. It states also that Harihara was from the Lunar race and of Yadu descent from his grandfather Bukka, who was Bhava Sangama’s father. The plate provides further information that Sangama had five sons and a daughter, giving the names of the sons only—Hakka (Harihara), Kampa, Bukka, Masappa and Muddappa. Anegundi is referred to as Kanjarakonapuri in this copperplate.

The brothers started the construction of the proposed metropolis in 1336, initially calling it Vidynagara to honour Vidyaranya their preceptor, and later renaming it Vijayanagara. The town was near Hampi and encompassed the already existing and ancient Virupakhsha Temple. Around the same time, Hakka was crowned king of the new kingdom and is thought to have assumed the name Harihara.

Harihara – The Vassal

Even after being crowned king, Harihara did not declare himself fully independent and continued to bear the yoke of a vassal to the Delhi Sultan. In fact, he did not even assume the title of ‘king’. It is noteworthy that the Brahmins who composed the earliest inscriptions of Harihara’s rule refer to him as ‘Hariyappa Wodeya’—Hariyappa being a less exalted name than Harihara and Wodeya being the rank given to a chieftain. In Sanskrit they give him the title ‘Mahamandaleswara’, which could be loosely translated to ‘Great Lord’, and not as ‘King’.

Harihara started his independent rule by closely observing the political developments in the sub-continent as they took place, watching with particular interest the unfolding events in South India and the Deccan. This was an astute move since the new kingdom was still relatively weak, and Harihara was acutely aware of this fact. He continued to improve the good governance he was delivering, thereby securing the good will of the people, who now readily acknowledged themselves as his subjects.

The brothers meanwhile had started to revere the sage Vidyaranya, who in return had become very fond of Harihara and Bukka. Vidyaranya had observed and experienced the predatory nature of Islamic invasions. He had the wisdom and the foresight to visualise the need to establish a Hindu kingdom in order to stop and then possibly reverse the on-going erosion of Hindu faith. Vidyaranya, in his wisdom, understood that there was an immediate requirement to form a bulwark against the virulent Islamic onslaught on the very foundations of what had been a pacifist and stable society. In his vision, Vidyaranya saw Anegundi as being the nucleus of a small principality that could subsequently be grown into greater strength and believed that Harihara and Bukka were devout and brave Hindus, worthy of his support. Accordingly, Vidyaranya encouraged the brothers to convert his ideas into practice. There is an unsubstantiated report that Vidyaranya provided, or obtained for the brothers, large amount of wealth to fund this proposed Hindu enterprise. The veracity of this report is suspect since it is highly unlikely that the sage would have had access to the source of such wealth, considering the then-prevalent poverty-stricken circumstances in the region.

Meanwhile, the Deccan and South India were going through an extended period of instability brought about through the Islamic invasions that had resulted in the destruction of ruling dynasties without replacing them with alternative stable administrations. The inevitable result was the proliferation of accompanying revolts and rebellions in the region. (Details of the rebellions in South India have already been given in an earlier chapter). By the early 1340s, these revolts had assumed a broad perspective and spread across the Peninsula. Some nationalistic later-day historians have taken account of the inclusivity of the uprisings and termed it ‘The Great National Uprising of 1344’. However, this title is a misnomer, since neither were the revolts coordinated with each other and nor were they nationalistic in nature. They were purely regional rebellions by chiefs and other rulers who had been vanquished during the relentless and overarching Islamic invasion from the north.

Harihara surveyed the evolving political scenario and decided to seize the opportunity to improve his kingdom’s rather strained circumstances. He set himself the task of clearing Karnataka of the Muslim garrisons spread across region, which had been established by the frequently invading Muslim armies in an attempt to retain some semblance of control after their withdrawal. In this attempt he set his sights not only on the garrisons that continued to be loyal to the Delhi Sultanate, but also the ones that had rebelled against Delhi, but had continued to be Muslim strongholds. Harihara carried out this first expansionist venture without much fanfare or any declaration of war and celebration of victory. It was a quiet and an almost surreptitious campaign that gradually made Harihara and his newly founded kingdom acquire great influence while also increasing its territorial holdings.

Harihara – The King

By 1343, the Hoysala king Ballala III had been killed in battle after having failed to take advantage of a military victory at Koppam (covered in detail in an earlier chapter); and his son Virupaksha Ballala had been crowned as the ruler of a reduced part of the Mysore tracts. The decline of Hoysala power was readily visible. At the same time Harihara, ably assisted by his brother Bukka, had started a concerted land-grab—annexing whatever land and territory they could lay their hands on. The earlier success in reducing the Muslim garrisons spurred them on. The Vijayanagara kingdom started to spread in all directions.

Harihara was fortunate in having a band of four extremely loyal and warlike brothers to help him annex territories and administratively consolidate the expanding kingdom. He appointed his brothers to high positions in the administration, a move that helped strengthen his own position in the kingdom. From unsure beginnings, Harihara had become confident as a king on his own terms. The four brothers of Harihara are mentioned by individual names in a record that describes the grant of nine villages in 1346 to a Brahmin, Bharti Tirtha Sri Pada, and his 40 disciples. This record also mentions the name of Harihara’s son, Kumara Somanna Wodeya. The title Kumara would indicate that the prince was the chosen successor of the ruling king. However, there is no further mention of Somanna in any subsequent record or inscription and therefore it could be correctly presumed that Somanna pre-deceased his father at an early date.

With increasing confidence, the five brothers now rampaged across the region—Kampa marched on Cuddappa and Nellore; Mudappa overran Bangalore and Kolar; Masappa went on to annex Kanara and Shimoga; while Harihara and Bukka carried the Vijayanagara flag to Kadur, Hassan and the Mysore districts. By 1344, Harihara had overcome his reluctance to be called king and emphatically declared himself king in Dwarasamudra, the erstwhile capital of the Hoysalas. Within the next two years the few remnants of the Hoysala dynasty were extinguished and the once powerful dynasty became extinct. Harihara immediately moved to extend his power across the Peninsula by spreading his hold into the territories that the Hoysalas had held.

Although the Vijayanagara expansion was almost unprecedented and extremely rapid, in a strange manner it was also achieved in a peacefully. Certainly there were battles and resistance to the Vijayanagara forces, but Harihara’s territorial expansion throughout his reign is considered by all historical analysts to have been peaceful. In fact, in all the volumes of information that is available from various sources, there is only one mention of a battle, which reinforces the claim of Harihara ‘defeating the Sultan’, obviously alluding to the withdrawal of the Tughluq army from the region.

The Warangal Revival

In 1344, Krishna, the son of Pratapa Rudra of the famed Kakatiya dynasty who had ruled Warangal, took refuge in Vijayanagara. With the assistance of Harihara and in concert with some surviving Hoysala Ballala princes, Krishna managed to expel the Muslim garrisons and liberate parts of southern Deccan. These moves that were focused on the Warangal region, strengthened the regional opposition to the Delhi occupation.

By 1348, the whole of Mysore and the Kongu country had come under Harihara’s rule and he assumed the title of ‘Maha Mandaleswara’, a title which was traditionally assumed by subsidiaries of the Hoysalas. [The assumption of a secondary title is a bit perplexing since at this time Harihara had established himself as a fairly powerful, independent and undisputed king of an increasingly vast kingdom. It can be surmised that he still wanted to claim greater legitimacy for his rule from a direct connection to the extinct Hoysala dynasty that had ruled the region, which the Sangamas now ruled.] Harihara also referred to himself as the ‘Sultan of the Hindus’. Once again this title would have been coined and assumed by the Vijayanagara king to ensure that the Islamic population, as well as any would be invaders, were left in no doubt regarding status of the king of Vijayanagara as the supreme Hindu king.

By 1347-48, the Bahmani kingdom was established in the Deccan, sharing its southern border with Vijayanagara’s northern border—it was inevitable that border clashes would be a constant part of the interaction between the two emerging kingdoms. In the first military encounter between the two kingdoms, Harihara lost some territories to the north of his holdings. He was forced to cede lands north of the River Bhima to the fort at Adoni and from the port at Chaul to Bidar. However, there is no credible report of a decisive Bahmani victory in the brief encounter that would have taken place. While this initial tussle for supremacy in the South was being waged, Harihara died of illness. The year of death is variously reported as being from 1343 to 1348, as a result of conflicting information given by different sources. One source even gives the year as 1350, an assertion based on a single inscription and not corroborated.

Harihara – Concluding Analysis

From various sources it can be determined that Harihara came to power in 1336, assisted by his brother Bukka and with the help of the Brahmin preceptor Vidyaranya. He managed to strengthen and consolidate his position with the help of his loyal brothers. Subsequently he entered into an informal confederacy with Krishna Nayaka of Warangal and some other Hindu princes and was successful in expelling the Delhi Sultanate forces from southern Deccan by 1344. He ruled for another six years or so, consolidating his territory and power, assuming the title of the Supreme Hindu king, and died in or around 1350.

At his death, Harihara I left behind a kingdom with extensive territorial holdings and a large, battle-tested army. Harihara was first a thoughtful and considerate administrator and then only a military leader. He ensured the loyalty of his subjects by bringing stability in the midst of tumultuous times. As a military commander, he built a number of forts along the northern borders of his kingdom in order to safeguard the kingdom from possible invasion and attack from the Delhi armies stationed at Devagiri. It is also certain that he was concerned with the increasing military strength and belligerence of the fledgling Bahmani kingdom to his north.

Harihara also streamlined the internal administration of the kingdom. Two reforms that he instituted is particularly worthy of mention. First, he divided the kingdom into sthala, nadu and sima—somewhat equivalent of province, district and village—and created a hierarchy of officials to administer the kingdom and to collect revenue. Second, he encouraged farmers to clear forests and increase the cultivable land available to them. The combined effect of these efforts was to increase the revenue to the state. The strong and stable civil administrative foundation that Harihara laid served the Vijayanagara Empire well and lasted throughout its existence.

By all accounts, Harihara possessed manly virtues, was endowed with kingly dignity, was a courageous military leader, a tactful statesman and a good administrator. In addition, he was also a farsighted but pragmatic strategist who succeeded in establishing order and harmony at a chaotic juncture in South Indian history. He should also be credited with planting the seed of a Hindu Revival in South India that went on to ensure that the indigenous religion and associated culture was not overwhelmed by the invading forces owing allegiance to an alien religion and culture.

© [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 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) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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