Indian History Part 73 The Sangama Dynasty Section III: Stabilisation: Vira Harihara Raya II

Canberra, 27 April 2019

Harihara, son of Bukka with his queen Gourambika, came to the throne on his father’s death while the kingdom was still at war. There are no records of any dispute regarding the succession with few inscriptions emphasising this point. It can be taken for granted that there were no internal dissentions of note to Harihara coming to the throne, especially since he had been chosen by Bukka himself. However, it is also obvious that his authority was not automatically accepted uniformly in all parts of the kingdom. This was to be expected since Harihara II had so far been a little known prince who had not taken part in the administration or military campaigns of the kingdom. There was an insurrection in the Konkan and a rebellion in the Tamil country where the chiefs of the Chola and the Pandya regions were supporting the revolt. Harihara’s son Virupaksha led the army into Tamil country and put down the rebellion with a strong hand, while the Konkan uprising was also easily contained. By 1377, the kingdom was internally peaceful and all factions were within the Vijayanagara fold.

Externally, Vijayanagara was under siege by the Bahmani Sultan, Mujahid. Although the Bahmani forces had moved a bit away from the capital, they were still in Vijayanagara territory, with some forces in the immediate vicinity of the fort itself. Further, the fort at Adoni was still besieged and in a precarious condition. From a strategic security perspective, Vijayanagara could not afford to let Adoni fall into Bahmani hands. Harihara II therefore decided to send a relief force to lift the siege of Adoni—his first recorded decision as a warrior king.

Relief of Adoni 1377

Harihara delegated a gifted nephew of his, Channappa Odeyar, to lead the relief column to Adoni. The campaign was highly successful because of the brilliance of the commander, and also a certain amount of luck. Adoni had by this time been under siege for nine months. The lack of progress in bringing down Adoni had made the Bahmani forces start to bicker among themselves, which degenerated into open dissention around the time that the relief force was approaching the fort. Channappa relieved the beleaguered garrison and the Bahmani army was forced to withdraw. However, they carried back with them nearly 70,000 Hindu prisoners. Mujahid was murdered by his uncle Daud during this retreat with Daud himself being murdered after he reached the capital Gulbarga. Channappa took full advantage of the unstable conditions in the Bahmani Sultanate and overran their territories up to the River Krishna, besieging Raichur fort after that. The bilateral relations were normalised after the Bahmani succession struggle was stabilised.

Harihara II’s reign coincided roughly with that of Muhammad Shah II, the fifth Bahmani Sultan and the only peaceable king of the dynasty. The pacific nature of Muhammad Shah II left Harihara relatively free to concentrate his efforts on further extending the kingdom to the south, leaving the northern borders protected but undisturbed. He also started to initiate consolidation efforts in the newly conquered regions. Two of Harihara II’s sons were more adventurous and warlike than other provincial governors. His son Devaraya, who was the Governor of Udayagiri, carried out a slow advance towards the River Krishna, gradually pushing out the north-eastern boundary of the kingdom. He expelled the Reddis of Kondavidu from Kurnool, Nellore and some parts of Guntur and secured the kingdom’s border at the southern banks of the river. The other son, Virupaksha, led an expedition to the south, which is reported as having reached the coast of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from where he is supposed to have extracted tribute.

Conquest of the Konkan 1395-97     

The Konkan had accepted Vijayanagara overlordship when Kumara Kampanna had overrun the entire South India earlier. However, around 1380 the local chief of the Konkan rebelled. He may have banked of the state of instability in the kingdom following Bukka’s death and the succession of an untried prince to the throne. It is also highly probable that the Konkan chief would have sought Bahmani assistance to sustain his rebellion.

Harihara II instructed the Governor of Goa, Madhava Raya, to quell the rebellion. A military expedition led by the general Baichappa successfully put the rebels to flight although the general himself was killed in battle. The details of this action are scanty and the exact role that Harihara II played in this episode, other than giving the order to subdue the rebellion, is also unclear. It is possible that he was camped with the central forces somewhere nearby to intervene and provide assistance to the Goa forces if necessary. However, it is certain that he did not personally take part in the successful campaign. After this, there were no military encounters in the Konkan for a brief period of time.

Around 1395, a Vijayanagara army under the command of Kachanna, a son of Madhava Raya, once again entered, or invaded, the Konkan region. The expedition recovered the forts at Rangini, about 40 miles north of Goa, Pratapgiri (could be modern day Pratapgarh?) and Talagani (probably Tal south of Bombay). All these forts were reported to have been recovered from the ‘Turushkas’, the term used for ‘Turks’, which means that Muslim chiefs controlled them. These petty chiefs would have been officials of the Bahmani Sultanate who had become autonomous rulers of their respective forts, which were at the periphery of the Bahmani territorial holdings.

After this invasion, the entire Konkan was under Vijayanagara control. However, the title of Raya used by the ‘Governor’ of Goa raises doubts regarding the relationship of this province with the central administration of the kingdom. There is also mention in some records that Madhava Raya assumed the title of ‘Sapta-Konkana-Dhuli-Patta’ after his son had annexed the forts all the way to Bombay. Even if Goa was an autonomous province, it is certain that it accepted Vijayanagara overlordship and therefore could be considered part of the broader kingdom in a very loose manner.

Looking East

It was Harihara II’s ambition to establish control over the eastern regions of South India so that his kingdom could spread from sea to sea, thereby enhancing the prospects of lucrative trade and bringing in prosperity to the enlarging empire. His father Bukka Raya I had already annexed some territories belonging to the Reddi kingdom of Kondavidu, which further whetted Harihara’s appetite. Harihara’s son Devaraya had been appointed Governor of Udayagiri and he was now given the task of resolving the Reddi ‘issue’. Devaraya decided to annex the entire Reddi holdings.

Around 1382-83 in Kondavidu the powerful Reddi king Anavema died, leading to a succession struggle and some amount of internal dissentions. Prince Devaraya seized this opportunity to intervene in the Reddi kingdom. He forcefully annexed Addanki and Srisailam districts which were adjoining Vijayanagara. However, Srisailam also abutted on the kingdom of Rachakonda then ruled by the Velama dynasty, who were clearly aligned with the Bahmani kingdom. In fact the Velama king, Anapota Nayadu I had surreptitiously annexed the Srisailam district in the confusion prevailing in Kondavidu. The district had passed hands twice between Kondavidu and Rachakonda, by the time Devaraya decided to take over Srisailam. Obviously this action was bound to create animosity with the Reddis as well as with the Velama dynasty, although the two also did not see eye to eye.

The Velama king Anapota did not consider himself equal to opposing the imposing strength of Vijayanagara, and so appealed to his ‘big brother’ ally, the Bahmani Sultan for assistance. In the meantime the Velama also prepared for war. Harihara II was keeping a wary eye on the happenings in his north-east and now pre-empted any discomfiture for his son by sending an army to assist him. This army was led by another of Harihara’s sons, Immadi Bukka, and focused on opposing the Velama forces. This was a successful expedition with the Vijayanagara army defeating the Muslim cavalry that had come to assist the Velama king in a battle fought at Kottakonda. The Vijayanagara army then went on to penetrate into enemy territory up to Warangal. There is record of an unsuccessful counter-attack by Bahmani forces. Neither the Velama records nor the Bahmani chronicles mention any success during this time and therefore, the victory of the Vijayanagara forces, led by two of Harihara’s favourite sons, is a confirmed fact.

Fifth Bahmani War 1398-99

The Bahmani kingdom was in turmoil after three sultans had come to the throne and been summarily deposed in rapid succession. The ensuing instability of its northern neighbour was advantageous for Vijayanagara. Ferishta, whose accounts are one-sided and biased completely in favour of the Bahmani dynasty, states that Harihara II decided to recover Mudgal and Raichur from Bahmani control during this state of chaos. However, it is unclear when Vijayanagara had lost these two forts and/or relinquished control of the Doab after Channappa had conquered and annexed it around 1377. Although it is probable that some diplomatic movements and realignment of territorial control may have taken place in the interim decade, it is highly improbable that Vijayanagara would have relinquished control of the entire Doab without a fight. Ferishta’s account of the immediate reason for the ensuing battle remains suspect.

Irrespective of the actual reason for the battle, it is clear that Harihara II initiated action first, by moving a large army—30,000 cavalry and appropriate number of accompanying infantry and other support arms—to the banks of the River Krishna. Firuz Shah, now the ruling Bahmani Sultan, reached the opposite bank with his army. The Bahmani forces used a clever ruse to upset the balance of forces. A commander called Sirangi, managed to infiltrate the Vijayanagara camp along with a group of his followers in the guise of travelling performers. In the evening while performing for the royal group, they managed to get close to the king’s son and kill him by deceit. The Vijayanagara camp was thrown into confusion and the Bahmani forces led by Firuz managed to cross the river, almost unopposed, at a prearranged signal.

Harihara II retreated to Vijayanagara immediately, followed by Firuz and his bloodthirsty forces who were going on a Hindu-killing frenzy. One part of the Bahmani army had force-marched to the south of the Vijayanagara capital and started to ravage the southern districts, while taking a large number of prisoners. The ferociousness of the Muslim attack on the population was such that Harihara II was forced to sue for peace, which was arrived at after he had paid a hefty tribute to Firuz Shah. It is reported that the boundaries of the kingdoms were returned to its original state as they were before the war started and it was decided that Vijayanagara would pay an annual tribute to keep the peace. According to this report, Vijayanagara obviously came out of the war having got the short-end of the negotiations. However, this conclusion seems to be incorrect. The end-state of Vijayanagara paying annual tribute is only mentioned in a few of the Muslim chronicles that also go on to mention sweeping battlefield victories for Firuz Shah.

The contemporary Hindu sources—both literary and epigraphic—contradict the Bahmani narrative. Inscriptions at Pangal, in Nalgonda district, categorically prove that the expedition send by Harihara II against the Velama king decisively defeated the combined Velama-Bahmani forces close to Pangal. The Muslim records, created by Ferishta, give the same dates for the Bahmani Sultan dictating the terms of the peace treaty to the Vijayanagara king. This assertion cannot be reconciled—the Bahmani Sultan dictating terms to the victors when the Bahmani forces were being defeated in battle. It has to be concluded that even though a Vijayanagara prince was killed in their own camp, and the Bahmani forces managed to cross the river during the ensuing confusion, at the culmination of the battle Firuz was forced to retreat and cede some territory to the Vijayanagara king.

The Muslim reports of the time does not mention the important role played by the Velama forces in this battle, nor do they mention that the Velama kings were allies of the Bahmani Sultans. They also do not mention the Vijayanagara invasion and capture of the Doab and the fort at Sagar at an earlier date. The unreliability of the Muslim records and the fact that the narratives are not uniformly the same in their reports makes the assertions in them suspect. Further, they cannot be corroborated with any other source. On the other hand the Hindu records of the time seem to be much more unbiased and also lend themselves to be corroborated, at times even with the Muslim records. Epigraphic evidence in combination with literary records from different sources can be considered true records and accurate enough to be considered correct. In recounting the Fifth Bahmani War, this has been the case. This war also indicates the gradual change in the balance of power that was being effected between the two warring States, in favour of Vijayanagara.

The Great Deccan Famine

From around 1396 onward, seasonal rains failed the Deccan Plateau for more than a decade. Within a few years of the onset of the draught, famine erupted in the Deccan. The dry land became desert-like and the people descended into dire straits. The famine was accompanied by a number of rebellions across the Bahmani sultanate, with minor rebels taking over hill forts and outlying provinces. Central administration was unable to control these developments and as a result Bahmani power was considerably weakened. The situation provided another opportunity to Vijayanagara to increase their ascendancy in the region. However, Harihara II was shrewd enough to ensure that no war was fought during the period of discomfort for the Bahmani sultanate.

Harihara however abrogated all agreements that he had made with the Bahmanis, an act for which he had the tacit approval of the sultans of Malwa and Gujarat, who had their own reasons to despise the Bahmani Sultanate. The hapless Bahmani Sultan was in no shape to oppose this move. Few reports mention that Harihara II stopped paying tribute to the Bahmani Sultan. However, these reports are incorrect since the veracity of the report of paying tribute itself has been questioned. The entire reportage of Vijayanagara paying tribute to the Bahmani Sultan is highly improbable.

Harihara II – Achievements

Harihara II ruled for 27 years during which time he consolidated Vijayanagara supremacy over the entire South India. He also ensured that the southward expansionist overtures of the Bahmani sultanate was fully contained—no doubt that this initiative was assisted by the great famine that affected the Deccan during the period of his reign. Harihara II continued with the tradition that his father, Bukka Raya I, had started. He placed his own sons as governors of the various core provinces of the kingdom, replacing his brothers and nephews who had held the positions during his father’s reign. This administrative initiative ensured that there was no tendency within the royal family to indulge in disruptive rebellions that could debilitate even strong kingdoms and dynasties. However, the tradition did not forestall the wars of succession that was bound to erupt at the demise of a ruling king—since his ‘governor’ sons would have the individual wherewithal to attempt usurpation of the throne and could engage in disruptive succession struggles.

Imperial Revenue System. The sage Vidyaranya was still alive and influential in the administrative machinery of the kingdom. He had ‘written’ a learned treatise, Parasara Madhveeya—more a compilation than an original work, dealing with existing Hindu traditions—which also elaborated on the manner in which the imperial revenue system and land revenue collection should be settled in accordance with the ancient texts, the Shastras. According to this settlement, half of the produce was to go to the cultivator; one-fourth to the local chiefs; one-sixth to the central government; and one-twelfth to the Brahmins, temples and Gods. Land was not measured in area for the purpose of levying revenue, which was based on productivity and also made allowance for seed requirement for future planting. The government share was permitted to be converted to money as assessed by the local chief. This system was considered to be fair by the entire population.

Harihara II was a popular king and the first from the Sangama dynasty to openly assume imperial titles, giving himself the designation ‘Maharajadhiraja’, roughly translated as the ‘Great King of Kings’. Even so, he was considered to be pious and saintly as well as righteous in his dealings. His court boasted a number of great scholars as well as some courageous and successful soldiers and generals. A large number of renowned literary works were completed during his reign. He is also known to have given many grants to temples for their upkeep and repairs, while continuing to be tolerant of all Indian religions. There is a tenuous claim that he had all Muslims expelled from the Goa territories, which cannot be correctly verified, but is probably correct. Harihara also celebrated the victories of his generals through inscriptions and royal proclamations.

According to chronicles, Harihara II died in August 1404 and the extent of his domain at that time can be measured by the inscriptions in Mysore, Dharwar, Kanchipuram, Chinglepet and Trichinopoly. His death was followed by a violently disputed succession struggle between his sons, the very scene that Harihara had wanted to avoid. The system of brothers ruling the core of the kingdom and trusted nobles governing outlying provinces is an effective way to control the kingdom during the effective reign of a monarch. However, the same system spawns the seeds of rebellion and disintegration at the death of a powerful monarch. On Harihara’s death, Vijayanagara succumbed to the same forces.

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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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