Indian History Part 73 The Sangama Dynasty, Section IV: Altering the Balance of Power

Canberra, 18 May 2019 

Harihara Raya II had five grown up sons, at least three of whom were powerful governors and also ambitious. On his death, the succession was violently disputed by these three princes. This was a scenario that Harihara II had wanted to avoid, but the succession struggle continued for nearly two years till the time that one of the brothers was able to come to power and also hold on for sufficient time to stabilise the kingdom.

Virupaksha Raya I

Virupaksha was the prince who had put down the rebellion in the Tamil region, conquered Tonda and annexed some territories of the erstwhile Pandya and Chola countries. On his father’s death, he claimed the throne in September 1404 and was initially successful in the struggle for primacy. The dates of his reign vary and he is reported to have ruled either up to November 1404, a mere three months, or July 1405, before being replaced by his brother. In either case, it is certain that Virupaksha ruled only for eight or nine months at the most. There continues to be divergent views regarding the veracity of the dates of his removal from power.

A vague claim of a military expedition to Ceylon where Virupaksha is supposed to have erected a victory pillar is found amongst the various records. It is however, highly probable that this campaign was mounted by Virupaksha while he was serving as the Governor of Ginjee in the 1380s and 90s as part of his father’s administration. The fact that the prince is mentioned as Veerappanna Odeyar in the records that mention this conquest establishes the fact that he was still holding a subsidiary status as a prince and was not the king during this episode. Virupaksha is also reputed to have written the Sanskrit play Narayani Vilasam, although conclusive proof of the authorship of the play is difficult to establish.

Bukka Raya II

Bukka Raya, variously known through inscriptions as Abhinava, Immadi and/or Pratapa Bukka, had been a competitor to Virupaksha in the earlier days of the succession struggle. He had also declared himself king during that time. He was a step-brother, his mother being recorded as one of Harihara II’s queens named Pampadevi, and had been the Governor of Mulbagal initially and then of Penukonda. He replaced Virupaksha on the throne in July 1405, although there are no details available of the events that led to Virupaksha being dethroned. Bukka is recorded as having been a patron of literature, although he ruled for just over a year.

The second struggle for succession, this time against the kingship of Bukka Raya II, erupted ten months into his reign, with two other brothers claiming the throne. In September 1406, Devaraya, one of the brothers ousted Bukka and claimed the throne. Thereafter, there is no mention of Bukka Raya, in any of the various names that he was known by, till 1411, when he is reported as having made an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne. Subsequently, Bukka Ray II vanishes into the mists of history and is never heard of again in any of the voluminous records of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Deva Raya I

Although he claimed the throne by deposing his step-brother Bukka in September 1406, it is only from November 1406, when his coronation is recorded as having taken place, that the length of his actual reign is calculated. Deva Raya’s mother was another of Harihara II’s queens called Melambika. He had been an aggressive Governor of Udayagiri and during his father’s reign had participated in the Bahmani Wars.

Confusion of Identity

There is a great deal of confusion regarding Deva Raya’s rule—the events that took place, length of his reign and even the correct identity of this king. The list of names used to indicate this king in the vernacular records leaves all serious researchers in confusion regarding his actual identity. Further, there are no satisfactory historical evidence to prove or disprove any of the hypotheses regarding Deva Raya that have been advanced by various historians. Interpretations are individualistic and unproven either way. The fundamental question that is yet to be resolved in Vijayanagara history is whether or not Bukka Raya II and Deva Raya I are names of the same individual or whether they were two step-brothers vying for the throne. While this is a point of great interest, there is as yet no resolution of the conundrum.

The arguments in favour of considering the two to be the same person are many and compelling. First, there is no record of the death of Bukka Raya II, which is an anomaly in a kingdom that was obsessive about maintaining records and creating myriad inscriptions that document even trivial activities of the king and even his nobles. Further, there are no records of grants that would have been made for the spiritual benefit of a departed royal soul. Second, there is an inscription that give the name of the mother of both Bukka and Deva Raya as the same. The acknowledged treatise on the history of Vijayanagara written by Robert Sewell states that these were two step-brothers. However, much after Sewell wrote his thesis, more information regarding Vijayanagara has been unearthed. An inscription dated to September 1406 provides both names separately and then together, which could indicate that the names were of the same person. Third, later evidence clearly indicate that the kings of Vijayanagara commonly used the titles ‘Vira’, ‘Vijaya’ and ‘Bukka’ to embellish their names. It is highly probable that Bukka Raya II used the name Bukka till his official coronation when he assumed the title of ‘Devaraya Maharaya’, or Deva Raya I as he is commonly known in history. This is further corroborated by the discrepancy in the date of Deva Raya coming to power and the calculation of the length of his reign. This author is inclined to believe that Bukka Raya II and Deva Raya I were one and the same person.

Tussle Over the Doab

Deva Raya’s reign was a period of incessant military activity and the kingdom was continually engaged in waging war, especially in its northern and north-eastern borders. Wars were primarily fought against the Bahmanis of Gulbarga, Velamas of Rachakonda and the Reddis of Kondavidu, who were all powerful adversaries. However, Deva Raya held his own in the battles and even managed to increase his territorial holdings at the culmination of the wars.

Ever since the Bahmani kingdom was established a few years after Vijayanagara, the Raichur Doab had been contentious territory, having been fought over and changing hands a number of times. Around the turn of the century, Harihara II had broken the stipulations and terms of the peace treaty with the Bahmanis. However, Firuz Shah the ruling Bahmani sultan was unable to do anything about the Vijayanagara kings actions since he was in the midst of dealing with a severe famine that had affected his country. However, he bided his time and when Vijayanagara was in the throes of an internal struggle of succession he reignited the old squabbles. According to some records, it was Deva Raya who artificially created an excuse to start a military confrontation in order to regain some territory in the Doab. Irrespective of the reasons and who initiated the confrontations, the situation led to the next Bahmani War.

Sixth Bahmani War 1406-07

The Story of an Infatuation

There is a story of the Vijayanagara king’s infatuation with a pretty girl that is supposed to have led to war with the Bahmanis.

It seems that a farmer in Mudgal, which was Bahmani territory, had an extremely beautiful daughter, with whom Deva Raya fell in love. However, even though he was the king, the girl refused his courtship and declined to marry him. Since he was the king, Deva Raya then decided to forcefully bring the girl to the palace in order to marry her. Accordingly he sent an elite force of about 5000 cavalry to Mudgal. However, on hearing of the approach of the Vijayanagara force, the girl, her father, and most of the village fled deeper into Bahmani territory.

Thwarted in accomplishing their mission, the cavalry looted the countryside on their return journey. They were confronted by a Bahmani force and defeated. Trespass into Bahmani territory and plunder of the countryside was reason enough for the Bahmani Sultan to declare war.

Another source claims that from the time he came to the throne, Firuz was determined to wage a ‘jihad’ against the Hindu kingdom, although there is no corroborative evidence to support this assumption. There is also no record of Firuz making such a threat at any time. Firuz Shah, however, proceeded into Vijayanagara territory and was able to reach the outskirts of the capital without encountering any worthwhile opposition. He laid siege to Vijayanagara in the winter of 1406-07.

The Bahmani forces were assisted by their traditional allies, the Velamas in this expedition. In addition, this time the Kondavidu Reddi chief/king Penda Komati Vema also send forces to assist the Bahmanis. Penda Komati himself was involved in a succession struggle and resented Vijayanagara support to his rival Kataya Vema, who had captured Rajahmundry and declared himself the Reddi king there. (The civil strife in Kondavidu is narrated later in this chapter.)

The siege continued for four months without any tangible progress being made. During this period, the Vijayanagara forces regularly carried out harassing raids against the besieging force, at times with devastating effect. It is reported that Firuz Shah was himself wounded in one of these raids and the skirmish that followed. To counter these raids, the Bahmani forces started to pillage and lay waste the countryside surrounding the capital. They went on to raid the southern part of the kingdom, which was so far considered safe by the Vijayanagara forces. The Bahmanis and their allies also managed to capture the minor forts at Adoni and Bankapura, while taking an estimated 60,000 Hindus as prisoners.

The subsequent flow of events is not clear and there are more than two conflicting versions. One, stated only in the Muslim chronicles of the time, and repeated by Ferishta, is that seeing the trouble of his people, Deva Raya sued for peace. Firuz on his part agreed after imposing some humiliating terms on Vijayanagara. The terms imposed has been described as a large indemnity and some military resources, such as elephants and slaves, as tribute and the hand of Dev Raya’s daughter in marriage to Firuz Khan. The dictation of the peace terms by the Bahmani Sultan is not accepted by any other source. Further, out of three different Muslim records that chronicle this Bahmani War, only one mentions the reference to the Vijayanagara princess and her supposed marriage to Firuz Shah; the second does not mention the princess or the marriage alliance; and the third provides a completely different narrative of the campaign. The third states that the conflict was confined to the region to the north-west of Raichur, which would mean that the war took place in Bahmani territory. If this is indeed true, and there is no reason to doubt its veracity since it is a Muslim source, then the account of the siege of Vijayanagara would have to be discarded as being a complete fabrication.

Even attempting to combine the plausible parts of the three narratives into a coherent whole does not provide a believably correct estimate of the flow of events and the underlying tensions and causes for the initiation of certain actions. For example it is hard to believe that Firuz reached the capital Vijayanagara as easily as has been portrayed; or his having imposed humiliating terms in a peace treaty when the Vijayanagara forces were keeping the besiegers at bay and also inflicting casualties on them at will. Similarly, the demand for the hand of the princess in marriage can also be discounted as an exaggerated version of the purported victory of the Bahmani forces.

What is certain is that the fragile peace that was established did not secure sufficient good will in both the camps for it to last. There being some protocol difficulties and deficiencies that have been reported in the chronicles of both sides, and is therefore believable, the two kings parted as enemies. This uneasy truce was immediately followed by a challenge to Deva Raya for the throne by his younger brother Sadasiva, who managed to drive out Deva Raya and enthrone himself as king. A month later Deva Raya recaptured the throne and nothing further is heard about Sadasiva—he was either exiled or killed. While this minor fiasco was going on in Vijayanagara, the Kondavidu Reddis, in league with the Bahmnais, took advantage of the instability that the internal dissention spawned. A combined Reddi-Bahmani army invaded and captured some Vijayanagara territory from the Udayagiri province.

The Kingdom of Kondavidu

The king of Kondavidu on the east coast, Kumaragiri Reddi, died around 1402 and was succeeded by his cousin Penda Komati Vema. However, Kumaragiri’s brother-in-law and also a minister in his administration, Kataya Vema, took over control of the northern part of the country. He started to rule independently with Rajahmundry as his capital. Penda Komati managed to drive out Kataya from Kondavidu territories.

Kataya Vema also had some marital alliance with Deva Raya I. However, the Vijayanagara king was pre-occupied at this time with the Bahmani conflict and was in no position to assist Kataya. He had to wait till the Bahmani threat was contained and neutralised. Kataya Vema personally visited Vijayanagara in 1410, when Dev Raya promised him assistance to regain his territories. This was strategically an astute move, since placing an ally as the king of an independent Kondavidu kingdom would mean that Vijayanagara would have influence over a state that formed the geographic underbelly of the Bahmani kingdom.

Kataya Vema, with substantial military assistance from Vijayanagara, invaded Kondavidu and in the ensuing battle, defeated and put to flight Penda Komati. However, before he could overrun the entire kingdom, Firuz Shah send Bahmani forces to intervene. Kataya’s advance was halted and unfortunately he was killed in the ensuing battle. His commander-in-chief, Doddaya Alla, rallied the forces and defeated the Bahmani army, which was routed. From this campaign emanated the next Bahmani War.

The Vijayanagara intervention in the internal issues of Kondavidu had cascading effects that were not fully understood at the time. There was a minor episode that followed the Vijayanagara supported establishment of a divided Kondavidu kingdom. The establishment of the Rajahmundry part of Kondavidu under the aegis of Vijayanagara brought Deva Raya into confrontation with Gajapati Bhanudeva IV, the ruling king of Orissa. In retaliation for Vijayanagara interference in Kondavidu, Bhanudeva invaded territories of the Velama, who were traditional allies of Vijayanagara. Deva Raya immediately dispatched a Vijayanagara army to defend his allies. However, skilful negotiations by Doddaya Alla, also referred to as Allada in some chronicles, avoided war and established a truce with Orissa.

The significance of this minor episode was not recognised at that time, although war was avoided, to the benefit of both parties, at least for the time being. However, this was the opening of a new chapter in the foreign relations of the Vijayanagara Empire. The rivalry with the Gajapatis of Orissa continued to simmer, even though a superficial truce had been established. In later years this was to lead to more than a century of war and debilitating competition.

Seventh Bahmani War 1417-19               

Hoping to take advantage of the slight internal turmoil that beset Vijayanagara during the period when Sadasiva usurped the throne, Firuz Shah attacked Warangal and then besieged the fort at Pangal. However, the siege was not successful even after two years with the fort holding out comfortably. At this stage an epidemic broke out in the Bahmani camp and Firuz was forced to withdraw after suffering heavy losses. Further, the Velama dynasty who had shifted their loyalty to the Bahmanis earlier now re-joined forces with their traditional allies, the Vijayanagara rulers. This desertion weakened the Bahmani forces to an extent that they were not capable of taking any action against their adversaries. The Kondavidu kingdom that had once again shifted allegiance to the Bahmani ruler was annexed and divided between Vijayanagara and Velama kingdom. Kondavidu as an independent kingdom became extinct from this time onwards, bringing to an end the relatively short-lived rule of the Reddis.

Deva Raya took advantage of the discomfiture in the Bahmani camp and attacked the withdrawing forces, inflicting a crushing defeat on them. This defeat, perpetuated either at the border between the countries, or inside Bahmani territory, was followed by a general massacre of Muslims in the area. Then the Vijayanagara forces continued to follow the retreating Bahmani army, deep into their kingdom, ravaging the countryside with fire and sword; destroying mosques; and either slaughtering or enslaving people. The marauding Vijayanagara army went all the way to the Konkan coast, reaching Chaul and Dabul. It was obvious that Deva Raya I was bent on finishing the Bahmani power once and for all.

Firuz Shah was at his wits end and in desperation asked the Gujarat Sultan for assistance, although previously the two had not maintained friendly relations. However, the Gujarat Sultan had only recently come to the throne and was facing some competition of his own at home and had no spare capacity to assist the Bahmani, even if was inclined to do so. No assistance was forthcoming from that quarter. In the meantime, the Vijayanagar forces had almost completely annihilated Bahmani power, a dire situation that is supposed to have been the main reason for Firuz Shah’s death. At a later stage, a small Gujarat army came to assist the Bahmanis, but by that time Firuz Shah Bahmani was dead and the army went back without taking any part in the ongoing Vijayanagara-Bahmani conflict.

The last days of Deva Raya I has not been detailed in any of the available chronicles. However, the absence of information is indicative of a peaceful death and a subsequent normal succession of the crown prince. Deva Raya I was succeeded by his son Vira Bukka Raya III who seems to have ruled only for a few months. It is unclear what happened to him and there is no authenticated information regarding his demise. The known facts are: he had been the Governor of Mulbagal and also Ginjee, at a later stage; and his daughter was married to Saluva Tippa Raya, the ancestor of the later-day king Saluva Narasimha. Bukka Raya III is also reported as a great patron of art, with he himself being acclaimed as a great scholar. He is also known to have been very charitable. Considering the short duration of his reign, the reports regarding his patronage and charity seems to have been derived from information available about his governorship of two major provinces during the rule of his father Deva Raya I. Bukka III was succeeded on the throne by his son Deva Raya II.

Deva Raya I – A Decisive King

Deva Raya had been involved in the administration of the kingdom, in various capacities, for nearly 50 years.

Modernising the Army

It is clear from all accounts that he always endeavoured to enhance the efficiency of the army because of his firm belief that the power of a nation was built on the strength and efficacy of its military forces. In keeping with this axiom of his, he analysed the factors that made an army efficient in war. In his study, he realised the value of a highly trained and effective cavalry and its direct influence on the outcome of battles. In fact, he comprehended the reasons for the cavalry being the centrepiece of medieval armies and decided to remodel his own army accordingly. He was the first Sangama king to initiate such a move.

Accordingly he purchased a large number of horses from Arabia and Persia at great cost and also recruited and trained special troopers to create the core of the Vijayanagara cavalry. He also introduced Turkish archers into the army, since the combination of the cavalry and well-trained archers made a war-winning corps. As soon as these reforms were entrenched, the strength and fighting capacity of the Vijayanagara army improved dramatically. Deva Raya I continued to fine-tune the army, converting it into an efficient instrument of statecraft and victory. He ensured that Vijayanagara emerged from each confrontation with the Bahmanis successfully and in a better position than before. In medieval times, for kingdoms across the globe, losing a battle was the first step to a spiral of instability and the gradual loss of power.

Religion. Deva Raya was an ardent Shaivite and built several temples during his reign, some of which can still be seen today in dilapidated states around the Hampi region. He was also a great patron of learning, of men of letters and philosophers, as well as of artists and craftsmen. He had a special hall named ‘Pearl Hall’ created in his palace where he used to honour poets and artists by showering them with gold coins. This hall is immortalised in literature and legend. During Deva Raya’s rule, men of learning from all corners of the sub-continent gravitated towards Vijayanagara, seeking recognition. The original name of the capital, Vidyanagara came true at least virtually, with Vijayanagara becoming the illustrious centre of learning and knowledge in the known Hindu world. Vijayanagara had become the bulwark of Hindu culture, learning and the epicentre of religious development in an age of uncertainty.

Public Works. There was almost a decade of relative peace during Deva Raya’s reign between the two major wars that he fought. Deva Raya was a diligent king and utilised the time to carryout public works for the benefit of the general populace. Three major works were completed during this period. One, a barrage was built across the River Tungabhadra at Harihar, which facilitated improvements in agriculture and indirectly increased royal revenue; two, he had a 15-mile long aqueduct built from the River Tungabhadra to the capital and created gardens and orchards around Vijayanagara; and three, he increased the city area while building lines of fortifications outwards for their protection. The aqueduct to the capital continues to supply the old city even today and is considered an extraordinary achievement. Several miles of the aqueduct is cut through rock and it is considered one of the most remarkable irrigation work in the Indian context. It is reported that Deva Raya expended his entire inheritance in the completion of these projects.

Deva Raya I was the first of the Sangama kings to conclusively check the Bahmani Sultan and keep him at bay. By the end of his reign the balance of power between the two competing kingdoms had shifted in favour of Vijayanagara, making it easier for his successors to take the kingdom to further achievements and eventual glory.

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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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