Indian History Part 73 The Sangama Dynasty Section VI: A Whimpering End

Canberra, 23 June 2019

The period immediately following Deva Raya II’s demise is shrouded in conflicting narratives and there is only limited verifiable information available that could help in producing an accurate sequence of events. This period, leading to the end of the Sangama dynasty, has to be classified as one of confusion, an assertion that is corroborated by different chroniclers. The last mention of a Deva Raya is in an inscription dating to 1449. Since the name is not qualified with any other titles, even this mention creates a bit of perplexity. There are two opinions regarding this inscription. One, it is claimed that it refers to Deva Raya III, presumed to be a brother of the illustrious Deva Raya II. If this is indeed the case, then Deva Raya III would have ruled for three years, up to 1449. However, the length of his rule cannot be ascertained from any other source and it is generally accepted that Deva Raya III could have ruled only for a few months. Accordingly, the second opinion that the reference is to Deva Raya II, the deceased king, although the inscription was made after his death. The second opinion is the more favoured one.

Inscriptions – Deva Raya’s Sons

Two of Deva Raya’s sons, named Mallikarjuna and Virupaksha I, are mentioned in various inscriptions. The dates given in the inscriptions correspond to 1452-53 and 1464-65 for Mallikarjuna and 1470 for Virupaksha I. According to some other inscriptions, Mallikarjuna seems to have had two sons—Rajasekhara and Virupaksha II. Inscriptions mentioning Rajasekhara provide dates of 1479-80 and 1486-87, while Virupaksha II is mentioned in 1483-84, three years before the last mention but three years after the first mention of Rajasekhara. Rajasekhara is mentioned in an inscription dated 1468-69 in Ambur in North Arcot and another in Cuddappah district dated 1476-77. The one in Cuddappah mentions the then sovereign as a Deva Raya. The dates available from these inscriptions are confusing and overlapping, making it difficult, almost impossible, to arrive at a clear chronology of the kings who ruled the country.

Nuniz, collecting information around 1535 or so, attempts to provide a fairly clear and consecutive narrative. However, Nuniz’s account is at odds with a number of other narratives, clashing with the dates and also cannot be corroborated with any other source, thereby making its veracity suspect. In fact on later-day analysis it has become clear that Nuniz is inconsistent in his chronology, especially during the last turbulent period of the Sangama rule.

Nuniz’s Narrative

Deva Raya II, son of Pina Raya(?) died six months after an assassination attempt on him. Abdur Razzak also confirms that it was Deva Raya II whose life was threatened. Further, an unknown son of Pina Raya ruled for a limited time and was succeeded by his son Virupaksha. This statement is obviously a reference to the short reign of the king referred in inscriptions as Deva Raya III. Nuniz goes on to state that Virupaksha was murdered by his son, who was in turn murdered by his younger brother who had been placed on the throne. This younger brother then lost the kingdom to a usurper.

What is obvious is that for about 40 years after the death of Deva Raya II, Vijayanagara went through a period of extreme uncertainty and turmoil, the kingdom passing through the hands of various incompetent and unsavoury kings. The Sangama dynasty started to become disliked, which led to the outbreak of political agitation and popular discontent crystallising into revolt. There was visible and widespread antagonism to the Sangama dynasty that also led to several junior members of the royal family being attacked and even murdered by the general population.

Muslim Records – from the Deccan Kingdoms

The records available from the Bahmani kingdom, and its successor Shahi kingdoms, provide an alternative view of the developments in Vijayanagara, even though the reports are extremely biased because of their attempts to extol the virtue of the Muslim rulers. However, when they are examined closely, they provide a different view of the political relationship between Vijayanagara and the Muslim kingdoms to its north, through periods of turmoil as well as relative peace. The Muslim narrative is interesting and is useful to corroborate the flow of events since the Bahmani dynasty came to power almost at the same time as the Sangamas were establishing the Hindu stronghold of Vijayanagara. The fact that the two dynasties were hereditary enemies or that the narrative was extremely biased does not detract from the availability of another source that could be used as to cross refer other sources. When the narratives gleamed from the Vijayanagara inscriptions and the Muslim records coincide the event could be considered to have happened as mentioned; such a comparison being the litmus test for the veracity of the description of the event.

For nearly 15 years following the war of 1443 there was relative peace between the two competing kingdoms, primarily because the Bahmani kingdom was embroiled in a series of internal rebellions and other issues that drained it of any capacity that it may have had for external intervention and military adventurism. These troubles could not be contained and only ended with the extinction of the Bahmani dynasty and the establishment of the five successor Shahi kingdoms. (For a detailed narrative of these events and subsequent history of the kingdoms of the Deccan, read Volume VI of this series, Medieval Deccan Kingdoms.)

Dates according to Raya Vamsali

The book Raya Vamsali was in the possession of the Raja of Anegundi in early 1900s and was made available to Suryanarain Row who was carrying out a detailed research of the history of the Vijayanagara Empire. From this research the following chronological details emerge. Deva Raya II was succeeded by his son Ramachandra, who ruled during 1449-63 and was followed on the throne by his son Virupaksha who reigned till 1472. In that year he was ousted from the throne by Narasimha who in turn ruled till 1489. Narasimha was from another branch of the royal family and not a Sangama, and created a second dynasty called the Saluva or the Narasimha dynasty. Narasimha, the founder was succeeded by his son Vira Narasimha, ruled in the years 1490-1508. He was succeeded to the throne by his step-brother/cousin, the great Krishna Deva Raya.

Mallikarjuna – Ramachandra

There are 16 inscriptions, dated 1447-67, that commemorate the reign of Mallikarjuna Maharaya. The inscriptions very clearly derive his genealogy—Mallikarjuna was the son of Deva Ray II by the Queen Ponnala Devi.

Mallikarjuna is also referred to in the inscriptions as Immadi Proudha Deva Raya and also Veera Pratapa Deva Raya. However, his name is completely omitted in the Raya Vamsali, although the dates mentioned coincide with that of the rule of Ramachandra Raya. The only explanation for this anomaly in the narrative in Raya Vamsali is that Mallikarjuna could also have been called Ramachandra. There is no other way to reconcile this obvious inconsistency in the chronology of the Sangamas.

Although there is uncertainty regarding the dates during which different kings ruled; the chronology itself; and even the names of the kings; a reasonably believable sequence of events can be stitched together to understand the ultimate fall of the founding dynasty of the great Vijayanagara Empire.

A Famine and its Aftermath

Around 1475, the Deccan and the Telugu country was afflicted by a great famine that lasted for more than two years. Since there was no assistance being made available by the ruling agencies, the Hindu population of Kondapalli revolted. [If the ruling governor made any assistance available in this district, it is certain to have been provided exclusively to the Muslim population, an act that would have aggravated the feeling of oppression of the majority Hindu population. Revolt was inevitable.] The Muslim governor was murdered and subsequently the Hindu rebels sought assistance from the Orissa king.

The Orissa rulers were always on the lookout for opportunities to interfere in the affairs of their southern neighbours, both Muslim and Hindu kingdoms. The invitation to intervene provided the Orissa king with the excuse he needed and he promptly advanced to lay siege to Rajahmundry, then under the control of Governor Nizam-ul-Mulk. Even though struggling to contain internal rebellions, Muhammad Shah, the Bahmani sultan, was prompt to initiate action to protect his domain and marched to Rajahmundry. On the Bahmani forces advancing towards the besieged city, the Orissa forces withdrew. The flow of subsequent events is disputed with different accounts being given by Ferishta and other chroniclers.

Ferishta’s Account

Ferishta states that Muhammad Shah relieved Rajahmundry and then advanced as far as the Orissa capital by 1478. He goes on to write that the Orissa king sued for peace, which was bought at the cost of his presenting the Bahmani sultan with some valuable elephants. The veracity of this claim is questionable since no other account mentions a Bahmani expedition into Orissa during this period.

He further goes on the claim that Muhammad Shah reduced Kondapalli and attempted to secure the Telangana region. It is here that Ferishta first mentions Narasimha Raya, whom he called ‘Nursing Raya’. He states, ‘Nursing was a powerful raja, possessing the country between Carnatic and Telingana, extending along the sea-coast to Machiliputtam, and had added much of the Beejanuggur territory to his own by conquest, with several strong forts’. (As quoted by Robert Sewell in A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar. Spellings of the region, towns and the kingdom as given in the original.)

Ferishta also mentions that the Bahmani forces plundered and looted a great many temples in the Telangana region, statements that are considered exaggerations without any basis in truth. Other records mention that Muhammad Shah was stopped by Narasimha Raya, before the Bahmani forces could even reach Rajahmundry. This is a more believable account considering the prevailing turmoil in the Bahmani kingdom during that time and the reduced power of the Sultan vis-à-vis his military capabilities. Narasimha Raya is reported as being distantly related to the Vijayanagara royal family and controlling large tracts of land. His stature was rapidly rising since the central governance of the kingdom was weak and in an almost continuous state of chaos after the death of Deva Raya II.

The Sangama Confusion

From the time of Deva Raya II’s death, the Sangama dynasty gradually spiralled into confusion and irrelevance till their eventual removal from power. The period is steeped in disorder and commotion, especially regarding the actual control of territory that was being claimed by a number of kings and chiefs. The confusion was accentuated by repeated desultory attacks on Vijayanagara territory by both Muslim and Hindu forces owing allegiance to minor chieftains. Further, some chieftains had started to make bilateral alliances against the Vijayanagara kings, since their power was visibly waning.

The confusion that confronts later-day historians is also amplified by conflicting records and erroneous reports by foreign travellers who tended to presume themselves to be very knowledgeable about the geography and ruling ethos of medieval India, even though they may have spent only a few years in this foreign land. A clear example is the report by a Russian traveller, Athanasius Nikitin, which elaborates on the capture and sacking of the capital Vijayanagara by a Muslim force in which he states that more than 20,000 Hindus, both women and men, were massacred. Considering the date, clearly Nikitin is mistaken about the identity of the city that was sacked. It could have been a small town in the Telangana region and even then the number quoted as having been killed is definitively an exaggeration. (This episode is further referred to as a boxed item later in this chapter.)

Athanasius Nikitin (? – 1472)

Athanasius Nikitin, also called Afanasi Nikitin in some texts, was a merchant of Tver in Russia and one of the first Europeans to visit and document events and impressions about medieval India. He travelled in India and neighbouring regions and returned to Russia, after which he described his travels in a narrative titled The Journey Beyond the Three Seas.

Starting in 1466, Nikitin travelled to Persia after crossing the Caspian Sea, and reached Bokhara. Then in 1469, he arrived at Hormuz, crossed the Arabian Sea from Muscat and reached Cambay in Gujarat. From Cambay he travelled to Umrut in Aurangabad province and then to Ahmedabad, subsequently moving further south to the Bahmani Sultanate where he spend the next three years. During this period Nikitin visited the Hindu sanctuary Perwattum, which he called the ‘Jerusalem of the Hindus’.

Nikitin studied the social system, government, religion and economy prevalent in the Bahmani kingdom, leaving abundant material for posterity. Most of the material and records that he left behind are sufficiently truthful enough to be valuable sources of information regarding medieval Deccan. However, since he lived in the Deccan for only three years, the majority of his assertions are based on hearsay and the results of discussions that he had with the contemporary chroniclers and historians of the Bahmani Sultanate. Since Nikitin interacted primarily with the Muslim chroniclers, who were beholden to the Bahmani Sultan, some amount of bias against the Hindu kingdom to the south is noticeable even in his accounts. This should not surprise the modern day historians, since such a bias was bound to enter the narrative and must be expected.

While the Telangana and eastern regions of the empire were in turmoil, the Sangama rule was steadily weakening under assault from various quarters. Deva Raya II was succeeded by Vijaya Raya II for a few months and then Mallikarjuna (also called Ramachandra) came to the throne in May 1447.

Vira Ramachandra Raya (Mallikarjuna)

Ramachandra was the son of Deva Raya II and his Queen Ponnala Devi. He assumed many other titles and names that are seen on inscriptions and creates more than its fair share of confusion amongst later-day historians. He would have come to the throne on the death of his uncle Deva Raya III. At the time of assuming the throne, Ramachandra was young and inexperienced, although he seems to have overcome a minor power struggle to become king. On Deva Raya III’s death and seeing the throne being contested, the Bahmani Sultan decided to take advantage and prepared to invade Vijayanagara, ‘in order to wipe out the disgrace of former defeats’. [This statement taken from Bahmani chronicles is interesting and of great significance. It indicates that in previous battles, the Bahmani forces were normally at the losing end since it was the Sultan’s intention to avenge previous defeats. The Bahmani accounts in most cases claim that the Sultan was always victorious in his encounters with Vijayanagara. By acknowledging previous defeats, the Muslim chroniclers inadvertently, let slip the real state of affairs in the competitive relationship between the Vijayanagara and Bahmani kingdoms, which had always been heavily in favour of the Hindu stronghold.]

Eleventh Bahmani War 1449  

The Bahmanis played on the Orissa king’s personal ambition to expand his territorial hold southwards to the Coromandal coast and persuaded him to become an ally in a double-edged invasion of Vijayanagara. This alliance has been much commented upon by historians, who highlight it as a case of a Hindu king aligning himself with a Muslim sultan against another Hindu king. As a fact it is indeed true, but during the medieval times, it was not considered as an act against another Hindu king by the ruler of Orissa. He was only looking out for the betterment of his own kingdom and nothing else. It is certain that religious affiliations were not a priority factor in the decision.

The combined Bahmani-Orissa army advanced into the northern territories of the Vijayanagara Empire, moving towards the capital. Initially Ramachandra was forced on the defensive. Subsequently he engaged the invading forces and drove them out of the vicinity of the capital. Since the forward elements of the Bahmani forces had reached close to the capital, this resolute action saved it from being besieged. It had been easy for the invading force to pass through the Northern provinces since they were not fully under central control, having rebelled after Deva Raya III’s death. At best, central control of these provinces could be considered to have been tenuous.

Around 1453 the Bahmani general, Mallik-ul-Tujar, took a strong army into the Konkan, subdued a number of minor chieftains and then captured Chaul and Dabhol. Thereafter, both these strongholds remained in Bahmani control for a number of years. The invasion stopped at Vishalgad, supposedly because of some treachery in Bahmani ranks according to Muslim chroniclers.

In the east, ever since the Reddi kingdoms—Kondavidu and Rajahmundry—had been eliminated, the region had continued to be in turmoil. Around 1457, the Bahmani Sultan laid siege to Dwarakonda. The Muslim forces committed brutal excesses and in exasperation the Hindus appealed to the Orissa king for assistance in getting rid of them. The outcome of this episode and the actions that the Orissa king initiated in assistance is not available in detail, at least in the Vijayanagara or Bahmani records. However, it can be assumed that the Bahmani siege was broken and the Hindu town relieved. This success gave further impetus to the Orissa king to pursue his territorial ambitions.

Expanding Orissa Kingdom

Ramachandra had indeed managed to save his capital and thereby his reduced kingdom from the Bahmani invasion. However, he was weak and incompetent and his coming to the throne had been almost immediately followed by dissention, confusion, discord and decline, traits that were apparent in Vijayanagara for the following four decades and more. Trouble within the kingdom continued to escalate with the central administration unable to contain it.

Initially the Velama clan started to build a new capital at Velugodu in Kurnool district, since their old stronghold at Rajakonda had been captured by the Bahmani Sultan earlier. Simultaneously, they initiated actions to weaken Sangama control and administration of the region. Kapileswara Gajapati, the ruling king of Orissa watched this development and realised that Vijayanagara was incapable of controlling its outlying provinces. Therefore he decided to take advantage of the situation. He commenced a campaign with the final objective being a siege and hopefully the capture of the capital Vijayanagara itself. This attempt was unsuccessful and he withdrew from the core area of the empire. However, he continued the war and with the assistance of the Velama chiefs of Telangana, captured Rajahmundry and Kondavidu. Thereafter he conquered the territories up to Srisailam.

Gajapati’s son, Hambar put a stop to the advances of Mahmud Gawan, inflicting a defeat on the intrepid Bahmani general, and captured Warangal. It is reported that Hambar temporarily overran Bidar, the very capital of the Bahmani kingdom, although this fact is difficult to corroborate conclusively and must be discounted as an exaggeration. Kapileswara himself went on to annex the provinces of Udayagiri and Nellore. It is also reported in one chronicle that the Orissa king went on a conquering campaign to the South all the way to Kanchipuram and Trichinopoly. This is an unconfirmed report and since these two were southern provinces of the Vijayanagara Empire, they may, at best, have been speedy raids followed by rapid withdrawal and not attempts at annexation.

At this time the Orissa kingdom was at its greatest territorial extent and its influence was felt from the River Ganga in the north to the River Kaveri in the southern peninsula. However, irrespective of some claims by Orissa chroniclers, Kapileswara was able to annex only the Telangana districts. The integrity and sovereignty of the core of Vijayanagara Empire was upheld by powerful nobles who were ruling their territories almost independent of the control of Ramachandra Mallikarjuna, the nominal king ruling from Vijayanagara. Two of these nobles, brothers, have been repeatedly mentioned in chronicles of all the parties involved—the Bahmanis, the Gajapati dynasty and that of Vijayanagara itself. The elder brother was Saluva Gopa Timma, also known as Tirumalaideva Maharaja, ruling Trichinopoly, Thanjavore and Pudukkottai and the younger brother, but considered the more dynamic, was Saluva Narasimha of Chandragiri, ruling the eastern part of the once great Empire. Various other branches of the Saluva family, vaguely connected to the Sangama royal house, controlled Kolar, Chittoor and large parts of Cuddappah and North Arcot. The power and independence of the senior Saluvas is indicated by the fact that they assumed the title of ‘Maharaja’, which was accepted by the people.

The Orissa invasion was the last nail in the coffin of Ramachandra’s rule, since he was unable to do anything to protect his vassals and people from the depredations of an invading army. Saluva Narasimha realised the dire straits that the empire had descended to and carried out an unofficial coup d’état by tasking one of his trusted generals to capture the capital and remove the king from there. The action was carried out very easily since the general found that the capital was not well-guarded and that the royal forces were lackadaisical in the performance of their military duties. The palace was taken over and Ramachandra Mallikarjuna was moved to Penukonda, with all the pomp, dignity and forms of royalty befitting a ruling king. A trusted agent of Saluva Narasimha was installed in Penukonda, who carried out all Narasimha’s instructions under the façade of them as originating from the king. Nominally Ramachandra continued to remain the king.

Although formal usurpation of the throne was still far in the future, by 1459 imperial power had conclusively passed to the Saluvas. Both Narasimha and his elder brother Tirumala Rajya Deva now openly assumed the title of Maharaja and public activities across the country started to be carried out in their name. Ramachandra died sometime between June-October 1465 about six years into his removal from the capital and from being relieved of the actual administration of the kingdom. It is also to be noted here that Ramachandra Mallikarjuna was not really interested in ruling the kingdom, leaving the tedious task of administering the vast holdings to his ministers and other nobles.

The Last Years of the Sangama Dynasty

Ramachandra left behind only an infant son Rajasekhara, born in 1463 during his unofficial captivity. The throne was therefore claimed by his cousin Virupaksha II, the governor of Penukonda, and the son of his father Deva Raya II’s younger brother. By all accounts, Ramachandra was pious and charitable by nature, a patron of letters, and himself an author of repute. He was just not tuned to being an effective king which required many other capabilities and virtues than being an educated and pious person. He was not a man of action, the primary requirement to be a successful king in medieval times. The way he lived his last years was a sad commentary of the visible decline of the Sangama dynasty.

Virupaksha II was inept and completely given to the pursuit of pleasure, spending most of his time in the rather large harem that he had built for himself. During his reign Mahmud Gawan, the Bahmani general, captured the coastal areas around Goa.

Goa and the Story of a Massacre

In the mid-15th century, the coastal trade from the Arabian Sea into the Indian Peninsula was controlled by Arab chieftains and their traders. The trade concentrated on the import of Arab horses to India to cater for the great demand from the contending armies of the Muslim Deccan and Hindu Vijayanagara. Both the armies were fully dependent on this trade to man their crucial cavalry corps of the army.

It is reported that around 1469, the traders of Bhatkal sold the entire herd of available horses to the Muslim armies of the Deccan. Virupaksha II, then the nominal ruler of Vijayanagara, ordered his vassal in Honowar to kill all the Muslim traders in retaliation for what was considered treachery. [It is obvious that the action was initiated by Saluva Narasimha through his emissary in Penukonda who was controlling the actions of the king.] A terrible massacre ensued and it is estimated that around 10,000 Muslims lost their lives. A large number of traders fled Bhatkal to Goa, then a small village, establishing the city that would, in a later century, eventually become the capital of the Portuguese enterprise in India.

While Vijayanagara was taking controlling offensive actions against the traders in Bhatkal, the Orissa king Kapileswara died. This relieved the Bahmani kingdom of the increasing threat that they had felt from that quarter, providing a window of opportunity for Mahmud Gawan to move into the Konkan. He captured Vishalgarh after a five-month siege and consolidated the victory. By then the Bahmani Sultan had ordered his minister Mahmud Gawan to retaliate for the massacre of the Muslim traders in Bhatkal. Accordingly, Gawan marched west into Vijayanagara territory.

Goa was surrounded both by land and sea and subsequently brought under Bahmani control. Although this victory excited the Bahmani ruler, he was already facing internal challenges and gradually succumbing to domestic disputes. According to Nuniz, Vijayanagara lost Goa, Chaul and Dabhol during this invasion. This is an incorrect assessment, since Dabhol and Chaul had already been annexed to the Bahmani kingdom during the reign of Ramachandra. Soon after this tussle over Goa, the Bahmani monarchy was overthrown and the kingdom broke up into five independent kingdoms.

A similar fate was avoided in Vijayanagara only because powerful provincial governors, practically independent rulers, opted to remain part of the broader Empire rather than declare their own independence like the Shahi chieftains did in the Bahmani state. This act of loyalty held the empire together, even though central power continued to decline in Vijayanagara.

The Rise of Saluva Narasimha

Most prominent amongst the provincial governors holding Vijayanagara together was Saluva Narasimha, ruling Chandragiri ‘rajya’, meaning a territory large enough to be a country by itself. He is first mentioned in an inscription in 1456. Considering the geographic location of his territories, it is certain the Narasimha must have suffered damages during the Orissa invasion of Vijayanagara. He fought against Kapileswara Gajapati and recaptured Udayagiri after a successful siege. Around this time, Kapileswara died, followed by a civil war of succession in Orissa. Opportunistically, Narasimha expelled the Orissa governor from the Eastern districts of Vijayanagara kingdom and extended his own territory to the River Godavari.

After securing the Vijayanagara territories, Narasimha interfered in the ongoing Orissa civil war. He supported Purushottama Gajapati against Hambar, who had garnered Bahmani assistance. This was the same Prince Hambar who had defeated Mahmud Gawan and stopped the eastward march of the Bahmani army. [The fickle nature of enmities, friendships and alliances is demonstrated in this one episode.] With Narasimha’s support, Purushottama claimed the throne of Orissa.

Even though Vijayanagara was surviving as a kingdom, the signs of decay and possible breakup were becoming increasingly visible and divisive. The Pandya dynasty in the south, who had been subdued earlier, now started to encroach into Vijayanagara territory and advanced as far as Kanchi. Virupaksha II was helpless to contain this invasion, even if he was bothered enough to retaliate. Narasimha now took up the cause of the Empire. The Bahmani power had already been broken, confirmed by the installation of Purushottama, the Narasimha protégé, as the king of Orissa. This also ensured that Narasimha’s territories would not be threatened by Orissa and therefore he was free to turn his attention to the south.

Saluva Narasimha now left for the Tamil country through Kalahasti and Tiruvannamalai, starting a conquering march to Kumbakonam after subjugating South Arcot. He continued along the north bank of the River Kavery to Sreerangam. This was Chola territory and it is reported that the Chola chieftain fled on the approach of the Saluva army. Narasimha went on to Madurai and marched south to reach Rameswaram. This entire march had been one victorious campaign in which he defeated all chiefs and minor kings who offered resistance. However, the resistance seems to have been minimal. From Rameswaram, Narasimha swung west, ‘visited’ Trivandrum and then went on to capture Dharapuram.

Since the most powerful provincial governor was campaigning in the far south, a Muslim army advanced from the north and laid siege to Penukonda, the nominal seat of power now. Narsimha relieved Penukonda and then returned triumphantly to the capital. His trusted general Iswara Nayaka followed this victory by inflicting a crushing defeat on the retreating Bahmani army at Kondakur.

The growing power of Narasimha and the culmination of his triumphant march across the entire South India must have made Virupaksha II aware of the extreme precariousness of his position as king. He therefore made an attempt at enforcing his will and position as king. Around 1474, he made a fruitless attempt to recover Goa from the Bahmanis—ordering his nominal vassal, the Raja of Belgaum Birkana Raya, to recapture the territory. However, Birkana was defeated and captured in battle by Mahmud Shah Bahmani and inducted into the Bahmani order of nobles. The end result of this desultory effort by the Vijayanagara king to re-establish his power was the loss of Belgaum to the Empire.

Gawan at Vijayanagara – An Unlikely Story

Muslim, meaning Bahmani, sources mention an episode of Mahmud Gawan marching on the capital Vijayanagara and overrunning it. However, there is no mention of this episode in any Hindu source or in other reports. There has been an attempt to link this episode to a vague mention in the travelogue of Athanasius Nikitin, of Gawan overrunning a ‘large’ town that ended in the massacre of more than 20,000 Hindus. It is difficult to believe this story, considering the evidence of resistance to Mahmud Gawan’s military campaign and the fact that he was defeated more than once during the extended military operation. The single report of the ‘sacking’ of Vijayanagara is to be discounted as being wishful thinking of some Muslim chronicler whose imagination far outstripped reality.

Saluva Narasimha now turned his attention to the eastern parts of the kingdom, which had also strayed from central control. He captured Kondaveedu and Kondapalli, going on to lay siege to Rajahmundry, all three previous Reddi holdings that had been annexed to Vijayanagara control, and later captured by the Bahmani Sultan. This brought Narasimha, and by default the Vijayanagara kingdom, once again into direct confrontation with the Bahmani ruler. There are contradictory reports of the actions initiated by the Bahmani Sultan, with Ferishta writing that Narasimha fled the battlefield at the approach of the Bahmani forces under the Sultan. This is a completely unbelievable assertion. It is not likely that a victorious ‘Maharaja’ commanding 70,000 infantry and more than 500 elephants, as reported by Ferishta himself, would flee the battle ground at the approach of a somewhat dilapidated army, since Bahmani power had waned greatly by this time. Further, the three disputed strongholds continued to be in the possession of Vijayanagara even after this encounter, proof positive of the blatant incongruity of Ferishta’s claim.

The End of the Sangama Dynasty

Saluva Narasimha was single-handedly holding the great empire together without formally taking over the throne. In the meantime, after the debacle of the attempt to recover Goa on his own, Virupaksha II’s behaviour became even more erratic than before. He ordered random killings of his commanders for trivial charges and started to unleash a reign of terror amongst the nobles. Sick of this behaviour of his father, Virupaksha’s eldest son murdered him. However, he refused to assume the throne since he had committed patricide, a heinous crime according to Hindu scriptures. Therefore, he considered himself ‘unfit’ to be king.

This prince therefore raised his brother, Praudha Deva Raya, to the throne. However, this Deva Raya turned out to be even more wicked and debauched than his father. Very soon after coming to the throne, he became suspicious of his elder brother who had gifted him the throne and personally killed him. It was obvious to all that Sangama power had run its course and that the Sangama scion had lost the moral authority to rule. The time was ripe to supplant this dynasty, whose fundamental roots itself had become rotten to the core.

Saluva Narasimha realised that the time had come to assume the mantle of king. He wrote to all the chiefs, commanders and important nobles and secured their goodwill and then send his trusted general Narasa Nayaka to march on Vijayanagara, the capital. The dates of this take over vary in different accounts, but it can be placed as being within the span of 1486-90. Deva Raya, who had reinstated himself in Vijayanagara fled at the approach of the Saluva army—the Sangamas disappeared from the firmament of Vijayanagara, without even an audible whimper or creating any ripples.


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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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