Indian History Part 74 The Saluva Dynasty Section II: An Inglorious Demise

Canberra, 6 July 2019

Saluva Narasimha left behind two young sons—Timmabhupa and Immadi Narasimha—and on his deathbed commended them to the care of his loyal general Narasa Nayaka. Narasa, who belonged to the Tuluva family and was the son of the famed Iswara Nayaka, was immediately declared the ‘protector’ of the young princes. He placed the elder of the two, Timmabhupa on the throne. However, Tirumala Raja, also referred to in some records as Thimmaraja, the brother of Saluva Narasimha and powerful in his own right, supported the younger brother Narasimha. The dispute between the two nobles reached an uneasy stalemate.

Meanwhile, seeing the internal dispute and the division between the two most powerful personalities of the Vijayanagara kingdom, the Adil Shahi Sultan of Bijapur took the opportunity to capture Raichur and most of the Doab. Earlier in 1492, a large Vijayanagara army, under Thimmaraja had captured this region from the Bahmani kingdom. This recapture of Raichur by the Adil Shah, immediately on the death of Narasimha I, could be considered the First Adil Shahi War. The loss of Raichur and the Doab galvanised the antagonists in Vijayanagara to join forces and oppose the Adil Shahis.

Second Adil Shahi War 1493

Although opposing the appointment of Timmabhupa to the throne, Thimmaraja joined the young Raya and the combined armies marched to the Doab. Yusuf Adil Shah moved out of his capital at the head of 8000 cavalry and 200 elephants to oppose the Vijayanagara army and camped on the banks of River Krishna. In the meantime Thimmaraja captured Raichur and then turned around to enter Adil Shahi territory, marching towards the capital Bijapur. Yusuf Adil Shah decided to give battle.

The Battle of Manvi April 1493

Yusuf Adil Shah moved his forces close to the Vijayanagara forces and after camping, threw up defensive entrenchments around his camp. It appears from some reports that at this stage Narasa Nayaka also joined the Vijayanagara forces with his army. Battle was joined on a Saturday in April 1493. The Vijayanagara forces managed to seize the initiative and had the advantage in the beginning. On perceiving this initial setback, Yusuf ordered the Bijapur forces to withdraw and recuperate in order to re-establish themselves.

The Hindu army, considering the withdrawal to be a defeat, started to loot and pillage the area and in the bargain lost its cohesiveness. When appraised of the situation, Yusuf Shah send a message to Thimmaraja, entreating for peace. Now certain of victory, Thimmaraja, accompanied by a small protective force, went to accept the surrender of the Muslim king. The Bijapur Sultan then attacked Thimmaraja, taking him by surprise. Many of the accompanying Hindu chiefs were killed and Thimmaraja himself wounded in the skirmish, although he managed to make a fighting withdrawal.

Vijayanagara forces rallied but were unable to withstand the ferocious attack launched by Yusuf Adil Shah and forced to retreat, leaving behind some elephants and ‘hundreds’ of horses. An assured victory had been turned into palpable defeat because of the imprudent actions of the commander. The Adil Shahi forces went on to reduce and recapture Mudgal and Raichur. The final outcome was a clear victory for the Adil Shahis.

The Battle of Manvi should have been a signal lesson for the feuding leadership of Vijayanagara. Thimmaraja was not fully accepting of the young Raya on the throne, who was Narasa’s nominee, and had reconciled only because of the emerging external threat to the kingdom. Further he had insisted on being the commander of the forces and initiated unilateral actions. Although Narasa Nayaka joined the army, it is certain that full cooperation was not restored before the battle. This was essentially a Thimmaraja campaign with the Narasa faction playing a reluctant and bare minimum role. Vijayanagara did not learn any lasting lessons from this defeat and went back to their internal feuds.

The Murder of a Boy-Raya

Thimmaraja conceived a plot and had the young Timmabhupa Raya murdered. He further attempted to blame Narasa Nayaka for the deed. However, Narasa was a wily operator and immediately raised the younger prince, Immadi Narasimha, to the throne. He cannily averted any repercussions for his alleged role in the murder of the elder prince. Even so, Narasa lost influence in the court since Narasimha II was Thimmaraja’s protégé and openly favoured him. Although Narasa continued as the ‘regent’, there was palpable tension between him and the new boy-king. The tensions were accentuated by Narasimha II’s refusal to punish the murderer of his brother, who was instead brought into favour at the royal court—a clear defiance of the regent’s power.

A Puppet King

Narasa Nayaka was an astute statesman and realised that his waning power in the royal court would lead to his downfall. Therefore he decided to take action. He left the capital on the pretence of going on a hunt to Anegundi. However, once outside the capital, he proceeded to Penukonda, the old Saluva stronghold, and there gathered a powerful army. Once assured of his military strength, Narasa send a message to the boy-king Narasimha II in which he related the treachery of Thimmaraja in slaying the elder prince who had been the earlier king. He demanded that Thimmaraja be handed over for trial and punishment for the treason that he had committed. Narasimha II was obviously very fond of Thimmaraja since he owed the throne to him and refused to hand him over, instead bringing him closer to the inner circle at court.

Narasa Nayaka marched to Vijayanagara with his army and besieged the capital. There are two versions of the sequence of events that took place thereafter. One states that Narasimha II handed over Thimmaraja to Narasa Nayaka as a peace offering and that Thimmaraja was then put to death. Subsequently, Narasimha II was kept under house-arrest for a brief period of time and then removed to isolation in Penukonda. The second version states that Thimmaraja was put to death by Narasimha Raya II and his head send as a peace offering to Narasa. Since Narasa was well-liked by the people as a just and proper minister, he now entered the capital in triumph and once again gathered the reins of power in his hands. The second version seems to be more plausible, especially since the removal of the Raya to Penukonda definitely took place at a slightly later date.

Narasa retained real power for himself while conceding all formal status and honour to the young Raya. This was a recipe for misunderstanding and animosity between the two continued to simmer. Narasimha II had been humbled and his support base reduced to ineffectiveness by the removal of Thimmaraja from the equation. The animosity continued to increase and fester as time passed. In the meantime, Narasa Nayaka started to assume the trappings of royalty, which displeased the young Raya even more. Narasa now decided to assume direct and independent charge of the kingdom. As a prelude to this move, he made liberal arrangements for the welfare of Narasimha II and then imprisoned him, sending him under surveillance to isolated living in Penukonda. The king was placed under house-arrest and guarded by Narasa’s most loyal general Thimmappa Nayaka.

Since the successor kingdoms to the Bahmani Sultanate continued to be in turmoil themselves, the internal dissentions in Vijayanagara did not invite any Muslim invasion or outside interference. Narasa was able to maintain basic stability of the kingdom without much trouble. Although the king was under virtual imprisonment, the outlying provinces continued to profess loyalty to him and rebelled. Most probably these rebellions were more self-serving than in support of the king, essentially hiding the real reason for the revolts under the guise of loyalty to the imprisoned Raya. Some of the more powerful chiefs, such as the Chola and Pandya feudatories in the south, went so far as to declare independence from Narasa’s de facto rule. The situation deteriorated to an extent wherein Narasa realised that it was necessary to mount a military campaign to bring the rebellious provinces under control. Narasa Nayaka was nothing if not a battle-hardened general and welcomed the challenge as an opportunity to go back into the battlefield.

Narasa Nayaka’s South Indian Campaign 1497-98

The Vijayanagara army under Narasa Nayaka first marched east and then moved down the coast to Tondamandalam (encompassed in the present Chingelpet and Arcot districts). Here the local chief Koneti Raja opposed the advancing army. He was quickly defeated and fled in panic. The Vijayanagara forces then crossed the River Kavery to the south into Cholamandalam and there waited for the Chola king to respond. The Chola king was advised by his nobles to seek terms for an honourable peace, but he refused to do so and instead decided to fight the ‘invader’. A severe battle followed in which the Chola king was defeated and captured. However, he managed to escape from captivity and is reported as having fled to the coast. There is no further information after that regarding his movements. The Chola dynasty thereafter goes into oblivion, being mentioned only in patches in the coming centuries. Narasa entered the Chola capital Sri Rangam in triumph and great pomp.

The Vijayanagara juggernaut continued towards Madurai, where the local chieftain Mana Bhupa decided to oppose Narasa Nayaka. In the ensuing battle, Mana Bhupa was defeated and killed. Madurai was annexed to the expanding Vijayanagara Empire after Narasa Nayaka entered the town as the victorious general. He then proceeded to Rameswaram and after worshiping and giving offerings to the famous temples there, the victorious regent-general commenced his return to the capital. On the return journey Vijayanagara forces dammed the River Kavery, which facilitated their entry to and subsequent besieging the island of Srirangapatana. The chief of the island fortress surrendered along with his entire clan, without a fight and was reinstated by Narasa as a vassal to Vijayanagara. He then moved to secure Tumkur and Tarasingi, further reaching Gokarna, about 25 miles south of Karwar on the coast.

At Gokarna, Narasa Nayaka stopped his breathless conquering march and took a well-deserved break. He carried out the ‘Tulapurusha’ ceremony here. It seems that this ceremony fanned the embers of ambition that were already embedded in Narasa Nayaka’s inner mind. In Gokarna he seems to have decided to move towards formal kingship for himself.

The Murder of a King 1501?

It is certain that at least in the early years of his tenure as the regent, Narasa Nayaka did not harbour any designs to usurp the throne become the king or to kill the incumbent young Raya. On the other hand it would also be correct to assume that he was indeed ambitious and that this ambition would have been assisted to move towards an all-encompassing and full-fledged thirst for ultimate power by some of his advisers. They made him believe that since he was the real ruler but kept up the façade of the Raya being the king, the loyalty of the people continued to be divided and that his duty was to ensure the stability of the kingdom. It also has to be acknowledged that it would not have been difficult to ‘convince’ Narasa Nayaka of the necessity to take over the kingdom for the sake of stability.

The young king was disposed in an ingenious manner. First, Narasimha II was induced to attempt an escape from his open captivity in Penukonda and then captured while attempting the escape. During this episode he was secretly killed by one of Narasa’s agents, who has been reported as a minor noble called Kondamarasu. For a period of time after the murder nobody knew what had happened to the king. Since the murder had been kept secret and he did not surface for a lengthy period of time, it was rumoured that his escape had been successful. After waiting for a ‘decent’ period of time Narasa Nayaka declared himself king in 1499.

The Vijayanagara throne passed from the Saluvas to the Tuluvas. Whatever the reasons for deposing the ruling king, no defence can be made for these actions initiated by Narasa Nayaka, who had remained completely loyal to the Saluvas for the major part of his illustrious life. On the other hand, there is unanimity in the opinion that he was one of the greatest generals of the time, praised equally by friend and foe for his individual bravery, tactical acumen, and strategic élan. His military prowess could not be questioned and was truly unparalleled in his lifetime.

The Arrival of the Portuguese

During this tumultuous transition period in the Deccan and South India, an event that would lead to uncontrollable upheavals in the sub-continent took place, although at that time it was not considered to be of any great import. This event would have great repercussions for the political future of Vijayanagara and the entire Peninsula in the medium-term and for the entire sub-continent in the long-term. The event was the arrival of the Portuguese on the Malabar Coast through a newly discovered route from the Atlantic Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope in the African continent.

Europe had come to know of the fabulous wealth and resources of India from the Moors of North Africa. They had always wanted to trade directly with India rather than through the Arabs who held a monopoly on the Indian trade since the overland route was not only dangerous, but also tedious and time consuming. The Red Sea and the Persian Gulf routes were closed to the Europeans; and therefore they had for centuries, out of necessity, been wanting to find an independent route to India. Starting with Don Henrique, they had been making repeated attempts to reach the Indian coast from the Atlantic Ocean. The exploration along the African Coast progressed gradually, till in 1498 Vasco da-Gama, an able sea captain, reached Calicut on the Malabar Coast with three ships.

The story of India was about to change into a narrative of European avarice and prejudices—unknown to the minor chiefs and kings who either welcomed or attempted to push away these mostly unscrupulous traders. A new chapter was about to open in the long history of India.

© [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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