Indian History Part 75 The Tuluva Dynasty Section I: The Third Dynasty Takes Over

Canberra, 13 July 2019

With the usurpation of the throne by the general of the Saluvas and designated regent, Narasa Nayaka—for irrespective of the good intentions that prompted the takeover, at the primary level the general’s actions remained usurpation—the third dynasty to rule Vijayanagara took over the reins of the administration.

Origins of the Tuluvas

Tulu, also mentioned as Tulu-nadu in some chronicles, is a geographical region in Karnataka and a native of the region was generally known as Tuluva in medieval times and Tulus in modern days. Today the region fits within the South Kanara district, but in earlier days the Tulu region encompassed both Shimoga and Kadur districts as well. Bunts form the majority of the landed agricultural class of the region. Some of these Bunts who moved into the trading class started to call themselves Shetties or Shresties in an attempt to move up the social ladder.

The later rulers of the Tuluva dynasty also claimed descent from the Lunar line or Chandravansha, calling themselves Yadavas. They also claimed descent from Turvasu.

Who was Turvasu?

According to Hindu mythology, there are four principle houses of the Kshatriyas—the warrior-ruling class and caste in ancient times. They are the Lunar (Chandravansha), Solar (Suryavansha), Fire (Agnivansha or Agnikula), and Snake (Nagavansha) lineages.

The Shatapatha Brahmana states that the Chandravansha dynasty was founded by Pururavas, who was the son of Budha—who is described as the son of Soma/Chandra, the Moon Deity—and the gender-switching deity Ila, born as the daughter of Manu. The descendants of Pururavas, who lived in the Treta Yuga, were called Chandravanshis, people of the Lunar lineage. Hinduism acknowledges four ‘yugas’ or ages of mankind. Treta Yuga is the second and follows Satya Yuga, and in turn is followed by Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. The world is going through Kali Yuga at the moment.

Pururavas is considered a contemporary of Ravana, the demon king who ruled Lanka, who was also the main antagonist in the epic Ramayana. Pururavas had six sons, of whom Aayu was the eldest; Aayu in turn had five sons of whom the eldest Nahusa followed him to the throne. Nahusa had two sons, Yati and Yayati.

Yayati had married Devayani, the daughter of Shukracharya, and taken her maid Sharmistha as his mistress. He sired five sons of whom Turvasa was the second. Devyani complained to her father about Yayati taking a mistress and Shukracharya cursed his son-in-law with premature old age. Later he relented and said that Yayati could regain his youth if one of his sons would accept the curse of premature old age. Turvasu when approached by his father refused to give up his youth and in turn his father cursed him that Turvasu’s dynasty would deteriorate to become ‘Mlecchas’, considered at that time to be wicked and low-caste. The term ‘mleccha’ was in later days used in a derogatory manner to denote any non-Hindu foreigner. Turvasu’s descendants are considered to be the Mlecchas of Balochistan.

Despite their claims to exalted status and divine descent, there is no doubt that the medieval Tuluva kings were blood-relations of the Shetties. The first of the house who merits a historical mention is one Thimma, who has been described in the Kannada Mahabharata written by Timmanna Kavi, as ‘asambujabala’, meaning a warrior of ‘unequalled valour of great physical power’. There are no other details available regarding Thimma, who could have been a contemporary of Ramachandra Raya.

Thimma’s son Iswara Nayaka joined the Saluvas and rose to power and position under Saluva Narasimha Raya I. Iswara had two sons—Narasa and Timma. Narasa was the favourite of Narasimha Raya I and is credited with some extraordinary military achievements. He went on to become the commander-in-chief of the Saluva army and then the prime minister of the kingdom, from which position he usurped the throne. (Details of the takeover have been provided in the previous chapter.)

Narasa Nayaka – First Tuluva King

Vijayanagara was unstable from the death of Deva Raya II, even though the senior nobles and Saluva Narasimha had made great efforts to stabilise the kingdom. Narasimha was able to deal only with the core territory of the Empire and the outlying provinces remained in a state of semi-rebellion. The murder of the last Saluva prince and the subsequent Tuluva takeover further destabilised an already precarious situation.

Third Adil Shahi War 1502

Since the Hindu kingdom continued to be embroiled in internal dissentions, remaining in a state of turmoil and uncertainty with the central control being tenuous at best, the independent rulers of the different parts of the divided Bahmani kingdom decided to take advantage of the situation. Accordingly, Mahmud Shah marched against Vijayanagara stating some trumped up excuse to break the existing peace. The reasons put forward to invade is not clear in any of the reports that are available.

The Muslim army reached Hutgi, about 10 miles south-east of Sholapur, and then were joined by contingents from other Shahi kingdoms. The combined army was very large and was then divided into two. One moved towards Vijayanagara itself through Gulbarga and the second, led by Mahmud Shah moved to the Doab and besieged Raichur. No decisive battle took place and peace was arrived by Vijayanagara ceding Raichur and Mudgal to Yusuf Adil Shah of Bijapur. It is obvious that Narasa Nayaka assessed the situation and realised that it would be foolhardy to attempt to fight the combined armies of the Shahi kingdoms on two fronts simultaneously.

At the end of this minor war, Narasa Nayaka converted to Vaishnavism.

The King becomes a Vaishnavite

In the Vijayanagara kingdom there was a great Vaishnava ascetic, Parankusa Mahadesika, a contemporary of Narasa Nayaka and the eighth Abbot of the Ahobila Monastery where Narasimha, the avatar of Vishnu, was the deity. This sage was very learned, but remained a recluse. Towards the end of the war with the northern Muslim kingdoms, Narasa’s daughter fell ill with some serious disease.

It is reported that the king went on foot to the monastery and requested the Abbot to cure his daughter. Parankusa agreed to do so and was taken in great pomp and ceremony to the palace, where he cured the princess of her life-threatening illness. The king wanted to reward the ascetic for this miracle. The sage was moved by the king’s devotion and agreed to administer Vaishnava rites to the king and induct him into the sect.

Narasa Nayaka willingly converted to Vaishnavism and then presented great honours to Parankusa. He also donated many villages to the monastery for its upkeep.

Narasa is also acknowledged as a patron of men of letters. During his rule, the Telugu works Parijatapaharanamu by Nandi Timmana and Varaha Puranamu by Ghanta Singayya were written and dedicated to him.  Towards the end of Narasa Nayaka’s rule, Varthema an Italian traveller visited Vijayanagara and left behind a graphic description of the capital.

‘The city of Bisnagar [Vijayanagara] belongs to the king Narasinga [Narasa Nayaka] and is very large and strongly walled. It stands on the side of a mountain with three circles of walls, the outer most circle, seven miles round. The site is beautiful … it seems a second paradise. The land is rich and there is much trade … the king is the richest I have ever heard of … he is always at war.’

Varthema’s description,

As quoted in M. H. Rama Sharma,

The History of Vijayanagar Empire, pp. 103-04.

Narasa Nayaka died a few years later in 1503 shortly after his conversion to Vaishnavism, leaving behind four sons from his three principle queens. Throughout his life he had continued to progress the work that his master Saluva Narasimha had started—upholding the integrity of the Vijayanagara Empire at all costs. It was the untiring efforts of the master and his general that ensured that the Hindu kingdom did not follow the same path as their northern Muslim neighbours and break up into truncated and unviable kingdoms.

Vira Narasimha Raya II

Narasa was succeeded to the throne by his eldest son Vira Narasimha, who was known earlier in his youth as Immadi Narasa Nayaka. He assumed all his father’s titles and proclaimed himself emperor in 1505. There is slight confusion regarding the dates of Narasa’s death and the ascension of Vira Narasimha. Some reports suggest that it was Narasimha II who usurped the throne, getting himself declared king in 1505 after getting rid of the nominal Saluva prince. These reports suggest that Narasimha continued as the regent for two years after his father’s death and also that Narasa Nayaka never assumed the title of ‘king’, being content to rule by proxy on behalf of the imprisoned prince. Even if Narasa had indeed proclaimed himself king, he would have ruled only for a few years; which is also disputed in some chronicles. Therefore, Vira Narasimha’s accession to the throne could be considered the beginning of the rule of third dynasty of the Vijayanagara Empire – The Tuluva Dynasty.

Internal Dissentions

It is clear that the short reign of Narasa Nayaka was turbulent. Narasimha II also did not have a peaceful rule, since the kingdom continued to be in the throes of turmoil and confusion. The Tuluva take over was not accepted by many subordinate chiefs and nobles. To begin with, a son of the last nominal Saluva ruler, Immadi Narasimha—called Devappa Nayaka—continued to claim that he ‘ruled’ the kingdom from Doddaballapur. A large part of the population sympathised with him and therefore supported his rebellion. They refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Vira Narasimha’s coronation and subsequent reign.

Further, the governor of Adoni, Kasapa Udaiya, refused to be submissive or to pay the traditional tribute on the coronation of the new king. The Adoni chief was supported by Yusuf Adil Shah and also the Palaigars of Ummattur and turned out to be a formidable adversary. In addition, the Palaigars of Ummattur, 25 miles south-east of Mysore town, and the chief of Kalasa both declared independence, assuming grand titles such as ‘king of kings’ and ‘Lord of Penukonda’. Perceiving an opportune moment, the chief of Srirangapatana also rebelled.

There was no doubt that these dissenting voices had to be controlled if the Vijayanagara kingdom was to retain its territorial integrity and survive as a single entity. Vira Narasimha therefore initiated decisive action. He send an army under the command of Rama Raja, the son of a loyal general of the Tuluva House, to subdue the Adoni chief. The rebel Kasapa was defeated, captured and produced in front of Narasimha II. In the meantime Narasimha himself led and expedition against the other rebels.

Vira Narasimha’s Expedition 1505

The king first proceeded against the Palaigars of Ummattur who had been vassals of Vijayanagara for many years. The old Palaigar chief had recently died and his son Malla Raya refused to acknowledge the overlordship of the Vijayanagara king. Narasimha besieged the Palaigar fort but was unable to achieve a breakthrough even after three months of siege. He therefore withdrew and turned his attention to Srirangapatana. The chief here was assisted by the Ummattur chief and also received help from the chief of Talakad.

Srirangapatana resisted the Vijayanagara army and even sallied out of their defensive positions within the fort to offer open battle. The advantage in each of these encounters seemed to rest with the rebels. Prudently, Narasimha once again withdrew his army. He then decided to return home, not having achieved anything but only further reducing his already greatly debilitated status.

On the return journey, he attacked Kalasa. This was the only rebel province where the chief, Bhairarasu Odeyar, fled on the approach of the Vijayanagara army thereby providing a minor but face-saving victory to Narasimha. Narasimha proceeded to Mangalore and then returned home. It is true that he had not been defeated. However, in cases of rebellion, it is only necessary for the rebels to remain undefeated to claim victory, whereas the State, in this case the Vijayanagara kingdom, required to be decisively victorious in the battlefield to emphasis the defeat of the rebels. Narasimha’s expedition suffered from this lacuna—he had returned home without having subdued the rebels who mattered. On the whole, the expedition was a failure, even though none of the chiefs that Narasimha encountered went on to declare outright independence from the greater Vijayanagara Empire. The fact remained that the king was equally unable to impose his own will on the rebels and on the entire Empire. An uneasy status quo was maintained and Tuluva power continued to be shaky.

The Portuguese Treaty 1505

Ever since Vasco da-Gama reached the Malabar Coast in 1498, Portuguese warships had been visiting the Konkan coast almost every year.

Portuguese Naval Captains reaching the West Coast of India 1498-1505

1500 – Pedro Alvarz Cabral

1501 – Goaoda Nova

1502 – Vasco da Gama (second time)

1503 – Alfonso de-Albuquerque

1504 – Lepo-Soarwz de-Algabaria

1505 – Francisco de-Almeida

When Almeida reached the port of Anjdir in 1505, Narasimha II send an embassy with presents for the commander. Almeida in his turn received the Vijayanagara ambassador with great honour and a free discussion on possible trade and terms took place. The Portuguese wanted to build forts at Anjdir and Bhatkal to protect their trading interests and Narasimha agreed to let them build in Anjdir but not at Bhatkal, which remained fully under Vijayanagara control. Vijayanagara was eager to establish good relations with the Portuguese in order to encourage mutually profitable trade, especially in war-horses. Narasimha’s intention was to break the stranglehold that the Arabs had on this trade, which had adversely affected the efficacy of the Vijayanagara army. There is one report that states that Narasimha offered the hand of his sister, an exceptionally beautiful princess by all reports, in marriage to the prince of Portugal. This titbit information cannot be verified for its veracity through any other source. Further, the final status of the treaty, if one was indeed concluded, is also unclear. Considering the geo-strategic circumstances at that time, it is highly possible that a treaty of some sort, which was advantageous to both sides was concluded, although even this information cannot be corroborated.

Fourth Adil Shahi War 1506

While Narasimha II was negotiating trade deals with the Portuguese, once again war broke out with the Bahmani successor kingdoms; the reason once again remains obscure. Some chronicles continue to call and number these wars with the Muslim kingdoms to the north, ‘Bahmani Wars’. Since almost all the wars fought by Vijayanagara against the Muslims after the breakup of the Bahmani Sultanate was primarily against the Adil Shahi kingdom of Bijapur, in this narrative they have been named, numbered and dated as the Adil Shahi Wars. Further, since an entity that could be identified as the Bahmani kingdom did not exist after its breakup towards the end of the 15th century, it was felt more appropriate to name the on-going power struggle between the Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan and the Hindu bastion in South India as the ‘Adil Shahi Wars’.

Muhammad Shah gathered his forces, declared war on Narasimha II and marched towards Vijayanagara. The army had the semblance of being a Bahmani force since most of the Shahi kingdoms had contributed to it. This was the last time, till a decisive battle was fought much later, that a combined Muslim army invaded Vijayanagara. It must be noted that in this narrative, reference to a ‘Muslim army’ does not mean that the entire force was religiously homogenous. The Muslim armies also contained Hindu soldiers, but were predominantly officered by Muslim commanders and more importantly, fought on the side of the Muslim kings and sultans. Similarly, the Vijayanagara army, referred to as the ‘Hindu army’, also had its share of Muslim soldiers and even officers.

Narasimha also mustered his forces to withstand the invasion. When the Bahmani army reached Dewly (Deodurg?) it was engaged by the chief of Kanchivaram, Pattikonda Rangappa Odeyar. In the ensuing battle, Muhammad Shah was thrown from his horse and almost trampled to death. Although he was saved and taken to safety by the quick action of some of his bodyguards, the Hindu army believed him to be dead. The Sultan’s insignia and royal umbrella were captured by the Vijayanagara forces and they declared victory. Muhammad Shah quickly retreated to his capital, making the battle a conclusive victory for Narasimha II. Since the war culminated in a complete rout of the Bahmani forces, it is not surprising that this battle does not merit a mention in the Muslim records, while it is celebrated in the Vijayanagara chronicles.

Disconcerting Last Days

After the signal victory against the kingdom’s traditional enemies to the north, Narasimha ruled for another three years. It is obvious that nothing of significance took place during these years since there is hardly any information available of the events of these years. It is obvious that the kingdom was stable on an even keel for the duration. Narasimha II fell seriously ill in 1509.

Although Narasimha had been a law-abiding and decent Raya for most of his rule, towards the end of his reign while on his sickbed he went against the norms of succession because of his obsessive love of his young son. Narasimha summoned his minister Saluva Timmaraya and ordered him to declare his son, an eight-year old boy, as king. Since the prince was only a young boy, the throne should have been passed on to Narasimha’s younger brother, the 20-year old Krishna. However, Narasimha commanded Timmaraya to blind Krishna to ensure that he could not contest the throne.

There is no absolute proof of the subsequent actions that took place and the narrative is based on what was written at a later date, passed on through word of mouth and therefore obviously embellished. It seems that Timmaraya told Krishna of the king’s orders. In turn, Krishna is supposed to have told the minister that he had no interest in becoming the king and that he was in the process of becoming a reclusive ascetic. He therefore requested that he not be blinded. Timmaraya, although loyal to his king, was also a statesman who considered the welfare of the kingdom to be his highest responsibility. He believed that the kingdom would be best served, especially in the turbulent times that it was going through, by an adult prince rather than a boy assuming the throne. It is said that he put out the eyes of a goat and produced them in front of the dying king, Narasimha, who is reported to have died a satisfied man.

Timmaraya then placed Krishna on the throne and declared him king in 1509. The last known date of Narasimha is 22 July 1509, which is reported as the date of his death. The first known date of Krishna, who assumed the title Krishna Deva Raya as king, is 29 July 1509 and the date of his coronation has been given as 8 August 1509.

Narasimha II – An Assessment

Vira Narasimha Raya II had a very short but tumultuous reign, during which he was constantly involved in conflict. Only the last three years seems to have been relatively uneventful. Even so he achieved a number of things that had far-reaching consequences. During the busy days of conflict he managed to improve the army by altering the recruiting process and the training regime. He recruited soldiers based on their efficiency and capability, irrespective of caste or creed. Gradually he managed to infuse a warlike spirit on his subjects, making the entire population ‘war-minded’. In time, the population started to shun cowardice as a most disgraceful character trait in a man. This paved the way for the future glory of the kingdom since the entire kingdom was imbued with a great fighting spirit. By arriving at a mutually advantageous and bilateral treaty with the Portuguese, he managed to break the monopoly of the Arabs on the trade in war horses, thereby ensuring that the Hindu cavalry was never in short supply.

Narasimha was also a welfare-oriented king who reduced the tax burden on the people by abolishing some taxes, the most notable being the marriage tax. Other than for the blot on his character at the end of his reign, Vira Narasimha Raya II could have become a model king for the times.

© [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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