Indian History Part 75 The Tuluva Dynasty Section II: Krishna Deva Raya – Coming to Power

Canberra, 4 August 2019

Krishna, the stepbrother of Vira Narasimha II and son of Narasa Nayaka and Queen Nagala Devi, assumed the throne with the assistance of the sagacious minister Saluva Timmaraya on 15 July 1509. He would have been between 20 and 25 years of age at this time. Krishna immediately moved to secure his position and imprisoned his nephew, who was Narasimha’s choice to be king, along with two of his own brothers in the fort at Chandragiri, about 250 miles from the capital. This was an extremely focused action for a person who in the previous weeks had declared that he was not in any way interested in becoming the king and recently professed his desire to become a reclusive ascetic. Next, in order to propitiate the Gods, he built the eastern tower of the Virupaksha Temple at Hampi, which was the main temple housing the family deity of Vijayanagara rulers.

Timmaraya continued to perform the duties of the prime minister as he had done previously for Narasa Nayaka and Vira Narasimha II. He helmed the central administration and received extremely deferential treatment from the young monarch. He was revered by the people and was popularly known by the honorific ‘Appaji’, meaning ‘respected father’.

Krishna Deva Raya came to the throne at a critical time in the history of the kingdom when its fortunes were at its lowest ebb. Two successive usurpations of the throne—akin to modern day coups d’etat—in rapid succession had lowered the prestige of the central administration and made its overall control of the kingdom somewhat tenuous. In turn, this had encouraged a series of rebellions in feudatories, vassal kingdoms and the outlying provinces, which had not been conclusively put down or even directly addressed by successive kings. The reigning kings had lacked the moral authority and/or the military power to contain these revolts that were indicative of the beginnings of the kingdom’s breakup. From the death of Deva Raya II, there had been a steady and noticeable decline in the moral and physical authority of the king that was continuing unabated even when Krishna Deva Raya assumed the throne. As one historian, writing on the status of the Vijayanagara monarchy of the time put it succinctly, ‘Of prestige it had little and of power it had less’.

Geo-political Situation 1509

Vijayanagara, as a kingdom was in dire straits by 1509—from the beginning of the year the king, Vira Narasimha II was seriously ill and while on his sickbed was plotting to install his eight-year old son as his successor of an already debilitated country. This move was in contravention of the accepted norms of dynastic succession. The fact that Narasimha himself was only the second of a dynasty that had usurped the throne, made his activities even more abhorrent to the people. The precarious situation in the succession plan was also apparent to all its neighbours, who were waiting for an opportunity to break up the Hindu kingdom.

In the north, Vijayanagara borders had already been pushed back from the River Krishna to the lower banks of the River Tungabhadra. Goa and Belgaum had already been lost to the Adil Shahi kingdom to the north, which was becoming more powerful and militarised by the day. In fact the Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda—the primary repositories of the remnants of the erstwhile Bahmani power—were pursuing aggressive politico-religious campaigns to improve their strategic situations. Both these Muslim kingdoms were eager to demonstrate their new-found power against the Hindu kingdom, assuming a continuously threatening attitude to it. In the east, the Udayagiri province had also been lost and the eastern border of the kingdom now rested at the foot of the Eastern Ghats. The Tamil feudatories to the south were all restive, seeking opportunities to rebel and continually questioning the king’s authority. The Palaigars of Ummattur, led by their indomitable chief Ganga Raja, had already risen up in revolt and captured Penekonda, a fort and township very close to the capital. Further, Ganga Raja had even laid claim to the throne of Vijayanagara itself, stating that he had a more powerful claim on it, relative to the current usurpers.

On the west coast, the Zamorin (Samoothiripad) of Calicut and the Portuguese were involved in an on-going conflict that threatened to further destabilise the entire region. It is interesting that at this time, the Portuguese were on the verge of being completely wiped out from the Peninsula and being thrown out of India altogether. A grand league was being formed by the Zamorin of Calicut and Yusuf Adil Shah of Bijapur with the Muslim powers in Egypt and Turkey to remove the Portuguese from the Arabian Sea and deny them further access to it. However, this attempt did not come to fruition, mainly because of the death of some of the major players in the group before plans could be finalised. [The course of Indian history, if this effort to create a league to keep European powers out of the Arabian Sea had been successful, would have been completely different and is worth speculating about.]

Kuli Qutb Shah, ruling in Golconda, threatened the well-being of Vijayanagara with frequent campaigns across its eastern borders. These assumed the guise of annual predatory raids into Vijayanagara territory that laid waste large swaths of land, resulting in wanton death and destruction, although only very limited territory was captured or annexed. Prataparudra Gajapati, ruling Orissa (Kalinga), observed the multitude of troubles that Vijayanagara was facing and started openly planning an invasion on its eastern flank.

A King Takes Stock

In the year 1509 the factors discussed above, by themselves and in combination, posed grave challenges to the sovereignty of the kingdom; challenges that were of such magnitude that only the genius of Krishna Deva Raya and Timmaraya working in tandem could confront and defeat them. Krishna knew that he had to act and as a prelude to decisive action carefully assessed the prevailing situation. In this task, he was ably assisted by the politically savvy and perceptive Prime Minister, Timmaraya. The two of them jointly decided that no new policies would be initiated till the security of the kingdom could be stabilised and went on to prioritise the main tasks ahead of them.

Krishna Deva Raya set his priorities to begin his rule. First, the creation of an orderly administration that was capable of containing the chaos that was rapidly spreading across the kingdom and was leading to rebellions, even in the core territory of the kingdom; second, the subjugation of the rebels within the kingdom, starting from the core and moving outwards to subdue the ones in the outlying reaches of the kingdom; and third the recovery of lost territories and possessions and thereafter to expand the borders of the kingdom through foreign conquests. The last priority was a common ambition of all medieval kings across the world, particularly noticeable amongst the Indian rulers.

Next, Krishna took stock of the resources available to him to start and sustain his campaign of stabilisation. Materially, he found that the treasury had not been depleted as he had initially feared and contained sufficient treasure. Further, from a moralistic point of view, he also had the loyal support of the feudal warrior-chiefs, the ‘Amara-Nayakas’, who though numerically limited, formed a formidable group of fighting men.

The Amara-Nayakas

Amongst the nobles who exercised power in varying degrees, was the group of military chiefs who were called ‘Nayakas’, a term that very broadly meant ‘Leaders/Commanders’. They controlled the forts and maintained within them a credible group of armed militia who were fiercely loyal to the leader. The Nayakas, along with their forces, often moved from one fort to another, normally at the behest of the king. The Nayakas usually were responsible for maintaining law and order in the area of their jurisdiction. They usually submitted to the authority of the Vijayanagara kings. However, they were not particularly disciplined and some Nayakas even rebelled against the king at opportune moments, with the king being obliged to subdue them by military action.

The word ‘Amara’ is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Samara’ meaning battle or war. Although it resembles the Persian term ‘Amir’, which means a high noble, it is highly unlikely that Amara was derived from the Persian root.

The Amara-Nayaka system was a major political innovation of the Vijayanagara Empire and borrowed a number of features from the Iqta system followed in the Delhi Sultanate. The Amara-Nayakas were military commanders who were given specified territories by the Raya, to govern, collect taxes and stabilise. The Amara-Nayakas kept a percentage of the collected revenue for their personal use and in return maintained a military force of a stipulated number of infantry, cavalry and elephants. These forces were inducted into the central military of the kingdom as and when demanded by the king, providing an effective fighting force to the Emperor, which could be assembled rapidly.

The Amara-Nayakas send annual tribute to the king and also presented themselves personally at court to demonstrate their loyalty.

The proclaimed loyalty of the Amara-Nayakas was a great boost to Krishna Deva Raya at this low ebb in his control of the kingdom. Even so, Krishna was a cautious king and did not venture out of his capital for the first 20 months of his reign. He spent the time learning the affairs of the kingdom and studying the testaments left behind for posterity by earlier kings in order to understand the foundations on which his inherited empire had been built.

It is perhaps ironical that it was the testament of Saluva Narasimha I, his father’s master, which made the greatest impression on the young king. Narasimha had clearly stated in his testament that his ambition had been to recover the lost territories of Mudgal, Raichur and Udayagiri. He testified that he felt that the loss of these forts and provinces was like three nails in the coffin of his beloved kingdom that he had usurped to save. However, since he could not recover them, he emphasised that he left it to his successors to recapture these critical areas and assimilate them with the Empire. Krishna Deva Raya made the recovery of the Doab, in which Mudgal and Raichur were located, and the Udayagiri fort and province the priority of the military campaign that he was planning to initiate. This commitment provides one of the keys to understanding the course of his eventful reign.

First Trial of Strength

The first trial of strength for Krishna Deva Raya came from the Gajapati king ruling Orissa. Pratapa Rudra Gajapati, envisaged an evolving threat from the newly installed king of Vijayanagara. He perceived that Krishna would emerge as a powerful king who would certainly want to recapture the territories that the Gajapatis had conquered and annexed to their own kingdom during the turmoil in Vijayanagara. He decided that a pre-emptive attack would be the best strategy and invaded Vijayanagara territories in the east. Krishna Deva Raya immediately send a strong force to oppose the Orissa king. The armies met in the Guntur province. In the ensuing battle the Orissa army was defeated and driven north, although the Vijayanagara territories captured earlier by the Orissa king were not recovered. However, this was the first military victory for Krishna Deva Raya. Even though he had not taken to the field personally, he assumed the title of ‘Gajapati-gajakula-pakala’, meaning a ‘veritable fever to the elephant forces of the Gajapati’.

1510 – An Eventful Year

The year 1510 was a momentous one in the history of the Deccan and South India. Events that had far-reaching consequences for the entire Peninsula and which changed the balance of power in the region took place in this year.

The Deccan Muslim Kingdoms

In the successor kingdoms to the Bahmani Sultanate, to the north of River Krishna, there was a great deal of turmoil that did not permit them to stabilise or settle down to normal rule, even by the turbulent medieval standards. Yusuf Adil Shah died in Bijapur and set in motion a sequence of political upheavals that created destabilising waves that spread across the entire region. Taking advantage of the confusion that accompanies all successions, Ameer Barid Shah of Bidar invaded Bijapur. In Ahmadnagar, Ahmad Nizam Shah died and was succeeded by his ten-year old son Burhan. Since he was a minor, it necessitated the establishment of a regency that, in turn, divided the entire court into antagonistic factions. Again, perceiving an opportunity to better his own kingdom’s position, the Imad Shah sultan of Berar set in motion a military campaign to conquer and annex Nizam Shahi territory.

Second Portuguese Embassy

The Portuguese were still only peripherally involved in the main events taking place in South India and the Deccan, but sensed the turbulence blowing in the wind. They were keen to obtain independent trading posts on the West Coast and also to take control of at least one port. However, so far they had been pushed back repeatedly by the local chiefs under the influence of the Arabs who were completely hostile to the foreigners. The Arabs continued to hold a monopoly on the external commercial activities with the Peninsula, especially the lucrative trade in war horses.

The Portuguese viceroy, Alfonso Albuquerque, came to know of a league being formed by the rulers of Calicut and Bijapur (the Zamorin and the Adila Shahi king) to expel the Portuguese from the Peninsula and to destroy their sea power. He therefore carried out a pre-emptive attack on Calicut, which was one of the leading participants of the anti-Portuguese league being formed. However, the Portuguese forces were decisively defeated and routed. Albuquerque now turned to Vijayanagara to attempt establishing a permanent presence on the West Coast. He sent a Franciscan Friar, Father/Friar Louis, as his representative to the Vijayanagara court, soliciting Krishna Deva Raya’s help against the Zamorin and the Adil Shahi king. In return, the Portuguese Viceroy promised the Raya an exclusive supply of war horses, the trade in which was the fundamental cause of the Arab-Portuguese animosity and confrontation.

Krishna Deva Raya received Fr Louis kindly. He is reported to have told the Raya that his master, the Viceroy, was under orders from the Portuguese king to assist the Hindu kings of the Peninsula to make war on the Moorish (Muslim) invaders. The Portuguese referred to all Muslims as ‘Moors’ since the first contact they had with Muslims were with the Moors from North Africa who had earlier invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Fr Louis reported that in accordance with his king’s instructions, Albuquerque was ready to assist Vijayanagara against its Muslim neighbours, as many times as was necessary.

Krishna Deva Raya while himself being politically astute, was also advised by his wise and perceptive Prime Minster Timmaraya in all matters of state, especially concerning foreign affairs. The Raya did not want to commit to open hostility with the Adil Shah, but at the same time also wanted to open an assured supply chain for obtaining war horses. He therefore adopted a stance of diplomatic negotiations to prolong the time available to him to make a decision regarding the Portuguese offer. He also had to make an assessment of the Portuguese strength, especially since they had been soundly defeated by the Zamorin of Calicut a few months back. Albuquerque’s proposal was to defeat the Zamorin first, since he considered the Calicut ruler his number one enemy, after which the Portuguese would assist Krishna Deva to overcome his Muslim adversaries. His proposal was to capture Goa, the entry-point for the Arabs trading in war-horses, and thereby intercept and disrupt the supply of horses to the Muslim kingdoms, which in turn would debilitate their armies. The Muslim armies could thereafter be easily defeated by the combined forces of Vijayanagara and the Portuguese. In return for this assistance, the Portuguese were to be given a trading post on the coast. Krishna Deva Raya had no desire to commit his country into an alliance with a foreign power and did not give any committed answer to this proposal. It is certain he was analysing the pros and cons of the proposal vis-à-vis the prevailing geo-political circumstances.

The Fight for Goa

Meanwhile, Albuquerque entered into a subsidiary alliance with a sea captain who was a vassal of Vijayanagara in order to capture Goa. He also bribed the Muslim governor of Goa to ensure that he did not oppose the invasion and also that he would provide some assistance if required. In March 1510, the Portuguese attacked and captured Goa. Ismail Adil Shah, now the ruler in Bijapur, requested Krishna Deva Raya for assistance in recapturing the territory, especially since the Portuguese were being assisted by one of Vijayanagara’s vassal sea captains.

Krishna Deva Raya however was in no mood to assist his neighbour, even though a foreign power was encroaching into the Peninsula and their intentions were unknown at that time. This could be considered a naïve reaction to an event of great importance to future developments not only in the Deccan but also for the entire sub-continent. Krishna was by now confident of the growing strength of his kingdom and had started to demonstrate early signs of the arrogant haughtiness that he would display later towards the end of his rule. He told Ismail Shah that Goa had always been Vijayanagara territory and had been forcibly annexed by the Adil Shahis earlier. Therefore, now that his ‘friends’, the Portuguese, had taken possession of the territory he would happily help them defend their conquest.

Krishna Deva Raya – The Greatest Vijayanagara King?

The annals of medieval Indian history gives very short shift to the history of the Peninsula and more so of South India. In whichever narrative Vijayanagara is mentioned or dealt with, Krishna Deva Raya is invariably proclaimed as the greatest of Vijayanagara kings. This opinion has been established as fact by the endorsement of reputed and knowledgeable historians of old, especially the ones amongst the Western scholars who have continuously dabbled in Indian history—studying, analysing and evaluating the events that transpired, through the prism of a Western-centric appreciation of the flow of events and their consequences, both long and short term.

This author is constrained to disagree with these ‘senior’ historians regarding proclaiming Krishna Deva Raya as the greatest, and therefore most important, king to have ruled Vijayanagara. It is indeed true that after his death, the kingdom gradually lapsed into terminal decline. However, a majority of factors that led to this unfortunate situation can be traced back to Krishna Deva Raya’s impetuous actions.

The fact that he could not—or deliberately did not want to—understand the implications of the Portuguese conquest, and that too with the help of one of his own vassals who acted on his own, questions the claim of his being a far-sighted monarch. The mistake is glaring since he had recourse to great advice from his Prime Minister, who had in the first instance, placed him on the throne for the betterment of the kingdom, rather than for perpetuating a dynasty. Although there is no proof that can be researched, it is highly unlikely that Saluva Timmaraya would not have realised the implications of the Portuguese capture of Goa and advised his king accordingly. It can be believed that Krishna in his haughty state decided to ignore the advice and sought to play up the Muslim threat, rather than the foreign one. This has to be considered a serious lapse of judgement from a king who has been placed on an exalted position by later day Western historians with a different concept of what was right and wrong for Indian monarchs to do. Throughout the Western narrative of Indian history, there is a discernible tendency to highlight the Hindu-Muslim confrontation, while downplaying the European interventions that started around this time.

There is, of course, no doubt that Krishna Deva Raya consolidated a failing kingdom, and equally there is no doubt that he did not lay the foundation for the continued well-being of the monarchy and the empire. This author is convinced that Krishna Deva Raya does not fully deserve the accolades that has been heaped on him by later-day historians. Declaring him the greatest within a line of kings, some of them perhaps more astute and stronger than Krishna Deva Raya, is—at the least—a questionable decision.

Realising that no assistance would be forthcoming from Vijayanagara, Ismail Adil Shah laid siege to Goa and recovered it within a month—driving Albuquerque and the rebel Vijayanagara sea captain out of the territory. Albuquerque hastily retired to Canannore and immediately started to plan the recovery of Goa. After capturing Goa, Ismail was forced to move to the interior of his kingdom to defend his north-eastern borders from the other Shahi kings who had opportunistically started to invade Bijapur territory.

Albuquerque realised that Ismail would not be able to turn around and come to the defence of Goa since he was committed to the borders towards the interior of his kingdom. He gathered his allies—most of them subordinate chiefs of Vijayanagara, mostly acting on their own inititative—and marched on Goa, recapturing it in November 1510. During this campaign, Krishna had instructed his vassal Bairarasa of Gersoppa to assist the Portuguese. The situation was now very favourable for Krishna Deva Raya.

The political circumstances started to change rapidly after the Portuguese recapture of Goa. The Hindus of Belgaum, then under the control of the Adil Shahis, rebelled and expelled the Muslim garrison controlling the region. Thereafter, they pledged alliance to Vijayanagara and became subjects of the growing empire. Next, the sea captain who had been fundamental to the Portuguese success and Bairarasa, the Chief of Gersoppa, send a message to Krishna Deva Raya that he only needed to send a small contingent of soldiers to Goa and they would hand over the territory to Vijayanagara. Once again Krishna Deva Raya did not initiate any action, instead continuing to be lured by Albuquerque to consider a broader treaty of friendship, which would benefit the foreigners more than the South Indian kingdom. The opportunity to finish the gradually growing power of the Portuguese was passed over without having been considered within a long-term strategy for the entrenchment of Vijayanagara power. Even if the Raya was pre-occupied with holding back the Muslim forces, at this time there was no other threat from any quarter. It would have been a relatively easy task to push the foreigners into the sea and deny them a foothold in the Peninsula. The chance to reshape the influences playing out, was once again lost—mainly because of the obduracy of Krishna Deva Raya. The ‘greatest king’ of Vijayanagara, Krishna Deva Raya was certainly not.

Third Portuguese Embassy 1511

Having captured Goa, Albuquerque felt that he was a in an improved bargaining position to make another attempt to win Vijayanagara friendship in more concrete terms. However, Father Louis’ Embassy had still not been given a clear answer and was continuing in diplomatic limbo in the Vijayanagara court. Therefore, it is difficult to fathom as to who initiated the negotiations afresh. It may have been Krishna Deva Raya himself who could have considered it an opportune moment to congratulate Albuquerque on his victory in Goa. Such a move was highly likely since the Raya seems to have been cultivating a soft corner for the Portuguese and also because control of the territory of Goa opened the flanks of the Vijayanagara kingdom to external aggression.

Albuquerque send Gasper Chanoca to induce Krishna Deva Raya to at least formally acknowledge Vijayanagara friendship with the Portuguese. At the same time Albuquerque was making overtures towards the Adil Shah also in a similar manner. The Portuguese viceroy had read the political situation wisely and was convinced that he needed an established kingdom’s support to ensure that Portuguese power was not snuffed out in its infancy in India. Krishna came to know of the approach to Bijapur and decided to accept the Portuguese alliance.

In pursuance of this decision, Vijayanagara send two ambassadors to Goa, the Raya having authorised them to conclude a treat of friendship with the Portuguese. They were also instructed to arrange favourable trade terms for the supply of war horses to the Vijayanagara army. In return, Vijayanagara promised to help the Portuguese, whenever they needed assistance. By activating such a treaty, Krishna Deva Raya effectively secured his flank.

The Raya was now ready to wage war to consolidate his kingdom.

© [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 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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