Indian History Part 75 The Tuluva Dynasty Section III: Krishna Deva Raya – On the War Path

Amsterdam, 18 August 2019

Krishna Deva Raya ensured that the chances of external interference in Vijayanagara affairs were minimised through initially undertaking minor military actions and forming alliances. Then he prepared for war that would result in an extensive military campaign. He left Timmaraya, his trusted Prime Minister at the capital, in charge of the administration of the kingdom and embarked on what could only be termed one of the most ambitious military campaigns conducted by any king of Vijayanagara. The primary aim of the campaign was the consolidation of territorial holdings so that the sovereignty of the kingdom was once again made sacrosanct and inviolate.

The Conquest of Ummatur 1512

Krishna moved out of the capital with an army consisting of 50,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry and 1000 elephants. His first objective was the defeat of the Palaigars of Ummatur who had in the previous four years or so captured forts, such as Penukonda and territories close to the capital. The Palaigar chief had at one stage been insolent enough to even claim the imperial throne itself. In an earlier encounter, the Palaigar chief had beaten back Vira Narasimha II who had attempted to bring the rebels to heel.

On the approach of the Vijayanagara forces, Malla Raja, the Ganga Palaigar chief swiftly retired to his stronghold of Sivanasamudram, with his extended family and most of the Palaigar treasure. This fort was protected by a large army and solid fortifications, considered impregnable. At this juncture Krishna Deva Raya was joined by the Chief of Seringaptana, who had an old enmity with the Palaigar chief and took the opportunity to even the score. The fort was besieged, the siege becoming long-drawn, especially since the rebels fought back bravely and at times with desperate courage. However, Krishna Deva was a relentless military commander and took the fort by storm after having its strength gradually whittled down. While Sivanasamudram was being reduced, another section of the Vijayanagara army captured Ummattur, the capital of Malla Raja. Krishna then went on to subdue the surrounding provinces of Coorg and Malabar as well as some other parts of South India.

Malla Raja was captured and deposed. He is reported to have drowned while attempting to escape across the River Kavery on his own. A loyal noble of Vijayanagara, Kame Gowda, was installed as the Chikka Raya or Prince, a title that Malla Raja and his predecessors had traditionally held.

South Indian Expedition 1512

After subduing the Palaigar Ganga rebels of Ummattur, Krishna Deva Raya retired to his capital to oversee the administration of the kingdom for some time. He placed an army of a ‘hundred thousand’ under the command of a capable general, Vijayappa Nayaka, and tasked him with consolidating the southern parts of the kingdom. Vijayappa was already stationed at Mysore and now moved to Vellore. There the chiefs of Chittoor and Tondamandala accepted Vijayanagara sovereignty and agreed to pay tribute, without offering battle or even token resistance. Thereafter, the chiefs of the Chola, Pandya and Chera territories also accepted vassal status, acknowledging Vijayanagara supremacy and confirming their loyalty by paying tribute. Vijayappa divided the newly acquired territories into three parts, creating a new province of Gingi, which was placed under Krishnappa Nayaka, and placing the other two under capable imperial officers. With this reorganisation, the entire South India came under the aegis of Vijayanagara imperial power. Many reports support the claim that this region generated revenue in excess of ‘three crores’ for the exchequer. The consolidation of the southern parts of the kingdom, the control of which had become somewhat frayed in the past five or six decades of uncertainty, was easily achieved with the king only peripherally involved in the initial stages of the campaign.

Fifth Adil Shahi War 1512-13

While Krishna Deva was concentrating on consolidating his hold over Vijayanagara, the successor kingdoms to the failed Bahmani enterprise were actively involved in plots and counterplots against each other and also against the Hindu kingdom to their south. However, they were not able to curtail the growing power of Vijayanagara. The Adil Shah ruling Bijapur was completely preoccupied in ensuring the sanctity of his borders with the other Shahi kingdoms and protecting his newly acquired independent status. Perceiving a window of opportunity to enhance his own territorial holdings, Krishna Deva Raya assembled an army and proceeded to the border with the Bijapur kingdom.

The Raya stopped at Shivaganga to worship at the temple of Gangadeswara and distribute some gifts as thanksgiving for the recent military successes of the kingdom. Then he continued to march north, capturing Mudgal and Advani. The Vijayanagara army camped outside Raichur fort, not particularly besieging it. However, Ismail Adil Shah was totally engaged in shoring up his own northern and eastern borders and had no spare capacity to provide any assistance to Raichur. Seeing no relief from the on-coming Vijayanagara siege, Raichur surrendered.

Rejuvenation of the Bahmani Dynasty

There are unconfirmed reports of Krishna Deva Raya attempting to reinstall the old Bahmani dynasty to power. It seems that the last Bahmani sultan Muhammad Shah Bahmani, had been imprisoned by a noble, Kamal Khan, who had acted as the regent during Ismail Adil Shah’s minority after the death of his father Yusuf Adil Shah. Krishna Deva defeated Kamal Khan, set Muhammad Shah free, and placed him on the throne. It is entirely possible that this was done not because of any affinity for Muhammad Shah, but in order to sow the seeds for further rift and dissention within the successor kingdoms of the Deccan.

If this report is true, it was indeed a strategic victory. The likelihood of such an episode having taken place is high, since it is reliably learned Krishna Deva Raya assumed the title of ‘Yavana-Rajya-Sthapanacharya’, roughly translatable to mean the ‘establisher of the Yavana Kingdom’. ‘Yavana’ in this case indicates foreigners in a generic manner and is meant to describe the Muslim nobles and chiefs of the Deccan who were actually from, or claimed to be from, Persia and other Central Asian countries. [The division, both mental and in physical appearance, between local kings and those who originated outside the sub-continent starts to become more intrusive and noticeable from around the 13th century.]

Krishna Deva Raya now changed direction and marched north-eastwards towards the Golconda frontier.

First Qutb Shahi War 1512

There were two reasons for Krishna Deva Raya to change the direction of his northward advance. Kuli Qutb Shah had recently declared independence, setting up the Golconda Kingdom and had started to expand his territory. He had captured Rajakonda and Devarakonda and reduced the minor palaces and destroyed a large number of temples in the region. The Qutb Shahi was rapidly expanding to the south. Therefore, the first reason for Krishna Deva Raya to move to oppose the Golconda expansion was that the Qutb Shahi forces were now at the Vijayanagara borders and needed to be stopped. The second reason was perhaps more altruistic and could even have been invented on hind sight by later-day historians. It is reported that Krishna Deva Raya was unhappy with the Muslim army ravaging the Hindu population of the captured territories and of the destruction of temples. The Muslim armies were committing great atrocities in the captured territories where the population was predominantly Hindu. The Vijayanagara Raya felt that these two reasons were sufficient to declare war on the Qutb Shahis.

Krishna Deva Raya, leading an army of 30,000 cavalry and 300,000 infantry started the campaign by capturing some of the Qutb Shahi border lands. [There seems to have been some ratio maintained between the infantry and cavalry of an Indian army in a contextual manner, perhaps to support the tactics that were being implemented on the battlefield.] The Qutb Shahi king also moved to oppose the Vijayanagara army and marched towards the banks of the River Krishna. He was reinforced by army contingents from Bijapur and Ahmadnagar. Here again the gradual coming together of the Muslim armies to oppose the Hindu behemoth to their south can be witnessed. The Muslim army also contained some Rajput auxiliaries and was very large.

Battle of the Krishna. Observing that the Muslim army had grown in size and capacity, Vijayanagara launched an audacious attack on the opposing army, led by the Kamma Chief and valiant commander, Pemmasani Ramalinga Naidu. He made an attack on the centre of the enemy camp and created absolute havoc and confusion, making the enemy elephants stampede, which created panic in the Muslim army. At an opportune moment in the confusion, Krishna Deva himself attacked in full strength, which resulted in the complete rout of the Qutb Shahi army and their allies.

Battle of Pangal. Buoyed by this relatively easy success, Vijayanagara detachments crossed the river and captured and occupied the forts of Pangal and Ganpura, while the main Vijayanagara army remained on the south bank of River Krishna. The Qutb Shahi king rallied his forces and besieged Pangal. Since the river was in spate, Krishna Deva could not send any assistance to the forts on the north bank. After two months of desperate and valiant resistance, the Pangal garrison surrendered. The Raya’s instinct was to cross the river to relive the forts, however he was restrained by sagacious advice from senior commanders who explained the futility and danger of attempting to cross River Krishna with a sizeable force while it was in flood.

The Gajapati Campaign

Having settled the conflict with the Qutb Shahi kingdom to his satisfaction and continuing to hold some territories in the north bank of River Krishna, Krishna Deva Raya turned his attention to settling old scores with the Gajapati king ruling Orissa. After the death of Deva Raya II, during the period when Vijayanagara had been beset with instability with internal coups and changing of ruling dynasties, the Gajapati king had occupied the eastern coastal territories of Vijayanagara. Saluva Narasimha had managed to recapture some parts, but after his death they had reverted to Gajapati control. At this time, the Orissa king controlled the forts and territories of Udayagiri, Kondavidu, Kondapalli and Rajahmundry.

Capture of Udayagiri 1513-14

The fortress of Udayagiri stands on a spur of the Eastern Ghats, about 60 miles north-west of Nellore. The fort was strategically positioned to command the province named after it and was considered impregnable since there was only one approach to it, which was itself through a very narrow passage. Udayagiri had been a stronghold of Vijayanagara for over a century before it was captured by the Gajapati kings. Further, it sat on the open eastern flank of Vijayanagara, making the kingdom strategically unsafe, since it was possible to launch a surprise attack into the vital areas of Vijayanagara from this province.

In 1513, Udayagiri fort was under the command of the Gajapati king Pratapa Rudra’s own uncle, an accomplished general. The only route to the fort also was secured by a number of well-defended forts, a number of them under the command of Gajapati relatives, who were unquestionably loyal to the royal house of Orissa. Krishna Deva Raya realised the complexity of the situation and also the fact that the Muslim threat from the north had not been fully neutralised. Therefore, he decided to employ a flexible strategy to recapture Udayagiri. Vijayanagara laid siege to the fort. Although the siege was earnestly and strictly enforced, it stretched to almost a year. In the meantime, Pratapa Rudra attempted to relieve the besieged fort, but his relief column was defeated and driven back to Kondavidu, from where they had mounted the effort.

Krishna Deva now changed his strategy. He had roads built by breaking what was considered indestructible boulders and decided to take the fort by storm. Some parts of the army did not think that storming the fort was a particularly sound tactic, considering the formidable reputation of impregnability of the fort itself. The story goes that one day during the preparatory phase, Krishna Deva Raya swore that he would neither eat nor bathe till the fort was taken. This oath is supposed to have reinvigorated the Vijayanagara forces and converted the part of the army that considered the success of storming the fort doubtful to believers in Vijayanagara victory. The force made an all-out charge and the fort was successfully stormed.

There is a mention in some records that an aunt of the Gajapati king was taken prisoner in the fort and that she was treated with the utmost respect and courtesy, although she was removed to Vijayanagara. Krishna Deva then went on to capture Kadukur and reached the fort of Kondavidu, suppressing all opposition on the way. He appointed officers to command and control the recaptured territories and himself withdrew to his capital, ordering the army to continue the campaign. It is obvious that even after these signal victories, Krishna Deva Raya was uncomfortable being away from the capital Vijayanagara for extended periods of time. On returning to the capital he initiated the construction of a great temple and installed an idol of Sri Krishna—brought back from the successful campaign at Udayagiri—as the deity in it. The building of the temple and events leading up to it was commemorated in a long inscription in the temple that could be seen and read even in late 19th century.

Siege of Kondavidu 1515

The army continued its advance, moving forward to Kondavidu. During this advance, the Vijayanagara army captured many minor forts, the Orissa forces in these forts making continual retreat till they collectively took refuge in the major fort at Kondavidu. By this time the Prime Minister Timmaraya had arrived to take command of the army. He tightened the siege of Kondavidu. Pratapa Rudra decided to break the siege and restore the status of Orissa forces as well as reinforce his own control over the captured territories. He moved to relieve Kondavidu with an army estimated to have consisted of 500,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry and 1300 elephants.

Krishna Deva Raya had by this time ensured that the capital and core territories of the kingdom remained stable and rejoined his army at Kondavidu. He left the forces that were involved in the siege to continue their efforts and taking a contingent of the spare forces, moved about four leagues (approximately 14 miles) away to the southern bank of a small river.

Battle of Meduru. Having established his camp, he asked Pratapa Rudra to cross the river and give battle. The story elaborates that Krishna Deva Raya asked the Gajapati to cross the river, promising that no action would be initiated while the Orissa army was undertaking the river crossing. He is also supposed to have made an offer to cross the river with his troops, provided Pratapa Rudra would also give the same assurance of not molesting Vijayanagara forces during the crossing. In this instance, Pratapa Rudra did not deign it fit to give any answer to the proposal and therefore it was taken as a refusal. Krishna Deva then crossed the river at great risk and attacked the Orissa forces at a place called Meduru. Pratapa Rudra was defeated in the battle and forced to retreat, without being able to provide any assistance to the besieged fort.

Even though reinforcements did not reach the fort, Kondavidu continued to hold out against the besieging army. It is reported that there were many nobles and a queen of the Gajapati and his son in the fort at this time. This may have been the reason for the ferocious push back from the fort against the Vijayanagara forces. After being starved for nearly three months, the fort was stormed and captured on 23 June 1515, with the nobles and the queen being taken captive. The fort was then placed under the command of Nandindla Gopa, a nephew of Timmaraya, although another report states that Timmaraya’s brother Kondayya was left in charge. The actual name and relationship to Timmaraya of the person left in charge of the fort is not consequential to this narrative. What is to be noted is that newly captured areas were being left under the charge of Timmaraya’s relatives, which indicates the implicit trust that the Raya placed on his prime minister and his extended family. This is in stark contrast to the manner in which he treated Timmaraya at a later stage.

Capture of Kondapalli 1516

Once again, as was his custom, Krishna Deva Raya retired to his capital after Kondavidu was captured, ordering his army to continue the northward march into Gajapati territory. The army crossed River Krishna and easily reached another Gajapati stronghold, Kondapalli, and laid siege to the fort. The same sequence of events as happened in the siege of Kondavidu was repeated here also. Pratapa Rudra attempted to relieve the siege of Kondapalli with a huge army; he was intercepted by Vijayanagara forces, personally led by Krishna Deva Raya himself, who had now returned to the battlefield; the Gajapati army was defeated and was unable to provide any assistance to the besieged fort; Kondapalli was starved into submission after two months of siege; it was reported that yet another queen and prince were among the captives.

The recapture of Kondavidu and Kondapalli forts after taking back Udayagiri clearly brings to the notice of the historian the fact that Krishna Deva Raya was definitely a military genius, but more importantly, he was inherently restless by nature. No sooner was one battle successfully completed, he was ready to throw his forces into the next and on being advised by his senior commanders to be more cautious, the Raya would retire to his capital, after ordering the army to march forward. Further, as soon as the army encountered a noticeable opposition to its advance, he would come hurrying back to face the challenge himself. Therefore, it is not surprising that Krishna Deva Raya realised that although Vijayanagara was being victorious in all the battles that were fought, no political solution or treaty of peace had yet been arrived at between the warring nations. The might of the Gajapati had not yet been diminished in spite of repeated battlefield defeats and therefore Vijayanagara continued to be vulnerable. Krishna Deva Raya now fashioned a strategy to achieve political ascendancy.

The Two-pronged Campaign Strategy

Krishna Deva Raya decided to carry out an envelope strategy, which would force the Orissa king to divide his forces and attention in two areas, while each half of the divided Vijayanagara army was capable of containing the entire Gajapati forces. One part of the Vijayanagara army was send north along the Coromandal coast under command of a powerful general, while Krishna Deva personally commanded the second half, marching across the Ghats to Telangana. This strategy was based on two pragmatic reasons. First, eastern Telangana was ruled by the Gajapati king and any defeat of Orissa would be incomplete without the capture of its Telangana territories. Second, Krishna Deva Raya wanted to ensure that his forces were not subject to a flanking attack by the Muslim allies of Pratapa Rudra, since part of the Telangana region was ruled by Shitab Khan (also mentioned as Chitab Khan and in some Hindu reports referred to as Sitapati), initially from Khammam and later Warangal.

Krishna Deva knew that Shitab Khan had to be subdued to ensure that no threat emanated from the north-western interior. Accordingly he moved against the Muslim chief and dislodged him from his fortress and also annexed a number of subsidiary forts. The great Vijayanagara army moved on and was attacked by Shitab Khan in the Ghats, which was easily repulsed. The army emerged on the East Coast and reached Pottanuru. Here the great Raya constructed a ‘Vijayastambha’, Pillar of Victory, and waited for Pratapa Rudra to give battle. There was no forthcoming activity from the Orissa king and as usual Krishna Deva Raya returned to his capital.

The other part of the army was also moving forward in a victorious march. It had moved along the coast conquering Vengi, situated between the Rivers Krishna and Godavari; then destroyed and burned the Jammi valley; reduced Kona, the Godavari delta; captured Rajahmundry; and then joined the main army at Simhachalam, a famous Vaishnava centre of pilgrimage.

Arriving at a Truce

The Vijayanagara army, huge in size by any estimate, camped at Simhachalam for a year. Krishna Deva, restless as ever, came back from the capital and once again took charge of the army. He advanced further, now into completely unknown territory in Orissa and conquered more lands. Impetuous as always, he was inclined to advance further north, but was dissuaded by Timmaraya from moving into unknown and complex Gajapati terrain. Even though the advance of the army was temporarily halted, Krishna Deva Raya was insistent on subjugating Pratapa Rudra. Accordingly a stratagem was devised to achieve this objective.

The Story of two Stratagems

There are two stories regarding the stratagem that was employed to force the Gajapati to sue for peace and bring him to the negotiating table.

The first story goes: Timmaraya challenged a Gajapati prince to a fencing conquest against a common soldier of the Vijayanagara army. It is reported that the prince felt so humiliated by this affront of being challenged by a common soldier that he committed suicide. Since one of his queen’s had been in long-term captivity and a prince had committed suicide, Pratapa Rudra lost the will to fight at the untimely death of the prince and sued for peace.

The second story is: the Gajapati kingdom had sixteen important nobles or lords who were the foundation of the kingdom’s power and strength of the king. These lords had titles that ended in the term ‘patra’, such as Durgapatra, Bhimapatra, Mahapatra etc. These lords were considered invincible in battle. Since Timmaraya was unable to stop his king, Krishna Deva Raya, from preparing to attack the Gajapati capital at Cuttack, he sowed dissention amongst the Patra lords. He tricked Pratapa Rudra into believing that the Patra nobles had been bribed into deserting him. Believing that he was in an untenable position, the Gajapati king sued for peace.

The second explanation is the more believable of the two, although no conclusive proof can be ascertained regarding the veracity of the story.

A peace treaty was signed in 1518, according to which Pratapa Rudra’s daughter was married to the Vijayanagara Raya. Krishna Deva Raya was gracious and even magnanimous in victory. All territories north of the River Krishna that had been conquered by Vijayanagara were returned to Pratapa Rudra and River Krishna was mutually accepted as the border between the two kingdoms, now bound together by a matrimonial alliance.

The march of the Vijayanagara royal army against the Gajapati kingdom had lasted nearly six years and was a complete and resounding success for Krishna Deva Raya by all accounts. The young Raya had proven himself to be a capable ruler and an even greater general. He was now ready to turn his attention to his northern Muslim neighbours, who were also going through certain amount of political turmoil. The once elaborate Bahmani Sultanate had been balkanised into five petty kingdoms who were intensely jealous of each other, leading to infighting and conflicts. However, there was an unfortunate development after the decisive victory over the Gajapati king; Krishna Deva Raya started to shed his humble and socially correct visage and became more authoritative bordering on the haughty and arrogant. This alteration in character was to become even more pronounced as he went on to achieve military victory in consecutive campaigns.

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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)

One Response to “Indian History Part 75 The Tuluva Dynasty Section III: Krishna Deva Raya – On the War Path”

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