Indian History Part 75 The Tuluva Dynasty Section IV: Krishna Deva Raya – Deccan Campaign and an Inglorious End

Part 75

Vijayanagara stayed in a relatively peaceful state for about two years after the declaration of peace with Pratapa Rudra Gajapati of Orissa. However, true to form, Krishna Deva was restless and keen to fulfil what he considered his destiny—the recapture of the fort at Raichur and other parts of the Doab that had remained in Adil Shahi custody from 1512. Since he was bound by the peace treaty with Ismail Adil Shah that was still in force, he was constrained from taking any action. An unexpected incident provided the reason for him to break the peace and initiate military action.

Krishna Deva Raya had dispatched one Syed Mercer (also called Siddi Mercer in some accounts) to Goa with a princely sum of 40,000 pagodas (also mentioned in some texts as pardeos), a valuable coin made of gold, in order to obtain war horses for the army. Either tempted by the large amount of money in his possession or covertly induced by Ismail Adil Shah ruling Bijapur, Mercer decamped with the funds and sought refuge with the Adil Shah. The second option seems the more probable, considering the amount of money and the object of the mission, which if successful would have strengthened the Vijayanagara army considerably. Krishna Deva Raya demanded the return of Syed Mercer along with the money but Ismail was evasive on the issue. Vijayanagara declared war on Bijapur.

Vijayanagara Coinage

The standard unit of currency in Vijayanagara was the Varaha, called pagoda in English, which was a gold coin of 3.4 grams weight. It was also called the Gadyana or Pon, probably an iteration of the term Pana. Pana has over a period of time come to denote money/wealth in many South Indian languages. The term pardeo could have evolved from the term pagoda.

The currency equation went as: 1 Varaha = 2 Pratapas = 4 Katis = 8 Chinnas = 4 Haga = 2 Bele

1 Varaha was also equal to 16 silver Tara coins and 1 Tara was equal to 3 copper Jitals. The Jital was introduced to the sub-continent by Iltutmish, the third ruler of the Delhi Sultanate (ruled 1211-1236) and had a standardised weight of 175 grams. In Vijayanagara, two Jitals equated to one copper Duggani that was equal to 5 Kasu. The term Kasu also became the local South Indian term for money/currency in colloquial usage.

Sixth Adil Shahi War 1519-20

Whatever the reasons for declaring war, there is no doubt that recapture of the Doab, particularly the fort at Raichur, had by now become an obsession for Krishna Deva Raya. He was determined to attack the Adil Shahi kingdom and capture Raichur ‘once and for all’.

Siege and Capture of Raichur

Krishna Deva moved his army to the east of Raichur and a part of the army laid siege to the fort. In turn, Ismail Adil Shah marched with his army towards Raichur to provide assistance and to oppose the Vijayanagara army. He crossed the River Krishna and entrenched himself about five miles to the south of the river. A decisive battle was fought between the two armies on Saturday, 19 May 1520. Nuniz gives the date as May 1522, which has subsequently been proven to be wrong. Sewell, considered the ultimate authority on Vijayanagara history, calculated the date of the battle by fixing the dates of two grand Hindu festivals in Vijayanagara—Mahanavami and New Year Day, the first day of the month of Kartika—and their connection to the battle for Raichur through information gathered from eye-witness accounts. The date was also corroborated with Portuguese records that provide information regarding the seizure of lands around Goa by the Vijayanagara Raya. By all accounts, the date of this decisive battle can unequivocally be fixed as 19 May 1520.

The battle swung both ways for some time and could have gone in favour of either warring party. At a critical point Krishna Deva Raya holding the centre of the second line of Vijayanagara forces led them forward personally and scattered the Muslim army, pushing them back to the river bank. Ismail’s camp was overrun and he only barely managed to escape with his life in the confusion. The battle ended with a decisive victory for Vijayanagara with even Ferishta, ever the one-sided chronicler, reporting that the battle did not go in Ismail Adil Shah’s favour. Vijayanagara captured great spoils from the Adil Shahi camp.

The decisive defeat of the Adil Shahi forces in the field, sealed the fate of Raichur fort. The defenders continued to resist Vijayanagara forces for another 20 days, when a stray bullet killed the commander of the fort and the defenders surrendered. Some narratives mention that Krishna Deva was assisted by Portuguese troops in this battle. If this was indeed the case, the support would have been minimal and more a token formality than of any real help, since Portuguese records do not mention any participation in this battle.

The defeat sapped Adil Shahi strength to an extent wherein Ismail Adil Shah did not renew the contest for Raichur during his lifetime. Raichur thereafter remained under Vijayanagara control for a long period of time.

Forces Employed

Calculating from Nuniz’s account of the number of columns that marched from Vijayanagara, it can be estimated that the army consisted of 703,000 infantry; 32,600 cavalry; and 551 elephants; accompanied by ‘an infinitude of people’—camp followers, merchants etc. The Adil Shahi force has been estimated to have been 300,000 infantry, 10,000 horse and 200 elephants.

Although these numbers indicate very large armies, they were the rule rather than the exception in medieval India. Krishna Deva Raya had the resources to assemble such a large army and considering the importance he laid on the recapture of Raichur and the Doab, it is certain that he would not have spared any effort to ensure victory. Further, Vijayanagara strength at this time, as mentioned in different sources not connected to the Deccan campaign, corroborate the ability of the Raya to assemble such a force without straining his resources.

The diary of a Bundela chief in the service of the Mughal Aurangzeb, writing about Vijayanagara at the height of its power states, ‘They kept an army of 30,000 horse, a million infantry and their wealth was beyond enumeration.’

Krishna Deva Raya was once again very gracious in victory. He gave orders to his soldiers to not indulge in any looting on pain of severe punishment and returned captured properties to the rightful owners. He also permitted anyone wanting to leave the Doab region for Bijapur territory to go in peace. The Raya claimed to be the ‘ruler of men’ and did not make any distinction in his treatment of Vijayanagara citizens and the citizens of conquered regions.

Political Manifestation

The resounding victory over Bijapur brought about many political repercussions, some a natural follow-on of the triumph and some that were more nuanced and therefore unexpected. It was only natural that Krishna Deva Raya’s name was raised to the pantheon of great warrior kings and Vijayanagara Empire was considered to have reached the apex of its power and stature. It was undisputedly the most powerful kingdom in the Peninsula. This unquestioned ascendancy in the Deccan and South India induced a certain amount of arrogance into Krishna Deva Raya and made him a haughty king—the veneer of graciousness and magnanimity in victory started to become somewhat tarnished. The egotism and haughtiness was gradually put on display by the manner in which he dealt with the embassies that were send to his court by the Adil Shah as well as by the other Shahi kings.

The conclusive defeat of the Adil Shahi army also had other political repercussions. The other Shahi kings, who were continually fighting each other and mutually jealous of each other, usually waited for a rival to be humiliated by an outsider. However, the Vijayanagara victory made them realise the enormous military power of the Hindu Raya, which they now started to perceive as an all-encompassing capacity to intervene at will. This development alarmed them and increased their concern for the safety of their own kingdoms and territorial possessions. The fact that these kingdoms were in their infancy added to their discomfiture and gradually led to cooperation between the feuding Shahi kings when dealing with Vijayanagara.

Combined Shahi Embassy

As a first indication of this newfound understanding for the need to cooperate against a common adversary, the Deccan kingdoms send a group of envoys, representing all of them, to Raichur where Krishna Deva Raya was still in camp. The combined embassy informed the Raya that the Shahi kingdoms accepted that Adil Shah needed to be punished but requested that the Bijapur territories that had been annexed be returned to him. They also requested that Vijayanagara should not wage war on the Adil Shahi anymore. In return they promised to support Krishna Deva Raya in all his future ventures, as long as they were not against any of the Deccan kingdoms. The envoys also conveyed a veiled threat—if the Adil Shahi lands were not returned, the others would join hands to recover it and hand it back to Ismail.

Considering the overall state of affairs and the visible tilt in the balance of power, the message could be considered somewhat audacious. It also indicated the uneasy feelings within the Deccan kingdoms regarding the rise of Vijayanagara power. Krishna Deva Raya’s answer to this request/demand was almost pre-destined—he refused all the overtures and declared that Ismail only received the punishment that he deserved. Further, he send a reply to the other Shahi kings that they did not have to join hands with him to fight other enemies, since he was going to seek out each one of them in their own lands and defeat all of them. The Raya’s gradual increase in pride and arrogance is clearly visible in this message. Krishna Deva secured Raichur and returned to his capital to rest and recoup, moving into Nagalapur, a new suburb that had been constructed near the capital.

Bijapur Embassy

After the failure of the joint embassy, Ismail Adil Shah sent a senior court official to bargain for the return of the territory that he had lost. Krishna Deva Raya kept the envoy waiting at Nagalapur for over a month before granting him an audience. Ismail’s message was termed on equal terms—a message form one king to another—which the Raya did not like. The Adil Shah blamed Vijayanagara for breaking the peace treaty and demanded that all annexed territories and even captured material be returned to Bijapur. He added that if this was not done, the situation would become bad for the Vijayanagara kingdom. Obviously such a message was bound to anger Krishna Deva who was now at the acme of his rule, riding high as a powerful and undefeated king.

In response to the Bijapur message, Krishna Deva Raya demanded that Ismail Adil Shah pay traditional homage to him as the victor in battle and that Ismail come to the border to await his arrival there. He further went on to make extremely provocative demands of the Bijapur king—at the border, he wanted Ismail to pay obeisance by ‘kissing’ the Raya’s feet. It is obvious that Krishna Deva Raya in his arrogant haughtiness completely ignored the effect of such a demand and behaviour pattern on other Deccan kings. It cannot be believed that he was unaware of the reaction that would come from the Shahi kingdoms since he was himself an astute statesman and also because he would definitely have received advice from his senior courtiers against such behaviour. Therefore it has to be concluded that this demand was a pre-calculated attempt at extreme humiliation of the Adil Shah. Since no answer was forthcoming from Ismail, Krishna Deva Raya marched north towards the Bijapur border.

Occupation of Bijapur

The Vijayanagara army reached Mudgal and camped there, waiting for the Adil Shah to come to receive the great Raya. The confidence of Krishna Deva Raya in his power and stature is repeatedly displayed by his actions—he advances into enemy territory and then camps at a place, inviting the adversary commander to come and meet him or give battle. In this instance, Ismail Adil Shah refused to make contact in any way.

After waiting for a period of time that he considered sufficiently long for Ismail to respond, Krishna Deva Raya advanced into Adil Shahi territory and occupied Bijapur. Adil Shah still did not make contact and continued to avoid meeting Krishna Deva Raya, although he refused to offer formal submission. Krishna Deva took up residence in the palace in Bijapur. The Vijayanagara forces were not held back by the Raya during this invasion and they burned and looted the city at will, leaving only the palace standing, since their king was in residence there. In the meantime, the Adil Shahi forces breached the two water tanks that ensured supply to Bijapur, starting the process of creating a water shortage. Although Bijapur was completely destroyed, the sabotage of the water supply inevitably led to shortage, which gradually became acute. On the advice of his councillors, Krishna Deva Raya returned to his own territory.

During his occupation of Bijapur, he released three sons of a former Bahmani Sultan who were prisoners of the Adil Shah in Bijapur. He proclaimed the eldest ‘King of Deccan’. This action is considered an attempt by Krishna Deva Raya to further destabilise the Deccan and subvert the rule of the five Shahi kings. However, the attempt was not successful and only went on to increase the animosity of the Shahi kings towards Vijayanagara.

Ismail Adil Shah returned to his capital after the Vijayanagara army had withdrawn and was dismayed at the devastation that had been inflicted. He decided to seek the friendship of the Vijayanagara king.

A Conciliatory Embassy Gone Wrong

Ismail send an embassy of reconciliation to Vijayanagara led by a noble called Assud Khan. Unfortunately, internal rivalries and enmities between Bijapur nobles made the possibility of success of the embassy doubtful from the beginning. At this time, another Bijapur noble, Salabat Khan, was a prisoner in Vijayanagara. Assud Khan was a double-dealing and untrustworthy person who only looked for personal advancement, a fact that was known to Salabat Khan. In order to ensure that his real personality was not revealed to the Vijayanagara king, Assud Khan had Salabat Khan murdered and ensured that the Raya believed that he was not to be trusted.

Assud Khan then scuttled the negotiations and speedily returned to his personal estates in Bijapur, without reporting to Ismail Adil Shah and further refused to return to the capital. Obviously the embassy was a failure, since the reconciliatory nature of the message from the Adil Shah was never conveyed to Krishna Deva. In effect, Assud Khan exacerbated an already tense situation.

Seventh Adil Shahi War

Krishna Deva Raya realised Assud Khan’s treachery slightly late and even though attempts were made to capture him, Assud had made good his escape. In a fit of pique, the Raya once again invaded Adil Shahi territory. This time he did not hold his forces to good behaviour and let them wreak havoc, burning and pillaging the countryside. He sacked the township of Sagar and then advanced towards Gulbarga. Adil Shahi forces opposed the Hindu army at Kembavi and suffered a crushing defeat, being made to flee in short order. They opposed the Vijayanagara forces once again at Gobbur and once again the Muslim army was routed. Krishna Deva Raya returned to his capital after this demonstration of anger, arrogance and power of the kingdom.

Ignoble Last Days

The Gulbarga campaign was Krishna Deva Raya’s last foreign war. For a long period of time the Raya did not have a male issue to follow him to the throne. However, in 1518, his chief queen Tirumaladevi gave birth to a son who was named Tirumala Deva Maharaya. After the conclusive defeat of the Adil Shahi, Krishna Deva wanted to ensure the succession of his young son after his death. Therefore, he abdicated the throne, crowned the young prince as the Raya and he himself took on the position of Prime Minister and continued to rule the kingdom by proxy. Unfortunately, this young prince, ruling in name as king, fell ill and died after a short ‘reign’ of eight months. Krishna Deva Raya learned later that the prince had been poisoned by Timma Dandanayaka, the son of his great minister Saluva Timmaraya. This was not a confirmed fact, but a rumour that the grief stricken Krishna Deva believed. At this time the great Raya himself was not keeping good health. He arrested and imprisoned Saluva Timmaraya and his entire family. However, Timma Dandanayaka escaped after a while and fled to the province of Gooty.

Gooty was at that time ruled by two cousins of Timma Dandanayaka and with their assistance, he raised the standard of revolt against Vijayanagara. Krishna Deva Raya managed to put down the rebellion with great difficulty. Timma was defeated, captured and brought to Vijayanagara as a prisoner. Krishna Deva Raya took vengeance by blinding both father and son and while Timma died soon, the great minister Timmaraya languished in jail. There is a report that the Raya was assisted by some Portuguese officials in his court in carrying out these dastardly acts. The great service that Saluva Timmaraya had given to the kingdom over a long life of pure service was forgotten by the king in a fit of anger and belief in rumours. This single act of thoughtless viciousness marred a reign that could otherwise be considered one without any major blemishes. [It is surprising that a king as scrupulous in his dealings as Krishna Deva Ray had been for most of his rule could stoop so low purely because he wanted to ensure that his underage son could become king. To achieve this aim he flouted the tradition of a brother coming to the throne, when he himself had been the beneficiary of this customary rule. Further, his actions went completely against the injunctions that he himself had proclaimed as being necessary for a king to rule effectively and wisely. Krishna Deva’s tenets for a ‘correct’ rule are given in the next chapter that is an assessment of his reign.]

Seeing the internal troubles that was gradually encompassing Vijayanagara, Ismail Adil Shah attempted to recoup his battered kingdom. Although gravely ill by this time, Krishna Deva Raya personally led his army to meet the threat. However, perceiving that another defeat would be inflicted on his army, Ismail Adil Shah thought it prudent to retreat and no battle took place. Krishna Deva wanted to take the initiative and therefore decided to attack Belgaum, which was then in Adil Shahi possession. He asked for Portuguese assistance and started to move forward.

During these trying times, the question of succession to the throne seems to have preoccupied the great king. Though he had a son who was then 18 months old and also a minor nephew, he opted to free his step-brother, Achyuta, from the prison at Chandragiri and proclaim him the heir apparent. While moving to capture Belgaum, Krishna Deva Raya succumbed to his illness and died shortly after, in 1530. He was, according to his wishes, succeeded by Achyuta whose coronation was held the next year. Krishna was between 42 and 45 years old at this time. To put the time of his death in perspective, 1530 was the year in which Humayun had succeeded to the Mughal throne, which had been established by his father Babur four years earlier.

By a lucky coincidence, during the turbulent last years of Krishna Deva Raya’s rule, the Shahi kingdoms were also in a great deal of trouble with the in-fighting being at its height. From around 1527 there was a continuous series of conflicts, which engaged at least two of the five Shahi kings, while the others always took sides. Even though preoccupied by internal squabbles, the Qutb Shahi kingdom of Golconda was expanding its territorial hold towards the south and south-east at the expense of the Gajapati kingdom of Orissa and other minor Hindu principalities. The expansion was gradual but steady and by late-1529, Vijayanagara and Golconda shared a common border.

Thus in 1530, the great Vijayanagara Empire stood at the pinnacle of its power, the most dominant kingdom in the Peninsula, eclipsing all other kingdoms—small and large—in the Deccan and South India. Even in combination, no two kingdoms could aspire to match the might of Vijayanagara. The combined power of the five successor Shahi kingdoms could not stand up to its might. However, as events would prove, it did not take long for this political situation to change.

‘At this time, the Sovereign of Vijayanagara ruled over numberless people, and could raise an army of a million or a million and a half soldiers; so that all the neighbouring kings and princes were his vassals, thus making him master of untold wealth. There was in his army a great deal of elephantry and cavalry; for he was the owner of more than three thousand elephants and thirty or forty thousand of the best horses ever seen in this country, because they came from both Arabia and Persia.’

Anonymous contemporary author,

Quoted in Chapter 1 of Henry Heras, The Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagar, 1927.

© [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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