Indian History Part 75 Te Tuluva Dynasty Section VI: Diminishing Stature

Sydney, 7 October 2019

Krishna Deva Raya personally endorsed the appointment of Achyuta, his step brother, as the heir apparent. Krishna Deva had incarcerated Achyuta in Chandragiri when he ascended the throne to ensure that there would be no contest for the throne. Even though Achyuta was his step-brother, later events proved his selection to be the next king to have been a singularly unfortunate choice. Till the time Achyuta arrived in Vijayanagara, the kingdom was administered by Saluva Naika and on his arrival at the capital he was immediately anointed king. Achyuta Deva Raya appointed his son Venkatadri as the crown prince at the beginning of his rule.

Achyuta Deva Raya

Although Krishna Deva had selected Achyuta as his successor, two of his sons-in-law, Rama Raya and Tirumala, married to two daughters from different queens, did not accept Achyuta’s elevation as king.  Even after Achyuta Deva had been installed as king despite their strenuous opposition, they continued to disrupt the functioning of the royal court. This situation brought about some amount of confusion in the affairs of the kingdom. The precarious circumstance was further exacerbated by the character of Achyuta. It has been reported by Nuniz that his behaviour tended to alienated even friends and that he was violently despotic, although a coward in his personal dealings. In the final analysis, bolstered by hindsight, it can be said with a great deal of assurance that Achyuta Deva single-handedly ruined any chance that was left for Hinduism to flourish in South India. His ill-conceived policies and initiatives opened the Empire to invaders, a fact that is demonstrated in the following sequence of events.

Seventh Adil Shahi War 1530

Ismail Adil Shah was still smarting under the multiple defeats he had suffered and was waiting for an opportunity to even the score. He seized on the internal dissentions in Vijayanagara and decided to take advantage of the situation. Immediately prior to contemplating this action, Ismail had defeated Amir Barid and captured Bidar, reducing Barid to vassal status. He was also encouraged by the fact that a number of minor chieftains within the Vijayanagara Empire were in revolt—some against and some in support the king, the supporters fighting Rama Raya and what was perceived as his attempt to usurp the throne.

Ismail Adil Shah moved south with a large army and laid siege to Mudgal and Raichur. Both the forts offered stiff resistance for about three months. However, when no assistance was forthcoming from Vijayanagara, they were forced to surrender. Buoyed by this easy victory and the inaction of Vijayanagara, the Adil Shah advanced towards the capital itself and arrived at the newly created suburb of Nagalapura. It is reported that he razed the suburb to the ground, although details of this action are scanty and there is also no confirmation that the suburb was destroyed.

Although his ministers and military commanders had advised the king to take decisive action against the invaders, Achyuta Deva did not offer battle. Instead he decided to sue for peace, a decision that seems to have been made on his own. For the first time in its history, Vijayanagara was forced to buy peace from an invading army. Achyuta Deva Raya paid heavily for peace—1000,000 gold pagodas and ceding the city and fort of Raichur to Ismail Adil Shah. Even after considerable research it has not been possible to ascertain with any certainty, whether or not there were any extraneous constraining conditions that made Achyuta Deva sue for a peace—especially considering the large, well-equipped and battle-tested army at his disposal. The background for the decision of Achyuta, the ill-favoured Raya, continues to be a conundrum for historical analysts and researchers.

After this unusual victory, the Shahi kingdoms of the Peninsula once again lapsed into their incessant in-fighting ways, leaving their southern Hindu neighbour to its own devises without any interference.

South Indian Expedition 1532 – 33

Achyuta Deva was obviously discomfited by the outcome of the Adil Shahi invasion of his kingdom and the push back that he received from his nobles and commanders as a result of his decision. Perhaps to make amends and regain some stature, he decided to mount a military expedition into South India. The immediate cause was the events that had transpired in the Deep South. Sellappa, the Vijayanagara viceroy of Chola territories, had rebelled. However, he had been defeated by the Pandya chief and had been forced to flee to Travancore, seeking protection of the king there. From the base that he established in Travancore and with the assistance of Travancore forces, Sellappa drove the Pandya chief out of ancestral Pandyan territory. In dire straits, the Pandya chief appealed to the Vijayanagara Raya for help. Seeing an opportunity to redeem his sagging reputation, Achyuta agreed to help and decided to embark on an extensive South Indian expedition.

Achyuta Deva marched with a large army to Srirangam and camped there, with the rest of the extensive campaign being conducted by a trusted military commander. The king never actually took to the battlefield, unlike his illustrious predecessor and step-brother, who always insisted on leading the army personally from the centre. The campaign, which was by all standards extensive, was a great success. The Travancore king was defeated, Sellappa was forced to surrender and the traditional possessions of the Pandya chief were restored to him. At the culmination of the expedition, Achyuta Deva returned to his capital, passing through Srirangpatana.

Raichur Expedition 1534

Ismail Adil Shah died in 1534, throwing the Bijapur court into complete turmoil. The powerful noble Assud Khan, who had been responsible for scuttling Ismail’s attempts at diplomatic peace negotiations with Vijayanagara, left Bijapur and retired to his private holdings at Belgaum. From there he made overtures of friendship with the Portuguese and also opened a dialogue with Achyuta Deva to arrive at a mutually agreeable alliance. It is obvious that he harboured kingly ambitions and considered the circumstances conducive to an attempt at usurping the throne.

Achyuta Deva, on the other hand, wanted to take advantage of the internal divisions in Bijapur and invited Assud Khan to visit Vijayanagara. When Assud arrived in the capital, Achyuta presented him with the towns of Tungi and Turgul (now in Belgaum district). Bolstered by the presence of Assud Khan as an ally, Achyuta marched to capture Raichur and the Doab. By now the succession struggle in Bijapur had seen Ismail’s son Mallu come to the throne, only to be overthrown by his brother Ibrahim after six months. Although newly installed on the throne, Ibrahim Adil Shah gave battle to the Vijayanagara forces. However, the Adil Shahi forces were defeated and, in a rare display of battlefield initiative, Achyuta Deva chased them to the banks of the River Krishna and recaptured Raichur.

At this juncture, the fickle nature of alliances in medieval times was once again demonstrated by Assud Khan deserting his new-found Hindu ally and once again joining his Bijapur king. Ibrahim however does not seem to have had much faith and trust in his noble and opted to seek peace with Vijayanagara. In the agreement that was subsequently arrived at, Achyuta was given Mudgal and Raichur reverted to Adil Shahi control.

Qutb Shahi Attack on Kondavidu 1536

The temporary respite from the constant conflict with Bijapur did not bring lasting peace to Vijayanagara. Quli Qutb Shah, in the vigorous process of establishing a new kingdom and dynasty, was continuing his campaign to expand his territorial holdings in Telangana. He had already captured Nalgonda and put the chief, Harishchandra, to death. This annexation had brought the Qutb Shahi kingdom to share a common border with Vijayanagara. Looking for an excuse to further expand his boundaries into Vijayanagara territories, Quli Qutb Shah declared that he was owed a tribute from the Vijayanagara commander of the Kondavidu fort, which he declared was in arrears. Accordingly, he attacked and captured Kondavidu after a fierce battle. There was no response from Achyuta Deva Raya to the loss of one of his crucial frontier forts. It is believed that had reinforcements been send to the Kondavidu commander, the fort would not have fallen. This inaction demonstrated the lackadaisical approach that Achyuta Raya adopted in the acquittal of his primary responsibility of safeguarding the kingdom.

End of Achyuta Deva’s Rule

Since the capture of Kondavidu was not contested, Quli Qutb Shah planned to venture further. Fortunately for Vijayanagara, the Shahi kingdoms went into their periodic internecine conflicts that, in turn, made Qutb Shah move to protect his other frontier and so provided a respite to Achyuta and his kingdom. However, Vijayanagara was also in domestic turmoil. The rival faction in the royal court had not reconciled and continued to harbour anti-Achyuta feelings, fostering in-fighting which was gradually becoming more intense.

Rama Raya had started to persecute all who had opposed his earlier claim to the throne, even managing to treacherously kill some of them. He was also assiduously placing nobles who were loyal to him in critical positions of power, thereby managing to build a network of surreptitious support. Achyuta Deva in the meanwhile was completely under the influence of his brothers-in-law. These two nobles have been mentioned as the ‘Tirumala brothers’ in some accounts and the elder brother named as Salakam Timma Raju. (Since Rama Raya’s younger brother was also named Tirumala, this narrative will use the name Salakam Timma Raju to refer to Achyuta’s brothers-in-law in order to avoid confusion in the narrative.) Achyuta Deva was either ignorant of, or opted to ignore, Rama Raya’s moves. He also turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by Salakam Timma and his brother. These two had started to unjustly execute important people at random to enforce their control over the administration and also to tax the people at extortionist rates. The situation had become untenable and there was a great deal of discontent in the general populace.

At the same time, the stature of the position of ‘Raya’ was being diminished by the constant insults that the Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi kings heaped on Achyuta, which was met with silence by him. This state of affairs dragged on till Achyuta Deva’s death in 1542. He was succeeded to the throne by his son Venkata Deva Raya I.

Nuniz left a scathing assessment of Achyuta Deva’s character in his account of his visit to Vijayanagara, stating, ‘The King Chytarao, after he ascended the throne, gave himself over to vice and tyranny. He is a man of very little honesty and, on account of this, the people and the captains are much discontented with his evil life and inclinations; for he has never done anything except those things that are desired by his two brothers-in-law who are men very evilly disposed and great Jews.’

As quoted in Robert Sewell, A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar, p. 166.

(Even Krishna Sastri states that Nuniz’s description is not far from the truth.)

Venkata Deva Raya I

Succession Disputes

Achyuta Deva left his young son Venkata in the care of Ranga another of his brothers. Ranga almost immediately imprisoned the young prince and laid claim to the throne. Rama Raya who had continually opposed Achyuta’s right to rule, now supported this imposter. On the other hand Salakam Timma Raju and his brother supported Venkata Deva who was their sister’s son and so their nephew. A number of senior nobles supported Salakam and demanded the release of Venkata and his installation on the throne. However, this was not accepted by Achyuta’s brother Ranga, who now held power at the capital.

Some of the nobles could not reconcile to this stand-off and returned to their estates, with a few of them even declaring independence from Vijayanagara control. At this juncture, Varadamba the Queen Mother intervened and send a request to Ibrahim Adil Shah for assistance in getting her son installed as the rightful king. In return, she promised the Adil Shah great wealth. In a span of just 12 years after the death of Krishna Deva Raya, the once vast and powerful Empire had fallen into almost destitute conditions with the Muslim neighbour being requested to intervene in determining the succession, a completely domestic issue.

Even if not anything else, Ibrahim Adil Shah was ambitious and full of avarice, and considered the request from the Queen Mother a God-send opportunity to advance his own stature and the prosperity of his kingdom. He marched to Vijayanagara, ostensibly to place Venkata on the throne, but in actuality to annex the kingdom to his own holdings. The nobles who had raised the flag of revolt, as well as Rama Raya, quickly grasped the criticality of the emerging situation and the extreme danger facing the kingdom. They put aside their differences and rallied to inflict a decisive defeat on the Adil Shahi army. Thus beaten, Ibrahim retreated to his own kingdom. There are some unconfirmed reports that he was also paid a huge sum of money to return to Bijapur, although this seems a bit far-fetched considering the array of the Vijayanagar nobles that opposed him and the existing power of the Vijayanagara army. However, it must also be accepted that since no detailed description of the battle that is supposed to have taken place is available in the chronicles, and considering that the Adil Shah did retreat, his having been bought off to return to Bijapur may not be such a far-fetched idea after all. Ibrahim’s retreat without a significant battle remains an enigma in the annals of the Vijayanagara-Bijapur altercations.

Venkata Deva Released

Even though there was opposition to his increasing influence in the royal court, Rama Raya was definitely in control of the administration. At this juncture there was a rebellion in Malabar and Rama Ray personally led an expedition to quell it. He left a trustworthy slave, who had been elevated in status, in charge of the treasury as his representative. However, lured by the wealth in his control, the slave conspired with Timma Raju and his brother during Rama Raya’s absence and seized the treasury. They also released Venkata Deva from captivity. Having effectively put down the Malabar revolt, Rama Raya hurried back to Vijayanagara.

On hearing that Rama Raya was returning to the capital, Timma Raju panicked and initiated some drastic measures to continue holding on to power. To start with he killed the slave who had assisted him in capturing the treasury. Thereafter he send an ambassador to Ibrahim Adil Shah requesting his help to fight Rama Raya and promising him 300,000 ‘varahas’, gold coins, per day for his effort. The Adil Shah immediately marched to Vijayanagara, where Timma Raju received him with great pomp and ceremony, even making him sit on the throne of the great Vijayanagara Empire. The political situation in the Hindu kingdom had altered completely by the time Rama Raya reached back after his successful military expedition.

When he reached the capital, Rama Raya realised that many nobles and military officers were sympathetic to Venkata Deva, supporting his claim to the throne and therefore held back from initiating any precipitate action. If anything, Rama Raya was an astute statesman. He wrote to Timma Raju, promising his loyalty to the young king and the current administration placing only one condition to his loyalty—that Ibrahim Adil Shah must be made to return to Bijapur. He explained in his letter the damage that would be done to the Hindu religion, dharma, the people and its temples by permitting Muslims to interfere in the internal affairs of the kingdom at the highest levels of the administration. He also elaborated on the evil consequences that would befall the kingdom if such Muslim intrusion was allowed to continue unabated. Taking heed, Timma Raju paid an enormous amount of money to Ibrahim Adil Shah and persuaded him to return to Bijapur, fulfilling the conditions demanded by Rama Raya.

Then events spiralled out of control. Timma Raju’s ambition got the better of his sane judgement and he had Venkata Deva strangled; then murdered all remaining brothers and nephews of Achyuta Deva and even had some nobles loyal to the royal house blinded to ensure their non-effectiveness. Appalled at this atrocious behaviour, a large group of nobles appealed to Rama Raya to help put an end to the cruel travesty of governance that was being unleashed.

Rama Raya Takes Over

Now that he had the support of a majority of the nobles and also some amount of authenticity to his claim to be the Regent, Rama Raya marched to Vijayanagara. Timma Raju’s younger brother led an army to the outskirts of the capital and opposed Rama Raya’s march. However, the army switched allegiance to Rama Raya with Timma’s brother being taken prisoner and subsequently executed. Krishna Deva Raya’s surviving queens had the palace gates opened to welcome Rama Raya, who was also their son-in-law. In the meantime Timma Raju is reported to have fully lost his already addled mind. He wanted to cause maximum damage to the Empire. It has been chronicled that he had the war-elephants blinded and the tails of the horses cut in order to make these animals useless as war assets. It is also mentioned that Timma Raju crushed precious stones that had been in the royal treasury for ages in order to economically weaken the kingdom. Thereafter, when he got the news that Rama Raya was entering the palace, he committed suicide.

Rama Raya entered the palace in triumph. However, the years of uncertainty had taught Rama Raya that he would not be readily accepted as the Raya by all sections of the nobles and the people. He was astute enough to realise that stability for the kingdom could only be achieved by his staying away from the throne. He therefore behaved as a statesman. Accordingly, he raised Sadasiva, the infant son of Achyuta’s brother Ranga, to the throne as Sadasiva Deva Raya. Rama Raya himself assumed the position of ‘Regent’, and became the de facto ruler of the once great Vijayanagara Empire. His intention was to once again regain the lost glory of the Empire and he set about doing so.

© [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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