Indian History Part 76 Collapse of an Empire Section I: The Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi (Talikota)

Canberra, 23 November 2019

The Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi is better known in historical narratives and discussions as the Battle of Talikota, so much so that the name of the twin villages Rakshasa-Tangadi remains in relative obscurity even today.

The fact, however, remains that the battle was not fought at, or even close to, the town called Talikota, which is in Muddibihail Taluk in Bijapur district (now in Vijaypur district in Karnataka state). Much before the battle commenced, the Shahi forces had crossed the River Krishna to its south bank and Talikota is to the north of the river. The Vijayanagara ‘king’ and Regent Rama Raya had camped to the south of the Ilkal River, a tributary that joins the River Krishna from the south, near where the two rivers join.

The only two fords that could have been used for the crossing of large armies in the near vicinity of this area are near the twin villages historically called Rakshasa-Tangadi. At all other places the banks of the river are too high and the surrounding ground boggy, which would have curtailed the movement of heavy equipment such as guns, baggage and also elephants. It is certain that the battle was fought at Rakshasa-Tangadi located on the south bank of the Ilkal River, which itself flows to the south of the River Krishna. Even today two villages named Rakkasagi and Tangadagi exist on this location.

The reason for this battle being named after Talikota cannot determined. Perhaps the name ‘Talikota’ rolls off a foreign tongue easier than the twin villages Rakshasa-Tangadi and Talikota was geographically more easily identifiable to the Western historians, who were initially responsible for naming the battle

Prelude

By 1560, in Peninsular India, the Vijayanagara Regent Rama Raya had become all powerful and the Shahi kings to the north of the Empire and the Tamils to the south were almost vassals, although the Shahi kingdoms had not been formally proclaimed as vassals and remained independent. At this stage the Nizam Shah and Qutb Shah entered into a marital alliance through perpetuating mutual marriages, which alarmed Ali Adil Shah ruling in Bijapur and was sceptical about the ulterior motives of such an alliance. Accordingly, he send an embassy to Vijayanagara requesting Rama Raya for help. Further he initiated actions to create a confederacy with Vijayanagara and Ali Barid of Bidar.

Rama Raya immediately send an army under his brother Venkatadri to invade the southern provinces of the Qutb Shahi kingdom. He himself joined the Adil Shah in his march to Kalyani, which was then under siege by the Nizam and Qutb Shahi rulers. This force was joined on the way by Barid and Imad Shahi forces. Venkatadri laid waste the countryside that he was passing through and there are also reports of atrocities being committed on the general population. On the approach of the combined forces of Bijapur and Vijayanagara, along with the Barid and Imad Shahi armies, Nizam Shah and Qutb Shah considered it prudent to raise the siege of Kalyani and return to their respective capitals.

The Qutb Shahi forces returning to Golconda were harassed throughout their journey by Vijayanagara forces. However, it was Hussein Nizam Shah who was the focus of Rama Raya’s ire. Hussein Nizam Shah fled to Ahmadnagar, closely pursued by Vijayanagara forces led by Rama Raya who laid siege to the capital. While the siege was in progress, the surrounding countryside was laid waste. It is reported that the Vijayanagara forces committed many atrocities on the local population, so much so that even Ali Adil Shah was scandalised by the actions of the invading forces. [This is a biased report by the Muslim chroniclers who uniformly considered the desecration of Hindu temples by Muslim forces to be sanctioned by God, whereas, similar or even lesser actions by Hindu forces were reported as scandalising and also affecting the sensibilities of the Muslim kings. Unfortunately, these have been the reports that are relied upon for the recounting of Indian history, and over centuries of repetition by Western-oriented historians, they have been given the status of being unblemished truth. This situation needs to be rectified.] It can be asserted that the behaviour of the Vijayanagara forces were similar to any other contemporary army and not extraordinarily ruthless as has been claimed.

At the approach of the Monsoons, some part of Rama Raya’s camp was washed away by the flooding of the River Sena. On the advice of his commanders, Rama Raya commenced his return march and established an interim camp at Hutgi. From here, the Vijayanagara forces plundered the Telangana region. Few reports suggest that they also raided some territories of their ally, the Adil Shah of Bijapur. Ali Adil Shah was forced to cede Yadagiri and Bagalkot in order to make Rama Raya decide to return to Vijayanagara. However, Rama Raya was in no hurry to return to his capital and on his southward march entered Telangana proper and made camp at Tarpulli, a mere 32 miles distance from Golconda, the capital of the Qutb Shahi kingdom.

At Tarpulli, Rama Raya devised detailed plans for the invasion and annexation of the Qutb Shahi kingdom. As a prelude he captured many forts and plundered the area around Golconda with impunity. Ali Barid, a nominal ally of Vijayanagara, intervened on behalf of Qutb Shah to broker peace. Rama Raya reluctantly agreed to stop the invasion and returned to Vijayanagara after six months of campaigning, retaining the forts at Pangal and Gunpura.

By 1563, Rama Raya was approaching his 70th birthday and was at the height of his power. However unknown to him, a time was fast approaching when his exceptional and astute diplomatic finesse, great and calculated military strategy and unquestionable personal valour would not be sufficient to ensure either the safety and stability of the Empire or his own personal well-being.

The Shahi League

After Rama Raya had returned to Vijayanagara, the Shahi kings made a pragmatic assessment of their individual situations and capabilities. It did not take them long, both individually and collectively, to realise that the primary cause of their repeated defeats was the mutual jealousies that each one of them cultivated for the others. These jealousies always led to internecine wars and the failure to assist each other in times of extreme danger, leading to the dissipation of their strength and capability to defend their kingdoms. Further, in the past decade or so, Rama Raya had pillaged the territories of each of the Shahi kingdoms, and Vijayanagara had allied itself with whichever Shahi king that it found to be of immediate use to further its own cause. Therefore, Vijayanagara had no permanent friends amongst the Shahi kingdoms, while each one of them harboured some antagonism towards Rama Raya for some actual or imagined slight that had been dealt out to them. The latest incident in this series was both Ali Adil Shah and Ibrahim Qutb Shah having to cede territory to Vijayanagara in order to stop marauding their kingdoms.

There is a pervasive school of thought that Rama Raya’s haughtiness in dealing with his northern neighbours was the fundamental reason for the Shahi rulers coming together to oppose him. This school believes that the humiliation that Rama Raya heaped on the Shahi kingdoms—treating their representatives with contempt; never permitting them to sit in presence; making them walk along while he himself rode horseback—was the only reason for them to come together. This analysis is only partially true and is based only on the Shahi chronicles. There were other more serious considerations in play within the Shahi kingdoms that have not been analysed. The major reason for the coming together of the Shahi confederacy was their realisation of the unassailable power that had accrued to Vijayanagara over a little more than a decade.

Vijayanagara had become the arbiters of the in-house bickering of the Shahis, they had also become the ‘king makers’ since the faction supported by Rama Raya always emerged victorious. No Shahi king could consider winning a war if he was in opposition to the great, but de facto, Raya. The rather easy victories against his northern neighbours no doubt made Rama Raya consider himself invincible. The self-confidence, bordering on over-confidence, in turn made Rama Raya treat all Muslims with a level of contempt that seeped into his daily life, making him an arrogant commander. This, slightly dark, side was in full view during his return from the siege of Ahmadnagar when he treated the entire string of Shahi rulers with the utmost disdain. The combination of the power of Vijayanagara and the somewhat casual manner in which Rama Raya treated them made the Shahis bury their differences and give way to their common desire to bring the Hindu king down a notch. They felt that Vijayanagara power had to be at least diminished, if not destroyed, and Rama Raya had to be taught a lesson in courtesy. The final objective was to ensure that Vijayanagara would not be left with the wherewithal to intervene effectively in the Shahi kingdoms and their domestic issues. Essentially, the end-state was to be a ‘reduced’ Vijayanagara.

The idea of creating a confederacy or league against Vijayanagara appealed to all the Shahi kings. The move was initiated by Ali Adil Shah, who was the most conspicuous and regular recipient of Vijayanagara assistance. A few sources mention that the concept was originated by Hussein Nizam Shah with the assistance of the Qutb Shah, although this information cannot be verified independently and is most likely incorrect. There is no doubt that there was an underlying agreement within the three major Shahi kingdoms that their inherent disunion gave Rama Raya an advantage in dealing with them independently.

Ali Adil Shah took the counsel of his senior courtiers who were unanimously in agreement with the perception that only unified action would humble Vijayanagara and its de facto Raya. Vijayanagara was far too rich and possessed the largest and best army seen so far in the Peninsula and no individual Deccan Shahi king could even hope to content with it on the battlefield with even the slightest chance of success. Accordingly, Ali Adil Shah send an emissary to Ibrahim Qutb Shah in Golconda with the proposal of joining hands against Vijayanagara. The Qutb Shah, smarting under insults, humiliation and the loss of territory, eagerly embraced the proposal.

The two kings now had to address the major obstacle to the formation of a full-fledged league—the hereditary enmity between Bijapur and Ahmadnagar. Ibrahim Qutb Shah took on the role of a conciliatory intermediary. He send his trusted Prime Minister, Mustapha Khan, to Bijapur with instructions to first assess Ali Adil Shah’s sincerity to the formation of the league and if it was confirmed, to proceed to Ahmadnagar. [The distrust between the Shahi kings is so readily apparent in this one action.] Mustapha Khan found Ali Adil Shah to be earnest in his desire to curb Vijayanagara power and proceeded to Ahmadnagar. In order to ensure that old enmities would not arise and break asunder the emerging league, the canny Golconda Prime Minster proposed the two families entering into a marital alliance. This move was meant to effect a political rapprochement between the two warring kingdoms.

Mustapha Khan explained to Hussein Nizam Shah how the unified Muslim power under the Bahmani sultans had counter-balanced Vijayanagara power. This unified power had now been fragmented by the Shahi kings because of which all of them were suffering under the superior power of Vijayanagara. It was Mustapha Khan who first gave a religious twist to the emerging league bent on effecting political vendetta against a common adversary. According to reliable records, it was Mustapha Khan who emphasised that the Hindus had desecrated and defiled Muslim places of worship during their frequent invasions of the Shahi kingdoms. This was the first confirmed instance of an attempt to inject a religious divide into the politics of the Peninsula and thereafter to leverage it for politico-military purposes. So far religion had not played any part in the political alignments of the region—alliances and friendships were made for selfish reasons with an outwardly acceptance of altruistic principles and religion was conspicuously absent in political and military calculations. In the event, Hussein Nizam Shah agreed to the persuasive arguments, although it is unclear whether the acceptance of the need to humble Vijayanagara was based on pure political calculations or whether religious fervour came into play in swaying the Nizam Shah.

Marital Alliances

In order to seal the formation of the league, Hussein Nizam Shah agreed to give his daughter Chand Bibi in marriage to Ali Adil Shah with Sholapur being transferred to Bijapur as dowry. (Chand Bibi went on to play a stalwart role in the history of both the kingdoms; narrated in detail in From Indus to Independence Volume VI: Medieval Deccan Kingdoms). In return, Ali Adil Shah’s sister, Hudea Sultana, was given in marriage to Hussein’s eldest son Shahzada Murtaza, later Murtaza Nizam Shah (ruled 1565-87).

At the end of the celebrations connected to the marriages, political treaties were drawn up, solemn promises made, and oaths taken, to cooperate against Rama Raya in what, all the Shahi kings realised, would be a war that was definite to be a turning point in the history of all their kingdoms. Ibrahim Qutb Shah and Ali Barid also joined the league by signing the pact. The Shahi kings started preparation for what had rapidly become perceived by all of them as a ‘holy war’ (jihad) against the ‘infidel’ (kafir). It was decided that all the armies would congregate at Sholapur and then march together towards Vijayanagara to confront Rama Raya.

While the Shahi alliance was being forged, Ali Adil Shah was in principle still tied in an alliance with Vijayanagara and Rama Raya. In order to formally break this alliance he send an emissary to Vijayanagara demanding the return of Yadagiri, Bagalkot, Raichur and Mudgal, all of which had been ceded to Vijayanagara over a period of time. The obvious refusal from Rama Raya was reason enough for Ali Adil Shah to declare his alliance neutralised. Hindu sources claim that all the five Shahi kings were in alliance against Vijayanagara, however, Muslim historians leave the Imad Shah of Berar out of the league. The Berar forces did not take part in the actual battle and therefore, the Imad Shah not being part of the alliance should be taken as being correct. It is also evident now that Ali Adil Shah played a distinct double game—professing friendship to Vijayanagara till the last minute while conspiring with the Shahi kings to defeat the Hindu king in battle.

Rama Raya Reacts

Rama Raya was aware of the strategic manoeuvrings of the Shahis and alliances that were being formed against him. He was astute enough to realise that a decisive trial of strength was about to begin. During the Hindu festival of Dussehra—on ‘Vijayadasami’ day, 15th September 1564—he informed his nobles of the inevitability of the impending war. He started to prepare his army for the great struggle that was about to engulf the kingdom, but remained fully confident of victory. He did not consider the alliance against him to be a serious threat and retained utmost confidence in the Vijayanagara army’s ability to sweep aside any opposition. He continued with his haughty demeanour and disgraced the Shahi ambassadors in his court before expelling them.

The expelling of the ambassadors provided the Shahi kings with the excuse that they wanted to declare war on Vijayanagara and for the first time all Shahi kingdoms, other than Berar, were in a state of war with their southern Hindu neighbour. They started mobilising forces and congregating on Sholapur. Rama Raya was a strategist of renown and he immediately send large forces under the command of his two brothers to secure all the possible venues for crossing the river on the southern banks (right side banks as the river flows) of the River Krishna. Then he ordered all his vassals to collect at the capital with all possible resources that they could muster. From the east, south and west soldiers and commanders came pouring into the capital. [These actions of Rama Raya indicate that contrary to the belief today, as indicated in some of the later-day narratives, he did not take the threat lightly even though he maintained a haughty external appearance. Subsequent actions also demonstrate that he was fully aware that the fate of his kingdom, and also those of the Shahi kingdoms, would be decided on the outcome of this one monumental battle. This was to be a victor take all encounter and Rama Raya was determined to, and confident of, winning it.]

‘There were all classes and castes; the Bedas and Kurubas, and Vokkaligas from Karnatak, the Kapus, the Kammas, and the Velamas from the Telugu country, the Kallars, the Maravas and the Vellalas from the Tamil land, all were gathered under their respective leaders. The wealth of sixty ports, and the revenue of many flourishing cities and districts were spent in arming and equipping them.’

M. H. Rama Sharma,

The History of Vijayanagar Empire, Volume I, p. 218.

Rama Raya, now 70 years old, personally took command of the main force consisting of 100,000 cavalry and 300,000 infantry with associated support equipment such as cannons, and moved to the frontier.

Shahi War Council

By 26th December 1564, the Shahi forces had come together from their respective kingdoms on the plains of Sholapur. Having gathered, they moved together to a place called Talikota in Bijapur territory a few kilometres north of the northern bank of the River Krishna. Since the base camp was established at Talikota, the battle has been named after that township in most narratives. Talikota, an insignificant village on the Bijapur plains, thus passed into history; destined to be famous, or infamous depending on the viewpoint of the researcher/reader, in the annals of the history of South India.

When they moved to the banks of the River Krishna, the Shahi army realised that all known ferries and fords had already been occupied by Vijayanagara forces, who had also constructed field fortifications with embedded cannons at the only place that was safe for a large army to cross the river. A cat and mouse game started to take place, while the Shahi kings withdrew for a council of war in their base camp at Talikota. In this council it was decided that the crossing would be undertaken at the original place that had been selected earlier. In order to throw the Vijayanagara forces off guard, for three days the Shahi forces made false moves up and down the opposite coast, pretending to go away from the suitable crossing spot. Watching this charade, the Vijayanagara forces started to relax their vigilance and even move away from their fortifications, leaving the crossing point unguarded. They thought that the enemy was scouting for an alternative place to cross and mirrored the Shahi forces’ movement on the south bank in order to be able to repel any attempt to cross the river.

Vijayanagara suffered from a lack of intelligence and had not carried out a thorough reconnaissance of the area. Therefore they were unaware that there was only one possible place to cross the river with a big army and that they could easily defend the crossing point, which had already been fortified. On the third night, the Shahi army struck camp, advanced rapidly to the river crossing point, captured the ford and crossed the River Krishna, almost unopposed. Immediately after the crossing, they marched forward 12 miles and camped at the banks of the Hukkery River. The Vijayanagara forces were taken by surprise, as was Rama Raya himself. However, the Raya was not dismayed by this minor reversal of fortunes.

Only after they crossed the river and regrouped did the Shahi kings, for the first time, realise the strength and might of the Vijayanagara army. They started to have doubts about their ability to defeat this great army arrayed before them. They made overtures for peace, promising the restitution of the districts that they had captured during their march south to the Vijayanagara frontier. Rama Raya, still as haughty as ever, refused to even consider a peaceful resolution and moved forward to give battle, fully confident of his victory.

The Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi

In some narratives, the date of the battle is given as 26th January, but most accounts agree with 23rd January as the actual date on which the battle took place.

The Order of Battle

The battle was fought in an east to west direction, with the Vijayanagara forces facing west.

Vijayanagara

On the southern flank, facing the Qutb Shahi element of the Muslim army, was the army under Venkatadri consisting of 200,000 infantry, 25,000 cavalry and 500 elephants. In the centre, under the direct command of Rama Raya and facing the Nizam Shahi army was the core of the Vijayanagara army, made up of 500,000 infantry, 1000 elephants and 15,000 auxiliaries.  On the northern flank, opposing Ali Adil Shah’s forces under the command of Tirumala was an army of 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry and 500 elephants.

The front of the entire army was covered by more than 1000 cannons.

The Shahi League

The combined strength of the Muslim armies assembled in January 1565 was 50,000 cavalry and 300,000 infantry. The Nizam Shahi army also possessed 600 cannons of different calibre, commanded by Rumi Khan, a distinguished veteran of European wars from the Asia Minor. He had the cannons placed in front of the army in three lines of 200 each—the heaviest being at the back, the smaller calibre ones in front of them and the first line consisting of swivel guns. Rumi Khan placed 2000 archers in front of the cannons.

Rama Raya was so sure of victory that before the battle he told his army commanders to take Ali Adil Shah and Ibrahim Qutb Shah as prisoners and to bring him the head of Hussein Nizam Shah.

The Fateful Day – 23rd January 1565

Early on 23rd January 1565, both the armies drew up in full strength and prepared for battle. In the late morning Rama Raya mounted a seat on a dais that had been specially erected for him, not heeding the advice or remonstrations of his senior commanders who wanted him on horseback which would have been much safer. Rama Raya held the Muslim forces and their commanders in great disdain and did not think they would be able to threaten him. Events would prove him wrong.

Early Moves. The battle erupted with Vijayanagara artillery firing a vast flight of rockets and then their cannons, although this does not seem to have disheartened or discouraged the Muslim army. From the Shahi side, Rumi Khan the artillery commander, kept up heavy shooting from the archers in front of the cannons, but had them gradually fall back on the advance of Vijayanagara forces.  When the Vijayanagara forces reached close to the cannons, he opened heavy fire and they were forced to fall back in confusion.

Attack on the Flanks. Rama Raya now descended from his high perch on the dais and sat on a throne under a canopy of crimson velvet, embroidered with gold. A large amount of treasure—money, ornaments, jewels and gold—was kept beside him to confer as gifts instantly on soldiers who had distinguished themselves in battle. With the active encouragement of their Regent, the Vijayanagara forces renewed their charge. Some reports mention that the renewed vigour of the attack was enthused by Rama Raya’s instant gifts of wealth, which may indeed be partially true. The result was that both the flanks of the Shahi forces started to fall back and the Qutb Shahi and Adil Shahi forces, manning the flanks prepared to retreat, believing the battle to have been lost.

The Centre Holds. Hussein Nizam Shah and his forces holding the centre remained firm and unyielding. Rumi Khan, being an experienced and battle-hardened commander, waited for the Vijayanagara forces to come close to the artillery positions and then opened a withering and devastating fire. It is estimated that 5000 soldiers died instantly and fell close to the muzzles of the guns. The Vijayanagara charge was not only stopped, but effectively repulsed. They were forced to retreat in order to recoup. This single action changed the course of a battle that the Hindu army was gradually winning.

Bold Action. While the Vijayanagara forces were moving back to recoup from the cannonade, an intrepid Bijapur commander, Kishwar Khan Lahiri, led a force of about 5000 cavalry from behind the cannons, charging through the gaps and pursuing the retreating soldiers, thereby denying them an opportunity to recoup and reform for a further attack. The pursuing forces reached the centre of Rama Raya’s formation. It should have been easy for the Vijayanagara forces now to surround the enemy cavalry forces and overwhelm them, but like in most cases of audacious offensive action, this did not happen. Instead, the core of Rama Raya’s bodyguards was thrown into confusion. Seeing the danger to his well-being increasing rapidly, Rama Raya started to mount his elevated seat. However, fate intervened. A maddened elephant charged into the bodyguards at this very instance and they and the Raya’s bearers scattered, leaving the septuagenarian on the ground, alone and unguarded.

Opportune Defections?

It is stated in some reports that at the height of confusion during the battle, when Kishwar Khan Lahri was penetrating the core of Vijayanagara forces, two Muslim generals in service with Rama Raya defected with their troops to the Shahi forces. Ferishta and the other Muslim chronicler Ali ibn Aziz does not mention these defections. It is first reported by C. Fredrick (Caesaro Federici), an Italian traveller who passed through Vijayanagara in 1566-67, who heard about and collected eye-witness accounts of the battle from the local population. He also mentions that the defection of the Muslim generals was based on religion.

The same facts are reported by Anquetil du Perron who likewise records that, ‘…the king, abandoned during the battle by two Muhammadan chiefs, perished’. This treason does not find any mention in Sewell’s authoritative history, almost certainly because it is completely based on Muslim sources. However, the defections have been recorded by C. H. Krishnamacharlu in an article published in the 1880s titled, The Origin, Growth and Decline of the Vijayanagara Empire.

The identity of the two Muslim generals, whose defection to the Shahi forces at a critical moment in the battle was a major factor in the defeat of the Vijayanagara army, is unknown and at best speculative.

Rama Raya’s Death. The elephant tried to seize Rama Raya from the ground, but he managed to escape and was in the process of mounting a horse, when he was captured by Nizam Shahi forces in the vicinity and immediately produced before Rumi Khan. Rumi Khan realised the import of what had transpired and post-haste took Rama Raya to Hussein Nizam Shah. Different versions of the events that transpired immediately on Rama Raya being produced in front of Nizam Shah are available. One version states that he was treated with kindness and was seated on a chair with the Nizam Shah talking to him cordially when a senior courtier prompted Hussein to kill him immediately, which was done. Another version states that as soon as he was brought in front of him, Hussein cut off his head. Both the version accept that if either Ali Adil Shah or Ibrahim Qutb Shah were personally present at that time, Rama Raya would not have been beheaded. In the event, Rama Raya was personally beheaded by Hussein Nizam Shah, his head placed at the tip of a long spear and displayed to the entire fighting armies. Thus was the news of the death of the valiant but old Raya made public.

From Victory to Defeat. The Vijayanagara forces saw their de facto king’s head held aloft on a spear and fled the battlefield in panic and confusion. There was no secondary commander of sufficient seniority in the centre element of the Vijayanagara forces to rally the forces. At the flanks they were on the brink of a historic victory. Rama Raya had been so confident of his own capabilities as a warrior and commander as well as the ability of his forces to achieve victory that he had neglected to both ensure a succession plan in case of his own incapacitation and to guarantee his own personal safety. This fundamental flaw in his plans turned certain victory into a defeat and rout of one the largest armies that had been assembled in medieval South India.

The Slaughter. The Hindu army now turned tail and fled towards their capital in the most disorderly manner. It is estimated that the Muslim army put to death in excess of 100,000 Vijayanagara forces, both commanders and soldiers, immediately. The killings were of such magnitude that the river ran red for the next few days with the blood that was spilled. Venkatadri was initially reported as killed in battle while Tirumala, always the more cautious of the three brothers, escaped the battlefield with the loss of an eye. The advance guard of the army of the Shahi League pursued the fleeing Vijayanagara forces towards the capital.

The Plunder. The rest of the Muslim army settled down to collect and distribute the plunder from the battlefield, which is reported to have been so great that it took them ten days to do so. The treasure on the battlefield was so enormous that every soldier was permitted to retain whatever he acquired/captured on the field and then take whatever else he could personally carry away with him. Even then treasure was left on the battlefield, open for further plunder by anyone.

The Aftermath

Tirumala rapidly withdrew to Vijayanagara, without permitting the Shahi vanguard to make contact with his rear echelon. The confusion of the withdrawal was so great that neither Tirumala nor any other senior commander made even a token attempt to throw up new and defensive positions around the hills surrounding the capital or at least man the walls and defend the obvious approaches to the city. The Shahi vanguard reached Anegondi after three days and halted for lack of instructions from the main body, which was still at the battlefield, far behind.

This respite was a golden opportunity presented to Tirumala to rally his forces in order to avenge the killing of his illustrious brother and prove the name of his city from which the title of the great Empire itself had been derived—Vijayanagara, the City of Victory. On hindsight, it would seem that had concerted action been taken to create a defensive rear-guard action, the Empire would have withstood the oncoming onslaught of the Shahi army and survived. It is even conceivable that since only the vanguard had reached the city borders, they could have been driven back and the Shahi league would have been content with the defeat of Vijayanagara and the killing of its de facto king. However, these are mere speculations and consigned to the ‘what if’ category of historical narrative. The fact remains that no such action was even contemplated by Tirumala, the one person who could have taken action to avoid the impending catastrophe.

Tirumala was at heart a coward and, being left to his own devices, this fateful flaw in his character came to the fore, laying the foundation for the destruction of the once great Empire built on victory. Tirumala made no attempt to organise the defence of the capital, which was well fortified and at that time had a large number of forces retreating through it who could have been brought together to offer resistance. Moreover, time was on his side, with even the vanguard of the Muslim army halted outside the outer perimeter of the capital. Tirumala however, opted to leave the confused army to its fate and abandoned the citizens of the greatest medieval capital of South India to their fate.

Tirumala collected the nominal emperor Sadasiva Deva from his captive palace, gathered all the treasure he could lay his hands on, assembled all living royal personages in the city along with the royal insignia and flag of the country, and fled to the safety of the impregnable fort at Penukonda. This one action sealed the fate of Vijayanagara—both the Empire and the capital. The wealth he carried away is conservatively estimated to have been the equivalent of 100,000,000 sterling in those days and took 550 elephants to cart away to Penukonda. Tirumala’s precipitate and cowardly actions triggered panic in the otherwise sanguine capital, which was not yet fully aware of the resounding defeat and the extreme consequences facing them.

Tirumala’s thoughtless actions set in motion an exodus. Citizens and fleeing soldiers alike followed his example and started an evacuation of the city with wealth laden caravans, competing with each other to move out at the earliest. In turn, the exodus triggered a hopeless anarchy with the capital gradually falling to the control of the worst elements of society—mentioned in chronicles as Lambarees and Binjarees, who were the criminal elements at the fringes of society. Days and nights of looting followed before the main body of the Shahi army reached the capital, nearly 14 days after the battle. (There is a difference in the timeframe mentioned in different narratives for the arrival of the main Muslim army, but the estimate of 14 days can be taken as being approximately correct.)

© [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)

2 Responses to “Indian History Part 76 Collapse of an Empire Section I: The Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi (Talikota)”

  1. can I have Dr Sanu’s email id pls

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