Indian History Part 77 The Aravidu Rule Section I: Aravidu Rule is Formalised

Canberra 14 December 2014

Even before the Shahi kings departed from Vijayanagara, steeped in their own dissentions and confusion, a power struggle for control had started to crystallise in the defeated kingdom with the son of Rama Raya, Timma, questioning his uncle Tirumala’s claim to becoming the Regent. By the time the departing Shahis had reached Raichur, the succession struggle in Vijayanagara had peaked. Timma controlled Anegundi and the surrounding areas of the destroyed capital while Tirumala was already established at Penukonda, holding the nominal king Sadasiva Deva captive. He was also in possession of most of the royal treasure, which obviously was a great advantage.

At this critical juncture in the history of Vijayanagara there took place an event that demonstrated the perpetual craving for power in the hearts of lesser men who could never overcome this base character trait even for the betterment of the broader community, state or country. Timma asked the Adil Shah in Bijapur for assistance in becoming the Regent. [Even after a great deal of analysis, one is forced to admit that this attitude and the thirst for power of the ‘de facto’ prince cannot be understood. Timma was willing to become a vassal to the very Muslim king who had only recently devastated his kingdom’s capital and been party to the unceremonious killing of his own father. More importantly, Ali Adil Shah had proven to be a king of dubious stature and loyalty to friends.] Ali Adil Shah immediately set out for Anegundi with a sizeable army, thereby breaking the accord that had been sealed with the other two Shahi kings, less than a month back, which stipulated that no Shahi king would invade Vijayanagara without consultation with and agreement of the other two.

Seeing the actions of the Ali Adil Shah, the Bijapur king, Tirumala approached the Nizam Shah, the traditional and hereditary adversary of the Adil Shahi dynasty, for assistance. Hussein Nizam Shah, who had played the lead role in the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi and the subsequent sacking of Vijayanagara, had died immediately on returning to his kingdom. He was succeeded by his 12-year old son with the affairs of state being managed by his widow Humayun Sultana as the Regent. The dowager-regent immediately invaded Bijapur from the north, forcing Adil Shah to withdraw from Anegundi. Subsequent skirmishes between the Adil Shahi and Nizam Shahi forces kept them busy for a while.

Tirumala Consolidates Power 1566-69

The Shahi kingdoms continued to be preoccupied by their internecine wars, which provided Tirumala the required respite to consolidate power. While the Adil and Nizam Shahis were squabbling between themselves, Ibrahim Qutb Shah also got involved in a conflict of his own. He had been fighting for control of the Rajahmundry region prior to being distracted by the formation of the anti-Vijayanagara Confederacy in 1564. Now with that battle won, the Qutb Shah felt free enough to pursue his territorial expansion plans that had been kept on hold. He went back to invading the Rajahmundry region. The minor chieftains ruling the region, offered stiff resistance to the Qutb Shahi forces. Gradually the full resources of Golconda had to be diverted towards this struggle.

Being involved in keeping the Nizam Shahi forces at bay, Ali Adil Shah withdrew support from Timma. Thereafter Timma receded into obscurity, with no resources to raise an army, no popular support for his cause and no alliance to speak of to pursue his claim. With all three major Shahi kingdoms preoccupied with their own minor conflicts, Tirumala became the dedicated regent of Vijayanagara and steadily moved on to become the undisputed dictator. The re-emergence of Vijayanagara as a power in peninsular geo-politics is indicated by the following incident. Murtaza Nizam Shah, the minor king at Ahmadnagar formed an alliance with Ibrahim Qutb Shah and invited Tirumala to join the alliance, primarily aimed at defeating the Bijapur Adil Shah. However, even before he could join the alliance, the dowager-regent in Ahmadnagar, Khunzah Humayun Sultana demanded that Vijayanagara pay tribute to the Nizam Shah. Obviously, this was not acceptable to Tirumala and the alliance was still-born, breaking up without achieving anything even before it was fully formed.

During the early part of his regency, Tirumala paid formal obeisance to Sadasiva Deva as the king. There are a number of grants that prove this, where it is inscribed that the grants were being made by Tirumala on the orders of the king Sadasiva Deva Raya. However, Tirumala was an ambitious man. As his control over the state machinery increased and became all encompassing, he was not satisfied by being the ‘virtual’ king, but wanted to be enthroned and anointed as king.

Sadasiva Deva was initially held prisoner in Penukonda, the new capital. Perhaps, Tirumala felt that the imprisoned king’s presence in the capital was a factor that could undermine his absolute authority. Therefore, he had Sadasiva shifted to Chandragiri, further south and possibly placed him under the supervision of Venkatadri. Several grants given after the king was shifted to Chandragiri are given out only in Tirumala’s name and there is no mention of the king in any of them. These grants and plates confirm Tirumala as the sole ruler of the kingdom, even though he was still only the Regent.

In 1568, Sadasiva Deva Raya is reported to have made a tour of South India, receiving homage from many of the feudatory chiefs of the region. A Krishnapuram Plate states that at the banks of the River Kavery, he made a grant of a village, ostensibly at the request of the Regent Tirumala. The Plate also states that he was surrounded by feudatory chiefs and ambassadors of other countries. The picture that is painted is completely contrary to the current mainstream narrative that Sadasiva Deva was a captive who was imprisoned and not seen by the people. It is certain that he was permitted to travel and display the outward trappings of a monarch, as long as he kept within the rigid control that Tirumala imposed. The information from the above Plate is dated three years after the debacle of the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi.

Sadasiva was by now 25 years old and although a captive, was the king of the Empire. It was obvious to Tirumala that Sadasiva would start to assert his independence sometime soon and would not want to be a puppet anymore. On the other hand Tirumala was far too ambitious to hand over power peacefully to the young king who had come of age. Since Sadasiva stood in the way of Tirumala achieving his lifelong ambition to be the king, he decided to ‘get rid’ of the young sovereign. Accordingly around 1568-69, Tirumala’s son Venkata murdered Sadasiva Deva Raya on his father’s orders, bringing Tuluva rule to a formal close. This act of murder converted the virtual or de facto Aravidu rule of the previous decade into a visible fact.

Thus was created the fourth and last dynasty to rule the great Vijayanagara Empire, although it could be claimed to have existed in a subsidiary form from about 1560 or so, at the zenith of Rama Raya’s regency and the imprisonment of Sadasiva Deva. Throughout his life, Sadasiva, the unfortunate Raya, ruled only in name as an open captive.

Tirumala Deva Raya II

The dynasty founded by Tirumala was called Aravidu because the family originated from the Telugu village called Aravidu in the Kurnool district and had a long association with the village. By the time he came to the throne, Tirumala had long experience as an administrator and had also been a successful general in the Vijayanagara army. The first mention of Tirumala in the records is in 1545, when he is mentioned as having married a daughter of Krishna Deva Raya. In 1566, immediately after the great defeat of the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi, Tirumala raised himself to the position of ‘Mahamandaleswara’, a traditional title used by the ancient Chalukya rulers, assuming the role of the primary Regent and controlling administrator—the de facto ruler of Vijayanagara.

After the murder of Sadasiva Deva, Tirumala declared himself ‘Rajadhiraja’, the King of Kings. He had four queens and four sons from one of them, Vengalamba. The eldest of these four, Raghunath, had died earlier and therefore Sri Ranga, the second son was proclaimed the Yuvaraja, heir apparent. Soon after claiming the throne, Tirumala set out to establish himself and secure his hold over the ‘left-over’ and truncated part of the once extensive Vijayanagara Empire. Tirumala must have been in his late 70s at this time, fairly aged for a medieval king. There is one report that mentions Tirumala as being 90 years old when he came to the throne, which cannot be substantiated and is incorrect.

There are reports from Muslim chroniclers of the time that the entire country was in rebellion when Tirumala assumed the throne. These reports have to be discounted as obvious exaggerations; the fact remains that Tirumala ruled most of the territories. The truth is that petty chiefs of the forts and smaller provinces to the north of the erstwhile Empire were in a state of rebellion, being instigated by the Muslim rulers to the north of the kingdom. The South remained loyal to the new Regent, Tirumala.

Even though the kingdom was by and large reconciled to Tirumala becoming the king, there were some nobles who were discontented and raised minor revolts. There is also a possibility that some parts of the kingdom were bordering on lawlessness. As an antidote to this vexed situation, Tirumala adopted the age-old strategy of hyping his own pedigree, to establish his right to rule. Through propaganda and inscriptions, it was gradually made known that the Aravidu family was connected to the great Chalukya dynasty of old and in one instance even to the great Cholas. Engraved on temple walls and through other means of propagation the Aravidu pedigree that gave them the right to rule was proclaimed. The nobles seem to have been reticent in accepting Tirumala as the king for two reasons. First, they felt equally qualified by pedigree and position to claim the throne. The propaganda and raising of the family pedigree was an attempt at separating the Aravidus from the other, run of the mill, nobles. Second, and to a lesser degree, was the resentment against Tirumala for the murder of Sadasiva Deva. However, in those times, the murder would not have been a major drawback for succession, even in a Hindu kingdom.

Portuguese Piracy. Other than its direct impact on Vijayanagara, the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi also had other repercussions. The Portuguese had relied completely on their trade with Vijayanagara for their prosperity in the Peninsula. This unique relationship was lost with Vijayanagara’s defeat. A number of Portuguese merchantmen—both ships and sailors—became unemployed and turned to piracy. They plundered and burned the coastal villages from Malabar to Goa and also captured the ports at Barakur and Honawar in 1569. In the process they also captured and sank many Shahi ships, which invited an unsuccessful counter-attack by Ali Adil Shah and some of his allies. The ports remained in Portuguese hands.

Between the years 1570-72, the Shahi kings were busy fighting each other, being in the throes of internecine wars and succession struggles. There was complete confusion and turmoil in the Deccan; alliances of fleeting nature were created and broken, leading to mutual mistrust between the Shahis that in turn brought about further instability, an unending cycle. Tirumala decided that the time was opportune to take advantage of the prevailing confusion and preoccupation of the Shahi kingdoms.

The Qutb Shahi War 1571

Tirumala turned his attention to the north-eastern part of his kingdom, where Kondavidu had been lost to Golconda after the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi. He wanted to recapture the fort and establish Vijayanagara control over the province. Even though the strength of the imperial army had been drastically reduced after the defeat, Tirumala deputed his son Sri Ranga to proceed to the southern provinces of Golconda. The prince, heir apparent, marched to Udayagiri and captured Kondavidu and Vinukonda as well as some other minor forts. The Qutb Shahi forces were fully engaged in the north of the kingdom in a defensive holding battle against other Shahi rulers and therefore unable to respond.

Sri Ranga then moved further north towards Kondapalli. The Vijayanagara army crossed the River Krishna and laid waste the countryside surrounding the fort. The Qutb Shah was unable to mount any opposition since he could not spare forces to be send to the region to repel the invasion. Sri Ranga went on to displace two Hindu vassals of the Qutb Shah and also secured some minor victories against the Orissa king. These actions of the newly established king clearly points to the fact that Vijayanagara was not a spent force as has been depicted in the Muslim chronicles, which have been unfortunately taken as truthful narratives by the British historians that came later.

Administrative Overhaul

Before the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi, Tirumala was considered to have been an able administrator. During the regency of Rama Raya, he conducted the affairs of state purely oriented towards the welfare and prosperity of the kingdom. The enormous success of the Rama Raya regency therefore has to be attributed equally to the cleverness of Tirumala as the astute leadership of the Regent. However, by the time he came to the throne, he was too old to attempt a reinvigoration of the Empire to its previous pristine glory.

Tirumala decided to divide the kingdom into three viceroyalties, based on racial make-up of the people of the regions—Telugu in the north, Kanarese in the west and Tamil in the south. The three viceroyalties were placed under his three sons. This division was an attempt to share the administrative burden of ruling a kingdom, especially when saddled with subduing recalcitrant feudatories and minor chieftains. The division also had the added advantage of relieving the king of the day-to-day affairs of the state so that he could concentrate on checking the Muslim advances from the north.


Tirumala died about a year after the successful campaign of his son against the Qutb Shahi kingdoms. He left behind a mixed legacy. On the one hand he was admired as a great administrator and also for consolidating the kingdom that he forcefully made his own, while on the other hand his behaviour immediately after the defeat at the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi left much to be desired. It could be speculated that if he had been more of a daring general, he may have been able to prevent the destruction of the Vijayanagara city. There is no doubt that the destruction and desecration of the City of Victory was the start of the gradual extinction of the Empire itself.

© [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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