Indian History Part 77 The Aravidu Dynasty Section III: Venkata Deva Raya II

Canberra, 26 December 2019

Sri Ranga Deva’s younger brother, Rama Raja, had predeceased him, leaving behind two sons. However, at the time of Sri Ranga’s death, both these princes were minors. Therefore, the ‘people’, meaning the nobles, Brahmins and warriors, chose Venkata the youngest brother of Sri Ranga, to succeed to the throne. This move was instituted despite the fact that the young princes had a better established right to the throne than their uncle Venkata. Venkata was no stranger to administrative duties since he had been ruling the southern viceroyalty from Chandragiri from a fairly young age. On being selected by the senior courtiers of the state to step up to the throne, Venkata did not waste any time in accepting the honour. He grasped the opportunity with both hands—immediately getting anointed as king by the family religious head in Chandragiri itself.

He followed up the religious ceremonies with a formal coronation at Penukonda. By 1585, there are plates commemorating the grant of land by Venkata, which state clearly that he was, ‘…ruling from the fort at Penukonda’.  A number of inscriptions that refer to his accession are embellished with flattering and even bombastic titles for the newly anointed king—perhaps indicating the people’s yearning to have a worthy king in the mould of the great Krishna Deva Raya to rule the Empire again. Venkata also moved both his nephews—the minor princes ruling as nominal viceroys from Srirangapatana—to Penukonda, probably to ensure that rebel nobles did not use them as rallying points and also to ensure that they did not raise any claim to the throne at a later date.

Venkata Deva Raya was around 40 years old at this time and already an experienced administrator. He was lucky to come to the throne under favourable circumstances—with no one to dispute his claim to the throne and the demonstrated goodwill of the nobles, senior citizens and the people at large. However, the kingdom was not in good shape—the northern region was still turbulent with the chiefs in those parts still recalcitrant to accept Vijayanagara sovereignty after the defeat in the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi. Further, Vijayanagara had suffered diplomatic setbacks with both Bijapur and Golconda. On Venkata assuming the throne, there was a fresh outbreak of rebellions by petty chiefs who were vassals and feudatories of the state. This report is not conjuncture, but supported by a great deal of evidence that clearly indicate a state of internal strife. There are many titles that are given to Venkata in inscriptions of the time that depict him as the conqueror of those who broke their word, which could only mean the chiefs who had reneged on their promise to remain feudatories or vassals. It is apparent that these rebellions were widespread and took several years to contain fully.

Even though internal rift was endemic, territorially the kingdom had held together, although in a precarious manner. Only Dharwar and Kondavidu provinces were still outside Vijayanagara control and most of the other losses had been gradually recouped. Bijapur, the most potent and immediate threat to the kingdom, was preoccupied with its enmity and skirmishes with Ahmadnagar and had no time or the resources to invest in its southern border. However, the relationship with Golconda was very different. With Bijapur and Ahmadnagar pre-occupied with each other, Muhammad Qutb Shah in Golconda was free to pursue his own agenda. He had not yet reconciled to the loss of territory to the south of the River Krishna and considered this an opportune time to attempt evening the score.

Eighth Qutb Shahi War 1586

On the eve of Venkata’s coronation, citing the flimsy excuse of an earlier Vijayanagara military incursion into Golconda territory, Muhammad Qutb Shah crossed the River Krishna to the south and invaded Vijayanagara. The Qutb Shahi forces easily overran Nandyal and Kurnool, forcing Baswant Raja, a son-in-law of the great Rama Raya and ruling that region, to pay tribute. A number of other forts also surrendered without much resistance and accepted Qutb Shahi vassalage. The fort at Gandikota put up greater resistance but was easily subdued and captured. Exhilarated by these quick victories, and not having encountered any core Vijayanagara forces in opposition so far, Muhammad Qutb Shah reached the outskirts of the capital Penukonda and laid siege to it.

Siege of Penukonda

Venkata Deva, still not settled fully into his role as king, was caught by surprise by the rapidity of the Qutb Shahi advance into his kingdom. He withdrew to another fort, leaving a small garrison in Penukonda for its defence and started the process of negotiations with the Qutb Shah. Surmising that he would win yet another easy victory, Muhammad withdrew from the vicinity of the fort during the negotiations. Grasping this opportunity, the Vijayanagara commanders, led by Jagadeva Raya, managed to get provisions and relieving forces into the besieged fort and settled down for a long siege. Noticing that he had been outwitted, Muhammad Qutb Shah renewed the siege.

In the meantime, Venkata Deva who was outside the fort was free to manoeuvre. He despatched a force to Kondavidu, which had been left unguarded by Qutb Shah although nothing of significance was achieved by this diversionary attack. At this juncture of the tussle, which was precariously balanced, the monsoons came to the rescue of Vijayanagara and its king. Muhammad Qutb Shah realised that when the River Krishna swelled with the monsoon rains, he would be cut off from his capital and home grounds. He, therefore, returned to his capital leaving a sizeable force behind to continue the siege. However, they were forced to lift the siege almost immediately because of a scarcity of provisions brought about by the interdictory role played by Venkata and the Vijayanagara forces outside Penukonda. There is an opinion that the story of the monsoon rains making Muhammad Qutb Shah withdraw is an excuse given by a Muslim chronicler to hide the fact that the Qutb Shah suffered a definitive and humiliating defeat and was forced to retreat. This is highly probable and the victory of the Vijayanagara army is celebrated in a few inscriptions of the time.

Battle of Pennar

Venkata decided to take advantage of the absence of Muhammad Qutb Shah in the field and send a large force to recapture Gandikota that had been lost earlier. The Vijayanagara forces besieged Gandikota. The opposing forces were evenly matched and the Qutb Shahi forces sacked Cuddappah against stiff opposition from the Hindu forces. Many indecisive skirmishes followed. Muhammad Qutb Shah send reinforcements under the command of Rustum Khan to assist his beleaguered Gandikota commander, Murtaza Khan. The armies camped, facing each other on the banks of the River Pennar.

The story is told and recorded of a caparisoned bull from Vijayanagara camp running into the Qutb Shahi enclave, seeing which Rustum Khan took fright and galloped to the back of his camp. This unprecedented action by the commander triggered panic and confusion in the Golconda camp, which had already been surrounded by Vijayanagara forces. The Qutb Shahi forces started being massacred and would have been completely annihilated but for the gallant act of the earlier commander Murtaza Khan, who with great valour fought to hold back the surrounding Hindu forces and in the bargain assisted a great number of Qutb Shahi forces to escape the carnage. The Qutb Shahis suffered a disastrous defeat with all camp equipment and even the royal umbrella being captured by Vijayanagara. The retreating forces were chased by the Hindu forces all the way back to Golconda.

To add to the humiliation, Venkata Deva enforced an exacting treaty on Muhammad Qutb Shah and established the River Krishna as the boundary between the two kingdoms. In order to gain some of his lost prestige back, Muhammad mounted a raid on Kalahasti and triumphed over some lacklustre local opposition. He captured some wealth, desecrated and destroyed a local temple and returned to Golconda, without having achieved any political advantage, but proclaiming a victory.

This episode of the continuing Qutb Shahi Wars ended as it had started—in a status quo, with neither party having gained any cognisant, long-term advantage. In 1586-87, the Shahi kingdoms were in the midst of conflicts and intrigues, mostly triggered by mutual jealousy and animosity. The succession struggle in Ahmadnagar gradually drew all the Shahi kingdoms into the fray, which in turn provided a brief respite for Vijayanagara to recoup and stabilise its administration. However, this respite was not long-lived.

The Bijapur Invasions 1587-88, 93-94

When the succession issues were settled in Ahmadnagar, Ibrahim Adil Shah II now ruling Bijapur, became free once again to refocus on his southern neighbour. His first instinct however was to weaken the other Shahi kingdoms, an instinct that had to be held back since Muhammad Qutb Shah in Golconda was now his brother-in-law and a peace accord had been signed with the Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar. Ibrahim therefore decided to rekindle old unsettled issues with Vijayanagara, mainly the disputed control of the Shimoga and Kanaras provinces. From a Bijapur point of view, there was also the question of unpaid tribute of the Vijayanagara feudatories to be settled.

A Bijapur army under Buleel Khan, who had earlier in 1584 suffered a defeat in Vijayanagara, was send to collect the perceived arrears of tribute. He was also tasked to reduce some minor forts, in a secondary role, to demonstrate Bijapur’s superiority in a show of force. This time around, Buleel was reasonably successful but was not able to complete his mission since he was recalled to Bijapur when fresh hostilities broke out between Bijapur and Ahmadnagar.

During 1589-93, the three major Shahi kingdoms were once again embroiled in inter-mingled power struggles. (For details of the Shahi wars please see From Indus to Independence Volume VI: Medieval Deccan Kingdoms). At the end of one more of these endemic power struggles, Bijapur emerged more powerful than the others. Here it must be noted that during this four/five year period, the Mughal Emperor Akbar also played an important part in further confusing an already murky geo-political environment. (The Mughal intervention and its consequences are covered in the next chapter.)

When there was a lull in the internecine struggles in the Deccan, in 1593, Ibrahim Adil Shah once again send an army under Munjum Khan to collect arrears of tribute from the chieftains of the border towns of Vijayanagara. This became a recurring theme—whenever the Adil Shah was free from fighting the other Shahi kings, he would look to collect tribute from the vassal kings of Vijayanagara. Some of them would submit without a fight, whereas some would resist to different levels. As soon as Bijapur became preoccupied with its own internal affairs, the Hindu chiefs would withhold tribute; and wait for the cycle to start again. It had also become obvious to the Hindu chiefs that before any permanent effect could be achieved by the invading Bijapur army, it would be recalled to support the Shah who would have again become embroiled in issues and challenges cropping up with other Shahi kings.

1593 was no different. However, there was a change in the script during the Bijapur forces’ withdrawal. On the Bijapur army starting its routine withdrawal as part of the cycle, the Hindu chiefs—individually and at times in concert—assailed the Muslim army, harassing them and inflicting heavy casualties throughout the sequence of withdrawal. The harassment was such that, Venkatappa Nayaka, one of the more powerful chiefs involved in the fight, erected a ‘Pillar of Victory’ at the border with Bijapur.

The Shift of the Capital

In 1592, Venkata went back to Chandragiri and started to rule from there, establishing it as the capital of the kingdom. There are two opinions regarding the reason for this move; although both of them seem possible, it is likely that a combination of the two could have influenced the king to take this step. Further, it is not certain that the shift was a permanent one at this stage, especially when viewed on hindsight with the knowledge of the progression of events in the following years. The first reason was that Penukonda was in the northern extremity of the country and therefore constantly prone to Muslim invasions. The second, is more specious, which state that Venkata was homesick for the city that he had ruled for a long time and was almost a second birthplace for him. It is reported that he moved there since it was his ‘comfort-zone’.

Chandragiri

In ancient times, Chandragiri had been the stronghold of a local dynasty, the Yadavaraya kings. It was founded by the Yadavaraya king, Immadi Narasimha, around 1000 A.D. and had been taken over by the Vijayanagara kings sometime in the mid-14th century. Saluva Narasimha enlarged and strengthened the fort before making it the storehouse for the kingdom’s treasures. The Portuguese called it Narsinga after the king.

Krishna Deva Raya further embellished the fort and spend long sojourns there, so much so that he is at times mentioned in records as the ‘Raja of Chandragiri’. Krishna Deva Raya also built the two palaces found inside the fort.

There is an inscription dated 1587, which states that the king was residing in Chandragiri, but this could have been a temporary move and perhaps indicative of Venkata’s intentions. However, there are reports that confirm Venkata residing permanently in the fort from 1597 onwards.

The Kasimkota Episode 1595-96

While Sri Ranga was still the king, Venkata had put down the rebellions of the Nayakas of Thanjavur and Madura. When the Deccan Shahis were fully engrossed in their non-stop internal squabbles, there was a revolt against Venkata. In 1594, considering the time to be appropriate, the Thanjavur and Madura Nayakas rebelled again but were once again subjugated by force.

Kasimkota was a township in the north-east of the kingdom, bordering Orissa, and was at this time going through a succession struggle after the death of its ruler, Raja Bahubatendra, in 1592. Prince Mukunda Raj, a boy of 12, had his brother murdered with the help of some relatives and had the Qutb Shahi governor of the region, Birlas Khan captured. In the north, the Mughal prince Murad was besieging Ahmadnagar, gradually tightening the noose and bringing the Nizam Shahi kingdom to its last gasps. Finding the time to be appropriate and having a reasonable excuse to do so, the Qutb Shah decided to annex some Vijayanagara territory and invaded Kasimkota. The invasion triggered calls for help from the ruler of Kasimkota.

Although the Qutb Shah had send an army south, he was also in the process of assisting the Nizam Shah defend his capital against the Mughal forces. Venkata considered this an opportune moment to attempt the recovery of Kondavidu, with Qutb Shahi forces spread thin on the ground. He also send reinforcements to Kasimkota. In a hard fought battle, the Golconda forces were defeated and Birlas Khan was put to death in captivity. However, the attempt to capture Kondavidu started a few months too late. By the time the Vijayanagara army reached Kondavidu, the Mughals and Ahmadnagar had come to an uneasy peace and Golconda forces, now released from Ahmadnagar, were free to reinforce the fort.

Even so, the Vijayanagara army proved too strong for the Qutb Shahi forces and defeated the Muslim forces, with their advance party going on to lay siege to Kondavidu. Venkata’s main force met the Golconda forces at the frontier. Although there is no report of a pitched battle, all records and chronicles indicate that the Vijayanagara forces had the upper hand in the skirmishes that took place. The two sides came to terms with Muhammad Qutb Shah and Venkata Deva mutually exchanging gifts. It was decided that River Krishna would be the boundary between the two kingdoms. This agreement ensured that Vijayanagara recovered most of the territory that it had lost earlier and re-established the old boundaries. The north-east corner of the Vijayanagara Empire was amicably settled and the entire expedition was a great triumph for Venkata Deva, who returned to Penukonda, acclaimed as victorious in battle.

Jingi Expedition 1596

Jingi was a province in the Deep South ruled by Kodamma Nayaka, a powerful chief and a nominal vassal of Vijayanagara from 1582. On his death in 1596, his son Krishnappa Nayaka was imprisoned by Kodamma’s brother who assumed the throne. However, Krishnappa managed to escape, and then capture, blind and imprison his uncle. Venkata intervened at this stage, defeated Krishnappa and annexed the territory to Vijayanagara. The reason for this intervention is not clearly mentioned. It could be speculated that Krishnappa had become too strong for Venkata’s liking and therefore the king decided to bring him to heel. It could also be that Venkata had personal relationships with Kodamma and his brother and therefore did not like the manner in which Krishnappa treated his uncle. In the event, on the intervention of the Thanjavur Nayaka, Jingi was restored to Krishnappa.

The succession of these minor episodes in which Vijayanagara always came out in a better shape indicate the growing stature of the kingdom under Venkata Deva Raya. He had become adept at keeping out of the constant and continuing instability that was engulfing the Deccan Shahis, while being astute enough to take advantage of their preoccupation with the encroaching Mughals. He was also engaged in consolidating the southern part of the kingdom and bringing it more securely under central control.

© [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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