Indian History Part 77 The Aravidu Dynasty Section VI Venkata Deva Raya III:Racing Towards Oblivion

Canberra, 18 January 2020

Rama Deva’s death was immediately followed by open rebellion in Karnataka and for a period of time no one could be identified as being in control. Only Pedda Venkata was able to muster some support, mostly from nobles and minor chiefs who were related to him. In what could only be termed as a stroke of luck, a middle level chief ruling Bangalore, Immadi Kempe Gowda, threw his support behind Venkata. He assembled an army and marched to the capital, on the way re-establishing control over garrisons and forts in the name of Venkata. His geographically limited success in stabilising the turbulent region prompted some other chiefs also to join him in support of Venkata. Kempe Gowda captured Penukonda and installed Pedda Venkata as king in February 1635.

Thus ended the three-cornered struggle for the throne, Pedda Venkata, finally emerging as the crowned king, Venkata Deva Raya III. (The previous chapter gave the details of the succession struggle.) Some analysts aver that he had the better claim to the throne amongst the three contenders. His coming to the throne was the successful culmination of sporadic, but long-standing and at times concerted, attempts by the senior branch of the family to regain power. This branch had continued to stay in Anegundi even after the fateful battle in 1565.

The Political Scene in the 1630s

The events taking place in the Deccan were still of only marginal interest to Vijayanagara, which continued to be obsessed with its own succession struggles and the petty wrangling of minor chieftains for power, influence and territorial control. However, a number of events were coming together, contributing to the inexorable march of the once great Empire towards its final collapse and oblivion. A number of these events, critical to the well-being of the kingdom, went completely unnoticed in Vijayanagara and another set of crucial events were permitted to percolate along to become major challenges at a later date.

At the time of Venkata Deva coming to the throne, Vijayanagara was still being broadly and nominally administered by the viceroys of the three ethnic-linguistic provinces—Kannada, Telugu and Tamil regions. Traditionally the entire kingdom composed of 57 chieftainships, all owing allegiance to the king and being of varying importance, power and influence. These chieftainships functioned at a level below that of the provinces and they were territorially intermingled with some even spanning the borders of two provinces. The control of the chieftainships was feudatory and intermittent battles for territorial control and to settle border disputes were common between the chiefs.

The Kannada region formed the prominent core of the territories over which the king had greater control than in the other far flung areas of the kingdom. This region was ruled by four important groups of chieftainships—each group consisting of many chiefs who owed allegiance individually and collectively to one powerful regional chief. Even though these powerful chiefs acknowledged the suzerainty of the Vijayanagara king, they did so at their own convenience and will. They were never under the direct control of the king and Venkata Deva III was very aware of the fact that any direct order he passed would be repudiated and could even lead to open rebellion. Therefore, he held his peace and let at least the nominal overlordship become a positive part of his very limited stature. Needless to state here, Vijayanagara as an ‘Empire’ or even a ‘kingdom’ was devoid of cohesiveness.

Empires and Kingdoms

It is necessary here to move a bit away from the core narrative to explain the manner in which this work has termed Vijayanagara as an Empire and kingdom at various places throughout this chronicle.

An ‘Empire’ is a sovereign state functioning as a confederation of nations/kingdoms and/or people that is centrally ruled by a person, who is normally titled Emperor, or at times called a monarch. The territory, population, economy and power of an empire is normally greater than that of one or even a combination of two or more of the kingdoms that constitute the Empire.

A ‘Kingdom’ is a piece of land ruled by a king (or a queen) and is normally broken into smaller territories such as provinces and districts, which are governed by officials, directly responsible to the king/queen. A kingdom always functions under the direct orders of the king/queen, has claims of sovereignty of its borders, and is a cohesive unit of administration. Normally kingdoms have societal and ethnic homogeneity.

In the case of Vijayanagara a large number of historians have termed it an ‘Empire’ from its inception around 1336 till its final collapse and extinction in the 1660s. This is an incorrect assessment of the entity known as Vijayanagara. Correctly, the chronology would be that it started as a state/province under the control of an intrepid military commander who was distantly related to royalty; developed into a strong kingdom; and then established itself as an Empire; under successive and increasingly powerful kings. All Empires in the world, past and present across history, face decline, fall and extinction over a period of time starting from the achievement of its apogee. The reasons for the fall, the rate at which the decline sets in and the repercussions of its extinction will vary according to a number of disparate factors, not being enumerated here. The story of Vijayanagara also follows the same pattern. Accordingly, this narrative of the history of Vijayanagara refers to it as a kingdom initially, then as an Empire and after its defeat at the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi when the declining years set in, again as a kingdom. In fact, during the rule of the last two kings, it is difficult to even equate their holdings to that of a nominal a kingdom, if one is to strictly follow the definitions given above.

After Venkata III assumed the throne, Sri Ranga his nephew, who had earlier defeated Timma Raja on his behalf and killed him in battle in 1635, turned against his uncle, the king. The reason for this action cannot be clearly established and could have been exasperation at the inept leadership of Venkata and his indecisiveness. He started to maintain a separate court, acting as a rival to Venkata. European traders dealt with him directly and their correspondence indicate that the Europeans considered him to be the real king of Vijayanagara. He is reported to have colluded with Bijapur during the Adil Shahi invasions of Vijayanagara in 1638 and 1641. He even joined forces with Bijapur in 1641, marching to Vellore where Venkata III was residing and ruling from at that point.

There was an attempt to reconcile the two power bases and arrive at a compromise power sharing agreement. This only made things worse for the kingdom. The chiefs who had so far remained neutral in the struggle for power between Venkata and Sri Ranga, because of the fear of alienating one of them, were now forced to accept one or the other as their overlord. This led to further instability in the kingdom with political divisions becoming entrenched. Since neither of the power centres were able to enforce its writ on the minor chiefs, they started to act independently, further deteriorating an already precarious situation. An uneasy stability was established over a period time with some of the chiefs accepting the overlordship of Venkata and some pledging feudatory allegiance to Sri Ranga. The chaos is epitomised by the report that a small-time chief of the Devanahalli Taluk declared that his real sovereign was the deity Venkatachala and not any human being. Neither Venkata nor Sri Ranga was able to bring this rebel to heel—a sure sign of the times.

Venkata Deva III did not help matters during this gradual slide of the kingdom into a permanently destabilised state. Irrespective of the gravity of the rebellious activity, he did not dare to intervene in any of the internecine wars that were flaring up, for fear of giving offence to one or the other participant. This inaction accelerated the dilution of an already tenuous central hold on power, leading to complete forfeiture of moral authority of the king and his position.

The dilution of power and influence was deepened by the more powerful chiefs who did not ask for any favours from the king, while at the same time also did not fear his displeasure in any way. If at all they paid the king the compliment of acknowledging his overlordship, it was at best nominal and more importantly, bestowed by them—Venkata could not demand it nor enforce it in any manner, even if he had wanted to do so. The result was that the kingdom was incapable of initiating any united action even for the common good of the collective hierarchy of chiefs. The kingdom, if it could be called one, drifted—leaderless, unstable and with no cohesion.

Under these circumstances, the semi-autonomous chiefs, immersed in their own petty rivalries were prone to being defeated individually by external forces even a little bit stronger than them. Both Bijapur and Golconda, hereditary enemies of Vijayanagara, took advantage of this confused situation and gradually transplanted their authority on these minor chieftains, slowly increasing their influence while diminishing Vijayanagara control proportionately—in a similar manner to the tide coming in and enveloping the beach, one wave at a time. Even while this assiduous encroachment of Vijayanagara authority was taking place, the chiefs continued their minor wars and jealous intrigues, completely oblivious to the damage they were doing to their own future and in a broader manner, to the kingdom.

Restoring Order

Even though Venkata Deva had been formally crowned, order was restored only in the immediate region around the capital and most parts of the kingdom continued in turmoil. The new king deputed Kempe Gowda to bring the rebels under control and restore some semblance of order to the kingdom. Over a lengthy campaign, Kempe Gowda managed to subdue almost all the rebel chiefs—they were defeated, then presented to the Raya who restored their territory after they had accepted his overlordship. This little-known chief of Bangalore thus single-handedly managed to strengthen the throne more than it ever had been in the past four decades or so. A grateful king, Venkata III, bestowed the title of ‘Swamidrohara Ganda’, meaning the ‘Champion who Triumphed over Traitors’, on Kempe Gowda who then retired to his small province of Bangalore.

The stabilisation of the kingdom however, was only a temporary respite and did not go deep. Trouble was not far below the surface, generated internally as well as by external agencies. In the royal court, Venkata’s two brothers-in-law, the sons of Channappa Nayaka of Vellore, held complete sway in all affairs of state. They were arrogant and unpopular, provoking the jealousies and anger of other nobles. It must also be noted that these two nobles did not take any part in the arduous task of stabilising the kingdom, but were quick to take advantage of the relative peace to better their own positions. The seeds of internal dissent was not only being sown but they were already growing and would fully envelope the entire reign of Venkata Deva III.

Externally, in the Deccan the Maratha power was gradually becoming strong enough to start contenting for control with the Mughals. The Adil Shah of Bijapur had been coerced into making peace with the Mughals (described in the previous chapter). Shahji, the leader of the Marathas was being hounded by Mughal forces but continued to fight a guerrilla war against the Muslim forces. Although these activities did not affect Vijayanagara directly, anyone could appreciate that the conflict would encompass the Hindu kingdom sooner, rather than at a later stage.

Chitradurga 1636-38

Vijayanagara did not have a powerful or insightful leader who was capable of analysing the gradual destruction of the Shahi kingdoms by the Mughals, taking place in front of them. These wars of annexation did not strike a chord of understanding either in the king or the Vijayanagara vassals. The more powerful vassals were geographically far away in the south and away from the capital that was close to the Deccan. Oblivious to the approaching threat, they continued to fight each other, with the king powerless to influence them or enforce a ban on such internecine conflicts, let alone bring them into the ambit of control of the Central authority.

Chitradurga and Santhebannur were traditional adversaries, having been rivals to each other for many years. Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka ruling Chitradurga was more powerful than his predecessors and managed to recover some territory and forts that had been lost earlier in a four-year war with Santhebannur. After this action, inevitably the confrontation barrelled out of control with the chief of Siriya also entering the fray. The war became extended and invoked marital alliances and old enmities, which created factions and also made these chiefs treacherously switch sides many times. Finally in a major battle in February 1638, the chief of Siriya was killed and Rangappa emerged triumphant. This extended war further destabilised Vijayanagara with Venkata Deva unable to influence any of the participants.

The Adil Shah in the Kannada Province 1638-42

Muhammad Adil Shah ruling Bijapur was very aware of the deteriorating geo-political situation in the Kannada province as he had been monitoring it even while assisting Ahmadnagar fend off the Mughals. He knew that the Vijayanagara chiefs were almost completely independent of central authority and also that there were intense rivalries between them. Venkata Deva III had neither the power nor the will to enforce his authority over these squabbling chiefs, exacerbated by the fact that he was in no position to offer any assistance in case they asked for it. It was apparent to even the casual observer that the petty chiefs of Vijayanagara were ripe for the picking, one by one, by an experienced king with sufficient military power and the will to employ them. Muhammad Adil Shah was one such king.

Keladi – Santhebannur Fiasco

Keladi and Santhebannur had always been traditional vassal states of the Vijayanagara Empire till they started to break lose after the defeat suffered in the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi. The Civil War following Venkata Deva II’s death further estranged these two regions, with the chiefs paying only token compliments to the king, that too at their own convenience. Both the strongholds had started to implement their own foreign policy, which was at times at odds with the central policy. By 1638, both Keladi and Santhebannur were practically independent kingdoms with no allegiance to Vijayanagara kingdom being ruled from Penukonda. Muhammad Adil Shah was fully aware of the state of affairs but was unable to react to the deteriorating situation since all his resources were employed in fighting the Mughal invasion. With a somewhat fragile peace being agreed to with the Mughals in 1636, the Adil Shah was now in a position to take advantage of the chaos in Vijayanagara. He was watching and waiting for the right excuse and the opportune moment to intervene.

In 1637, a border dispute flared up between Keladi and Santhebannur. Since the Keladi chief Veerabhadra Nayaka was very powerful, the Santhebannur chief Hanumappa Nayaka send some presents to Muhammad Adil Shah and asked him for assistance, also hinting at the prospect of plunder and loot during the campaign. Clearly, Hanumappa should have approached Venkata Deva III for intervention since he was nominally the overlord of both the chiefs. Equally clearly it is apparent that none of the vassal chiefs laid much store by the power and influence that the Vijayanagara king could bring to bear against powerful chief such as the Keladi Nayaka. With this episode correctly dated to 1637, it can be said that the Vijayanagara kingdom had ceased to exist as a viable and cohesive entity from this period onwards. It is for this reason that Robert Sewell in his authoritative book, A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagara, stops his narrative with Venkata Deva III’s elevation to the throne. He thereafter devotes only three more paragraphs to narrate the rest of the history of Vijayanagara and its ‘kings’. This author intends to examine in detail three more decades before laying to rest the historical narrative of the once magnificent Empire.

In the event, Muhammad Adil Shah jumped at the invitation. He possessed an army of seasoned veterans, having fought the Mughals and the Marathas continually for many years. His generals were all experienced and battle-hardened commanders. He deputed Randullah Khan, one of the famous generals of his army, to lead the forces to the south. The southern campaign was ostensibly to assist Hanumappa against the Keladi chief, but in truth it was to prepare the way for the eventual conquest, occupation and annexation of the entire Kannada province of Vijayanagara. The plan was to leave the central authority, such as it was, untouched and to conquer the outlying vassals, turn them into tributaries and gradually establish control of the entire Karnataka region.

The Bijapur army, reported as consisting of 40 elephants, 40,000 cavalry and 100,000 infantry, moved south, was joined by Hanumappa, and the combined army marched to Ikkeri, the capital of Keladi. Veerabhadra assessed the situation and felt that he would not be able to defend the capital. He left a small garrison in Ikkeri and personally retreated to a hill fortress at Kouledurga, also called Bhuvangiri. Ikkeri was besieged, easily captured and then plundered. Kouledurga was then attacked and besieged. After a token resistance, Veerabhadra sued for peace. Randullah Khan laid down some stringent conditions for peace—Keladi was to pay a stipulated tribute to Bijapur, to be followed by an annual tribute; and Bijapur forces would be garrisoned in Ikkeri permanently. Veerabhadra agreed to these terms, which essentially made him a tributary of the Adil Shah. He vacated Ikkeri and retired to Bidanur, a defeated and disillusioned Nayaka, stripped of all his power and status.

Action against Mysore

Muhammad Adil Shah’s avarice knew no bounds. He had been watching the smaller vassal states and had noted the rise of Mysore among them, being attracted to its increasing wealth. Muhammad had in his entourage a former officer from Vijayanagara, Channayya of Nagamangala. Channayya was a former officer of Jagadeva Raya, the chief of Channapattana. When Chamaraja Odeyar of Mysore invaded Channapattana, Channayya had suffered a great deal and had then fled to Bijapur on its fall. He therefore nursed a grudge against Mysore. Chamaraja Odeyar died in 1637 and was succeeded by his adopted son Narasa Raya, who was young, inexperienced and haughty. In short order Narasa had managed to alienate his subjects and become very unpopular. Channayya advised Muhammad Adil Shah that this was the opportune moment to attack and subjugate Mysore.

Once again the army under Randullah Khan, now consisting of 500 elephants, 50,000 cavalry and 400,000 infantry was ordered to invade Mysore. The general was assisted by an array of capable officers. Further, Keladi now a mere tributary of Bijapur, was ordered to send an auxiliary force to serve with Bijapur forces and Hanumappa was coerced into providing a force of guides. Hanumappa provided the forces but warned Randullah that Mysore would not be a pushover in battle. However, Channayya, who by now had great influence within the war council, convinced Randullah that Mysore would be an easy victory. Bijapur forces marched to Mysore, their progress marked by conspicuous plunder and devastation of the countryside, particularly the destruction and vandalism of Hindu temples. The common people fled to the hills for safety and the Vijayanagara king sat complacent on his throne, without so much as making at least a protest or attempting to provide succour to his subjects.

There was not even token resistance to the huge juggernaut that Randullah’s army had become. The Bijapur forces marched, capturing forts, towns and cities—the names of the captured places reading like a list of who-is-who of the Kannada province and region. Kempe Gowda in Bangalore offered resistance, but was defeated, humiliated and forced to retire to Kunigal country. The army now swelled even further by the addition of captured troops to its rolls and marched to Srirangapatana and camped on the banks of the River Kavery. Srirangapatana was besieged.

The Defence of Srirangapatana

Kanthirava Narasa Raya Odeyar ruling Srirangapatana was prepared for the attack and refused to even entertain overtures of peace and friendship from Randullah Khan. The Bijapur forces enforced the siege assisted by some Vijayanagara vassals who had changed sides, while some of the defeated chiefs of the region had joined forces with Narasa Raya.

Repeated attempts to breech and/or scale the walls of the fort were repulsed with great loss of lives for the Bijapur forces. The Mysore forces were also skirmishing with the ‘Muslim’ army at all places that Randullah attempted to attack. [Although the Bijapur force was a ‘Muslim’ army fighting a Hindu kingdom, it is estimated that at least 30-35 percent of the force were Hindus, since many chieftains of the region had by now changed allegiance to the Adil Shah and the defeated forces in this campaign also tended to join the marauding forces for personal gain through plunder and loot.] During these skirmishes Narasa Raya’s forces had captured a number of prisoners. Narasa now mutilated these prisoners by cutting off their noses and then released them. Hearing of this, Muhammad Adil Shah took this act as a personal affront and send reinforcements to Randullah Khan exhorting him to reduce Srirangapatana.

With the extra reinforcements, the Bijapur forces and the auxiliary militia of the vassal states made a concerted and simultaneous attack and managed to scale the outer walls of the fort, from the east, south and north. However, they were faced with more fortifications within the outer walls and could not progress further. At the same time Mysore forces under the Dalavayi or Prime Minster, Nanjaraja, attacked the confused invaders and scattered them. The Bijapur forces suffered very heavy casualties. The Hindu army then sallied out and attacked the main force under Randullah Khan.

In the Battle of Kesare, a place about seven miles north-east of Mysore, Bijapur suffered an enormous defeat and suffered very large casualties including the death of some prominent generals. The Mysore army was victorious against what had so far been an undefeated Muslim army. Randullah Khan was greatly depressed by this catastrophic defeat and the great loss of lives, horses and battle equipment and offered to enter into a peace treaty with Mysore. The conditions of the treaty favoured only Narasa Raya. Mysore was to keep all territories to the south of the River Kavery; it would not pay any tribute; and Narasa Raya was to determine the amount of surplus produce in the lands to the north of River Kavery and then share the surplus with Bijapur accordingly. The humiliation of the Adil Shah was complete.

Repercussions of Adil Shah’s Defeat

The peace treaty confirmed the defeat of Adil Shahi forces. There are some reports that Hanumappa, the chief of Santhebannur, who had provided the guides to the Bijapur army under coercion, had advised Randullah Khan to make peace with Mysore. He was also responsible for drawing up the details of the treaty. This action was sufficient for Veerabhadra of Keladi, now a vassal of Muhammad Adil Shah, to poison the ear of the king against Hanumappa, his old adversary. Veerabhadra was also jealous of the fact that while he had lost independence, Hanumappa continued to be considered an independent chief, by both Bijapur and Vijayanagara. He convinced Muhammad Adil Shah that Hanumappa had purposely given wrong advice, which had led to Randullah’s defeat and therefore he was to blame for the debacle in the battle that followed the siege of Srirangapatana. As a result, the Adil Shah send another army to defeat and reduce Srirangapatana.

Randullah Khan was again placed in command and this time he received secret orders from Muhammad to make a diversion and attack Santhebannur on his way to battle with Mysore. The attack was intended to punish Hanumappa for the perceived wrong advice that he had rendered earlier. Accordingly, Randullah marched to Basavapattana, Hanumappa’s capital. Now one sees the wheels within wheels of the conspiracy and intrigue, which had become endemic in the Deccan and South India over the previous century. In order to find an excuse to attack Santhebannur, Randullah Khan ordered Hanumappa to go to Mysore and collect a non-existent tribute from Narasa Raya, on behalf of the Adil Shah. Knowing the futility of such an endeavour and also fearing that his own life would be forfeit if he dared to approach the Mysore king with such a proposal, Hanumappa refused the embassy.

Randullah immediately captured Basavapattana and garrisoned the city with Bijapur forces. He took Hanumappa captive and send him to Bijapur as a prisoner. Thus ended the independence of Santhebannur, sacrificed to the jealousy between two petty chiefs who considered themselves to be much more powerful than they were in actuality. The Bijapur army continued on its march to Srirangapatana.

Second Invasion of Srirangapatana

This time around, Narasa Raya was even more prepared for the Muslim invasion and took pre-emptive action. He attempted to recapture Ramagiri, which had earlier been lost and was now garrisoned by Bijapur forces, by laying siege to it. Prime Minister and general, Nanjaraja, soundly defeated the Bijapur army being send as reinforcements for Ramagiri and the fort surrendered to Mysore forces. In the meantime, Randullah had defeated two minor chiefs and was continuing his march towards Srirangapatana. Narasa Raya deputed the trustworthy Nanjaraja to contain the Bijapur forces. Nanjaraja effectively encircled the Adil Shahi army and forced them to stop all activities inimical to Mysore interests. Unable to manoeuvre, Randullah Khan handed over the command of the army to Vedoji, one of his generals, and retired to Bijapur.

Muhammad Adil Shah appointed another commander, Mustafa Khan, and instructed him to capture Srirangapatana. However, the Mysore forces were ready for the fresh assault and defeated Mustafa Khan, forcing him to retreat. Thereafter the Muslim army suffered a series of defeats and were gradually driven back to the Bijapur frontier. These victories were scripted by the calculated, and at time audacious, actions of the Mysore commander Nanjaraja. After this emphatic defeat, Muhammad Adil Shah did not attempt to mount any more southern expeditions and seems to have shelved his expansionist plans.

Buoyed by its clear victory over Bijapur, Mysore continued its own expansionist activities against its smaller and more vulnerable neighbours. Its sphere of influence was gradually expanding and inevitably Mysore came into contact with the other major power of the region, Madura. It was obvious from the prevalent geo-political situation that even the slightest contact between the two was bound to erupt in a contest of strength. The Mysore chief and the Madura Nayaka came into conflict over control of the small principality of Samballi. In the ensuing encounters the Madura forces were defeated twice, the second time when Tirumala Nayaka, the chief of Madura, himself was in command of the army. Samballi was annexed to Mysore.

From the historical perspective of Vijayanagara, the above narrative of events—the Adil Shahi endeavours to annex the Kannada province, the robust defence offered by Mysore, and the clash between Mysore and Madura—is pertinent in that, the crowned king Venkata Deva III kept completely out of the fray, not even attempting to assist diplomatically, the smaller vassal chiefs of the kingdom who were either being forcefully made into Muslim tributaries or being subsumed by Vijayanagara vassal chiefs themselves. Venkata Deva III was king only in name, with no territorial kingdom to rule and having lost all moral right to be the king. This situation could also account for Robert Sewell’s openly declared opinion that Vijayanagara as a kingdom had ceased to exist, sometime in the early 1630s. The second factor of importance to emerge was that Mysore had, for all practical purposes, become an independent kingdom by the time the Adil Shahi forces were chased out of the Kannada region.

The Qutb Shahis in Telugu and Tamil Provinces 1638-42

Similar to the Kannada province of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire, the Telugu and Tamil provinces of the kingdom were also divided among many chiefs, some powerful and some barely recognisable as having any independent status. These chieftainships were dominated by three major groupings—first, the region of Udayagiri at the frontier with Golconda, which encompassed the districts and villages of Nellore, Nandyal and Anantpur; second, the Kadappa region to the west of Udayagiri, ruled by the main branch of the rather large Hande family, consisting of the territories from Pulicat to San Thome as well as the areas of Chitore and Chengelpet; and third, the southernmost part of the kingdom, the largest of all the provinces, the kingdom of Madura that spread across the Peninsula from the Bay of Bengal to the cardamom hills of the Western Ghats and north to south from the bend in the River Kavery in Coimbatore district to Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari) at the southern tip. The Madura Nayakas were kings in all but name and their overlordship was acknowledged periodically even by the Raja of Travancore, a powerful and fiercely independent king in his own right. Areas to the west of Chitore, the Penukonda, Vellore and Chandragiri regions, were under the direct control of the Vijayanagara king. Towards the south of this minor tract of land, the Nayakas of Jingi and Thanjavur held sway.

By the 1630s, the Tamil and Telugu chiefs owed only nominal allegiance to Venkata Deva III. They publicly acknowledged and expressed their subordinate position when it suited them to do so, and at times of their own choice. They waged wars against each other and conducted their own foreign policy with no fear of punishment or even interference by the Vijayanagara king. The foreign policy initiatives they conducted were at times directly contradictory to the central policies laid down by the king. These disintegrating factors gradually sapped the vitality of the kingdom and in its visibly weakened state, Vijayanagara became a tempting target for its perennial adversaries, the Deccan Shahi kings.

The Qutb Shahi kings, ruling in Golconda, were traditionally and by nature greedy kings. They coveted the gold and diamond mines of Vijayanagara, located to the south of the Rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra, in the Telugu province that shared a common border with the Qutb Shahi kingdom. Further, the Qutb Shahi rulers also wanted open access to the ports on the east coast of the Peninsula, which were all under Vijayanagara control. After the great battle in 1565, Golconda had invaded Vijayanagara a number of times, with mixed results.

The Golconda Invasions

From the time of the defeat of Vijayanagara in the Battle of Rakshasa-Tangadi in 1565, Golconda had gone to war with its southern neighbour an equal number of times as had Bijapur. Their invasions are listed below:

  1. 1571 – invasion when Vijayanagara was forced to ceded some territories;

  2. A few years later, when the Golconda forces were completely defeated;

  3. 1578-79 – invasion when the Qutb Shahi forces were moderately successful, although no gains were made;

  4. 1580 – Golconda forces besieged Penukonda but the end-state was inconclusive; and

  5. 1586 – When Qutb Shahi forces managed to gain some territorial advantage.

For a number of years after the last Qutb Shahi invasion, the two kingdoms had maintained a strained but peaceful relationship. In fact there are no records of any Qutb Shahi invasions even during the troubled rule of Rama Deva Raya. The war that started in 1638 was the result of one major event in the Deccan—the annexation of Ahmadnagar by the Mughals of North India. With the extinction of the Nizam Shahi dynasty, the Mughals gave tacit approval to the remaining Shahi kingdoms—the Adil Shahis in Bijapur and Qutb Shahis in Golconda—to invade their southern neghbour and dismember Vijayanagara between them. Shahi success in such an endeavour would make it easier for the Mughals to engulf the entire Peninsula, which was the ultimate objective of the Mughal enterprise in South India.

The initial Qutb Shahi invasion into Vijayanagara territory was only partially successful. However, they kept encroaching southwards along the coast, annexing regions close to Udayagiri in 1641, the Nellore district in 1642, and the fort at Udayagiri itself in 1643. These annexations took place with only minimum resistance from the local chiefs, which could be easily swept aside by the superior Qutb Shahi forces. The Vijayanagara king obviously did not have the capacity to provide any assistance. More importantly, the internecine wars of the Hindu chiefs in the previous decades had completely dissipated the little bit of cooperation between them that had existed when central authority could still hold them to account. The king and the chiefs had absolutely no appreciation of the strategic aspect of this gradual annexations that they considered minor episodes and of the catastrophic threat facing them.

By 1642, the core Vijayanagara kingdom consisted merely four districts—Anantpur, Kadappa, Chitore and North Arcot. It lacked depth, strength and cohesiveness and was militarily a beaten and defeated kingdom, in an absolutely precarious strategic situation. Vijayanagara had no capacity to defend itself even against minor threats, let alone wage a war of any consequence. It had been reduced to a hapless entity, waiting to be invaded and swallowed. Other than for Mysore and the Nayakas of the southern province, all other chiefs who had been vassals of Vijayanagar were now tributaries of either Bijapur or Golconda. However, both these Muslim kingdoms were also in the dusk of their existence. The eclipse of the Deccan and South India was looming large in the horizon.

By this time Venkata Deva Raya III, the king in name, had retired to the jungles of Chitore district and there died on 10 October 1641, unsung and unappreciated—after all there was nothing to sing about or appreciate about this unfortunate heir to a once magnificent Empire.

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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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