In my previous article, I had taken a look at the initial years of the Sangama Dynasty and the reign of Harihara and Bukka Raya the founders of the empire. Here we shall see how the succeeding generation of rulers, built on the foundation laid by Harihara and Bukka Raya, and expanded the empire further.
Following Bukka I’s demise in 1379, his son Harihara II, succeeded him to the throne. It was not an easy ascent to the throne though, with large scale revolts breaking out in the Tamil region. These revolts were said to be instigated by the sons and officer’s loyal to Kumara Kampana, Bukka I’s son who was seen as the natural heir, and died on the battlefield. Harihara II, managed to quell the revolts, and placed his sons in control of the provinces, to ensure no more troubles broke out. In the meantime, the Bahmani kingdom was thrown into internal strife, following the assassination of Mujahid Shah by his own uncle. This enabled Harihara II to attack Raichur, drive out the Muslim rulers from Goa, and take over the entire Malabar coast. He also attacked Kondavidu, the then capital of the Reddy rulers, and gained control over Kurnool, Nellore, parts of Guntur. His son Virupaksha, conquered the entire South, going as far as Ceylon, and making the king pay tribute. There were two factors, that aided Harihara II’s expansion, one was the internal strife and confusion in the Bahmani kingdom, and another the ascension of Muhammad Shah II, who by nature was more peace loving.
However when Firuz Shah, ascended the throne in 1397, there was a change in the Vijayanagar-Bahman relations, which till then had been relatively peaceful. Unlike Muhammad Shah II, Firuz was more ambitious, more warlike. The first trigger for the conflict was the cotton rich Krishna-Tungabhadra Doab, particularly the forts of Mudgal and Raichur, which the Vijayanagar rulers were keen to capture. Harihara II’s son Bukka II, led an expedition to capture, these two forts, Firuz came out with full force to defend, and both the armies encamped on banks of Krishna in 1398. It was at this time Firuz played a clever ruse, when one of his men, Qazi Siraj, went to the Vijayanagar side, dressed up as a medicant, They gained confidence of some of the dancing girls there, and during the evening time, when the armies were hacing their entertainment, Qazi and some others dressed as dancing girls, entered the tents, doing the famous dagger dance. And while dancing, they stabbed to death, Bukka II’s son and then fell upon the rest. At this stage, Firuz’s army crossed the Krishna in boats, and fell upon the Vijayanagar forces, routing them. Bukka II, fled to Vijayanagara along with the corpse of his son, and Firuz went in hot pursuit of him, slaughtering many Hindus on the way.
While Bukka II, took refuge in Vijayanagara, Firuz’s brother Ahmed who had the title of Khankhanan, ravaged the area south of Vijayanagara, extracting tribute, and taking numerous prisoners. Large parts of the countryside were devastated by Ahmed’s raids, and finally, Harihara II agreed to a truce, where both it was decided the boundaries of both the kingdoms would be the same, and there would be no change. Notwithstanding the defeat to the Bahmanis, Harihara II’s reign was relatively successful. He patronized literature, the famous Kannada poet, Madhura a Jain lived during his times. The work on the Vedas was completed during his time, giving him the titles of Vaidikamarga Sthapanacharya and Vedamarga Pravartaka. He was also called as Maharajadhiraja. Harihara II passed away in 1404, and till 1406 A.D., Vijayanagara was thrown into a period of confusion, until Devaraya I ascended the throne. In between there was a fight for the throne, among the sons of Harihara II, and Virupaksha Raya ascended the throne. Nothing is really known much of Virupaksha Raya’s brief reign, except that he was killed and overthrown by his own sons. He was followed by his brother Bukka II, who too had a very short and rather undistinguished reign. What happened during this period was that the Vijayanagar empire lost control over the ports of Goa, Dabhol on Western Coast, and the empire was plunged into a state of chaos.
Deva Raya I and Bahmanis
The chaos was ended by Harihara II’s son Deva Raya I, who ascended the throne of Vijayanagara in 1406 A.D. He did not have a very auspicious start to his reign, having had to face defeat at the hands of the Bahmani Sultan Firzoz Shah Bahmani. There is an interesting back story to this, as per the Persian writer and historian Ferishta. As per his account, Deva Raya I, was enamored of a beautiful maiden, Pertal in Mudgal, and desired to marry her. This girl Pertal, was the daughter of a farmer, and educated well. When Deva Raya I, sent the proposal to her parents, through her Brahmin tutor, they were overjoyed and accepted it. Pertal however rejected the proposal, saying that the moment she entered the king’s harems, all contact would be cut off with her parents, and she really could not bear such a separation. When Deva Raya I, heard the news, he resolved to make Pertal, his own, and set out with an army to Mudgal, where the girl lived. Unfortunately that time however Mudgal was in Bahmani territory, and Deva Raya I’s act was nothing short of a declaration of war. However the girl and her family fled the village, on hearing of the news of the arrival of Deva Raya I, and the Vijayanagara forces were attacked by the Bahmani forces and many of them died.
Feroze Shah Bahmani, attacked Vijayanagara with a huge army, and laid siege to the capital.However the rocky terrain around Vijayanagara meant, the Sultan’s cavalry was rendered ineffective, and this coupled with effective use of archery from the Vijayanagara army, repulsed them back. Firoze Shah himself was badly hurt by an arrow, and had to retreat to the plains. From the plains, Feroze Shah launched a furious assault, and for 4 months, the surrounding areas near Hospet were devastated. The biggest loss however was the fortress of Bankapur( now located in Haveri district), which was captured by the Bahmanis, and around 60,000 Hindus were taken as prisoners. Deva Raya I was forced to sue for peace, in order to prevent further losses, giving his daughter to Feroze Shah in marriage. Pertal in turn was married to the Sultan’s eldest son Hassan Khan, who however was pretty much a weakling devoted to pleasure.
In order to get over the humiliation of the defeat to Feroze Shah Bahmani, Deva Raya I, began to form a strategic alliance with Katayavema, the Reddy chieftain in order to counter Anadeva Choda, an ally of Feroze Shah Bahmani. During that period, to the east of Vijayanagara there were many kingdoms, the Reddy Rajulu of Rajahmundry and Kondavidu, the Recharla Padmanayaks of Central Telangana( near Choutuppal) and the Eastern Gangas in the Kalinga. There was no love lost between the Reddy Rajulu of Rajahmundry and Kondavidu, the latter initially supported the Vijayanagara Empire. However when Deva Raya I, began to court the Rajahmundry Reddy Rajulu, they turned against Vijayanagara and allied with the Bahmanis. This in turn angered the Recharla Padmanayaks, till then allies of the Bahmanis, and in turn shifted their allegiance to the Vijayanagara. In 1419, Deva Raya I, along with the Rajahmundry Reddy Rajulu and the Padmanayaks, attacked the fort of Panagal, (now in Nalgonda district), and captured it after a fierce battle. This effectively ended the Kondaveedu Reddy Rajulu dynasty who soon withered away, as well as giving a tactical advantage to the Vijayanagara empire now. With the former Bahmani allies Padmanayakas on to his side, and his other allies the Reddy Rajulu in charge of Coastal Andhra, the entire Andhra-Telangana region was now under Vijayanagar. It was a blow to Feroze Shah Bahmani, and a revenge of sorts for Deva Raya I.
One of Deva Raya I’s greatest achievements was in the field of irrigation and water supply. He realized that the lack of water for irrigation as well as drinking water supply was hampering the growth of Vijayanagara. First he built a huge dam across the Tunghabhadra River, with huge boulders. Elephants were used to transport these boulders, and build the barrage across the Tungabhadra, which helped a lot in irrigating the fields around. However his other achievement in this field was even more stupendous. Realizing that the major problem being faced by Vijayanagara was drinking water, he built a huge aqueduct cum from the Tungabhadra to the capital which was 24 km away. This aqueduct, acted like a canal, to the capital, bringing in water to the thirsty city. What Deva Raya I, did here, was to make Vijayanagara one of the largest capitals in the world, a flourishing center for trade and commerce, as well as irrigating the hitherto parched lands around the capital. As per Italian historian Nicolo Conti, during the time of Devaraya I, had a circumference of 96 KM, housed around 90,000 soldiers.
Devaraya I was also a patron of art and literature, the Kannada Jain poet, Madhura was patronized by him. One of the great Telugu poets, Srinatha, author of Haravilasa was also patronized in his court. Srinatha was initially the court poet, at the Reddy Rajulu of Rajahmundry and later Kondavidu. After the decline of Kondavidu, he traveled to Vijayanagara seeking patronage there. He is believed to have challenged the poet Dindima Bhatta, who was boastful about his own prowess. There was a contest between Dindima Bhatta and Srinatha, two great poets, both of them equally egoistic and proud of themselves, which was overseen by Chandrabhusha KriyaSakti Rayulu, the king’s guru. At the end of the contest Srinatha, was pronounced the winner, Dindima Bhatta smashed his drum to smithereens, and Srinatha assumed the title of Kavi Sarvabhauma. He was showered in gold, after he recited a verse in praise of Devaraya I.
During Deva Raya I’s time, there was a Pearl Hall at Vijayanagara, where he honored eminent men, of letters, scholars, poets, and Vijayanagara indeed became Vidyanagara( City of Learning) during his time. Deva Raya I, passed away around 1422, and he was followed in quick succession by his sons Ramachandra Raya and Veera Vijaya Bukka Raya, both of whom did not do anything significant during their rule. It was the ascension of Deva Raya II, in 1424, that again bought back Vijayanagara to it’s glory, which I shall explore in the next post.