In my series on Vijayanagara Empire, I had taken a look at the first dynasty, the Sangamas, and their rise under Deva Raya I, II and their final decline.If we observe the period between decline of the Sangama dynasty and ascent of Sri Krishnadeva Raya, to the throne, two of the most important characters we find are that of Saluva Narasimha and Tuluva Narasa Nayaka. The former was the Governor of Chandragiri, during the final days of the Sangama dynasty, while the latter was a Bunt chieftain who later became the Commander of the Vijayanagara Army. Both these men, served with distinction in their military campaigns, and when the empire was tottering under weak rulers, they held the de-facto power to stop further disintegration. Both of them, founded dynasties, that ruled over Vijayanagara, one the Saluva dynasty, the other the Tuluva Dynasty, that gave Vijayanagara’s greatest ruler ever, Sri Krishnadeva Raya. In a sense these two men, ensured Vijayanagara was not fully subdued by the enemy forces, managed to win back territories lost, and keep the empire intact, before Sri Krishna Deva Raya took it to the greatest heights ever.
The succession of weak, incompetent rulers post Deva Raya II, meant Vijayanagara had lost large tracts of it’s empire to the Bahmanis, the Gajapatis as well as the ports on the West Coast. With constant civil wars raging in the kingdom, the nobles were fed up with the existing lot of rulers, and were seeking change. The proverbial tipping point was a famine that broke out in the Vijayanagara empire, leading to widespread discontent among the people. Prauda Deva Raya, the last reigning Sangama ruler was not clearly equipped to handle the challenges, and that is when the Governor of Chandragiri province, Saluva Narasimha, saw this as a golden opportunity to stake his claim. Saluva Narasimha, came from a long, illustrious lineage that had served the earlier Vijayanagara rulers faithfully. His great grandfather Mangaladeva, played a major role in Bukka’s victorious campaign against the Madurai Sultanate. Saluva Narasimha Raya, was the son of Saluva Gunda, who had served as chieftain of the Chandragiri province. Saluva Narasimha had played a vital part in the military campaigns of Vijayanagara, and during Virupaksha Raya’s time, he was the defacto ruler of sorts, exercising administrative power.
Sensing the total collapse of administration and law in Vijayanagara, he decided to stage a palace coup, and sent his able general Tuluva Narasa Nayaka to capture the city. It proved to be much easier than expected, when Narasa Nayaka, met with little or no opposition, the palace gates unguarded, and he went all the way up to the king’s harem. Prauda Raya, sensing the imminent defeat, had already fled, leaving his harem behind, and soon Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya, ascended the throne, starting the Saluva Dynasty era in Vijayanagara from 1485-1505. One of Saluva Narasimha’s major achievements was recapturing the Western ports of Mangalore, Bhatkal, Honnavar back from the Bahmanis, and gaining control over the Western coast. This also made him get the faster Arabian horses, he also upgraded his cavalry and army too. He also managed to counter the minor chieftains like Ummatur( Mysore region), Saluvas of Hadavalli and Santaras of Karkala both in Coastal Karnataka and the Sambetas of Peranipadu in Cuddapah. In a sense, Saluva Narasimha Raya, bought back the stability to Vijayanagara, recaptured many lost territories.
However his campaigns against the Gajapatis of Odisha, was a disaster, especially his attempt to capture Udayagiri in 1498, He led the siege on Udayagiri, however was defeated and held as prisoner by the Gajapati ruler in 1489, for an year or so. Though he was released, he had to suffer the humiliation of ceding the entire Coastal Andhra to the Gajapatis, it was a terrible loss. Saluva Narasimha Raya, was also a patron of arts and learning, he wrote the Sanskrit work Ramabhudyayam, and the famous Kannada poet Kavi Linga was patronized by him. The Madhawa saint SripadaRaya, was also patronized by Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya, who also served as the Rajaguru of the Vijayanagara rulers. However, his constant, fights to subdue rebellious chieftains, ate away most of his time and energy, and the final nail was the defeat to the Gajapatis. It is pertinent to note that when Saluva Narasimha Raya, passed away around 1490, the power passed to his able general Tuluva Narasa Nayaka, whom he appointed as regent, as he was not sure about his sons. So one can say that the Saluva dynasty effectively began and ended with Narasimha Deva Raya , the other two rulers Thimma Bhupala and Narasimha Raya II, were effectively rulers in name.
Tuluva Narasa Nayaka was the son of Tuluva Ishvara Nayaka, a Bunt chieftain, who also served the Vijayanagara Empire, he had risen to fame under Saluva Narasimha, as his commander. When Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya, ascended the throne, the entire Southern part of the empire, beyond the Kaveri delta, had either slipped out or was under the rule of the Gajapatis. With Narasimha Deva Raya, engaged in battles with the Gajapatis and rebellious chieftains closer home, it was Tuluva Narasa Nayaka, who took on the responsibility of capturing the Southern domains. In a long campaign in 1497, the local chieftains of the Kavery Delta, the Chera rulers were all bought under control, Srirangapatna under rule of Hoyasala ruler Heuna was captured and so was Gokarna on the West Coast. Again the attempt by Gajapati ruler Prataparudra to capture Vijayanagar was foiled effectively by Narasa Nayaka. When Thimma Bhupala was murdered by an Army commander during a period of civil strife, Saluva Narasimha’s second son Narasimha Raya II, or Immadi Narasimha was crowned as emperor. The real power however was with Narasa Nayaka, who was the regent, as well as the Mahapradhana( Prime Minister) and the Senadhipati(Commander), which means he had the military and administrative powers right with him. He literally put Immadi Narasimha under house arrest at Penukonda, on pretext of his safety, while he held all the powers himself. This enabled him to get a complete grip on the Vijayanagara Empire, and would also lead to the founding of the Tuluva dynasty.
One of the significant events, during Tuluva Narasa Nayak’s reign, was the war with Bijapur sultan Yusuf Adil Shah in the Tungabhadra Doab. One of Adil Shah’s disgruntled rivals, Qassim Barid approached, Narasa Nayak for help in his war against the Bijapur sultan, and in turn promised him the vital forts of Raichur and Mudgal. It was part of the Vijayanagara rulers, to have tactical alliances with the Bahmani rulers, playing off one against another, and soon Narasa Nayaka, laid waste the Doab area, and captured the forts of Raichur, Mudgal. However Adil Shah, struck back around 1493 AD, marching with a huge army to recapture, Raichur and Mudgal. There was a fierce battle fought on the banks of the Tungabhadra river, between the Vijayanagar and Bijapur armies, while Narasa Nayaka, had the initial victory, Yusuf Adil Shah, managed to rally his troops, and struck back. A furious assault, led to defeat of the Vijayanagara forces, and once again Raichur, Mudgal passed back to Bahmani rulers. Tuluva Narasa Nayaka passed away sometime in 1503, but his two sons Veera Narasimha Raya , and a certain Sri Krishna Deva Raya, would take Vijayangar to further glory.