Thursday, July 27, 2006

Central India

Central India

The modern state of Madhya Pradesh[1] is geographically located in India’s center—however its northern portions[2] have played a prominent part in the politico-military and cultural history of North India. So the term Central India covers only the southern and eastern portions of Madhya Pradesh, the whole of the newly created state of Chhattisgarh, the western districts of the newly created state of Jharkhand, and portions of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Thus "Central India" leans more to the eastern and southern parts of the Indian continent.

The land is marked by several hill ranges like the Vindhyas and the Satpuras, which run due west to the Gujarat border, the Mahadeo Hills and the Maikal Range in the center, and the Hazaribagh Range marking out the bounds of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau in the east. Aided by copious rainfall, thick forests cover the hills and valleys. But large stretches of plain break these rugged features at a few places—these have sustained civilization from the earliest times and have been home to some of India’s oldest kingdoms. Central India also gives rise to great rivers like the Narmada and Tapti, which flow west into the Arabian Sea, the Ken and Betwa Rivers passing through the jungles north into the Ganga, the River Son meandering east through the plains of Bihar, and the Mahanadi flowing south into Orissa.

Central India today is home to a large tribal population (approximately 33%) but, as will be seen later, many of these have migrated to the region in the recent past from other parts of India—some these have actually displaced older settled populations. Similarly settled populations, on their part, have displaced tribal populations from other regions. There is actually no conclusive proof of which lands have originally been home to which segment of the Indian population.

The plains of Central India


The stretches of level ground in three distinct parts of Central India have sustained the rise of great powers from the earliest times. The Vedic republic of Chedi was located in the region around Jabalpur; similarly ancient Vidarbha comprised the plains of Nagpur, while Dakshin Kosala grew to power in the region of Chhattisgarh. These ancient powers passed through the stages of republics to monarchies until they became part of the Maurya Empire—even so they were the first to establish the religious and cultural traditions of Central India.

The Mauryas, the Satvahans, and the Vakataks, built roads to connect the different regions of their empires—they also introduced the Buddhist and Jain philosophies and the spirit of learning that marked this age. The increasing use of elephants in war displaced the chariots of the ancient republics and this change suited the inhabitants of Central India where large herds of elephants roamed the thick forests.

With the decline of the Gupta Empire[3] in the 5th Century CE, the subsequent Hun invasions, and the rise of Kannauj under Harshvardhan in the middle of the 7th Century, Central India moved out of the main current of Indian History. The revival of historical tradition and power in Central India came from a local clan that claimed descent from an earlier Kshatriya family of the same region.

The Kalachuris


The Kalachuris were descendants of the Vedic Haihaya clan that had ruled the ancient Kingdom of Chedi. The first ruler Kokkala reigned from Tripuri (near modern Jabalpur) in the middle of the 9th Century—in many of the Kalachuri inscriptions they alternatively used the older clan name Haihaya and referred to their kingdom as Dahala or as the ancient Chedi. In these inscriptions great military exploits were attributed to Kokkala but it is enough to say that the Kalachuri rulers maintained their independence all through the period of the Pala-Pratihar-Rashtrakuta struggle that was then raging across India.

To the Kalachuris goes even greater credit for reviving the cultural traditions of Central India—the vast majority of temples and sculptures found in the region belong to their period. The Kalachuri also put their kingdom on par with the powers of North India in military and administrative matters—in the Kalachuri land grants the term Rajaputra is used for the sons of the king. The term’s evolution into Rajput occurred in the northern kingdoms of Ajmer and Kannauj as described in earlier posts, but in Central India too the local Kshatriyas began calling themselves Rajputs from the 15th or 16th Centuries.

Collateral branches of the Kalachuri clan spread north to Gorakhpur and south to Kalyan—but within Central India a younger son of Kokkala named Kalingaraj established a kingdom in the Chhattisgarh region[4]. The greatest expansion of Kalachuri power occurred under Karan in the 11th Century when their armies campaigned in UP, Orissa, and Bengal. These wars exhausted the economic capacity of the state and the later Kalachuris were unable to resist the attacks of their neighbors. By the 13th Century the Kalachuri territories were divided among their numerous vassals.

Gonds and Cheros


Among the most prominent of these vassals was the Gond tribe, which had migrated from the south between the 10th and 13th Centuries. They had multiplied in numbers to dominate the western and southern portions of the Kalachuri territories—being forest-dwelling tribesmen they had inborn skills of capturing and training elephants for service under the Kalachuris. On the decline of those monarchs the various Gond chieftains became independent and gradually formed four separate kingdoms in Central India.

In the east the Haihaya-vansi Kalachuri kingdoms of Ratanpur and Raipur (the latter founded by a junior branch of the Ratanpur family and now serving as the capital of Chhattisgarh) continued under their rulers with one important change—the ruling clans now called themselves Rajput in the manner of the warrior clans of northern India. These kingdoms did not see any great developments or conflict with the outside powers till the rise of the Marathas in the 18th Century.

On the northeast lay Jharkhand (forest-land), covering a portion of the Chhota Nagpur plateau where ruled numerous Rajput clans. In the 17th Century Chero tribesmen (to the number of 12,000 families) from Bihar moved into the Kingdom of Palamau and took up service under the ruling Rajputs of the Raksel clan. But within a few years (1613 CE) they had murdered their employers and usurped the throne—thus at least two great tribal populations in Central India were actually migrants from other regions[5].

Islamic invasions


The conquest of Gujarat and Malwa by the Khalji Turks opened the way to South India in the early 14th Century. Malwa comprised the plateau region around the Chambal River, part of the Vindhya Range, and the lower valley of the Narmada—following the course of the latter river an army could reach the kingdoms of Central India. Similarly after the conquest of Devagiri, the lower valley of the River Tapti afforded another point of entry into Central India. But the wealthy kingdoms of the south were a greater draw for the plundering armies of Islam.

Malwa became an independent sultanate in the 15th Century while the principality of Khandesh emerged in the lower Tapti valley. These local powers should have made an attempt to expand into the east[6] but conflicts with their northern and southern neighbors completely drained their military power—the only permanent legacy of these sultanates were the founding of cities like Hoshangabad and Burhanpur[7].

Such were the lands in the northwest of Central India. To the north were the forested lands around the fort of Kalinjar forming the Chandella Kingdom of Jejakbhukti. The break-up of the Chandella territory in 15th Century and their usurpation by Muslim invaders and Gonds was interrupted by the ascendancy of a more prolific power——these were the Bundela Rajputs. So complete was the Bundela victory over the Muslims and Gonds, and such was their growth in population, that the land of Jejakbhukti has since been known as Bundelkhand.

Mughal invasion of Bundelkhand


Relations of the Bundela Rajputs with the Mughal Empire were stormy——some of their kings joined the Mughals in the hope of making gains, but as often, many others fought bloody wars with them. In the course of such wars the Bundelas would take shelter in Central India and, following them, the Mughal armies would also enter these unexplored lands. In the picture above, after several battles in Bundelkhand, Jujhar Singh Bundela and his son Vikramjit eluded the invaders by escaping into the jungles of Central India. They were finally murdered by the Gonds while sleeping at night—their decapitated heads were sent to the Mughal army, as shown above. But despite such wars, from this side there could be no permanent acquisition of Central Indian lands.

With the annexation of Malwa and Khandesh the Mughal armies had convenient bases for entering Central India—in their path lay the Gond kingdoms. Marching up the Narmada Valley the Mughals first conquered the Kingdom of Garha-Mandla, which was heroically defended by Rani Durgavati[8]. After the annexation of Berar and the former Sultanate of Ahmadnagar in the 17th Century, the Gond kingdoms south of the Narmada also came within the Mughal orbit.

Whenever a Mughal army was freed from operations in the south, it was sent east to raid the Gond Kingdoms of Deogarh and Chanda (both of which cover the plain of Nagpur). Thus after the successful war against the Sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda in 1636, the vast Mughal army invaded Gondwana and imposed tribute on the Gonds. Again in 1667 and 1669, after the submission of the Maratha King Shivaji, the Mughal army was free to plunder Deogarh and Chanda—the former kingdom was annexed (renamed Islamgarh) and was restored only after the ruling family converted to Islam.

In Chhattisgarh, though the chiefs of Ratanpur and Raipur acknowledged Mughal supremacy[9], their territories were too remote for the Mughal government to realize tribute from or for the Mughal armies to plunder. In the northeast the Chero Kingdom of Palamau lay open to invasion from Bihar and was forced to pay tribute—in Aurangzeb’s reign the Mughal viceroy of Bihar, Daud Khan, invaded Palamau in 1660. The Chero ruler, Pratap Rai, submitted and offered to pay up his tribute but Aurangzeb demanded his conversion to Islam.

In the fighting that followed the few Chero guns were silenced by the Mughal artillery and the fort of Palamau was stormed and captured. Pratap Rai and his followers escaped to the rocky southern portions of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau while Palamau was annexed to the province of Bihar.

Back in the south the raiding of Gond lands for tribute or elephants eventually overlapped with Aurangzeb’s war against the Marathas from 1681 to his death in 1707.

Marathas and British


The full details of the Mughal-Maratha conflict are given elsewhere—what is of import here is the Gond role in that period. Aurangzeb had recognized Buland Bakht as the Raja of Deogarh in 1686, but he tried to throw off the alien yoke and was dragged to the Mughal camp—his successor was another Muslim Gond named Dindar. The throne was next given to Neknam, another converted Gond[10] who was later on married to the captive daughter of the Maratha King Rajaram[11].

But Buland Bakht escaped and raised a large force to ravage both Deogarh and the neighboring region of Berar in 1696. In this period Maratha armies were also spread out throughout the peninsula, looting on all sides, while the Mughals painfully toiled behind them or tried to capture their forts. On the north Malwa and Bundelkhand were being similarly ravaged by Chhatrasal Bundela—Buland Bakht (high fortune) sought his help in raising a force of Bundela infantry to aid him against the Mughals[12]. The angry Aurangzeb changed his name to Nagun Bakht (no fortune).

After the death of Aurangzeb, Buland Bakht annexed the Gond principality of Kherla and established order over his kingdom[13]. With the death of his successor Chand Sultan in 1739, and the quarrels in the royal family, the Maratha chief Raghuji Bhonsle seized Nagpur and the whole of Deogarh. Raghuji also annexed Chanda and in the course of his eastward expansion also brought Chhattisgarh under his control. The insignificant Muslim population of Central India is thus concentrated in cities and is the result of migration and some local conversions.

Unfortunately the Marathas never had a secure financial base for reasons discussed here, and their armies naturally earned their bread through plunder. This alienated the local populations in Delhi, Rajputana, Bundelkhand, and other places——the same was true for Central India. A series of revolts broke out among Gonds, Marias, Halbas, and other tribal populations——at the same time Raghuji was involved in a war with the Nawabs of Bengal, in which he annexed Orissa and received chauth[14] from the Nawab.

The Diwani of Bengal was taken by the British after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and they stopped payment of chauth until Raghuji Bhonsle could guarantee that no Maratha soldiers would plunder Bengal. This was beyond the control of Raghuji and so the British asked for Orissa[15] in exchange for a cash payment and the regular delivery of the Bengal chauth, further offering as bait exemption from all government duties to the Maratha pilgrims coming down to Jagannath Puri, and even those going north to Gaya, Benares, and Allahabad!

The tribal revolts against the British increased as the new rulers tried to exploit the forest and mineral wealth by digging mines, building roads, and cutting down trees. A Chhattisgarh landlord named Vir Narain Singh led a rebellion against the British, which merged with the general revolt of 1857 across India. The tribal revolts though continued to erupt long afterwards to the early years of the 20th Century.

[1] Literally the central state.
[2] In olden times known as Malwa, Bundelkhand, and Baghelkhand.
[3] Unlike the earlier empire the Guptas established their influence through matrimonial alliances—in Central India the Gupta princess Prabhavati was married to the ruler of Vidarbha, Rudrasena II.
[4] Its capital was later moved to Ratanpur after which city the kingdom is known to modern historians.
[5] Of the others even the Oraons, Mundas, and Kanwars, have stories of their migration to these parts.
[6] Sultan Hushang of Malwa is said to have once raided Orissa while Sultan Adil Khan of Khandesh fought the Gond Rajas of the eastern jungles and assumed the exaggerated title of Shah-i-Jharkhand (king of the forest land). These campaigns were more like probing raids because the main fighting of Malwa was with Sultanate of Gujarat and the Rajput Kingdom of Mewar—Khandesh on the other hand was always crushed between Malwa, Gujarat, and the Bahmani Sultanate. In fact the Sultans of Gujarat claimed suzerainty over Khandesh and had granted the title of Khan to its early rulers—for this reason the principality came to be known by the unusual name Khan-desh.
[7] Burhanpur commanded a large gap on the Satpura Range, which became an easy route to the south, and provided an alternative to the road passing through the Gujarat coast.
[8] Durgavati’s son, Prem Narayan, was allowed to rule as a Mughal vassal over Chauragarh. But he was later killed by Jujhar Singh Bundela, who took away all his wealth. This episode provides an example of the appalling nature of Mughal statecraft (as seen earlier in the parallel case of Sri Ranga Rayal). Both Jujhar and Prem Narayan were Mughal vassals, but instead of restoring the latter’s kingdom or compensating his son, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan wrote to Jujhar, “If you wish to be confirmed in (possession of) that land, you must give up some estates near your home, in exchange of it, and send to me 10 lakh rupees out of the cash taken from Prem Narayan.” In other words the tyrant would tolerate a criminal act as long as he was given a share of the booty!
[9] What actually happened was that the Ratanpur chief visited the Mughal court in the 16th Century to obtain aid or some sort of benefit by allying with the Mughals.
[10] Neknam was originally Kan Singh, the younger son of the Gond Raja of Chanda, who had helped the Mughals in defeating Dindar.
[11] The other Maratha princesses that Aurangzeb had captured were also married to Muslims. The second daughter of Rajaram was married to Shamshir Beg, while Shahu’s sister was betrothed to the son of the former Bijapur Sultan, Sikandar Adil Shah. Shahu himself was married to the grand-daughter of Rustam Rao, a Maratha chieftain in Mughal service.
[12] In 1699 Firuz Jang captured Deogarh, while Buland Bakht escaped to Malwa and later to Khandesh. In 1701 he recovered his capital, and in alliance with some Marathas raised a large force of 4000 cavalry and 12000 infantry.
[13] Cultivators and craftsmen were brought in from outside to increase Deogarh’s wealth—the town of Nagpur was established and expanded into a city. Hindu and Muslim outsiders were indiscriminately employed in the administration.
[14] The chauth was one quarter of the annual revenue of a province. In the case of Bengal it had been settled at 12 lakh rupees. To enforce payment Nagpur armies invaded Bengal in 1759 and 1761 but were repulsed by the British——some chauth was paid in later years when the British became involved in a war with the Nawab Mir Qasim.
[15] But nothing came of these negotiations as the Maratha house of Nagpur was setting fast into decline. After the final Maratha war of 1818 Orissa and Chhattisgarh were annexed, while Nagpur itself was occupied some decades later under the Doctrine of Lapse.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

The South at war

In the peninsula, geographical realities have dictated the political power play through the centuries. The rulers based in the highlands of the Deccan clashed with the dynasties residing in the southern lowlands, and these in their turn fought the rulers of the Orissa coast. The ancient text Ramayan describes the alliance of the exiled North Indian prince Rama with the various southern kingdoms like Kishkindha[1] and their involvement in his conflict with Ravana, the ruler of Lanka.

The earliest epigraphic records in the south are the pillars of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka found at Chitaldurg near Mysore—on the southern part of the peninsula were the three kingdoms (trairajya) of the Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas. The northern empire had good relations with these and probably engaged in brisk trade with them—Ashoka is known to have sent an embassy to the island of Sri Lanka. The Hathigumpa inscription of Kharavela, the ruler of Kalinga (Orissa), is the first epigraphic record to describe a military campaign in the south against the above-mentioned trairajya—this occurred in the 2nd Century BCE.

The imperial tradition of the Mauryas was continued by the Satvahana dynasty of Pratisthana who administered a vast area spanning both coasts of the peninsula and extending up to Central India—this important empire lasted till the 4th Century CE and all subsequent southern kingdoms were feudatories of the Satvahanas. Thus the Vakataks reigned in Central India, the Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas in the Deccan, the Gangas in the east and the Kadambas in the west, while the Pallavas ruled in the south.

Of these the Chalukyas came to dominate the Deccan and the Pallavas the lowlands south of the Krishna River for nearly three centuries—and the two clashed frequently throughout the period. Under both these powers religion and culture were greatly enriched and the developments in art and architecture were continued uninterrupted down to the time of the Islamic invasions. By the 8th Century the Chalukyas had been overthrown by their feudatories the Rashtrakutas—the latter continued the struggle with the Pallavas and dented their power. This allowed the Pallava feudatories like the Pandyas to assert their own independence—but from the 10th to the 13th Century the Chola power was supreme in the south while the northern peninsula had come under the Later Chalukyas.

One of the striking features of peninsular history had been its political continuity—established powers would be supplanted by their feudatories and would be reduced to that status themselves. But after a few generations these old powers would gather enough resources to re-establish their kingdoms. Thus the south is littered with examples of several early and later dynasties of Chalukyas, Pandyas, Cholas, and Rashtrakutas.

The Rashtrakutas became the first peninsular power to influence the course of North Indian history in their wars with the Palas of Bengal and the Pratihars of Kannauj. The Cholas, as described in an earlier post, remained the greatest indigenous naval power till the formation of independent India. The struggle with the eastern powers like the Gangas and the Eastern Chalukyas continued throughout the period.

Chola power lasted till the 13th Century, long after the demise of its rivals, the Later Chalukyas—its territories passed under the Hoysalas and Later Pandyas. In the upper peninsula the Later Chalukyas had been replaced by the Yadavas of Devagiri, the Silharas of the Konkan coast, and the Kakatiyas of the eastern Deccan.

Military developments

The earliest southern armies were composed primarily of infantry, bolstered by chariots and elephant forces—the former originated in North India while the latter were first used in war by the eastern kingdoms[2]. The lack of horses and the growth of the horse trade have been described in the previous post. The transport of elephants and horses by boat in naval expeditions is depicted in the murals of Ajanta and in the sculptures of temples—the outlines of such expeditions have also been drawn in the previous post.

The Greek writer Megasthenes, in the period of the Maurya Empire, writes of the Pandyas possessing an army of 130,000 infantry, 4000 horses (chariots and cavalry), and 500 elephants. Subsequently there was a decline in the importance of chariots in both the north and the south[3] paralleled by the growing value of cavalry. The Chola (10th to 13th Century) army was called the munrukai-mahasenai (three limbs of the great army), which comprised of 60,000 elephants, 150,000 infantry, and a few thousand cavalry imported through Arab traders. Cavalry was also important for the Deccan powers like the Rashtrakutas and Yadavas—but further developments of this important arm, in the use of chain-mail armor and horse archery, came with the Turks.

By the early 14th Century the numerous feudatories of the Later Chalukya and Chola powers were fighting each other for supremacy—thus the peninsula was ripe for conquest. At this time North India had passed under the domination of the Turks due in a great part to events that had occurred in Central Asia and Iran—the conquest of these regions by the Mongols of Chingiz Khan pushed out hordes of Turkic tribes into India where these new arrivals seized power from the earlier Delhi Sultans. With a vastly increased army they besieged and won several Rajput forts and acquired the routes for pushing into southern India.

The southern sultanates

Under the Khaljis the Yadava Kingdom of Devagiri became a base for operations against the other peninsular powers. Its ruler Ramachandra provided men and material to the Turks for campaigns against his traditional rivals—the Kakatiyas of Warangal (in the east) and the Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra (in the south). Malik Kafur imposed tribute on the latter kingdom and used its territories to lead a daring campaign into the Pandya Kingdom of Madura, which was then undergoing a civil war—several temples were looted and idols were destroyed in that southernmost tip of India.

Under Malik Jauna (the future Sultan Muhammad Tughluq) as viceroy the territories of Warangal and Madura were finally annexed—when he became Sultan of Delhi Kampili and the Hoysala lands were also conquered[4]. Meanwhile in the north the Turks had failed to maintain their hold on the Rajput forts—to prevent further rebellions in the freshly conquered south, Muhammad Tughluq shifted his capital to Devagiri and renamed it Daulatabad. However this move was a failure and renewed rebellions led to the ultimate loss of the southern regions—Sayyid Ahsan Shah formed the Sultanate of Madura in 1334 and Hasan Gangu established the Bahmani Sultanate at Daulatabad in 1345.

The Muslim population of the Deccan grew by conquest and immigration. The former Kingdom of Devagiri, even though tributary to the Delhi Sultans, was annexed after several bloody battles against three generations of its rulers (Ramachandra, Singhana, and Harpaladeva). Most of the Hindu nobility was wiped out in this conflict and the land was parceled out to the Muslim nobles—when Muhammad Tughluq made it his new capital a fresh influx of Muslims colonized Daulatabad[5] and the nearby regions.

Furthermore the capture of the Konkan ports gave the Bahmani Sultanate direct access to the outer Islamic lands—the all-important horses and other articles of trade could be directly imported by the Sultanate. Muslim recruits from the territories of Iran, Iraq, and Ethiopia also made their way by sea to take up service under the Bahmani Sultans. Competing against these foreigners were the descendants of earlier generations of Turk invaders and the local converts to Islam. This split between foreigners and locals was intensified by religious and racial differences—the foreigners (Arabs and Persians) were mostly Shias while the locals were Sunnis.

The Ethiopian immigrants though were Sunnis and joined the locally born Deccanis. The Arabs and Persians were proud of their Shia faith and considered their language and culture superior to the Deccanis. They were fair-skinned and considered beauty and nobility to be a by-product of that fair complexion—consequently they looked down upon the dark-skinned Ethiopians and Deccanis.

The foreigner-local conflict first emerged in the campaign against the northern Sultanate of Gujarat[6] and intensified in the war against the Hindu Kingdoms[7] of Khelna and Sangameshwar in 1446. The rise to power of the Persian immigrant Mahmud Gavan intensified this struggle and led finally to that great minister’s murder (1481)—his Deccani and foreign nobles divided the land among themselves and eventually founded dynasties of their own. These emerged in the shape of three[8] sultanates: Ahmadnagar ruled by the Sunni Ahmad Shah[9], Bijapur ruled by the Persian Shia Yusuf Adil Shah, and Golconda ruled by the Turkman Shia Quli Qutub Shah.

The indigenous powers

The founder of the Bahmani Sultanate, Hasan Gangu, when enforcing his rule over the Deccan spared those Hindu landlords who paid tribute to him. His descendants though marked their rule by shedding the blood of the Hindus in all their campaigns—but the rivalry of foreigners and Deccanis (and of Sunnis and Shias) slowed the process of Islamization. More importantly the conflict with the only partially subdued areas like the Andhra coast and with the independent powers like Vijaynagar and Orissa severely bled the military strength of the Bahmani Sultans. In this conflict, wars and campaigns continued year after year and generation after generation—these Hindu powers saved the indigenous population under the Bahmani Sultanate from conversion in the same manner as the Rajput resistance saved the inhabitants of the Delhi Sultanate in the north.

After the conquest of Warangal and Kampili, Muhammad Tughluq had appointed converted officers of the old kingdoms[10] to govern them for him. But the chieftains[11] of Telingana led a rebellion against the foreigners and their local deputies—they formed an alliance with the last independent Hindu king in the south, the Hoysala Vira Ballal III and drove away Muslim garrisons from the forts on the Andhra coast. Some other forts in the south and in the Krishna valley[12] were also liberated but the alliance soon dissolved—however it inspired the Muslim governors of Kampili to once again embrace their ancestral faith and establish the independent Kingdom of Vijaynagar[13].

These scattered risings, though initially successful, would have again fallen one by one to the Turk cavalry in the Deccan but for the rise of Vijaynagar. The massive walled city of that name was founded on the south bank of the Tungbhadra River in 1336 and its first ruler was Harihara[14]. He came into conflict with all members of the earlier Hindu confederacy—after defeating them Harihara absorbed their territories[15] into his own growing kingdom. Late in his reign the first wars with the Bahmani Sultanate in the north and with the Sultanate of Madura in the south were also fought.

The latter place was finally annexed in 1370 by Bukka—in its brief existence in the southernmost tip of India, the Sultanate of Madura left behind historical records soaked in blood. Ibn Batuta was married to a daughter of the first Sultan Sayyid Ahsan Shah and describes the almost constant warfare that the Muslims engaged in with the Hindus. At one place the Sultan captured Hindu villagers hiding in a forest—all the male prisoners were impaled on wooden stakes, their women were tied by the hair to these stakes and killed before their husbands' eyes, and finally the children were hacked to pieces. In this condition the bodies were left to rot or to be eaten by animals; and Ibn Batutah says that such hideous acts were committed again and again. After the conquest of Madura by Bukka, the Vijaynagar Princess Gangadevi visited the place and wrote, “The sweet odor of the sacrificial smoke and the chant of the Vedas have deserted the villages, which are now filled with the foul smell of roasted flesh and the fierce noise of the ruffianly Turushkas. The suburban gardens of Madura present a most painful sight; many of their beautiful cocoanut palms have been cut down; and on every side are seen rows of stakes where swing garlands of human skulls strung together.”[16]

In the north-east the Vijaynagar Kings attempted to subjugate the Reddis and Velamas of the Andhra coast—the latter took the aid of the Bahmani Sultans who eventually captured Warangal. But it also created conflicts with the Gajapati rulers of Orissa[17] who sought to bring the Reddi kingdom under their own rule. In the north the constant back-and-forth battles of the Bahmani Sultans with the Vijaynagar Rayas ended with the success of the latter—the lands between the Krishna and the Tungbhadra remained with Vijaynagar whose kings also conquered the Konkan coast and its ports from the Bahmanis.

The Kingdom of Vijaynagar was based on sure economic footing—the fertility of its soil, the abundance of forest wealth, and the numerous industries and crafts were bolstered by the control of the sea trade on both coasts. Much of this wealth was spent in acquiring the all-important horses, first from the Arabs, and later from the Portuguese traders. The traditional South Indian strength in elephant forces and infantry was thus supplemented by a fine cavalry—Devaraya went further by recruiting the mobile Turkish archers in his army.

But just as the Bahmani Sultanate had to contend with the mutual jealousies and increasing strength of the factions in the nobility, almost every Vijaynagar King was forced to deal with the provincial governors. By the time of Virupaksha the Saluvas of the eastern coast and the Tuluvas of the western coast ruled their hereditary estates in practical independence. The Gajapati Kapilendra dented Vijaynagar power when he led his conquering army down to the Kaveri River—simultaneously the Konkan coast was lost to the Bahmani Sultanate under Mahmud Gavan. The power of Vijaynagar was restored by the Saluva Narsimha, whose new dynasty briefly ruled Vijaynagar, but was expanded to an unprecedented degree by Krishnadeva Raya[18].

The campaigns of Krishnadeva are considered most instructive for students of military history. The Bahmani Sultanate had broken into five jarring fragments but the later Sultans attempted to enforce a sort of united front by proposing to fight a jehad against the idolaters of Vijaynagar once every year. In 1509 the allied Muslim army invaded Vijaynagar but was defeated by Krishnadeva—as they fled back the Raya followed close on their heels and again defeated them at Kovelakonda where Yusuf Adil Shah of Bijapur was killed. Krishnadeva next captured Gulbarga and the Bahmani capital Bidar where he restored the Bahmani Sultan to power over his nobles.

In the east the Vijaynagar forces assaulted the fort of Udaygiri, which had been captured by the Gajapatis of Orissa—Krishnadeva broke down large boulders to widen the road to the fort, which his forces then surrounded and forced to capitulate. Next he attacked Kondavidu fort, which his men captured by escalade when Krishnadeva constructed wooden towers (nada-chapparam) enabling them to fight the garrison and scale the walls. After capturing many other forts the Vijaynagar forces neared Rajahmundry—here the local chief Sitapati blocked the hill pass with 60,000 archers. Krishnadeva sent his cavalry to climb the hills and assault Sitapati from behind—after capturing Rajahmundry the Raya invaded Orissa and besieged Gajapati Prataprudra in Cuttack. Peace between the two sides was made by a treaty in 1518[19].

Krishnadeva’s son-in-law Rama Raya, eventually succeeded to the throne of Vijaynagar but by this time the kingdom was on the verge of disintegration. The rise of vassal chiefs like Saluva Narasimha and Narasa Nayak had set an example for other ambitious chieftains, further complicated by the rapid changes of monarchs and dynasties. Vijaynagar’s interference and dominance over the Deccan Sultanates had created resentment in the latter—during Krishnadeva Raya’s war against Orissa the Sultanate of Golconda had captured practically the whole of Telingana and thus became powerful. Ultimately the Sultanates combined once again to invade Vijaynagar in 1565—Rama Raya was killed and the flourishing city of Vijaynagar was sacked.

At a time when the north had been united under a tolerant monarch, the south was fragmented and ripe for conquest.

Mughals and Marathas

The Mughal Emperor Akbar advanced with his army into the Deccan towards the close of his reign—Berar was annexed in 1599 and the fort of Ahmadnagar was won in 1600. However Malik Ambar, the Ethiopian general of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate, recovered the capital and drove out the Mughals—after his death Shah Jahan finally annexed Ahmadnagar and massed a large army at the old Bahmani capital of Daulatabad for operations against Bijapur and Golconda in 1636. The Sultan of Golconda submitted without a fight and became a tributary prince of the Mughal Empire while the Bijapuris defied the invaders by breaking the dam on the Shorapur Lake and flooding the land around their capital. Eventually the Sultan came to terms with the Mughals by paying them a war-indemnity and agreeing to respect their frontier.

Under Aurangzeb several attempts were made to conquer Bijapur and to annex lands or extract more tribute from Golconda, but it was only under the old emperor’s personal campaign at the head of vast armies that the two cities were finally conquered. The massive fort-city of Bijapur surrendered after a long siege, and after a hefty bombardment, in 1686 while Golconda, similarly besieged by the full force of the empire and bombarded to submission, fell in 1687. But in fact what Aurangzeb had gained were only two cities, and not the lands of the sultanates, for the writ of the sultans did not run beyond their capitals.

The Deccan Sultanates suffered from the same drawback as the earlier Bahmani Sultanate—the factions of the nobility and their quarrels. It were these factions at Ahmadnagar that had resulted in Akbar’s conquest of 1600 and were seen again in the early campaigns of Aurangzeb’s generals against Bijapur—Mirza Raja Jai Singh (1665) had described the composition[20] of the Bijapur nobility and army as, “Afghans, who form more than half the army of Bijapur, the Ethiopians (about 2000 brave troops), and the Mahdavi sect, foremost in raising tumult, more than 3000 horse. When these have joined us, the Bijapuri generals will be broken-winged and unable to carry on any exploit.”

Apart from these were the Hindu communities, like the Berads or the Telegu Nayaks, living in all the sultanates—but the most prominent of whom were the Marathas. The power and position of these Hindus in the sultanates though did not compare with that of the Rajputs in the Mughal Empire. After the Mughal conquest of Ahmadnagar the Maratha cavalry of Shahaji Bhonsle defended the last surviving Nizam Shahi prince until their chief was forced to come to terms and take up service under Bijapur. The complete history of the numerous Maratha chiefs and people has been studied earlier in this article.

The Sultanate of Golconda had its nobility and army drawn from Persians, Arabs, and Afghans. But the most prominent Golconda noble was the Persian Mir Jumla, a diamond merchant who rose to be the prime minister of the sultanate. In time Mir Jumla commanded a personal army of 5000 horse, 20,000 foot, a European-led artillery corps, and well-trained elephants—he had also become the master of a vast treasure accumulated by campaigning in the south[21]. The treaty of 1636 with the Mughals had blocked the sultanates from expanding northwards; hence they turned their arms south.

The Kingdom of Vijaynagar was not extinguished in 1565 by the sacking of the capital—its power was revived by the Rayas who shifted the capital south to Penukonda. As the sultanates fell to the advancing Mughals in the north, the Rayas of Karnatak[22] failed to keep their vassals under control, and were forced to again change their capital to the hill-fort of Chandragiri.

But the conquest of this region, which had defied the Muslim invaders for three centuries, was not the work of an organized empire, or of even kingdoms—it was done by the personal armies of the nobles of Golconda and Bijapur. While Mir Jumla conquered in the name of the former, the Ethiopian general Ikhlas Khan campaigned in the name of the latter, while still later the Maratha Shahaji Bhonsle[23] as a servant of Bijapur also acquired an estate in this region. As the nobles of the sultanates grabbed his last remaining territories, Sri Ranga Rayal in desperation appealed to Prince Aurangzeb (in 1653) for aid—the latter made only a show[24] of aiding him but dropped clear hints to the sultanates that he would back off if they shared their conquests with him!

After conquering Bijapur (1686) and Golkonda (1687) Emperor Aurangzeb captured and executed Shambhuji (1688)—all the prominent southern dynasties had ended and their capitals had been captured. But the Mughal armies failed to bring the land under their control and came into conflict with the indigenous peoples of peninsular India, prominent among whom were the Marathas[25]. The complete story of that struggle has been described here.

Artillery and musketry

One of the last sovereign acts of Sri Ranga Rayal was the grant of the fishing village of Madraspatnam to the English East India Company in 1639. The French had similarly acquired nearby Pondicherry—during the Mughal-Maratha wars the two European trading powers fortified their settlements[26]. In the 18th Century they fought a brief war in India as an extension of the conflict of their home countries in Europe—the upshot of this conflict was the control of these foreigners over the Indian kingdoms in the south. European officers came to command the armies of Mysore, Hyderabad, and Gwalior, while the English East India Company brought more and more land under its direct administration.

While artillery (wheeled cannon) and muskets were introduced in North India by the Mughal invader Babur, in the south the Portuguese made these weapons generic among the local powers. Although the quality of European guns was inferior to Indian guns until the late 17th Century the former used their weapons better than the latter—by way of example the rate of firing and accuracy of a European gunner was superior to his Indian counterpart.

Muskets adopted from the start by the indigenous peoples became useful later during the Mughal-Maratha struggle in the south. The Berads of the Krishna valley, the Tamil Polygars, and the Telegu Nayaks formed the infantry element in the Maratha battles with the Mughals. These later became infantry soldiers in the kingdoms like Mysore and Hyderabad and in the Madras army of the East India Company.

As a result of the East India Company wars the Muslim usurpation of the Wodeyar Kingdom of Mysore was ended while the expansion of the Muslim Kingdom of Hyderabad was the result of these same wars and not through any exertion of the Nizams. The population of Muslims however grew a bit by migration from the north as Hyderabad was the largest surviving Sunni Muslim state in India—but for the most part this migration was limited to the city of Hyderabad.

[1] Although these allies are depicted as monkeys, bears, eagles, or snakes, it is to be understood that these were animist peoples who actually worshipped such animals.
[2] However since the elephant is also native to the peninsula it may have been domesticated by the southerners and used in war independent of developments in the east.
[3] But not in the east, where chariots were used till late in the 11th Century!
[4] This conquest was sparked by the rebellion of a Muslim noble named Gurshap who took shelter first at Kampili and then Dwarasamudra.
[5] Devagiri (mountain of the Gods) was renamed Daulatabad (abode of wealth) by Muhammad Tughluq.
[6] Khalaf Hasan Basri, the Arab commander, was deserted by his Deccani officers leading to the defeat of the Bahmani army in 1430. Subsequently Khalif Hasan persuaded the Sultan to let him have an army composed exclusively of foreign Muslims.
[7] The Bahmani army under Khalif Hasan Basri was defeated by the Hindus in the hilly tracts and was forced to take shelter in the fort of Chakan. Their Deccani rivals ascribed this defeat to treachery and neglect—the Sultan ordered the massacre of the foreigners at Chakan.
[8] The split was actually into five sultanates but two of these did not survive long. Bidar ruled by the Sunni Turk Qasim Barid Shah was annexed later by Bijapur, and Berar ruled by the Sunni Brahmin convert Fathullah Imad Shah was conquered by Ahmadnagar.
[9] Ahmad’s father was a Brahmin convert named Hasan Nizam-ul-mulk Bahri.
[10] In Kampili were placed the brothers Harihara and Bukka, while Malik Maqbul (the converted Nagaya Gauna) governed Warangal.
[11] These were Prolaya Nayak, Prolaya Vema Reddi, and the Telegu-Choda prince of Eruva. Prolaya Nayak’s son Kapaya Nayak captured Warangal from the local convert Malik Maqbul while the Reddis founded the principality of Rajahmundry.
[12] Here the revolt was led by Chalukya Somadeva of the Kurnool district—he became the founder of the Aravidu family.
[13] The name could also be derived from Guru Vidyaranya (hence Vidyanagar), who converted them back to their ancestral faith and provided them guidance in the establishment of an independent kingdom.
[14] Harihara and his brother Bukka were regarded with suspicion due to their links with the Delhi Sultans—orthodox Hindu opinion also opposed their re-conversion until the move was sanctioned by Vidyatirth, the chief acharya of the Advaita-matha at Sringeri. Harihara ruled Vijaynagar as vice-regent of the God Virupaksha who was declared its real ruler.
[15] These were Prolaya Vema, Chalukya Somadeva, the Kadambas of the Konkan coast, and the Hoysala King Vira Ballal III.
[16] Eventually the whole southern coast came under Vijaynagar—the Prince Virupanna Udaiyar even led a campaign to Sri Lanka and extracted tribute from its ruler. By the 16th Century Sri Lanka had come under Portuguese control.
[17] Orissan kings like Kapilendra also fought the Bahmanis in Telingana where their ambitions clashed.
[18] He was the son of the Tuluva minister Narasa Nayak who had usurped power from the Saluvas.
[19] Surprisingly Krishnadeva returned all the conquered lands north of the Krishna River to Orissa.
[20] The Mahdavis were Sayyids and apart from these factions there were also Arabs of the Navaiyat clan on the Konkan coast.
[21] Mir Jumla’s vast estate in the south was the size of a kingdom, being 300 miles long and 50 miles broad, and it contained several diamond mines.
[22] These rulers were called Rayas of the Karnatak since their capitals, from Vijaynagar to Chandragiri, had all been in the Kannada-speaking highlands—from this fact the whole southern tip of Indian acquired the name Karnatak in the Muslim and British histories.
[23] The last-named permanently settled here and gave his son Vyankoji the Kingdom of Tanjore in inheritance—his estates in Maharashtra were inherited by Shivaji, a son from his senior wife. Shivaji’s accumulation of power has been described elsewhere but taking advantage of the Mughal conflict with the sultanates he also acquired vast territories in Karnatak by conquests in the late 17th Century.
[24] Aurangzeb shamelessly describes this policy in his letters to his father Shah Jahan, and the latter agrees with his worthy son! The last Vijaynagar Raya at last even offered to become a Muslim if only the Mughals would aid him but Aurangzeb remained interested only in acquiring money. This instance, coupled with several others, showed the real aim of the Mughal government (a relentless acquisition of wealth by any means) and reveals why the Indians so readily embraced British rule.
[25] At the same time Aurangzeb’s bigoted laws and attempts to annex the Rajput states had raised a conflagration in the north.
[26] In a particularly tense period when Mughal and Maratha armies ravaged the south, thousands of people took shelter in these foreign settlements. Read More......