Vijayanagar- The Empire of the Gods
“The city of Bijanagar (Vijayanagar) is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the world.” –Abdur Razzak, ambassor of Persia to Vijayanagar.
To avoid confusion let me make it clear that Vijayanagar was both the name of the empire and its capital city (present day Hampi, Karnataka).
In the south of India, Vijayanagar is a household name. The name itself evokes civilisational memories of a glorious bygone past, the evidence of which can be still seen in the mute ruins of Hampi in Karnataka.
But in other parts of India, especially the north, awareness of this great Hindu empire, which acted as the last refuge to persecuted Hindus from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, remains woefully low.
There are many reasons for this, the chief one being the complete whitewash of our history by a government which is continually haunted by the spectre of the truth about Muslim rule in India becoming popular knowledge .A false creed of “secularism” has been foisted by the rulers onto a gullible majority. Add to this cocktail a feckless media and an education system which presents our history as a lifeless caricature of itself
What the media and the government fail to realise is that Hindus are not going to go rampaging against the minorities if the real history of Islamic invasions is publicised. The civilisational memory is very strong; attempts to whitewash our history are only going to end in grief. The majority has enough common sense to realise that the present day Indian Muslims are not responsible for the atrocities committed by their forebears.
But what an honest rendering of our history will do is clear the air for a clear dialogue between the two communities without prejudices and predilections’.
As I begin this article, my only request to the reader is: read with an open mind .I will give references as applicable. Feel free to read up and check on them. If I have missed some, please point them out to me. Almost all of the original texts of Muslim chroniclers are available online. I have used the notation “CE” (Christian Era) instead of “AD” (Anno Domini) for denoting the years.
I am a firm believer in our national motto “Satya meva jayate”. The rotting carcass of lies will eventually fall off and truth will break free with the force of a typhoon.
And so we begin….
To understand the significance of Vijayanagar in our history we need to dig a bit deeper into the century and the circumstances in which it was born.
1. A Century before…
It is said that the true eclipse of the Hindu civilisation started with fall of the last Hindu king of Afghanistan, Jayapala Shahi in 1001 CE. If that was beginning of the eclipse, the darkest moment for our holy land was when the Mohemmedan hordes under Ulugh Khan (later known as Mohammed Tughlaq) overran southern India in 1314 CE. This meant that for a very brief period of time the whole of India came under Muslim rule.
By the beginning of the fourteenth century, Northern India (except for Rajputana) had become a lifeless limb, being ravaged for over a century by the genocidal sultans of Delhi. The Delhi sultanate was well entrenched for more than a century by now. The horrors inflicted on the populace were beyond description. To get an idea of the life of the average Hindu under the enlightened sultans one does not need to look very far. To give an example from the Kãmil-ut-Tawãrîkh of Ibn Asir, “The slaughter of Hindus (at Varanasi) was immense; none were spared except women and children, and the carnage of men went on until the earth was weary.” This was to describe the sack of Varanasi, after the last Gahadvad King Jaichandra (better known as Jaichand of Prithviraj Raso infamy) was killed on the battlefield by Qutub-uddin-Aibak in 1194.
Another example from Zia- ud -Din Barni’s “Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi”, “In two nights and three days he crossed the Ganges at Kateher, and sending forward a force of five thousand archers, he gave them orders to burn down Kateher and destroy it, to slay every man, and to spare none but women and children, not even boys who had reached the age of eight or nine years. He re¬mained for some days at Kateher and directed the slaughter. The blood of the rioters ran in streams, heaps of slain were to be seen near every village and jungle, and the stench of the dead reached as far as the Ganges.” This is a graphic description of the massacre of Hindus in the doab by Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Balban. The date is unclear, but would have been sometime during his reign (1265-1285 CE). Hindus had rebelled against the sultanate and were close to overthrowing the Muslim governors of Badaun and Amroha.
The list of atrocities goes on and on, the incidents described in graphic details by the Muslim chroniclers themselves. The horrific accounts are written with great pride by these chroniclers, who see the sultans as fulfilling their religious obligations as laid out in the Quran.
Resistance was fierce, but was crushed with overwhelming force and brutality. The common people of India had never experienced such horrors. Mass rapes, murder and mayhem had become the order of the day.
Like I said, don’t take my word for it, read the references which are freely available on the internet.
2. The major Hindu Kingdoms
At this point in time it would be pertinent to see the situation in the rest of India. At the close of the thirteenth century, what is present day Maharashtra was ruled by the Yadava kings of Deogiri (present day Daulatabad), Rajputana by various Rajput kings, the Telangana region ruled by the Kakatiya kings, Andhra by the Hoysala kings, present day Tamil nadu by the Pandyas, Assam by the Ahom kings and Kashmir by its last Hindu ruler Suhadeva. Bengal had fallen to the Bakhtiar Khilji at the beginning of the thirteenth century in 1206 CE and Gujarat to Alauddin Khiljis hordes in 1297 CE.
3. While Elsewhere
Fig 1 The extent of the Mongol empire (image courtesy Wikipedia)
On the world stage, the descendents of Chengiz Khan were tearing a blaze of destruction across the Muslim world (which included central Asia, Afghanistan, Persia, Iraq, today’s Middle East),China, southeast Asia, carrying on right till Europe. This led to an influx of dispossessed Muslim princes and soldiers into the Delhi sultanate .And of course each one of them would be eager to go on a jihad against the unbelieving Hindus!!
The sultanate meanwhile was still consolidating its grip on the gangetic plains and simultaneously defending its northern frontier (Punjab) against the Mongols.
4. The First Incursions into the South
Fig 2.Deogiri Fort (Daulatabad) (image courtesy Wikipedia)
The first successful incursion into the south was via Deogiri (present day Aurangabad, Maharashtra). Ala-ud-din Khilji, the wily nephew of Sultan Jalal-u-ddin laid siege to Deogiri in 1294.At this precise moment most of Deogiri’s forces were fighting with the Hoysala kings further down south. Rama Raya, the king of Deogiri was forced to submit after the reinforcements led by his son Shankar Deo were beaten back by the Turks. Alauddin extracted a tremendous price from Deogiri, virtually denuding it of all riches. As per Ferishta the booty included, “ 600 maunds of gold, seven maunds of pearls, two maunds of other jewels, thousand maunds of silver, and a yearly tribute of the revenues of Elichpur province”. A maund is roughly anywhere between 18-59 kgs. So we can easily imagine what the size of the treasure was!!
Backed by this treasure, Ala-uddin subsequently murdered his uncle the Sultan, in cold blood and took over the throne of Delhi. Murderous wars of succession and assassinations have always been an integral part of any Muslim sultanate anywhere in the world. With the aid of the looted treasure, a massive standing army of 4, 75,000 ( four lakhs and seventy five thousand) was maintained and the frontiers secured against the Mongol threat .Successive Mongol incursions were repelled, in fact the cunning Alauddin got rid of his powerful rival Zafar Khan in one of the Mongol raids. The Mongol incursions more or less stopped after 1308 CE, the Mongols now being fully immersed in their own disputes.
As the Mongol threat receded it was but natural for the avaricious sultan to turn his gaze back to the kingdoms beyond the Vindhyas.
Before we move on I will expound a bit on the nature of the sultanate and why it scored quick successes under able sultans like Alaudddin and Mohammed Tughlaq.
Shri Sita Ram Goel has given an excellent account of the main reasons in his book “The story of Islamic Imperialism in India” (available for free reading from http://voiceofdharma.org/books). I will very briefly touch on them here.
Spiritual & Intellectual Decline: The foremost reasons were the spiritual and intellectual decline of society. India had been exposed to Islamic invasions since the establishment of Islam in the seventh century. The first phase of invasion was of the Arabs (starting around 650 AD) which lasted for nearly three hundred years, till about the tenth century and was a dismal failure. Thus five hundred years had passed since the first clash with the armies of Islam and the time Muḥammad Ibn Sām (Mohammed Ghori) broke through into India proper. The pattern of Islamic atrocities was always the same as in later ages; people were aware of what they were facing.
Despite this, in the span of five centuries, why was no effort made to understand the ideology which motivated the invaders? Why did no religious leader declare that dharma itself was in danger and that the invaders had to be completely and utterly destroyed? Why were the defeated Muslim armies not pursued to their homelands and annihilated?
Despite knowing the nefarious tactics employed by the invaders, why did we consistently stick to myopic codes of honour, which in the end brought centuries of dishonour and tremendous suffering to our people?
Due to a refusal to see the true nature of the invader there was no strategic focus with Hindu rulers, bar a few notable exceptions. On the other hand irrespective of which person became Sultan , the overriding goal remained the same i.e. conquest and conversion.
The situation is not very different today, where any attempt to probe the true nature of the Islamic threat is dismissed as “communal”. An entire race seems to be in denial about the danger it faces.
Structure of Society: Hindu society had traditionally different classes such as, scholars (Brahmins), traders; kshatriyas (warriors).The movement of classes within the society was fluid as has been pointed out by Sita Ram Goel. This division of labour is characteristic of all modern societies, where different segments of society tackle different tasks.
Muslim society in India by contrast was fully militarised. The entire focus was on maintaining strength of arms, this being the only way they could subjugate a hostile majority (i.e. Hindus). This was remarkably similar to the Mongols who were a fully militarised society as well. In contrast the Muslim empires like Khwarazim, who fell like nine pins in front of the Mongol onslaught, were what could be called as normal societies in terms of the way their social structure.
The chief difference of course lay in the fact that the Mongols were shamanistic and by very nature accommodating of other faiths. Whereas the “secular” Sultans did not even accord Hindus the status of human beings!!
And the only way to sustain a militarised society was a constant inflow of looted treasure and slaves from their wars with the Hindus. Enslavement of Hindus was big business; the markets of central Asia were flooded with Hindus sold into slavery. The fate of Hindu women was even more terrible. They were treated like chattel and sold in market places into sexual slavery .It is not surprising not a few times Hindu women preferred to be consumed by the flames and commit jauhar, rather than put their honour at the tender mercies of the invader.
There was a very good reason why a total extermination of Hindus was not carried out even under fanatics like Alauddin. The sultans realised early on they needed the farmers, the traders and administrators to carry on his wars of conquest. This was a temporary arrangement till the number of Muslims reached a critical mass. But the ulema (Muslim theologians, more commonly known as “scholars of Islam”!) had to be kept happy, so Hindus were routinely massacred to “cleanse the land of idolaters”. The concentration of Muslims was still in the urban areas, e.g. Delhi had become more or less a Muslim city by the beginning of the thirteenth century, but the rural areas remained overwhelmingly Hindu.
Structure of Armies: Another contrast, as pointed out by Sita Ram Goel was the way in which the armies were maintained . In Hindu kingdoms, the main fighting core under the king was comparatively small but dedicated group of Kshatriyas .A liberal tax regime meant that more focus was on general economic and social progress rather than on maintaining a vast standing army. Rest of the recruits were levies provided by local feudatories or chiefs. This meant that the quality of the army could vary significantly. And once the king was killed on the battlefield or the main core of warriors smashed, the rest of the army would flee the battlefield. Throughout their wars the Muslim chiefs almost always focussed on killing the opposing king or key commanders. This invariably led to even the most well equipped Hindu armies to flee the battlefield. This trend was not reversed till Chattrapati Shivajis time, who taught his followers to fight for Dharma rather than the king.
The Muslim armies on the other hand were fully professional, mostly directly under the command of the sultan .Even the nobles or the amirs under the Khiljis and the Tuglaq’s remained fearful of their power being taken away, or in the worst case ending up dead; if they disobeyed the sultan . Even if the sultanates armies were defeated once, a vast reserve meant the Sultans could send a steady stream of invading armies at very short time intervals. On the other hand the Hindu kingdoms resources would have been depleted in the previous wars and the same exhausted army would be facing a much fresher invigorated enemy. Additionally, the scorched earth tactics pursued by the Muslims in ravaging the countryside and killing people in droves, shook the fabric of society and took their toll on the defenders.
Deception & Betrayal: Muslims used every trick of statecraft, deception and stratagem against the Hindu kings. No treaty was worth the paper it was written on. And they had scriptural justification for these acts, for Taqiyya (deception) with unbelievers is sanctioned by the Quran itself . Assurances of safety to surrendering Hindus were repeatedly violated. E.g. The last Yadava ruler of Deogiri, Haripala Dev; was skinned alive and his corpse hung from the gates of Daulatabad fort in 1318 CE. This was in clear violation of the assurances of safe passage given by Mubarak (the successor of Ala-ud-din Khilji) in 1318 CE .
Taxation: Under Hindu kings the taxes on the people were kept at a low level. In contrast under the sultanate, the common people were taxed to death; their blood being sucked dry by a parasitical sultanate .Non payment of taxes meant being sold into slavery and subsequent conversion to Islam. Revolts were common and as seen in the previous passages, very brutally put down. The most ignominious was of course the Jaziya, the tax on non Muslims.
The existence of Hindus who lived within the frontiers of the sultanate was pathetic, their existence that of a Zimmi or a second class citizen. On the borders people were subjected to constant raids and pillaging by the Muslim armies.
In the second part, I will touch upon the invasion of Malik Kafur beyond Devagiri into the Kakatiya kingdom till Madurai.