This is the first part of a two part series on the Vijayanagar emperor Bukkaraya I.
I have taken the liberty of not quoting references as it tends to become time consuming.But most of them can be found quite easily.The translation of verses from the Madhuravijayam is from an original translation being done by my parents, which I plan to being out sometime this year.If you are interested in buying the book as and when it comes out please do send me a message.
Bukkaraya, Part -I
“ He (Bukkaraya) was the first among all kings , just as Adisesa is among snakes, Himalaya is amongst the mountains and Lord Vishnu is amongst the gods.” verse 27, First Canto, Madhuravijayam.
Such was the greatness of Bukkaraya that he is compared to Lord Vishnu who delivered the earth from adhrama. Bukkaraya was the second emperor of the glorious Vijayanagar empire, ruling from 1357-1377 CE .The first ruler of which was his elder brother Harihara I. In popular folklore these two brothers have been immortalised as Hakka-Bukka. There were actually five brothers in all, better known as the Sangama brothers. It was due to his herculean efforts that that the wave of Islamic jihad broke on the banks of the Krishna and a badly wounded Hindu society was nursed back to health.It would be worth adding that without the divine guidance of seers like Vidyaranya and Kriyashakti who guided the Sangama brothers ,the successful fight back would not have been possible.
To see the greatness of Bukkaraya in the correct perspective it is essential to have a little understanding of the challenges faced by him and his achievements in overcoming them.
1.1 Some Years before…
In the early 1300’s the marauding hordes of the Islamic barbarians led by Malik Kafur had penetrated into the Deccan and as far as Tamil Nadu.Soon afterwards in the 1320’s came the wave of the Tughlaq invasions which swamped the southern kingdoms. For a while the fate of the Dharma hung in balance. The Yadavas of Devagiri were wiped out, the Kakatiya’s of Warangal were gone and the Pandyas of Tamil Nadu vanquished as well.The only Hindu kingdom left fighting was that of the Hoysalas led by Veera Ballala III. It seemed certain that the terrible disaster which had convulsed Northern India after Prithviraj Chauhan’s death in 1192 CE would be repeated in the South.
But things were destined differently. A ferocious fight back began all over South India. By 1336 CE the rollback of the Tughlaq invasions from most of South of India had been accomplished by a confederation of Hindu Kings and commanders. Notable among them were Prolaya Vema who liberated large parts of Andhra Pradesh, the Chalukya prince Someshwara who ousted the tyrannical muslim governors from parts of Karnataka and the great Hoysala King Veera Ballala III who liberated large parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.In this great war of independence to which only the twenty seven years of ferocious warfare waged by the Maratha people against the Mughals can be compared, there was complete participation of every segment of South Indian society.From a reading of various sources it seems likely that the Sangama brothers were feudatories of Veera Ballala III. This explains why Veera Ballala had the confidence to attack the murderous sultans of Madurai with the main component of his army in 1342 CE, as the Sangama brothers were securing his northern frontiers against an attack by the Muslim forces from Devagiri. And by 1346 CE the construction of the magnificent capital of the empire later known as Vijayanagar was nearly complete.
2.The Challenges faced by Bukkaraya
2.1. The Bahmani and the Madurai Sultanates
The sultanate of Madurai was established around 1333 CE by Jalal-ud-din Ahsan Shah, the governor of Madurai. His rebellion was amongst the first of a long revolts by governors of Muhammad Tughlaq all over India which eventually led to the disintegration of Tughlaq empire.
Veera Ballala III was engaged in near constant warfare with this genocidal regime in desperate attempts to destroy it and liberate the deep south. He was over eighty years old at this time met a tragic end in 1342 CE at the hands of Ghiyas-ud-din Damghan Shah, a successor of Ahsan Shah.. This great defender of Dharma was captured in the decisive battle of Kannur-Koppam and skinned alive by the blood thirsty Ghiyas-ud-din. His brutal murder was a great setback to the liberation of the deep south, as it was essential to secure the rear before the Muslims from the North launched a fresh offensive.
The region from the south of river Coleroon right till Rameshwaram was in the hands of the Sultanate of Madurai. With their capital at Madurai the so called “Sultans” had their paws on the rich trading routes of Asia via the flourishing ports on the Tamil Nadu coastline.The ports were a source of not only trade but also the entry point for Islamic jihadis arriving from West Asia and Africa.The most fertile region of the south was under their control.This allowed to Sultanate to field resources to fend off larger enemies like the Hoysalas. It was upto Bukkaraya I to remove this vicious dagger sticking in the back of the fledgling empire. The terrible atrocities carried out by the Sultans of Madurai were recorded by Gangadevi in her epic poem Madhuravijyam. I am presenting a few verses which give graphic details of the tyranny of these animals.
“I am pained by seeing the beautiful groves of Madura where the coconut trees have been cut down and in their place are to be seen rows of iron spikes hanging with garlands of crores of human skulls.” Verse 8, Eighth Canto, Madhuravijayam.
“ In Madura the kings courtyards which were very cool by sprinkling the camphor and sandal waters are now polluted by the imprisoned Brahmins tears ,I am distressed seeing that.” Verse 11, Eighth Canto, Madhuravijayam.
Ibn Battuta was also witness to the blood thirsty nature of these tyrants.He says,
“ the Hindu prisoners were divided into four sections and taken to each of the four gates of the great catcar. There, on the stakes they had carried, the prisoners were impaled. Afterwards their wives were killed and tied by their hair to these pales. Little children were massacred on the bosoms of their mothers and their corpses left there. Then, the camp was raised, and they started cutting down the trees of another forest. In the same manner did they treat their later Hindu prisoners. This is shameful conduct such as I have not known any other sovereign guilty of. It is for this that God hastened the death of Ghiyath-eddin.”
The Madurai sultanate was not without its allies. The ruler of Kanchipuram was Champaraju,also known as Sambuvaraya by historians. The region of North and South Arcot districts and parts of Chittor district were included in his kingdom. He was an ally of the Madurai sultanate and this is hinted to in the Madhuravijyam wherein the Sultan is referred as the tree and Chamapraju as the branches. Thus there was a buffer region which had to be overcome before the Muslims in Madurai could be disposed off.
The Bahmani Sultanate : A new danger had arisen in the Deccan. On 3rd August 1347 at Gulbarga in Karnataka, Hasan Kangu proclaimed himself Sultan Abu’l Muzzafar Ala-ud-din Bahman Shah. The foundation of the Bahamani sultanate with its epicentre at Gulbarga marked the start of a bloody epoch in the history of the Hindus. The Bahmani sultanate was no less genocidal than the Madurai one.Large parts of Maharashtra were depopulated under the “secular” rule of the Bahmanis. The Bahmanis particularly after 1357 CE were engaged in aggressive campaigns of attacking Goa (which was under the Kadamba kings, who were tributaries of Vijayanagar), Telangana and the dominions of Vijayanagar proper around the Krishna river.
Bukkaraya had to fight against enemies in the front and in the rear. Both the Muslim sultanates coordinated with each other in the attacks against the Vijayanagar empire. In fact one of the sultans of Madurai was a relation of the first Bahmani sultan. As witnessed by Ibn Batutta the Madurai sultans used to conduct regular devastating raids into the Tamil countryside.
2.2 Anarchy in society
The damage to the fabric of society was the most serious havoc wrought by the Islamic invaders. The waves of destructive invasions and the establishment of Muslim rule in parts of South India had destroyed the traditional ways of living.The large scale sack and destruction of temples by the Islamic fanatics had left a large vacuum in rural and urban society.Hindu society has traditionally been decentralised and village based.In the villages the temples acted as the employer, land holder,bank, hospital, consumer of local goods and services etc. Thus to the muslims what was an easy source of plunder was the life blood to the common man.With the destruction of the temple the anchor which held together communities was effectively broken. The plight of the temples is well illustrated by this verse from the Madhuravijyam.
“ The state of the temple is such that the spiders are weaving their fine cobwebs, wild elephants rub their heads against the walls and lord Shiva himself is bereft of caretakers.” Verse 3, Eighth Canto, Madhuravijayam.
Added to these there was no security for the common Hindu as the Muslims engaged in wanton raping and killing. The slavery of the Hindus was big business for the Muslim sultanates. Brahmana’s were especially targeted as they were viewed to be the intellectual bastion of resistance against the Muslims (This strategy of targeting them was and is being used by Christian missionaries and other anti national forces).Atrocious taxation measures adopted by the Sultans were designed to fleece every single penny from the Hindus.
2.3 Damage to Infrastructure
In the scorched earth warfare tactics practised by the Muslims the traditional water management systems such as tanks, bunds, canals, dams and bridges were the prime casualities. Not being endowed with any quality other than barbarity they neither had the will nor the expertise to repair the extensive damage caused by them. Agriculture which was completely dependent on timely rains and in case the rains failed these water management systems were the fall back option. With their destruction droughts inevitably turned into catastrophic famines, as the stores of grains were requisitioned by the Muslim tyrants without any reciprocal relaxation in the taxation.
Compounding the woes of the Hindus was the serious drop in the monsoon rains. The period from 1300s to 1500’s was the little ice age which was accompanied by serious droughts in India. Large scale famines which carried off lakhs of Hindus were a regular occurrence, one of the more serious ones being the famine of 1337-1344 CE which depopulated large parts of Northern India (which were fortunate to be under Muslim rule). We again turn to the Madhuravijayam for an eye witness view of the Muslims vandalism and the resulting famines.
“At present the river Kaveri breaking her traditional course is flowing in wrong directions.It seems that she is imitating the Tulushkas by flowing in all wrong directions.” Verse 6, Eighth Canto, Madhuravijayam.
“Unlike earlier times the earth no longer produces wealth, Indra does not give timely rains and the god of Death carries away the survivors left alive after the massacres by the yavanas.” Verse 14, Eighth Canto, Madhuravijayam.
The above verse refers to the plague that was ravaging Madura in the 1340’s.
The article is continued in Part II.