Jambudveep's Blog

May 9, 2010

Chita (The Pyre)

Filed under: Stories — Yogeshwar Shastri @ 4:31 pm
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 This story is based on a real life experience of my maternal grandmother and was narrated to me by my mother and Maushi (aunt). Except the end part and the location of the story,everything else is completely fictional and from my imagination.The names of the characters are fictional as well.But the personalities  they portray were very real.

I wanted to try and do a period piece on a small scale.Hopefully it has come out all right.If you have the time,I would encourage you to read on the Quit India Movement of 1942,how Gandhi & the Congress finally betrayed the people they asked to rise against the British ( they did the same thing in 1947 with the Hindus and Sikhs of  what is now Pakistan).A lot of people left their jobs etc to join this movement and when it fizzled out,had nowhere to go.Ironically when we became free in 1947,the people in the independent government were those who had collaborated with the British!!

I won’t even mention the role of the despicable Jawahar Lal Nehru,a person who used to describe himself as the last Britisher in India (or something to that effect).

Whoops!! I have started ranting ! So without further ado….

 Chita (The Pyre)

By Yogeshwar Shastri

Ahmednagar, August 1942

The heat of summer had given way to the relief of the rains. Ahmednagar was once again transformed from a dusty plain to a veritable nature’s garden. People breathed as sigh of relief as the agonies of summer finally died away.

    Kamala tai looked out from the hospital window at the army parade grounds next to the hospital. Beyond the vast parade grounds was the smashan (cremation ground).

Sitting in a metal chair next to her bed ridden son, the scene outside gave her momentary respite from the worries which assailed her mind.

 An imposing building three storeys high, the civil hospital was made of solid Dakkhani stone. Built in 1882 by the British, it had grown slowly, wing by wing, serving the needs of Ahmednagar and the villages surrounding it.

 In the first floor of the hospital where Kamala tai sat, thick stone walls protected the inhabitants from the vagaries of weather outside. The typical style of Deccani architecture which used readily available stone for construction ensured that in summer the buildings were cool and in winter were pleasant.

 Kamala tai was nursing her two-year old son Bhalachandra, more affectionately known as Balu .Balu was an extremely lively child and being the youngest in a family of three sisters, was the darling of all. This was before he was struck down by a bout of malaria. Admitted three days back to the hospital with high fever, he was continually relapsing into unconsciousness. It seemed as if a malignant force had sucked all life out of the child.

 Today his fever had gone down somewhat but his little body was rendered extremely weak by the stress placed upon it. Even though Doctor Sathe had told her Balu had a good chance of pulling through, her brow was creased with worry as she sat next to Balu.

Kamala tai had not left Balu’s side since he was admitted to the hospital.

Dipping a wet cloth in the water bowl on the small table next to the bed, she applied it on her son’s warm forehead.

 It was now coming towards dusk; she had passed whole of the morning and the afternoon attending to her son. The only change to her routine was the soldiers in the parade ground practising their manoeuvres. Soldiers in their thousands from the army cantonment nearby used to practise from dawn to dusk in the parade grounds. She did not know what war they were preparing for. Her husband Dattatraya had told her that the British were fighting a great war in their homeland and needed Indians to fight for them.

She did not understand, why were our people fighting for the British?

Kamala tai and her family were Deshastha Brahmins, descended from the same hardy stock which had brought down the Mughals and then fought the British till they had nothing left to fight for. Dattatraya or Dattu ran a used book shop in Ahmednagar’s   main market. Even though he had never been to a school, he had a natural knack of finding rare and antiquarian books in markets across India. Things were looking up and he was already thinking of opening a second book shop in Pune, in partnership with his cousin Jagtap (better known as Nana).

Dattu used to visit mother and child early in the morning before opening his shop, coming back for a visit in the afternoon and finally in the evening. Much as Dattu wanted to be near Balu’s side for the night, he could not as they had three young daughters’ at home .Kamala tai’s eldest daughter Gauri was barely twelve years old, but was single-handedly taking care of the house in her absence.

A thought flashed across her mind that Dattu was late today. At precisely this instance an exhausted Dattu came into the room. Dattu presented an imposing figure, nearly six-foot high, with broad shoulders and sharp features. He had a moustache not very different from the one kept by the Rajputs. Before his marriage he had trained as a wrestler in an Akhada in Ujjain. A terror to the rowdies of his street, he was a soft person at heart and very attached to his family.

He was wearing a brown khadi kurta and a baggy white pyjama which is quite typically worn in rural Maharashtra. Although barely in his early thirties, he was balding at an alarming rate.

Looking at Kamala Tai he was struck by how much she had aged in the last few days.

“How is Balu feeling now?” asked Dattu, sitting down next to Balu.

“There has been no change in his condition. He regained consciousness for a few minutes in the afternoon. He kept repeating your name.” with this she began to sob uncontrollably as the pent-up emotions came rushing out in a torrent.

A pall of gloom descended on Dattus face.

Kamala Tai calmed down after sometime and Dattu offered her a glass of water.

Taking out a metal tiffin box from his jute bag Dattu said, “Gauri has sent some food from home.”

“Poor Gauri, everything is one her tender shoulders now.”Kamala tai responded with a deep sigh.

“She is a grown girl now, in a few years she will have her own family,” Dattu replied while running his fingers through Balu’s hair.

“I heard from the nurse that there was some kind of a riot in Tankha-peth today.” asked Kamala tai with a questioning look on her face.

“Not a riot, it was a peaceful march in support of the Bharat Chodo Andolan (Quit India Movement). They were treacherously fired upon without any provocation. A lot of people were killed in the firing. There must have been thirty or forty dead bodies.” Dattus soft voice had taken an angry turn as he recounted the tragic events of the day.

“Did not Commissioner Purandare stop the police from firing?”asked an outraged Kamala tai.

Purandare refused to give his men orders to shoot. He has been suspended from duty for this. Some white man called Jones brought in soldiers from the cantonment. Shot by our own people!! I would not have believed this if I had not seen it happening with my own eyes”, Dattu exclaimed angrily.

“The smashan (cremation ground) is going to be busy tonight”, said Kamala tai with sadness.

“But there won’t be any relations present. People in the market were saying the British have prohibited any relations from attending the last rites of those killed. Jones has ordered the soldiers to cremate the bodies as soon as possible.”Dattu was looking at the smashan in the distance.

Already   army trucks could be seen arriving at the entrance to the smashan. If the parade ground was empty as it was now, it was possible to get a clear view of the happenings in the cremation grounds.

Both husband and wife’s eyes were glued to the macabre spectacle unfolding in front of them. There were four trucks and a jeep parked near the entrance to the cremation ground. Soldiers were unloading bodies wrapped in a white cloth from the back of the trucks. In the cremation ground itself, piles of wood stood ready to act as the pyres.

Today there was no Brahmana present to give the dead the dignity of a proper funeral. Neither were grieving relatives present to remember their dear ones. Instead the bodies were unceremoniously dumped on the wooden pyres and wood piled upon them.

On the signal from a white officer, kerosene was poured on the pyres and they were set alight. The soldiers stood around for some time to make sure the pyres were burning properly. Once satisfied that their work was done, they left as efficiently as they had come.

It was quarter past seven in the evening now and the light from the burning pyres illuminated the parade ground. The scene was so clear that for a second they thought they could see   the outline of a body burning.

Tearing their gaze away from the sight, they turned their focus back on Balu. Both of them finished their dinner from the tiffin box and at half past eight Dattu got up to leave.

“I hope Nana comes back tomorrow. I can stay here in the night then.”Dattu said while leaving.

“Don’t worry, I can manage till then.” she reassured Dattu.

With a last pensive glance at Balu, Dattu left.

With Dattus leaving Kamala tai was all on her own with Balu. The hospital had gone deathly quiet. With only a skeleton staff in the hospital for the night shift, there was hardly any commotion.

In the pin drop silence the ticking of the wall clock resounded throughout the room. For a second Kamala tai thought she could smell something burning, but dismissed it as imagination. Balu’s breathing had become peaceful now.

Looking out from the window she saw only one pyre still burning. The light of the flame cast a ghostly luminescence over the cremation ground. She thought it strange that the pyre was still burning when others had turned to ash.

It was half past nine when Kamala tai went to sleep in the reclining chair given by the hospital.

Precisely an hour later, at half past ten a pungent odour of something burning hit her nostrils. Her first instinct was to check if Balu was all right. Seeing that there was no change in the room, she looked out of the window.

What she saw disturbed her composure. The burning pyre had somehow moved out from the cremation ground and was in the middle of the parade grounds which lay between the hospital and the cremation ground. And it was burning as if the pyre has just been lit!!

Certain that she was dreaming, Kamala tai rubbed her eyes. Convinced she was wide awake, the next thing she saw was the pyre slowly moving back to the cremation ground.

Now Kamala tai’s sleep was gone for good. The atmosphere had suddenly become tense and she could feel a throbbing sensation at the bottom of her spine. A ball of tension seemed to have settled in her belly and she became extremely alert.

Like a ghostly puppet the pyre kept moving back and forth, from the cremation ground to the parade grounds. But all this time it kept inching closer to the hospital.

Kamala tai closed the window and sat next to Balu on the bed. Holding his hand tightly, her gaze was transfixed by the strange spectacle being enacted in front of her.

The hospital grounds were separated from the parade ground by a low lying stone wall which ran along the hospitals perimeter.

It was half past eleven, when the pyre came right upto the boundary wall. Even with windows closed, the smell of burning flesh was unmistakable.

 She could clearly make out the outline of the dead person. It looked like a man, half of whose face had been burnt away. Molten flesh hung in narrow strips on the rest of his body. Half of his body was skeletonised.

 It was a terrible scene; the rank odour of death was stronger than ever.

Kamala tai was not a person who would scare easily. But she knew one thing for certain, whatever being was in the pyre, it was coming to take Balu.

After a few minutes the pyre had crossed the boundary wall and was barely a few metres from the window. She could feel the heat of the fire filtering through the windows.

 At the intensity at which the pyre was burning the body should have turned to ashes by now. But it stayed the same, unchanging.

Tightly grasping Balu’s hand, she sat frozen on the bed, unable to move even a muscle. A silent scream was forming in her throat.

The pyre was right next to the windows now, the brightness of the flame like a thousand suns. The windows were blown open by the heat of the flames. Inside the room the atmosphere had become intolerable, even Balu in his unconsciousness writhed in agony.

Kamala tai could see very clearly the skeleton inside the pyre. Bits of burnt flesh hung on to a grinning skull. In place of eyes were two fireballs. Surrounded by a sea of flames, it pointed its right hand towards Balu.

This was the last memory she had before  she screamed and fell unconscious.

When Kamala tai recovered consciousness she was in another bed in the hospital. Dattu and Nana were sitting next her bed. Dattu’s eyes were bloodshot due to a lack of sleep and constant worry. Nana was wiping his tears with a pancha (towel).

“Where is Balu?” asked a weak Kamala tai.

There was no response from either of the men.

“Where is Balu?”Kamala tai   demanded with all the effort she could muster.

Finally Nana spoke in a voice choked with emotion, “Balu died yesterday night.”

May 1, 2010

The Home Coming

Filed under: Stories — Yogeshwar Shastri @ 4:43 pm
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This was a short story I wrote couple of years back…..

The Homecoming

By Yogeshwar Shastri

Daylight was fast giving way to darkness as the veteran state transport bus sped along the thin strip of broken tar that posed as the highway and cut through the heart of the forest. The glow of its lights danced on the shadows of the surrounding forest which threatened to engulf the road.

Looking out from the sliding glass window which was jammed shut by years of dust and dirt, Sahyadri watched in fascination as in the last snatches of daylight he could see the forest interrupted in places to give way to paddy fields and coconut plantations.

“The forest cover has thinned a bit”, he thought, gets thinner year on year. Some things never change though, the bus is the same, is as packed as before and the road gets even worse every year. Sitting in the back of the bus he could feel every bump and break in the road beneath and wondered how many new craters had the rains made since his last visit home.

His musings were interrupted by the snores of the person on the seat next to him. Looking over the shoulder of the person sitting in front he could see the mass of people and their baggage spilling over into the drivers cabin/space. He wondered how the driver could change gears and focus on the road while chatting up with the passenger crammed into his seat.

More worrying was the fact that the road dropped off sharply on both sides to give way to deep rain water gullies/channels and the way the bus was hurtling along, he was certain it would topple into the gully any moment.

At last after what seemed an eternity, the bus came to a grinding halt being accompanied by a hoarse shout seemingly ensuing from the conductors mouth “Tallikatte!!!”

There was a banging sound as the bus door was thrown open. Sahyadri pushed his way through the mass of humanity to the front and as soon as his feet hit the ground the bus started off into the night.

Standing alone at side of the road, in the pale luminescence of the full moon overhead he could make out the beginning of the wide unpaved mud track which ran perpendicular to the tar road and would take him to his home, three kilometers in the interior. At present it was wide enough to take a small lorry or a tractor but in the monsoons shrunk to less than half its width.

Familiar household sounds and smells wafted through the air from the thatched huts belonging to the farm workers, which clustered around the side of the road and near the mouth of the mud track.

On the other s ide of the tar road was an open clearing which was dominated by an ancient banyan tree with a low platform of concrete built around its circumference. During the day people would sit on the platform under the shade and wait for the bus or just pass the time chatting. But at this time of the night it was deserted.

Pausing for a few minutes to take his surroundings in he started to move along the mud track which was flanked by thin forest cover on both sides. Moving along he could see at the left side of the road, the dark shape of the primary school building .It was a rite of passage for village children he thought, moving from the primary school here to the secondary school five kilometers away in Manchikeri, then to the higher secondary further away finally going to hostel in Dharwad for intermediate.

As he came near to the school he was startled by a shout from behind him. Looking behind to see the source, he saw he could see the figure of a man clad in a traditional dhoti with kurta and a shawl thrown over the right shoulder.

As he came closer, the moonlight cut into slivers by the overhanging branches reflected off his face, highlighting the face of a man in his mid sixties. His gait was rapid and within a few moments he was barely few feet away.

Recognition dawned on Sahyadri and he shouted, “Ram master!”

A smile appeared on the person’s face, gently pushing the creases due to age into the background.

“I thought I might bump into you. I had heard that you were coming on the night bus from Sirsi”, said Ram master, all the while vigorously shaking Sahyadri’s hand.

“I nearly missed it; my connecting train from Bangalore was late by almost an hour. I had to do a nice sprint to catch the last bus,” replied Sahyadri while starting to walk further along the track.

“It’s a good thing we met this way; I’m going to Dharwad tomorrow morning, to my daughter’s house. The only thing to do in retirement is to become a pest to others”.

“I didn’t know you had retired”, exclaimed Sahyadri with an expression of incredulity on his face. His childhood conception of Ram masters as an immortal whose only task on this earth was as headmaster of the secondary school, which was carried well into adulthood, received a painful push. It brought into focus the fact that he wasn’t getting any younger.

As if reading his thoughts, Ram master said with a sad smile, “When you get old, you forget things; it becomes difficult to cope with the stress of everyday tasks. But lets not bother about an old mans groans, tell me what’s up with you?”

As they continued walking, the conversation grew increasingly animated jumping from village gossip to family problems, the hot topic being the financial difficulties in the village brought on by crash in the market value of vanilla. They passed small gaps in the forest on both sides of the road where a clearing had been made to allow lorries to back up.

In one of these clearings they were joined by a dog, the kind kept by the farm laborers, some unknown country breed, which followed them, all the while keeping a cautious distance. Sahyadri barely paid any attention to the dog, assuming it to be following in the hope of getting some crumbs.

Ant hills of various shapes and sizes dotted both sides of the road, rising into space like the towers of lost cities .The track curved gently while undulating up and down following the contours of the hillock. Narrow foot trails trampled onto the forest floor by years of use, radiated outwards from the track at regular intervals. They led to individual houses usually of landowners tucked away in the corners of the forest.

Being engrossed in the conversation, Sahyadri did not notice when the trail leading to his home came into view.

“I believe this is where we part company”, said Ram master breaking Sahyadri’s mental reverie. “Be sure to visit our house for lunch or dinner, whatever is convenient for you. Everybody at home will be very happy to meet you.”

“It’s a pity I wont be able to meet you though”, said Sahyadri, wondering if Ram master would be all right walking alone. Ram masters house lay nearly a kilometer further down the road, where the road was abruptly cut off by paddy fields. He dismissed the thought, comforted by the fact that Ram master was perfectly at home, navigating the track innumerable times over the years.

“Don’t fret over it, we will definitely meet up on your next visit”, replied Ram master starting to move along the road.

Sahyadri waved goodbye and stood for a few minutes watching Ram masters figure disappear around the curve.

He turned his feet in the direction of the trail and doing a brisk walk reached within a few minutes a cluster of huts. These belonged to the farm laborers and the house lay beyond them in a shallow depression cut into the side of the hillock. A deep moat was dug running along the entrance, its purpose being to divert floodwaters in case of torrential rains.

The house itself was a two storied building, the older portions made of timber and mud, intermingling with newer portions made of bricks and cement. The house had a large courtyard with a tulsi plant in the centre and was ringed by a perimeter wall approximately eight feet high, built by his great grand father to keep out wild animals.

The moat was spanned by a crude walkway made of logs lashed together and covered with red mud.

He noticed the dog still following him, making a mental note to ask Anna to feed him some morsels on reaching home. Passing the huts he came across the engravings of the serpent (Naga) gods right at the beginning of the walkway, who stood as guardians to his ancestral house.

Mentally bowing to them he crossed the walkway and began his descent down the steps which led to the wooden door in the perimeter wall.

Finding the door open he made his way across the courtyard to the main building calling out his elder brother’s name, “Ramanna, Rammana!!!”

The main door was thrown open and a tall, well built person rushed to embrace his brother in a bear hug.

“Where is everybody?” asked Sahyadri disentangling himself from his brothers’ hug. He was used to the house busting with activity and the silence puzzled him.

“They are off to Yellapur to attend a marriage. I stayed back as the vanilla harvesting is about to begin. Lets go inside, wash your hands and feet at the tap here and we can have dinner,” Rammanna said, propelling Sahyadri towards the tap.

“I was worried about you coming alone from the bus stop till here at this time. Not that anything happens, but it’s easy to get a nasty stumble on a dark night. Luckily the sky was clear tonight,” Rammanna said while holding the tap open.

“Nothing to worry, I’m grown up now, besides I had Ram master for company along the way”, Sahyadri said, washing his face with his back to his brother.

For a split second there was no reply from behind him. Then Rammanna asked in a low voice, “Did you say Ram master?”

Sensing something, Sahyadri looked behind and saw that his brothers’ face had gone deathly pale.

His hand were shaking as he said, “Ram master died three weeks back”.

Vijayanagar-Chapter 2

Vijayanagar –Empire of the Gods

Chapter 2

Malik Kafur


We have seen previously that Ala-ud-din Khilji made a surprise attack on Deogiri and with the enormous treasure he looted, became Sultan of Delhi.

Now his attention was naturally on the rich and flourishing kingdoms of the south. The Kakatiya kingdom of Warangal was next on his list of Hindu kingdoms to loot. In this he was ably aided by his trusted general and “lover” Malik Kafur [i].

Malik Kafur was originally a Hindu from Khambat (Cambay) on the coast of Gujarat. During Ulugh Khans attack on Gujarat in 1297 and its subsequent conquest, Malik Kafur was amongst the innumerable Hindus sold into a life of slavery. But by various accounts he was a handsome youth who attracted the Sultans attentions . Chroniclers like Zia-Ud-Din Barni are quite explicit in the details of Ala-ud-dins sexual infatuation towards Malik Kafur. It is quite hypocritical that Muslims cry foul on homosexuality when quite a few of the “Ghazis” (warriors who carry out jihad against the infidels) had a liking for young boys!

Ala-ud-din had him castrated and converted to Islam. Castration of slaves and making them eunuchs was an integral part of the Islamic slave system. This ensured that the captured men would not be able to reproduce and dilute the Muslim bloodlines. As per K S Lal the present day system of Hijras in our country is a direct consequence of the distinct class of eunuchs created by the muslim rulers .

Lo and behold, the new convert became even more fanatic than the sultan himself!! Being a favourite of Ala-ud-din, he rose fast through the ranks to become Malik Naib (senior commander of the army). An extremely shrewd and ruthless man, Malik Kafur was the ideal companion to Ala-ud-din.

Neo converts like Malik Kafur were more of a threat to the Hindus than the Sultans themselves. To prove themselves worthy of their new religion, they usually exceed even their masters in committing atrocities upon their former co-religionists. Even more damaging was the fact that they had an insider’s view of contemporary Hindu society and knew how society worked. Being aware of the Hindus strengths and weaknesses, they ruthlessly exploited them.

Malik Kafur became the second most powerful man in the Delhi Sultanate after Ala-ud-din After Ala-ud-dins miserable death due to dropsy(as per Barani, Kafur hastened Ala-ud-dins death by poison).Ironically, Kafur himself met a gruesome end in 1316, trying to play the kingmaker in Delhi.

Second Invasion of Deogiri

Fig 1 Malik Kafurs second invasion of Deogiri and second invasion of Warangal

Around 1300 AD Rama Raya of Deogiri had stopped sending tribute to Delhi. Ala-ud-din was preoccupied in quelling internal rebellions and pushing the Mongols back. Now his attention was again turned beyond the Vindhyas and the riches that lay in the kingdoms of Warangal.

Meanwhile in Deogiri Rama Raya’s son Shankar Deva (also known as Sangama) was a man of courage and a free spirit, who could not bear to see the devastation, wrought by the Muslims. The realisation that his sister was now part of the Sultans harem would also have spurred him against tyranny of the Muslims. It made no difference whether you submitted your kingdom to Ala-ud-din or were killed on the battlefield trying to defend it; the end result was always the same: total ruin of your people and destruction of contemporary Hindu society [iii].

While on one hand Rama Raya was constrained by many reasons: concern for the safety of the people of Deogiri, his daughter was now in the Sultans harem (this was part of the price extracted by Al-ud-din on the first invasion of Deogiri) and the fact that his treasury was nearly empty.

On the other hand Shankar Deva was made of sterner stuff and realised that if the Muslims were not defeated and driven out, it was only a matter of time before Deogiri’s independence was extinguished forever by the Sultan. Under Muslim administrators the life of Hindus would become a living hell, as was demonstrated later on when Deogiri was incorporated into the Sultanate.

By 1306 the heroic Shankar Deva had taken over the administration of Deogiri and after defeating the Muslim administrators put in place, nearly brought Deogiri back to its former independence. The reins of Deogiri were taken over from Rama Rayas hands by Shankar Deva.

There was another not completely unrelated reason why Ala-ud-din sent his hordes hurtling down into the Deccan.

When Ulugh Khan invaded Gujarat in 1297 CE, Karnadev Vaghela cowardly fled his capital Anhilwara Patan leaving his queen, the beautiful Kamala Devi to fall into the hands of the Muslims. Kamala Devi was made by Ala-ud-din a part of his harem, but her only surviving daughter Devala Devi was still with Karnadev. As per different accounts Karnadev sought sanctuary with Deogiri .

The Khiljis made a demand for Devala Devi and Karnadev refused. Instead of giving his daughter to the Muslims to use as chattel, he agreed to marry his daughter to Rama Raya’s son Shankar Deva (also known as Sangama). Muslim chroniclers have portrayed the incident as Kamala Devi pining for her daughter and asking Ala-ud-din to get her from Karnadev!! It is one thing for Kamala Devi to be resigned to her fate, but which mother would want her daughter to be subjected to a life of sexual slavery in a Muslim harem?

Thus two expeditions started from Delhi in 1306:-

1. One was led by Malik Ahmad Jitam. Its purpose was to defeat Karnadev and bring Devala Devi to Delhi and completely extinguish resistance in Gujarat.

2. The second expedition was under Malik Kafur tasked with extracting tribute from Rama Raya and making him submit.

They were joined by reinforcements from Gujarat and Malwa.

The first mission was successful; Karnadev was reduced to a refugee fleeing from court to court seeking protection. The unfortunate Devala Devi was captured by the Muslims when she was being escorted to Deogiri and was subsequently sent to Delhi. This brave woman was forcibly married to Ala-ud-dins son Khizr Khan. On Khizr Khans assassination, Qutbuddin Mubarak Khilji in turn forcibly made her his concubine. To add to her miseries after Qutbuddin was killed by his lover Khusrau Khan, she was forced into Khusrau’s harem [ii]. A terrible fate to the princess of the royal house of Vaghelas.

Malik Kafur started with nearly 100,000 horsemen and in March 1307 CE clashed with Shankar Deva outside Deogiri. Shankar Deva being aware of Kafurs advance gathered all his troops near the capital. Shankar Deva had made the strategic mistake of allowing the invader to advance unmolested right upto the capital and then fighting him with all his troops in once place. This meant that the battle became a set piece one. Ideally Shankar Dev should have set up ambushes and tried to cut off the supply lines of Kafurs army.

In the meantime Kafurs army had caused immense destruction of the surrounding countryside. Civilians were massacred, women raped and wanton destruction of crop and property took place.

Shankar Dev was assisted by his brother Bhillama, his commanders Raghava and Ramadeva. After a hard fought battle Shankar Dev was defeated and was martyred by Malik Kafur. Deogiri was plundered, and its population was made to experience all the horrors of Islamic conquest. The same gory story of rape, murder and loot was repeated here as well.

Rama Raya and the royal family were made prisoners and sent to Delhi, where Ala-ud-din Khilji pardoned his father in law and reinstated him to his kingdom. Kafur had specific instructions to spare Rama Raya during the sack of Deogiri. As per N. Venkataramanayya the reason for Ala-ud-dins benevolence towards Rama Raya was due to Rama Raya having informed the sultan of Shankar Deva’s rebellion. Of how true this explanation is I have no idea.

First Invasion of Warangal

Warangal was the capital of the Kakatiya kingdom. The Kakatiya kingdom covered a wide area including most of present day Andhra Pradesh, parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Orissa. The Kakatiya kings were suryavamshi kshatriyas.

The Kakatiya’s produced a great line of monarchs and most unique among them was the warrior queen Rudramba who took over the reins of the kingdom after her father Ganapatis death in CE. She fought off aggressive attempts by the Yadavas of Deogiri to expand into Kakatiya territory.

Her grandson Prataparudra succeeded her after she retired from public life. Prataparudra was an ambitious ruler who carried out regular campaigns against the Hoysala who ruled the present day Mysore region, the Deogiri Yadavas and the Pandyas of Tamil Nadu. It is a sad testament to our short sightedness that these four great Hindu dynasties were constantly engaged in trying to overthrow each other, rather than combine their arms and kick the invaders out of India.

The first invasion of Warangal took place in 1304 CE. A large Muslim army led by Malik Fakhr-ud-din Juna (Mohammed Tughlaq) and Malik Jhaju of Karra was despatched to plunder the riches of Warangal.

But the Hindus of Warangal were prepared for them. Armies led by Prataparudra’s commanders Potuganti Maili & Venna among others, met the Muslims at Upparapalli in Karimanagar district (Andhra Pradesh).In the ferocious battle which took place, the heroic Telugu chiefs destroyed a large part of the sultans army and forced the remnants to flee in confusion.

This was a great setback to Ala-ud-dins plans of looting the Kakatiya kingdom. At the same time the Mongol chief Targhi penetrated right upto Delhi with the speed of a hawk and an army of 20,000 Mongols. The “brave” Ala-ud-din was forced to take shelter in Siri fort as no reinforcements were at hand, most of them down south trying to conquer Warangal!!

Although this incident has been presented as an attempt to raid Warangal for loot, I believe this was more to try and establish Ala-ud-dins administration in the south. Why would Ala-ud-din risk sending a large force when his frontiers were threatened by the Mongols? All these years he had been cautious not to open another front within India, till the Mongol threat to his sultanate had passed over.

This incident like many other Islamic defeats has been glossed over by Muslim historians. It is a great pity that we know more about Muslim tyrants like the Khiljis, rather than about valiant heroes like Potuganti Maili who risked all to protect their motherland against the Muslim hordes.

Second Invasion of Warangal

After getting a sound thrashing Ala-ud-din kept away for some years from the Deccan. He was now occupied with defeating the valiant Raja Satal Deva of Siwana and Raja Kanhad Dev Songara of Jalor (Rajasthan).

Kanhad Deva Songara was the true embodiment of how a Kshatriya should be. He had not only rescued over 50,000 Gujarati Hindus who were being taken to Delhi as slaves by the Muslims, but also the fragments of the broken Shiva lingam of Somnath which was being taken to Delhi to be defiled by the Muslims.

Kanhad Deva and his son Vikrama Deva both attained veeragati fighting Ala-ud-dins forces and the women of Jalor committed jauhar to save their honour. With northern India subdued for the time being, the avaricious Ala-ud-din turned his gaze back upon the Kakatiya kingdom.

Going back to the Deccan, Rama Raya had become a staunch ally of the sultan and kept sending him regular tribute.

A vast force under the command of Malik Kafur and Khwaja Haji started on 31st October 1309 from Delhi. This force would have been extremely well armed and well supplied. In the five years since the Muslim defeat at the hands of the Telugu people, Ala-ud-din would have put a lot of thought and effort to avoid a repeat of the disastrous performance of the Muslims.

Their first stop was Deogiri which had now become a base for further operations in the Deccan. Rama Raya gave all the assistance required to Kafurs army and they proceeded into Telangana.

The first encounter with the Kakatiya’s took place at Sirpur fort. Kafur besieged the fort from all sides. The Kakatiya garrison fought valiantly, but with food and other supplies running out the situation inside the fort became desperate. As a last resort a huge pyre was lit inside the fort and the Hindu warriors along with their families sacrificed themselves in the yajna kunda of war. Whatever few survivors of this assault remained fled to the protection of Warangal.

Prataparudra was well prepared to meet the invasion. By some accounts his army consisted of 20,000 horsemen, hundred elephants and a large number of archers. In some ways his strategy mirrored that of Shankar Deva of the Yadavas. Prataparudra pulled back all his forces from the forts in the path of the invading army and concentrated them in and around Warangal. In the formidable fortress of Warangal, Prataparudra was joined by many of his chiefs along with their forces.

Following a scorched earth policy, Telugu soldiers laid to waste the route the Muslim armies would take, in order to deny the invaders any provisions.

One of the reasons why Kafurs forces were able to reach Warangal in quick time by January 1310 CE, as there was no substantial force to oppose them on their way.

On 19th January 1310 CE, Malik Kafurs forces began the siege of Warangal. As a first step they captured the hill fort of Hanumakonda, which overlooked the city and from which the interiors of Warangal were visible.

Warangal itself was a great fortress with a circumference of nearly 12,546 yards. It was protected by two massive walls, the outer wall made of mud and the inner wall made of stone. The inner and outer walls were essentially two separate forts, which meant if one fell the defenders could retire to the inner fort. The outer wall had nearly seventy seven bastions (burj or towers) manned by Prataparudra’s chiefs who were known as “Nayakas”. The outer wall was surrounded by a large moat.

As per Venkataramanayya the fort was well equipped with weaponry to withstand a prolonged siege. Presumably this means catapults, trebuchets etc. Malik Kafur was also well prepared to assault such a strong fort. His army was equipped with the most advanced siege equipment of that age including weapons such as maghribi (catapults), mangonels, trebuchets etc.

Kafur set up his headquarters a miles from the main gate and ordered his army to pitch their tents all around the fort. Each division of his army was responsible for the siege of the 1200 yards of fort walls allocated to it. In addition the camp of each division was protected by a strong wooden stockade (wooden wall).

The siege started in earnest on 19th January 1310 CE .In the meantime Kafurs postal service which enabled Ala-ud-din to get rapid communication from the battle front, was destroyed by Telugu soldiers who engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Muslims.

A valiant night attack by thousand horsemen commanded by Vinayaka Deva was launched on the Muslim camp. A fierce encounter ensued with heavy causalities on both sides, but the attack failed.

Prataparudra was in no mood to surrender, as the Muslims had not made even a breach in the outer wall. Kafur kept up the momentum of the attack and had the moat filled .

Finally a breach was made in the outer wall and a flood of Muslim soldiers rushed in. Heavy fighting followed with neither party giving nor taking any quarter.

By means of a night attack three bastions of the outer wall were taken and within three days Kafur was in command of the whole outer wall.

Inside the inner fort conditions were growing increasingly grim. The inner stone fort was filled to the brim with civilians, nobles & soldiers. People suffered greatly in such crowded conditions. And once the Muslims gained control of the outer wall, civilians came straight in the line of fire. Many were killed by the arrows launched by the enemy. Treating the wounded became a near impossibility in such conditions.

Not being able to see the suffering of his people and realising that prolonging the siege would end in a general massacre, Prataparudra decided to negotiate with the Muslims.

The siege finally came to an end on 20th April 1310 CE.

As per the truce which was subsequently agreed, Prataparudra had to give Kafur all his treasure. This amounted to a golden image of Prataparudra, hundred war elephants and nearly thousand camels laden with gold. Additionally Prataparudra agreed to pay the jizya and send tribute annually. Prataparudra dutifully sent the annual tribute every year till the disturbances caused by Ala-ud-dins death.

Kafur reached Delhi on 10th June 1310, where he was given a grand reception by Ala-ud-din.


For Chapter 3 click here


[1] TÁRÍKH-I FÍROZ SHÁHÍ,      ZÍÁU-D DÍN BARNÍ, Packard Humanities Institute, retrieved on 16-04-2010, http://persian.packhum.org/persian/main

[2] Muslim Slave System in Medieval India, K.S.Lal, Voice of India  Books, http://voiceofdharma.org/books/siii/index.htm

[3] The Early Muslim Expansion in South India, N.Venkataramanayya, edited by Prof.K A N Sastri, Madras University Historical Series, 1942. Available at http://library.du.ac.in/dspace/

April 30, 2010

Vijayanagar- The Empire of the Gods

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.

5. Interregnum…
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.

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