Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Glimpses from Southern History - Vijayanagara

By MSN Menon

ONCE there was a city. A magnificent city. A golden city. A city without a parallel. It was in India. It was called Vijayanagar. But it is no more. It is a mere heap of ruins.


Who brought the city to this fate? The Muslim invaders.

On the destruction of the city by the invaders, this is what Sewell, the British historian and traveller has written: "They (invaders) slaughtered the people without mercy, broke down the temples and palaces and inflicted such savage vengeance in the abode of the kings with the exception of a few stone-build temples and walls. Nothing new remained but a heep of ruins... Perhaps in the history of the world no such devastation has been inflicted on people."

On the glory of Vijayanagar, a Portuguese traveller writes: "The city is as large as Rome and very beautiful. It was the best provided city in the world."

Such vandalism has been perpetrated before by Romans on Carthage, by the Allies on Berlin and Nagazaki, by Mongols on Baghdad and Damascus and by the sultans on Delhi. All in the name of power and pelf.

But can such devastation be allowed today? No, which is why the world has set up the War Crimes Tribunal. It must be like the mythical fates. No country or people have the right to bring to ruin what millions of people have laboured to produce. Such barbarism has done no good. It has only raised the question whether we can survive.

It is said that empires have little achievement to show, while the achievements of small states and cities have been great. Take the case of Athens, Venice, the Kingdoms of South India and South East Asia. Their achievements were far greater than anything achieved by the empires. Empires are built in the drive for power. But in the end, power corrupts. Which is why in a peaceful world Plato’s ideals would be more welcome.

Having taken an interest in the history of the south, I am convinced that the small states of the south have greater achievements to their credit than the Maurya, Gupta, Muslim and British empires have achieved.

And yet the southern states withered under the Muslim and British rule. And it has remained so to this day.

Islam appeared South of the Vindhyas in the 13th century under the Khilji ruler Allaudin. His sole interest was to plunder the south to maintain a large army. Malik Kafur, his general and a Hindu convert made a series of raids and carried untold wealth of the south. He left a military garrison which was dislodged by the ruler of Kerala Ravivarman Kulasekahara. While other Hindu states were in retreat, Kerala maintained a measure of strength. However, the destruction and devastation caused by these raids stirred up the patriotism of the people. They organised themselves under the redoubtable ruler of Mysore Vira Bhattala II. The Hoyasalas played a major role in southern history by putting up strong resistance against the invaders.

The Tugluqs renewed the raids. They established a permanent garrison in Madurai. This is what led to the foundation of Vijayanagar. Perhaps, it was the last embodiment of Hindu resistance. As the power of Vijayanagar grew it was able to keep the invaders at bay.

In 1344 the Kakatiyas oganised a federation of Hindu states. With the combined forces of Vijayangar and Kakatiyas the Hindu forces were able to oust the invaders from various pockets in the south.

Unfortunately, the power of the Hoyasalas came to an end in 1346, this strengthened Vijayanagar and made it the supreme force in the South. But it invited a short-response from the Muslims. They joined their forces, led by the Bahamini Sultan. Other Muslim kingdoms which took part in the war against Vijayanagar were Bijapur, Ahmednagar, Golkunda and Bidar. At the battle of Talikota, the combined forces of the Muslims were able to defeat Vijayanagar easily. No other Hindu force came forward to the rescue of Vijayanagar. The city was razed to the ground and burnt for five months.

A few lessons from the southern experience. The Hindus are great thinkers and builders. But they do not know how to protect their work. Although the south was overwhelmed, it stood firm against cultural subversion.


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