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Madura Vijaya: The epic by female poet Gangadevi that narrates the glorious victory of the Vijayanagara empire over the Madurai Sultanate

Madura Vijaya is above all the victory of good over evil. Unfortunately, our textbooks have no place for such glorious episodes of history.

Madura Vijaya is an epic written in 14th century. Leftist historians would tell you that in medieval India, women had no right to study and in general their condition was pitiful. This particular epic was written by Ganga Devi, who was a witness to the events of this tale, which concerns her warrior husband Kumara Kampana II. We have already seen a glorious chapter of Indian History, how Maharana Pratap defeated Mughals, remains absent from history books. This is one such other chapter.

The rise of Vijayanagara

14th Century India was a time of flux. By 1320, the Khilji Empire had fallen and Tughlaqs had become the overlords of the Sultanate. Under Jauna Khan, laso known as mad King Muhammad Bin Tuglaq, the empire expanded greatly and reached to the farthest regions in the South. Kafur’s expeditions under Khilji had already weakened the Kingdoms of South. Tughlaq’s expeditions effectively terminated many kingdoms which had stood for more than a thousand years. But the conquest was temporary. Within a few years, Vijayanagara Kingdom arose from the ashes of Kakatiya Kingdom and extinguished all traces of Muslim Sovereignty in the South. This is one small portion of that story.

With the breakup of Tughlaq Empire, many Kingdoms arose in the South. The Vijayanagar was one of them but also there was the Madurai Sultanate in the south. Anyway, Vijayanagar was founded by two brothers of noble birth. Both had been captured and taken to Delhi by Tughlaqs. There they were converted to Islam. But at the first opportunity, they escaped to South and took refuge under sage Vidyaranya (later Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Shringeri). Vidyaranya converted them back into Hinduism and gave them a mission of reestablishing Hindu sovereignty in South India.

Harihara was the first King of Vijayanagara (now Hampi). After him Bukka Raya’s reign started. His son Akampana was a great commander and expanded his kingdom over all of South India, parts of Odisha, and parts of Bahmani Empire. Gandadevi was his wife.

Madurai Sultanate

Madurai Sultanate was founded in 1335 with its capital at Madurai. As was the custom of Muslims, prayers in the Madurai temple were stopped. They destroyed many parts of the temple. The idol of Sundereshwar Shiva could be saved by a clever ruse of installing a replacement and walling up the sacred Garbhgriha. In Madura Vijaya, Gangadevi notes the decaying situation of the temple building, the destruction of Brahmanas, the defiling of sacred areas by cow-meat and liquor and general chaos wrought by the Turushkas (Turks). The atrocities against native populace were also recorded by Ibn Batuta, the famous Moroccan traveler, who visited it on his way to China. His book Rihla gives the following account:-

“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. “

This is not the only, or the most heart wrenching account mentioned by him. Gangadevi also mentions similar conditions. Due to misrule, Madurai was also afflicted by famine and later plague.

Vijayanagara’s victory over Madurai Sultanate

The prince had his task cut out. But before conquering Madurai, it was important to be secure from the areas surrounding it. Accordingly, he first captured and made secure areas around Kanchipuram{near Chennai} which were held by a loyal Hindu vassal of Delhi Sultanate and then marched South. A curious element in the story is the royal sword of the Pandyas. It was presented to Kampana by a messenger. It represents the passage of sovereignty of the South from hands of Pandyas to Vijayanagaram.

Kampana reached the borders of the Sultanate. Madura Vijaya had started. The battle was fierce. In front of the experienced and mighty Vijayanagar army, the Sultanate forces were losing ground. To bolster their morale and to finish the battle, Sultan himself came into the field. India’s history is replete with instances where a battle almost won was lost due to incapacitation of the King or commander. One can remember the battle of Chandawar, in which Jaychand of Kannauj was winning against Delhi Sultan or later in 16th century, the defeat of Hemchandra Vikramaditya in Panipat{1556}. In both these battles, Hindu armies, on the brink of victory, lost as the King was unfortunately killed/incapacitated by a stray arrow. The leaderless armies lost in a rout. However, here fortune was with Kampana. A fierce battle ensued in which valiant Kampana first defeated the Sultan in a longbow duel. The sultan took a sword and attacked Kamapana. Dodging his blow, Kampana lobbed his head clean off his body in a single blow. The head of Muslim tyranny in South India was rolling in the dust. The body stayed on the steed for a little while, still clasping the reigns of the horse and the sword. The mission had been accomplished. This was the year 1378 of Common Era. The temple was reestablished, the damage undone. It would be beautified and enlarged by the vassals of Vijayanagar, Madurai Nayakas for many centuries yet. The temple and Matha at Srirangam was restored to its former glory.

Conclusion

South India would remain a stronghold of Hindus for another 200 years. Even after that, the rump state of Vijayanagaram and vassal states of Vijayanagar, Mysore Wodeyars, Madurai Nayakas etc. protected Dharma and the people from foreign depredations. The Mughals could never reach there. Only after rise of Hyder Ali, another threat appeared. However the Marathas succeeded in countering him and with English, finished his dynasty.

Madura Vijaya is above all the victory of Good over evil. Unfortunately, our textbooks have no place for such glorious episodes of history. Common Hindus are content with reciting stories of their so called 800 years’ slavery under Islamic invaders. This defeatism needs to be dispelled. Such heroic histories are a necessary part of a community’s renaissance and need to be told and retold.

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pawanpandeyhttp://pawanpandey.in
I see the big picture. I have deep interest in history, philosophy, traditions and developments in India.

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