“Sangramadheeran” Ravivarma Kulasekara ended the supremacy of Kafur in the land of Tamizhagam and reinstated his brother-in-law Sadayavarman Veerapandyan II, who was sent in exile after his defeat against the combined forces of Kafur and Sundarapandyan III, as the Pandyan King. However, the menace of Islamic invasion from the north had not ended. The attack of Tamizhagam by Ulugh Khan transmuted the dharmic nature of the land to an unimaginable extent. While the previous invasions of Malik Kafur and Khusrau Khan were restricted to plunder and destruction of temples, Ulugh Khan invaded Tamizhagam with the aim of propagating Islam in the region.
After the demise of Sangramadheeran, Sundarapandyan III allied with Hoysala King Veera Ballala III and captured Kanchipuram and other parts of Northern Tamil Nadu from Venad. Sundarapandyan III was appointed as the ruler of the newly won regions by the Hoysala king but it was short-lived as King Prataparudra of Kakatiya dynasty invaded and annexed these areas with his kingdom.
By then most of the rulers in South India had stopped paying tributes to Delhi – a practice started as a result of Kafur’s invasion. This resulted in another attack led by Khusrau Khan which resulted in forcing Prataparudra to pay tributes to Delhi and reinstating of Sundarapandya III as the ruler of South Arcot region. Further clashes after this invasion entirely weakened the kingdoms of South India.
The sultanate in Delhi also witnessed drastic changes with the decline of Khilji dynasty and the rise of Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq. Shortly after his takeover of the sultanate, Tughlaq sent his eldest son Ulugh Khan on an expedition to South India. The political clashes among the kingdoms of South India served Ulugh Khan. Ulugh Khan entirely defeated Kakatiya King Prataparudra and took him as a prisoner along with his family members to Delhi. Foreseeing the possibility of forced conversion to Islam, King Prataparudra committed suicide in the banks of river Narmada on his way to Delhi.
The Hoysala kingdom too faced setbacks during Ulugh Khan’s invasion. The King Veera Ballala III had to change his capital after losing Dwarasamudra to the invading Muslim forces. Ulugh Khan then moved south towards Tamizhagam by continuing forced conversion and massacre of Hindus. The atrocities of his army on reaching Srirangam is well documented in the temple chronicles titled, “Koilozhugu”.
The two prominent acharyas of Vaishnavism, Pillai Lokacharya and Vedanta Desika were present in Srirangam during the invasion of the temple town by Ulugh Khan. The acharyas first blocked the shrines of Ranganatha and other deities by building a stone wall and painting the pictures of the gods on it. Vedanta Desika was given the responsibility of the protection of thousands of scriptures in the temple while Pillai Lokacharya assumed the task of protecting the Utsava Murti of Ranganatha.
The whole town marched behind the Acharyas in the process of safeguarding dharma. By the time, the news of Ulugh Khan’s army entering the outskirts of Srirangam reached the people of Srirangam; they gathered a force of 12000 civilians armed with pikes and rods to slow down the army of Ulugh Khan. Though the chances of the success of this ploy seemed bleak, the 12000 devotees of Ranganatha including prominent scholars of that era like Sudarshana Suri valiantly fought the marauders and gleefully accepted death protecting the murthi of the temple. Thus giving us, their descendants, the fortune of worshiping the murti of Ranganathaswamy in Srirangam.
Following this, numerous Hindus were massacred, and the city of Srirangam was plundered. The barbarians also had erased the newly drawn paintings of the deities on the walls. Ulugh Khan and his Muslim forces were not aware of the temple; they thought that Hindus worshiped the pictures drawn on the walls. Ulugh Khan then moved down south towards the Pandyan kingdom. Veerapandyan II who had not recovered from the downfall by the invasion of Kafur, once again put up a valiant fight only to defeated by Khan. As a result of this, Pandyan Kingdom was annexed by Delhi sultanate, and the murtis of the temples in Pandyan kingdom were once again taken to Venad for protection.
Shortly after annexing the Pandyan Kingdom with Delhi Sultanate, Ulugh Khan went back to Delhi along with the riches he had plundered, where he plotted the murder of his father and became the sultan rechristening himself as “Muhammad Bin Tughlaq”. Ulugh Khan appointed five governors to administer the provinces he had captured in South India. But shortly after this, the governor of Madurai, Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan revolted against Delhi Sultanate and declared himself as an independent ruler establishing Madurai Sultanate. Jalaluddin defeated the forces of Delhi Sultanate which came to conquer Madurai after his revolt. Soon Jalaluddin was murdered by his nobles and was succeeded by Qutb-ud-Din Firuz, who was also his son-in-law.
Ghiyas-ud-din Damgani murdered Qutb-ud-Din about forty days after his succession. Damgani as the sultan of Madurai then invaded the Hoysala Kingdom and was defeated by the Hoysala king who chased him back into his territory. Despite promising a truce for fourteen days, Ghiyas-ud-din suddenly came with a large army and attacked the unprepared Hoysala forces. This battle resulted in the capture of Hoysala King Veera Ballala III by Nasiruddin, the nephew of Ghiyas-ud-din. Ghiyas-ud-din extorted the Hoysala King’s wealth, horses and property and had him killed and flayed with his skin stuffed with straw and hung on the walls of Madurai. Madurai Sultanate annexed Hoysala kingdom.
During the reign of Ghiyas-ud-din Damgani, Ibn Batuta the Moroccan Muslim explorer visited Madurai and documented the sultan’s atrocities towards the local population. An extract from Batuta’s description on the Sultan’s cruelties is as follows –
“Slaves and sentinels spent the night in forest camps holding a fagot of very slender reeds in their hands…. The next morning, 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…. One day while the Kadhi (Ghazi) and I were having our food with (Ghiyazu-d-din), the Ghazi to his right and I to his left, an infidel was brought before him accompanied by his wife and son aged seven years. The Sultan made a sign with his hand to the executioners to cut off the head of this man; then he said to them in Arabic: ‘and the son and the wife.’ They cut off their heads, and I turned my eyes away. When I looked again, I saw their heads lying on the ground.”
The historians claim that after the death Ghiyas-ud-din Damgani in 1344, the coins and inscriptions of Madurai sultanate are not seen till 1357. While the historians attribute this decline of the sultanate to infighting and rise of Vijayanagara empire, one must note that the first invasion by Vijayanagara empire on the sultanate came only in the 1360s after the empire had got itself well-established by thwarting the forces of Bahmani sultans in the north. During this time, the historians seem to ignore the rise of a dharmic king in Venad by the name, “Veera Kerala Varma Thiruvati”.
The kingdom of Venad, which was ruled by the devout bhaktas of Padmanabhaswamy in Thiruvananthapuram has always been an upholder of dharma. The murtis of temples in Southern parts of Tamizhagam had always found protection, honour and worship in the kingdom of Venad when Muslim forces invaded the region. After “Sangramadheeran” Ravivarma Kulasekhara, the royal family of Venad adopted the matrilineal system of succession which is in practice even today. His nephew Udaya Marthanda Varma succeeded, Sangramadheeran.
The reign of this king faced a lot of ups and downs with clashes both internal (between the administrators of Padmanabhaswamy temple and the king) as well as external (between Hoysalas/Kakatiyas and Venad). Though Udaya Marthanda Varma’s reign protected the murtis of different temples from Tamizhagam during Islamic invasion and Venad remained independent, not many records are available about the king’s confrontation with the invading forces. Veera Kerala Varma Thiruvati then succeeded Udaya Marthanda Varma.
According to Ibn Battuta, Ghiyas-ud-din died from the grief of his son’s death, and his nephew Nasiruddin succeeded him. However, the Madurai sultanate disappeared in no time without leaving any trace, and it reappears only after thirteen years. At the same time, inscriptions of Veera Kerala Varma Thiruvati are found in Madurai. Apart from this the courage and diplomacy of the king have been appreciated in the records at Padmanabhaswamy temple. This shows that the dharmic king of Venad, immediately after his ascension, invaded Madurai after hearing about the unjust and cruel murder of Hoysala King Veera Ballala III and destroyed the sultanate putting an end to various atrocities on the Hindus of Tamizhagam.
It must also be noted that the army of Madurai sultanate had about 15000-20000 soldiers. Venad was a small kingdom which comprised of today’s Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari districts. Even during the invasion of Tipu Sultan, the army of this kingdom had less than 10000 soldiers. So, it’s rather astonishing that a dharmic king from this tiny kingdom invaded Madurai and ended the rule of sultanate by defeating it.
Just like any other king of Venad, Veera Kerala Varma was also a devout bhakta of Padmanabhaswamy. He donated one hundred and fifty-seven paras (measure) of a paddy field to the temple. Being an able administrator, the king also personally involved himself in the daily affairs of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.
It is regrettable that despite observing the disappearance of the sultanate, reputed historians have seemed to ignore the inscriptions of this great king in Madurai. As a result of this, even the name of this great defender of dharma is hardly known in the regions where he ruled. On the other hand, our kids read multiple chapters on the notorious Muhammad bin Tughlaq whose victories were chiefly because of the political turmoil witnessed in the region as compared to the success achieved by Veera Kerala Varma Thiruvati.
In the next article of this series, we will be discussing about how Vijayanagara empire retrieved Srirangam under the guidance of Vedanta Desika along with his friend Jagadguru Sri Vidyaranya and how another dharmic prince of Venad completely wiped out the forces of Madurai Sultanate which invaded Venad, both of which jointly contributed to the eradication of the cruel Islamic Madurai sultanate rule in the region.