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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Clashes Between Venad and Madurai Sultanate – Battles Which Protected Dharma in Dakshin Bharat (Part II)

In the previous articles, we saw two Kings of the tiny state of Venad, “Sangramadheeran” Ravivarma Kulasekhara and  Veera Kerala Varma Thiruvati went till the regions of Madurai and attacked the Islamic invaders putting an end to various atrocities on the Hindus of Tamizhagam. Following the sequence of events in this article. we will see about how Vijayanagara empire retrieved Srirangam under the guidance of Vedanta Desika along with his friend Jagadguru Sri Vidyaranya and how “Sarvanganathan” Adithya Varma of Venad helped in the overthrowing of Madurai Sultanate.

The barbaric invasion of Srirangam resulted in a carnage of many Hindu civilians. One of the prominent Vaishnava acharyas, Sri Vedanta Desika, ran into the forests with thousands of invaluable scriptures of the temple library to protect them from the hands of invaders. The acharya roamed across the woods and finally settled at a quiet village named Sathyagalam on the banks of River Kaveri in Karnataka. The village was still preserving dharma, wide away from the eyes of Islamic invaders during those dark times. River Kaveri flowing through Sathyagalam kept reminding the Acharya about Srirangam, the restoration of which had now become the sole purpose of his life. He also composed a poem, “Abheetistavam” to drive out the fear of the Islamic terror from peoples mind and to instill a fighting spirit in them.

Sri Vedanta Desika, Sathyagalam

Meanwhile during this time, two brothers named Harihara (Hakka) and Bukka who were vassals of Hoysala King Veera Ballala III came back from Delhi. The brothers were taken prisoners by Ulugh Khan during his invasion and sent to Delhi where they were forcibly converted to Islam. After a few years of Islamic slavery, the brothers escaped from the clutches of their captors and returned to their homeland where they met the childhood friend of Vedanta Desika, Jagadguru Sri Vidyaranya.

Vidyaranya reconverted Hakka and Bukka back to Hindu dharma and motivated them to establish a Dharma Rajya. The two brothers under the guidance of Vidyaranya founded the Vijayanagara empire, which served as the protector of dharma in Dakshin Bharat by thwarting various Islamic invasions for about three centuries. Vedanta Desika also helped Vidyaranya in several ways to preserve dharma from the terror of Islamic attacks.

Although Veera Kerala Varma Thiruvati of Venad had ousted the barbarians from the city, the Madurai Sultanate reappeared after about 5-6 years of his demise. The reason for the defeat or moving back of Venad is unknown for we seem to have no documents about the circumstances in those times. Vijayanagara pushed back the forces of Bahmani sultans in its initial years. Finally, the fear of the presence of a great Hindu empire which united Hindus of different communities together under its banner stopped the incursions by Islamic troops from the northern parts of Bharat. Then the Vijayanagara empire turned its attention towards the south.

Bukka sent his son Kumara Kampanna to end the reign of Madurai Sultanate which was torturing its Hindu subjects. Additionally, Kampanna was also given the job of retrieving and restoring various magnificent ancient temples in the land of Tamizhagam. An able general named Gopanna Arya accompanied him in accomplishing the mammoth task. Gopanna Arya who was a disciple of Sri Vedanta Desika set out to fulfill the purpose of his acharya by retrieving Srirangam from the clutches of Islamic criminals.

The forces of Vijayanagara empire under the able leadership of Kampanna and Gopanna Arya moved south defeating the Islamist troops of Madurai Sultanate. This war is well documented in the 14th-century poem named, “Madura Vijayam” written by Kampanna’s wife, Gangadevi.

The temple town of Srirangam was reclaimed from the  Islamic forces, and the murti of Ranganathaswamy returned to its abode after more than 45 years. Many historians tend to place this event in 1371 taking the inscription in Srirangam which speaks about the opening of temple doors after renovation into account. However, the fact that Vedanta Desika whose demise occurred in 1370 had praised his disciple Gopanna for regaining Srirangam in his compositions suggests that reclamation of Srirangam occurred somewhere around 1368 and 1370.

The reclamation of Srirangam by Gopanna was followed by another critical historical event involving a young prince of Venad. Interestingly, this event which is entirely ignored by the historians paved the way for the easy victory of the dharmic forces of Vijayanagara at Madurai, thus ending the tyrannical dominion of Madurai Sultanate.

The Islamic forces sensing an attack on Madurai after the defeat in Srirangam might have tried to venture further south into the kingdom of Venad. Venad, ruled by the devout bhaktas of Padmanabhaswamy, has always acted as the saviour of dharma against several foreign invasions. And this time too a massive army of more than 10000 soldiers trespassing on their land didn’t make Venad move away from their duty of protecting dharma.

The young prince of Venad in “Sarvanganathan” Adithya Varma led the forces of Venad against the invading army of Madurai Sultanate. He crushed the forces of the sultanate ensuring that no further transgressions from Madurai will reach Venad.  The inscription in the shrine of Thiru Ampati Sree Krishna mentions that Sarvanganatha Adityavarman constructed a goshala and deep graham in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple complex to commemorate this victory over the Islamists. Thus, the tide of Islamic aggression in the land of Tamizhagam had to come to an end as the blockade by Venad, and crippling of Madurai Sultanate in the hands of Vijayanagara forces headed by Kampanna choked the Islamists from either front. The murtis of different temples of Tamizhagam which were safely housed in Venad to protect them from Islamic savages were also returned to their respective abodes successfully.

“Sarvanganathan” Adithya Varma ruled Venad from 1375-1383 which is hailed as an era of glory in the history of Venad. Having already proved his martial prowess for the protection of dharma by defeating the invading Islamic forces of the sultanate, he gave numerous grants to the temples of the regions for their restoration activities. Adithya Varma was a multi-talented personality with equal mastery of sword and pen. The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple of Thiruvananthapuram, commanded his particular attention as he was a great devotee of the deity just like other kings of Venad.

Sarvanganathan also made substantial provision for the conduct of Alpashi festival in the temple in the year of his coronation. He acquired the title “Sarvanganathan” for his expertise on Vedangas. His literary contributions still stand as the testimony of his devotion towards Padmanabhaswamy and his greatness.

The “Unnuneeli Sandesam” written in Manipravaalam by Sarvanganthan Adithya Varma (though the author claims anonymity, evaluators of the work state that the author is Sarvanganathan) offers valuable insight to the temple and conditions of the kingdom then. It also presents enough proof of the historical, spiritual and material importance of the city of Thiruvananthapuram which had become the religious capital of Venad. In this work, the then King of Venad Adithya Varma is praised as the vanquisher of Islamic forces. Also, the spotlight of the famous composition is directed towards “Sangramadheeran” Ravivarma Kulasekhara and his achievements. His regular worship at Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple and his devotion towards the deity are also well described.

Another composition of Sarvanganathan in Manipravaalam named “Desavathara Charitham” consists of eleven stanzas. It stands as a testimony of the devotion towards Padmanabhaswamy that Sarvanganathan had in his heart. A translation of the few representative lines from this composition are given below –

“I adore Sree Padmanabha

Who possesses the colour of water-laden clouds

Who, to support the Mandara mountain

Which sank beneath the waves while the ocean of milk was being churned 

By the hordes of devas and asuras

Took the form of Tortoise

And supported it on the back and

Who later on arose in Anathapura as 

Sree Padmanabha enjoying the bliss of cosmic slumber.”

Although the mainstream historians and academia ignored the great king of Venad, “Sarvanganathan” Adithya Varma, who halted the Islamic onslaught and protected dharma, the numerous literary works of him help us to learn about him. It is regrettable that even after 70 years of Independence most of us are hardly aware of our history and are acting as experts by just knowing the version of history written by foreigners. There is a lot more to tell beyond the mainstream history books that glorify invaders like Tughlaq and Madurai sultanate and completely ignore native heroes like the forgotten kings of Venad who upheld the flag of Dharma high even in the darkest of the hours.

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