The post-Vijayanagara period in South Bharat saw the emergence of one important dynasty, namely Keladi (Or Ikkeri) Nayakas. Keladi Nayakas continued the glorious traditions of the Vijayanagara Empire in the sphere of polity, literature, religion and arts.
For more than two hundred years, Keladi kings administered much of the Karnataka coastline. Perhaps, this was the only Hindu kingdom (except Ahoms) in entire Bharat that stood up to invaders after the fall of last Hindu strongholds in Vijayanagara, Odisha and Mewar in second half of sixteenth century.
The Keladi Nayakas built some of the finest temples in Ikkeri and Keladi using a combination of late Kadamba, Hoysala, Vijayanagara, and Dravida styles. Most notable among these temples are the Rameshwara temple (Keladi), Veerbhadreshwara temple (Keladi) and Agoreshwara Temple (Ikkeri). These temples stand as testimony to the creative achievements of Keladi
Kings of this dynasty encouraged trade and industry, and looked after the economic welfare of the people. They entered into treaty agreements for carrying on commercial transactions with the western sea powers. This was a special feature of Keladi polity.
The Keladi chiefs carried the responsibility of resisting foreign powers and protect Hindu dharma after decline of last major Hindu powers (Mewar, Vijayanagara and Gajapatis of Odisha). Keladi Nayakas warded off the onslaughts of the Adil Shahis of Bijapur and Mughals; also checked the advancement of Portuguese, Dutch, English and other Western seafarers, who were becoming aggressive on the West Coast of Bharat.
Historian Keladi Gunda Jois observes about keladi rulers,
“The rulers were shrewd and diplomatic in their dealings with foreign powers. They realized the evil intentions of the European powers. In their negotiations with these powers, the Keladi rulers made it abundantly clear to them that no one was to be converted to Christianity against his will and that no Brahmins or cows were to be slain by them. These illustrate the sincerity and foresight with which the kings and queens of Keladi protected the Hindu religion against the inroads of these foreigners, one of whose avowed intentions was to convert Hindus to Christianity.”
In contrast to the situation in Malabar, there were virtually no Christians in the Karnataka hinterland and proselytizing was actively discouraged by Keladi Nayakas.
Keladi rulers re-established and patronized the famous Advaita Matha at Sringeri.
During their rule, Keladi royal house produced several highly capable rulers like Sadasiva Nayaka (1530–1566), Venkatappa Nayaka (1586–1629), Shivappa Nayaka (1645–1660) and Queen Chennamaji (1672–1697).
Shivappa Nayaka is considered the greatest; he destroyed political power of Portuguese in Karnataka by capturing all their fortresses in 1650s including Mangalore. He captured the ports of Gangoli, Barcelor, Honavar and Manglore from the Portuguese during 1653-54 after a lengthy war.
Shivappa even detained some Portugese personnel as there was a complaint of ill-treatment of Hindus by them. He is also known as Sistina Shivappa Nayaka (Sistu – Tax on land holdings) as he organized land revenue administration and fixed land assessment like Todar Mal.
Illustrious queen Keladi Chennamma (Not to be confused with another brave-heart queen of karnataka, Rani Chennamma of Kittur) is renowned for providing shelter to Chhatrapati Rajaram when he fled from the Mughal army. She refused to hand over Chhatrapati Rajaram to Aurangzeb, for which she is revered by Hindus across Bharat.
The dwajasthamba in front of the Veerabhadra Temple shows the carvings of Chennamma, Rajaram and her retinue, bowing to the lord.
Keladi Kingdom fell into hands of Hyder Ali’s forces in 1763. In 1764, a Maratha army which captured Madhugiri released Veerammaji and her adopted son Somasekhara from prison. She died in the course of her journey to Poona, the Maratha capital of 18th century.
Keladi Nayakas played a stellar role in defending Hindu dharma in a critical time of our history. Conventional historiography in Bharat hardly says anything about the contributions of Keladi kingdom. The town of keladi and Ikkeri deserve to be on travel Itinerary of everyone who loves and cares for Hindu Dharma and its history.
1. The glorious Keladi by Keladi Gunda Jois
2. THE PORTUGUESE PRESENT IN KARNATAKA COAST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THEIR OFFICIAL PEPPER TRADE (1600 A.D. TO 1650 A.D.), Proceedings of the Bharatn History Congress Vol. 65 (2004), pp. 667-680
3. Goa-Kanara Portuguese relations, 1498-1763 by B. S Shastry
(Featured image source: ugra1515.blogspot.com)
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