What was the role of Maratha kings in the fall of Vijaya Nagar Empire?

By Sunil Kumar

Founded in 1336 after rebellions against Tughlaq Rule in the Deccan; the Vijaynagar empire was a mighty kingdom that sparked a cultural and artistic renaissance in South India.

Harihara and Bukka who established the kingdom are generally considered by historians to have been Kannadiga. The kings were mostly regarded as just, tolerant who respected every religion, language and faith; and were syncretic like a majority of Hindus.

In fact; their “secular” nature was one of the reasons for their downfall. While the Vijaynagar kings had given high “military” positions to Muslims in their army; they were no match for the despotism and fanaticism unleashed by the Deccan Sultanates in the Battle of Talikota against the ruler of the time; Rama Raya.

A strong military setup was undermined when two Muslim generals defected to the Sultanate Camp. Also two divisions of his army turned against him.The Vijaynagara king was beheaded; and Hampi was laid to waste in an act of severe savagery; which was the hallmark of many attacks on cities in India during the Sultanate-Mughal era.

Now; regarding the role of Maratha kings in the fall of the empire.

As nearly everybody in India knows; Shivaji was the founder of the great Maratha empire. Maharashtra at the same time was reeling was under the barbarism unleashed by Muslim hordes of Ahmednagar, Bijapur etc. The son of Shahaji Raje Bhosle; Shivaji was born in 1630; nearly 65 years after the events of the Talikota battle.

As the capital of the erstwhile Vijaynagar empire had been laid to waste; the kingdom had gradually declined; due to various factors including social evils, corruption and infighting. Most of South India had effectively been vassals of Vijaynagar; ruled through Nayakas, Poligars and a mix of local kingdoms. With a mighty overlord gone; most of them declared their independence and effectively started self-governing.

The Maratha Empire reached the peak of its power only in the 1700s nearly 175 years after the events of the Battle of Talikota. So; there is no question of any role of Maratha kings in the fall of Vijaynagara. According to historian Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar, Shivaji was inspired by the great Vijayanagara Empire; and unconfirmed stories narrate that his mother Jijamata inspired him with stories of the great Hindu kingdom.

However; Venkoji a half-brother of Shivaji; who was a general under the Sultan of Bijapur defeated the local nayak of Thanjavur in present-day Tamil Nadu(1674); Alagiri who was in a fratricidal tussle with his own brother Chokkanatha Nayak. Having made the effort; Venkoji decided to disregard the Sultan’s orders and became king himself. This led to a long period of Maratha rule in Thanjavur which came to an end only in 1855; when the British took over under their infamous “Doctrine of Lapse”.

Also; as Peshwa rule and Maratha power peaked in the mid 1700s; the Marathas were simultaneously engaged in many different fronts; from South India to present-day Punjab in Pakistan(Attock) and the East(Bengal).

With the Vijaynagara empire having been buried in the annals of history for quite some time till then; the Marathas can only be regarded as instrumental in a very obtuse way(attack on Chitradurga Nayaks for eg. a three-way tussle between the Marathas, Haider Ali and the ruler who was eventually imprisoned by Ali); as they were part and parcel of the immensely complicated political setup of the time with many different kingdoms in the South and all of India(Rajas, Nawabs, regents, British residents etc) along with the now established entry of foreign powers; the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the French.

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