The Musunuri Nayaks were warrior chieftains in the Kakatiya army, who regained Andhradesa (present day Telangana) in 1326 from the Delhi Sultanate in the aftermath of the Kakatiya defeat. Prominent among them were Musunuri Prolaneedu and Kaapaneedu.
The conquest of South India (Deccan) by the Delhi Sultanate started in 1296 when Alauddin Khilji, the son-in-law and commander of the Sultan Jalaluddin raided and plundered Devagiri (Maharashtra). Khilji subsequently murdered the Sultan and took over the reins of the Sultanate. The glory and wealth of the Kakatiya kingdom attracted the attention of Khilji. The first foray into the Telugu kingdom was made in 1303 by the Sultan’s armies led by Malik Fakruddin. It was a disaster because of the valiant resistance of the Kakatiya army in the battle at Upparapalli (Karimnagar District). The second attempt was made in 1309 by Malik Kafur who managed to capture the Siripur and Hanumakonda forts. Warangal Fort was taken after a prolonged seize. Malik Kafur indulged in murder and mayhem around the fort which prompted King Pratapa Rudra to make a pact and offer an enormous amount of tribute. Pratapa Rudra asserted his independence in 1320 when there was a change of power in Delhi. The Khilji dynasty ended and Ghiyazuddin Tughlaq ascended the Delhi throne. Tughlaq sent his son Ulugh Khan in 1323 to defeat the defiant Kakatiya king. Ulugh Khan’s raid was repulsed but he returned in a month with a larger and determined army. The unprepared and battle-weary army of Warangal was finally defeated. The loot, plunder and destruction of Warangal continued for months. Loads of gold, diamonds, pearls and ivory were carried away to Delhi on 20,000 horses, 100 elephants and camels. The Kohinoor diamond was part of the booty. The vandalism and atrocities of the invading army demoralized the common people who were unfamiliar with the methods adopted by the invaders. King Pratapa Rudra was taken prisoner. He committed suicide by drowning himself in the river Narmada while being taken to Delhi.
The Valiant Cousins
King Pratapa Rudra’s Kakatiya kingdom was ably served by seventy five chieftains called Nayaks. The Nayaks who belonged to various castes were divided by mutual jealousy and rivalry. However, the Nayak chiefs valiantly fought during the hour of the need. Many Nayak chiefs were captured, converted to Islam and sent back as governors. These included Harihara and Bukka who later established Vijayanagar kingdom at Hampi. Some like Minister Jagannatha Pandit occupied exalted positions in Delhi Durbar.
The year 1323 was a turning point in the history of Telugu country. After the fall of Warangal, Muslim armies marched forward and captured Kondapalli, Kondaveedu, Rajahmundry, Nidadavole, Nellore, and Kolanuveedu forts. The conquest spread up to Madhura (Tamil Nadu) . The Hoysala and Kampili kingdoms in Karnataka also became part of the Delhi Sultanate. The conquest of South India was complete. Ulugh Khan ascended the Delhi throne under the name Muhammad bin Tughluq.
. The Telugu country was in great turmoil and ferment. Seeds of revolution were sown. Two patriotic souls, Annaya Mantri and Kolani Rudradeva exhorted and united the remaining Nayak chieftains. They instilled a sense of unity and sacrifice to protect the Telugu country and Hindu Dharma. A dynamic and valiant Nayak hailing from Vengi (in modern-day West Godavari district) was chosen as their leader. He was Musunuri Prolayanayak (Prolaaneedu), a brave and battle-hardy warrior. Prolaynayaka was the son of Pochinayaka who had three brothers namely Devanayaka, Kammanayaka and Rajanayaka. The son of Devanayaka was Kaapayanayaka (Musunuri Kaapaaneedu) who was the right hand man of Prolaya. The other cousins of Prolaya also ably assisted him in his endeavours. Prolaya galvanized all the Nayaks and their progeny and united them with his organizational skills. The Nayaks set aside their differences and rallied under the leadership of Prolaya to safeguard the Hindu religion and the empire. Some of the prominent Nayaks included Addanki Vemareddy, Koppula Prolayanayaka, Recherla Singamanayaka, Manchikonda Ganapatinayaka, Vundi Vengabhupathi etc., They all had a singular objective of liberating Telugu country from the alien invaders.
Triumph and Freedom
Battles were fought at all levels at a great cost and independence was achieved after many a sacrifice. The Nayak armies liberated Warangal by 1326 and drove away Muslims from Telugu country. Many of the inscriptions glorified the victories of Prolaya and the statecraft he practised. The cousins strengthened the forts, rebuilt temples, restored village grants to Brahmins and encouraged arts and literature. The ageing Prolaya (Prolaneedu) retired to the Rekapalli fort (East Godavari district) after vesting the power in the younger and more dynamic Kaapaya.
Inspired by the victories of the cousins, other kingdoms like Kampili, Hoysala, Dwarasamudram and Araveedu asserted independence. Historical evidence showed that the Nayaks actively assisted other kings to achieve freedom from the Sultanate. Harihara and Bukka who were captured at Warangal by Ulugh Khan and converted to Islam were sent by the Sultan to suppress the rebellion of the Hoysala king. The brothers, however, switched sides and went on to establish Vijayanagar Kingdom. Jalaluddin Hassan, the governor of Madhura also declared his independence from the Sultan. This was the "last straw on the camel’s back". The Sultan personally led a huge army southward. He reached Warangal but had to make a hasty retreat. He appointed Malik Maqbul as the governor and left. Historians opined that a great epidemic prevalent during that time and the formidable resistance of the Nayaks were the reasons for the retreat. Kaapaya wanted to utilize the opportunity to liberate the whole of Telangana including Bidar. He sought the help of the Hoysala king in this endeavour. The Nayaks fought in unison and Kaapaya succeeded in capturing the Warangal fort and liberating Telangana from the invaders. The flag of Andhradesa was again unfurled on the Warangal fort. Kaapaya was given the titles “Andhradesaadheeswara” and “Andhrasuratraana”.
It was a moment of great glory in the history of Telugu land which now extended from Srikakulam to Bidar and Siripur to Kanchi. Kaapaya actively encouraged other Hindu kingdoms (Kampili, Dwarasamudram and Hoysala) to unite and help each other against the Sultanate. Vema Reddy of Addanki marched in defence of Kampili and repulsed the Sultan’s attack. Kaapaya and Vema Reddy helped Somadeva of Araveedu to liberate many forts in the Krishna-Tungabhadra region. In the true spirit of camaraderie Kaapaya (Kaapaneedu) allowed a great degree of freedom towards fellow Nayaks. For instance, Vemareddy of Addanki, Koppula Nayaks of Pithapuram, Padma nayaks of Recherla, Bhuvanagiri and Devarakonda etc. enjoyed autonomy.
Kaapaya was always wary of attacks by the Sultan’s armies from the north. He strengthened the forts and replenished the army. However, a new and bigger threat loomed on the horizon. A revolt by a group of Muslim nobles against Muhammad bin Tughluq that began in Devagiri in 1345 culminated in the foundation of the Bahmani Sultanate by Hasan Gangu. He assumed the name Alauddin Bahman Shah and moved his capital to the more centrally located Gulbarga in 1347. Alauddin was an ambitious man and his goal was to conquer the whole of Dakshinapatha (Deccan).
The unity fostered by the Musunuri cousins among the Nayaks started showing strains fuelled by envy. Recherla Velama Nayaks led by Singama raided Addanki which was under the control of Vema Reddy. Vema Reddy sought the help of Kaapaya who intervened and forced Singama to accept the confederation. Singama was unable to reconcile to this act. Kaapaya also helped Bahmani king in good faith to ward off Delhi Sultan’s attack. He would soon find Alauddin turn ungrateful.
Singama and his sons induced Alauddin to interfere in the affairs of Warangal. The Bahmani king was only too eager to oblige. Telangana was invaded in 1350. Kaapaya’s army fought an unexpected but heroic battle in vain. He concluded a treaty with Alauddin and surrendered Kaulas fort. This was the first setback to the unified Telugu kingdom.
The death of Muhammad bin Tughluq in 1351 emboldened Alauddin to achieve his goal of expanding his kingdom in the Deccan. He marched into Telangana in 1355 with greatly enlarged army and captured many forts including Bhuvanagiri. Alauddin spent a year in Telangana and engaged in another round of destruction and plunder. He returned to Gulbarga and died in 1359. Mohammed Shah succeeded Alauddin. At this time Kaapaya sent his brave and boisterous son Vinayaka Deva to liberate Kaulas and Bhuvanagiri from the Bahmanis. The Vijayanagar king Bukka Raya actively assisted him in this campaign. Vinayaka Deva had initial successes but was eventually defeated, captured and killed in a ghastly manner.
Kaapaya was disheartened but his goal was to destroy the Bahmani kingdom. Along with Bukka Raya he planned a great expedition against the Bahmanis. Mohammed Shah got enraged and invaded Telangana again. Golconda and Warangal were subdued. Bukka Raya died during this time. Lack of support from Vijayanagar and non-cooperation from Devarakonda and Rachakonda Nayaks also contributed to the fall of Warangal. Historians feel that Rachakonda Nayaks surreptitiously helped Bahmani king. Mohammed Shah spent two years in Telangana and wiped out all remnants of rebellion. Golconda was chosen as the border between the Bahmani and Warangal kingdoms in 1365. Kaapaya had to present the turquoise throne and large amounts of tribute to Mohammed Shah. This was the major setback and turning point in the history of Andhradesa.
Singamanayaka of Recherla and his sons took advantage of the situation and declared independence. They marched against Warangal ruled by a weakened and disheartened Kaapaya. The treasury was empty and the army was war-weary. Kaapaya met Singama’s army at Bhimavaram and died a martyr’s death. Thus ended the short but glorious reign (1326-1370) of the Musunuri clan which united the Telugu country, its people and its warriors, and protected the Hindu Dharma. The valour, dedication and undaunted spirit of sacrifice of Musunuri Nayaks are unparalleled in the history of Telugu land.
The Nayaks of Bhuvanagiri who eventually came to control Warangal became vassals of the Bahmani kingdom and consequently bereft of any moral or political authority to prevent the horrors of alien conquest, such as forcible conversion, desecration of temples, obstruction to Vedic practices, destruction of property, plunder of wealth, dishonour of womenfolk etc. The Reddy kings of coastal region (Rajahmundry and Kondaveedu) also asserted their independence by the beginning of fifteenth century. The Gajapati kings, Reddy Nayaks and Rachakonda Nayaks were always engaged in bitter rivalry. The Rachakonda Nayaks fought many a battle, at times on behalf of the Bahmani kings, against the Vijayanagar kings who were trying to consolidate Hindu power against Bahmani, Bijapur and Golconda sultans. This was in stark contrast to the policy of Musunuri Nayaks and Vijayanagar Kings who always helped each other in their battles against the Muslim kings. Subsequently Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar prevailed upon all Andhra and Kalinga kings and unified the whole of South India by 1522.
After the martyrdom of Kaapaya Nayak there was an en masse migration of Nayaks and their progeny to the Vijayanagar Kingdom. According to Muslim historian Barani, Harihara the founder of Vijayanagar empire was related to Kaapaya Nayak. However, this contention was not widely agreed. The Nayaks formed the bulwark of Vijayanagar Empire and bravely defended South India and Hindu dharma for the next two centuries (Pemmasani Nayaks, Ravella Nayaks and Sayapaneni Nayaks). Relatives of Kaapaya such as Mummadi and Anavota briefly controlled small areas in the coastal districts which were eventually absorbed into the Reddy Kingdom. Nayaks who were unwilling to surrender and serve as vassals were pursued and killed by the Muslim armies.
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