The decline of the Mughal empire caused political chaos across India. Southern India had only recently been claimed by the Mughal empire from the Deccan sultanates. And the Nizam of Hyderabad exercised only nominal and tenuous control on the former possessions of the Qutub Shahis. The Marathas were vigorously expanding their domains. The European powers who were so far content with extracting trading concessions from extant administrations were now induced to develop more vigorous political and military ambitions.
The French and the British developed direct military alliances and conflicts with the several developing local chieftains and factions in the crumbling domain of the Deccan, formally claimed, but never really controlled by the Nizam of Hyderabad.
The French and the British “Factories” were located within marching distance of a few days at the most, of each other, at Pondicherry and Madras respectively. An ancient European rivalry now played itself out on the south eastern coast of India. This region was called the “Carnatic”. And the wars between the French and the English, for dominance in this region, were called the Carnatic wars.
The success of tiny European led armies, manned dominantly by Indian soldiers, against vastly larger native armies followed a depressing pattern of facile European victories over not only India but also across the whole of Asia.
The English conquest of Bengal was but a minor aspect of the struggle in the Deccan. But the English victory in Bengal radically changed the map of India and indeed world history.
The Northern Carnatic, from the Krishna to borders of Orissa was assigned by the Nizam to the French. It was a region over which, the Deccan Subah of the Mughal empire had never exercised any real control. But this concession was among the most significant events in Indian history.
At this period, the many chieftains and Zamindars of the region were in rebellion against the claims of Vijayaramaraju. And the kingdom of Bobbili was an active and leading reason for the rebellion, if not the head of the rebelling forces.
The prince of Vizianagaram, the largest prince in this region, and the one chieftain loyal to the Nizam’s claims naturally hoped to expand his own domain. He invited French help to evict his rival in Bobbili and gain control over a larger domain. Little did he foresee, that it was only one more step in a train of events that would lead to his own end, and indeed of all native political power in India.
The smaller native rulers perhaps did not quite comprehend the great global game being fought between the European powers. Or if they did, it was too suddenly upon them and they had no means to face the forces. In less than a decade of skirmishes, and minor battles, they were generally little more than that, the English had gained empire over the whole of India.
On the 24th of January 1757, the fort of Bobbili was attacked by the combined army of Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau and Maharaja Vijayarama Gajapati Raju of Vijayanagaram (Vizianagaram). Bussy had an army of about 2,500 including Europeans and natives. This was the army of the French East India Company. Pusapati Vijayarama Gajapati Raju supplied about 10,000 troops. The castle of Bobbili, a mud fort resisted valiantly.
Gopalakrishna Ranga Rao was the ruling patriarch of the Bobbili family at the date of the battle. Tandra Papa Rayudu, the brother in law of Gopalakrishna Ranga Rao, was the general of the Bobbili army.
Tandra Paparayudu had camped on the high road between Vijayanagaram and Bobbili, at Rajam a considerable distance from Bobbili. However Bussy approached the fort from an alternative route. The courier who set out to inform Paparayudu about the approaching enemy was captured by Bussy’s army. While a diversionary force kept Paparayudu and his army busy.
Bussy cannonaded the mud fort of Bobbili for much of the morning and by the afternoon the walls of the fort had been breached. The residents of the fort preferred death to capture and the entire lot of civilians and combatants of the fort, perhaps in all seven hundred or so, men, women and children, committed suicide. Either during the battle or later, the entire fort was reduced to the ground. Including all of the buildings and shrines in the fort.
Tandra Paparayudu returned late to the fort to discover the horror. Two days later he and a small band of followers attacked Vijayarama’s camp and killed him. They were discovered by the camp guard and set upon. Paparayudu’s band, having delivered their vengeance, killed themselves.
Two members of the Bobbili family escaped the massacre. Vengala Ranga Rao, the younger brother of Gopalakrishna Ranga Rao and Venkata Ranga Rao ( later titled, Chinna Ranga Rao ). Vengala Ranga Rao was invited back by the Vizianagaram family to reclaim the old domain of Bobbili, he was succeeded by Chinna Ranga Rao. But still there was much bad blood between the two families for several decades after this event. Reaching some sort of a permanent settlement only in 1801, under the English East India Company rule.
The story remains in the memory of the Telugu speaking people as among the most tragic events, heralding the era of European colonial rule in India.
The history of the families
Both families, that of Vijayanagaram and that of Bobbili have long histories. Both were aristocratic families from other parts of the Andhra desa and had settled in the present Vizianagaram several centuries before this particular battle. It is a minor detail that traditional rivalry between the two royal families has continued through the centuries. Ending, even if symbolically, only in recent years.
The Pusapati family was definitely located in the area from atleast the day of Sri Krishnadevaraya (1515 CE). But some narratives date it back further to the days of Deva Raya II to around 1425 CE or thereabouts almost contemporary to the start of the Gajapati dynasty of Orissa. The Pusapati family claims descent from the Perichhedis an ancient aristocratic family located at Bezawada / Vijayawada. They were susidiaries of the Chalukya kingdom and perhaps even older. But the genealogy is uncertain. The earliest known king of this line was Bhimaraja from around 978 CE. Pusapati Madhava Varma is specifically the ancestor from which the current Pusapati family of vizianagaram trace their descent.
Whereas the Chalukyas also supported the Jaina dharma, the Parichhedis and the Pusapatis were staunchly Vedic in their disposition.
The Pusapati kingdom was allied to the Gajapatis of Odra Desa (Odisha). They were defeated in battle by Krishna Devaraya and reinstated as subordinate kings by Krishnadevaraya. Alternative narratives instead offer that the Pusapati family an ally of Vijayanagara rather than the Gajapatis. And when Krishnadevaraya subdued the Gajapatis, the Pusapati family became entitled to the name of Gajapatis for having been a leading part of the conquest of the Gajapatis.
At any rate the family was a very ancient one and a very prominent one in the area for centuries even before the date of the Bobbili battle. The Pusapati family claim descent from an ancient line of Kshatriyas. Pusapati Rachi Raju, the king associated with the defeat the Gajapatis, wrote a family history of the Parichhedi kings, titled, Vasistha Gotra Kshatriya Sisa Malika. There are other legends in folk lore suggesting varying origins. It is impossible to trace with any accuracy either the source or the age of such folk lore.
The Pusapati family continues to be politically influential in modern Andhra Pradesh. With atleast one and often several family members representing the region either in the state assembly or in the parliament of india. Also often bearing important portfolios in the cabinet both at the state and the centre.
A member of the Pusapati family, Poosapati Sanjeevi Kumarswamy Raja was the first chief minister of the combined Madras state after the adoption of the Constitution of India.
The Bobbili Family
The Bobbili family claim descent to the Velama Rajas of Venkata Giri in Nellore. Sher Mohammad Khan, a foujdar, either as an officer of the Nawab of Chicacole (Srikakulam) or directly under the Qutub Shahis of Hyderabad. Peddarayudu, 15th in the line of the kings of Venkatagiri.
One narrative offers that Peddarayudu was a leading figure in the conquest of the area to Qutubshahi rule. And so he was rewarded with the grant of a kingdom (ofcourse subsidiary to the Qutubshahis). Another narrative offers that Lingappa Rayudu the son of Pedda Rayudu retrieved a kidnapped son of Sher Mohammad Khan and received a large grant of territory, and administrative authority, free of peshkash. The connection to Sher Mohammad Khan is quite consistent. This event is dated to 1652 or 1653. This is almost a century after the fall of Hampi city in the Battle of Talikota. And corresponds to the final end of the Vijayanagara Empire. The Venkatagiri rajas were subsidiaries of the Vijayanagara kingdom until the end of the empire. And they may have sought employment with the new overlords of the region.
There is a town, Sher Mohamad Pet, apparently named after Sher Mohammad Khan in Krishna district close to the Nalagonda district border. Suggesting that Sher Mohammad was a senior official with authority over a larger region rather than merely a subordinate of the Nawab of Srikakulam.
The officially recorded family history of the Bobbili Samsthanam reports Sher Mohammad Khan as the Nawab of Srikakulam.
The town founded by Peddarayudu was called Pedda Puli (Tiger in Telugu). It is speculated that this name corresponds to the name of his benefactor Sher Mohamad Khan. The name Bobbili is said to be a modification of this source name Pedda Puli – Pebbuli – Bobbili.
The Bobbili family has also been actively involved in national politics. Raja Sri Ravu Svetachalapati Sir Ramakrishna Ranga Rao KCIE, was among the early members of the Justice Party and served twice as chief minister of Madras Presidency under the British Raj.
Apparently the Pusapati family and the Bobbili Rayudu family were for long, rivals. The origin story of the Rayudu family offers a very plausible source of this conflict.
The Historical backdrop of the Battle
The fall of the Vijayanagara Empire – The Qutub Shahis
After the Battle of Talikota, the Vijayanagara empire was destroyed and the vast and rich regions of coastal Andhra, deep into Orissa fell to the Qutub Shahi dynasty. The Qutub Shahis remained independent only for about seventy years after this. It was during this period that the Qutub Shahis extinguished the last remnants of the Vijayanagara empire and extended their formal authority if not defacto authority to the southern extreme of India. From the 1630s they were gradually pressed by the Mughals into subservience and eventually extinguished by Aurangazeb in 1687. Aurangazeb also installed another Nawab in Gingee the former capital of the Tajore Marathas. This nawab then moved his capital to Arcot in northern Tamil Nadu.
Aurangazeb then turned his attention to the Marathas of Pune aiming to extinguish them in a similar manner. He made some progress but eventually died unsuccessful in the attempt. And more importantly he had severely weakened the Mughal empire. Aurangazeb, like earlier Mughals, had left no clear line of succession. The Mughal court in Delhi became a bed of intrigue, fratricide, corruption and debauchery.
The decline of the Mughal empire – Nizam Ul Mulk
Farukhsiyar, a fanatical successor in the Mughal line after Aurangazeb had substantially surrendered his authority to the Sayyid brothers. The Sayyid brothers were noblemen in the administration who aspired to the seat of Mughal power through the back door. And now the Mughal empire started to rapidly crumble.
Aurangazeb had a competent commander in his army, a certain Qamar Ud Din Bayafandi. Qamaruddin had much success in his military assignments in the Deccan and after Aurangazeb’s death was appointed governor of Awadh. Shortly he chose to live a retired life. But Farukhsiyar invited Qamaruddin back into the administration to administer the Deccan. And here he was given the title, Nizam Ul Mulk. Nizam Ul Mulk performed this role with some success. And now Farrukhsiyar recalled this man to Delhi to counterbalance the Sayyid brothers. In the event, Farrukhsiyar was assassinated by the Sayyid brothers but Nizam Ul Mulk succeeded in subduing and executing the Sayyid brothers. However the court intrigues and rapidly disintegrating empire of the Mughals disgusted Nizam Ul Mulk. And he resigned from his position in Delhi and hoped to reclaim his position as Viceroy of the Deccan. But another nobleman called Mubariz Khan had by now quite strongly entrenched himself in the Deccan. And he refused to surrender this post.
Nizam Ul Mulk had to fight a bloody battle to dislodge Mubariz Khan. This battle took place near Berar in 1724.
In 1719, the Marathas had extracted from the Mughals the right to collect the Chauth and the Sardeshmukhi from the Deccan provinces of the Mughal Empire. This was a decisive event both in the career of the Maratha empire as well as that of the Mughal empire. The Mughal empire had in effect conceded the superior position in the region to the Marathas. Maratha ascendency over the rest of the Mughal empire would quickly follow.
However Nizam ul Mulk wanted to challenge the dominance of the Marathas. And in 1725 he refused to pay this annual tax to the Marathas. A long drawn war between the Marathas and the Nizam ensued. With fortunes varying widely for both sides. But it eventually ended in a decisive defeat of the Nizam in the Battle of Palkhed near Nashik (deep in Maratha territory) in 1728.
The Marathas did not make any territorial claims over the Nizam, but they extracted an annual tribute of approximately Rs. 8 lakhs from his kingdom. The Nizam however was at liberty to run his domain according to his own design.
The French East India Company
French efforts to trade with India started some five decades after the English expeditions. The French were late entrants in the trade to the Indies. The first French commercial venture to India is believed to have taken place in the first half of the 16th century, in the reign of King Francis I. Until 1615 or so, no more than a half a dozen french ships set sail for India. In 1642 the first French Company to trade with India was setup by cardinal Richelieu, the most famous of French statesmen. This company after much trial and error, eventually established several factories in the Indian Ocean region. From Islands off Madagascar to
It is interesting to note that the French had far more trouble in establishing colonies on Madagascar, than they had in India. A pattern common to most European trading powers seeking routes to India.
This company was called “The French East India company” (Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes orientales). It was reconstituted with fresh capital in in 1664 with seed capital from Louis XIV.
The French, like the English, had for long conducted their operations in India as essentially a commercial operation. However from 1741, the rapid decline of the Mughal empire demanded and also allowed them an active role in the military and political affairs of India.
While the English East India company was largely colocated with the French East India Company, they did not initially have the same success as the French.
The French East India Company was headquartered in Pondicherry, while the English were located at Fort St. George, Madras.
From 1741, the French company in India was led by Joseph Marquis Dupleix, a very ambitious and ruthless man but perhaps not quite wise enough to calculate the many imponderables in war and politics. He had very substantial successes in the first phase of the competition with the English in Indian politics. It is argued with substantial justification that the early successes of the French in the South, prevented their success in Bengal and therefore over India on the whole.
Nizams Kingdom and the French
Nizam Ul Mulk died in 1748. By this time, the French had already gained much influence further South. And now they were to play a very serious role in the central Deccan. The Nizam’s son Nasir Jung assumed the throne in Hyderabad. In less than fifteen years after this event, the contest between the French and the English in India would be decided by strange turns of fate. The events in the Nizam’s domain would be the major part of this drama.
In 1746, the French attacked and occupied the English fort, St. Geroge at Madras. This was against the express orders of Nawab of Arcot, Anwaruddin Khan. Later Anwaruddin attempted to chastise the French by dispatching an army of 10,000 against the French army of 300 Europeans and 700 natives. In this battle, the Nawab’s army was decisively beaten in the Battle of Adayar. This battle is said to have established the pattern where a small well trained European army was able to defeat much larger but undisciplined native armies.
Now followed a period of negotiations and intrigue among the several powers in the Carnatic. Nasir Jung and Anwaruddin Khan were supported by the English while Chanda Sahib, the son in law of Anwaruddin Khan and Muzaffar Khan the nephew of Nasir Jung were supported by the French. In 1749, at the battle of Ambur, Anwaruddin Khan was killed. Nasir Jung then sped south to remedy the situation an he too was killed at Sarasangupettai by the Nawab of Kadapa.
Muzaffar Jung was proclaimed Nizam. And he remained for more than a month in Pondicherry celebrating his own succession to the throne of Hyderabad. He made large concessions to the French, but apparently neglected to make similar concessions to his allies from within his own realm. He was killed on his way back to Hyderabad by the Nawab of Kurnool at the Lakkireddipalli pass near Rayachoti town.
Bussy, a French General who was accompanying Muzaffar Jung proceeded to Hyderabad and appointed Salabat Jung as the next ruler of Hyderabad. And assisted him substantially in his fight against the Marathas.
Salabat Jung’s Subsidiary Alliance with the French
On the 22nd of November, 1750, Bussy was assigned the Circar of Condavir (Kondaveedu) which was valued at Rs. 2 Lakhs per annum. Which he duly turned over to the French company. Bussy received infrequent payments for the upkeep of the army that cost Rs. 29 lakhs per annum. This he reduced by rigid economy to Rs. 21 lakhs per annum but still could only pay his army once in several months as he was dependant on the Nizam’s payments.
Nizam Ul Mulk had established the very pernicious practice of assigning administration of a district almost on an yearly basis to the highest bidder. This practice continued to the later NIzams and then to much of the acquisitions of the East India Company.
The assessments of revenue made by the Nizam however were only wishful if oppressive assessments, rather than rigid claims. It was usual for a province to pay no more than half or even a third of the claims by the Nizam. And Bussy was unable to rely upon the assigned income to support his rather expensive army. Inspite of much reform and economy.
In 1752, the Marathas with a rival claimant to the Hyderabad throne, Ghazi Ud Din, surrounded Salabat Jung and Bussy in Bidar. The situation seemed hopeless. Ghazi Ud Din was appointed by the Mughal emperor and had promised a sum of Rs. 60 lakhs to the Marathas as payment for their assistance in establishing his claim. But through intrigue, Bussy had Ghazi Ud Din assassinated, it is reported, through the agency of his step mother. Bussy negotiated a most generous escape for Salabat Jung. Letting him off lightly with the concession of a few territories around Berar to the Marathas. And now he was essentially the guardian angel to Salabat Jung.
Bussy extracted handsome concessions from Salabat Jung. The French had established in the Carnatic wars, the pattern of relationship that the English would later call, “Subsidiary Alliance”.
In 1753 therefore Bussy took the first claim on the revenues of the Northern Circars. This was granted by Salabat Jung on 23 November 1953. The irregular collections from the region forced Salabat Jung to cede even the privilege for collection to Bussy. The North Circars were assessed at Rs. 31 lakhs per annum.
However there was much intrigue and turbulence all over the Nizam’s domain and with the Marathas, that kept Bussy busy in the Deccan. Early in 1756 the Marathas were expecting help from the English in a war against the French and Salabat Jung. However in a strange quirk of history the English resolved that they would not so assist the Marathas. They had some minor local trouble that they must attend to. This strangest of decisions by the English company officers in Bombay. A very serious chance at overthrowing the French presence in the Deccan was let up by the English company. But this decision would afford them a chance to intervene in Bengal and become the lords of the vast and rich territory of Bengal. The revenues and plunder from Bengal would be used against the French in the Deccan and the Carnatic. And eventually against the Marathas.
In 1756, Bussy arrived in Vijayawada for collecting “arrears” in revenues. The Subahdar of the carnatic, Mir Jafar Ali Khan was in effect discharged from his position. He left in anger to the English side. Now Bussy started his rampaging career of terror, extortion and brutality which would characterise European colonial rule in India. The Telugu word “Boochi” a local deformation of Bussy, is a synonym for terror.
From Vijayawada, Bussy arrived in Rajamundry. Vijayarama Gajapati Raju of Vizianagaram, the largest of the tenants of the Nizam in the North Carnatic approached Bussy with open arms and promised his sum of Rs. 16 lakhs per annum. All of the other princely states in the Carnatic had been irregular with payments for the several years because of a variety of local issues.
Many earlier attempts by Vijayaramaraju to evict the Bobbili family had ended in abject failure with much loss in men and material. On occassions members of his own family were killed in the attempt to take Bobbili.
Now was the opportune time for Vijayarama Gajapati Raju to turn Bussy’s army on Bobbili, the ancient rival of his family. Bussy was persuaded to intervene on behalf of Vijayaramaraju. The Bobbili family indignantly refused to budge. There is no cause for such action, they protested. They were not in arrears for any revenues due from them to the Nizam. They had a long standing relationship directly with the Hyderabad state entirely independent of the Vizianagaram family. And they would not tolerate the insult of being evicted from their domain. For the better or for the worse, they would defend their principality, onto death.
Bussy attacked and reduced Bobbili. The survivors of the battle committed suicide to the last man, woman and child. Bussy also later left a trail of destruction along the coast of Andhra and is still hated for the brutalities he committed in the land. The destruction of Bobbili was, but only one of a series of horrors of European colonial rule in Andhra. It became a tale of sorrow signifying the horror experienced by the land under foreign colonial rule.
The French were evicted by the English, from the entire eastern coast of India by 1761. Remaining members of both families were reinstated as rulers in the same location by the English East India company. This English help in the restoration of the native dynasties was however not any return to peace. It was the start of a more methodical subjugation and complete destruction of the natives. The family of Bobbili was to suffer much more insult, injury and indignity for many decades to come, before some minimal dignity was restored.
Dupliex and Clive – The Beginning of Empire – Henry Dodwell