Khammam fort- Built by the Musunuri Nayakas

Musunuri Nayaks

Satyadeva Prasad Khandavalli


At a critical juncture of the history of South India, the Telugus produced two great warrior-leaders. Musunuri Prolaya Nayaka and Musunuri Kapaya Nayaka. From 1323 to 1366 CE these two shining personages rescued the Telugu land and culture from the invading Turkish Muslim forces and set the stage for the rise of the native Hindu resistance against further invasions besides laying firm foundation for future movements of Hindu rejuvenation. The Reddi kingdom, the Vijayanagara kingdom and later the Hindupadpadshahi of Shivaji were all inspired by this shining torch of national resistance kindled by the Musunuri Nayaks. These kings, Prolaya and Kapaya will forever cherished by the Hindu nation and particularly by the Telugu people.

Prataparudra, the last of the Kakatiyas ruled from 1289 to 1323. Northern India was occupied by Ghiasuddin Tughlaq from 1320 to 1325 CE. He rose to power by extinguishing the Khilji Dynasty. He sent his son, Ulugh Khan on a military expedition to Orugallu (Warangal). Ulugh Khan was to be later known as Muhammad Bin Tughlaq.

Delhi, also famous by its original name of Indraprastha, was universally recognized as the capital city of India. There is the misconception that the ruler of Delhi by default had the prestige of the Chakravarti / Emperor of India. But dominion over Delhi did not automatically produce this authority. This authority came only from the established political custom and heritage of ancient India. Such authority exists only in the context of the ancient traditions of India. The legitimacy of the kingdom, capital and administrative systems of the ruler derived from ancient custom well documented and explained in the Arthashastra of Kautilya and other customary texts of ancient India.

The entire social, political and administrative structure of the country was completely disrupted with the coming of the Turkish muslim rule. It was no longer possible to maintain the context or custom of the ancient system of national political organization. The notion of the Chakravarti’s authority and his legitimate dominion over Hindustan was not sustainable under alien domination and indeed irrelevant. The Chakravarti was a civilizational authority in the context of the spiritual, political and cultural traditions of ancient India. His subordinate kings would formally submit to his authority but only nominally, retaining the highest degree of autonomy within their own kingdoms. The purpose of such submission was the well being of the entire nation.

The onset of the Turkish muslim authority completely disrupted the ancient systems of Indian politics, administration and society. The imperialist spirit dominated with its attending greed for power and pelf. The entire political purpose of the Turkish muslim rule was characterized by oppression of both the established native administrative classes and also the commoners. Blood lust, warmongering and religious fanaticism characterized Turkish muslim rule. The dominating functions of the state were the expansion of Islam and the reckless plunder of wealth for the luxury of the rulers and nobles. There was neither an intention nor even pretense towards the welfare and integrity of the nation, its culture and its traditions. The wars conducted by the muslim rulers of Delhi upon the rest of India had no purpose of uniting the nation nor of providing a stable and prosperous life for the people. They were entirely acts of predatory violence, aggression and religious fanaticism.

The modern commentators on the Turks of Delhi ignore the entire historical and cultural context in which the Chakravarti was acknowledged in India. But assert the customary rights of the Chakravarti and presume the right of the Delhi Sultans to extract taxes from entire length and breadth of India. And upon this fictitious claim rests the charge that Prataparudra defaulted in the payment of the customary taxes and therefore the Sultans of Delhi rightly punished him and his people by launching predatory raids. Such is the travesty that we suffer in our current historical accounts of the Turkish Sultans of Delhi vis a vis native Hindu rulers.

It is true that the Sultans of Delhi extracted revenues from Hindu kings. But it was not according to the pattern of the Chakravartis receiving tribute from subordinates. The revenues that the muslim rulers collected from non muslims was simply plunder. A practice which was recognized in Islamic doctrine as a legitimate and indeed desirable form of revenue, for financing further military conquest and the imposition of Islam over infidel populations. Plunder and slave trade were the two main sources of revenue in the early Islamic system of administration in India.

In 1323 CE Ulugh Khan (Mohammad Bin Tughlaq) occupied Orugallu. Gradually his armies gained control over the rest of the Telugu country. A limitless train of wealth in the form of gold, jewels, ivory and other precious materials was transported to Delhi. A vast assembly of 20,000 horses, a hundred elephants, many thousands of camels, and other transports were employed in carting off these valuables to Delhi. The Koh-i-noor was among the treasures plundered from Orugallu. Kondapalli was subdued by the Delhi armies only after long siege of six month.

On the East coast, the forts of Kolaniveedu, Niravadyapuram (Nidadavolu), Rajamahendri, Kondaveedu and Nelluru were conquered one after another. The Maabaar (madurai) from Nelaavar (Nelluru) to kulaan (Quilon) fell to the Delhi hordes. Excepting the Jajnagar kingdom of Orissa, the entire peninsular India south of the Vindhyas fell under the sway of the Delhi armies.

Orugallu was renamed as Sultanpur. All of the administrative and military centers of the Telugu country were garrisoned by muslim soldiers. The entire Telugu country lay prostrate at the whim and mercy of Burhanuddin, the wazir of Daulatabad (Devagiri). At Sultanpur, Malik Maqbool alias Gannayya, was appointed as a subordinate. The entirety of the Telugu land was thus run by a muslim military dictatorship.

“The people of the Telugu country suffered under the grinding oppressions and suffered many calamities under the rule of the wicked Turks.”, proclaims a copper plate inscription of the period. (Andhrula Charitra – Telugu Academy).

The “Madhura Vijayam”, a 14th century sanskrit play, describes the conditions of the Telugu country under Turkish occupation. Taxes anywhere between five to ten times the usual rates imposed by the sultans military officers. The poor were pushed to starvation and beggary. The rich left the towns in humiliation and anger and dwelt in the jungles. They joined armies of rebels. The economic organization of the country was torn asunder. Vast tracts of lands were devastated by the catastrophic decline of the farmers and the artisans. Ziauddin Barani, a muslim historian from north India records events in the Ganga Yamuna Doab for the same period. These same horrors were repeated in the south.

The temples, sculptures, deities, traditions, crafts, artisans and institutions were devastated. There is much evidence of this destruction in coastal Andhra. The pedda maseed(big masjid) of Rajamahendri, the Maseeds of Eluru, Kondapalli, Bikkavolu were all built upon the ruins of older temples.

Ulugh Khan occupied the throne under the name of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. His coronation was attended by rebellion in every corner of his empire. His authority was flouted in many regions. Such was the case even in the Telugu country. Musunuri Nayaks were among such rebels in the Telugu country.

In 1322 CE, Ulugh Khan (some historians opine that he also had another name, Juna Khan) conducted a military expedition into Orugallu. Kakatiya Prataparudra repulsed this invasion and caused immense damage to the muslim armies. Ulugh Khan fled hastily to Devagiri and petitioned Delhi for assistance. Ulugh Khan was deeply motivated by his religious fanaticism and cared little for the costs of another expedition. And so he mounted another military expedition the very next year.

The previous year’s war was deeply disruptive to the Kakatiya kingdom. It had lasted several months and threw the economy off gear. The farmers were unable to produce their usual yields. The armies remained disrupted. And in the event, Prataparudra was unable to repel the invasion. He was captured and carried away as a captive (1323).

A rock inscription describes that he drowned himself in the Narmada as he was being carried to Delhi. Anitalli, wife of Veerabhadra reddy, ruler of coastal andhra had this inscription installed at Kaluvacheru in 1423 CE. Copper plate inscriptions by Prolayanayaka (CE 1327) also talk of Prataparudra.

  • As the glorious and shining rule of Prataparudra ends, the hellish darkness of Turkish rule has now encompassed the earth.

  • The Brahmanas, and the vedic observances have been expelled from the land. The images of the devatas have been destroyed. The learned are oppressed and their grants have been plundered.

  • The turks plunder the farms. The rich, the poor, the farmers and the artisans, all have been plundered without distinction.

  • The people are terrified to claim any wealth or even their own spouses.

  • The wicked Turks drink hard liquor as if it were water. They eat the flesh of cows as if it were their natural food. To kill Brahmanas is their exclusive source of pleasure. How then can any life remain in such a land.

Some muslim historians record and extoll these acts of the muslims leading to the death of Prataparudra and the subsequent ravaging of the country as glorious deeds of valour. For instance Ibn Batuta, a contemporary of Ulugh Khan wrote in his Safarnama,

“The infidel Hindu kings are captured. They are skinned alive. They are cooked and then fed to their miserable queens and children. Their heads are hung from the walls of their forts. The temples of these infidels have been demolished and the idols that they have so fondly worshipped have been broken to pieces. The jewels and other valuables of these temples have been plundered. The infidels, the men and women alike have been brought to Islam with the strictness necessary to cleanse them of their infamous idolatrous beliefs. Such are the wonderful daily acts of the great army of the glorious Sultan.”

After the fall of Orugallu, the armies of the Ulugh Khan rapidly conquered and plundered all of Southern India. They established the practice of demolishing temples and upon their ruins building mosques. For instance, on September 10 1324 CE, Salar Ulvi, the commander in chief of Ulugh Khan demolished the temple of Venugopalaswamy at Rajamahendravaram and built a mosque upon its ruins. And in the walls of the mosque he placed a persian inscription in stone describing the glorious deed of Islamic piety. The inscription stands even today.

That the temple was built by the Eastern Chalukyas and it was destroyed by the armies of Ulugh Khan is reported by several historians like Alexander Ray, Eliot, Dowson and others. This is among the oldest Mosques of Andhra Pradesh, perhaps even the first one. Such acts were repeated in Eluru, Kondapalli and several other places. These horrors were repeated over much of Southern India.

The historian Wassaf, reports the extensive plunder of the Madhura kingdom from Nelluru to Quilon. These reports come not merely from the modern day writers extracting information from scattered sources. A lengthy report of the events surrounding the Turkish Islamic invasion of Southern India is by Ganga Devi, the wife of Kampa Raya, the son of Bukka Raya the founder of the Vijayanagara Empire. The work titled Madhura Vijayam in Sanskrit records the events closely. Another work by Vedanta Desika, titled, Abhitistavam. We have already reviewed some extracts from the work by Ganga Devi.

The people of the Andhra lands rose in rebellion against the horrors of Turkish Islamic rule. Among the most prominent of the leaders leading the rebellion were the two warrior cousins, Prolaya Nayaka and Kapaya Nayaka were Kammas, Prolaya Vemareddy and others that later formed the nucleus of the Reddi kingdom, Recherla Singama and others Velamas (Padma Nayaka) who later formed the Rachakonda Velama dynasty. Bendapudi and others constituted an army led by Brahmanas. It is observed that the distinctions among the Kamma, Reddy and Velama identities did not develop clear distinctions for atleast a couple of centuries. However these figures are today claimed by these distinct identities.

Among these the most significant of these freedom fighters were the Musunuri Nayaka brothers. They were the sons of brothers. They were from the region south west of the Godavari called the Vengi, form a village called Musunuru.

Close to Bhadrachalam was a jungle fort called Rekapalli. At the start of the 14th Century CE, the ancestors of the Musunuri family were the administrators of the region from the Rekapalli fort. Potanayakudu also spelt as Potanayadu (a formalized form) was the first of the Musunuri dynasty. He had four sons, Pochanayadu, Devanayadu, Kapanayadu and Rajanayadu.

Pochanayadu had two sons, Prolaya Nayadu and Erapotanayadu. Kapanayadu had two sons, Immadesudu and Devanayadu II. One of the two sons also was known by the name, Vinayakadevudu (unclear which one).

Prolaya the eldest of the cousins of this third generation had no children of his own. He adopted Kapayanayadu, the son of one of his younger uncles (it remains unclear which one among the last two).

The Nayankara leaders

The Kakatiya kingdom was organized into seventy two divisions called the Nayankaras. So the administrative heads of these divisions were the Nayankara leaders. Many of the generals of the Kakatiya army were from among the Nayankaras. And many of them perished or were captured in the war with the Turks.

After the fall of the Kakatiya kingdom of Prataparudra, the Telugu country immediately suffered the cataclysms of limitless brutality of the blood thirsty Turkish administration.

Three of the Nayankaras however, escaped. Bendapudi Annaya Mantri, Kolani Rudradevudu an Recharla Singama Nayadu. They recognized the upsurge of the national spirit among the people and the universal popular desire for armed resistance against the brutal Turkish rule. For the liberation of the nation country they set forth to unite and organize all classes of people in the Telugu country.

Among the warriors assembled for the war of resistance, we prominently know of the sons of Korakonda Kunayya, Mummidi Gannama, Singaya, Addanki Prolaya Vema Reddi, his brothers Macha Reddi, Anna Reddi, Doddaa Reddi, Malla Reddi, Velama Singama of Rachakonda, Pithapuram Koppula Nayudu, Kotapuri Singama, Tatipaka Gannaya and Manchikonda Ganapati Nayadu.

This assembly of warriors formed themselves into an army for the liberation of the country and chose Prolaya Nayadu as their leader and organizer.

Under the leadership of Prolaya Nayadu, this army of national liberation first liberated the coastal regions from the muslims. Rock inscriptions by Prolaya Vemareddi at Mallavaram and Kolani Rudradeva at Santamaagaluuru reveal that the war for national liberation started in 1325 and continued for 26 years. Also it is evident that the last coins of the Delhi Sultanate to have currency in coastal Andhra are from 1326 CE, issued under the rule of Fiyazuddin Tughlaq. It is the opinion of scholars that this was the last year when coastal Andhra was subject to the rule of the Delhi Sultanate.

While the several chieftains nominally accepted the sovereignty of Prolaya Nayaka, they effectively ruled autonomously in their own domains. The several rock inscriptions under the names of the individual chieftains, such as those quoted above, illustrate this point.

In the war of independence, Bendapudi Annaya was recognized for his bravery and offered a grant of seven villages in the West Godavari district as agraharam by Kolani Rudradeva. This is recorded in the Santa Magaluru inscription. This record proclaims Annaya Mantri as Andhra Bhuumandalaadhyaksha Simhasanapratishthapanaacharya.

This war for national liberation proceeded in three stages. In the first stage, Prolaya Naayaka led the liberation of coastal Andhra. In the second stage, western Andhra (Rayalaseema) was liberated. In the third stage, Northern Andhra (Telangana) was liberated. This three stage liberation of the Andhra country from muslim rule took twenty years. The first stage was effected in just one year after the Turkish desolation of Orugallu. In 1325, Ghiasuddin Tughlaq died. Ulugh Khan rushed back to Delhi to secure his own claim to the throne. This was a stroke of fortune for the Hindus.

At the end of the first phase, Prolaya Vemareddi established his capital at Addanki and ruled from there. The events and circumstances of this period are well recorded in rock inscriptions. His eagerness for the liberation of the nation, his dedication to the preservation of the Vedic culture and knowledge, his foresight, strategic vision and organization.

The veda is the source of the national life of Bharata. The various arts, sciences, social systems, politics and spiritual disciplines, law, crafts and prosperity have arisen from the Veda. Prolayanayaka recognized that the perservation of the Veda was essential to the preservation of the Hindu culture, society and prosperity. The veda and the scholars dedicated to their preservation have always been the first targets of every invader. The destruction of the Vedic scholarship will naturally lead to the decline of the Veda and the entire society based upon its foundation.

The veda is not a complex of books and texts. It is a living discipline carried by individual scholars and practitioners. It is only by the unbroken tradition of such practice that the Veda and so the society can be preserved. And so to secure the tradition, a village was granted to a pandit named Vennaya in the Konaseema region, the delta of the Godavari, which was secure because of its very inaccessible geography. In this manner the families of eighty pandits were preserved.

A comprehensive description of the eighty families, their gotras, details of their individual areas of expertise, the extents of their land grants, were all recorded in extensive copper plate inscriptions. Konaseema is surrounded on three sides by the mighty godavari and on the east is washed by the sea. Access to this region was always a difficult task. So it would be comparitively secure, from further Turkish attacks. And it would also be at a great distance from the capital, Rekapalli, a natural first target of any invasion. Additionally he stationed a substantial army along the river <<?>> to prevent any river crossing by hostile armies. Because of his wisdom, foresight and abilities, he was extolled in many rock inscriptions as an Avatara of Bhagawan. One inscription records thus,

As the muslims have confiscated the old grants given to the Brahmanas, he has restored them. The lands defiled by sacrilege (such as the slaughtering and scattering of carcasses of cows), have been cleansed by proper rites. He has restored the observances of the veda and the yagnas. Like the sages offer a sixth of their penances to the king, so the farmers offer a sixth of their produce with gratitude to the great king prolaya nayaka.

This is what distinguishes foreign rule from native rule. At times foreign rule may appear to be beneficial and indeed comforting. There might indeed be faults and difficulties in native rule. But native rule is the only sustainable basis for national life and social harmony. The Nayaka kings recognized this truth and exerted themselves without reserve to the realization of national independence. And so they remain for ever, shining stars in the history of the nation.

After the death of Prolaya Nayaka in 1330 CE, his adopted son (the exact phrase used is “putra samanudu” / “one equal to one’s own son”, but really the phrase has no proper english translation), Kapaya Nayaka, the son of his younger uncle, came to the throne. Kapaya nayaka was very much loved by Prolaya nayaka and regarded as a son and a diligent student.

The region to the south of the Krishna river (Rayalaseema) was liberated by Araveeti Somadevaraju and his brother (cousin) Kotikanti Raghava.

To liberate Telangana, Kapayanayaka sought assistance from all the rulers of Southern India. Ballala III the Hoysala king (1291 – 1342) sent an army for assisting the effort. Kapaya mounted a very long war to reclaim Orugallu fort from 1333 -1336 and eventually evicted Malik Maqbool, the deputy of the Delhi sultan.

For this achievement, Prolaya Vemareddi, the general who won the war, was given the title Rachuru Durga VibhaaLa. Undi Bhaktiraaju, a subordinate chieftan of Prolaya vema (reddi) distinguished himself. He attacked and defeated the Sultan’s armies stationed at the Kampili fort. Later, Kampili (Anegondi) kingdom became the nucleus of the Vijayanagara Empire. (1336 was the foundation date for Vijayanagara. Do the dates match?). The Vijayanagara kingdom defended Hindu national independence for three hundred years.

By 1336 CE, Kapaya Nayaka achieved the liberation of the entire telugu country from the Turkish invaders. He was universally proclaimed as Andhra Desadhiswara and Andhra Suratrana. He established his capital at Orugallu. His western boundaries were Kaulasa (where is this) and Bidar. The Bay of Bengal was his eastern boundary.

Independence brought a general sense of relief and therefore a slackening of guard. It drew forth the frailities of the human spirit. Pettiness, the greed for power and such dissipative tendencies expressed themselves. The defense of the nation was abandoned. The several petty chieftains started their usual internal bickering and divisions. Each attempting to gain territory at others’ expense. To compound the difficulties, the Bahmani Sultanate arose in the Deccan as a direct rival to the Orugallu kingdom. The Rachakonda Velamas collaborated with the Bahmanis. Consequently the kingdom of Kapayanayaka declined and the Bahmani Sultanate became a direct threat to the independence of the natives again by 1350s.

The principal kingdoms formed from the independence movement were as follows.

  • Orugallu kingdom under Musunuri Nayakas,

  • Rachakonda kingdom under Padmanayaka (Velama),

  • Vijayanagara kingdom under the Yadava Kshatriyas,

  • Kondaveedu kingdom under the Panta Reddi family.

  • Korukonda kingdom under the Manchikonda Nayakas

  • Pithapuram samsthanam under Koppula Nayakas

These several kingdoms were more or less autonomous with no central control. In addition to amorphousness of the coalition that caused military weakness, Kapaya Nayaka himself did not properly comprehend the nature of the Muslim invasion. For instance, he offered assistance to Allauddin Bahman Shah, the Bahmani sultan of the deccan in defence against an attack from the Delhi Sultan. But in turn he was betrayed by Bahman Shah.

Failure of comprehension

Through the history of Islamic conquest across the world, muslim conquerors have been deeply motivated by a religious fervour. Modern day apologists will offer weak apologies for this behaviour. They will claim this was merely military expansionism common to all conquerors anywhere in the world. But such analysis, either inadvertently or wilfully, misses the doctrines that cultivate and produce a specific type of behaviour. Hindu rulers who dealt with this form of imperialism time and again paid a heavy price for their ignorance of this essential danger. This element of danger arising in Islamic doctrine persists to this day in international politics

The objectives that attended Islamic empire were not merely the aggrandisement of the individual muslim ruler or his favoured coterie, but the unyielding imposition of Islam and the ruination of non muslim traditions. This is an inexorable doctrinal propensity. This is distinctly different from the impulse for empire among the Hindus. That the muslim conqueror’s impulse derived from Islamic doctrine is incontrovertible. To follow the example of the prophet of Islam, in word and deed without the slightest deviation was an inflexible doctrinal requirement for the muslim conqueror. A muslim conqueror, no matter how pragmatic he may have been in any question, ultimately had to act according to this doctrinal prescription.

The followers of other traditions might seek inspiration from their ideal, doctrine or prophet. But they were at liberty to reinterpret the example according to their circumstance and personal ability or even individual propensity. The muslim conqueror on the other hand, always was deeply and powerful indoctrinated from an early age. And even where such a conqueror may develop alternative perspectives, he had no liberty against the doctrinal objectives of Islamic military legacy. The social, legal, military and administrative structures within which he operated would leave him no choice. He must learn with exactness the example in behaviour and purpose set by his prophet and follow the example without the slightest lapse.

An extensive body of historical and theological scholarship was established within Islam, and it was available for study by the date of the Warangal conquest. Islam’s contact with Bharat, was already several centuries old by the date of the Warangal conquest. And all of those centuries were spent in a constant military and ideological siege against Bharat. It should have been an essential element of political learning for  rulers, administrators and scholars of politics among the Hindus to learn from this legacy. The Hindus even at so late a date had very poor understanding of the vastly different ethos arriving with this hurricane. The They still imagined the new phenomenon their own cultural templates. And consequently grasped practically nothing of the new phenomenon. And even less about the very new phenomenon of religious conversion that came with Islam. 

A case in point is that of Malik Maqbool Telangi, the general who lost to Kapaya Nayaka in Orugallu and fled in haste. He was originally a general of Prataparudra who was captured by the Turkish army and forced to convert to Islam. He then became a deep and inflexible loyalist of the Turkish invaders and the Islamic doctrine of dominance over non believers. As a Hindu he was deeply committed to the defence of the nation. But upon his capture by the Turks and conversion to Islam, he not only abandoned every trace of his native identity but infact became a determined tormentor of the Hindus and a determined enemy to the nation.

In 1370, there was a battle between Kapaya Nayaka and the Rachakonda Nayakas at Bhimavaram. Kapaya Nayaka was killed in this battle. The Orugallu kingdom formed under his auspices was once again broken to multiple small principalities. Malik Maqbool, who had fled from the sword of Kapaya Nayaka, made a triumphant entry again into the Telugu land as a deputy of the Bahmani Sultan. The limitless plunder of 1323 was repeated again. The treasure was spent as usual on further military expeditions of the Delhi sultans, personal aggrandisement of the Sultans and their coteries, and most of all upon inflicting further torment on the Hindus.

The Hindus had failed to protect their national independence again, simply because they failed to form a culture and strategy of unified national political purpose and organization. This fault among the Hindus continues to exact a heavy price to this day. The partition of India in 1947, the Jihad in Kashmir, the infiltration of the Bangladeshis, the web of terror installed by Pakistan across India are but a few examples.