The Bobbili-Vijayanagaram conflict, battle of Bobbili fort and its aftermath, are quite famous in Andhra region. Popular movies have also been made on the theme (Ex. NTR’s Bobbili Yuddham, Tandra Paparayudu of Krishnamraju).
The general perception of the theme goes thus: there is a rivalry between Vijayanagaram rulers/Rajus and Bobbili. Unable to vanquish Bobbili, Rajus provoke the French/Islamic armies and ally with them in invading and decimating the Bobbili fort. Eventually, a generation later, Bobbili royal inheritors are restored to Bobbili.
This story is usually portrayed as one of disunity between local rulers, also as a caste rivalry between Raju (Vijayanagaram) and Velama (Bobbili) that was exploited by the foreigner.
We attempt an insider view with big picture, viewing the events according to such a narrative.
The Story In Brief
The main event of the story happens in mid 18th century, in the coast of Andhra, which is east of Golkonda. Following the fall of Gajapatis, there was no major Hindu political entity in the region. In that backdrop, the Chinna Vijayanagaram Rajus started consolidating power, slowly adding one manyam after the other, up to 72. This was done under the nose of French and Nawabs. In this region, they established a Hindu kingdom and ruled righteously to the extent possible: funding temples, schools and scholarships, trying to be fair on taxation etc. They kept paying lip service to the French and Golkonda as the ultimate rulers, while maintaining de facto control in the territory to establish Hindu rule. This was a diplomatic and strategic position taken by Vijayanagaram kings, to avoid conflict and decimation while expanding their control on ground to be able to govern well.
Importantly, they kept evading tax payment over their regions to the foreigners, while accepting their de jury power.
Bobbili on the other hand declared itself as an independent regional kingdom. The rivalry between Vijayanagaram and Bobbili was one thing, but this position meant that Bobbili was now directly rejecting their allegiance to French and Islamic powers, while only being a non-antagonistic friend.
This was strategically exploited by the Vijayanagaram kings – they cited to the French and Nawab that their inability to pay taxes was because they could not extract taxes from the regions that declared themselves as independent kingdoms.
Subsequently the Vijayanagaram along with French and Nawab march on Bobbili fort, decimate it. Its general Tandra Paparayudu, who set up his camp at Rajam, reaches Bobbili too late but avenges this by entering the Vijayanagaram king Vijayaramaraju’s tent and stabbing him to death. He then kills himself before he gets arrested. This was the famous battle of Bobbili in January 1757.
In the after math, the survivors of Bobbili escape, and the royal legatee of Bobbili lineage is restored as the ruler of Bobbili within a generation. Vijayanagaram king’s son takes the throne of Vijayanagaram.
Vijayanagaram however, continues to pay lip service to French without paying up taxes, and focussing on local governance. When the French eventually give an ultimatum to Vijayanagaram king, he announces allegiance to British under the condition that they liberate Vijayanagaram from French. This resulted in a French-British battle, subsequent to which French rule in Andhra ends.
Subsequent to this, Vijayanagaram king still continues to maintain local control, withholding on taxes to the extent possible. By the time British finally decide to act on this, it was the third generation king China Vijayaramaraju (son of Ananda Raju and grand son of Vijayaramaraju).
In the battle of Padmanabham in July 1794, British killed Chinna Vijayaramaraju to take formal control of the Vijayanagaram region. However, then the people of Vijayanagaram refused to pay allegiance and taxes to British, citing that their loyalty remains only with the Vijayanagaram royal lineage. The British then restore power to Narayana Babu Raju, son of China Vijayaramaraju while being able to extract taxes through them.
Bobbili on the other hand, continued its royal lineage.
The main takeaway from this story, is how, in the political vacuum in the region, the Vijayanagaram and Bobbili rulers within their abilities and capacities, established their “princely states”, while providing righteous rule to the people, and protecting Hindu spirit and culture.
Both Vijayanagaram and Bobbili rulers continued to protect the Hindu temples and knowledge in their territories and have continued into the post independence polity as among charactered and righteous representatives of their peoples.
The often defectively portrayed “disunity between rulers” aside, these are good examples of how the kingdoms are actually built in a political vacuum, and provided the much needed leadership in critical times. The importance of the Vijayanagaram kingdom and its contributions can be understood from the fact that the Vijayanagaram kings also assumed the Gajapati title, which they inherited after the fall of the dharmic Gajapati kingdom and parts of it were among the regions governed by the Rajus. A lack of perspective of prevailing political situation often results in viewing this as disunity or caste rivalry. While there is no perfection in any individual or ruler, the rivalry is often overemphasized in historic narrative by missing the political and strategic aspects of the decisions made by the rulers at those times. For instance, by not declaring independence, the Vijayanagaram rajus strategically took control of 70+ manyams, providing a Hindu rule – they were keenly aware that the French and Golkonda were powers that were actively working with Marathas at that point. They also played one foreign power against other, which points to their astute political wisdom along with clarity on where their real loyalty lies – the people and their ways of life.
The often hyped battle of Bobbili, while it had its own temporary tragic consequences, has not really been fatal – both Vijayanagaram and Bobbili eventually were restored to the respective royal lineages.
It is also essential to note how the society stood by its ruler, and how the ruler stood by the society in the most critical times. This often forced the foreigner to keep his actions under check, while it still did not mean complete independence from big foreign powers.
Thus the story of Vijayanagaram and Bobbili is a story of Hindu heroism, wisdom and righteousness, not exactly that of pettiness and disunity as the popular narratives say. This is one good example that makes us realize the need for an insider view, and a narrative developed from that perspective.
- “A Revised and Enlarged Account of the Bobbili Zemindari” by Bobbili Maharaja 1907
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_BobbiliBattle of Bobbili
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PusapatiPusapati Lineage
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_PadmanabhamBattle of Padmanabham