EVEN AS THE DELHI SULTANATE consolidated its power over large parts of north India, none of the early Sultans ventured in the direction of Dakṣiṇāpatha or southern India. It was considered extremely risky and dangerous.
But it was the ultra-monster Ala-ud-din Khalji who first braved this risk and became successful. In the beginning of the 14th century, both Ala-ud-din Khalji and especially his general Malik Kafur stormed south India and left behind a gruesome trail of devastation. For the first time, Hindus in south India got a hands-on taste of a full-scale Islamic invasion from which they were immune so far. The experience was so terrifying that for nearly seventy years, they were unable to even come to terms with it. Lament. Denial. Dejection. Despondency. An overall sense of doom. This pretty much describes the state of the Hindu psyche in the aftermath.
When Malik Kafur wasted south India, it was a scene where four major Hindu Empires were constantly fighting with one another: the Yadavas at Devagiri, the Kakatiyas at Warangal, the Hoysalas at Dvarasamudra and the Pandyas in Madurai. If the blunt truth must be told bluntly, these four Hindu Empires pretty much covered themselves in disgrace. They failed the Hindus they were supposed to protect and govern. Even if two of these empires had joined hands, there is little doubt that Malik Kafur would not only be beaten back but would have perhaps been killed in battle. On the contrary, the foolish Yadava King of Devagiri actually aided Kafur against his own Hindu brethren.
As a consequence, in one massive sweep, Kafur burned hundreds of temples in this vast region – Warangal, Belur, Dvarasamudra, Srirangam, Chidambaram, Madurai, Rameshwaram and almost the whole of Malabar including Cochin, Travancore, and Calicut, and plundered almost an unlimited amount of wealth.
Madurai especially suffered the worst sort of atrocities. In fact, eventually, a Muslim governor named Jalal-ud-din Ahsan Shah established something called a Madurai Sultanate. I’ve narrated this complete story in my monograph titled The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History.
This is the summary of this torrid saga of the seminal wreckage of Hindus in south India: when Malik Kafur had finished his desolation, Hindus in the whole of south India were left leaderless and defenceless. Quite obviously, these barbaric Islamic invasions deeply impacted the Hindu psyche in ways that is hard to fathom to the contemporary Hindu mind. The very foundations of their Dharma were shaken. Even worse, the last great Hindu emperor of south India, the Hoysala Vira Ballala III was brutally assassinated by the so-called sultan of Madurai. His body was skinned and straw was stuffed into it and his head was paraded on the city gates. With that, the Hoysala dynasty was extinguished.
Gangadevi, the queen and wife of Kumara Kampana graphically describes the situation in Madurai in her famous epic poem, Madhurāvijayam. It does not make for easy reading:
O King! The city, which is called Madhurapuri for its honeyed loveliness, has now become the city of cruel beasts; it now lives up to its earlier name of Vyaghrapuri, the city of tigers because humans don’t dwell there (anymore).
Those temples of Gods, which used to reverberate with the sacred melody of the mridangam, now echo the dreadful howls of jackals.
In the Agraharams of our city, huge columns of smoke emanating from the scared Yagnas used to rise up and reach the skies amid the sacred Vedic chants but alas! today those selfsame Quarters send up wretched stenches of meat roasted by the Turushkas; the Vedic chants are today replaced by the beastly cacophonies of drunken hoodlums.
During the days of Pandyas, our women used to bathe in [river] Taamraparni, whose waters turned white from the sandal-paste applied to their breasts. My lord! Now she’s coloured only in red from the currents of blood flowing into her from all the cows slaughtered by its wicked occupiers all over the country.
O King! I cannot bear to look at the countenance of those Dravida ladies who were bounteously endowed with beauty. Ravished horribly by the scourging Turushkas, these delicate women now sport lifeless lips and exhale hot breaths, and their abundant tresses that have come undone are painful to the eyes. I don’t have the words to describe the suffering and dishonour painted on their faces, which know neither redemption nor protection.
While these brutal Islamic invasions had terrorised Hindus in south India, they did not accept all this suffering and humiliation like cowards. On the contrary, they were waiting for an opportunity to extract vengeance against these hated Turushkas from Delhi. All they needed was solid leadership.
And that leadership was slowly emerging behind the scenes.
Towards the end of the reign of Vira Ballala III, the royal family of the Hoysalas knew that their power had irretrievably declined and that they were fighting a losing battle against the Turushka monsters. In an oft-overlooked episode of Hindu history, during the last days of Vira Ballala III, prominent members of his family implemented a silent transfer of power into the hands of five unassuming brothers…all of us know them famously as the Sangama Brothers. Over time, they came to be known as the House of the Sangama.
To be continued
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