IN FACT, JUST THREE YEARS before his death, Vira Ballala III had coronated his son Virupaksha Ballala (or Vira Ballala IV) as his successor at the historic city of Hosapattana. A few months later in the same year, he had also elevated the Mahāmaṇḍaḷēśvara Vira Hariyappa Odeya as the caretaker of a substantial territory of his Empire. Likewise, he divided his empire among various Nayakas and Odeyas. It was both a literal and symbolic presage of transfer of power from a dynasty at the dusk of its former glory.
Hariyappa Odeya would eventually emerge as a great frontline warrior who fought against Islamic forces under the leadership of the Sangama Brothers.
Vira Ballala III had truly shown great foresight when he spotted the Sangama Brothers who had taken the sacred vow to safeguard Sanatana Dharma against the Turushkas. This bloodless transfer of political power from the Hoysala dynasty to the Sangama Brothers is both unique and unprecedented in the political history of India.
The sacred vow of Hindūdharmarakṣaṇa taken by the Sangama Brothers was the profound consequence of Vidyaranya Swami’s spiritual instruction and inspiration. Together with his younger brother, the equally distinguished Sāyaṇācārya, the spiritual foundations for this rising Empire also set the blueprint for its administration, and shaped its social and religious policy. By every measure, the Vijayanagara Empire was a Dharma-Rajya. Most importantly, Vidyaranya and Sāyaṇācārya ensured that no Vijayanagara ruler ever forgot the foundational purpose of the Empire: the Vijayanagara Empire was founded as the custodian of Sanatana Dharma in southern India against attacks by the unclean, savage and barbaric Turushkas. And the day it forgot this founding purpose was the day it was destroyed by the Bahamani rulers.
The establishment of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1336 was an epochal and inspirational event even in its own time. After the foregoing bloodless transfer of Hoysala power, its officials and commanders seamlessly merged with the House of the Sangama and wholeheartedly supported the cause of Sanatana Dharma.
The leadership that Hindus in south India had so desperately wanted had now finally emerged.
The Five Sangama Brothers: Harihara, Kamparaya, Bukkaraya, Marappa and Muddappa took the blessings of the Sringeri Shankaracharya and launched an all-out campaign to expel the despicable Turushkas in South India and liberate Hindus. With Vijayanagara as the capital, the brothers took charge of the four divisions of the Empire: Bukka in the centre, Marappa in the west, Kamparaya in the east, and Harihara in the northwest. Gomantaka was helmed by Muddappa. Even in this administrative realm, the fledgling Vijayanagara rulers took extreme caution to allow the Hoysala and the Tamil tradition undisturbed. Vira Ballala III had divided his Empire into three major divisions with a capital in each. His chief capital was Dvarasamudra (Halebidu). To the north was Hampi and Thiruvannamalai, the southern capital.
What no book on the Vijayanagara Empire will tell you is the fact that Vidyaranya Swami was also a seasoned warrior and a military strategist who directed the liberation efforts against the Turushkas. In a way, it reminds us of the famous Sanatana dictum:
Agrataścaturō vēdāḥ pr̥ṣṭhataḥ saśaraṁ dhanuḥ |
Idaṁ brāhmam idaṁ kṣātraṁ śāpādapi śarādapi ||
In front of me are the Four Vedas, behind me are weapons.
This is brāhma, this is kṣātra; we are well-versed both in the Sastra and the sword.
D.V. Gundappa paints a highly evocative miniature that brings out the ennobling personality of Vidyaranya Swami:
Six hundred years ago, the spirit of brāhma in Sage Vidyaranya, instead of becoming a vocation of supplication, was transformed into a courageous endeavor and contributed to the rejuvenation of the Vedas. However, the renunciate life of this glorious eminence did not culminate in passivity but instead, radiated the light of steely valour, and whose Vedanta instead of becoming dry recitation, directly became the cause for the Hindu civilisational overhaul.
As we have repeatedly mentioned in The Dharma Dispatch and elsewhere, treating Vidyaranya Swami, the Forest of Knowledge as if he were a mere twig counts as an unforgivable crime against the Sanatana civilizational memory and cultural inheritance.
ONE OF THE INITIAL CAMPAIGNS of the Sangama Brothers resulted in spectacular success. This was against the selfsame Muslim governor in Madurai. It is both a thrilling and riveting episode in Hindu history. Here is a capsule version.
Bukkaraya appointed his son Kumara Kampana to lead the expedition, and the son proved more than worthy of the task. In a series of superb and unstoppable victories, Kumara Kampana first defeated Sambuvaraya of Tondaimandalam. In fact, the episode of Sambuvaraya’s obstinacy sheds an oblique light on the stupidity and myopia of such rulers. By all counts, Sambuvaraya was a mere chieftain with pretensions to royalty. Instead of voluntarily subduing his ego and joining the larger cause of defending Hindu Dharma, he chose to go to war against a fellow Hindu, thereby shedding greater volumes of Hindu blood. The same thing applies to the ruler of the Vanyaraja dynasty, another chieftain.
After quelling both, Kumara Kampana headed towards the Muslim ruler at Madurai. On the way, he crushed the Muslim prefect at Samayavaram about six miles from the sacred Kshetra of Srirangam. This brilliant military engagement was frontally led by the extraordinary Brahmana commander, Vira Gopanarya who clobbered the Turushka prefect and slaughtered him. Indeed, the liberation of Srirangam sent waves of delight throughout the Hindu community. Vedanta Desika, the great exponent of Viśiṣṭādvaita was so elated at this splendid victory and so profoundly moved by Gopanarya that he composed mellifluous verses in honour of this warrior.
Kumara Kampana next marched straight into Madurai whose ruler Ala-ud-din Shah II or Sikandar Khan was now completely isolated and stood no chance before the onrush of the Vijayanagara army. He offered a feeble resistance but was quickly overwhelmed and killed in the short battle.
What happened next in Madurai will be narrated in the following instalment.
To be continued
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