The Sevuna Empire of Embracive Abundance: A Forgotten Brilliance of Hindu History

The first part of a new series tracing the brief history of the Sevuna or Yadava Empire of Devagiri whose stellar contributions to Hindu civilisation and culture have largely been obscured.
The Sevuna Empire of Embracive Abundance: A Forgotten Brilliance of Hindu History

THE YADAVA EMPIRE OF DEVAGIRI continues to suffer the misfortune of being almost totally forgotten in the historical annals of great Hindu Empires. This misfortune plummets to the status of ignominy given the truly spectacular peaks it attained in a relatively short span. Perhaps a major portion of this amnesia owes to its tragic fate at its very first brush with the Turushka invader from the north. People generally shed short-lived tears at how the mighty have fallen but the same psyche that produces the tears also seeks to erase the memory of the tragedy. But in the overall reckoning, the paucity of historical literature in popular parlance about the Yadava Empire is baffling. More so when its equally illustrious contemporaries, the Hoysala, Kakatiya and Gujarat Chalukya kingdoms have been widely written about.

The origin and phenomenal success of the Yadava Empire is the proverbial story not of rags to riches, but rags to an empire.

The correct historical name of this empire is actually the Sevuna Empire, named after one of its initial founders. However, because the dynasty itself traces its bloodline to the immemorial Yadava clan in which Bhagavan Sri Krishna himself was born, the terms have been used interchangeably.

Origin and Growth

The Sevuna Empire was founded by Dhridhaprahara (literally, “firm attacker”) who flourished in mid-ninth century and is credited with the founding of Chandwad (original name: Chandradityapura), about an hour’s drive from Nasik.

His son and successor was Sevunachandra after whom the dynasty is named. Sevunachandra quickly distinguished himself as an intrepid and dependable feudatory of the Rashtrakutas, then at the zenith of their power. By 950-70, the political status of the Sevuna dynasty had risen by virtue of marrying the daughter of the younger brother of the Rashtrakuta monarch, Krishna III. But with the eclipse of the Rashtrakuta power, the Sevunas permanently shifted their allegiance to the rapidly ascendant Kalyana Chalukya dynasty. Thus, the foes of the Chalukya became the foes of the Sevuna as well. This seeded lasting and ferocious enmity with the Paramaras of Malwa, the Gujarat branch of the Chalukyas, the Kakatiya in Telangana, and the Hoysala in Dwarasamudra. It was the start of a saga of multi-cornered generational wars in which every single dynasty lost in the brutal climax at the hands of the Turushka.

For the next century and half, the fortunes of this dynasty of feudatories severely vacillated but in 1187, Bhillama V ejected the Hoysala king Ballala II from Kalyana (now, Basava Kalyana) and declared himself a sovereign.

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Founding of Devagiri

AND BECAUSE THIS newly-minted sovereign needed his own capital, Bhillama freshly carved it out in Devagiri, the gateway to Dakshinapatha. His reign was marked by zesty and rapid conquests in all directions. A series of forts on the Konkan Coast fell. Southern Gujarat ruled by the Vaghelas was raided as was the Paramara territory in Malwa.

At the time of his death, Bhillama had sculpted a new kingdom from the debris of the older ones. Its expanse was quite impressive: its northern and southern borders spanned the Narmada and the Malaprabha Rivers. On the Western coast, it included an impressive swathe of the Konkan and the rest was the whole of today’s Maharashtra.

But it was Bhillama’s grandson, Simhana II who took the Yadava imperial expansion to its greatest extent and made it one of the most formidable Empires in Central and Southern India. They also served another crucial purpose by their very presence. Indeed, the Sevuna Empire like other Hindu empires in Dakshinapatha, radiated sheer terror in the north, and their fearsome reputation prevented the Turushkas—now the so-called Delhi Sultanate—from glancing in the direction. Until the close of the thirteenth century, the maximum extent of direct territorial control of the Delhi Sultanate did not exceed 120 kilometres in north and northwestern India.

Ascending the throne in 1210, Simhana II’s armies swept through vast dominions and when he departed in 1246, the Sevuna Empire lorded over the Narmada in the north and had pushed further down to the Tungabhadra in the south. It had pocketed the Arabian Sea in the west and had made admirable inroads into Telangana in the east.

An Epic Greek Tragedy

THE HISTORY OF THE SEVUNA DYNASTY is a wrenching epic Greek Tragedy enacted in real life. It was a magnificent Hindu Empire that had soared to an impressive summit during a vital pivot in Indian history. However, it had also heedlessly squandered its eminence owing to a fatal flaw of its own creation: a generational myopia born out of an appalling civilisational indifference that caused it to wage incessant wars against its own neighbours, all of them Hindus. These neighbours in turn, pretty much wore the same contact lens and behaved much in the same fashion.

The whole Sevuna story is truly stunning in a bizarre style.

A Grand Galaxy of Sanatana Culture

Arguably, few Hindu dynasties in the post-Gupta era can boast of cultural accomplishments rivalling that of the Sevunas both in quality and prolificacy. At least, the Guptas had nearly three centuries at their disposal to build and bequeath a grand and enduring Sanatana Cultural Complex. The Yadavas achieved a comparable feat in less than half that time.

A pronounced socio-cultural feature that strikes us instantly is how the Yadavas sustained the intimate and seamless social and cultural bonds between what is known as Karnataka and Maharashtra. Indeed, they had retained and transmitted the memories of their origins as feudatories of the Karnata Empires of Rashtrakuta and Kalyana Chalukyas. An immediate evidence for this is found in the very names of rulers, generals, ministers, poets and businessmen: Sevunachandra, Dhadiyappa, Bhillama, Vaddiga, Vesugi, Airammadeva, Kaliya-Ballala, Jaitugi, Ammana, Acchanna, Chaudarasa… The substantial hoard of Sevuna inscriptions and grants found in both Karnataka and Maharashtra are surviving testimonies to this bond. Written primarily in Sanskrit and Kannada, they open up minute and precise details describing this cultural and social integrity spread over such diverse topics as currency, agriculture, trade, taxation, festivals, philanthropy, temple administration, and localised customs and traditions.

Sri Chakradhara Swami
Sri Chakradhara Swami

ON THE PLANE OF piety and spirituality, the Sevuna Era gestated and nurtured several new Panthas or Hindu sects. The Mahanubhava Sect founded by Chakradhara is perhaps the most notable. The debt we owe to this extraordinary monk is non-repayable. His discourses and contemplations provide us a fairly detailed picture of the geography, society and culture of the Sevuna period, and is goldmine both for the scholar and the devotee. But the more amazing fact is that while the Mahanubhava Sect faded out in Maharashtra itself, its reach eventually became pan-Indian touching as far as Punjab (in undivided India) and Afghanistan.

The Bhakti movement was at its most fecund in Maharashtra during the Sevuna regime. A profusion of exalted spiritual celebrities hailing from all walks of life was birthed: the renowned Namadeva was a tailor by profession, Janabai, a maidservant, Sena, a barber, Narahari, a goldsmith and Gora, a potter. The Sevuna kings lavishly endowed the renowned Pandharpur Vitthala Temple. The Lingayat sect also got a huge fillip and expanded its message in Maharashtra as well.

On another plane, a hoary distinction of the Sevuna Empire is its awesome and fertile output and contributions to Indian knowledge systems. The awe becomes exponential when we also notice the fact that much of this knowledge production occurred in less than a century — that is, during the regimes of three major kings. For a researcher of the history of Indian knowledge systems, the Sevuna Era is treasure chest awaiting rediscovery.

This inspirational story will be narrated in the next episode.

To be continued

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