Destruction of Hampi

Story of vandalism unparalleled in history

With a glorious past, Hampi had once been a city of great beauty, pomp and splendour. It was not just the jewel of the Vijayanagara empire but truly an unparalleled example of art, culture, architecture and opulence. Today, the city of Hampi lies shattered in ruins. And behind that exists an unmatched history of vandalism, greed, jealousy and cruelty by an allied army of Islamic Sultanates of Deccan, which defeated the Vijayanagara empire in the battle of Talikota. The victorious, frenzied armies then committed such an intense crime, which has few comparisons in the history of civilization. They marched onto Hampi and destroyed everything in sight. In doing so, they decimated not just a prosperous city but also rare arts, sculpture, the heritage of India and along with it the entire legacy of the mighty dynasties that had awarded Hampi the status it enjoyed, until then!  

The temples, palaces, bazaars, mandapas, gardens and military structures lay strewn over the city in a dilapidated condition. The battle thus resulted in the rarest kind of barbarism inflicted upon Hampi. 

The Battle of Talikota (23 January, 1565) was a watershed battle fought between the massive army of Raja Rama Raya of Vijayanagara Empire and the joint forces of the Deccan Sultanates. The battle took place at Talikota, today a town in northern Karnataka, about 80 kilometres to the southeast from the city of Bijapur. According to two eminent German Indologist historians and professors, Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, the Vijaynagara army was winning the battle but for the two Muslim generals who switched sides and turned their loyalty to the united Sultanates. 

A closer look into this gravest Battle of Talikota leads to the unravelling of so many details about the empire..  

After Krishnadevaraya’s death, the throne passed on to his younger brother, Achyuta Raya who too died in 1542 CE. His nephew, Sadashiva Raya was then a minor.  

Rama Raya was the  son-in-law of Krishna Deva Raya. Acting as regent, he took control of state power and replaced officers in important positions with people personally loyal to him. Rama Raya was a valiant commander and a tactful warrior, who led several successful campaigns under Krishnadevaraya. He was also an able administrator and a skilful diplomat. 

The stage had been set. The combined forces of Bijapur, Ahmednagar and Golconda began to march towards Vijayanagara. This was an alliance of a mighty force that gathered at Talikota, about 200 km to the north of the city. 

The Sultans who had assembled at Talikota,didn’t immediately start the war. They indulged in merry-making for several days to celebrate their coming together against a far superior enemy.

Rama Raya sent a contingent of twenty thousand horseback soldiers and a 1,50,000 elephants as an advance force under the leadership of his brother Tirumala Raya. He followed this up with another force of sizable strength and number. Historians peg the total strength of the Vijayanagara military force as comprising of one lakh horsemen and five lakh infantry. The task of the advance contingent was to prevent the Bahamani forces from crossing the Krishna river. The force had massive cannons forming the leading front. Additionally, sturdy forts at strategic points along the Krishna river were designed to impede the enemy’s attempts of crossing it. Spies of the Bahamani force reported that there were some places situated about two-three miles along the river line that were unguarded and could help the army cross the river.

Adil Shah, realising that it was impossible to overpower the might of Vijayanagara decided to deceive them through decoy river crossing operations. This strategy proved effective and the Bahmani army managed to tie up the cannons of the Vijayanagara forces with solid iron chains. 

Rama Raya led from the front and ordered his army to attack the Bahamani forces. He sat on his throne placed upon the elephant. 

He bombastically motivated his soldiers with the war cry, “We are not cowards to be scared of this insignificant war! Go on, fight!” But that didn’t work either. It had begun to take its toll. Rama Raya quickly realised this, he dismounted and spread out a vast heap of gold, precious stones, coins and declared that the one who displays the maximum valour would be rewarded with untold wealth and would be royally honoured. This motivation helped breathe fresh zest into the soldiers who began hacking their way into the Bahamani force. The left flank of the Bahamani force was decimated and what was left of it, began to retreat.

When this happened, the combined forces of Nizam Shah, Qutub Shah, Ali Adil Shah and Ali Barid attacked the Vijayanagara army which was continually gaining an upper hand. Ali Adil Shah managed to chase away Rama Raya’s brother. He then turned his attention to Rama Raya. He attacked Rama Raya from the rear while Qutub Shah and Nizam Shah faced him head on. Even as the battle raged on, an enormous chunk of Muslim soldiers in Rama Raya’s army either defected to the enemy camp or deserted him by refusing to fight on the side of the “Hindu” army. This was apparently motivated by the notorious Gilani brothers, who were among Rama Raya’s trusted commanders. 

Meanwhile, a lowly officer (havaldar) named Rumi Khan fired two cannons at the Vijayanagar force, taking a heavy toll and scattering the soldiers. He then climbed atop his elephant and charged at Rama Raya’s elephant. In the ensuing fight, Rama Raya’s bodyguard was killed and the 90-year old, head of the Empire fell down from his palanquin, grievously wounded. 

He was surrounded by enemy soldiers. Rumi Khan then got Rama Raya lifted in his elephant’s trunk and presented him before Nizam Shah. 

The Sultan, in a bid to humiliate Rama Raya, offered him a seat and mocked, “All well?”

The nonagenarian said nothing; he merely touched his forehead (indicating that fate had reduced him to this). 

It is said that Nizam Shah chopped off Rama Raya’s head, affixed it to the tip of a spear and had it paraded outside. The sight of the slain Rama Raya’s head put the Vijayanagara force in full-blown retreat. However, they were unable to reach very far and everyone in sight was slaughtered. An area spanning about twenty miles was littered with dead bodies and the earth bloodied. The rout was complete.

The story of this terrible disaster took time to sink in among the Vijayanagar citizens. The inhabitants, unaware of danger, were living in utter ignorance of the fact that a serious calamity had befallen the kingdom.

Then came the bad news that the army had been defeated, the chief had been slain and the troops had retreated . But still they could not grasp the magnitude of the reversal. On all the previous occasions, the enemy had either been driven back or bought with wealth from the treasury.

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