Many of the heroes in our great struggle against the Mohammedan desecrators of bhAratavarSha have been forgotten. In particular these are the warriors from the Andhra and drAviDa countries who turned the tide of Islam even as it threatened to uproot the dharma from its homeland. The history of some of them is recorded. But of yet others like a kApu warlord and a gauDa warrior who died protecting the land against the Jihad we only have their respective vIrakal-s. The successful defeat of the Moslem terror was possible only because of several local chiefs taking up the struggle in south India. We have earlier discussed a few of them like the chAlukya chief somadeva, and the reDDI and kamma chiefs, like prolayavema reDDI and kApaya nAyaka, of the Andhra country. Now we shall turn to some heroes of the drAviDa country. The first among them is my coethnic gopaNArya – I began writing a fictional autobiography of his as a mini-novel, which in turn came out of the childhood games of the muni and me, but never had the discipline of completing it. The attack on Shrirangam by the army of Islam under the eunuch Maliq Kaffur is one of the enduring images of the horrors of the Jihad for many South Indians. The ghazis marching southwards into the pANDya kingdom made contact with the defending army of vIra-pANDyan at Kannanur. The pANDyan had sought the help of the hoysala, who he had assisted during the Moslem attack on Halebid in the karnATa country. The hoysala having faced a crushing blow at the hands of ghazis was only able to send a relatively small force of infantry to help the pANDyan. The pANDyan had a much smaller cavalry than then Moslem invader and hoped use the hills of the Kollimalai near South Arcot-Salem region for a defensive action against the Moslems. However, he was probably surprised the rapid movement of the Turkic cavalry and had to take to the field in the relatively open region of Kannanur. The pANDyan cavalry was simply insufficient to break through the opposing Moslem wing and appears to have been smashed by the charge of Malik Kaffur. The paNDyan infantry valiantly fought on taking heavy losses, until, realizing that that defeat could not be staved, vIra-pANDyan retreated into the Kollimalai hills with the remainder of this army.
Having learned of the extraordinary temple of viShNu at Shrirangam and its wealth the ghazis marched on it entering the temple town through the northern gate. Close to this gate was the seat of the Kashmirian pA~ncharAtra paNDita-s settled for over a hundred years in drAviDadesha (They are referred to in the temple record [kOyiloLuhu] as the Arya-bhaTTar-s and are of the same lineage of kAshmirAchArya-s who installed a great hayagrIva in the karNATa country). Noticing the sea of ghazis they alerted the special temple protection force of the pANDyan-s known as the panjukonDAn. They also took to arms themselves to protect the shrine. The Jihadi assault rapidly overwhelmed the panjukonDAn and slaughtered the Kashmirian paNDita-s, all of whom perished in an attempt to defend the town, and burst into the temple. Even as they were plundering the riches of the town, the shrIvaiShNava brAhmaNa-s took the image of ranganAtha secretly to Tirupati even as many of their people were cut down while attempting to stave off the Islamic charge. Over all the shrIvaiShNava records mention 12,000 people being beheaded by the Jihadis in Shrirangam, including the famous vaiShNava sudarshana sUrI, who wrote a commentary on rAmAnuja’s shrIbhAShya.
The Mohammedans then surged ahead with one wing splitting off to attack and destroy Shuraikkudi and Shodukudi and to demolish shiva and viShNu temples in these places. Then another arm of the army of Islam under Maliq Kaffur himself attacked the town of Tirupattur and destroyed a shiva temple of the pANDyan in that town.
Here, a Tamil inscription belonging to the Tirupattur shiva temple the inscription speaks of the Moslems setting up a garrison in the town after enslaving the inhabitants. Thus, surging ahead, the Ghazis of Alla-ad-din Khalji reached the rAmasetu and damaged the temple of rAmeshvara. This just marked the beginning of the expansive penetration of Islam into the depths of bhAratavarSha, which continued under the successor of Alla, Qutb-ud-din Mubaraq and subsequently under the monstrous Ghias-ud-din Tughlaq and Mohammad Tughlaq. The plight of the Tamil country in the aftermath of these invasions is captured by the mahAkAvya of the Vijayanagaran princess ga~NgAdevI (B.R. Modak’s translation; will provide the saMskR^ita later), madhurA-vijaya 8.13-15:
“The water of the river Tamraparni which used be white due to the sandal paste from the breast of young ladies bathing in it, has now become red due to the blood of cows killed in the vicinity by the ruffians.
The earth does not yield crops as before; indra does not shower rains as before; yama untimely carries away the men that remain after being killed by the Mohammedans in this land.
The lips of the ladies are dried up by their long sighs; their hair is loose and disheveled; their eyes are filled with profuse tears. I feel grieved to look at such faces of the drAviDa ladies.”
The learned vaiShNava scholar vedAnta deshika, who barely escaped from the sack of Shrirangam, with a few manuscripts and the sons of sudarshana sUrI, also invokes viShNu the bearer of the all-destroying chakra to save people from the terror of the Ghazis (“turuShka-yavanAdi”).
Succor finally came in the form the bukka-rAya-I of Vijayanagara, who along with his brothers had initiated the Hindu revival. He commanded his son kumAra kaMpaNa, to destroy the Islamic power in the south, including the Sultan of Madhurai who had established himself in the pANDyan domain. For this great campaign of 1365-1371 CE he divided his army into three wings, of which one was led by himself, another was under the kShatriya general sAluva mangu and the third under his amAtya (chief minister), the brAhmaNa gopaNArya. This gopaNArya was the son narasiMhArya who was a smArta brAhmaNa from near Tiruchirapalli. He belonged to the bharadvAja gotra and was a student of the taittirIya yajurveda of the Apastamba-sUtra and he had received a pA~ncharAtrika mantra saMpuTikaraNa of the ugraviShNu-mantrarAja and the chakra ShaDakSharI mantra early in his life from the vaiShNava teacher vedAnta deshika. His father who moved to the Andhra country to serve the Vijayanagaran empire rose to the rank of an amAtya of the southern zone under harihara-I. Due to his administrative and military abilities gopaNArya was appointed as amAtya under bukka’s son kumAra kaMpaNa.
The combined Vijayanagaran army first seized Arcot from the shAmbhuvarAya (a vahni-kula rAjpUt settled in the drAviDa country) who was believed to have moved away from the pANDyan to a nominal alliance with the turuShka-s. Here he installed a new shAmbhuvarAya as his agent to administer the region. kumAra kaMpaNa then moved his army inwards towards Madhurai, while gopaNArya moved towards Gingee in an outflanking operation. At Gingee, the Moslems from the Sultanate of Madhurai had attacked the Tamil chieftain veLALa rAyar, the brother-in-law of the hoysala ballAlla-III, during the battle of Tiruvannamalai. The veLALa was slain in course of a valiant defense of Gingee and the Moslems had placed a garrison there. Shortly there after ballAlla too was killed and his stuffed skin hung on the wall of the Madhurai fort by the Sultan. The Vijayanagaran army led by gopaNArya besieged the fort and cut off the supplies to force the garrison to surrender. When gopaNArya occupied Gingee and set up his head quarters there it is said that he had a dream in which he saw the fierce viShNu emerging from his sacrificial fire armed with the chakra, gadA, shara~Nga and an astra and bade him to liberate Shrirangam from the Moslems and reinstall his image there. Another apocryphal narrative states that gopaNArya hear the roar of nR^isiMha in his dream, and the call to liberate the city of viShNu. Inspired by this gopaNa went to Tirupati and brought back the images of ra~NganAtha and his shakti-s, shrI and kshmA, that he housed in Gingee in a special shrine carved in the rock, known as the temple of Singapuram.
Having done this gopaNa sent his spies to gather in formation on the Moslem forces positioned in Shrirangam and on the way to it. He realized that if he attacked Shrirangam directly he could sandwiched by another Islamic force placed in Samayavaram. He also noted that the Moslem forces further south were watching for him to complete his outflanking and join kumAra kaMpaNa moving to Madhurai. So gopaNa first moved south and veered in a straight line to lead a cavalry attack on the enemy at Samayavaram. In that fateful encounter the Vijayanagaran army completely annihilated the Ghazis and before the survivors could move to other garrisons they were overtaken and killed. Then gopaNArya led his forces rapidly toward Shrirangam, with a second Hindu force under sAluva mangu converging straight from the north. The two Hindu forces encircled the Jihadis and there were two encounters with them one near Shrirangam and another close to Tiruchirapalli. In both battles the Hindu cavalry completely swept away the mounted archers of the Turks and they were totally destroyed. When the news of the Hindu victory reached vedAnta deshika he composed a verse in the honor in gopaNArya who led the forces to a complete victory. In that he clearly mentions that gopaNa completely smashed the turuShka cavalry that bristled with upraised bows. When gopaNArya ceremonially installed the images of viShNu and his shakti-s in Shrirangam after the great victories, the praise composed by vedAnta deshika was inscribed on the wall of the temple. Another grantha inscription on the eastern wall of the second circuit explicitly mentions that the brAhmaNa general gopaNArya cut down with his sword the turuShka-s to liberate the city. Then gopaNa arranged for vedAnta deshika to return to Shrirangam and witness the reinstalled ranganAyaka and his shakti-s (mentioned in an appendix to the abhIti-stava found in Andhra; vedAnta deshika was gopaNa’s mantra guru, see above).
Text of certain inscriptions praising gopaNArya (the grantha inscriptions are worn out in part and I am reproducing the form published in Epigraphia Indica vol 6 with minor emendation, though I have seen variant forms with the vaiShNava):
AnIyA-nIlA-shR^i~Nga-dyuti-rachita-jagad-ra~njanad-a~njanAdresh-che~nchyAm-ArAdhya kiMchit samayamatha nihatyod-dhanuShkAMs-turuShkAn |
lakShmI-kShmAbhyAm-ubhAbhyAM saha nija-nagare sthApayan ra~NganAthaM samyak-varyAM saparyAM punara-kR^ita yasho-darpaNo gopaNAryaH ||
Having brought down from the collyrium-hued hills (Tirupati) that captivate the whole world with the shine of their blue peaks he worshiped them at che~nchi (Gingee) for some time, and then having smashed the Turks with [their ranks] full of upraised bows, he reinstalled ra~NganAtha in his own town with both his [shakti-s] lakShmI and kShmA and worshipped them again with all rites, [such is] the mirror of fame, gopaNArya.
vishveshaM ra~NgarAjaM vR^iShbha-giri-taTAt gopaNaH kShoNi-devo nItvA svAM rAjadhAnIn-nija [asi?]-bala-nihatotsikta-tauruShka-sainyaH kR^itvA |
shrI-ra~Nga-bhUmim kR^ita-yuga-sahitAnta […?] lakShmI mahIbhyAM saMsthApyAsyAM sarojabhava iva kurute sAdhu-charyAM saparyaM ||
The world [which is a] stage, its king [ra~NgarAja] from the vR^iShabha hills’ slopes [Tirupati], the brAhmaNa gopaNa brought to his own royal capital (Shrirangam), having cut down with his might the Turkic army. Mingling Shrirangam with the earth of the kR^itayuga he reinstalled [viShNu] along with lakShmI and mahI and like the lotus-born [brahmA] worshipped him with all the rituals.
Another vaiShNava record that mentions the return of their teacher vedAnta deshika also mentions gopaNa’s victory over the Moslems. It is slightly corrupt but goes thus:
shrutvA gopaNa-bhUmipo yama-nibhAn jitvA turuShkAm bhuvi shri-ra~NgAdhi-patiM sva-kIyAvishaye saMsthApya bhUyaH kramAt | pUjAM kArayatIti harSha-vachanaM rangaM prati-prasthitaH yo dArais-saha dhArakENa cha gurustaM samshrayesman-nidhim ||
Here a vaiShNava eulogist seeking the grace of his teacher states that vedAnta deshika returned with wife and son upon hearing the delightful news that the warrior gopaNa having won the battles with the deadly Turks had reinstalled the lord of shrIra~ngaM in his own city and reinstated the worship of the god.
The other general Vijayanagaran sAluva mangu is also recorded as endowing the temple of Shrirangam with a large amount of wealth. However, shortly after their great victory at Shrirangam, the Hindu generals realized that they faced an attack in the rear by the Moslem forces stationed near Kanchipuram. So sAluva mangu and gopaNArya rapidly led the Vijayanagaran armies to swoop down on the Ghazis and surprise them near a tributary of the river Palar. Here, the Hindu army again scored a comprehensive victory against the enemy and drove them against the river which the enemy crossed and retreated into their fortifications near Kanchipuram. gopaNa and sAluva mangu continued the attack a month or so later to evict them from the fortification through a siege and then completely destroy them in a battle at Kanchipuram. After this gopaNArya gave the command of the army to sAluva mangu and took the role of reorganizing the administration of the southern territories as amAtya. The evidence for his activities comes from multiple inscriptions seen in Kanchipuram. In this period he also wrote a kAvya titled sindhumati-vilAsa, which unfortunately I had considerable difficulty examining due to the shortage of time available, the script, as well as the strange hybrid structure of using Sanskrit mixed with a “Telugu-Tamil” dialect. He also composed a commentary on the agastya-saMhitA but I have not been able to examine this manuscript to further comment on the issue. The Kanchipuram inscriptions show that gopaNArya repaired and restored temple worship throughout the regions conquered by him and reallocated land for temples. These inscriptions also mention that he established maTha-s for AchArya-s of various saMpradAya-s and formalized the system for AchArya-s of various local adhyakSha-s to perform rituals at various major temples. In the economic terms he also ratified sales of lands attached to temples to various service castes such as weavers so that they could set up their businesses on these lands. These sales provided money for the renovations of the temples and also stimulated the local economy to create markets around the temples to revive ruined temple towns of the drAviDa country. Another inscription also mentions his renovating a temple and building of fortifications at Kadiri. While here it is also said he sponsored his mantra-teacher vedAnta deshika in his last years to compose two works on rasAyana/medicine: rasa-bhaumAmR^ita and vR^ikSha-bhaumAmR^ita and a work on geography termed bhU-gola-nirNaya.