vijayanagaran activities in shrI lankA

Since the vijayan colonization of lankA several south India empires have extended their sway over lankA. On occasions, the lankans too invaded or interfered with the mainland, most famous occasion being the invasion of parAkramabAhu. Due to some prominent historians underplaying or outright ignoring the vijayanagaran forays into lankA, I too was misled into believing this was an unimportant facet of their military and cultural expansion. But an impressive collection of lankan gems that I had seen in the karnATa country from the vijayanagaran period kept coming to mind and culminated in more detailed look at the activities of vijayanagara in shrI lankA. Further even the biased Islamic and Christian sources had recorded the activities of vijayanagara in lankA, suggesting it was not something minor to be brushed aside.

-kumAra kampaNa, the hero of Madhurai, the destroyer of the Army of Islam, had planned a large-scale invasion of shrI lankA to bring it under vijyanagaran control. However, he died just before the invasion and it was called off. Nevertheless the lankan rAjan bhuvanaikabAhu-V sent an embassy with gifts to maintain status quo with vijayanagara.

-In 1385 CE virupAkSha, was sent by his father harihara-II to bring lankA to pay tribute. He invaded the island with an amphibious force and forced bhuvanaikabAhu to accept vijayanagaran overlordship. He appears to have taken the state of Yazhpanam (Jaffna) and brought it under direct vijayanagaran rule and used it to exert pressure on bhuvanaikabAhu. In support of this we note that a source mentioned by the learned historian SK Aiyangar, the nArAyaNIvilAsaM states that virUpAkSha set up a pillar of victory in lankA. We note that around this time harihara-II took the grandiose title of pUrva-pashchima-dakShiNa-samudrAdhIshvara. Copper plates found at Alampundi in the drAviDa country state that virUpAkSha acting on behalf of his father conquered the siMhala-s and brought gemstones for his father from there. The Portuguese sources also mention the conquest of lankA by a hindu king whose name is hopelessly corrupted and state that the rulers of Jaffna were karnATa-s.

-In 1424 CE devarAya-II came to power and appears to have strengthened the navy by appointing a special naval command under the nAvigaDa-prabhu. Initially, the naval force appears to have been active on the Andhra coast as devarAya dispatched ambitious naval expeditions against Burma. These invasions landed on the Pegu and Tenasserim coasts and forced the Mon kingdom to become a tributary of vijayanagara and possibly even under direct vijayanagaran control. In 1440 CE a conflict appears to have emerged over the lankan non-payment of tribute during devarAya-II’s reign. As a consequence a lankan spice ship was captured and impounded by the vijayanagaran naval force. In response parAkramabAhu-II hoping to relive the memories of eponymous predecessor launched a naval expedition against the mainland and plundered Adhirampattinam. In response, devarAya sent his mahApradhAni (prime minister) lakShmaNa-daNDanAyaka to punish the lankans. In 1442 CE he reconquered Adhirampattinam and launched an invasion into lankA. The lankans were defeated in battle fought south of Jaffna in 1443CE. Originally lakShmaNa intended to completely conquer lankA and bring it under direct vijayanagaran rule. However, the alarming news of the great Jihad being launched deep into vijayanagaran territory by the Bahmanid sultan reached him just then. So he accepted the tributes of parAkramabAhu-II and returned to the capital to reorganize the army to fight the Moslem invasion. This is supported an inscription near Chengalapattu in the Tamil country that mentions devarAya having subjugated the siMhala-s. Even an Islamic source (Abdur Razzak the Turk from Iran) and a Portuguese reports the same. Both these sources also report the subjugation of Pegu and Tenaserim in Southern Burma by devarAya. In the Burman accounts after the death of the king rAjAdhirAT of Mons we notice that there was break before the king rAma-rAjadhirAT takes the throne. This break corresponds to the vijayanagaran subjugation of the Burman coast, probably taking advantage of the internal conflict there.

-With the death of devarAya-II the advancing Islamic Jihad pulverized the Vijayanagarans and their empire began shrinking rapidly even as they fought to barely stave off the annual jihads of the Bahmanids. In this phase Lanka had entirely slipped out of Vijayanagaran control.

-Finally when Vijayanagara was revived under the great kR^iShNadevarAya he decided revive the control of Lanka. For this he asked the powerful governor of Pudukotai, narasingharAyar to organize a force for looking into the Lankan affairs.

-Around that time (1521CE) the siMhala king vijayabAhu raised a cry for help as he was invaded by the Portuguese armada. The Christian terrorists asked him to convert to catholicism or face death and launched a massive attack on him. The siMhala-s begged to the sAmUthiri of the chera country to come to his aid. In the past 20 years the sAmUthiri was raising a naval force to complement his army of skilled nAyar warriors to deal with the Christian threat from the west. The Christians had bombed Kodungallur in 1504CE and the sAmUthiri’s navy had been engaged a fierce naval campaign in which he was facing the adverse edge of the Christian armada. To shore up his naval defenses the samUthiri tried to form an alliance with the Osman Turk navy against the Christians. However, the Christians managed to make a landing at Kollam and demolished a shAstA temple and built a church atop it. But at this point the sAmUthiri deployed his force of elite nAyar warriors who made a clean sweep of the Portuguese fort at Kollam, exterminated the Christians and demolished their church. Soon after this strike the Christians signed a peace treaty with the Hindus to secure their trade in the west coast. But the king of Portugal sent an armada under Menezes to wage holy war on the Hindus. The Portuguese in a move to outflank the Hindus tried to conquer Lanka in an amphibious attack with several guns. With the call for help coming, kR^iShNadevarAya who was the overlord of the sAmUthiri sent a force to aid in this battle against the Christians in Lanka. The sAmUthiri’s navy and the vijayanagaran land force successfully thwarted the Portuguese attempt. However, soon after this there was an internecine war of succession in Lanka that resulted in the division of the land among the vijayabAhu’s sons.

-In 1525CE the Portuguese fleet decided to punish the chera-s for thwarting them at Lanka and set forth to attack Kozhikode. But the sAmUthiri had by then developed a sufficiently strong navy and won a major victory at sea against the Christians.

-In 1533 CE taking advantage of the internecine war in Lanka the general from the Tamil division of the empire narasingharAyar invaded Lanka and made it a tributary of kR^iShNadeva rAya. These activities are supported by the Pudukotai inscription of narasingharAyar and the Piranmalai inscription mentioning kR^iShNadeva sending a force during the time of the Portuguese invasion attempt.

-In 1564 CE before setting forth to face the Moslems in that fateful encounter rAmarAya dispatched a force of 20000 men under kR^iShNappA nAyaka of Madhurai to bring Lanka under direct vijayanagaran control. He routed the Lankan king and also a large Portuguese force that tried to intervene and claim to be legitimate rulers of Lanka. He deposed the siMhala rAjan and placed his brother vijaya gopAla nAyaka as the viceroy of lankA. But the victory was to be last flash of the greater Vijayanagara as Hampi itself was destroyed by the Mohammedans a few months later.

-1567CE vIra vasantarAya, vijayanagaran general was still trying to enforce the empire’s rule in Lanka, but with the empire facing an existential struggle against the army of Islam this hold was soon lost.

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