The sack of Vijaynagar: Hampi after the apocalypse

Some time ago, I wrote about the defeat and death of Rama Raya on the battlefield of Talikota. But, what happened after this disastrous battle? What did the victorious Deccan Sultans find in the richest Indian city south of Delhi? What were the citizenry in Hampi upto? Did they survive? What happened to the fabled treasures accumulated over 300 years by successions of Hindu dynasties who ruled Vijaynagar. What happened to all the fabled gold and diamonds that legend and contemporary visitors say were sold openly on the streets of Hampi? So many questions…

Rafiuddin Shirazi followed the camp of Ali Adil Shah I on it’s way to the capital of Vijaynagar from Talikota. Writing in the Tazkiratul Muluk, he says that the victorious army after being on the battlefield for 20 days entered Vijaynagar, which for a 1000 long years had not seen a foe breaching it’s defences.

The Portuguese historian Diogo Do Couto who observed the last days of Vijaynagar in person writes of the Muslim armies entering the city 3 days after the victory at Talikota. Another contemporary from Golconda, Ferishta says it took 10 days for the victors to reach Hampi. However, both of them may be right with the Muslim advance guard reaching Hampi in 3 days and the rest of the camp entering the city over the next few days. This time did give the inhabitants and the remnants of the Hindu royalty some breathing space.

Tirumala Raya, the brother of Rama Raya and Venkatadri, both of whom lost their lives at Talikota, after returning from the battlefield, carried his hostage cousin and figurehead King of Vijaynagar, Sadasiva accompanied by the surviving members of the royal family along with 550 elephants laden with treasure in gold, diamonds and precious stone and the insignia of the state and the bejewelled throne of the kings, to the fortress of Penunkonda. However, it has to be surmised that what may have been taken out was just the contents of the royal treasury at Hampi. The treasure that lay in several palaces and other underground treasure chambers and the mints in Hampi, not to speak of the wealth of it’s citizens and merchants still remained, helpless and waiting to be plundered.

2 days after the tragedy at Talikota,  hordes of dacoits pounced upon the city and subjected the stores and shops to plunder. Couto writes of at least 6 concerted attacks by these mobs during the day. Couto names the Banjaras  among them. Robert Sewell adds Lambanis and Kurubas to the list.

Picking up Shirazi’s thread, from where we left it, by the time the allied army entered the city, the inhabitants had already hid their wealth in temples, caves, houses and rivers. But the enemy knew of this. Throughout the day for several months, he says the army of the 3 victorious kings entered houses and temples, all desolate by now and dug up the floors searching for buried treasure. They secured plenty of cash and kind. Shirazi further writes that the looting reached such an extent that slaves and servants turned disobediant to their masters and busied themselves in search for wealth.

Shirazi also throws light on an important question. That the ground was dug up and monuments smashed in religious frenzy can be understood but why was Hampi burnt to the ground? The answer may lie in this narrative. He writes that one day, Burhan Nizam Shah, the late Rama Raya’s inveterate foe was on an excursion in the centre and around the streets of the city. He reached a place where the poor people in Bijapur’s army were distributing amongst themselves a jar studded with diamonds and pearls and some money, that had obviously been looted. One group from the Nizam Shahi army reached the place and attempted to forcibly stake a claim on a share of the prize. The other group declined and a quarrel began and in the resulting melee, there were deaths and injuries on either side.

Shirazi recounts that Nizam Shah upon seeing this told his administrators that this situation would lead to jealousy and strife even among the highest nobles with the Allies and also among the Sultans themselves. Standing at the same place, he ordered to collect grass, wood, shrubs and other fuel and set fire to after storing them in the houses, temples, markets, etc. An area of about 60 miles was set fire to and several large buildings were burnt to the ground. Shirazi mentions that this put an end to the treasure hunters.

Did Burhan Nizam Shah order the city to be put to fire to stop the search for treasure or because he harboured the greatest hate in his heart for the Rayas of Vijaynagar and the state? Or was the decision to put fire to the city on account of the Sultans wanting to return with the plunder to their respective countries and to force their soldiers  and camp also to do so who  were still busy digging for hidden treasure?

Ferishtah writes that as the city was sacked the Sultans allowed their army to retain any and all the treasure each man looted and only Elephants were to be handed over to the Sultans. It was the practise that a certain percentage (usually between 1/10th to 1/4th) of the plunder would be handed over the the ruler’s treasury but in this case probably on account of the unimaginable wealth hoarded in Hampi that fell directly into each of the Sultan’s hands, they were magnanimous enough to allow their camp followers to keep their entire share.

Shirazi writing about the loot of wealth from the city also recounts how the triumphant allies scouted for slaves among the populace in the city. He writes that Vijaynagar has several caves and mountains. Many caves were about 3 farsakh (one farsakh is equivalent to 3 miles in length.) The caves also received light from outside. After the disaster at Talikota many among the citizens of Hampi who did not flee the invading armies hid in these caves. But the Muslim army entered many of these caves and took women and children hiding inside as slaves and captured hidden treasure. It may have been that most of the menfolk fled the city but conditions were not conducive and safe for women and children to make that perilous journey resulting in them being hid in the relative safety of the caves around the city.

Slave trading was lucrative business in medieval times. Fair faced women and young children commanded high premiums in slave markets that were prominent all over the country.

Those who stayed in the caves would leave the caves at night and return with buried wealth from the city. So you had a unique situation where both the besiegers and some among the besieged plundered the city. Shirazi notes that the army would lay ambuscades along the paths that led to these caves and catch people on the way back with treasure.

He was eyewitness to one such incident and let us hear it in his own words – “Once it happened that 4 men in the caves were caught. After torture, they revealed that in one cave in a particular mountain are hidden women, children and precious items. If you come with us, we will give you a Chattar(crown) for sparing our lives. In greed of wealth, we joined them. We reached at the opening of the cave, entered and found many rough ways leading in different directions. We thought that if we proceed furthere, we may lose our way and invite trouble that would be intolerable. Otherwise the people in the caves would capture us. We took lamps and pieces of coal. On the way, we kept pieces of coal for easy identification of our path so that we could return safely.

At some places in the cave light was seen easily from holes above that opened to the sky and we could pass easily. After passing half a farsakh full of danger, we appeared before a narrow hole. And from there we had to pass through a 3 or 4 yard deep vault. The arrested persons now proceeded deeper and freed themselves from the rope they were tied with. From inside we heard noises of people and weapons. We also saw the tips of spears being weilded by people inside. We feared they would come out and attack us and fearing for our lives we fled, directed back by the pieces of coal we had left on our way in.”

Thus ended the treasure seeking adventure of our historian friend Rafiuddin Shirazi who though returning empty handed from his misadventure did leave us an invaluable account of his exploit.

And in this way the treasures accumulated in Vijaynagar were carted away, some by the fleeing Rayas, some by the victorious allies and maybe some still remains hidden deep in the ground in the innumerable caves that dot this region or submerged deep in the flowing waters of the Tungabhadra.


About Olikara

An engineer, history buff, collector of South Indian antiques.
This entry was posted in Anecdotes in Kannada history. Bookmark the permalink.

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