Mughal Invasions

South India was hugely rich and has traded with the western world since the time of king Solomon and it was well known through the world as a treasure trove of gems and gold. So every invader wanted it. 

By 1310, Mughal invader Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate had forced the Yadava and Kakatiya rulers of Deccan region in southern India to become his tributaries. During the 1310 Siege of Warangal against the Kakatiyas, Alauddin’s general Malik Kafur had learned that the region to the south of the Yadava and Kakatiya kingdoms was also very wealthy. After returning to Delhi, Kafur told Alauddin about this, and obtained permission to lead an expedition to the southernmost regions of India 

General Malik Kafur, army general of Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji, besieged the Hoysala capital Dwarasamudra with 10,000 soldiers, and forced the Hoysala king Ballala to become a tributary of the Delhi Sultanate. Following that, in March – April  1311, he entered South Tamilnadu.

Malik Kafur started his march towards the Pandya territory (called Ma’bar in Muslim chronicles) from Dwarasamudra on 10 March 1311, and reached the Pandya frontier five days later. The Delhi courtier Amir Khusrau mentions that, during this march, the Delhi army covered a difficult terrain, where sharp stones tore horse hoofs, and the soldiers had to sleep on ground “more uneven than a camel’s back” at night. 

In South Tamilnadu including Madurai, Malik engaged in ruthless murder, rape and looting. The result was devastating in Tamilnadu. (Ref.: He executed huge plunder, including elephants, horses, gold and precious stones. By late April 1311, Kafur, who had collected a huge amount of wealth from Hoysala and Pandya kingdoms, decided to return to Delhi. According to Alauddin Khalji’s courtier and chronicler Amir Khusrau, the Delhi army of Malik Kafur had captured 512 elephants, 5,000 horses and 500 manns (1 mann = 37.324 kg. So therefore 18.662 tonnes of gold was looted) of gold and precious stones by the end of its Southern campaign against the Hoysalas and the Pandyas. Another account by writer Ziauddin Barani records the loot at included 612 elephants; 20,000 horses; and 96,000 manns of gold. Barani describes this seizure of wealth as the greatest one since the Muslim capture of Delhi. Malik Kafur took the wealth in sacks of gold and boxes of jewels at the point of the sword. It is said that the Pandyan ruler agreed to give away his entire treasury, all of his elephants in exchange for the Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.

How the Madurai Shiva Lingam, the Goddess and other deities were saved from destruction

The Tamil Chronicles indicate how the temple at Madurai suffered vandalism under the Muslim rule. The Madurai Sthanikar Varalaru (a publication. Sthanikar – trustee; varalaru – history) gives a detailed account of the tribulations of the time. The Sthanikars (trustees) of the temple made a kilikoondu (cage) for the Shiva Linga in the garbha griha (main sanctum sanctorum). They raised earth mounds, blocked the garbha griha entrance and built a stone wall to protect the original lingam from the invaders. Further a replica of the original lingam was set up in the Ardha mandapam (intermediary pillared space between the temple exterior and the sanctum sanctorum or the other mandapas of the temple.)

They also setup the Goddess – Moola Peru Nachiyar – on the upper story of the vimanam (temple tower) and performed ashtabandhanam for her. They further carried out Pupadanam (burying in the ground) for the deities in the Muchukundeshwars shrine 

Khusrau states that the Pandya territory was protected by a high mountain, but there were two passes on either side of the mountain. He names these passes as Tarmali and Tabar, which can be identified with present day Taramangalam and Thoppur. The Delhi army marched through these passes, and encamped on the banks of a river (probably Kaveri). Next, the invaders captured a fort, which Khusrau calls “Mardi”. The Delhi army massacred the inhabitants of Mardi. 

Next, Malik Kafur marched to Vira Pandya’s headquarters, called “Birdhul” by Amir Khusrau. This is same as “Birdaval”, which is named as the capital of the Ma’bar country (the Pandya territory) in Taqwīm al- buldān(1321), a book by the Kurdish writer Abu’l-Fida. British scholar A. Burnell identified Birdhul as present day Virudhachalam.

At Birdhul, the Delhi army found a contingent of around 20,000 Muslim soldiers in the Pandya service. These soldiers deserted the Pandyas, and joined the Delhi army.instead of killing them for being apostates, the Delhi generals decided to spare their lives. 

With help of the Muslim deserters, the Delhi army tried to pursue Vira Pandya, but had to retreat because of heavy rainfall. According to the Khusrau, the rural areas were so flooded that “it was impossible to distinguish a road from a well”. A large part of the Delhi army encamped at Birdhul, while a small party went out in search of Vira Pandya despite the heavy rains. At midnight, the unit brought the news that Vira Pandya was at Kannanur. 

The Delhi army marched to Kannanur in heavy rains, but by this time, Vira had escaped to a forest with some of his followers. When the rains stopped, the invaders captured 108 elephants loaded with pearls and precious stones. They massacred the residents of Kannanur. 

The Delhi generals wanted to find Vira Pandya, so that they could force him into becoming a tributary to the Delhi Sultanate. They suspected that Vira Pandya had fled to his ancestral fort of Jal-Kota (“water fort”, identified with Tivukottai). They started marching towards Jal-Kota, but people coming from that place informed them that he was not there. Ultimately, the Delhi generals decided that finding Vira Pandya was a hopelessly difficult task, and decided to return to Kannanur. 

According to Khusrau, the next morning, the Delhi army learned that the town of Barmatpuri had a golden temple, with several royal elephants roaming around it. S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar identified Barmatpuri as “Brahmapuri” (Chidambaram), whose Nataraja Temple had a golden ceiling. 

The Delhi army reached Barmatpuri at midnight, and captured 250 elephants the next morning. The invaders then plundered the golden temple, whose ceiling and walls were studded with rubies and diamonds.They destroyed all the Shiva lingams (called “Ling-i-Mahadeo” by Khusrau), and brought down an idol of Narayana (Vishnu). Khusrau mentions that the ground that once smelled of musk now emitted a stench of blood. 

From Barmatpuri, the Delhi army marched back to its camp at Birdhul, where it arrived on 3 April 1311. There, the invaders destroyed the temple of Vira Pandya. The Delhi forces then arrived in Kanum (identified with Kadambavanam) on 7 April 1311. 5 days later, they reached Madurai (called “Mathura” by Khusrau), the capital of Sundara Pandya. 

By this time, Sundara Pandya had already fled the city with his queens. The Delhi army first visited the temple of “Jagnar”, hoping to find elephants and treasures there. (H. M. Elliot translated “Jagnar” as “Jagannatha”, but historian S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar identifies “Jagnar” as “Chokkanatha”, an aspect of Madurai’s patron deity Shiva.) Malik Kafur was disappointed to find that only 2-3 elephants were left at the temple. This made him so angry, that he set fire to the temple. 

The army started its return journey on 25 April 1311. In Delhi, Alauddin held a public court (darbar) at Siri on 19 October 1311, to welcome Malik Kafur and other officers of the army. He gave 0.5 to 4 manns of gold to his various nobles. 

Ever after Malik Kafur left Tamil Nadu with the looted wealth in 1311, the Tamil nation laid devastated and demoralized. Tamil Nadu would never recover from it fully and achieve its past glory. The lost sovereignty was never recovered. The historic division of Tamil Nadu into three dynastic rules of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas was no more. Neither the Cholas nor the Pandyas were strong monarchs any more.

After Malik Kafur left Tamil Nadu, there were a couple of more invasions from the Delhi Sultans. Much of Tamil Nadu became part of Sultan Mohammad-bin-Tughlug’s empire of the Delhi Sultanate for a period – approximately 1327 to 1335. Then the local commanders of the Delhi Sultanate rebelled against him and established their own rule as independent Madurai Sultanate (or Ma’bar Sultanate). Thus the Delhi rule over Tamil Nadu lasted for almost 8 years.

The Mughal invasion was that of Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor from Delhi. The local Mogul commanders rebelled against Aurangzeb and established themselves as independent rulers (Nawabs). Thus started the Nawab rule over Tamil Nadu.

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