A video of Richard Eaton, a noted historian on the lines of Irfan Habib pontificating over communalism in India and claims that we are superimposing 20th Century perspectives on medieval eras surfaced recently. He references the Islamic Conquest of Warangal by saying Ulugh Khan levelled the temple of Svayambhu Siva, the state deity of Kakatiyas but on the other hand, he left totally intact the Thousand Pillar Temple in Hanamkonda just 15 miles away – it used to be the state temple but it no longer was. And after he became Sultan, he restored worship in temples in that part of Deccan.

But the problem is this. It has become a fashion writing history sitting in foreign universities with zero connect to the ground. You may call it an insinuation but what exactly do we know about the Islamic Conquest of Deccan?

  1. The first invasion of Ulugh Khan was a disaster – in fact, he was chased till Kaulas(225 km from Warangal) and escaped certain death due to the chance intervention of the army investing the fort of Kotagiri which came to his rescue.
  2. Kakatiya Empire was not drained of it’s fighting force when Warangal was conquered. In fact, troops were still streaming towards Warangal when news came that the fort fell to Muslims.
  3. As a proof of the untenable position of Muslims in Warangal, within four years of conquest of Warangal, the Kakatiya armies were again at the gates of Warangal by 1327.
  4. The desperation of Muslims troops can be gauged by the fact that Tughluq sent the captured and converted Kakatiya Fort Commander of Warangal as his Governor of Telangana to stabilize the position. Nagaya Ganna, who in his new Avatar as Malik Maqbul was a miserable failure in Warangal and had to flee back to Daulatabad/Devagiri.

Kakatiya troops investing Warangal Fort , and a plague in Muhammad bin Tughluq’s camp soon resulted in the whole of South erupting into rebellion – both Muslims and Hindus alike. Muslim Governors carved their own little kingdoms (Bahamani Sultanate and Madura Sultanate) while the Hindus focused on overall conquest and undoing of Islamic excesses. Ganga Devi’s Madura Vijayam and Musunuri Prolaya Nayaka’s Vilasa Grant bear testimony to that. Amidst all this, one would notice major temples like in Bodhan, Warangal, Dwarasamudra, Madurai, Rajahmundry and everywhere were destroyed or severely damaged.

With such an iconoclastic history it surprises everybody when one says Ulugh Khan who conquered the whole of South India showed some sort of special love towards a specific temple.

What’s the truth, then?

Thousand Pillar Temple in Warangal is formally called Trikutalaya(the temple with three Sanctums) or Rudreshwara Temple(after Prataparudra I who built it). Taking 72 years to build, the temple is considered to be the high point of Kakatiya Art and as the structure shows, the main temple is in the shape of a cross – having three niches at the ends – each housing Vishnu, Siva and Surya(some say it’s Brahma). The fourth arm of the cross opens towards the Natyamantapa which is currently under renovation. The elevated platform between the both houses the Nandi of the temple.

Entering the temple from the direction of the Natyamantapa, one would notice two important things – the Sivalinga is housed on the left side and consequently, Nandi doesn’t face Lord Siva. The second, of the three niches, only one has an idol. The other two are missing.
Now, coming to the idol of Nandi itself. I will show you the images of two Nandis from the temple, the first being the main one

and the second being a Nandi located at the entrance of the temple to the right.

The main Nandi is a masterpiece of art indeed!! It’s a sickening sight to see it with chopped ears and broken legs. Look at the cover image of the article depicting the Nandi in a graceful and sideways angle. One would notice a crack on it’s body – clearly a failed attempt to destroy it. And the second Nandi is a disaster. Clearly, it has seen much better days!!

This one, from Ramappa Temple which escaped almost unscathed because it’s located deep in the forests is how the Nandi in the Thousand Pillar Temple would have looked had it not been for Muhammad bin Tughluq’s intervention.

All this makes one wonder, if a single image in the temple is enough to undo the stories told, how can one believe the yarn spun by these armchair pundits?

Let’s come to the question of why this temple is not demolished. Simply put, they didn’t have the time and instruments to demolish this hard granite structure. But, yes. They were able to deface the main icons of the temple and we know for sure that two idols in the temple are missing – and there is no way to know if the third one is displaced.

There are two ways one can take this discussion forward. Tughluq control of Warangal was never great. It is just possible that Muslim law never crossed the Outer Wall of Warangal Fort. The clinical destruction carried out inside the fort contrasting with the token damage carried outside the Fort is but an example(there are at least five Kakatiya Era temples surviving within three km of Thousand Pillars Temple) clearly hints at that. Further bolstering the fact is that the area near the temple is still called Enugula-Gadda literally meaning Elephant Stables. Going by the fact Warangal was never a major power centre after Rachakonda lost it to Kalinga or even in the path of marching armies, it really makes no sense for the place to be named thus unless the word originated in the Kakatiya Era.

On the other hand, unlike the other major cities like Devagiri or Madurai, the main Mosque of Warangal is not known. It is just possible that Thousand Pillar Temple is that mosque. This for example, is a Tughluq era mosque from Kakatiya Empire in Bodhan – even today, this goes by the name Deval Masjid.

Such sort of mosques exist all over India with Rudra Mahalaya being the most famous example. In that case, failing miserably to destroy the temple and then converting it to a mosque to spite the Hindus is not at all surprising. But, going by the fact that Muslim rule in Warangal existed only for 13 years, it is just possible that all hints of this desecration are wiped out and all memory lost to history. It is not the sort of history one would want to remember!!

Any of the two versions is possible – that Muslims never had control enough outside Warangal fort to inflict some serious damage, or they converted Thousand Pillar Temple to a mosque though it’s most probably the first which happened as there are other almost untouched temples in Warangal Urban. But yes!! The Thousand Pillar Temple of Warangal bears witness to a thousand scars of history.

After all this, I have only one question to ask to Richard Eaton – Why did Ulugh Khan love Nandi idols sans ears and legs?

In this regard, what are the fundamental things a historian should consider?

  1. Absence of Proof is not Proof of Absence
  2. Archaeology takes a precedence over Armchair Punditry
  3. One can only know that much without knowing the local lore of the area.

Anyone who refuses to accept these basic tenets is not a historian indeed!!

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