Sri Krishna Deva Raya or Prithviraj Chauhan? If you were to choose between the both as a role model for India, whom will you choose?

Every person is a product of his generation and a slave of the situation. Whatever action he takes is a consequence of that. We should remember that monday morning quarterbacking is an easy task. But, place yourselves in the shoes of the person whom you are analysing, you will get a completely different picture. Both Prithviraj Chauhan or Krishna Deva Raya were children of their generations and there is no surprise in the way they behaved.

Look at Prithviraj Chauhan for instance, much vilified for opening India to Islamic invasions. But, is it that simple? He was born in an exalted Rajput lineage and all his fights were with fellow Rajput rulers who were as chivalrous as him. Everyone followed the rulebook and it was beyond comprehension that anyone would break the rulebook in a war. If a king is caught in war and if he pleads for mercy, you will release him and return his possessions back. You don’t expect him to backstab you. It’s not as if the territory ruled by Prithviraj Chauhan didn’t know about Muslims. They know that Indus is out of bounds for them and they also know that there were two massive waves of Islamic invasions which were beat back decisively. How the Muslims fought was lost to history.

Though Mahmud of Ghazni was far powerful than Muhammad of Ghori, the reality is that Muhammad of Ghori achieved more. It’s not because Ghazni softened the opposition for a smoother way generations later. It’s because of the Shahis of Kabul who fought for every inch before withdrawing. The collapse was sudden – with they losing lands on the other side of Khyber by 1000 and their whole kingdom – which was bounded by Indus on the East by 1015. But, their experience and expertise in fighting the Muslims actually helped the next line – the Paramaras, the Chandelas and Kashmir. They held steadfast, both because the Shahis taught them how to fight the enemy and because the sudden collapse of Shahis means that Ghazni didn’t have sufficient time to establish proper supply lines deep into India. Whatever the historicity of Salar Masud is, the reality is that Ghazni’s armies in India were destroyed parallel to Dandanaqan and they spelled the doom of his empire. But, all this happened 150 years before Prithviraj Chauhan and no one remembered them.

When Muhammad of Ghori invaded, Prithviraj Chauhan fought the war in the only way he knew – following the Rajput Code. But, did he anticipate that Ghori will break the code? Probably not. So, when Ghori attacked the second time in full force after Prithviraj Chauhan allowed him to go scot-free after a disastrous defeat, and when the tide turned against Prithviraj for whatever reasons(there are many versions over why he lost and how he died), predictably, Ghori didn’t follow Prithviraj’s chivalry and release him. He either imprisoned him all his life or executed him and took over the whole kingdom. That was the actual opening Muslims got to enter India in force and hold fort.

And all of this facilitated by a chivalrous king who would never break a rule even if it means certain destruction for him.

Now, let’s go to the other one, Sri Krishna Deva Raya, probably one of the greatest rulers India produced in the last millenium. He was not even twenty when he ascended the throne and Vijayanagara was facing an annual Jihad from the Bahamani Sultanate, which was at the peak of its power. As if it’s an annual ritual, Mahmood Shah, the Bahamani Sultan started an annual jihad against Vijayanagara in 1501 – this was partly to give a sense of direction to the bickering nobles and on the other hand, soften the defences of Vijayanagara for an eventual conquest. In fact, Vijayanagara itself was going through a churning and there was no hope of order when Krishna Deva Raya came to throne in 1509. Three dynasties changed from 1485 and the two military commanders who took charge tried desperately to manage the situation only to be followed by weak succesors. In fact, even Krishna Deva Raya was not supposed to mount the throne – it was his child nephew who was to, but for the subterfuge of the Prime Minister Timmarasa. The kingdom was in chaos – Bahamanis chipping in from the North, Kalinga advancing as far as Kanchi and rebellions as near as Ummattur.

The accession of the new king who was just a boy in a kingdom in turmoil was the perfect opportunity for the Bahamanis to mount a massive campaign – massive enough to annex the whole of Vijayanagara Empire. But, Krishna Raya turned out to be a hard nut to crack – that hard that the great Jihad of 1509 turned out to be the last Jihad waged by Bahamani Sultanate which crashed from peak into extinction in 1527 – less than 20 years after the war.

The invasion had gone horribly wrong – Vijayanagara has destroyed the cohesion of Bahamani armies at the Battles of Raichur and Dewani and units fled back to the kingdom, chased by Vijayanagara troops and destroyed piecemeal. The prize catch was Yusuf Adil Shah, one of the pre-eminent nobles of Bahamani Sultanate and the founder of Bijapur Sultanate. He was chased all the way from Raichur to Kovilkonda, a distance of about 100 km. Yusuf Adil Shah’s plan was simple – Kovilkonda is one of the formidable fortresses of Bahamani Sultanate in the South and was considered almost impregnable. All he needs to do is to enter to fort and lock himself up. An army is rushing from Golconda to protect him and the combined armies of Golconda and Yusuf Adil Shah cooped up in a fort as strong as Kovilkonda is more than enough for the Vijayanagara troops to retreat. But, he was shot dead just before he was able to enter the fort. Krishna Raya himself writes that he displayed the head of Yusuf Adil Shah on a pike in Gulbarga, the capital city of Bahamani Sultanate.


What happened to the other contingents? The Bahamani Sultan, seriously injured, fled back to Gulbarga with the remnants of his army only to see Krishna Raya appear in Bijapu, following him. He forced Mahmood Shah to accept his suzerainty and the blow was devastating enough that the five main nobles of Bahamani Sultanate declared independence by 1518 and the rump Bahamani state ended in 1527 when the Barid Shah usurped the throne.

This is where Krishna Raya differed from his peers. He launched a reverse Jihad against Bahamani Sultanate and his march through Golconda towards Kondapalli and Kalinga was that impactful that the Qutb Shah of Golconda refused to engage and gave him a free pass. The situation was such demotivating for the Muslims that they weren’t able to do anything except to wait for his death to make their moves. They got their chance only by 1565 and the viciousness of the destruction of the city was a clear proof of the effectiveness with which Krishna Raya and his son-in-law Rama Raya guarded the kingdom. Even though Vijayanagara was considered to be shattered beyond redemption, the truth is far different – Vijayanagara armies were actually knocking on the doors of Golconda within 20 years after the disaster of Talikota. The end came because of a civil war which drained the life force of the Empire.

Again, we would see Krishna Raya as a child of the circumstances. Not just his kingdom but his civilization itself is staring at a certain destruction and the only way he could halt it for a sufficient period for others to be prepared is to take the fight to the enemy and fight exactly in the same way the enemy fought – pillage and destruction.

Being a contemporary of Prithviraj Chauhan or Sri Krishna Deva Raya, it is probably impossible for one to criticise the acts of their rulers. After all, they did nothing different than what the situation demanded. But, looking back from a distant time in the future, one can summarise the stand of either rulers in a single line

Prithviraj Chauhan: Follow your rule book to the dot even if it means advantage to the enemy

Sri Krishna Deva Raya: Throw your rulebook in a dustbin and follow the rulebook of your enemy if your enemy’s book gives you an advantage

In other words, while Prithviraj Chauhan will say “Let’s give Pakistan one more chance”, Krishna Deva Raya will simply say “Break Pakistan into four and make the four fight among themselves”. If we look at their philosophies closely, we would notice that we are actually following Prithviraj Chauhan and not Sri Krishna Deva Raya while the need of the day is exactly the reverse. And the need of the day?

Break Pakistan and China into pieces and take the fight to your enemy’s soil.

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