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HISTORY OF MADURAI
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  NAYAKKAN  DYNASTY, 1559-1736

In 1559 was founded the famous Nayakkan dynasty of Madura, which held the Country for nearly two centuries until the Musalmans took it in 1736. The origin and early doings of this line are recounted neither in inscriptions nor in really reliable histories, and for light upon both we are driven to depend mainly upon the vernacular manuscripts in the three volumes of the Rev.W. Taylor’s catalogue Raisonne of Oriental MSS. (Madras,1857), in the same author’s Oriental Historical MSS. (Madras,1835) and in the collections of manuscripts by Colonel Mackenzie which are now in the Connemara Library. These (in the judgement of so eminent an authority as Bishop Caldwell) are of very doubtful veracity, but happily they are frequently illumined by the letters and periodical reports of the priests of the well-known Jesuit Mission at Madura, which (though unfortunately incomplete) have been collected and published in four volumes under the title of La Mission du Madurai. Mr.Nelson has collated all these authorities with much care in his book, and the ensuing narrative follows closely (though, owing to he exigencies of space, very briefly) his account of this period.

Its Origin
It seems, then that at about the close of Vitthala Raja’s administration the then Chola ruler invaded the Madura country and dispossessed the pandya king. Whereupon the latter appealed to the court of Vijayanagar and an expendition under a certain Nagama Nayakkan was accordingly sent to his aid. Nagama easily suppressed the Chola king and possessed himself of Madura, but he then suddenly threw off his allegiance and, declining to help the pandya, assumed the position of an independent ruler. The Vijayanagar emperor was furious at his defection, summoned a council, laid the matter before his most faithful officers, and cried out to the assemblage ‘ Where amongest you all is he who will bring me that rebel’s head?’ To the astonishment of every one present, Nagama’s own son, Visvanatha , volunteered to do so, and after some natural hesitation the king despatched him with a large force against the rabel. Visvanatha defeated his father in a pitched battle, placed him in confinement, and at length procured for him the unconditional pardon which had doubtless been from the first the object of his action.

He so far obeyed the orders of the Vijayanagar king as nominally to place the pandya on the throne, but second policy and his own interests alike deterred him from handing over the entire government of the country to the old feeble dynasty, and he set out to rule on his own account. This was in 1559. Doubtless he held a wide commission as governor from the Vijayanagar court, and perhaps there was little difference between the powers he exercised and those wielded, for example, by Vitthala Raja. But the peculiar characteristic of the new regime was that, whether by accident or design, it developed first into a governorship which became hereditary and then into what was practically and hereditary monarchy. The Nayakkans never, it is ture, assumed the insignia or titles or royalty, and were content with the position of lieutenants under Vijayanagar even after they had ceased to pay tribute to that power; but in essentials their away was practically absolute and the pandyas disappear in effect henceforth from history.

Visvanatha Nayakkan 1559-63
Visvanatha, then,became the first of the Nayakkan dynasty. Visvanatha is said to have immediately set himself to strengthen his capital and improve the administration of his dominions. He domolished the pandya rempart and ditch which at that time surrounded marely the walls of the great temple, and erected in their place an extensive double-walled fortress defended by 72 bastions; and he led channels from upper waters of the vaigai—perhaps the Peranai and Chittanai dams owe their origin to him—to water the country, founding villages in the tracts commended by them.

In his administrative improvements he was ably seconded by his prime minister Ayya Nayakka Mudali (or, as he is still commonly called, Arya Natha), a man born of peasant Vellala parents who had won his way by sheer ability to high position in the Vijayanagar court. This officer is supposed to have been the founder of ‘ the poligar system,’ under which the Madura country was apportioned among 72 chieftains—some of them local man and other Telugu leaders of detachments which had accompanied Vishvanatha from Vijayanagar— who were each placed incharge of one of the 72 bastions of the Madura fortifications, were responsible for the immediate control of their estates, paid a fixed tribute to the Nayakkans, and kept up a certain quota of troops ready for immediate service. Unless their family traditions are uniformly false, these men did much for the country in those days, founding villages, building dams, constructing tanks and erecting temples. Many of them bore the title of Nayakkan, and hence the commonness of nayakkanur as a termination to the names of places in this district. They also brought with them the gods of the Deccan, and thus we find in Madura many shrines to Ahobilam and other deities who are rarely worshipped in the Tamil country. Their successors, the present zamindars of the district, still look upon Arya natha as a sort of patron saint.

This man is also credited with having constructed the great thousand-pillared mantapam in the Madura temple, and he is still kept in mind by the equestrian statue to him which flanks one side of the entrance of this, and is even now periodically crowned with garlands by the hero-worshippers of to-day. He lived till 1600 and had great influence upon the fate of the Nayakkan dynasty until his death.

Visvanatha also added the fort of Trichinopoly to his possessions. The Vijayanagar viceroy who governed the Tanjore country had failed to properly police the pilgrim roads which ran through Trichinopoly to the shrines at Srirangam and Ramesvaram, and devotees were afraid to visit those holy places. Visvanatha accordingly arranged to exchange that town for the fort of Vallam (in Tanjore), which was his at that time. He is said to have then vastly improved the tortifications and town of Trichinopoly and the temple of Srirangam, and to have cleared the banks of the Gauvery of robbers.

He had some difficulty with ‘the five pandyas’ who resisted the introduction of his authority into Tinnevelly, but he vanquished them at length (in circumstances set out with much poetic detail in the manuscripts) and then greatly improved the town and district of Tinnevelly. He is also credited with an expedition to subdue a local chieftain at Kambam (in the periyakulam taluk) near the Travancore border. Visvanatha died full of years and honour in 1563. His name is still affectionately remembered as that of a great benefactor of his country.

His immediate successors,
He was succeeded by his son Kumara Krishnappa (1563-73), Who is represented as a brave and politic ruler. A revolt occured among the poligars during his reign,but its leader, Tumbichi Nayakkan, was captured while holding the fort of paramagudi in the Ramnad zamindari, and was beheaded; and the troubld was quenched. Krishnappa is also declared to have conquered Ceylon-and exploit of which heroic details are given in the manuscripts, but of which, in view of the silence of the usually candid annals of that island, the very existence may well be doubted.

He was succeeded in 1573 by his two sons, who ruled jointly and uneventfully till 1595; and they by their two sons, one of whom ruled till 1602.

These were followed by Muttu Krishnappa (1602-09). He is credited with the foundation of the dynasty of the Setupatis of Ramnad, the ancestors of the present Raja of that place, who were given a considerable slice of territory in the Marava country on condition that they suppressed crime and protected pilgrims journeying to Ramesvaram through that wild and inhospitable region. Mr.Nelson’s book (pt.3,109-14 and elsewhere) deals at length with this transaction and other events in the history of the Setupatis, but these relate to the Ramnad zamindari and the present volume is not concerned with them.

Muttu Krishnappa was succeeded by Muttu Virappa (1609-23), a hardly more distinct figure.

Fall of Vijayanagar Kingdom,1565
Meanwhile, in 1565,the power of the rulers of vijayanagar, the suzerains of the Nayakkans, had been dealt an irreparable blow by the combincd Musalman kings of the Deccan at the memorble battle of Talikota, one of the great landmarks in the history of south India. They were forced to abandon a large part of the districts of Bellary and Anantapur to the victorious Muhammadans, to flee hastily from Vijayanagar, and to establish their capital successively at ponukonda in Anantapur and at Chandragiri and Vellore in North Arcot. Their governors at Madura and Tanjore still paid them usual tribute and marks of respect, but in the years which now follow traces begin to appear of the weakness of the suzerain, and of contempt and finally rebellion on the part of his feudatories.

Tirumala Nayakkan, 1623-59
Muttu Virappa mentioned above was succeeded by the great Tirumala Nayakkan, the most powerful and the best known of his dynasty, who ruled for thirty-six eventful years. He was called upon to play his part in much more stirring times than his predecessors. The peace imposed upon the south by the sway of Vijayanagar had been dissolved by the downfall of that power, and the pandya country was torn by the mutual quarrels of the once feudatory governors (‘Nayakkans’) of Madura, Tanjore, Gingee and Mysore;by the unavailing attempts of the last rulers of the dying empire to reassert their failing authority; and finally by the incursions of the Muhammadan kings of the Deccan, who now began to press southwards to reap the real fruits of their victory at Talikota. An added trouble lay in the insubordination of the Setupatis of Ramnad, who took advantage of the embarrassments of the rulers of Madura to disobey their commands and finally to assume independence. The last-named danger was not experienced by Tirumaia himself, but was reserved to perplex his successors.

He defies Vijayanagar
Almost the first act of his reign was to withhold the tribute due to the king of Vijayanagar. The letters of the Jesuit priests already mentioned showed that he anticipated trouble in consequence, and accordingly massed large bodies of troops in Trichinopoly and strengthened its fortifications. He none the less still sent annual complimentary messages and presents to his suzerain, and this sufficed for some time to appease the resentment of the incapable representatives of that ancient line. But about 1638 king Ranga, a more resolute prince, succeeded to the throne of Chandragiri; and he soon resolved to put an end to the contumacy of Tirumala and prepared to march south with a large and formidable force. Tirumala had meanwhile persuaded the Vijayanagar governors of Tanjore and Gingee (in south Arcot) to join him in his defiance of their mutual suzerain, and thus Ranga was left with only Mysore, of all his tributaries, to support him. He however continued his preparations, with the result that the governor of Tanjore eventually grew alarmed, sent in his submission, and betrayed the designs of the confederates.

Calls the Muhammadans to his aid
Ranga advanced upon Gingee, but his plans were firustrated by a desperate move on the part of Tirumala, who, reckless of the claims of a larger relief of Gingee, but hardly had they arrived there when the Bijapaur troops went over to the enemy, and joined in the Siege of the fort they had been sent to deliver. The Golconda king, however, was soon recalled by trouble in other parts of his new conquests, and Tirumala threw himself into the Gingee fortress. Owing to dissensions between his troops and those of the former garrison, however the gates were opened not long afterwards to the troops of Bijapur and the town fell into the possession of the Musalmans.

and becomes their feudatory
Tirumala retreated in dismay of Madura, and the Muhammadans advanced triumphantly southwards, exacted submission from the governor of Tanjore, and proceeded to lay waste the Madura country. Tirumala then submitted, apparently with out striking a blow, paid a large sum to the invaders, and agreed to send an annual tribute to the Sultan of Bijapur. Thus, after an interval of nearly 300 years, the Muhammadans were once again recognised as supreme in the district.

His wars with Mysore
Tirumala’s next conflict was with Mysore. In the early years of his regin, before his troubles with the king of Vijayanagar and the Muhammadans, he had been involved in a short war with that kingdom. His territories had been invaded by the Mysore troops and Dindigul had been besieged, but the enemy had been eventually driven out and their country successfully invaded in revenge by a general of Tirumala’s. Since then, as already noted, the Vijayanagar ruler had taken refuge with the king of Mysore, and now these two monarchs combined to endeavour to recover those portions of the former’s territories which had recently been captured by Golconda. They were at first successful;but, whether actuated by jealousy or fear, Tirumala intervenced and invited the Muhammadans to attack Mysore from the south, throwing open the passes in his own country for the purpose.

His proposal was accepted, Mysore was invaded, and a general was ensured which resulted in the final extinction of the power of Vijayanagar and the humbling of Mysore. But when returning in triumph from that country,the victorious Muhammadans came down to Madura and levied and enormous tribute from their humble friend Tirumala; and moving on to Tanjore, treated its Nayakkan in a like manner. So Tirumals profited little from this new treachery to the cause of Hinduism.

It is not clear exactly when these events happened, but they appear to constitute the last interference of the Muhammadans in Madura affairs. Tirumala’s only other external war occurred towards the close of his reign and was with Mysore. In this he is represented to have been altogether successful.

The campaign began with an invasion of Coimbatore by the Mysore king-apparently in revenge for Tirumala’s contribution to his recent humiliation at the hands of the Muhammadans. That district was occupied by the enemy with ease, and then Madura itself was threatened. The Mysore troops were howeverbeaten off from the town (Chiefly by the loyal assistance of the Setupati of Ramnad) defeated again in the open, and driven in disorder up the ghats into Mysore. The campaign was known as the ‘hunt for noses’ owing to the fact that under the orders of the Mysore king the invaders cut off the noses of all their prisoners (men,women and children) and sent them in sacks to Seringapatam as glorious trophies.

A counter invasion of Mysore was undertaken shortly afterwards under the command of Kumara Muttu, the younger brother of Tirumala, and was crowned with complete success. The king of Mysore was captured and his nose was cut off and sent to Madura.

His death
Tirumala died before his victorious brother’s return. He was between sixty-five and seventy years of age at the time and had reigned for thirty-six eventful years.

His territories at his death comprised the present districts of Madura (including the zamindaris of Ramnad and Sivaganga), Tinnevelly, Coimbatore, Salem and Trichinopoly, with pudukkotai and part of Travancore. Native tradition is persistent in declaring that he met his death by violence. Several stories are current, but two of them are more widely repeated than the others. The first of these says that he so nearly became converted to Christianity that he stopped his expenditure on the temples of the Hindu gods. This roused the Brahmans, and some of them, headed by a bhattan (officiating priest of the great temple), enticed him to the temple under the pretence that they had found a great hidden treasure in a vault there, induced him to enter the vault and then shut down its stone trap-door upon him, and gave out that the goddess Minakshi had translated her favourite to heaven. The second story avers that he had an intrigue with the wife of a Bhattan and that as he was returning from visiting her one dark night he fell into a well and was killed. The Bhattan was so scared when he found what had happened that he at once filled in the well, but afterwards told the Brahmans what he had done.

Tirumala’s character is summed up, probably with justice, in a letter written by one of the Jesuit priests just after his death and dated Trichinopoly,1659—
It is impossible to refuse him credit for great qualities, but he tarnished his glory at the end of his life by follies and vices which nothing could justify. He was called to render account to God for the evils which his political treachery had brought upon his own people and the neighbouring kingdoms. His reign was rendered illustrious by works of really royal magnificence. Among these are the pagoda of Madura, several public buildings, and above all the royal palace the colossal proportions and astonishing boldness of which recall the ancient monuments of Thebes. He loved and protected the Christian religion, the excellence of which he recongnised; but he never had the courage to accept the consequences of his conviction. The chief obstacle to his conversion came from his zoo wives, of whom the most distinguished were burnt on his pyre.

Rebellions among his vassals
During his regin, two rebellions, occurred among his vassals. The first was raised by the Setupati of Ramnad. It was due to an unjust order of Tirumala’s regarding the succession to the chiefship of that country in 1635, which was resisted bythe rightful claimant and by the Maravans themselves. Tirumala was successful in placing his nominee on the throne and in imprisoning the rival aspirant, but he was ultimately compelled to allow the latter to succed. He was rewarded by the loyalty of Ramnad in his last war with Mysore.

The other rebellion was raised by a confederacy of poligars headed by the powerful chief of Ettaiyapuram in the Tinnevelly district. Its cause is not clear. The Setupati of Ramnad, as chief of all the poligars, was entrusted with the duty of quelling it, and performed this undertaking satisfactorily. The leader was put to death and the others suitably punished; and peace was restored in a few months.

A curious rumour
The letters of the Jesuits relate a curious event which took place in the Madura country about 1653. The whole territory was thrown into a state of great nervous excitement by the spreading in every direction of one of those mysterious and extraordinary numours which spring up now and again in India, no one knows where or how. An infant emperor of divine birth, it was declared, would shortly appear from the north and usher in a millennium of peace and plenty. The story obtained universal credence, and large sums of money were collected for the use of the deliverer when he should arrive. But he never did arrive. A woman and child were brought to Bangalore by the perpetrators of the rumour, and vast multitudes flocked thither to pay their respects and offer presents to the supposed emperor; but after squeezing all that was possible out of the pretenders, the Musalman rulers of that town cut off their heads and ordered their followers to disperse immediately.

Tirumala’s Capital
Tirumala’s capital was Madura. The royal residence had been removed thence to Trichinopoly by his predecessor, but Tirumala moved it back again, notwithstanding the fact that Trichinoploy, with its almost impregnable rock, its never failing Cauvery river and its healthy climate, was by nature far superior to Madura, where the fort was on level ground, the Vaigai was usually dry and fever was almost endemic. The reason given in the old manuscripts for the change is that Tirumala was afficted with a grievous long-standing catarrh which none of the vaishnavite gods of Trichinoploy could (or would) cure. One day when he was halting at Dindigul on his way to Madura, Sundareswara and Minakshi, the Saivite deities of the latter place, appeared to him in a dream and promised him that if he would reside permanently in their town they would cure him. He vowed that he would do so and would spend five lakhs of pons on sacred works. Immediately afterwards, as he was cleaning his teeth in the early morning, the disease left him; and thenceforth he devoted himself to the cult of Saivism and the improvement of Madura. None the less, he resided a good deal at Trichinopoly, and successors (though they went to Madura to be crowned) generally dwelt there permanently.

His Public buildings
It is, however, by his many splendid public buildings in Madura that he is best remebered at the present time. They are referred to in some detail in the account of the place given below. The largest and most magnifient of them was the great palace which still goes by his name. Much of this was removed to Trichinopoly in later years by his grandson chokkanatha, but none the less the portions of it which survive were thoughts by Bishop Caldwell to constitute the grandest building of its kind in Southern India.

The beautiful Teppakulam at Madura, the pudumantapam and the unfinished tower called the Raja gopuram belonging to the Great temple there (and doubtless other additions to that buildings), and (perhaps) the Tamakam, the curious buildings in which the Collector now resides, were also due to his taste for the magnificent.

Muttu Alakkadri, 1659-62
Tirumala was succeeded by his son Muttu Alakadri. It is perhaps Surprising that Tirumala’s brother — who, as has been seen, had just returned to Madura from Mysore at the head of a victorious army-should not have attempted to seize the crown; but he was prevailed upon to accept the governorship of Sivakasi in Tinnevelly district.

Almost the first act of the new king was an attempt to shake off the hated Muhammadan yoke. He tried to induce the Nayakkan of Tanjore to join the enterprise, but only succeeded in involving him in the punishment which the Musalmans meted out when his efforts ended in failure. For though the Tanjore ruler disclaimed all connection with his neighbour’s aspirations and attempted to conciliate with his Musalmans, the latter none the less marched into his country, took Tanjore and Vallam and drove the Nayakkan to fly into the jungle. The invaders then moved against Trichinopoly and Madura, spreading havoc far and wide, while Muthu Alakadri remained inactive behind the walls of the former of these forts. Fortunately for him, enemy soon had to retire, for their cruel devastations produced a local famine and pestilence from which they themselves suffered terribly. They accordingly made ahalf-hearted attempt on Trichinopoly and then permitted themselves to be bought off for a very moderate sum. Muttu Alakadri did not long survice their departure, but gave himself to debauchery with an abandon which soon brought him to a dishonoured grave.

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