The Horrifying Betrayal of the Battle of Talikota

The Battle of Talikota was fought between the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire and the Islamic Deccan sultanates. The Vijayanagara Empire was a glorious Hindu empire of India. It’s enemy was the Bahmani Sultanate.

Vijayanagara Emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya defeated the Sultanate, and in 1518, the Bahmani Sultanate collapsed and split into five states – Nizamshahi of Ahmednagar, Qutubshahi of Golconda (Hyderabad), Baridshahi of Bidar, Imadshahi of Berar, Adilshahi of Bijapur – and were collectively known as the ‘Deccan Sultanates’.

The Deccan Sultanates were no more a threat to the Vijayanagara empire as they kept fighting against each other. Krishnadevaraya passed away in 1529 and was succeeded by his younger brother Achyuta Raya. Achyuta Raya was succeeded by Venkata Raya, who was soon killed, and was succeeded by Venkata Raya in 1542.

The real power, however, bestowed in the hands of his minister Rama Raya. Rama Raya restored the empire’s glory. Rama Raya’s strategy to fend off the threat of the Deccan Sultanates was to ally with one and then the other. But in 1563, the Sultanates decided to get together and act against the ploys of Rama Raya.

Battle of Talikota

The first battle broke out on 29th December 1564 with Qutb Shah and Nizam Shah going together against Tirumala Deva Raya’s division. But the two suffered huge losses and fled. The Sultans, genuinely shaken by this loss, requested Adil Shah to forget previous arguments and ally with them for the next attack on Vijayanagara.

The Sultans decided that needed a strategy to counter the might of the Vijayanagara empire. As per plan, Nizam Shah and Qutb Shah decided to parley with Rama Raya who was already planning a large counter-thrust into the Sultanate flanks. At the same time, Adil Shah sent a false message to the Vijayanagara commander that he wished to remain neutral.

Because of these small moves, Rama Raya delayed his counterattack giving the Sultans time to regroup. Just to create a distraction, Sultan Imad Shah of Berar made a fresh attack by attacking Tirumala Deva Raya’s division guarding the Krishna fort. But Tirumala retaliated with such intensity that Imad Shah’s army was routed and he fleed the battlefield. Meanwhile, sultans Nizam Shah, Qutb Shah, Barid Shah on one side and Adil Shah on the other crossed the Krishna and attacked the main Vijayanagara divisions.

Rama Raya responded quickly to this onslaught. He faced Nizam Shah’s division.Rama Raya’s first brother, Tirumala, hurriedly returned to form the left wing of the army that was countered by Adil Shah and traitorous Maharatta chief Raja Ghorpade. His second brother Venkatadri formed the right wing to face-off against Qutb Shah and Barid Shah.

The armies clashed on 23 January 1565, and according to some reports over a million men were involved in the battle. Venkatadri struck hard and within the first two hours Vijayanagara’s right wing’s heavy guns and infantry had annihilated Barid Shah’s divisions.

Qutb Shah was also in retreat, thsu Nizam Shah sent additional forces to support him. But Nizam himself was pressed hard by the heavy cannonade from Rama Raya’s division and was facing a Vijayanagara infantry thrust with Ramaraya at the helm. A Vijayanagara victory seemed almost certain.

The Betrayal

The Sultans had made a deal with the Muslim generals – the Gilani Brothers of the Vijayanagara Empire. As the Vijayanagara army thrust ahead repelling the forces of the Sultanates, the Sultans signaled the Gilani Brothers to launch an attack on the Vijayanagara army from the rear.

Two Sultanate divisions comprising of about 1,40,000 troops were now attacking Rama Raya from the rear. They even captured several artillery positions.

Several cannon shells landed near Rama Raya’s elephant and he fell from it as his mount was struck by a cannon shard. Rama Raya tried to recover but Nizam Shah made a dash to seize him.

Rama Raya was captured and executed. His slain head was displayed to his men which created havoc in the ranks resulting in them fleeing as well. The Sultanates’ army plundered Hampi and reduced it to ruins.

His brother Venkatadri was also killed. Tirumala tried to forge resistance but in vain. Seeing the rout, he fled to Vijayanagara. He took the empire treasury on 1500 elephants and fled south towards Penukonda.

The victory was Vijayanagara’s to be had, if not for the betrayal by the Gilani brothers. This has to go down as one of the most horrifying of betrayals in India’s glorious history.

Vinayak Jain