The Kakatiya Dynasty: A Small Kingdom With A Fierce Heart
Medieval India was a land divided. Each region was ruled by its own regional kingdoms and dynasties. Over time, a handful of larger kingdoms began to exert control over smaller kingdoms, forcing them to become vassal states. Not all kingdoms took this lying down. One famous example is the Kakatiya dynasty. Descendants of a legendary chieftain, they rose to retake control of their lands for over two centuries. Join us as we follow the history of India’s most rebellious kingdom.
Map of the Kakatiyas, circa 1150–1300 AD (Public Domain)
The Legendary Origins of Early Kakatiya Dynasty Leaders
The Kakatiya dynasty ruled the eastern Deccan region between the 12th and 14th centuries, but their history as leaders dates back even further. The earliest Kakatiya chief that we have evidence of was Venna (also spelled Vanna), who ruled from 800-815 AD. He was supposedly a descendant of Durjaya, a legendary chieftain of the Andhra kingdom.
According to inscriptions, Venna ruled from his hometown of Kakati, and this is where his family got its name, the Kakatishas. His successors were Gunda I and Gunda II, but little is known about them apart from the fact they ruled from 815-865 AD.
It appears that in the early days of the Kakatiya dynasty, they acted as vassals to the powerful Rashtrakuta royal dynasty, which controlled much of India between the sixth and tenth centuries AD. It is unclear whether they were simply vassals who answered to this powerful family or were members of it.
What we do know is that the Kakatiyas first entered the Telugu-speaking regions of India commanding Rashtrakuta armies. Venna’s son, Gunda III, was the first of these vassals. When the Rashtrakuta king Krishna II invaded the Vengi Chalukya kingdom in 895 AD, it was with the aid of Gunda III and his men. Krishna II was successful and took Kurravadi from the Vengi kingdom, but Gunda III died in the process. Gunda’s son, Erra was made governor of the city as payment for his father's sacrifice.
The Kakatiya’s continued working for the Rashtrakuta until that kingdom’s eventual collapse. In 973 AD, following the Rashtrakuta collapse, Gunda IV decided it was his family's chance to seize power. He declared Kuravi an independent principality.
The only problem was that to do this he had to evict the current occupants, the Mudugonda Chalukyas. They were allied with the new big player in India, the Kalyani Chalukyas. The two wasted no time in taking out Gunda IV and his army. His son, Beta I, agreed to be a vassal of the Kalyani Chalukyas and went on to prove himself a skilled and loyal leader.
Beta and his sons worked as loyal vassals to their rulers, fighting their wars but also consolidating Kakatiya power at the same time. As the Kakatiyas gained power and influence, the Chalukyas lost it. By the 12th century, the Chalukyas were in full decline, and it was time for the rise of the Kakatiya dynasty.
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The Chalukya dynasty declined in the 12th century AD, allowing for the rise of the Kakatiya dynasty. The Chalukya dynasty created the Vesara architectural style, seen in the Bhutanatha Temple, Badami, Karnataka, India (GS9here / CC BY SA 3.0)
Prataparudra I: The First Kakatiya Dynasty Sovereign
Prataparudra was the first Kakatiya sovereign and reigned from 1158-1195 AD. It was during his reign that the Kakatiyas officially stepped away from the Chalukyas and declared themselves as sovereign.
Not much else is known about the rule of Prataparudra. He was succeeded by his son, Mahadeva, who ruled from 1195-1199. Rather than a period of expansion, it is likely the focus of the Kakatiyas during this time was just to consolidate what little power they had.
Ganapati: The Kakatiya Dynasty Begin to Expand
Ganapati ruled from around 1199-1262, and his focus was on expanding the lands of his kingdom. During the 1230s, he led a series of attacks outside of his kingdom's traditional area of operation. He brought the Telugu-speaking lowland deltas around the Godavari and the Krishna rivers under his control.
Back home at the Kakatiya capital of Orugallu (present-day Warangal), Ganapati had a massive granite wall built around the city. He topped this off with a moat and several bastions. All this expansion and building work was expensive, so Ganapati also focused on boosting his kingdom’s economy.
He did this by getting rid of all taxes, except a fixed duty. Merchants were encouraged to trade abroad and were supported by the crown. Perhaps most impressively of all, he had the man-made lake, Pakhal Lake, created.
Pakhal Lake in Andhra Pradesh, India. The artificial lake was commissioned by Ganapati of the Kakatiya dynasty (Alosh Bennett / CC BY 2.0)
Rudrama Devi: A Rare Indian Queen
The Kakatiya dynasty winning streak continued with Ganapati’s successor, Rudrama Devi. It is unclear whether she was his widow or daughter. She ruled from 1262 to 1295 AD and is most famous for being one of the few female rulers in Indian history.
She continued the work of her predecessor by continuing his fortification of the capital. The original wall was raised in height, and she added a second curtain wall, as well as another 150 foot (46 meter) wide moat.
It was also during her rule that the Seuna dynasty (a rival neighbor), under Mahadeva, attempted to invade. This attack was repelled by her general, Bhairava, sometime around 1263 AD.
Rudrama married an Eastern Chalukyan prince of Nidadavolu named Virabhadra. They never managed to have a son to serve as heir. When it was discovered that sultan Alauddin Khalji, an Afghan emperor of the Khalji dynasty, was beginning to encroach on the Deccan and might have his eyes set on Kakatiya territory, Rudrama stepped down. She put her grandson, Prataparudra II, also known as Rudradeva II, in charge in her stead.
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Statue of Rudrama Devi of the Kakatiya dynasty, a rare woman ruler in India. (Satishk01 / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Prataparudra II and the Kakatiya Dynasty’s Last Stand
If Rudrama had hoped her grandson could save her kingdom from Alauddin, then she was proven wrong. In all fairness, he managed to put up a good fight and hung on for around 34 years, ruling from 1289 until 1323 AD. Sadly, 1323 AD spelled the end of his reign, as well as the demise of his kingdom.
So why did the Delhi Sultanate under the rule of Alauddin Khalji decide to attack Kakatiya lands? Simply put, Ganapati and Rudrama Devi had been too successful. When Alauddin saw the Kakatiya dynasty’s territory, he saw a wealthy land ripe for the picking.
Alauddin's first attack was a complete disaster. He attacked in 1303, but the Kakatiya army put up an impressive fight at the Battle of Upparapalli. His second attack six years later was much more successful.
In 1309, Allauddin sent his top general, Malik Kafur, to bully Prataparudra II into submission. Kafur laid siege on the Kakatiya capital Orugallu. It was made clear that the only way the siege would end was if Prataparudra II agreed to accept a position subordinate to the sultanate of Delhi. Kakatiya would become a vassal state again.
The siege lasted for a month and was seemingly a complete success. It ended with Prataparudra II making various symbolic gestures that were designed to make it clear that he was now a subordinate of Alauddin. In reality, this was just a ploy.
Prataparudra II was no fool. He may have bent his knee to Alauddin, but he had retained his role as ruler of the area. To keep his position, all he had to do was pay Alauddin an annual tribute.
It was probably during this time that the Koh-i-Noor diamond (one of the largest diamonds in the world) was given to the Alauddin by the Kakatiya Kingdom. They also sent 100 elephants as well as 20,000 horses.
Replica of the Koh-i-Noor diamond at Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Mumbai (Aiva / CC BY 2.0)
In 1311, the Delhi sultanate attacked the Pandyan Empire. Pratapardura made sure to send his forces to help out. This allowed him to seem loyal to his new superior. It also allowed him to calm down some of his vassals in Nellore. These vassals had seen Prataparudra II’s new position as a chance to seek independence.
Unfortunately, Prataparudra II soon became overconfident. In 1318, he failed to pay his annual tribute to his master in Delhi. His excuse was a weak one; he claimed it was too unsafe to send such a large sum.
Alauddin’s son, Mubarak Shah, called Prataparudra II’s bluff and responded by sending someone to fetch the tribute. This someone was Khusrau Khan, Mubarak’s favored general. Khusrau brought with him the latest and greatest in weaponry, which Prataparudra II’s army had no hope of countering.
He was forced to submit again. This time he had to make a public display, bowing towards Delhi from the ramparts of his city. On the bright side, his annual tribute was reduced to 100 elephants and only 12,000 thousand horses.
This peace did not last for long. In 1320, Delhi was home to a revolution and Allaudin’s family was ousted from power and replaced by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq. Prataparudra II saw his moment and once again asserted his kingdom’s independence. Tughlaq was not pleased.
He sent his son, Ulugh Khan, to put Prataparudra II’s uprising down in 1321. Tughlaq expected that his son would easily defeat Prataparudra’s forces and that the whole siege would be over shortly.
The problem was that Khan’s army was a mix of factions from the Khalji and Tughlug camps. They didn’t get along. What should have been a short, sharp siege ended up lasting six months. Eventually, Khan’s forces were repelled and forced to retreat to Devagiri to regroup.
Prataparudra II believed he had once again been victorious. It was then that he made a vital mistake. To celebrate his victory, he opened up public grain stores so that the public could feast in celebration after months of siege rations. When Khan and his army returned reenergized in 1323, Prataparudra II and his people didn’t have enough supplies to survive another lengthy siege.
Somehow they managed to last five months but eventually, Prataparudra II was forced to submit once again. This time was different, however. Prataparudra II had pushed his luck once too many times. Tughlaq’s men took over the city and Orugallu was renamed Sultanpur.
What became of Prataparudra II isn’t one hundred percent certain. Contemporary and near-contemporary accounts make it seem likely that he committed suicide while being transported to Delhi as a prisoner.
The army of Alauddin on March to Deccan, a 20th-century artist's impression (Public Domain)
After the Fall of the Kakatiya Dynasty
If Tughlaq thought his new subjects would follow him obediently, he was sorely mistaken. His rule over the area lasted less than a decade. Without the Kakatiya glue to hold it together, the region soon fell apart and was divided up between powerful families. The region remained largely self-governed until the Bahamani Sultanate and Sangama dynasty came to power in the 15th century.
In the 16th century, the Prataparudra Caritramu hagiography claimed that Prataparudra II hadn’t died after being taken prisoner. Instead, he had apparently met with the Sultan of Delhi and been proclaimed an avatar of Shiva. He was supposedly allowed to return home, where he released his generals from his service and told them to become independent kings. In reality, this is an example of revisionist historians trying to redeem Prataparudra II and improve his reputation.
Although the Kakatiya kingdom fell, that does not mean it was forgotten. There was something about the plucky little kingdom that had taken on the big boys which resonated with people in the area for centuries to come. In particular, revisionist historians turned Prataparudra II into a hero and tried their best to legitimize later dynasties by linking them to Prataparudra.
Kakatiya dynasty ruins. Kakatiya Kala Thoranam, more popularly known "Oorugallu Gate" (Warangal Gate) and ruins around (B. Sridhar Raju / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The story of the rise and fall of the Kakatiya dynasty is a fascinating one. For much of their history, the Kakatiya were the underdogs, forced to bow down to their bigger, more powerful neighbors. While Prataparudra may have ultimately failed, he and his kingdom went down swinging. The legacy of the Kakatiya dynasty is still recognized and celebrated today.
Top image: Remains of a temple built during the Kakatiya dynasty Source: jayanthreddy / Adobe Stock
By Robbie Mitchell
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