Posted in Karnataka

Vikramaditya: Revenge of the Chalukyas

The Crown Prince of the Chalukyas looked down on the ruins of Vatapi from top of the hill. The broken walls of the city, the temples which the Pallavas had destroyed. The caves of Vatapi had survived the pillage off the Pallavas. The damage to the pride of Chalukyas was more significant than the financial losses.

His ancestor, Pulakesin had taken the taken the Chalukya dynasty to its greatest heights when he defeated the Lord of North India, King Harshavardhana. He had wiped the smile of “Harsha’s” face. He was the Lord of all of India. All of India, except Kanchipuram. He had been blindsided by the Pallavas of Kanchipuram when he turned his attention North. He had underestimated them and did not think a minor kingdom ruling just one city could challenge the mightiest king of India. The oversight cost him greatly. The young Pallava king, Narasimhavarman had not only defeated the Chalukya army which had gone to capture Kanchipuram, but for good measure marched across the Deccan and destroyed the Chalukyas capital of Vatapi. Pulakesin was killed in battle. The Pallavas turned to dust their city and their name.

Vikramaditya picked up a rock and threw it in to the lake. He would avenge the Chalukya name. He would make the Pallavas rue the day they crossed the Tungabhadra. He would make them regret turning their eyes towards Vatapi. That was his vow. He was Vikramaditya; named after the legendary emperor of ancient India, he would write a few legends of his own. He stood up and walked towards the wooden palace of his father. He would ask for his permission to march his armies down to Kanchipuram and avenge the death of his hallowed ancestor.

Vikramaditya bowed down before his father, the Chalukya king, Vijayaditya. Vijayaditya grimaced uncomfortably at his request to attack Kanchipuram. He slowly climbed up from his throne and came down the stairs. He put his hand on the shoulders of the bowed form of Vikramaditya.

“Find out three things and I will fund your campaign myself against the Pallavas. Find out why you should attack the Pallavas, find a good reason so that out kingdom doesn’t face the wrath of the gods for an unprovoked attack. Find out when it is a good time to attack the Pallavas. Find out who would help you in your campaign. Return to me when you have answers to these three things.”

He turned and climbed back up his throne.

Vikramaditya understood. His father was far more clever than he had anticipated. He wanted him to be truly ready before the attack on Kanchipuram. He wanted him to find a good excuse to attack Kanchipuram so that the brahmins would not protest the desecration of a holy city. He wanted to sow the seeds of discord among the Pallavas and weaken them. He wanted him to find an ally in his campaign against the Pallavas.

The Pallava king, Paramesvaravarman II, did not have an heir. He sent his ministers and commanders on an expedition to all the nearby nations, to find a suitable heir. Vikramaditya invited Chitramaya and told him about his plan. Chitramaya was the nephew of the Ganga dynasty prince, Ereyappa. He was the ambassador of the Gangas and descendant of the great Pallava king Mahendravarman through his mother. Vikramaditya encouraged Chitramaya to put forward his claim as the rightful heir of the Pallava throne after Paramesvaravarman II.

Chitramaya went to Kanchipuram for the great sabha where the discussions for the next heir of Kanchipuram were considered. The Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras had sent their delegations with their choice candidates. Chitramaya came representing the Chalukyas and the Gangas. The king of Kabujadesa (Cambodia) had also sent a candidate, a 12 year old boy called Nandivarman, who claimed to belong to the collateral Pallava line of the Kadavas.

Parameshvaravarman stood on a platform overlooking the arena. He leaned on his walking stick. He turned towards his ministers and nodded. The Prime Minister walked forward and raised his hands. The arena fell quiet.

“The great king Paramesvaravarman, the second, the Parameswara, Satyashraya, Prithvivallabha, and Dakshinapatheswara, thanks you all for presenting yourselves as we decide the question of his heir. I would like to announce at the onset that the ones who are not chosen to be the heir will be killed. We cannot afford anyone to challenge the heir once he is chosen. Anyone who wants to withdraw can withdraw now.”

The delegated princes looked at their sponsors in disbelief. Murmurs filled the arena.

“We the Pandyas withdraw our nominee.”

“The Cholamandalam withdraws its nominee.”

“The Chera nominee withdraws.”

The arena started to empty itself. In the end, only two delegates were left. Nadivarman, the Cambodian delegate and Chitramaya the Ganga delegate, backed by the Chalukyas. Paramesvaravarman turned to his General and nodded his head. The General gave a command and two archers shot at the probable-princes. The 12 year old Nandivarman nimble moved out of the arrow’s way as it dug in the ground behind him harmlessly. Chitramaya who was looking at Vikramaditya in the gallery was not so lucky. The arrow caught him the throat. His collapsed, spluttering blood over the ground, died.

Vikramaditya smiled. He had all three answers. He now had an excuse to attack Kanchipuram. He had an ally in the Ganga king, who’s nephew the Pallavas had killed and the timing was perfect with a 12 year old foreigner boy-king as the crown prince of the Pallavas.

Vikramaditya removed his footwear as he entered the temple complex of Pattadakal. If Vatapi was the heart of the Chalukya empire, Pattadakal was its soul. Built on the banks of Malaprabha river, the only river in the area to flow in a north-south direction. It was the place of coronation of the Chalukya kings. Flanked by his two queens, Vikramaditya bowed down before the priests and thee courtiers. His father put the ‘patta’ around his forehead, anointing him as the crown prince and the commander of the Chalukya armies. A loud cheer filled the complex. His queens, Lokadevi and Trilokadevi came in front of the gathering and held their hands out in the fire..

“We vow with agni as our witness that if our lord Vikramaditya returns victorious from his campaign, we will each build a temple.”

The people cheered for their crown prince and his consorts. The old king Vijayaditya smiled and blessed him.

He saw the Ganga king Sripurusha among the dignitaries. He walked up to him and bowed.

“We go to avenge the death of your grand-nephew. Will you aid us in the battle?”

Sripurusha nodded.

The city of Kanchipuram was busy with preparations of coronation of the adopted king, Nandivarman. The city was covered in colours and flowers. A million scents mingled through the streets and the walls. Music permeated the atmosphere. At night a thousand lamps lit the city up and it seemed that the night sky had come down on earth to celebrate the coronation of the new king. The city overwhelmed all the senses.

Parameshvaravarman sat in his throne room looking over the finances of the upcoming coronation when a messenger ran into his presence and fell on his floor. His clothes were mud-stained and he almost collapsed out of exhaustion.

“Oh great king, I have ridden without rest for a hundred miles. My horse collapsed and died near Raja-vellore, I have run the rest of the way. I bring you an urgent news. The Chalukya army has been mustered and they are marching. I saw them crossing the Tungabadhra. They ride fast and ride lightly. They are marching south. They ride to Kanchipuram.”

The king dropped his ledger as his stood up.

“Who leads them? The Chalukya king Vijayaditya is old and weak. He is in no state to lead an army.”

“My king, it is not Vijayaditya, but the crown prince Vikramaditya who leads them.”

The king remembered the ambitious young prince with a fiery gaze, who had accompanied the Ganga delegation.

“Summon the generals and prepare the war room. Sound the bells. Close the city gates. Suspend the festivities. We prepare for war”, Parameshvaravarman commanded in a quiet voice.

“Vikramaditya is a fool to attack in the summer. His army is going to die of exhaustion. His army is travelling light to gain speed and surprise. That will be against him in this weather. He will run out of food and water. We will face a half-dead army and we will rout them like your ancestor Narasimhavarman did. Do not fear my king”, Sivapadam, the general of the Pallava army assured him.

The king rubbed the ruby on his finger.

“But why is he rushing in the summer? What advantage does that provide?”

“The river Palar is dry. When Pulakesin attacked Kanchipuram in the past, the river delayed his assault and the delay cost him the city. He wants to avoid fording a full river. May be that is why he is attacking the city in the heat of the summer.”

The commanders nodded in agreement.

“Prepare the defence. Mount the spikes on the walls. Prepare the vats of pepper which we used to repel their elephant forces the last time. Do not meet them head on in the field. Starve them out. They can’t maintain a siege for long in this summer”, the king said as his stood up and walked out of the tent.

“Long live Parameshvaravarman. Long live the defender of our faith.”

Vikramaditya watched across the bank of Palar to the city of Kanchipuram. The doors were shut and the walls were well defended. His army was tired and thirsty. He had already lost a hundred men to the heat and exhaustion. The river was dry as he had expected, which proved as a blessing and a curse. It was the season for the rice harvest and food was not a problem for his army. The army was living off the fertile Pallava land; but there was no water.

He walked back into his tent and summoned his commanders and generals.

“The city is shut in and we do not have the supplies or the time to maintain a long siege. The summer heat and the lack of water is hurting the morale of the troops. We need to find a source of water and we need to provoke the Pallava army to come out of the city and meet us in battle on the plains outside. A siege will be a disaster for us.”

The master of the scouts asked for permission to speak. Vikramaditya nodded.

“Oh king, 30 miles to the east at Arcot, the Pallavas have built an anaicut on the river to store water for irrigation. That could sustain our army for a month or so till the monsoon rains arrive. We could move our camp there. We will return with supplies and siege material after the rains.”

Vikramaditya held his forehead as he considered the advice.

“We will move our camp to Arcot, but we will not wait till monsoon. Once the river flows we will be trapped on either of its banks and we will be ripe fruits to be massacred by the Pallavas. They are currently stunned by the rapidity of our advance, but the more we stay here, the more they will recruit allies and we will be left in the dark.”

“Oh king, what about our allies?”, asked Jeyasimha, the commander of the cavalry.

Vikramaditya frowned and looked towards the North in silence.

Parameshvaravarman watched the empty plains around Kanchipuram. The Chalukya army had retreated back to Arcot. He asked the Chola and Pandya ambassadors in his court to ride to Thanjavur and Madurai to ask for help in this war. His generals were standing behind him and discussing what would be the best course of action now.

“Rajan, should we pursue them to Arcot and attack them. They are weary and tired. They will be easy meat for our army. We don’t need the Chola and Pandya allies to wipe them out.”

“Rajan, I think we should stay in the city and wait for them to attack. They do not have the resources to maintain a siege. The longer we draw them out. The more they will suffer.”

The king turned to the court-astrologer and asked,

“Aiya, what do the stars suggest?”

“Rajan, the auspicious time for the prince’s coronation is near. If the coronation does not proceed on time, I see dark times for the Pallavas in the future. The way ahead is not clear to me, but, I see that the coronation must proceed.

“Prepare for the coronation”, Parameshvaravarman announced.

The generals and the courtiers bowed in agreement.

At the moment, a loud noise like a rumbling thunder from the east caught their attention. They saw a cloud of dust rising from the east. Vikramaditya was mad. He was attacking.

The war horns sounded and the bells rang. The generals looked to their king for their orders.

“We do not have time for a siege, the coronation must proceed as planned. Muster the armies, meet Vikramaditya on the field and wipe him from the face of this earth. Show them what it means to provoke the Pallavas.”

The summoning horns were sounded and the commanders rushed to their troops.

Vikramaditya could not believe his eyes. The Pallavas could not be foolish enough to meet him on the field. He had sent a portion of his troop as a bait to drag the Pallavas out of the security of their walled city. He hadn’t expected it to work, but it had.

The entire Pallava army had been mustered. The elephant troops in the front, the infantry behind them and the cavalry in the flanks. The archers were in the back. They outnumbered the Chalukyas by three times.

The advance troop of the Chalukya army turned around and retreated. The Pallava army gave them a chase. Vikramaditya gave the signal. The main army which was hidden in the southern woods came out of their hiding and attacked the Pallava army from the rear. The archers and infantry were poorly defended. The fast Chalukya cavalry cut them down and retreated back to the forest.

The Pallava formation turned around to deal with the attack from the rear. The retreating Pallava advanced force which was fleeing from Pallava attack, turned around and smashed into the elephant troops.

The surprise attacks caused chaos in the Pallava ranks, but they recovered themselves. The right cavalry turned around and attacked the Chalukya calvary from the forest while the left cavalry advanced and took on the Chalukya advance troops. The archers had regrouped and firing volleys into the forest.

Vikramaditya sat on his horse and looked at the destruction around him. His army in the woods was getting cut down by the archers. The advance force was almost decimated and the elephant troops had turned their attention towards them. The end was near. He had dreamed big, but the reality was crumbling around him. This was going to be his end. That is when he heard them.

The horns.

Horns from the North.

The Gangas had come. King Sripurusha had come. His allies had not abandoned him.

An arrow took him through the shoulder and he fell off the horse.

Vikramaditya entered Kanchipuram on his elephant. His shoulder was in a sling made of cotton and filled with medicinal herbs. He was flanked on his right by the Ganga king Sripurusha. The combined Ganga and Chalukya forced had beaten back the Pallavas. The Pallava army had surrendered and the gates of Kanchipuram had been opened.

The Chalukya armies yelled in triumph. Cries of plunder and destruction of the city went through the army. They were thirsty for revenge. They wanted payback for Pulakesin’s death.

“No! No plunder, no destruction”, Vikramaditya commanded his troops.


“This is a holy city and we have had our revenge. I will offer my prayers at the Kailasantha temple. That is all we came here for. No one will steal or slaughter anyone in this city.”

A cheer went forth, this time from the people of Kanchipuram. The priests of the temple came out and chanted prayers for him.

The conqueror of Kanchipuram entered the city he conquered with flowers raining on him.

Vikramaditya was crowned as king after his father passed away. His wives built a temple each commemarting his victory. The Pallava King Parameshvaravarman pledged fealty to him. His son was promised in marriage to Sripurusha’s daughter.

He turned and looked towards heaven.

“Oh Pulakesin, my most hallowed ancestor. I have avenged your death.

The town of Vatapi, now known as Badami, lies an overnight bus journey away from Bangalore. It reached its heyday under Pulakesin, when it was the capital of all of India. After Pulakesin’s defeat and death at the hands of the Pallava king Narasimhavarma (to read the story of Pulakesin’s defeat and the fall of Vatapi, click here), it slowly faded into obscurity, till the Vikramaditya brought it back to its glory. Vikramaditya attacked Kanchipuram and defeated the Pallavas three times in his life, once as a crown-prince, once as the Chalukya king and once when his son was the crown prince. Each time he made sure that his army did not destroy or sack the town.

The town of Badami is a semi-circular hill around a lake. The cave-temples of Badami are a sight to behold. A series of caves with beautiful Hindu and Jain carvings built in a stepwise pattern on the hillside. Another wonder to behold is the Bhootnath temple complex on the shore of the lake. The surrounding hill was used a fortress by Tipu Sultan and can can be trekked up to.

The town of Pattadakal (now an UNESCO world heritage site) is 20 km away from Badami. Situated on the banks of river Malaprabha, it was the site of coronation of the Chalukya kings. It is called an university of architecture and filled with temple complexes in both northern and southern styles. One can see the Chalukya architects experimenting with different styles in the same place. The temples built by Vikramaditya’s wives, Lokadevi and Trilokadevi are still surviving. The temples are filled with carvings of Mahabharata, Ramayana and even takes from Panchatantra.

At the center of the monuments is a stone pillar, installed by Vikramaditya, describing his victory over the Pallavas and his capture of the holy city of Kanchipuram.

Posted in Karnataka

Srirangapatinam – ‘The Tiger’s Bane’

The dust and smoke made my eyes burn. The British canons were relentless, but the walls of the fort held. The sultan was standing over the ramparts overseeing the defence. I climbed the stairs to convince him to come down. As his bodyguard, I had to keep him safe from some stray British bullet.

I wish I could have convinced my wife and son to leave the fortress before the siege. I remember their faces as I loaded my musket. We will not lose. We cannot afford to lose.

The war has gone badly for us till now. The Marathas and the Nizam, who helped us defeat the British in two wars have betrayed us and have joined the British. The French Emperor, Napolean Bonaparte promised us help, but he was busy fighting his own war with the British in Egypt. We have lost almost all our territories, but Srirangpatinam still holds. It will hold till the last Mysore soldier takes breath. It will hold till Tipu, my sultan, lives.

Srirangapatinam, our river fortress has never been breached before. Our sultan’s father, Hyder Ali had built in on a river island, surrounded by the river Cauvery. In preparation for the siege, Tipu had destroyed the dam upstream. The river was in spate and the British had to cross the river to lay siege. Their canons were unable to aim clearly and their muskets were falling short. I heard our rockets whizzing overhead. The rockets were causing confusion in the British ranks.

I aimed my musket at an opening in the British ranks on the river bank.

“Don’t waste your bullets. Every bullet should take down a British soldier”, ordered Tipu. I lowered my gun.

A sudden commotion in the back caught my attention. I turned around. A blood-splattered soldier pushed his way through the ranks. His helmet was dented and he was bleeding from a wound on his scalp.

“The fortress is breached! The fortress is breached! The Water Gate has been opened. The British are inside!”, he yelled and collapsed. I rushed towards the solder, but Tipu beat me to him. The sultan lifted his bleeding head in his hands and screamed for water. One of the soldiers gave him his water pack.

“What happened?”, asked Tipu.

“Sultan, the fortress has been breached. We have been betrayed. Mir Sadik and his men opened the Water Gate. The enemy is inside the fortress”. The soldier coughed out blood and fainted. We heard the sound of muskets and screams behind us, from the Water Gate.

Tipu unsheathed his sword and held it in the air.

“Come with me, my tigers. We shall wipe the British out from this land. We will chase them till the island they call home and burn that too to the ground. Come, my men, today we shall become immortal.”

The men cheered for the sultan. I screamed until my voice went hoarse. We were tigers. Tigers of Mysore.

We formed ranks and started marching towards the water gate. The British were ready. Musket balls tore through us. I saw the man marching next to me fall. I had to protect the sultan. I ran up to him stood next to him. I saw a red-coated soldier aiming at Tipu I pointed my pistol towards him and shot. He crumpled on the ground. The dust and gun-powder made it difficult to see the battle. I could hardly make out Tipu. Standing near me and shouting orders. Our ranks were breaking. Our men were dying in hordes. We were running out of ammunition.

I stood next to Tipu and slashed at anyone daring to come near, but we were surrounded. I saw British soldiers in all directions. Their bayonets were pointed towards Tipu. They were screaming for his death.

A Maratha soldier charged towards me. I blocked his sword swing and pushed him to the floor. It turned around. Tipu was surrounded. A British soldier had knocked his turban. His clothes were torn by men around him. I yelled and pushed at the soldiers. I swung my sword and beheaded one.

Tipu looked at me. His eyes were red and full of tears.

“Ali”, he gurgled my name. A British soldier ran him through with his bayonet.

“No!”, I yelled in desperation.

Another soldier took his gun and shot him through the head.

I collapsed on my knees. My sword hand limp.

“My sultan! My sultan!” I cried. A sword tip pierced through me. The blood poured out in torrents. I tried closing the wound with my hands. I looked at the crumpled body of Tipu Sultan lying next to me. The Tiger of Mysore. My sultan.

That was the last thing I saw as my vision faded to black.

The fall of Srirangapatinam under the combined forces of The British, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad during the Fourth Ango-Mysore War is one of the saddest chapters in Indian history. It was the last battle in history in which a king died in the battlefield.

The fortress town of Srirangapatinam is built with only one goal – defence against a siege. The fortress is built on an island in river Cauvery. The dam upstream is opened during a siege which floods the island till the walls of the fort, making it siege engines redundant.

The British were unable to take the fortress of Srirangapatinam by force. They finally managed to bribe Mir Sadik, a courtier of Tipu to open the Water Gate and let the army inside.

The town of Srirangapatinam is situated 25 km from Mysore and is easily accessed by bus, train or cab from Mysore. Tipu’s original palace, Lal Mahal was razed to the ground by the British after the battle and only the foundations can be seen. Tipu’s summer palace still survives and has beautiful murals and pictures of the Mysore’s rulers. The entire wall is covered with murals of the First and Second Anglo-Mysore war which Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan won. A picture of the traitor, Mir Sadik has been vandalized and defaced. The palace contains coins, weapons and clothes of Tipu Sultan.

Gol Gumbaz is a Taj Mahal-esque tomb of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. It was built by Tipu for his father, and later he was also buried there. The tombs are surrounded by a beautiful garden.

The outer walls of the fortress surrounds the entire island and scattered with places of historical importance. This include the site from where Tipu’s army launched rockets at the British; the Water Gate, through which Tipu was betrayed and the British army let in; and also the site where Tipu Sultan’s body was found.

Tipu’s jail has also survived the purge of history. The subterran jail was used by Tipu to imprison and torture British officers captured during the First and Second Anglo-Mysore Wars.

Posted in Andra Pradesh

Chandragiri – Dying of the light

Raja Venkata Raya, sat hunchbacked in his chair. Every breath was painful. The bouts of evening fever had left him skin and bones. Food had lost all taste. He coughed into the silk cloth. Blood. How had it all come to this?

The Vizier came in the room and bowed. He bid him come closer.

“Your highness, a group of traders from England have come seeking an audience with you. I have asked them to wait. Shall I tell them that you are indisposed?”

He turned and gazed slowly at the bronze statue of Raja Krishna Deva Raya.

“No!”, wheezed the king, “Tell them to wait. Help me get dressed.”

He coughed again. More blood.

He stood up slowly and walked to the window. The Fortress of Chandragiri was all that was left of the once mighty Vijayanagar Empire.

Vijayanagar. The Diamond of the Deccan.

He had heard his father talk about the beauty of that city. The blue jewel on the banks of Tungabhadra. The light of the south. A city paved with gold and adorned with diamonds. The successor of the Cholas, Cheras and Pandayas. Greater than all of them combined. The last great Hindu kingdom of the South. An empire that stretched from Krishna to the Indian Ocean. Trade had flourished under their grace. Food was plenty and hunger scarce. Great temples and forts dotted their kingdom. They even rebuilt the Meenakshi temple at Madurai. Art, music and poetry had flourished under their rule.

It had all come undone at Talikota. The Sultanates of Bijapur, Bidar, Berar and Ahmednagar had joined forces against the Vijayanagar empire. Even the combined might of all the Deccan Sultanates was outnumbered 3 times by the vast and well-armoured Vijayanagar army.

The court historians were silent on how they had managed to lose to a such a small and fragmented army. His grandfather, Aliya Rama Raya, was captured and beheaded on the battlefield. Some whispered that his commanders had betrayed him and changed sides. Some said that he was betrayed by his pride. Some said that the gods punished him for betraying his father-in-law.

His father had escaped with his family and his household to Penukonda. The Sultanate armies sacked, pillaged and burned Vijayanagar. The City of Victory. It burnt for days. The once prosperous and bustling city became a haunted ghost town within months. They didn’t even call it Vijaynagar anymore. That name was a lie. They called it Hampi.

The Empire fragmented after the loss. The governors of Mysore, Madurai and Tanjore had declared their independence. The Nayaka kingdoms splintered out from the ruins of the Vijayanagar empire. The Golconda sultanate had taken advantage of Vijayanagar’s fall and attacked Penukonda. They had to abandon that fortress and finally reach Chandragiri.

The minstrels still called him the ruler of the Vijayanagar empire. He knew it was a lie. He held swath over only a few hundred kilometers of land far away from Vijayanagar. The Nayakas still called him Emperor but it was an empty title. They owed him no taxes or allegiance. His nephew had joined the Bijapur Sultan and was plotting to depose him.

He had no children. With him the empire would die. It was his fate to see the dying of the light of his kingdom.

“What do the English traders want?”, he asked his Vizier as his put a robe around him.

“They want to buy a fishing village on the coast to build a trading outpost.”

Selling a village would bring some relief to his almost depleted treasury. And what harm could handful of foreign traders, thousands of miles from their homeland do to him?

He nodded his head. He asked his messenger to summon the Englishmen.

As his sat on his chair, he asked the Vizier, “Which village do they want?”


The fortress of Chandragiri was the last capital of the Vijayanagar Empire. The quiet and quaint fort is situated 20 km away from the crowd and bustle of Tirupati. Built in Indo-Saracenic fashion, the fort now hosts a museum.

The Raja’s Mahal is the most imposing structure with a smaller Rani’s mahal nearby. The fort walls enclose a tank and few temple ruins.

There is a remnant of an old house inside the fort which legend say was the home of Tenali Raman, one of the greatest poets in Raja Krisha Deva raya’s court.

It was here that the British bought a piece of land on the Coromandel coast from the the king and built Fort. St. George. They called the place Madras and thus began the history of British colonization in India.

Chandragiri Fort:

Posted in Tamil Nadu

Tranquebar – ‘The land of the singing waves’

Admiral Ove Gjedde was going through the ship’s log when the king’s summons came. He hurried to the audience hall. The King of Danes, Christian IV, was dressed in his royal finery. There was a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. He had never seen his king this excited.

“Admiral Gjedde, meet Marchelis de Boshouwer, the royal envoy from the Emperor of Ceylon”, said the king, “He brings to us an interesting proposition.”

Gjedde turned around. The king was not alone in the audience chamber. A man came forward from the shadows. He was sun-tanned and looked travel worn. His face was wrinkled beyond his years and his eyes were weary. He wore an ivory necklace and had gold rings on his fingers. The jewels stood out in stark contrast from his Dutch navy uniform. He bowed to the King.

“I have been sent as an envoy by His Majesty, Senarat of Kandy for military assistance. The kingdom of Ceylon is plagued by the Portuguese, who are laying waste to island. The king offers monopoly on all trade with the island in return for military assistance against the Portugese.”

Gjedde understood his king’s excitement. The success of the Dutch and British spice trade in India was a source of envy for the Danes. The king also wanted a bite of the luscious apple. Now, opportunity had come knocking at his door.

The Admiral had his doubts. The Dutch had the resources and the men in India to help out the Lankan king. Why did he come all the way to Europe? Why was a Dutchman approaching the King of Denmark instead of his own king? Why did he not have any documents or the king’s seal to prove his credibility?

King Christian IV was too tempted and excited by this opportunity to pay heed to his Admiral’s doubts. He ordered the Danish navy to sail to Ceylon and offer assistance to the Lankan king.

The voyage was long and arduous. The journey was punctuated with storms, shipwrecks and sickness. Gjedde cursed to his luck and kept on sailing. In the end, only half his crew managed to reach the shores of Sri Lanka.

A lot had happened in the two years that the Danish naval expedition took to reach Lanka. The political climate had changed. The king of Kandy and the Portuguese had signed a peace treaty. The king did not need any military assistance any more. The trade deal was torn and thrown out the window.

Gjedde stormed out in rage. The Danish navy had no where to go. They occupied a village near the shore called Koneshwaram. The Lankan king had warned him to the leave the island at the earliest. He had lost a lot of good men on this fool’s errand. The rest of his crew were seething. A mutiny was close at hands. They were far from home with no place to go. He had to do something before all was lost. He told his orderly to summon his Trade Director, Robert Crappe.

It had been two months since he had sent Crappe on a scouting mission on a freighter. Gjedde knew that turning back and going to Denmark was impossible. The rough seas and an imminent mutiny meant that he would never make it home alive. If he somehow managed to reach home by a miracle, the king would likely chop his head off for failing on the mission. He could not go home without a trade deal.

That was why he had sent Crappe to make contact with the Indian kings on the Coromandel coast and secure a trade deal. Why was there no news from him?

The news finally arrived. Gjedde’s hands were trembling as he read the letter from Crappe.

The Danish freighter was attacked by the Portuguese at Karaikal and sunk. Most of the ship’s crew had either died at sea or were captured by the Portuguese. The heads of the sailors were mounted on spikes. They were placed on the beach as a warning to the Danish Navy.

Crappe and a dozen of his crew escaped drowning by hanging on to flotsam. They made it to the shore. They tried to escape capture by the Poruguese under the cover of darkness, but ran head-first into an armed Indian encampment. They were captured by the Indians and taken to their king; the Nayak of Thanjavur.

The capture by the Indians turned out well for Crappe and his surviving crew. The Thanjavur king was enthralled by the Danes and was interested in trade-treaty to Denmark. The king gave the Danes the fishing village of Tharagambadi to build a ‘stone house’.

Gjedde collapsed on his chair. His prayers were answered and he had found a way out. The Danish contingent left Koneshwaram and set sail for Tharagambadi.

Gjedde and his navy finally reached Tharagambadi in 1620. They named the place Tranquebar and built a trading center there. They built Fort Dansborg on the seashore. He sent a message back the king of Denmark. The Danish East India company had arrived.

P.S. – It did not survive long.

The fishing hamlet of Tharagambadi is off the beaten path and not an easy place to reach. It has the distinction of having the first Protestant church in India, the first printing press in India and the second largest Danish fort in the world (after fort Kronborg in Helsingør).

The fortress on the beach is a beauty to behold. It was recently renovated and has a museum inside. The rusted canons still face the sea. Old churches and Danish bunglows are scattered around the town. The Danish Collector’s bunglow is refurbished as a hotel, and staying there takes you 300 years back in time.

Tharagambadi, the land of the singing waves, captures the imagination.

Posted in Tamil Nadu

‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The City of the Chola who brought the Ganges.

Rajendra Chola – I sat on the Chola throne for the first time as yuvaraja, the crown prince, under his father’s rule. He inherited a mighty empire from his father, Rajaraja Chola – I. Along with the empire, he also inherited his father’s wars. The Chola empire was plagued by wars and rebellions. In the North, they were at war with Kalingas, the Western Chalukas and the Eastern Chalukas. In the South, their archenemies, the Pandayas were a splinter on the throne. Even in Lanka, which his father had recently occupied, the Sinhalese king was fighting for his freedom. The yuvaraja rose to the challenge. He took command of the Chola Army. The Chola Army crushed all the rebels under his leadership. The Chola flag, a pouncing tiger, fluttered in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kalinga, and Lanka.

When the yuvaraja wore the Chola crown in 1014 AD, he was the ruler over the entire Deccan. His navy held the Islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In his treasure chambers were the crowns of the Pandayas and the Sinhalese. The young Chola king was not satisfied. The minstrels sang of his father, Rajaraja Chola, and called him the greatest Chola king. The Chola Temple in Thanjavur was a testament to his greatness. But Rajendra Chola had different plans. Plans to overshadow even his late father’s glory.

The river Cauvery was the Chola lifeline. It flowed through the heart of their empire, the city of Thanjavur. The Temple that his father built towered high over the city skyline. Priests, ministers, and bureaucrats walked hurriedly through the wide streets. The city was his father’s pet project. The Chola port, Kaveripattinam, was situated at the mouth of the river Cauvery. It brought merchants from all over the world. Fair skinned Romans, bearded Arabs and diminutive Chinese strolled on the dusty the streets, selling their merchandise. Trade flourished under the Cholas. The Chola Empire was at peace. But the young Chola king grew restless. He wanted more. He wanted the holiest of all rivers. The Ganges.

He set his eyes North. The king commanded the army himself. Under king Rajendra Chola and his General Araiyan Rajarajan, the Chola army laid waste to the land. The Kalingas, the Vengi and the Odda kingdom fell before the Chola might. The only the Pala kingdom stood between the Chola and the Ganges. In one of the bloodiest wars of that time, Rajendra Chola‘s army defeated the Palas and king Mahipala lay his crown at the young king’s feet. Rajendra Chola, tired from the battle, walked into the river Ganges. The current was strong but the Chola was not bothered. He cupped his hands poured the water of the Ganges as a sacrifice to Lord Shiva, his protector. He took on the title – ‘Gangaikonda Chola’, the Chola who brought home the Ganges.

With the Bengal under him, Rajendra Chola looked east. He had heard tales from the merchants of Kaveripattinam of vast lands over the sea, filled with riches. He strengthened his Navy and sent it on an expedition to conquer the lands of the east. The Chola Navy did not disappoint their king. They proved to be the strongest naval force in the Indian Ocean. The kings of Burma, Indochina, Malay Peninsula, and the Indonesian Archipelago accepted the Cholas as their overlord. They sent tribute to the king, under the naval threat. All land around the Bay of Bengal belonged to the Cholas. During Rajendra Chola‘s rule, the Bay of Bengal was called ‘The Chola Lake‘.

At the height of Rajendra Chola’s power, The Chola Empire held its sway over the Deccan, Bengal, Burma, Indochina, Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Andaman-Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep Islands, Maldives and Sri Lanka, making it one of the largest empires to ever rule India.

(Chola Empire under Rajendra Chola-I)

After defeating the Pala kingdom, King Rajendra Chola came back south, bringing with him water from the Ganges. He built a new city and called it ‘Gangaikonda Cholapuram’ – The city of the Chola who brought the Ganges. He built a Shiva temple in the city, rivalling the one his father built in Thanjavur. He built a 22 km wide artificial lake near the city. He shifted the Chola capital from Thanjavur.

He named his son, Rajadhiraja Chola, as ‘yuvaraja’ and placed him on the Chola throne. He renounced the throne and took up the life of a hermit. He left Gangaikonda Cholapuram and spent their last days as ascetics at Bramhadesam on the banks of Palar with his wife, Viramadeviyar. He died at Bramhadesam at the ripe age of eighty. The queen committed sati on his pyre. The queen’s brother, Madhurantakan Parakesari velan, the commander of the Chola armies, built a watershed at the place in memory of his sister and the greatest king of South India. 


The glory of Rajendra Chola’s city, Gangaikonda Cholapuram is now all but lost. The once mighty Chola capital is now a small village situated on the highway between Neyveli and Kumbakonam. The Royal palace, the city buildings are all one with the dust. The only proof that the place was once the capital of one of the might Chola Empire are the Shiva temple and man-made lake nearby.

The Shiva temple is built along the lines of the one in Thanjavur. One of the most beautiful sculptures adoring the wall is the one of Shiva placing a crown on the King’s head. Clean lawns surround the temple premises. The place is now a world heritage site and thankfully the city of one of the greatest kings of India is not completely lost in the tides of time.