Vira Ballala III was the last great Hoysala monarch after his more-renowned ancestor, Bittideva or Vishnuvardhana who pre-dated him by more than a century. Vira Ballala III was also the Hoysala king who suffered perennial and severe loss of territory due to repeated raids from the Delhi Sultanate—first under Malik Kafur, and more devastatingly, under Muhammad Bin Tughluq. More accurately, the final 15-20 years of Vira Ballala’s rule was one continuous and sorry story of being on the defensive and losing territory.
In retrospect, it appears that Vira Ballala III was an astute practitioner of realpolitik—despite repeated defeats at the hands of the Delhi Sultanate, he never allowed a Muhammadan garrison to be built on his soil and managed to remain a semi-independent sovereign, and when he knew he had the upper hand, he secured enduring friendships with neighbouring kings, and managed to recover lost territory on several occasions.
Yet another testimony to his statecraft is the fact that he ruled from three capitals: Dwarasamudra (today’s Halebid in Hassan district) in the North/North-West, Kundaani (north frontier of today’s Salem district) in the middle, and Kannanur (today’s Kandur) in the South (For a brief period, he had made Tiruvannamalai his capital). While Dwarasamudra was mostly safe, it was the two other capitals that he had trouble with after the Muslim state in Madura was established. This trouble escalated when Ghiyath-ud-din Dhamaghani became the Sultan of Madurai.
The Battle of Kabban
When Dhamaghani intensified his assaults on the Hoysala territory in Tamil Nadu, Vira Ballala III resolved to put a definitive end to it. He assembled a massive force of 100,000 soldiers apart from some 20,000 Muslim soldiers. His mission, besides from putting an end to Dhamaghani, was to bring the entire Coromandel Coast under his pitch. Compared to this, Dhamaghani had a miniscule force numbering 6000 troops “of which the half were worthless.” [SOUTH INDIA & HER MUHAMMADAN INVADERS, PG 167, S. KRISHNASWAMY AIYANGAR]
The two armies met at Kabban in 1342.
[MAP SOURCE: Google Maps]
Vira Ballala III’s genius lies in selecting Kabban as one of his three capitals. Kabban is the same as Kannanur, which corresponds to today’s Kannanur-Koppam near Srirangam. Kannanur was of immense strategic importance to both the Hoysalas and the Madurai Sultanate. It is a testament to Ibn Batuta’s study and intelligence when he mentioned that “if Cobban [Kabban] fell the position of the Muhamaddans in Madura, would have become impossible.”
The map above shows the route from Thiruvannamalai to Madurai: Kannanur lay on the trunk road leading from Madura northward towards Tiruvannamalai. Vira Ballala III’s force had taken over the entire route from Tiruvannamalai to Kabban. Operating from Tiruvannamalai gave a solid leverage to Vira Ballala III in preventing reinforcements from reaching Madurai from the north.
At Kannanur, Vira Ballala’s massive force quickly subdued Dhamaghani’s army.
The End of Vira Ballala
Dhamaghani’s army quickly realized that they faced hopeless defeat and called for the terms of peace. Vira Ballala III demanded the city of Madurai. In the heady knowledge of certain victory, he extended a courtesy—he gave them a fortnight’s time to return to Madurai, report his demand to the Sultan, and obtain his permission to surrender Madurai.
Back in Madurai, Vira Ballala’s demands to secure Dhamaghani’s surrender was read out in public in the mosque at prayer time. Dhamaghani realized that surrendering Madurai meant their eventual destruction. He resolved to fight to the finish despite knowing that he was pathetically outnumbered. However, he communicated nothing to Vira Ballala.
He went with his troops in stealth, and fell upon Vira Ballala’s camp at the “siesta hour,” according to Ibn Batuta. The Hoysala king, awaiting word from Dhamaghani had let his guard down. In the battle that followed, the ill-prepared Hoysala force, which mistook these men to be robbers, fell into miserable confusion.
However, what turned the battle in favour of Dhamaghani was Vira Ballala’s capture. Vira Ballala, when he tried to mount his horse, was captured by Nasir-ud-din, a nephew of Dhamaghani. When Nasir-ud-din was about to kill the 80-year old Vira Ballala, a slave stopped him and told Nasir-ud-din who the captive was. Vira Ballala was spared but he was taken prisoner and treated with dignity.
I shall let Ibn Batuta narrate Vira Ballala III’s fate after he was taken prisoner by Nasir-ud-din. [SOUTH INDIA & HER MUHAMMADAN INVADERS, PG 239, S. KRISHNASWAMY AIYANGAR]
THE VICTORY THAT GHIYATH-EDDIN WON OVER THE INFIDEL WHICH IS ONE OF THE GREATEST SUCCESSES OF ISLAM
[Nasir-ud-din] then took him a prisoner to his uncle who treated him with apparent consideration and promised to release him. But when he had extorted from him his wealth, elephants and horses and all his property, he had him killed and flayed; his skin was stuffed with straw and hung up on the wall of Moutrah [Madura] where I saw it suspended.
The End of Ghiyath-ud-din Dhamaghani
After the deplorable death of Vira Ballala III on September 8 1342, Ghiyath-ud-din returned to Madura. Almost immediately, he lost his only son, then his wife, and his mother to cholera. He himself died a fortnight later from the ill-effects of consuming an aphrodisiac. In Ibn Batuta’s words,
…a Yogee had prepared for the Sultan…some pills…the Sultan took a larger dose of them than was necessary for him and fell ill…he wanted to return to me the price of the present I had made him. I refused but repented…afterwards…the third Thursday, Ghiyath-eddin died.
Ibn Batuta left Madura shortly after Dhamaghani’s death. The Madurai Sultanate was now in the hands of Nasir-ud-din, Dhamaghani’s nephew.