Venkata II of Chandragiri:
The Last Phase
BY THE REV. HENRY HERAS, S. J., M.A.
Venkata II was getting too old to rule over turbulent feudatory chiefs such as the Nayak of Vellore; especially when family intrigues were contributing to the work of subverting the kingdom. In a letter of 1607, Fr. Coutinho tells us that ‘the King is very old and is apparently at the end of his life’ Laerzio in 1608 also says that Venkata is very old and again makes the same statement in 1611. Another Jesuit letter of 1611 states that "the King is too old and dotes at times; hence those who govern the kingdom do always what they like". In 1610, Philip III of Spain wrote to Ruy Lourenco de Tavora: "I have been informed that the King of Bisnaga (Vijayanagara) is very old". Three years later, the same Viceroy, Ruy Lourenco de Tavora, wrote to Philip III that Venkata "is so old that everybody expects his death at any moment, and naturally dissensions will ensue".
His death however did not occur till the end of the following year. Venkata, when his end drew near, renewed the appointment of Prince Ranga as his successor. This scene is marvellously described by Fr. Barradas as follows:-
" Three days before his death, the King, putting aside, as I say, this putative son, called for his nephew Chica Raya (Ranga), in presence of several of the nobles of the kingdom, and extended towards him his right hand on which was the ring of State, and put it close to him, so that he should take it and should become his successor in the kingdom. With this the nephew, bursting into tears, begged the King to give it to whom he would, and that for himself he did not desire to be king, and he bent low, weeping at the feet of the old man. The King made a sign to those around him that they should raise the prince up, and they did so; and they then placed him on the King's right hand, and the King extended his own hand so that he might take the ring. But the Prince lifted his hands above his head, as if he already had divined how much ill fortune the ring would bring him, and begged the King to pardon him if he wished not to take it. The old man then took the ring and held it on the point of his finger, offering it the second time to Chica Raya, who by the advice of the captains present took it, and placed it on his head and then on his finger, shedding many tears. Then the King sent for his robe, valued, at 200,000 cruzados, the great diamond which was in his ear, and was worth more than 600,000 cruzados, his earrings, valued at more than 200,000, and his great pearls, which are of the highest price. All these royal insignia he gave to his nephew Chica Raya as being his successor, and as such he was at once proclaimed."
Barradas says that Venkata died six days after the proclamation of Ranga. But there is nothing in his narrative to show the exact date of his death. We may, however, approximately calculate it with the aid of other sources referring to this event.
The Viceroy of Goa, Dom Jeronymo d' Azevedo, first announced the death of Venkata II to his sovereign on December 31st, 1614, but the traveller Floris heard of it whilst at Masulipatam on October 25th, 1614: "On the five and twentieth (of October)," says he, "came news of the death of Wencatadrapa". Anquetil du Perron says that news of Venkata's end was received on October 28th, but he does not say where such information was received. Consequently we may safely affirm that Venkata II died about the middle of October, 1614. He died most likely in his palace of Vellore, where he resided. John Gourney, a servant of the East India Company, in a letter of July 18th 1614, calls him ‘the King of Vellour.’ Floris also, while speaking of his death, refers to him as ‘King of Velur.’ According to Barradas, he was then sixty-seven years old.
" His body", continues Barradas, "was burned in his own garden with sweet-scented woods, sandal, aloes and such like; and immediately afterwards, three Queens burned themselves, one of whom was of the same age as the King, and the other two aged thirty-five years. They showed great courage. They went forth richly dressed with "many jewels and gold ornaments and precious stones, and arriving at the funeral pyre, they divided these, giving some to their relatives, some to the Brahmans to offer prayers for them, and throwing some to be scrambled for by the people. Then they took leave of all, mounted on to a lofty place, and threw themselves into the middle of the fire, which was very great. Thus they passed into eternity." Floris confirms the whole of this account, and adds that one of the three wives burned with Venkata's corpse was ‘Obyama (Pedoba mamba), Queen of Paleacatte (Pulicat).’
Venkata II's character was exceedingly attractive, if we are to believe his contemporaries. Du Jarric says that he was a ‘most affectionate King’ Coutinho testifies that ‘his character was sweet and meek.’ Laerzio mentions ‘his natural goodness and great qualities.’ Fontebona states that he was ‘a lord of great authority, prudence and understanding, as much as any European.’ Finally his Mangalambal grant records that he was ‘indifferent to other men's wives.’
These great personal qualities made him an exceptionally great monarch. All the Hindu sources of his time or posterior to his death, unanimously praise him as one of the greatest sovereigns of the Vijayanagara Empire, ‘a great and pious sovereign’, as recorded in the Prapannamrtam. According to the Kuniyur plates of Venkata III, ‘the wise glorious Venkatapatidevaraya ruled the earth, illumining the ten regions by (his) fame.’ The Utsur grant of Ranga III calls him ‘brilliant in polity.’ Another grant of Venkata III styles Venkata a King ‘of brilliant policy, his fame illumining the ten cardinal points.’ A grant of Krishnappa Nayaka of Madura records that Venkata ruled ‘in wisdom,’ and the Vellangudi plates of Venkata himself state that ‘he ruled the earth with justice’, and that, ‘as Rama governed the world, he ruled the earth.’ The Dalavay Agraharam plates (of the same Venkata) describe him as a good ruler both in peace and in war: "He was a wishing tree to the poor", they say, "he was like the central gem of the necklace (which is) the city of Aravidu...; he was the best of (the) kings, the foremost of the kings of the race of Atri,...a munificent giver like Kubera...was broad-armed like Kubera,...a Ramabhadra in battle". The Mangalampad grant describes the liberality of this monarch even more poetically. It runs: "Behaving like a grand father to friends and foes, intent on giving refuge to enemies who bowed to him, his splendour was eulogized by all men". Venkata's generosity was one of his outstanding features; as Fr. Coutinho remarks, ‘he was very liberal’.
As regards the territory ruled over by Venkata, exaggerations too obviously poetic to be misleading, are found in these and similar sources. According to the Vellangudi plates, ‘he ruled, the earth from the Himalayas to Sethu’; or ‘he defeated his enemies from the bridge (Rameswaram) to the Himalayas’, according to the Mangalampad grant. If we are to believe the Vilapaka grant, the whole of India was under him; and consequently, he boasts of having had as vassals the Rattas, the Magadhas, the Kambhojas, the Bhojas, the Kalingas; and the Kings of these countries ‘were his door-keepers’ and ‘used to praise him’. Such are the extravagant expressions of the contemporary grants; these boastful phrases are copied from the old grants of Venkata's predecessors. Truth is stated once in the Vilapaka grant, where Venkata is said to have ‘ruled over the country of Karnata’.
Impartial history, however, must admit that Venkatapati Raya II was by far the most illustrious, and beyond doubt the most powerful King of the Aravidu dynasty. He checked with an iron hand the adventurous expeditions of the Golconda Sultan, and recovered extensive territories which had been lost in the reigns of both his father and his brother Ranga. Bijapur, agitated with internal dissensions, and the Portuguese Viceroy, mistrusting the friendship with Akbar, formed an alliance with Venkata against the imperialistic plans of that Mughal sovereign. Both events imply great success in foreign policy.
As to the internal welfare of the country, the twenty-nine years of Venkata's reign were years of prosperity and comparative peace. Certainly he had to subdue many chiefs, not only in the beginning of his reign but even in his last years, but it was necessary to proceed in this matter without hesitation: had he done otherwise, the Empire would have come to an end fifty years earlier. Venkata's action in these sad affairs was always crowned with the greatest success. The country immediately subject to him is described by the Jesuits passing through or living at his Court, as prosperous and well-administered, except during the last years of his reign, when he took very little direct part in the government. His broad-mindedness is evident both in his admission of the Jesuits to his court, and in his friendly diplomatic relations with foreign nations. The privileges enjoyed by the citizens of St. Thome and Negapatam, and the concession made to the Dutch of the port of Pulicat, were the best measures for fostering industry, and commerce in the country. They may be considered as the preliminary steps towards the concession of a spot near the city of Madarasa to the English traders by one of his successors, Ranga III.
Moreover Venkata was a great patron of literature. The fine arts were likewise fostered by him, a fact which throws an aesthetic side-light on his interesting character.
Three flaws, however, stand out conspicuously in the long and glorious life of Venkata. The first is the part he took in the extinction of the Tuluva dynasty. There is now little doubt, that the murder of Sadasiva was committed by him. The imprisonment of this unfortunate sovereign by Rama Raya might be in some way justified, but his assassination cannot be vindicated by either private rivalry or public policy.
The second blot in his public character is his retirement from government during the last years of his life. The rule of his favourite wife and her relatives was fatal to the Empire, if we are to believe the Jesuit letters. The discontent of the nobles sprang from this uxorious helplessness, as is recorded by these same witnesses; it most likely prepared the ground for the outbreak of the civil war that followed the death of the sovereign.
But the greatest defect of Venkata as a ruler of the Empire of Vijayanagara, was his predilection for his second nephew Ranga. The love which actuated the Emperor when he appointed Ranga his successor, inspite of the latter's protestations, was no doubt the immediate cause of the subsequent civil war. Its purpose was indeed to place the putative son of Venkata on the throne; but most likely Jaga Raya would not then have found supporters among the nobles for his enterprise in favour of his so-called grandson. Venkata alienated the good-will of many grandees and feudatory chiefs of the Empire by repudiation of Tirumala. This prince was loved by more and stronger chieftains, as stated in the Jesuit letters; and when they saw Tirumala displaced by his younger brother, they naturally showed their disgust of the appointment made by Venkata, by joining the rival party. Barradas himself after recounting Venkata's death-bed appointment of Ranga, adds: "While some rejoiced, others were displeased." That was the first cry of rebellion against the newly appointed Emperor, Ranga II. It is for this reason that Floris says that, after receiving the news of the death of Venkata, "great troubles are feared; the Hollanders are afraid of their Castle now built in Paleacatte". The subsequent civil war was evidently a foregone conclusion.
Venkata II ought no doubt to be credited with the restoration of the old glory of Vijayanagara; but as the unconscious cause of the civil war that followed his demise, he must be said to have weakened the imperial authority and hastened the ruin of the Empire.