There are some names, whose deeds are world famous, but the people are not. Damerla Ayyappa is one such, his contribution being the city of Chennai. Search regarding him, you will find literally nothing whatsoever. Well, as what is known, he is the younger son of Damerla Chennappa Nayaka, who ruled as  a stand by for his brother, Damerla Venkatadri Nayaka, the Nayak of Chengalput-Srikalahasti. He operated from Poonamallee, now in Chennai and was most probably responsible for the coastal lands of his brother’s territories. Below poem, written by a cousin of his, from Ushaparinayam, by Damerla Ankabhupala tells the story of founding of Chennai –

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It means, unable to take the ruckus created by the Dutch based in Pulicat(Pralaya Kaveri) and the Portuguese based in Mylapore, Ayya setup a village, Chennapatnam between them and named it after his father, Chennappa Nayaka.

It is interesting to compare this story with that of what the British wrote. They wrote that Venkatadri granted the land to the British to set up a fort under the condition that it is named after their father. The fine divide – Ayyappa already set up a village which was handed over to the British on one side and the British set up the village. The British wrote only about the fort and since this is probably the only reference to the native town, it is highly plausible that this story is true.

The geopolitical scenario at that point of time was that, in the extreme north of the beaten down Vijayanagar Empire were the royal territories. Below it were the territories of Srikalahasti Nayaks. Below it were that of Gingee on one side and Thanjavur on the other and below it were Madurai. West of the royal lands was Mysore and above it were that of Ikkeri. Since the pressure was directly on royal lands, the emperor, Sriranga demanded forces from other vassals while they resisted. This created serious bad blood between the vassals, some of them trying to assert their independence like Madurai under Tirumala Nayak, some, vacillating like Vijayaraghava Nayaka of Thanjavur and some, steadfastly supporting like that of Shivappa Nayaka of Ikkeri. Sriranga, had he been born in better times, he would surely have been termed one of the greatest of Vijayanagar Empire. With vassals, all of them more powerful than him, he cowed the Nayaks and he took his capital Vellore three times from the Muslims. He had steadfast support of Kanthirava Narasaraja Wodeyar of Mysore who understood the simple adage – united we stand and divided we fall and propped the emperor till the last. On the other side, Thirumala Nayak of Madurai decided to assert his independence. However, by the time he got a change of heart, Gingee has fallen. The story drastically got reversed when Tirumala Nayak and Kanthirava Narasa died. Mysore, now, decided to assert it’s independence while Chokkanatha Nayaka of Madurai decided to form a united front with the remnant armies. Ekoji, the son of Bijapur General Shahaji Bhonsle was also a part of the war effort, sending Anantoji.

It looks like there was a showdown at Erode in 1670 where, due to astute diplomacy of Dodda Devaraya Wodeyar, the unity of the forces were not as strong as it was supposed to be, making Chokkanatha retire to Madurai. Chikka Devaraya, the field commander, then took the weakened armies and destroyed them. It looks like the same Ayyappa was a prominent field commander in the confederate army and has fallen in the battle.

jitvasau Madhura-puradhira-chamum Irodu-simantare
hatva Damaralaiyyapendram apanudyarad Ananto Jinam |
hritvasau Kulasekharabhidha-vibhum samrudhya gadham hathach
Chamballi-puram Omaluru-nagaram Dharapuram chaharat ||

(I defeated the king of Madhura near Erode, killed Damarla Ayyapendra, made Anantoji flee from the battlefield. I took the elephant Kulashekhara, took Chamballi, Omalur and Dharapuram after a seige)

From a copper plate grant from Ranganatha Temple, Srirangapatna

It is interesting to note that the names of Vijayaraghava Nayaka of Thanjavur and Sriranga Raya is not mentioned. May be because of the respect the name held, Sriranga’s name is not included. Or may be, he was never involved in the scheming which is hard to believe. But, the Thanjavur Nayak? What’s his role in the defeat?

The results of the battle look devastating – Erode belt permanently went to Mysore, to be reverted only after the death of Tipu Sultan, it’s the literal end of Vijayanagar Empire and with most of it’s strength spent and the king becoming a wandering exile, even the staunchly loyals like the Srikalahasti Nayaks were forced to shift their alliegance to the Muslims.

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