By: Ram Govardhan
A year before Emperor Ghiyasuddin of Sultanate of Delhi commanded his son and Chief General Muhammad bin Tughluq, then known as Ulugh Khan, to steer the imperial forces to teach a ‘mortal lesson’ to Prataparudra Deva II of Kakatiya Kingdom in the Deccan in 1321, Tughluq planned a covert mission to Warangal, disguised as an influential bania trader.
In critically analyzing adversaries, over the years, first hand reconnaissance had served the Tughluqs exceedingly well.
“Drive the nigger Partap out of Qila Arangal and rename it Sultanpur,” Ghiyasuddin, who loved the sweet mediocrity of lethargy, cried.
Rising from throne, thumping on a golden footstool, he roared, “Over the years, the little toad has been recalcitrant, ignoble of us if we don’t make him eat humble pie.”
In his passionate animus towards Prataparudra, Ghiyasuddin was forgetting that this was just a covert mission.
“By all means, Your Royal Highness,” Tughluq said, “Fleecing exorbitant levies, he isn’t remitting our dime…I’ll peel the mule’s obstinacy off.”
Coming out of Ghiyasuddin’s torrid lungs, his screech resonated, “His transgresses are unpardonable. Take heed, my zestful son; I want the ugly bear alive…I will behead him and lob his entrails at the bald-headed vultures.”
The bottomless scorn wasn’t disproportionate; citing draughts and famines, Prataparudra wasn’t paying the periodic tributes. And that he had unwaveringly paid to the Khiljis until recently fuelled the anger. Such defiance was scuttling the Tughluqan ambition of stunning proportions; therefore, as the boil had gathered, Delhi was utterly cheesed off.
On the eve of his departure from the newly-built Tughluqabad Fort, the ceremonial farewell was arranged in the high-studded Durbar Hall. Gilded with golden leaves, the hall scintillated under the grandiose Bijai-Mandal Tower. In style, design and dimension, the Indo-Islamic marvel was grander than a Gothic Florentine cathedral.
Answering his Hindu mother, known as Makhduma-I-Jahan, about the covert thing, Tughluq said, “Espionage lays bare enemy’s strengths and weaknesses…and helps in rolling the dice right.”
Glorying in the twenty-year-old’s acumen, she said, “Bismillah…you are wiser than the wisest, unyielding is your resolve, unconquerable is your fierceness. Yet, at times, we ought to weigh things up…focus your cognitive energies judiciously.”
Unlike her megalomaniac husband, her son was far more erudite. Tughluq possessed encyclopaedic knowledge of the Quran, Muslim jurisprudence, astronomy, philosophy, medicine, Greek metaphysics, mathematics and rhetoric. Trained in camelry, elephantry, martial arts and calligraphy, he was proficient in Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Sanskrit too. And, above all, he had pored over Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat no less than a hundred times.
“So tawdry and third-rate…Partap must be swatted like a dirty fly,” Ghiyasuddin yelled, staring at his son, who looked stronger, together and more coordinated.
She then blessed him and, drawing her veil over goldilocks, garlanded a morocco-leather good-luck charm that unfailingly tranquilises ill-timed bellicose instincts.
“Kindle fires in your heart…under the calm of the brain,” Ghiyasuddin said pushing a knightly sword into the scabbard hooked to Tughluq’s belt.
The strong thrust of his father’s hand reposed unmitigated confidence in him; Tughluq’s eyes acquired a triumphant gleam.
The forty-day journey from Delhi halved Tughluq’s weight, panicking his fleet to halt at Golconda Diamond Bazaar. He grew so weak that the scythe and the hourglass, which he carried personally, felt heavier. He had to fatten up again to look a true bania before proceeding to Warangal, then known as Orugallu. When the hoi polloi uttered, the name Golconda sounded like Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. Dealing in millions, the trading floor was swarmed with scores of diamond merchants from Europe and Persia.
While conversing with a cartographer, Tughluq could see the diabolical dimension of Father Time: Golconda was a corrupted form of Golla Konda, shepherd’s hillock. And it was not the Hoysalas but the Kakatiyas who had built Golconda Fort on the lines of Kondapalli Citadel to buttress their western defences.
To his utter amazement, the source of famed Golconda diamonds such as the Hope, the Orloff, the Great Table and the Nassak lied in the dense forests beyond Medaram, in the winding valleys of Godavari. Equally shocking was the naked truth that the famed Kohinoor, being her left eye, rightfully belonged to Goddess Bhadrakali of Warangal. The Khiljis had grabbed it from Prataparudra as part of reparations just a few years ago.
And just as gobsmacking was the description of Kohinoor by a consort of the Persian General Nadir Shah, “If a strong man should take five stones, throw one to north, one south, one east and one west, and the last straight up into the air, and the space between filled with gold and gems, that would equal the value of Kohinoor.”
It was Nadir Shah who had given the diamond its name, Koh-I-Noor, the Mountain of Light.
Among the linguists at Golconda, Shastri, the silver-tongued interpreter Tughluq chose, was a handsome eunuch, always draped in gaudy, feminine attire.
Tughluq’s contingent of spies, including his trusted lieutenants Qadir Khan and Khwaja Haji, disguised as workmen, set off to Warangal from Golconda with trunk-loads of gems, swords, shields, spears, cannons and tallow torches.
On the way, Shastri narrated as to how Tribhuvanagiri had become Bhuvanagiri, Bhonagiri and then Bhongir, and how Methuku Seema had become Methak and then Medak.
“Methuku is a cooked rice grain,” Shastri said.
Arriving in Warangal on a misty October morning, wearing a dhoti, gold-embroidered kurta, angarkha and a red paggar, Tughluq loved the refreshing clime attended by wintry breezes. Announcing that the omens are not so bleak, a huge swarm of flying starlings descended, almost kissed him, and swirled away.
At the lofty portcullised gateway of Warangal Fort, presenting a missive issued by Hoysala King Veera Ballala III, Tughluq introduced himself as Goti Bansal from Mathura. The fake missive had a massive effect; Somayadula Rudradeva, the butcher-block bodied Chief Commander, instantly showed up to receive. The sentinels waved the thirty-strong flagless contingent in with due shine and spectacle.
Amidst drumbeats and tones of trumpets, a mile ahead of Royal Durbar Hall, Prataparudra’s famed court dancer Machaladevi welcomed Tughluq. Their plumage spread in full bloom, peacocks waggled ahead of Tughluq. All along the enchanting pavilion lawns, lotus ponds, stone paths and flowerbeds, the imperial ushers showered vivid petals.
Machaladevi struck as the most graceful woman he had seen, while, overwhelmed by the aristocratic looks, she instantly had a Platonic crush on him, unaware of Tughluq’s aversion to any asexual pursuits.
Bedecked in rich Kakatiyan colours of claret and purplish-pink, the pinnacled, golden doorway of the Durbal Hall had a supernatural feel, while the interiors dazzled with ethereal light filtering through stained-glass domed ceilings, embellished by the massive candlelit crystal chandeliers. The carved figurines, exquisite peacock chairs, antique mirrors, miniature paintings, tribal motifs and the antler-studded walls mesmerized Tughluq. The flamboyant mosaic floor scheme diffused daylight adding sparkle to the lustre. Garuda, the royal insignia, was embossed on every piece of effects, cutlery and weaponry.
Calling the assemblage to order, the court herald cried, “His Most Excellent Highness, Redemptive Saviour of Telugu Pride, Epitome of Valour, Paradigm of Magnanimity, Protector of Harmony, Maker of Peace, Patron of Arts, Hope of Glory and Means of Grace…His Royal Majesty…Maharaja of Kakatiya Empire…Prataparudra Deva II……”
Tughluq identified himself as Goti Bansal, a diamantaire from Mathura. Flanked by two lanky armed escorts, Tughluq bowed his obeisance by saying “Let me bask in your graceful radiance, Your Serene Highness.”
Quite contrary to his father’s ‘nigger’ remark, Tughluq saw a fair-skinned, striking Prataparudra. Dressed up in immense Kakatiyan splendour, he was strapping and looked strong enough to accomplish the Twelve Labours as quietly as Hercules, the Greek Demigod, did.
His gold-embroidered silk dress gathered up at waist, girded with ornament-studded belts, a T-shaped tunic, silk cloak, a surcoat, coupled with regalia such as jewelled rings, bracelets, spectres and orbs, Prataparudra looked imperially august. With ivory-studded daggers and swords on him, rich fur cuffs covered his gloved hands. Opulently adorned with charms and circlets, his lustrous headdress was capped with a dazzling crown. His hand rested on a golden double-eagle on a lectern, while his peacock-feathered flowery hat catnapped on a settle.
Securing a little nod to proffer a trunk-load of presents, when Tughluq unlidded, Prataparudra was staggered to see the unusual green, translucent white, orange and purple diamonds from Belgium. Despite canyons of Godavari being trove of natural diamonds in his own backyard, the superiority and brilliance of the stones overwhelmed him.
Prataparudra invited him to be a Guest of Kingdom; Tughluq bowed his gratitude.
Since she knew Sanskrit, Machaladevi was commanded to escort Tughluq to the Royal Guest Suite and provide for comforts and amusement, while rest of the contingent was lodged at a gatehouse.
Reckoning his young looks, within hours, Machaladevi sought to surprise Tughluq by introducing a winsome girl in her first flush.
“Engaging a juvenile is height of bad manners…a couple of older women might make my night.” Tughluq said, despite suffering from two months of celibacy.
In Tughluqan tradition, celebration of erotic love necessitated hands-on experience; pornographic element was the point, procreation was an unnecessary consequence and producing an heir was the queen’s preoccupation.
The regal suite Tughluq was allotted had arched, trellised windows providing sweeping views of the entire fort complex. A riot of basil, rosemary and starry flowers, jutting out of brassy vases, emitted fragrant vibes. It had king-size beds, posturepedic mattresses, essential bath amenities, full-length mirrors, bathrobes, wooden slippers, padded hangers and bath salts. In the exotic herbal spa, head to toe massages and pehelwan malishes were available at the snap of fingers.
In the evening, when Machaladevi introduced two ace courtesans, Tughluq was wearing chudidar pyjamas and, instead of paggar, a safa, a Marwari headgear. Posturing as vegetarian, shunning garlic and onions, he asked for daal-baati-churma, which was ghee-soaked, roasted bread and Ker-Songri as a dessert.
At sunrise, rescinding his royal engagements, Prataparudra summoned Tughluq to sightsee Warangal Fort.
Turning up to escort him, easing into an easy chair, Machaladevi asked, “How was the night like?”
“Both were sensible, sensitively sensible…had a blast, thank you. By the way, did you undergo a nose job?” Tughluq asked.
Such overly attentive instinct astounded her; as utterly inconceivable for him was the fact that a local mediciner could sew up such a Shalyatantra surgery.
“Natural beauty is unfair, my fame was at stake…so I got it sliced,” Machaladevi said.
“You can floor blindfolded Cupids,” Tughluq said, “Do you have kids?”
“Many say I am not much of a lady…kids deserve pious mothers, not gold-diggers,” Machaladevi said.
His fine features, giant frame, deep voice and, most of all, his seductive swag enchanted her. As flawed as we are, she believed, appreciation of beauty is at the heart of human survival.
“I gather that there is hardly a case of murder or rape in Kakatiya Kingdom,” Tughluq said, stepping aboard the chariot. In contrast, throughout the Tughluqan Empire, rape, torture and salami tactics were standard operating measures to quell dissent.
“Such things don’t happen on King Prataparudra’s watch,” Machaladevi said, “Hurry up charioteer, get cracking…”
As they reached, Prataparudra was already seated in the Golden Touring Chariot.
Shastri, the interpreter, stiff in the rear canopied seat, as Tughluq eased in front, Prataparudra said, “Kakatiya Kingdom falls within the Dandakaranya forests. Lord Rama and Sitamma had spent a year here during their fourteen-year exile. Also, it is in these forests that Lakshmana had cut off ears and nose of Surpanakha. These forests are named after Kosala King Ikshvaku’s son Danda.”
“Our kingdom was passionately chiselled by a great pantheon of Kakatiya monarchs spread over two hundred years. With accent on defence, the four strongholds that protect Kakatiya Empire are Anumakonda and Gandikota Forts as Giridurgas, Kandur and Narayanavanam Forts as Vanadurgas, Divi and Kolanu Forts as Jaladurgas and Orugallu and Dharanikota Forts as Sthaladurgas.”
“My grandmother, Rani Rudramadevi, always encouraged wayfarers, seafarers and monks who cared to come. In fact Marco Polo had visited her on his way to China from Venice.”
Stopping by the fish-rich Gundu Tank near the Swayambhu temple, Prataparudra said, “The rock formation that is jutting out of the water surface is called Orugallu, Oru for single and Kallu for rock in Telugu. The words, perhaps, are of Tamil origin.”
The earlier brick-walled outer fortification of Warangal Fort was built by Yadava Kings of Devagiri. The Kakatiyas, buttressing it with stone, added to the height, built the gateways, square bastions and additional circular ramparts. With two concentric earthen bulwarks surrounded by deep crocodile swarmed moats, they shouldered forty five towers and pillars spread over a radius of twelve miles.
The spectacular Ekashila Fort Gardens took Tughluq’s breath away. The ponds with curved piers, groves of dwarfish daffodilly plants, passerine birds flying across sweeps of lawns and glades, oblong spaces planted with primrosy low-lying shrubs, ducks and drakes splashing in water cascades and the pretty grottoes were mesmerising. This seemed like a floriated version of the highest Islamic Heaven: the Seventh. With scores of landscape gardeners milling around, the Kakatiyan preoccupation with nature seemed hardwired.
After the prayers, inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Shiva Temple, Prataparudra said, “The original deity was a linga with four faces of Shiva. I worship Lord Swayambhu every day and hope to do until my last breath.”
Standing tall, facing the cardinal points, on four sides of the temple, the Keerthi or Hamsa Thoranalu, the freestanding entrance portals, were entrancing. The lofty masterpieces had twin pillars with corbels that shouldered the huge lintel. Lending the Byzantine magicality were the ornate carvings of lotus florets, coiled garlands, fabled fauna and swans with leafy tails. Far more ornately mightier than the famed Sanchi Thorans, the aesthetic precision, exalted to paradisiacal sublimity, epitomised the quintessential Kakatiyan sculptural poetry.
On the way to the banquet hall, past the Elephantry Barracks, past the stone-fortified gunnery, Prataparudra stopped by the famed elephant-breeding farm. Master Gunner Sudarshana Rudra, chief of ordnance, sprang out of his stiff stance to salute the king with lusty stamps of boots from afar.
Inside the giant, domed-roof farm, scores of elephants saluted him in unison. The very next moment, picking up a huge flute, Prataparudra began playing long and slow notes and, lo and behold, the pachyderms danced, raising one foreleg after another, gently swaying their snouts.
Passing by a massive, stony windowless structure, Prataparudra said, “That is our gunpowder plant, the largest in the Deccan.”
In the trendy Banquet Hall by the poolside, satiating the deep-dish diehard foodies were the wood-fired Rajputana, Kashmiri and Awadhi fares. While pot-oven gourmet dishes of wild mushrooms, broiled pigeons, fried quails, roasted squabs, wild rabbits, duck tartare, dough pastries, jawari breads and eels elevated the Kakatiyan food fiesta.
The distillery heartbeat of Kakatiyas—palm-wines, tribal potations and other herbal intoxicants—tickled the guests pink.
In the afternoon, while he studied sketches of Kakatiyan forts in the archives, an urgent summon from Prataparudra startled Tughluq. Heaving a sigh, he proceeded to Imperial Art Gallery, which was what he was summoned to.
The centre piece of the grand, glittering gallery was an enormous portrait of Rani Rudramadevi painted with opaque water colour and liquid gold; it portrayed the queen with dented armour, wielding a blood-dripping sword, menacingly tall amidst mangled bodies and her white stallion taller on hind legs. The war artist had faithfully captured the excruciation on the face of a severed head lying at her feet.
Right next to it, there was a larger portrait of Prataparudra, regal in his royal attire, one hand resting on the gem-studded throne, immaculately conveying his lifelike sensitive nature, not the monstrosities his strapping physique otherwise suggested. Scores of other portraits of contemporary artists adorned other crystalline walls, where greedy, elegant collectors wagered bids.
A calligrapher himself, marvelling at the Kakatiyan Renaissance of sorts, Tughluq was dumbfounded to know their intuitive grasp of the therapeutic value of visual arts and its significance in civilizing subjects.
Walking into the Royal Durbal Hall, Prataparudra paid obeisance to portraits of Rani Rudramadevi, his grandmother and Mummadamba, his mother. The hall was agog with much conjecture as to the bestowal of title of Rao.
Impatient until the ambience gained sufficient solemnity, the Master of Ceremonies read out the decree, “Every Velama Dora must have Ravu added to his name. The one who has the title of Ravu, bestowed by the king, is the Samantha Raju vassal belonging to the Velama Caste.”
As names were announced, Prataparudra conferred the title of Rao first on the family of Bhetala Naidu, the founder of the Venkatagiri and other vassals. The Kakatiyas had consigned the defense of the kingdom predominantly to Velamas.
Right after the ceremony, a royal bill calling for division of the kingdom into smaller administrative regions was presented. Apart from ministers and aldermen, brothers Harihara and Bhaskara (popularly known as Hakka and Bukka), the custodians of royal treasury, were present.
“Increasing the number of vassaldoms up to seventy two is detrimental to the integrity of the empire, Your Royal Highness,” Bukka said.
“I am of the same view, Your Royal Highness,” Somayadula said.
“Disgruntled nayaks might unite and revolt, Your Imperial Highness,” Hakka said.
“You are our treasurers…not court jesters. Illusion of unity is not worth harbouring. Division is the path to progress,” Prataparudra said, “Dilution empowers…emancipation is the ability to question and laugh at authority.”
“Bestowing civil rights is a dystopian nightmare, Your Highness,” Bukka said, “Where the majority is unlettered.”
Casting aside clamour of objections, a wave of Prataparudra’s sword decreed the ordinance.
The earlier Kakatiya kings had used the title Reddi or Raddi, derived from the word Redu, meaning king in Telugu. Ever since the decree came into force, the seventy two independent nayaks assumed the title Reddi, while the Kakatiya rulers were greeted as Deva or Devi, meaning Lord or Lady.
After the dinner-dance performance by Machaladevi’s troupe, an Oggu Katha show was arranged for public in the evening.
At sunset, as Prataparudra eased in the front row, the chief narrator sprang up wearing a dhoti, coloured shirt, head-cloth, waistcloth, ankle bells and a chain of seven shells around his neck. Emerging on stage with gay leaps, his sidekicks had five silver rings, five chains, wrist bands and garlands of sapphires, silver-noose necklaces and Mallanna’s portrait across their chests.
As Shastri interpreted, Tughluq was absorbed. The Oggu Katha ballads are performed mainly by Yadavas and Kuruma Gollas in praise of Lord Shiva. The Oggus, the Yadava priests, recount the marriage of Mallanna with Bhramarambha and his curse that metamorphosed her seven brothers into dogs. The chief narrator’s seven shells symbolised the brothers.
Impressed with their immaculate rendition, Prataparudra commanded Hakka and Bukka to confer kanakabisheka gold coins on the Oggus from Kotagiri; that was the top accolade the folklore had ever received.
At around midnight, after a clandestine weekly meet, Tughluq whispered to Qadir Khan, “Be wide-awake, ensure these maps and inscriptions reach Delhi…local accomplices will help you. And, while returning, come with loads of gifts to be presented to Partap.”
In the morning, recalling Marco Polo’s observations about the abundance of ‘fist-sized’ diamonds there, Tughluq sought royal consent to visit diamondiferous valleys beyond Medaram.
Prataparudra asked the Chief Commander Somayadula to make the arrangements.
“The Prime Minister is visiting Medaram tomorrow, Your Imperial Majesty, to negotiate a peace treaty with the Koya Queen Sammakka. Given the uneasy truce, it’s prudent of them to move with us,” Somayadula said.
“Machaladevi, mind everything…including comforts, cottages and, of course, amusement,” Prataparudra said.
Sinking her voice to a whisper, Machaladevi commanded her girl Friday, Kalavathi, “Your grasp of Sanskrit is superior…let me know if there’s anything fishy. Attend to everything; pick best of the girls from our Anumakonda harem.”
“Don’t worry, Akka,” Kalavathi said, “I can smell glimpses of deception.”
The troops escorting the Prime Minister’s entourage consisted of two basic ranks, Rautus and Bantus, while others were orderlies. Rautus were horse-riding warriors, while Bantus were foot soldiers.
On voyage royal to Medaram, tasting the sweet breeze, Tughluq saw a savannah of overgrown, tangled plants, lush underwood and impenetrable vegetation of Dandakaranya. The unending loops of branches of moist and deciduous trees of rosewood, bamboo and marri protected his chariot from the blistering sun. Blooming with reverse egg-shaped leaves of pallid flowers, the giant teak trees looked magnificent. And he saw chirpy bi-pedal monkeys, acrobatic langurs, blackbucks, sloth bears, chitals, monster scorpions and a pack of hyenas chasing a broken-nosed tiger.
Unwinding at a small pond, he saw carnivorous plants luring insects with their nectar, large dinosaurian birds of muscle and feather flying across the huge overhangs of mountains. Unexpectedly, he spotted a gorgeous tribal woman undressing by rocky walls of a sparkling cascade.
Turning curious about the Prime Minister’s visit to Medaram, when Tughluq asked, his Koya bodyguard narrated Sammakka’s story.
Finding an abandoned baby surrounded by salivating tigers in the Chilakala Gutta forests near Medaram, a Koya headman adopted and named her Sammakka. At a very young age, strong as a lioness, Sammakka, married Pagididda Raju, a tribal chieftain, and bore three children: two daughters named Sarakka, Nagulamma and a son, Jampanna. One droughty year, due to mass starvation, Raju, who abidingly honoured taxes until then, declined to pay. Maddened by the insubordination, Prataparudra sent his army and, in a fierce battle on the banks of a stream of Godavari, Pagididda Raju, Jampanna, Sarakka and her husband were martyred.
When Sammakka entered the war, her fierce offence sent the Kakatiya army packing.
Frustratingly, reaching Medaram was half the job for Tughluq; the diamondiferous valleys were farther away. Although the aromatic breeze of the wilderness had a detoxing effect on him, weighed down by viscous mud, trotting the peaks and dales, they could stumble on the valleys after four days. As torrents ceased, Tughluq saw scrawny men scratching the river-beds and stuffing raw diamonds into bamboo baskets. Unaware of value of their ware, the tribals bartered six basket-loads for a few of Tughluq’s gold coins.
Drugging soldiers with charas, Tughluq smuggled cart-loads of raw diamonds to Delhi via Bastar despite knowing that it was ruled by Kakatiya King Annam Deo, brother of Prataparudra.
He seduced the Koya headmen by offering services of the famed Anumakonda whores specializing in erotic dances. Mere thoughts of such elite services excited them but, when subjected to the real thing; many headmen fainted unable to take the state of pure bliss. In Koya folklore, women are goddesses and coition is only for procreation, not recreation.
On the eve of he is departure; the indebted headmen entertained Tughluq with the earliest form of Burra Katha of Koya culture.
Wielding a tamboura carved out of dried pumpkin, in his emblazoned, flamboyant robes and anklets, the balladeer yodelled the dance drama, two hyper-active sidekicks facilitating with small drums. Interspersed with melodramatic prayers, jokes and jingles, cynically mocking myths of Ramayana and Mahabharatha, the narrator also derided stupidity of kings triggering wars based on hearsay. To further lighten the spirits, he lampooned the Kakatiyas for killing Sarakka and Jampanna. However, he circumspectly used aesthetic pejorative words.
What seemed to be tribal mumbo-jumbo, the Koya Burra Katha was indeed a refined form of stagecraft. Imbued with itihasa anecdotes, Tughluq felt, it must have existed since the dawn of Hinduism.
After the show, at around midnight, as Tughluq was to retire, a gangling sadhu detained him and claimed mastery over the entire corpus of Shruti and Smriti. Reciting a long litany of verses, he said tantric sex is the only pathway to moksha. Looking at an unmoved Tughluq, he then presented a pail of elixir that prolongs virility and life infinitely. Frustrated with his antics, as Tughluq entered his cottage, the sadhu yelled curses.
“Oriental metaphysics is doomed …ugly little charlatans,” Tughluq said, “…piffle crackpots call themselves inarguable new age mavens.”
Kalavathi was quiet; Tughluq was quieter, hastening the arrival of forty winks.
In the morning, Medaram was agog with Sammakka’s repudiation of the prime minister’s peace accord, despite the king’s word of making her the chief queen. And that she, suffering maims in a renewed skirmish, disappeared into the forests and they could only find her bangles and pug marks of tigers.
On the way back to Warangal, Tughluq feverishly sweated and shivered forcing them to lodge him at the placid Royal Retreat Resort by the Ramappa Lake.
In a curious turn of events, the very next day, citing exigencies of war, the Chief Commander Somayadula rushed to Warangal. And Kalavathi was mandated to be by Tughluq’s side.
What was a tiny tank by the Ramappa Temple, enveloped by semi-circular string of hills; the construction of an ingenious Kakatiyan dam had catalysed it into an enormous lake. Lending a mystical ambience to the temple, the Ramappa Lake provided spectacular sunsets.
As they laid a dining-table by the lake-side, an inebriated Tughluq heard a summoning knock on the door. Kalavathi stunned him in her glad rags; dolled up in an ethnic silk dhoti kurti paired up with inflated stole, cuff bracelets, triple stud earrings, golden anklets, multi-strand necklaces and kada bangles.
“…simply numbing my senses…you are a feat of ethereal design,” Tughluq said, downing another goblet of concoction of Sura and Soma liquors.
Fixing his gaze on her, he woozily rendered a poem in a mournful key from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Astronomer-Poet of Persia. The quatrain, he said, glorified wine and love as vehicles of Sufism where wine is joy of spirit and love is immense devotion to God.
When a man was at half cock, Kalavathi knew what to do; passing a chalice of ochre-coloured tribal aphrodisiac, she crooned a sort of oratorio, pinched his pink cheeks and fluttered her eyelashes.
“You optic vocabulary is immense,” Tughluq said, “I love my divas.”
Inflamed by the cerebral stimulus, crushing her in his arms, Tughluq was so animated that he was surprised with his own superlative performance.
“In matters of bed it’s never physical, it’s always the grey matter,” Kalavathi said.
Deep contentment shining in his eyes, Tughluq said, “Women are essential to transcend mediocrity.”
“…and attain glory,” Kalavathi said.
“Nothing you say is ever boring,” Tughluq said. “I love your expressions of sexual euphemism.”
When he woke up in the morning, his good-luck charm was missing. As Kalavathi walked out in a bathrobe, he saw it meekly perched in the cosy comfort of her cleavage.
When she passed it to him, garlanding her with it, tapping her chest, he said, “It looks divine here.”
Sensing Khwaja Haji’s footsteps, Kalavathi disappeared into her room.
“…Any good or pressing matter, Khwaja?” Tughluq asked, “You seldom barge in like this….”
“Yes, yes…not good but great, Your Royal Highness. Somayadula, Partap’s Chief Commander, is in our fold. I have despatched him to Arangal to lure Kakatiya commanders much before we plan to invade.”
“That’s great…that’s great, despite my father’s word, I had my own qualms about you…you have measured up, yes you have,” Tughluq said and flung a duffle bag of gold coins at Khwaja, “What if Partap discovers our plans?”
“We have suitable scapegoats on stand-by, Your Highness,” Khwaja Haji said.
After the breakfast, Kalavathi cajoled Tughluq to visit the Ramappa Temple.
The ‘brightest star’ in the templar constellation of the Deccan, world’s only one to be known by its sculptor’s name, made of the famed floating bricks, the Ramappa Temple stood on a six-foot star-shaped platform. With a foyer in front of the sanctum, numerous carved pillars created twinkling of light and space, each one depicting mythical stories and, upon tapping one, diverse musical notes resonated. The breathtaking life-sized Nagini and eleven aesthetically sculpted ballerinas Devanarthakis were the pillars of each entrance. And a huge sculpture of the Nandi, facing the deity, in the eastern portico, intently watched every visitor.
“Nritya Rathnavali, the Military General Jayasenapati’s dance treatise, was inspired by the overpowering, overarching architecture of Ramappa temple,” Kalavathi said.
After a pensive nod, Tughluq said, “This is sensory overload of breathtaking proportions.”
As planned, Qadir Khan’s contingent from Delhi converged with Tughluq’s at Anumakonda. Khan had returned with camels, horses and canons.
Unwinding at the Royal Cottage, Kalavathi said, “Anumakonda was the first capital from where Kakatiyas had expanded their domain up to the Godavari delta in the north. Warangal Fort was built as a second capital to thwart forays of the Yadavas of Devagiri.”
On the way to Warangal Fort, noticing a large congregation of women in vibrant saris and glittering jewellery, singing and twirling around, Tughluq asked the cameleer to stop. A huge conic-shaped heap of floral wreaths was arranged in seven concentric circles and Bruhadamma (Parvati), made of turmeric paste, sat on top of the stack.
“Bruhat (Shiva) linga was pillaged by the Cholas of Tanjore when they razed the Vemulavada Rajarajeshwara Temple, leaving Bruhadamma alone. It’s to console the lonely Bathukamma (Bruhadamma) and to symbolically denounce the Cholas; the seven-day festival is celebrated,” Kalavathi said.
Within hours of reaching Warangal Fort, after presenting newfangled spears and arrows to Prataparudra, Tughluq said, “These are Spanish warhorses called Chargers, these two are Turkish Palfreys and these are Coursers and, finally, Destrier, a bit hot-blooded horse by nature.”
“These three are one-humped Arabian Dromedary camels whose smell disorients horses of any breed. And these two-humped Uzbek Bactrian camels can go without water for a month. All of these were bred in our stud-farms in Mathura,” Tughluq said.
Even as Prataparudra was speechless, Tughluq’s men rolled two large cannons in.
Inviting the king, Tughluq said, “This is an avant-garde machine called Eruptor developed by the Mings of China; it ejects large cast-iron bombs producing jets of liquid fire. And this is apocalyptic cannon called Mons Meg Bombard from Scotland…mainly used during sieges.”
In an overwhelming gesture, Tughluq said, “These are humanoid gifts, Your Royal Highness.”
His men unveiled a large cage that held a dozen Caucasian and Persian slave girls.
“That’s really handsome of you Mr Bansal,” Prataparudra said, “I sense sort of nervous reluctance to appreciate…this of course merits fulsome applause?”
Everyone around kept on cheering until the king waved them to stop.
The very next day, treating Tughluq with honour, Prataparudra said, “I learnt my ropes under my grandmother. In the beginning of my reign, I sent armies to Vikramasimhapura (Nellore), Devagiri (Aurangabad), Raichur and Kanchi. My men were infernos to the bamboo-like army of Devagiri, bolts of lightning to the haystack army of Raichur and cauldrons of lava to the cottony Pandya army.”
Armed with special permission for unhindered access to royal repository, Tughluq sought exhaustive topographical chart of, as he called, Qila Arangal. He studied hundreds of perfectly preserved Kakatiya period clay, stone and copper-plate inscriptions. Their unbelievably pristine condition validated that the Kakatiyan sense of archiving was not mind-boggling but mind-altering.
Surprisingly, right from the Shanigaram inscription of 1149 onwards, the vernacular used was Telugu rather than Old Hale Kannada, the official lingua franca until then. The Kakatiyas had elevated the inferior status by giving Telugu the legal footing it clamoured for centuries.
Having heard many nautical tales of slave trading routes, Tughluq wished to visit Motupalli Port (now in Prakasham District). By establishing al-nakhas market by the shore, the port could be his maritime fulcrum of slave trade from where he could ship Indian and international slaves to Saigon, Angkor, Siam and the Middle Kingdom.
A day after he left, Prataparudra’s spies sniffed suspicious activities of Tughluq’s men.
“Feed their carcasses to captive lions,” Prataparudra cried, “I’ll take care of the Bania.”
Inside the Motupalli Port Bazaar on a windswept island, Tughluq saw traders haggling over prices of diamonds, gold, silver and ivory as if they were dealing in vegetables.
Out of the blue, as four masked thugs pounced on Tughluq, he ducked just in time. The sword drove through a trader and, in the melee; his men overpowered the assailants contracted by Prataparudra.
When Kalavathi asked as to what saved him, Tughluq said, in his unperturbed tone, “Alacrity.”
Tughluq nonchalantly entered an adjacent lane where traders were bidding for sacks of sandal, camphor, copper, zinc, lead, silk, pepper, areca nuts, rice, wheat, coconuts, mangoes, tamarind, honey, ghee, turmeric and ginger.
On the way back from Motupalli, while Kalavathi snored, Tughluq’s men burnt the assailants alive in a bonfire.
A day after unwinding at the Royal Cottage in Anumakonda, Kalavathi asked Tughluq to visit the Thousand Pillars Temple.
As Tughluq gazed at the shrine, Kalavathi said, “The temple is dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Surya. Not one of the thousand pillars obstructs the view of the sanctum. The star-shaped, triple-shrined (Trikutalaya) temple, with its richly carved, perforated screens, rock-cut elephants and the monolithic dolerite Nandi, exhibits the incredible craftsmanship of Kakatiya Vishwakarma Sthapathis.”
She then nudged Tughluq into a descending staircase spiralling into a labyrinthine tunnel that meandered, snaked and seemed unending. Burrowed from Thousand Pillars Temple all the way to Warangal Fort, it was a serpentine bunker for royals during times of sieges. Lavish bedrooms, restrooms, ammunition depots dotted the passage. Tughluq also stumbled on a tavern crammed with giant twenty-foot casks of unpasteurised wines.
“Is there someone who could get me charts of this tunnel,” Tughluq said, “In exchange for a bag of gold coins?”
While she paused, Tughluq said, “A sucker is born every minute.”
“A crook is also born every minute,” Kalavathi said.
As Tughluq was taken aback, she placated him, “There’s a bloke….”
He garlanded her with his heavy, Cornish-diamond-studded necklace. Smiling radiant happiness, she stunned him with a hot, open-mouthed kiss.
At sunset, she rushed him into the only royal bedroom in the tunnel. With gold-gilded walls swathed in glow of candlelight, marbled arches, lavish four-posted beds, settees, ottomans, elevated by a mythical ambience, it was designed to enhance love making.
“You are too beautiful,” Tughluq said, “To be so sensual.”
“You are no less than Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love,” Kalavathi said and, elbowing him onto the bed, showcased her sensuous skills, producing a prolonged rhapsody of carnal ecstasy.
Pregnant with lust, as their evenings bate, romantic breaths seize the hedonistic Tughluqs. Their nights are planned first in the morning; at the end of a whole day’s toil, close embraces of lovely lasses rejuvenate them. Their undivided attention and tenacity to push frontiers of promiscuity was inexhaustible.
Licking his chops, dizzy with the hangover of the delayed climax, in a rare of moment of weakness, Tughluq confessed his true identity under oath. That didn’t surprise her; right from day one, the sum of his gigantic stature, blue-blooded looks and courtly grace amounted to much more than a measly diamond dealer.
“While I hate evangelical pursuits, Islam beckons discerning women like you…there is no salvation without Islam,” Tughluq said, “You will be bestowed a status equal to that of my queen.”
“You are offering salvation for surrendering my critical faculties,” Kalavathi said.
“We are far less masters of our own faculties than we think we are,” Tughluq said.
“The most overrated virtue is faith,” Kalavathi retorted.
“If it’s not for religion, where do you get your morals from?” Tughluq asked.
Kalavathi was quiet.
“Where’s your defence, my butterfly?” Tughluq asked.
“Let’s grow up, my dear…we discover morality within ourselves, not from handed down, ancient content,” Kalavathi said.
“You aren’t as easy going… your takes on belief systems smack of modernity,”
“I can be lethal if you force things on my attention…my polemic fangs are deceptively drawn in, you know,” Kalavathi said.
Tughluq looked hyper offended, withdrawing into a reflective disposition.
Indulging in a loving cuddle, at the risk of impertinence, Kalavathi asked, “Travelling all the way from Delhi, my dear, must have been gruelling.”
Instantly disarmed, Tughluq said, “Well, my camel-driven chariot is far more comfortable… there are layers of hassocks over which lay squabs, bolsters, pillows, ruggings and a set of settees.”
“Oh my! I thought horse-drawn, home-style cars are cosy.”
“Think of the travails of Isa, the messenger of Allah, who rode to Jerusalem on a donkey…camels are friendlier than horses,” Tughluq said.
Literally burning the midnight oil, Qadir Khan, Tughluq and Kalavathi discussed every aspect of Prataparudra’s war machinery until they fell into sleep in wee hours.
In the afternoon, looking at a listless Tughluq, Kalavathi invited him to a special performance of Chindu Bhagavatam just outside the Thousand Pillars Temple.
“This version of Chindu Bhagavatam is essentially Machaladevi’s family account composed in Yakshagana style, staged in simple lyrical meter and acted by artists of her own dance schools,” Kalavathi said.
After stage hands fidgeted with cloth crowns, swords, costumes and background curtains, as the Chindu Jogitalu from Bodhan began the show, Tughluq asked, “Why are they jumping so much…isn’t that a distraction?’
“It produces an enthralling effect…Chindu stands for Jump in Telugu. The dramas, from a Vedic tradition called Bhagavatam, open with Jamba Puranam in memory of Jamba Mahamuni; the father of the Madiga sect,” Kalavathi said, “Chindu Bhagavatam mainly caters to the Madigas, affording the patronage of Kakatiyas.”
“What does Kakatiya mean?” Tughluq asked.
“The Yadava surname Gaikwaad gradually metamorphosed into Kakatiya: from Gaikwaad to Gaikwaadi to Kaikwaadi to Kaikaadi to Kakaadi to Kaakati to Kakati to Kakatiya,” Kalavathi said. “Kaikaadi Erukalas are the Gaikwads of Gujarat. According to Mahabharata, Erukala Ekalavya was related to Yaduvamsi Sri Krishna. They are called ‘Erukala’ after their folkloric vocation of fortune telling (Eruka – foresight).”
The Telugu metamorphosis happened from Gaai Waala to Gaav Wala to Govu Wala to Gov Wala to Gowaala to Gwaala to Gwalla to Gawlla to Gowlla to Golla: a cowherd. Yaddu is Ox, thus Yaddu to Yadu to Yaduv to Yadav.
“A very learned woman of great beauty,” Tughluq felt.”
“A simple woman of pedestrian wits cannot be in the service of King Prataparudra,” Kalavathi said, as if she heard his mind-voice.
“I love your semantic hygiene….were it not for you I would have died…sodden with boredom,” Tughluq said.
Tughluq presented a squad ring, leather wrap bracelet, sassy silk socks, and a bag of gold coins, embroidered, gold-plated handbags and saris embellished with silver threads.
The Kakatiya Kingdom was serenely stable, while, he felt; the Tughluqan Empire was a period of decadence punctuated by incredible spells of stupidity.
Tipped off by Kalavathi that Prataparudra’s Red Squadron was about to apprehend them, right from Anumakonda, Tughluq’s contingent took flight to Bodhan and from there to Badrikot (Bidar). They then sped to Devagiri.
Within months, setting off on an auspicious day from Devagiri, as Tughluq’s rejuvenated army made it to Bidar, the dispatch of his father’s death ruined his attempt. As they departed, receiving the communiqué that his father was hale, his troops turned back to reach outskirts of Warangal.
In his first effort, Tughluq encircled Warangal Fort but the Kakatiya army pulverised his base, slaughtered his troops and chased him till Kotagiri. Tughluq escaped with bruises and retreated to Devagiri in disguise.
As the shockwaves of his son’s defeat, loss of hundreds of soldiers, camelry and armament arrived in Delhi, Ghiyasuddin cried, “Your lad is a toughie on paper…a lily-livered pussy-cat on warfront, I will go and slaughter the rat Partap myself…”
“You aren’t in the pink, already tottering…don’t bestow widowhood so soon?” his wife said.
In Warangal, in a rare display of fraternal solidarity, Hakka and Bukka turned approvers after the royal amnesty was granted. Divulging everything about Kalavathi’s relationship with the Mathura trader, they asserted that he was a spy from the Delhi sultanate.
During the grilling, what ultimately sounded Kalavathi’s death knell was the morocco-leather good-luck charm that Tughluq had given her.
As her death sentence was decreed, Kalavathi grovelled at Prataparudra’s feet in vain. Within hours, amidst her last cries, pulling the halter, the hangman said, “The real fun begins after you are dead.”
Even before the body was brought down, a throng pounced, grabbed and threw the body at the cannibalistic chattel slaves who believed a beautiful body tasted better than an ugly one.
“She was a tiny creep of a much larger defilement, Your Imperial Highness, umpteen parasites might still be amongst us,” Somayadula said.
“Of course…termites have spread far and wide and dined long and well with the enemy…burn all of them at the stakes,” Prataparudra roared, pounding his golden table decorated with beak-heads of captured ships.
“They have stolen every classified state secret, Your Royal Highness,” Hakka said, “We are in perilous times…a renewed incursion might…”
“Too much of information obscures knowledge,” Prataparudra dismissed him. “Tughluq’s mercurial nature ill affords wisdom of warfare.”
Brushing aside every one of Hakka and Bukka’s qualms, Prataparudra emptied grain stores for public feasting, a strategic blunder he lived to rue.
Celebrating the Pyrrhic victory, as perplexed subjects gaped, Prataparudra said, “Kakatiya Empire is imperishable, our gallant forces can destroy the world…our cannons can rattle the skies and snatch the thunder out of thunderbolts.”
Ignoring waves of muffled laughter, Prataparudra continued, “Our offensive weapons are unmatched…we could capture Telugu-speaking alluvial lands of Godavari and Krishna rivers. Kings and emperors come to us for inspiration…every Kakatiyan subject lives in perfect contentment and tranquillity.”
With no semblance of ovation, he continued, “Despite our state secrets at his disposal, they scurried home with tails between legs….Tughluq is man of great ideas…a little less pragmatic though. He is a Pied Piper leading his empire to a doom. The braggadocio relishes company of applauding sycophants; cheap laugh and an easy joke would do for him. He takes no thought for the moral, is split-minded…perhaps affected by some degree of insanity.”
Even as Prataparudra was addressing, Tughluq gave marching orders to his troops in Devagiri.
“We had mortally suffered the last time, Your Royal Highness, open wounds and emotional scars are still haunting our troops..,” Qadir Khan said.
“One defeat can’t be a blueprint of failure forever,” Tughluq said. “Battlefield is the only arena to take crash-courses.”
The news of the attack stunned Prataparudra. War-drummers, clarion-callers ran hotfoot summoning subjects to double as warriors.
On a darkest midnight, torch-bearers enlightening their paths, Khusro Khan launched a shattering, bone-jarring raid of lethal intensity. Evenly dispersing the 70,000 mounted swordsmen, archers and cannoneers, he captured the outer mud stronghold, after slaughtering scores of Kakatiyan soldiers. Stomping over the mangled bodies, amidst Khan’s battle cries, the infantry rained hell-fire causing towering blazes.
The news that Prataparudra’s troops were capitulating in droves made Tughluq livid, “I expected an Armageddon to happen…easy, quick victories don’t excite me.”
Like a pack of wolves, Tughluq’s instinct was to wear down his prey in protracted battles.
Few of Prataparudra’s loyal soldiers adopted guerrilla tactics despite gnawing stomachs, parching throats and depleted garrisons. Few of those few hunger-bitten Kakatiyan soldiers befriended Khan’s forces for a few morsels, while others muscularly dealt with the four-month stand-off.
The war exploding right in his face, unable to puzzle out, an unsettled Prataparudra turned to the last resort of monarchy; prophecy.
Even as the band of fat and happy court astrologers presaged a glorious victory and utter obliteration of invaders, amidst gathering war-clouds, as sonic booms of cannon balls shattered the stained-glasses of the palace, as hand-to-hand fights, confused skirmishes ensued, exploiting the tumult, Khan captured all the strategic bastions, one by one.
“Of all the appetites, measly hunger has caused the downfall,” cried Prataparudra. “We splurged too much…the universe is on the verge of losing Kakatiya Empire.”
With an empty exchequer and an emptier garret, eliciting enthusiasm of any of his seventy two vassals was a far cry. Until a few weeks ago, a word from him carried a dead weight sending shivers down their spines.
Within weeks, Tughluq’s forces were about to capture the whole kingdom. Dreading Tughluq’s firepower capable of burning everything to a crisp, when Prataparudra summoned, the Master Gunner Sudarshana Rudra confessed that the elephant farm, arsenal and the gunpowder plant were seized by the invaders.
Sea of blood igniting the tinder box of public backlash, a crestfallen, tender-eared Prataparudra, despite circulating indignant pamphlets, couldn’t stem mass desertions from his army.
With the combo of accuracy and spite, over hundreds of bitter battles, skirmishes and affrays, at last, Khan strangulated Prataparudra’s battle-weary army, ending the reign of Kakatiyas, once and for all.
Ultimately, when Qadir Khan homed in on the palace, Prataparudra was whisked away through the tunnel, but Tughluq had his men waylaying at the Anumakonda end.
When he was presented at the Royal Durbar Hall in shackles, manacles, moors and trammels, Prataparudra saw Tughluq seated on his throne.
Rubbing salt, Tughluq ratified a decree renaming Warangal as Sultanpur, even as Prataparudra quivered with rage.
“Amputate the Shiva Temple from Qila Arangal’s skyline,” Tughluq cried, “Demolish the Thousand Pillars Temple first, every other temple too and slaughter the monks, raze the monasteries. But don’t touch the Keerthi Thorans…they don’t have the disgusting Hindu underpinnings.”
Prataparudra was dragged up to the throne; six months of war and disquiet had chiselled deep lines all across his face. He was nauseated, weak and, with a rancid gall bladder, was now a rump figure of his gigantic self.
Evil glint shining in his eyes, dripping with scorn, Tughluq said, “I want to rip your limbs off, my father wants you alive not for an apologia…but to try and find you wanting…taut nooses are dying to clutch your neck.”
“Don’t ever dare to touch our places of worship…you will bite the dust,” cried Prataparudra.
“Conversely…we will penetrate the Kakatiyan skies with taller minarets,” Tughluq said widening his impish grin.
Prataparudra, raving and ranting, cried, “The grand spirit of Kakatiya monarchy cannot be shackled. This will be avenged quicker than your fickle mind can imagine.”
“There won’t be a donkey left even to eulogise your departed soul, sweetheart” Tughluq said.
“Trumps of doom will hasten your death,” Prataparudra cried, “Blighted by your capricious nature, downfall of the empire built on guilty secrets isn’t far away.”
Known for his decorous indifference to such last hurrahs, Tughluq laughed and hooted at Prataparudra, “You are whistling in the dark, my dear…flog the snotty blackguard’s skin off, let him perfectly rot in the stinking dungeons without a bite or sup.”
The discourtesy cost him dearly; as cries of pain reverberated, Prataparudra was cudgelled and brutalised and made to totter and crawl from Warangal Fort to Anumakonda.
Deep sense of fury convulsing him, Prataparudra yakked and babbled and repeatedly collapsed all along the way. While shouldering him, sniffing the wounds that festered into poison, feeling a large gathering on his neck, Machaladevi couldn’t but shudder in horror.
Prataparudra cried, “Not one to be easily stirred, I am getting moist ….my ancestors had built the Kakatiya Empire brick by brick, brick by brick…the Tughluqs epitomize depths of human evil …they will of course destroy everything…”
“…they are way more pernicious than that…you are too weak, Your Royal Highness, don’t exert,” Machaladevi said.
“My own subjects are clamouring for my death…of course prophets are never honoured at home. There is no persuasive reason to live now,’ Prataparudra said, “I want to die away in some narcotic stupor.”
Eventually, the time to unleash fire and sword was here. Why should he let this go off? Tughluq summoned demolition squads from Delhi to loot, plunder and destroy everything the Kakatiyas had built. Setting ablaze Prataparudra’s art collection consisting hundreds of portraits, Tughluq ordered the construction of a huge mosque next to the wrecked Shiva Temple.
Every Kakatiyan soldier’s family, including babies barely lived long enough to cry, was wiped out.
Gold, diamonds, jewellery, currency and captives were transferred to Delhi Sultanate.
Tughluq’s lieutenants Qadir Khan and Khwaja Haji escorted Prataparudra to Delhi. On the way, when Khan and Haji were in the arms of captured courtesans, upon hearing that the smells emanating from mass graves of his army engulfed Warangal Fort, on the very verge of despair, Prataparudra and Machaladevi executed their suicide pact.
Writhing on the left bank, froth gushing out, quiet in their death throes, both perished in the waters of Godavari in Manthani.
Ram Govardhan’s short stories have appeared in Asian Cha, Open Road Review, The Bangalore Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Indian Ruminations, The Spark, Muse India, The Bombay Review and other Asian and African literary journals. His novel, Rough with the Smooth, was longlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize, The Economist-Crossword 2011 Award and published by Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai. He lives in Chennai.