Southern India in the age of Vijayanagara, 1350–1550 Part I

The rise of the Delhi Sultanate, although it brought many changes to north India, had little direct impact on the lands south of the Narmada river. Only from around 1300, when the Delhi Sultanate began sending armies down into the peninsula, did the histories of these two parts of the subcontinent start to converge. The military successes of the Delhi Sultanate gave a north Indian state control over portions of south India for the first time in many centuries. Although the Delhi Sultanate did not retain this control for long, its intervention into the affairs of the peninsula was to have long-lasting repercussions. Because a separate state headed by Central Asian Muslim warriors known as the Bahmanis was founded in the Deccan in 1347, the Islamic religion and culture that had taken root in the Deccan under the Tughluq sultans of Delhi continued to flourish in subsequent times. Another significant result of Delhi’s military expeditions was the destruction of the existing regional kingdoms of the south. This paved the way for the emergence of Vijayanagara, a new state ruled by indigenous warriors that shaped the society and culture of south India for centuries thereafter. The empire of Vijayanagara is often credited with preserving a distinctly Hindu way of life in south India that had been lost in the north, a misconception that overlooks both the creativity and cosmopolitan nature of the Vijayanagara elite. By 1550, south India was a considerably more diverse and complex place than it had been in 1300.

Rise and decline of the Vijayanagara kingdom

The origins of the Vijayanagara kingdom have been a subject of intense debate. We know that its first rulers were two brothers belonging to the Sangama family, but opinions on where they came from and what they did prior to becoming independent lords differ greatly. For much of the twentieth century, it was thought that the Sangama brothers were warriors of a local king defeated by the Delhi sultan whose service they then entered, converting to Islam in the process. Only after they had been sent from Delhi to the Karnataka region of south India as the sultan’s representatives did the Sangamas return to the Hindu fold and set up their own independent kingdom, with the help of a Hindu sage, according to this line of thinking. Implicit in this narrative is the conception of Vijayanagara as an overtly Hindu state, originating from a rejection of the Islamic religion and a Muslim overlord. Scholars also disagreed on whether the Sangamas were warriors initially from the Karnataka region or from the Andhra region to its east, since both regions wished to claim them as sons of the soil.

More recent scholarship, particularly by Hermann Kulke and Phillip Wagoner, has presented a radically different interpretation of the events leading to the founding of Vijayanagara. While the Sangama brothers were probably local warriors from Karnataka who first served in the army of the Hoysala king, they neither converted to Islam nor were they affiliated with a Hindu sage. Instead, they appear to have voluntarily given political allegiance to Muhammad Tughluq during the years when he was based at Daulatabad. Once Tughluq power waned in the Deccan, the Sangamas sought to establish their own state and held a major ceremony in 1346 to celebrate their conquests up to that time; this probably marks the true commencement of their kingdom, rather than the traditional date of 1336. Because the Sangamas were but the first of four ruling dynasties, we call the kingdom not after the kings but after the new name coined for the capital, Vijayanagara or “City of Victory.” Today the site is known both as Vijayanagara and also as Hampi, a variation on the name of the goddess, Pampa Devi, long associated with the region.

Although the Vijayanagara kingdom was to eventually become the largest state ever created in south India, its expansion occurred quite slowly. In its first decades, the various members of the extended Sangama family ruled in a semi-autonomous fashion the different provinces of the small kingdom, extending only from central and southern Karnataka into the interior portion of southern Andhra. In the first half of the fifteenth century, the state finally began to grow after power was consolidated within one lineage of the Sangamas. Under Devaraya II (r. 1432–46), generally considered to be the greatest of the Sangama dynasty of rulers, Vijayanagara controlled both the eastern and western coasts of the Deccan and was the pre-eminent state of the peninsula.

Vijayanagara’s chief rival during its first century of existence was the Bahmani Sultanate, established as an independent state in 1347 after a revolt among the officers of the Delhi Sultanate stationed in the Deccan. The Bahmani capital was soon moved from Daulatabad to the more centrally located Gulbarga and then during the 1420s to Bidar. The Bahmanis held sway in the western Deccan north of the Krishna river, while Vijayanagara was dominant in the western Deccan south of the Tungabhadra river. The alluvial zone in between those rivers, known as the Raichur doab, was hotly contested by the two states; both also tried to extend their influence into the fertile Krishna-Godavari river delta of the Andhra region to the east. A third area of conflict between the two states was the western coast, which would confer direct access to the maritime routes of Indian Ocean trade and thus to the most important military supplies of the time: war horses imported from Arabia, Persia, and Central Asia.

Initially, Vijayanagara troops could not prevail over the smaller army of the Bahmani sultan. The sultan’s advantage was in cavalry and so he was known as the Ashvapati or Lord of Horses, in contrast to the Vijayanagara king who was called the Lord of Men or Infantry (Narapati). Only after the borrowing of both military personnel and technologies from the Bahmani Sultanate was the Vijayanagara kingdom able to expand its sphere of influence. Devaraya II (r. 1432–46) was largely responsible for narrowing the military gap, welcoming Muslims, highly respected for their martial skills, to the state. Significantly, Muslims were defined not in religious terms but by ethnic labels such as Turk. Devaraya II reputedly enlisted 200 Muslims at the officer rank, as well as many more at lower levels – up to 10,000, according to a probably exaggerated claim. As early as 1439, one of these officers had a mosque constructed in the section of the capital city that became a Muslim quarter. A number of Muslim tombs dot the surrounding area, indicating an elite Muslim presence. The adoption of advanced military techniques and the importation of war-horses contributed considerably to the success of Devaraya II’s military ambitions.

A second major competitor for power from Devaraya II’s reign onward was the Hindu dynasty of the Gajapatis, who had usurped the throne of northeastern Andhra and southern Orissa in the 1430s. Ruling a humid and forested region where elephants were still plentiful, the title “Lord of the Elephants” or Gajapati was given to these Orissa kings by their contemporaries, in admiration of their supply of war-elephants. After Devaraya II’s death in 1446, his less capable successors could not contain Gajapati power and the Gajapatis began to overrun Vijayanagara’s eastern lands, eventually reaching as far south as the Kaveri delta in the central Tamil country. They also wrested portions of northern Andhra away from Bahmani control. By the 1480s, the Vijayanagara kingdom had lost so much territory to the Gajapatis and the Bahmanis, who had overrun much of the west coast, that it was scarcely larger than it had been at its inception. This led Saluva Narasimha, the most active general in the struggle against Vijayanagara’s enemies, to usurp the throne in 1485. The short-lived Saluva dynasty was ousted in turn in 1505 when another general, this time from the Tuluva family, seized power. Under the Tuluvas, the third royal dynasty of Vijayanagara, the kingdom not only regained its strength but went on to achieve its greatest glory.

Krishnadeva Raya (r. 1509–29), the second of Vijayanagara’s Tuluva rulers, is largely responsible for making Vijayanagara the paramount polity in the peninsula. Ascending the throne while in his twenties, Krishnadeva Raya pursued a vigorous policy of consolidating Vijayanagara power from the outset. He is best known for the aggressive campaign against the Gajapatis initiated in 1513 which led to the recovery within two years of important sites situated to the south of the Krishna river. Vijayanagara forces kept pressing northward until they reached Cuttack, the Gajapati capital in southern Orissa, in 1517. The Gajapati king eventually surrendered and offered his daughter in marriage to Krishnadeva, who in turn gave all the coastal territory north of the Krishna river back to the Gajapatis. Krishnadeva Raya’s Orissa campaign has been called “one of the most brilliant military episodes in the history of sixteenth-century India.”

Partly because of his many military successes, Krishnadeva Raya was the most celebrated Vijayanagara king among later generations of south Indians. Even Domingo Paes, a foreign visitor to Vijayanagara city during the period when Krishnadeva Raya was king, praises him as “a great ruler and a man of much justice.” In physical appearance, however, Krishnadeva Raya was not impressive, for Paes describes him as “of medium height, and of fair complexion and good figure, rather fat than thin, he has on his face signs of small-pox.”2 Krishnadeva Raya was reputedly quite hospitable to foreigners who came to his capital seeking trade, although Paes, as a minor member of a Portuguese delegation from Goa, had little direct contact with him. Nonetheless, Paes witnessed much of the city’s public life and left behind a travel account that is valuable both for its many details and because it is the only foreign testimony contemporary to Krishnadeva’s reign.

Vijayanagara was able to become dominant in the early sixteenth century not only because of the military abilities of kings like Krishnadeva Raya but also because its second important rival, the Bahmani Sultanate, had begun to disintegrate into smaller segments. The Bahmanis could not contain the long-term factionalism between the Deccanis, who were mainly descendants of settlers from north India and saw themselves as the old nobility, and new immigrants known as Afaqis, from Iran and Central Asia. The provincial governors of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar were independent by 1500 for all practical purposes, while the separate states of Golkonda, Berar, and Bidar emerged over the next few decades from what was left of the Bahmani Sultanate. Krishnadeva Raya had little trouble establishing Vijayanagara supremacy over the armies of the Bahmanis and their now virtually autonomous governors in 1509. He also brought the southern territories more firmly under control. With growing numbers of Vijayanagara nayakas or warrior lords settled in the various localities of the Tamil country, the mantle of Vijayanagara rule came to rest more heavily on the far south.

During Krishnadeva Raya’s reign, the Vijayanagara kingdom attained its largest size and its greatest degree of centralization, although small tributary states under the rule of their own kings lingered on in portions of southern Karnataka, southern Tamil Nadu, and along the western seaboard. Command over the outlying territories was entrusted to elite Vijayanagara warriors, often men with the title nayaka who carried out both military and civilian duties. With increasing frequency from the late fifteenth century on, members of the ruling class were rewarded with the assignment of nayamkara territories – villages, districts, or even entire provinces over which they had the right to retain certain revenues. Taxes on agricultural produce and the selling or transport of goods as well as the fee on grazing animals, that would otherwise be owed to the king, were instead given to the man who held the nayamkara assignment. The expectation was that the assigned revenues would be used to maintain troops in readiness for the overlord’s military needs. The king had the right to revoke a nayamkara assignment or switch the land included in a nayamkara, so that no subordinate could build up his own local power base and pose a challenge to the king.

Some of the duties and privileges of Vijayanagara’s nayaka lords are described by Paes, in the following passage:

These captains whom he [the king] has over these troops of his are the nobles of his kingdom; they are lords, and they hold the city, and the towns and villages of the kingdom; there are captains amongst them who have a revenue of a million and a million & half of pardaos, others a hundred thousand pardaos, others two hundred, three hundred or five hundred thousand pardaos, and as each one has revenue so the king fixes for him the number of troops he must maintain, in foot, horse, and elephants . . . Besides maintaining these troops, each captain has to make his annual payments to the king . . . Whenever a son happens to be born to this king, or a daughter, all the nobles of the kingdom offer him great presents of money and jewels of price, and so they do to him every year on the day of his birth.

The Vijayanagara lords were, in other words, required to maintain a stipulated number of troops and to make annual revenue payments to the king, depending on the size of the nayamkara territory they were assigned. In addition, they were expected to give the king gifts on special occasions. Other evidence indicates that lords who did not fulfill their obligations had their nayamkara assignments taken away.

Two Tuluva rulers followed Krishnadeva Raya on the Vijayanagara throne, but internal struggles at court and the increasing independence of the major lords led to a weakening of the king’s position. From the 1540s on, Rama Raya of the powerful Aravidu family acted in the name of the king and wielded the actual power. For more than twenty years, Rama Raya ruthlessly repressed all opposition at court and in the southern territories. He also kept the Deccan states that had emerged from the Bahmani Sultanate’s demise at bay through skillfully playing one off against another. His brilliant, if deceitful, strategy eventually backfired – their distrust of Vijayanagara grew so strong over the years that the rulers of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, and Golkonda overcame their own mutual hostility and banded together to attack Vijayanagara forces. At the fateful battle of Talikota in 1565, Rama Raya was killed and the city of Vijayanagara left defenseless. Rama Raya’s brother Tirumala soon abandoned the capital and retrenched in southern Andhra, where he became the first member of the Vijayanagara’s final royal dynasty, the Aravidus. Although the Vijayanagara kingdom, now based in Andhra and much smaller in size, remained in existence for another century, its days of greatness were gone after 1565.

Southern India in the age of Vijayanagara, 1350–1550 Part II

Vijayanagara’s militarism

Vijayanagara is widely acknowledged to be the most militarized of the non-Muslim states of south India. Much of this militaristic orientation was a result of its origins as a polity created by an upwardly mobile warrior lineage in the Deccan. The semi-arid environment of the peninsular interior had long hosted peoples engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture, herding, and trade. The upland economy was precarious, encouraging the development of martial skills and the emergence of warlords. Since the late twelfth century, warriors from the semi-arid zone had become politically dominant throughout the peninsula. Facilitating their dominance were improvements in horse-riding equipment that had disseminated from the northwest into the Deccan during the century or two prior to the establishment of the Vijayanagara state. The innovations included the foot-stirrup providing greater support for the rider, better harnesses allowing more control over the horse, high saddles with pommels, and nailed horseshoes. These changes in horse-riding technology enhanced the destructive capabilities of cavalry and made it the decisive factor in an army’s success in battle. The availability of quality horses, which had also contributed to the Ghurid and Delhi Sultanate’s military successes, was another factor leading to greater militancy in the peninsula in the period immediately before the founding of Vijayanagara.

The early fourteenth-century incursions of the Khalji and Tughluq armies, by dislodging indigenous warrior lineages from their positions of power, further promoted the growth of militarism in the peninsula. In the power vacuum that resulted from the disruption of earlier political networks, there was plenty of scope for military adventurism for those with sufficient martial skills and motivation. The Sangama founders of Vijayanagara came out of this turbulent and competitive milieu and were successful in carving out a territory at the expense of numerous others who similarly aspired to kingship. The Bahmani Sultanate, with its more sophisticated cavalry techniques, was a persistent opponent to Vijayanagara’s expansionist ambitions and this forced Vijayanagara to commit more resources to building up its army.

But Vijayanagara’s militaristic character cannot be attributed to the presence of Muslim states in its vicinity, for this was an era when the scale and lethal capacity of armed force was escalating not only throughout the subcontinent but also throughout most of the Eurasian landmass. Armies were increasing in size, new weapons were being introduced, and more massive fortifications were being erected to defend the centers of political power. Gunpowder was introduced into thirteenth-century India by the Mongols, who learned about it from the Chinese. Gunpowder was first used to create burning projectiles or exploding devices that were used primarily during siege warfare. By the second half of the fifteenth century, gunpowder also came to be used in cannons, to propel a ball through the metal tube. According to one text, as many as 2,300 cannon and many smaller guns were deployed by the Vijayanagara army at the battle of Talikota in 1565.

The Vijayanagara capital was a massive site, the largest surviving in South Asia today, the defensive walls of which were intended to fend off invaders physically and at the same time overwhelm viewers by their awesome scale. Abd al-Razzaq, an emissary who arrived in the city in 1443 from Herat, was clearly impressed by the surrounding walls, for he notes that there were seven concentric walls, although in reality there are fewer. Huge earth-packed and stone-faced walls surrounded the suburbs and nearby villages. These walls were commenced with the city’s founding and as the state became increasingly militaristic in nature, the importance of having massive walls grew. Recent work indicates that some 650 square kilometers were encircled by these huge walls, manned by soldiers who monitored from ramparts, watch posts, and bastions the broad roads that ran in and out of the city. The walls also served daily needs, for catchment basins and reservoirs were part of the protective walls. The ground between the various walled areas of the greater Vijayanagara metropolitan area was often filled with large boulders known as horse-stones that would guarantee an invading foot soldier or cavalry unit difficulty in traversing the terrain. The inner city, consisting of roughly two parts divided along an east–west axis, which today are referred to as the sacred and royal centers, was also walled. Within the city’s perimeter were more walled compounds, but their walls often were designed to ensure privacy rather than for defensive purposes.

Public rituals in the capital city highlighted the state’s military prowess. A case in point is the nine-day Mahanavami festival associated with veneration of the goddess Durga. All the great nayaka lords and their armies were required to attend the festival, after which a general muster of the troops was held outside the city proper. Witnessing the vastness of the assembled forces about 1522, the Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes was so overwhelmed that he reported “it seemed as if what I saw was a vision.” During the festival itself, the goddess was worshipped by the king both privately and publicly; the two sometimes also shared the Mahanavami Dibba, the large platform upon which the king displayed himself to his lords and in turn was paid homage by them.

The great platform as it stands today was built in four successive stages, the last one by Krishnadeva Raya in celebration of his victorious campaign in Orissa. While Paes observed the Mahanavami festival, carvings on the platform showing courtly figures throwing water indicate that the spring festival, also a nine-day event, was celebrated there as well. Given the prominence of this tiered structure in the heart of the royal center next to ritual baths and the important Ramachandra temple, it must have been the focal point for multiple royal ceremonies. All these festivals, while essentially religious, were in fact a celebration of the regime’s success in the economic and political realms. This multi-tiered platform dominates the skyline of the royal center. That aspect of it is visible from a considerable distance; however, it is only on close scrutiny that the sculpted carvings on every tier are noted. Here we see no religious themes whatsoever, but only those depicting the ruler, the military, and the endless processions essential to these royal celebrations, thus providing an important insight into the concept of kingship under the Vijayanagara rulers.

The royal center at Vijayanagara remained in use until the capital was abandoned in 1565, even when new complexes were built outside the city limits. So, for example, we know from the testimony of foreign travelers that Krishnadeva Raya continued to conduct the public ceremonial of the state in the royal center, although he actually dwelt in a fortified suburb built supposedly for the benefit of his beloved queen, Chinnadevi, a former courtesan who had been his mistress before he became king. This stands in sharp contrast to the practice in Delhi, where kings often had entirely new walled complexes, encompassing both residential and ceremonial functions, constructed at some distance from previous centers. Another difference is that the built environment of the Vijayanagara capital has undergone few changes since 1565, due to the dispersal of its population following the city’s fall from power. Delhi, on the other hand, was not only an urban locality comprised of a whole series of royal complexes but also one that continued to serve as a capital or major center for over 700 years, during which time its urban fabrics were constantly being rebuilt and expanded. The modern visitor to Vijayanagara’s extensive remains built over a 200 year period and to those of Delhi today, a city occupied by kings since about 1200, might therefore believe that Vijayanagara was the larger and more urban setting. This impression would be erroneous, for travelers such as Ibn Battuta had declared Delhi to be the greatest city of the Persian-speaking world, and its position as a major crossroads of trade and communications should not be underestimated. For peninsular India, however, Vijayanagara city was undoubtedly both the largest and most important of all urban centers in the precolonial era.

Vijayanagara kings as exemplary Hindu rulers

Since the early twentieth century, Vijayanagara has often been described as a state established in order to halt the advance of Muslim power in the peninsula. According to this view, the kingdom was born out of a desire to protect Hindu religion and culture, and so its militarism was a direct response to the threat posed by the Muslim presence, that is, the Bahmani Sultanate and its successor states. Vijayanagara allegedly stood as a bulwark against the burgeoning tide of Muslim conquest and thus became the savior of the south Indian people. This interpretation, which sees the Vijayanagara kingdom as inspired by and imbued with a deep sense of Hindu nationalism, is clearly anachronistic – a case of projecting a present-day situation back into the past.

A hundred years later, the flaws in the earlier depiction of Vijayanagara as a nation whose mission was the defense of Hinduism against Islam are readily apparent. For one thing, the concept of a unified Hindu religion did not exist in the fourteenth century, nor did that of a nation composed of all the peoples within a state’s borders. Vijayanagara’s militarism was largely a result of indigenous developments, although it was intensified by competition with more technologically advanced states in an age of escalating warfare worldwide. And the Vijayanagara state’s greatest rival for power was not the Bahmani Sultanate but the Gajapati kingdom of Orissa, a state headed by rulers who were Hindu. Continuing research on the material culture of Vijayanagara has, moreover, uncovered increasing evidence that it was strongly influenced by the states of the Deccan and the wider civilization of Islam.

The Vijayanagara kings did not see themselves as engaged in mortal combat for the survival of Hinduism and south Indian society. However, the rulers of Vijayanagara did attempt to act as righteous kings behaving according to dharma, that is, who lived up to traditional Indic expectations of rulers. An important aspect of kingly duties in classical Indian thought was the protection of the social order and most particularly the upholding of Brahmin privilege. Hence, the Vijayanagara kings sought to portray themselves as champions of the ideal hierarchical society envisioned in Brahmin law books by claiming the title “upholders of varnashrama dharma” (the moral duties of class and stage of life). The early Vijayanagara rulers also sponsored Brahmin scholarship, including a series of commentaries on Vedic literature. Throughout the Vijayanagara era, Brahmins continued to be employed by the court in considerable numbers, and Brahmin lands received preferential tax treatment, not unlike the manner in which the sultanates favored Muslim theologians and institutions. Increasingly from the early medieval period onward, however, notions of royal legitimacy came to rest on linkages with temple deities rather than with Brahmins. It was in the combined role of servant and patron of the gods that the Vijayanagara kings excelled.

Almost simultaneously with their decision to settle in Hampi, the site of the capital city, the Sangamas adopted as their family deity the god Virupaksha, a form of Shiva, who was the most celebrated deity in that locality. In deference to the greatness of the deity they had chosen to be the protector of their family, capital, and kingdom, the Sangamas typically signed the name of Virupaksha to royal decrees rather than their own, suggesting that he was the true lord of the realm. Later Vijayanagara kings continued to engrave Virupaksha’s name on the copper-plate records of their religious grants, well after the capital had been abandoned in 1565. Another acknowledgment of Virupaksha’s pre-eminent status was the practice of announcing all religious endowments made throughout the kingdom in his temple. Virupaksha was thus informed of the meritorious behavior of the donors of religious gifts and, as a witness to their intentions, could safeguard the endowments they had made.

The Vijayanagara rulers honored Virupaksha in more concrete terms as well. Numerous grants of land and villages were made by the kings, their relatives, and their high officials in order to supply the material goods and labor required for the daily worship services dedicated to Virupaksha in his Hampi temple. This temple commenced as a small shrine, essentially a pilgrimage site, prior to the rulers taking over the locality. Extensive construction and renovation of the buildings in the temple complex had begun by the late fourteenth century. One of the most generous benefactors of the temple was Krishnadeva Raya. On the occasion of his coronation in 1509–10, he had a large pillared hall built, along with an enormous towered gateway (gopura). Increasingly, since the fifteenth century, temples in territory ruled by Vijayanagara diverged from the local style common to the Telugu and Kannada-speaking areas. Temples in the local style, such as the earliest temples found at Vijayanagara city, are small with no sense of height or grandeur. Later kings and lords of Vijayanagara chose to build temples that evoked the monumental style of the imperial Cholas, who ruled much of south India until the twelfth century. Thus, the large pillared hall provided by Krishnadeva Raya at the Virupaksha temple, as well as the towering entrances added to this temple and others, were intended to visually rank the Vijayanagara rulers on par with the legendary Cholas, whose temples reflected a sense of the rulers’ extraordinary military feats and their support of dharma.

Virupaksha was not the only god favored by the Vijayanagara kings. A temple to Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, was constructed in the early fifteenth century, most probably by King Devaraya I (r. 1406–22). It was situated in the middle of the city’s royal zone, at some distance from the Virupaksha and other earlier temples. Because Vishnu was thought to have repeatedly rescued the earth and its people from evil demons, he and his various incarnations had long been popular with Indian kings who sought to cast themselves similarly as saviors of their kingdoms. The association of Rama with this site dates back as far as the eleventh century, and the whole region is often identified with Kishkindha, the realm of the monkeys whose help the god-king Rama enlisted in the search for his abducted wife, Sita. Malyavanta Hill is where Rama is said to have spent a rainy season while monkey scouts scoured the peninsula for signs of Sita. Earlier Matanga Hill, the highest spot in the locality, had been the refuge of Rama’s monkey allies, Hanuman and Sugriva, when they were hiding from the wrath of a deposed monkey king.

The importance of Rama to the Vijayanagara kings is evident from the centrality given to the Ramachandra temple in the overall plan of the capital city as it evolved in the first half of the fifteenth century. The temple is both literally and figuratively at the heart of the buildings and public spaces utilized by the court, and it divides this royal zone into two sections. To the west of the temple is the area where the royal family resided; to the temple’s east is the area including the great Mahanavami platform where the public activities of the court were conducted. Further accentuating the centrality of the Ramachandra temple were a series of roads that radiated out from the enclosure in front of the temple toward the north, northeast, and other directions. A different set of roads that circle the metropolitan area have the royal zone, and its Ramachandra temple, at their center.

The link between Rama’s life-story and the city is emphasized by the placement of the Ramachandra temple in relation to the hills associated with Rama’s monkey helpers. The temple’s inner shrine is aligned directly south of Matanga Hill, and both Matanga and Malyavanta Hills can be seen from within the temple complex. Sculptures narrating the Ramayana epic are located both on the exterior walls of the principal shrine and on the inner face of the walls enclosing the temple complex, visibly reminding the visitor of the god’s significance. On the outer face of the enclosure walls, in contrast, there are numerous scenes of court life at the capital, including depictions of elephants and war-horses, military parades, and female dancers. A complementarity, perhaps even a correspondence, between the king of the city and the god Rama is suggested by this distribution of sculptures, with Rama’s sphere internal to the temple and the king’s sphere external to it.

Patronage of Virupaksha’s temple, the major pilgrimage site in their locality, and the construction of new temples like that of Ramachandra in their urban center were important means by which the Vijayanagara kings sought to show themselves as exemplary Indic rulers. But it was not enough to act as a patron of temples within the capital, the locus of royal power, for the king’s righteousness had to be evident throughout the kingdom. Outside of their capitals or home bases, medieval south Indian kings were most likely to endow temples in areas that had recently come under their control. By commissioning buildings or making lavish presents to temples in outlying or frontier territories, kings not only displayed their piety but also visibly demonstrated their ability to allocate resources in that locality.

Krishnadeva Raya, the greatest of all Vijayanagara kings, was a master at this type of symbolic statement made through the medium of religious patronage. At various stages in his long campaign against the Gajapati kings of Orissa, Krishnadeva gave lavish donations to major temple complexes in the territories that had just been conquered. After the successful siege of Udayagiri, a well-fortified stronghold in southern Andhra, for instance, the king and his queens made a triumphant visit to the Shri Venkateshvara temple at Tirupati, then as now the pre-eminent Vishnu temple of the Andhra region, donating jewels and life-size copper images of himself flanked by his two queens, Tirumaladevi and Chinnadevi. (Tirumaladevi was the daughter of one of Vijayanagara’s tributary kings and thus became the chief queen, but Chinnadevi, a former courtesan, was elevated to the status of queen only because of the king’s great love for her.) The images of the king and his wives were installed so that they would permanently be paying homage to the deity. When the second major fort in Andhra, Kondavidu, was captured in 1515, the king, again accompanied by his two queens, made a pilgrimage to the renowned Shiva temples at Amaravati and Shrisailam in the general vicinity of Kondavidu. Once the war was finally won, Krishnadeva Raya embarked on a victory tour of his southern territories. He stopped at the premier temple complexes along the way – at Tirupati and Kalahasti in southernmost Andhra, at Kanchipuram in northern Tamil Nadu, and at Tiruvannamalai and Chidambaram in the central Tamil country – and at each place he gave valuables to the deities, commissioned temple buildings and monumental gateways, or ordered other improvements to the facilities. Following each military victory, the king thus expressed his gratitude to a major god of the newly subjugated area, but at the same time publicized the power he possessed and the good favor shown to him by the gods.

Islamicate influence at Vijayanagara

Although the Vijayanagara kings were personally devoted to certain Hindu gods and dedicated substantial resources to the support of Hindu temples, this does not mean that they or their people were hostile to other religions and cultures. Indeed, Vijayanagara’s ability to flourish for over 200 years owes much to the kingdom’s willingness to adopt new technologies of control that were introduced into the peninsula by the Deccan Sultanates. This is most true in the military sphere, where Turkic cavalry and archery techniques were quickly assimilated. Skilled personnel who were Muslims were also hired into the Vijayanagara army, something the Hoysala rulers had also done in the early fourteenth century. The awarding of nayamkara assignments in return for military service may also have been modeled on the medieval Islamic practice of giving iqtas, which was introduced to India by the Delhi Sultanate. Earlier Indian warrior chiefs had acquired land through inheritance or conquest and thus were lords in their own right, whereas nayamkara, like iqta, was granted to an elite warrior by his overlord and could be revoked at the overlord’s pleasure. The many Perso-Arabic words relating to revenue collection and other administrative procedures that were absorbed into the regional languages of the Deccan – Marathi, Kannada, and Telugu – beginning in the mid fifteenth century suggest that there was considerable borrowing in this realm as well.

It is easy to see the practical value of adopting new military techniques and administrative systems, but less utilitarian aspects of Islamic culture in India were also embraced by the Vijayanagara ruling class. The most visible manifestation of Islamic influence is in the secular architecture of the Vijayanagara capital. While the function of much of Vijayanagara’s secular architecture is not altogether certain, pavilions used for administrative purposes, such as private audience halls and council chambers, or to enclose water, feature arches, domes, vaulting, and delicate stucco ornamentation similar to that seen on the architecture of the Bahmani Sultanate. These structures at the capital city, for example, the Lotus Mahal, the Elephant Stables, and the Queen’s Bath (all modern names), use architectural and decorative components of Islamic architecture, but they are combined in a highly creative manner unique to the Vijayanagara kingdom.

In contrast to secular architecture, traditional Indic architectural forms were retained for all religious structures, whether they were temples of any denomination (Jain, Shaiva or Vaishnava) or even mosques. A case in point is the mosque which a Muslim noble built in 1439 that, like Vijayanagara’s temples, uses only traditional Indic, that is, post and lintel construction. Likewise, the inscription on the mosque refers to the structure not as a mosque but as a dharmasale (hall of dharma or religion), employing Indic terminology. And, as in Indic traditions, the mosque / dharmasale was built to provide merit for the ruler. As Phillip Wagoner has argued, the patron was perfectly adept at code switching from an Indic to an Islamic idiom in any given situation. Wagoner has also pointed out that Vijayanagara rulers and courtiers made a similar distinction between Indic and Islamic styles when it came to clothing: they wore traditional south Indian garb when engaged in a Hindu religious activity or in a domestic setting, but opted for an Islamic style of dress for formal public audiences. The court was a place where the Vijayanagara elite might frequently meet and interact with Muslim visitors or guests, and so Islamic norms which stressed the covering of the body were observed. By wearing tunics, tall caps, and other articles of Islamic dress, the Vijayanagara ruling class was conforming to the fashions not only of the Muslim-ruled polities to their north but also of the larger Islamic civilizational sphere. The adoption of Islamic clothing in certain contexts and the choice of Islamic buildings for secular ceremony was a sign of the sophistication of the Vijayanagara court and its desire to participate in a cosmopolitan culture that extended far beyond the confines of south India.

Some scholars prefer the term “Islamicate” rather than “Islamic” to describe this cultural complex because it was created and carried by people who followed Islam but was not intrinsically related to the religion per se. Stitched clothing, true arches, and paper were all aspects of material culture that were introduced into India by Muslims but had nothing to do with the Islamic faith. The Vijayanagara kings incorporated many facets of Islamicate culture and practice in a dynamic synthesis that heralded a major break with the earlier cultural patterns of south India. The Vijayanagara kingdom may largely have been Hindu, but, contrary to what is often said, it was by no means the last gasp of the ancien régime or a mere continuation under heavy odds of the traditional ways of south India.

Southern India in the age of Vijayanagara, 1350–1550 Part III

Maritime trade

The Vijayanagara kings called themselves “Lords of the Eastern and Western Oceans,” a title that asserted hegemony over the Bay of Bengal to the east and the Arabian Sea to the west of the Indian peninsula. Domination over the coastal territories was one of Vijayanagara’s primary geo-political objectives and a frequent cause of conflict with other kingdoms. Krishnadeva Raya tells us why coasts were so important:

A king should improve the harbours of his country and so encourage its commerce that horses, elephants, precious gems, sandalwood, pearls and other articles are freely imported . . . Make the merchants of distant foreign countries who import elephants and good horses attached to yourself by providing them with villages and decent dwellings in the city, by affording them daily audience, presents and allowing decent profits. Then those articles will never go to your enemies.

Access to ports meant access to a range of coveted goods, including the essential war-horse. Other items like sandalwood, musk, and camphor were deeply embedded in the rituals and gift exchanges that pervaded court life and helped constitute the charisma of kings.

Despite the claim implicit in their title, the Vijayanagara kings seldom exercised direct control over the western seaboard, a narrow strip of land that was separated from the peninsular interior by the Western Ghats. The western littoral had for centuries been ruled by a multitude of small chiefs who might enter into tributary relations with the more powerful overlords of the interior but were nonetheless lords in their own right. One such lineage was the Jain chiefs of Bhatkal port, on the Kanara coast (of modern Karnataka state) to the southwest of the Vijayanagara capital. Shipments of war-horses came to Bhatkal from the Arabian peninsula and Iran and were sent overland to the Vijayanagara capital. Copper and gold were also imported to Bhatkal from the Middle East while pepper, sugar, and textiles were among the items exported. As these goods were moving into or out of Vijayanagara territory, they would be subject to various taxes, but the revenues from the commercial transactions that took place at international ports like Bhatkal went to local chiefs rather than to the Vijayanagara state.

The lords of Bhatkal and other western ports took active measures to encourage foreign merchants to come to their towns since revenues from maritime trade were virtually their only income. Consequently, Arab traders from all over the Middle East did business on the southwestern coast and communities of indigenous Muslims also emerged in places, as a result of conversion and/or intermarriage with local residents. The largest concentration of Muslim population was found around Calicut in northern Kerala, on what is known as the Malabar coast. Calicut became the greatest entrepôt or free port of the western seaboard during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries partly because of the policies of its rulers, the Zamorins. Unlike other lords on the western littoral, the Zamorins did not plunder ships seeking refuge from storms, nor did they claim shipwrecks as treasure; rather they provided security. So many Arab merchants were attracted to Calicut that Ma Huan, a Chinese visitor of the early fifteenth century, believed its entire population to be Muslim.

A community of indigenous Muslims known as Mappilas also flourished in the Calicut region. The Mappilas spoke the local language, Malayalam, and observed many local customs but were actively engaged in maritime commerce, unlike other local communities. While the Arab merchants dominated the overseas trade from the Malabar coast to the west, the Mappilas were mostly involved in commercial activities along India’s coast and also on the routes to Southeast Asia. According to an estimate by an early sixteenth-century Portuguese traveler, Mappilas comprised a fifth of the people within the Zamorins’ domain.

The Malabar coast, on which Calicut is situated, has a long history of international maritime trade going back to the era of the Roman empire. Its chief export to the western world was black pepper; other items produced in Malabar were ginger, cardamom, teak (a hard wood used in ship building), and the aromatic sandalwood. Because indigenous social groups were almost entirely preoccupied with local agrarian matters, maritime trade along the Malabar coast had always been in the hands of immigrant trading communities. Two of the immigrant communities were the Syrian Christians and the Jews, who had been resident in Kerala probably hundreds of years before their presence is definitively attested in copper-plate grants, from the ninth and late tenth centuries, respectively. Similarly, although the earliest proof of Muslim presence dates back only to the ninth century, Arab sailors must have come to the Malabar coast long before the advent of Islam. Hindu mercantile groups from other areas of India had joined the cosmopolitan society of the Malabar coast by the fifteenth century, among whom were Chettis from the southeastern coast and Baniyas from Gujarat in western India.

Calicut was such a bustling emporium that it was visited even by Chinese ships – Ibn Battuta witnessed thirteen of them upon his arrival in Calicut during the 1340s. The Chinese came to “the great country of the Western Ocean,” as Ma Huan described Calicut a century later, in order to acquire items like frankincense and myrrh from the Middle East as well as pepper, diamonds, pearls, and cotton cloth from India. In exchange, they sold Chinese silks and ceramics which were in high demand in both India and areas to its west. Establishing diplomatic relations with the Zamorin, which involved the exchange of trade items, was the main objective behind the first state-sponsored naval expedition to Calicut. Led by Admiral Cheng Ho (who was accompanied on later expeditions by Ma Huan, acting as translator), it included 317 ships and over 27,000 men. Calicut continued to be a major stop on Cheng Ho’s subsequent voyages, but he gradually journeyed farther west: to Hormuz, Aden, and eventually Mogadishu on the east coast of Africa.

Cheng Ho’s ships were exceptional in traversing the entire Indian Ocean from one end to the other; instead, most ships just sailed one segment of that expanse: from south China to Java or Malacca, from Malacca to Sri Lanka or India, and from the subcontinent to the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea, and then to destinations westward. The great appeal of the Malabar coast was the availability of goods from China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and other areas of India, which were brought there for trans-shipment because of its geographical location as a midway point. When Vasco da Gama, sailing on behalf of the Portuguese crown, became the first European to find a direct sea route to Asia in 1498, it was to Calicut that he headed in search of pepper and fine spices.

Portuguese hostility toward the Muslim ships and traders who frequented the Malabar coast soon led to open conflict and introduced a new phenomenon to the Indian Ocean: the use of violence as a means of furthering commercial objectives. The artillery mounted on Portuguese ships, which were heavier than the indigenous vessels, gave them a decisive advantage and enabled them to rapidly seize a series of coastal sites including the Sri Lankan port of Colombo in 1505, the Malay port of Malacca in 1511, and the Persian Gulf port of Hormuz in 1515. With possession of this string of strategically located harbor cities, the Portuguese tried to control all sea trade in spices from Asia to Europe. They also profited from the maritime trade within Indian Ocean waters, through the requirement that local ships pay custom duties to them or face bombardment. The center of the maritime empire the Portuguese established was Goa, a port seized in 1510 which was further north on India’s west coast than the Malabar region. Portuguese Goa was in direct competition with Calicut, which declined in importance over the long run. The introduction of Roman Catholicism and the emergence of a mixed population through intermarriage between the Portuguese and local women were two of the most important consequences of the Portuguese arrival, adding even more to the cultural diversity of India’s west coast.

On India’s southeastern or Coromandel coast, Pulicat was the major port in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Situated on the border between modern Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Pulicat was part of Vijayanagara territory and was linked to the capital by a road. Textiles were the principal export from Pulicat to Southeast Asia, sent by Muslim and Hindu merchants from Coromandel and a diasporic community of Armenian traders. The imports included Indonesian spices (nutmeg, cloves, and mace) and non-precious metals. Pulicat also had an on-going coastal trade with Bengal, which supplied many foodstuffs to the Coromandel coast and Sri Lanka and possibly some of its better textiles. Bengal was renowned for the quality of its textiles, for Ma Huan names six different kinds of fine Bengal cloth, both cotton and silken.6 Bengal too had maritime links with Southeast Asia. Although ships and sailors from other parts of the world appear to have dominated the international trade, Indians had a greater role in the shipping within the waters of India and Sri Lanka and, to a lesser extent, to Southeast Asia.

Domestic economy

Little of what was being bought and sold in the ports of Calicut, Pulicat, Cambay in Gujarat, or Chittagong in Bangladesh was produced in their immediate vicinities. Most commodities were brought to these major emporia by boats engaged in coastal trading or overland by pack bullock. Since the thirteenth century, the volume of domestic trade in peninsular India had increased for reasons that had little to do with the international maritime trade. South India’s thriving networks of internal trade and production of marketable commodities certainly contributed to the success of India’s international port cities and, in turn, received an additional boost from international demand. Despite the greater attention paid by historians to the international commerce of this era, the domestic sector was much larger in scale and value.

Even before the Vijayanagara period, the peninsula’s agrarian economy had been growing due to construction of new irrigational facilities, large reservoirs that captured rainfall and the seasonal flows of small streams. The agricultural productivity of the semi-arid uplands was considerably enhanced by better water supplies and, as a result, the agrarian frontier was gradually pushed back into more marginal areas. Commercial agriculture – that is, the cultivation of crops for sale – increased, and different localities specialized in different products including cotton, indigo, and sugarcane. These commercial crops had to be hauled long distances, for sale in market towns, periodic fairs, and distribution points along the coasts. Long-distance trade during the Vijayanagara era was facilitated by the development of excellent roads linking the main urban centers and by the creation of roadside facilities for travelers.

At least eighty major trade centers are mentioned within Vijayanagara territory, a clear indication that urbanization was on the rise. The greatest of all was the Vijayanagara capital, with an estimated population of 300,000 to 400,000. It sprawled out over a huge area – the central city was an estimated 25 square kilometers in size, while the greater metropolitan area, encompassing the outermost fortifications as well as the city’s waterworks, covered as much as 650 square kilometers. The city’s people must have consumed massive quantities of food, while the demand for luxury goods from the kingdom’s ruling elite, who were congregated at the capital, was no doubt considerable. The extent to which trade networks were centered on the capital is clear from the rapid decline of Bhatkal and Pulicat ports after the city was abandoned. The much smaller kingdom that was left after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Talikota in 1565 shifted its base to southern Andhra and thus away from the old supply routes. The activities of the Portuguese, who had arrived in India in 1498, were also a contributing factor, but the primary cause for the decay of Bhatkal and Pulicat was the loss of the Vijayanagara market, with its enormous consumer demand and purchasing power. Pulicat was supplanted by Masulipatnam, the chief entrepôt of the growing Golkonda kingdom, once again demonstrating the impact of political centers on the geographic patterning of trade.

Large temple complexes were also major consumers of goods and served as a stimulus to trade. Temples accumulated large quantities of land, livestock, and valuables like gems, precious metals, and coins from the donations of pious pilgrims. Much of this wealth was used to support daily rituals in worship of temple deities as well as for periodic festivals, both of which increased in number and in scale over the Vijayanagara period. Oils and incense were lighted for the gods’ pleasure, perfumes and flowers adorned their images, and offerings of foods were made several times a day. In addition to administrators, priests, cooks, gardeners, and guards, large temples also had musicians and dancers to entertain and honor the gods. Sculptors, metalworkers, and other artisans found employment in the towns that sprang up around large temples, as did merchants catering to the pilgrim trade.

The hundreds of inscriptions at the Shri Venkateshvara temple in Tirupati record the great expansion in ritual activities that occurred during the Vijayanagara period. According to Burton Stein, the temple received grants of over a hundred villages as well as large sums of cash from more than 300 donors. Most of the endowments, whether in the form of land or money, were meant to support ritual services, both on a daily basis and on special festive occasions. At Tirupati, as at other temples belonging to the Shri Vaishnava sect, food offerings were of particular centrality. While food given to the deity at Shiva temples was consumed only by priests, at Shri Vaishnava temples the food was redistributed to donors and pilgrims as a sacred substance (prasada). The volume of food provided to the god, and later to his devotees, reached a surprisingly high level; by one calculation, the Shri Venkateshvara temple had sufficient resources in 1504 to feed over 1,400 pilgrims on an ordinary day and about 3,800 on a festival day.

Tirupati was not a typical situation, for it was one of the largest centers of the Shri Vaishnava sect, whose influence had been gradually spreading northward from the Tamil country since the days of the famous theologian, Ramanuja, c. 1100. Ramanuja integrated the orthodox philosophy of the Sanskrit Vedanta, which emphasized a transcendent and universal absolute essence (brahman), with the emotional devotion to a personal god (bhakti) that had been characteristic of the Tamil region for centuries. The Shri Vaishnava movement developed around temple complexes that were favored by Vijayanagara kings and high officials, more than those of any other persuasion, from the late fifteenth century onward. Each of the forms of Vishnu enshrined in a Shri Vaishnava temple has a distinct life history and a different appeal, as is the case with all south Indian deities. Lord Venkateshvara of Tirupati, for instance, takes the shape of an unusually large image that supposedly manifested itself in an ant-hill. It is commonly believed that he is especially receptive to devotees who vow to shave their heads in return for a boon.

Records of donations to temples like Tirupati show that merchants and skilled artisans benefited from the growing prosperity of Vijayanagara India. So, for example, professional organizations of traders would agree to make voluntary contributions to a specific temple, usually assessed as a percentage of goods sold. Individual merchants might make donations of land or cash, as did some wealthy weavers and workers in precious metals. While merchant-traders had been occasional patrons of temples even earlier, it was only in the Vijayanagara period that skilled artisans became prosperous enough to do so. As their economic standing rose, weavers and other artisan communities began to demand more social recognition and sought prominent roles in temple ceremonies. Many artisans appear to have favored the Tengalai branch of the Shri Vaishnava sect, which used the vernacular Tamil language in its liturgy rather than Sanskrit and was thus more accessible to the non-Brahmin and non-elite elements of society. The Tamil community of weavers known as the Kaikkola are one example. They successfully attained positions of responsibility at the two major Tengalai temples, Shrirangam and Tirupati. At the latter, they were in charge of the important task of distributing consecrated food offerings to the worshippers.

The growing trade and urbanization of Vijayanagara India parallel trends that had occurred earlier in north India at the height of the Delhi Sultanate. During the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, south India became the most dynamic area of the subcontinent both economically and culturally. This was an age of physical mobility, social diversity, and cross-cultural borrowing all over the Indian peninsula. The reality that some ruling elites were Muslim while others were Hindu made a considerable difference in what institutions and individuals received the bulk of that state’s religious patronage. It also determined to a considerable degree what artistic styles and literary traditions would be prominent at a court. In countless other respects, however, ranging from revenue systems to military technologies to palace architecture, the large kingdoms of the peninsula were strikingly alike.

Gawilghur and the End of the Second Anglo-Maratha War Part I

Arthur Wellesley

Gawilghur Fort

A resounding victory won at small cost solves many military problems. The war against the Mahrattas was going astonishingly well in Wellesley’s immediate theatre of operations. After the battle on 29 November 1803 both British armies were in fine physical and mental condition. The enemy was still numerous, but Mahratta morale was low.

Elsewhere in India there was more good news. On 1 November General Lake won decisively at Laswaree in a battle comparable to Assaye in viciousness and in what it achieved. Perron was utterly defeated. As we have seen, Scindia had lost in Guzerat also; Baroch had fallen. Colonel John Murray of the King’s 84th Foot had been engaged in a local conflict on behalf of the Gaikwar against a rival for the throne. Murray did better than expected and was able to consider an advance on Scindia’s capital at Ougein. Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. R. Harcourt of the King’s 12th Foot had conquered Berar’s entire province of Cuttack with a force of no more than 3,000. This campaign was complicated by weather and terrain, but it did not involve a great deal of fighting. For the first time British controlled territory extended along the coast from Madras to Calcutta. The Mahratta Confederacy no longer touched on the Bay of Bengal.

The two British armies that had won at Argaum moved by easy stages carrying their wounded towards Ellichpoor. On 3 December Wellesley camped only fifteen miles south of Gawilghur and reported to Stuart in Madras that from the plain ‘It does not appear to be as strong as many hill forts in Mysore taken by our troops.’ Even nowadays the resemblance to Nundydroog is remarkable when Gawilghur is observed from the south, though Gawilghur is much larger. The fortress town was thought to contain Berar’s treasure and some of his family. He also used it as a kind of fortified hot-weather retreat. But British armies in India usually had less trouble taking hill forts of all types than one would expect from looking at the places.

A hospital was established at Ellichpoor. Wellesley then apparently approached to within two miles of Gawilghur from the south south-east during a personal reconnaissance. The principal problem in attacking the fortress was one of getting close to it.

The approaches from the south consisted of two ‘roads’ leading to the fortress from the valley below. The easterly approach was so difficult that it would not even accommodate bullocks. It is still in use, but one must climb, not walk. The westerly road was narrow and steep, but moderately loaded carriage bullocks could go up. It was scarped on both sides at the top, however, and had the final disadvantage of passing for half a mile within point-blank range of the guns on the west wall of the Inner Fort.

If the fortress-town had been as inaccessible on all sides as it was from the south, the place might have been impregnable. Unfortunately for Berar’s garrison, the two rocky hills on which the fortress had been built were connected on the north by a narrow tongue of land to a whole low range of flattened mountains of similar elevation (about 3,600 feet) which extended east and west for many miles. Since the place could not be taken from the south, it had to be besieged from the north. At Ellichpoor, which was part of Hyderabad and in possession of the Nizam’s killadar, Wellesley learnt that the main approach to Gawilghur was from the north and lay along the narrow tongue of land.

The information available at Ellichpoor was meagre perhaps because Gawilghur, though only thirteen miles away as the crow flies, was in another country and much further by the only practical route which led through hilly jungle – a glorified path not wide enough for any wheeled vehicle. On the other hand, the jungle was not as impenetrable as that in India ‘below the ghauts’. Madras pioneers with strong working parties from the infantry should be able to help the bullocks and elephants pull and push the artillery up the hills and then west along the more or less flat crests. The total distance was about twenty miles.

Wellesley began his operations from Ellichpoor on 6 December 1803. He sent Chalmers and the 1/2 Madras from his own army to clear Deogaum and the valley four miles south of Gawilghur. From Stevenson’s army he sent Captain Alexander Maitland with the 1/6 Madras and two companies of the King’s 94th ‘to seize the fortified village of Damergaum which covers the entrance to the mountains’. Both these detachments succeeded in their missions, although Mahratta strength in the area was considerable. By this time Gawilghur was known to contain not only its normal garrison, but most of the survivors of Manoo Bappoo’s regular infantry. Enemy patrols were active in the foothills, so ample guards would have to be left at Ellichpoor for the hospital.

The two British armies moved out of Ellichpoor at sunrise on the 7th. Wellesley advanced only as far as the village of Deogaum, nine miles from his starting place and in a direct line between Ellichpoor and Gawilghur. A standard camp was established near the village. Stevenson’s army, temporarily reinforced by two of Wellesley’s iron 12-pounders and artillery and engineer personnel, had a much more difficult assignment. The troops began to climb the Gawilghur hills at Damergaum and continued into rugged country. They had to cut out trees and build roads with earth and rock, at one point filling in a chasm to save miles of additional road. After four days of exhausting work Stevenson’s army complete with its battering artillery and ammunition reached the village of Lobada on the ridge level with Gawilghur.

From this side the fortress was not so awe-inspiring. Although it was built on the summits of two hills with deep and precipitous slopes almost all round, a corridor about 400 yards broad led from the hills to the northern wall. The tongue of land was not open to the wall; two-thirds of it was protected by a tank or artificial lake nearly full of water. There remained, however, a ribbon of meadow about 120 yards wide which led up to the double northern wall with an extremely complicated entrance system.

Wellesley was at Lobada on the evening of 10 December because Stevenson’s health had not improved. For the next five days he was to divide his time almost evenly between the two armies. This involved a ride of just over twelve miles from Deogaum to Lobada over the rough new road, but he could probably cover the distance in about an hour and a half.

During the night of the nth a breaching battery was begun on the crest of a small rise overlooking the tank only 250 yards from the outermost wall. Fire was opened on the morning of the 12th from two 18-pounders and three iron 12-pounders. There was an enfilading battery of less powerful pieces – two such batteries later on – set further back and to the east to keep enemy personnel from repairing the walls or retrenching the breach.

The weather of India is hard on masonry. The stone used originally at Gawilghur was probably a by-product of scarping the hilltops on which the place was built, and was not good building stone. As at Ahmednuggur, the old solid-masonry walls appeared stronger than they actually were; 12-pounder and 18-pounder shot travelling at more than 1,200 feet per second caused extreme damage after a few hours. Almost every round brought down chunks of masonry. There were to be three breaches in all, a wide one in the lower wall and two in the upper structure.

The fortifications of Gawilghur still are quite complicated. They were built to fit the terrain rather than according to any regular plan. Gawilghur had, therefore, a weakness common to all fortresses of India design; it had little or no means of delivering flanking fire. The outer defences extended for more than six miles and varied in strength in accordance with the designers’ estimates of the inaccessibility to an enemy. In March 1968, for instance, I found one stretch of nearly a mile on the north-east side of the Inner Fort where I could see no trace of any fortifications. In 1803 there might have been a palisade or a trench of some sort, but nothing substantial since the slopes below were unclimbable from a military point of view. Such gaps in the fortifications did not constitute a physical weakness and did not contribute to the ultimate fall of Gawilghur. But they may have undermined the morale of the defenders.

The enemy had more than fifty pieces of artillery on the walls and in cavaliers, concentrated where targets were likely to appear. Some of the guns were large. One is still there, an enormous wrought-iron gun mounted on a small mamelon on the north side of the Inner Fort which could fire through nearly 180 degrees at any target that appeared on, or south of, the crest to the north. Another similar piece was mounted so as to fire into the valley to the south; its balls were said to carry for a distance of several miles, but accuracy would have been poor and a single plunging ball would have been most ineffective.

Stevenson’s army had only an imperfect knowledge of Gawilghur’s internal design. No accurate plan or sketch was available. The British did not understand the communications between the smaller, but slightly higher, Outer Fort on the north-western hill and the Inner Fort on the larger south-eastern hill which was unapproachable except by way of the Outer Fort. The two flat peaks were separated by an irregular ravine up to 300 feet deep, but it could not be clearly seen from any accessible point to the north. In addition to fortifications the Inner Fort contained a number of tanks and many solid buildings. It was at that time a considerable town.

In December 1803 Gawilghur had a garrison of 2,000–4,000 men under a Punjabi killadar, whose name may have been Beny Singh, and a civilian population of about 15,000–30,000. After Argaum Manoo Bappoo and some 4,000–6,000 of his regular infantry came in, accompanied undoubtedly by camp followers who in Mahratta armies were often semi-armed.1 Gawilghur was naturally strong, well fortified by Indian standards and amply garrisoned. Weapons, ammunition and military equipment were plentiful. The tanks were still reasonably full in spite of the poor monsoon and there was plenty of grain.

Throughout history, however, sieges have depended more on skill and morale than on walls and weapons. Wellesley’s engineers were well trained and veterans of similar operations in India. They had skilled pioneers to do their work. The gunners knew how to hit where their shot would be most effective and how to maintain their pieces in action efficiently. The assault would be led by active and courageous British officers who were exceptionally capable with their personal weapons.

By contrast, the Mahratta leaders had little knowledge or skill in the defence of their fortress. They did not try to prevent Stevenson’s army from approaching the ‘isthmus’ which was the only effective breaching ground. They made no effort to protect the wall with an earthen glacis or any form of outwork. They did not fire during the night of the nth at the place where the main battery had to be located.

We should look briefly at what had occurred south of Gawilghur. Between 6 and 8 December Wellesley had driven in all the Mahratta pickets, but he did not endeavour to invest the enormous fortress. He kept the bulk of his troops in camp at Deogaum four miles away, though he had a forward concentration post in the small village of Baury at the junction of ‘roads’ from the south and the north-west gates. British patrols pushed north on both tracks to within a musket shot of the walls. The difficult eastern route to the south gate of the Inner Fort was the only one that could possibly be used to get artillery within range of the fortifications. The other road was better in that it could accommodate draft animals, but was commanded by fire from the guns on the walls of the Inner Fort.

EIC engineers had much experience in moving guns over impossible terrain mainly by manpower. They attempted to get Wellesley’s two remaining iron 12-pounders up the eastern route on the night of the nth. The Indian and, perhaps, European pioneers were reinforced by working parties of muscular Scots from the 74th and 78th regiments. If the task was humanly possible, these men would accomplish it.

Early in the evening engineers, pioneers, artillerymen and working parties began their efforts. We should remember that they had to do their work without artificial illumination, and there was no possibility of dragging the pieces up complete with their carriages – the wheels would not roll over the small steep cliffs. Stripping the carriages was no problem, but each gun, in modern terminology the tube only, became a nine-foot fiend weighing 4,100 pounds (32 cwt) able to crush men with the smallest slip or roll. There was no way to secure tackle above, not even room for a team to pull from a distance. Elephants, which normally were used in all difficult gun movements, could not negotiate the terrain.

The job simply could not be done; the route was too steep and too uneven. After ten hours’ labour, the men buried the pieces under debris and retired as dawn was coming. On the night of the 12th they did manage to get forward two brass 12-pounders and two 5·5-inch howitzers, much lighter pieces, which they mounted in a battery within 400 yards of the south gateway, but about 450 feet below it. The brass 12-pounders had to fire at an elevation of almost thirty degrees and did no serious damage. Their shot are said to have rebounded back to the guns themselves and perhaps into the valley below. The battery was more like a sheepfold than a normal emplacement.

Stevenson’s battering pieces did far better on the northern side. They opened on the 12th, and by the morning of the 14th the breaches were thought practical: an armed man could climb into the fortress. Wellesley had a close look with a telescope and decided on an assault the next day. Stevenson was in no better health, so Wellesley continued to direct both armies, giving verbal orders and discussing all pertinent details with Stevenson’s corps commanders. He confirmed his instructions in writing later that day from his camp at Deogaum.

Wellesley knew from his own inspection that Stevenson’s breaches into Gawilghur were moderately difficult; if the garrison worked hard at repairing the defences on the night of the 14th, they might be un-negotiable the next morning. A skilful fortress commander would surely do this and perhaps place mines and other obstacles in the way of the assault. To discourage such measures, however, a large gun loaded with grape was discharged at the breaches every twenty minutes throughout the night.

A dawn assault had some advantage, but not enough to outweigh a few hours’ additional battering if it should be found necessary. Wellesley also wanted the enemy inside Gawilghur to see his two powerful British forces approaching from the south. The assault was set for 10 a.m.

Wellesley’s attack from the south had no hope of taking the place, but some of the Mahrattas inside had surely heard of the British escalade of the pettah at Ahmednuggur. Wellesley was still relying on audacity. If the Mahrattas had fought skilfully and courageously, Gawilghur could hardly have been taken at all, at least not on the 15th. But the image of British invincibility was already established. Even Hindoos who did not place such a high value on their lives as Europeans could fight effectively only in an atmosphere of some hope.

Stevenson’s attack through the northern breaches was to be led by Lieutenant-Colonel William Kenny of the 1/11 Madras with the grenadier company and two battalion companies of the King’s 94th and the flank companies of three EIC battalions – his own, the 2/11 and the 2/7 Madras. There were also small units of pioneers and artillery, making a total of about 1,000 men in all.

The force that would make the second assault through the breaches if the first should fail, or would follow into the Outer Fort if it succeeded, was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Peter C. Desse of the 2/2 Madras; he had the light and two more battalion companies of the King’s 94th with the flank companies of the other three EIC battalions of Stevenson’s army – the 2/2, the 1/6, and the 2/9 Madras. Desse also had pioneers and artillery for a total of about 1,000 fighting men.

Behind these two forces Major James Campbell of the King’s 94th led the other four battalion companies of his corps, backed up by the battalion companies of the 2/7, the 1/11, and the 2/11 Madras under EIC Lieutenant-Colonel John Haliburton, who was senior to all officers except Stevenson in the army. We will hear more of Haliburton.

The assaults were to be pressed home regardless of cost; a total of about 4,600 first-quality fighting men were assembled in the four assault commands. Only EIC Lieutenant-Colonel H. Maclean with the other three EIC battalions less their flank companies was held in camp as a reserve.

Gawilghur and the End of the Second Anglo-Maratha War Part II

Wellesley’s two southern, essentially diversionary, assaults were commanded by Wallace and Chalmers. Wallace was to take the steep route to the southernmost gate and had his own under-strength King’s 74th, the right wing of the King’s 78th, and the ever-reliable 1/8 Madras; Chalmers was to ascend by the less difficult, though far from easy, road which led round the west side to the Outer Fort and was commanded by heavy guns on the west wall of the Inner Fort. He had the left wing of the King’s 78th and the 1/10 Madras.

Wallace and Chalmers began their movement on time, but the Mahratta killadar (Beny Singh?) apparently tried to negotiate for terms before the assault. Stevenson, in spite of his illness, was now at hand to take charge of such a situation. Nothing but surrender at discretion was acceptable and the Mahrattas were given only half an hour to decide. However, when the enemy was seen to be violating the truce Stevenson ordered Kenny forward before the time had elapsed.

Stevenson’s storming parties swept up the breach in the approved fashion of the time and apparently without serious difficulty. The Scots, followed by the sepoy flankers, went into Gawilghur covered by a storm of grape from all three British batteries which lifted only as they began to climb into the line of fire. A few brave Mahrattas rushed forward to contest the narrow passages at the top, but with shock weapons only. No effort had been made to retrench, or to close the breach with gambions. There were many cannons and scores of wall-pieces, but none had been shifted to sweep the breaches. The greater physical strength and discipline of the Highlanders were too much for the enemy in the close confines of the breach itself and the passages which lay beyond it. Their bayonets and clubbed muskets quickly killed almost every man that ventured to oppose them. A single Mahratta is said to have fought on equal terms with the assaulters for a time, but he too was killed.

Kenny’s party entered the Outer Fort with relatively minor casualties, but apparently then split up. Remember, no one in the British camp knew much about the lay-out of Gawilghur. One group which probably went through the right-hand upper breach moved slightly west of south pressing their enemies towards the gate Chalmers was approaching. This ‘north-west’ gate actually lay in the south wall of the Outer Fort. In an endeavour to escape from some of Kenny’s men, the garrison opened this gate and ran head on into Chalmers and the left wing of the 78th. These unfortunate men had just escaped from Scots in trews and were faced with more in kilts. They were caught literally between two fires. Those who had already emerged from the gate were on a narrow scarped causeway blocked by red giants behind viciously gleaming bayonets. The Highlanders’ blood was fired by the audacious ascent and the skirling pipes. The situation for the enemy, especially at the head of their narrow column, could hardly have been worse. Heavy bullets from Brown Bess muskets were ploughing into them, front and rear. The survivors had a choice between the bayonets and the jagged rocks below. This double-ended slaughter was soon over. Chalmers’ column from the valley below entered the Outer Fort.

Kenny himself and some of his men probably used the left-hand upper breach, went straight south and then east of south towards the Inner Fort. They soon received the support of Desse’s units which had cleared the breaches and moved in the same direction. For the first time the significance of the half-seen ravine between the two hills became apparent. The British columns had overwhelmed the Outer Fort, but they were as far from taking the larger and more powerful Inner Fort as on the day before. The most formidable defences in Gawilghur, the so-called ‘third wall’, lie south of the ravine. On this side the only entrance is through a series of five massive gates with long, steep and narrow angled passages between. The entire route was swept by fire from battlements along the top of each passage. This retreat route for the garrison in the Outer Fort was apparently prematurely closed which led to the slaughter at the ‘north-west’ gate.

The series of gates and passages from the Outer into the Inner Fort could probably have been forced by British infantry, perhaps with the aid of an artillery piece, but it would have been a long and costly fight. Fortunately, it was unnecessary. Kenny and Desse formed their twelve companies of sepoy flankers, or at least a major part of them, in line at the bottom of the ravine. They extended a distance of about 350 yards from east to west, filling most or all of the portion of the ravine between the Inner and Outer Forts. The sepoys were told to fire at any enemy heads appearing above the ‘third wall’ battlements. Kenny then led the three companies of Scots under his command at the succession of gates. He fell mortally wounded, but his units began to make some progress.

Meanwhile, there was another development. The ‘third wall’ along the north-west side of the Inner Fort is built along the top of a steep cliff. From the north-east – the only place from which much of it could be seen before the assault – this cliff seemed near impossible to climb. However, Captain Campbell1 of the light company of the King’s 94th had studied it and the wall above with a telescope, perhaps from well down in the chasm. He believed that it could be climbed and led his men up a route he had already chosen. They carried with them a single sturdy ladder, not more than fifteen feet long, and reached the base of the wall on the top of the cliff without being discovered. They were taking full advantage of the covering fire from Desse’s sepoys. Kenny’s assault on the series of gates and twisting passages undoubtedly occupied most of the garrison’s attention.

Campbell was the first man up the ladder and leapt down inside, sword in hand, followed quickly by his men. For a few seconds the Scots had to fight for their lives. Again physical strength, discipline and courage was on their side. Once all eighty of them were inside, the local opposition lost heart. Campbell led his men east behind the battlements to the head of the line of passages and gates and started opening them one at a time from the top. There were several short, bloody clashes, but the Mahrattas were always over borne.

Ten minutes later Campbell and his men admitted the rest of the British force into the Inner Fort. All organized resistance collapsed soon thereafter. Elphinstone tells us that he and a small party, haphazardly collected, opened the southern gate so that Wallace’s column could enter. The colours of Berar were replaced by those of the King’s 78th for which an even higher spot was found.

Elphinstone gives, perhaps unintentionally, an interesting picture of Wellesley’s own movements during the storm of Gawilghur. On the morning of the 15th, Stevenson asked the young civilian, ‘Will you go down from the fort to the valley below, or ride round by Damer-gaum, to tell the General what happens?’

‘Neither, Sir! We are going to meet inside.’

Wellesley was never again so far forward in action as at Sultanpetah Tope. He lost control of a whole situation there because he was leading in a physical sense, but he was not going to sit in his tent at Deogaum and wait for someone to bring him news of the assault on Gawilghur. He entered the Inner Fort with Wallace, probably between the right wing of the 78th and the 74th.

British casualties were light, a total of 126. The Mahrattas lost tragically. Wellesley was to write three weeks later that the loss of ‘the enemy was immense. The killadar, all the principal officers, and the greater part of the garrison were killed.’ The killadar atoned somewhat for his military inefficiency by dying sword in hand. So did Manoo Bapoo who had aimed so high and failed so ignominiously at Argaum. The fighting at the breaches and both inside and outside the ‘north-west’ gate was excessively bloody. There were some other spots of extreme resistance which led to severe enemy casualties. Quarter was not normally given when fortresses were stormed in India; the danger was too great that prisoners taken would return to the fight.

Some historians have assumed that practically the entire garrison of Gawilghur perished because they could not escape. I disagree; the walls were never high nor was the descent into the ravine unmanageable. In my opinion an active man with a turban of tough material that could be used as a rope could leave Gawilghur at almost any point and get away safely. There still is, for instance, a way out from the extreme eastern corner where a middle-aged American can get out and back again even without a turban. I believe there were at least 8,000 fighting men inside Gawilghur, of whom more than half got away.

Gawilghur contained fifty-two cannon, including the big wrought-iron pieces already mentioned, and 150 smaller wall-pieces which apparently were -pounders. The garrison had 2,000 new British Brown Bess muskets complete with bayonets, scabbards, belts and cartridge boxes. There were, of course, many other weapons, including matchlocks and bows and arrows, but Berar’s entire regular infantry had modern arms, most of them made in Agra probably after the French pattern.

There had been rumours in the British camps that Gawilghur contained treasure of gold and silver coin, plate and jewels belonging to the Rajah of Berar. The treasure was not discovered, although the British found tons of copper coins together with some silver bowls and dishes worth less than 300,000 rupees in all. No other coins and no gold vessels were discovered, nor were any jewels captured for the public treasury, although individual soldiers undoubtedly did obtain some loot. If the treasure ever had been kept in Gawilghur, and there seems to be little reason to doubt that some at least had been there, the Mah-rattas got it out in time. The British armies neither tried nor could possibly have succeeded in surrounding the place. It is also possible that the treasure was hidden and recovered later. Gawilghur was too large for an efficient search.

British soldiers, particularly the Light Company of the King’s 94th, performed superbly in the taking of Gawilghur. The routes from the valley below were extremely rough and steep. Had Chalmers not fortuitously found his gate open, the passages behind it appear defensible by boys with rocks. The same is true of the southern entrance to the Inner Fort.

Wellesley’s own contribution was as much physical as mental. He directed both armies, which meant an average of at least thirty-five miles of riding each day, much of it over a bad new road. He made no mistakes in the siege and assaults, but the victory depended in about equal parts on the professional skills of his armies, especially the engineers and artillerymen, and on the dominance of the Scottish infantry already established on the plain of Argaum and in the rolling country between the Kaitna and the Juah. Wellesley was able to retain the initiative and keep pressure on the enemy. He won with a combination of military expertise, fighting efficiency and audacity.

A military victory again solved problems. The Rajah of Berar was now nearly defenceless and his capital at Nagpoor lay open to an advance from Ellichpoor only eighty miles north-east. For once, a Mahratta chief had no desire for diplomatic manoeuvring. Berar wanted peace on any terms as quickly as possible. His vakels came the day after Gawilghur fell.

The Governor-General had given Wellesley command of all military forces and control of all British Residents in the Deccan; he had also granted him complete authority to negotiate with both Berar and Scindia. This appointment was of extreme consequence; Wellesley was authorized to deal with the two rulers not only over their territory in the Deccan, but in the rest of India as well. Nominally, Scindia had controlled territory far to the north around Delhi and Agra; Berar had ruled Cuttack (his littoral on the Bay of Bengal). Much of these areas had now been taken from them. In those days conquered territory was not often returned. But a peace treaty would have to state precisely each territorial gain for the EIC, the Peshwa and the Nizam, and every other condition in favour of the British and their allies. Wellesley was aware that the enemy was extremely capable at interpreting documents that were the least bit ambiguous in their interest. His military responsibility would cease with the restoring of peace, but the treaties he made might last for generations.

Few young professional soldiers have had such great political and diplomatic responsibility and none have handled it better. The Treaty of Deogaum was concluded with Berar three days after the fall of Gawilghur. The Rajah was to disband his army, to receive a British Resident, to give up all of Cuttack and to surrender to the EIC and its allies his domains to the west of the Werdah river. The treaty was extremely advantageous to the British administration in India, but left the State of Berar still in being. The Wellesleys did not want to destroy the old order completely, but just to mould it according to their own ideas. The Rajah would become a minor power within a few years, but his people would benefit from an imposed peace and what was likely to be a more comfortable and prosperous situation.

What appeared to be a simple, easily interpreted clause of the treaty gave rise to a problem. Wellesley had chosen the Werdah, a large and well defined stream, as a definite frontier between the territories of Hyderabad and Berar. As early as 24 October Wellesley wrote to the younger Kirkpatrick, who still was British Resident at Hyderabad, for a complete list of the Nizam’s districts and villages, but none was furnished. However, he was told by the Nizam’s chief representative in his camp, Rajah Mohiput Ram, that the Nizam had no territory east of the Werdah. After the treaty was signed, Wellesley discovered that the Nizam did in fact have three districts on that side of the river. Mohiput Ram had been disloyal to his master. On 9 January 1804 Wellesley wrote to the Governor-General, ‘It is scarcely possible to believe that Rajah Mohiput Ram did not know that the Soubah of the Deccan had territories on the left bank of the Wurda, but he told me upon more than one occasion that he had none. But supposing him to have had a knowledge of the extent of his master’s territories in that quarter, his conduct in deceiving me upon that subject is not more extraordinary than his having been the channel by which a present of five lacs of rupees was offered to me provided I would consent to make peace with the Rajah of Berar on condition of his ceding to the Company the province of Cuttack only.’ Treaty or no treaty, Wellesley had no intention of depriving the Nizam of territory that had been long in his possession, even though the new frontier became less workable.

Wellesley realized, of course, that a treaty signed by an Indian prince was valueless in itself. If Berar was not made to abide by the British interpretation of this instrument, he certainly would not do so. Stevenson was told to repair his gun carriages, return the men and material borrowed from Wellesley’s army and return to Ellichpoor from Gawilghur by the route that he went up. He was then to move east towards Nagpoor until Berar proved his sincerity, or at least complied because of his inability to do anything else.

Scindia was not personally involved in the siege and fall of Gawilghur. For reasons best known to himself he neither interfered with the British armies there nor tried to raid Poona or Hyderabad. Now he was even more anxious for peace than during the short-lived armistice before Argaum. Wellesley’s victory at Argaum followed by the capture of Gawilghur put the British in as superior a position to Scindia as they were to Berar. The former had already lost heavily in Guzerat and might lose his capital to British forces operating from there. As we have seen, Murray was ready to march on Ougein on receipt of Wellesley’s orders to do so.

By now Lake had defeated Perron completely. The area from south of Agra to north of Delhi was British; so was a considerable area to the south-east known as Bundelcund. With Berar and Perron defeated and Holkar neutral, Scindia was virtually helpless; British armies could attack his remaining territories in Hindostan from the south, west, east and north. Arthur could have dictated severe terms to Scindia, but the Wellesley policy was not to destroy Indian states, just to change them enough to make sure they fitted into their new concept of India. In many respects subsidiary treaties were better than extending the Company’s direct control.

The treaty with Scindia was signed on 30 December 1803. He was to receive an EIC subsidiary force similar to those at Hyderabad and Poona. He was to give up a great deal of territory in the north, some in Guzerat and all his possessions south of the Godavery, including the magnificent fortress at Ahmednuggur, except for hereditary holdings of sentimental but small actual consequence. These were to be held for revenue only and not to be occupied by military units of any type.

More humiliating, all disagreements between Scindia and the Nizam or the Peshwa were now to be arbitrated by the British. On the other hand, Wellesley refused to allow Mohiput Ram and his Hyderabad forces to keep some of Scindia’s towns and villages taken after Assaye and Argaum which were not confirmed to the Nizam in the treaty. Scindia conceivably might be as good an ally in future as the new Nizam. The French officers in Scindia’s Regular Battalions were eliminated – no foreigners unacceptable to the British were to be admitted to his territory.

At this time another political-military development was completed, the alliance between the British, the Peshwa and Amrut Rao. Amrut Rao joined Wellesley’s armies with a considerable body of cavalry on 22 December. Negotiations had been going on for months. Amrut, the Peshwa’s brother by adoption, had never completely gone over to Holkar. Whatever Amrut’s intentions might have been, Wellesley’s final rush for the Peshwa’s capital in April had prevented him from burning the city. He had wanted to come over to the British since Wellesley’s arrival at Poona. Loyalty to Bajee Rao was secondary to his desire to be on the winning side. Amrut Rao was abler than his adopted brother. Wellesley compared them in his dispatch to the Governor-General’s secretary of 26 January 1804. Having complained of the Peshwa he continues, ‘I do know that if I was to give the government over to Amrut Rao I should establish there a most able fellow, who, if he should prove treacherous, would be a worse thorn in the side of the British Government than the creature who is Peshwa at present can ever be.’

British prestige in India had never been so high. Half a dozen armies had won quickly and decisively, sometimes against nearly impossible odds. The Governor-General’s diplomacy had been extremely successful without sacrificing the reputation for fairness and honesty so coveted by all the Wellesleys. The change from the spring of 1798 to the beginning of 1804 is almost unbelievable. Shore had complied with his instructions from home and had allowed British prestige and power to decline. He refused to support his allies and quaked before potential enemies. The Wellesleys and their band of active young men had restored local dominance within the old British areas of influence around Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and carried the fight to their enemies. The French had been removed successively from Hyderabad, Mysore and the Mahratta countries. The Company’s territory had been more than doubled. Hyderabad, Mysore and Baroda had become prosperous and happy allies. During the winter of 1803–4 Britain appeared to have no serious rival in India at all. The future seemed secure.

There was still some fighting to be done after Wellesley concluded his treaties, some of it because of them. When Mahratta armies were defeated as at Assaye and Argaum, massive desertions were usually one result. Further, under the new treaties both Scindia and Berar were required to disband their forces. Not all their men could return to peaceful pursuits as there were too many of them. Some had either to plunder or starve; they formed themselves into bandit groups around leaders who were able to direct their joint activities productively. Berar and Scindia both covertly encouraged these bands, especially in territory they had surrendered, but the British armies which had won against regular foes won against these irregulars with comparatively little trouble.

First in point of time, EIC Major-General Dugald Campbell, Wellesley’s senior who commanded south of the Kistna only, pursued a new Dhoondiah Waugh who had appeared in his area and had a growing following. He was not, of course, the man whom Wellesley and his cavalry had finally caught and killed at Conaghul on 10 September 1800. The second Dhoondiah was really Mohamet Beg Khan, but he was trying to gain mystic strength from a name associated with the earlier leader.

Campbell began a rapid three-day pursuit on 28 December 1803 and caught the new King of Two Worlds on the 31st. Mohamet Beg Khan and about 3,000 of his followers were killed. Campbell was using the organization, strategy and tactics already evolved by Wellesley in his pursuit of the original Dhoondiah Waugh. British armies in India would never again move like vast slow pastoral migrations as Cornwallis’s and Harris’s had done towards Seringapatam.

Early in 1804 Wellesley ordered Malcolm to procure from Scindia a letter disavowing one of his lieutenants, Mulwa Dada, who had started to operate in Scindia’s name against territory belonging to Hyderabad, the EIC and the Peshwa. Once Wellesley had the letter, he informed Mulwa Dada ‘that he is little better than a common thief’ and threatened to hang him if he were captured. The message appears to have been enough for Mulwa Dada; we hear no more of him.

The killadar who surrendered Ahmednuggur and then removed most of the valuable public property in his private baggage was of a different stamp. He continued to operate as a freebooter after the treaties; Wellesley pursued him twice without success. But accurate and recent information about the killadar reached Wellesley during the evening of 3 February while he was bringing his army back towards Poona. Wellesley selected a special force consisting of all cavalrymen whose horses were in good shape, the complete King’s 74th, the whole 1/8 Madras (Wellesley’s own), and 100 screened volunteers from each of the other five EIC battalions. There were also twelve guns, those attached to the complete units selected.

This force began its march at 6 a.m. on 4 February and had covered eighteen miles by noon when they camped in accordance with Wellesley’s usual marching procedure. The enemy was not alarmed by the movement. At 10 p.m. the special force recommenced the march and covered forty-two more miles in the next fourteen hours. They came up with the former killadar and his forces and utterly destroyed them.

These sixty miles were covered in a total of 30 hours, twenty hours of marching time.1 Not a man dropped out. There were undoubtedly enough spare horses and bullocks to take care of any who fell lame. The physical condition and discipline of men and beasts must have been practically perfect. To march so far with a considerable proportion of the whole command infantry and then fight successfully, even against a disorganized enemy, is an almost incredible feat. It was a greater achievement than Wellesley’s dash for Poona the year before, which was completed with cavalry only.

Argaum I

The British pursuit of Scindia and Berar began almost thirty-six hours after the battle of Assaye. On the morning of 25 September 1803 Stevenson’s army, less most of the surgeons, moved north to the Ajanta ghaut and down it. They recovered four brass field guns abandoned by the enemy, but apparently failed to find a further fourteen which had been hidden during the retreat. Wellesley’s hircarrahs reported 120 cannon in the Mahratta armies before Assaye, none of which appear to have got down the ghaut. The Begum Sumroo’s four Regular Battalions certainly had their field pieces, probably sixteen to twenty of them, when they left the Borkardan camp before the end of the battle.

Even after thirty-six hours there were unmistakable signs of a panic. Bodies of men and animals dotted the road, especially down the ghaut itself which at that time represented a kind of border. The route was strewn with baggage and equipment, most of it useless. The people here were subjects of the Nizam. The Mahrattas had treated them as enemies and suffered for it on the night of the 23rd and all during the 24th. Villagers along the way killed wounded Mahratta soldiers who were unable to keep up, and collected abandoned personal possessions for their own use. They may well have buried the missing gun tubes; brass was and is valuable for many purposes in India.

Wellesley’s first concern in connection with his own army was to care for his wounded. Some were collected into ‘hospital’ groups on the night of the 23rd, but most remained where they fell. There were not enough surgeons or medical supplies for more than 1,000 injured men. All that could be done for most of them on the 24th was to make them as comfortable as possible on the ground, protect them from marauders and the burning Indian sun, and make sure that all had plenty of water. This treatment was neither as inhumane nor as harmful to the wounded men as it seems today. The weather was warm and dry. Casualties who did not bleed to death on the first night were often better off with wounds undressed. The surgeons had more knowledge and skill than we realize, but they worked with unsterilized instruments and bandages and nature unaided often did a better job.

Once the wounded were collected, there was the problem of burying the dead and collecting equipment. The dead of both sides lay in irregular heaps, especially where the 74th had rallied round its colours. The pioneers were set to digging orderly graves for the British and allied casualties west north-west of Assaye near the Juah. Enemy dead were counted approximately and then interred in multiple graves.

The twenty-six iron guns captured around Assaye were burst by being double-charged and having shot wedged in their bores. They were destroyed because they were not worth moving, but the brass pieces were ‘so good and so well equipped that they [some of them, at least] answer for our service’. The British also secured thousands of small arms and other personal possessions of the enemy of some value.

Wellesley’s next problem was to replace casualties. The King’s 74th had been removed from the active roster. Every officer was either killed or wounded; all the survivors were needed to care for their wounded comrades. Maxwell of the cavalry was dead; so was Captain Hugh McKay of the 4th Native Cavalry. Mackay had been detached for months and was doing outstanding work in handling all the ‘public’ bullocks, including the magnificent Mysore draft beasts. He had asked Wellesley for permission to return to his squadron for the battle, but had been refused. He joined against orders, charged at the head of his squadron and lost his life. There were other damaging losses: two of Wellesley’s small staff were severely wounded.

The five EIC battalions had not lost enough rank and file to make them ineffective for combat, but the 1/8 had lost four and the 2/12 six European officers, including its commander.

Wellesley recalled the 1/3 Madras, one of the two EIC battalions sent away before Assaye to reinforce Poona. They were no longer necessary to prevent its capture because the enemy too had lost heavily, especially in the Regular Battalions. Perhaps Captain Vesey of that corps had learned his lesson.

Wellesley, who could not spare enough British soldiers for a fortified hospital without weakening his army excessively, wanted to accommodate his wounded in Dowlutabad. It was a strong, commodious fortress on a conical hill, and lay only fifty miles away with no major streams on the route. Dowlutabad belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad, had an ample garrison and presumably enough supplies. Wellesley asked Stevenson to apply for permission to use the place through Rajah Mohiput Ram who appears to have been the senior officer in the Nizam’s army under Stevenson’s command. However, the killadar of the fortress refused to receive the wounded and their attendants. The garrison was unusually jealous of details of the fortress’s construction and would not allow English officers to approach within 500 yards.

There were only two other choices, Aurungabad and Ajanta. At that time Aurungabad was not a strong place, just a sprawling group of fortifications more or less connected and poorly garrisoned. Scindia’s Regular Battalions – even the four which had not been destroyed at Assaye – could easily have taken it. Ajanta was better and closer than Aurungabad, only about twenty-three miles away. Fortress and town, connected by a stone bridge, were smaller than Dowlutabad and Aurungabad, but comfortable and strong enough to offer some resistance even to a regular Mahratta army with artillery, but not sufficiently powerful for the Nizam’s killadar to refuse to receive the British wounded. The journey north had to be slow and easy and was postponed until all wounded men had received the full medical amenities available. Their transfer was begun about 1 October and apparently completed on the 8th, or perhaps a day or two earlier.

While the wounded were moving into Ajanta, both Wellesley and Stevenson had moved down the ghaut to the north. The two armies remained separate but would co-operate to defeat the enemy in battle where possible and capture his bases if he would not fight. It was known now that both Scindia and Berar had retreated to Burhampoor where some of the former’s infantry had taken refuge. Stevenson was ordered to take the city and arrived there on 8 October.

The Mahratta cavalry had moved west from Burhampoor and threatened to raid the Peshwa’s territory around Poona and further south. Wellesley consequently moved west from the bottom of the Ajanta ghaut to protect the area in case Scindia and Berar were serious in their intentions. He received information to the contrary, however, and was back in Ajanta on the 8th.

The enemy again threatened to march on south. Again Wellesley moved in the same direction, this time above the ghauts. He was halfway back to Aurungabad on the nth, only to receive intelligence that the two Mahratta armies had separated, at least temporarily. Scindia had retired west; Berar had moved back towards Burhampoor but was too weak to threaten the Hyderabad army seriously.

Stevenson took Burhampoor on 16 October without serious fighting and collected some money from the civilian population in accordance with Wellesley’s orders. He moved further north on the 24th and after a short siege captured Asseergurh, which was much stronger than Burhampoor and full of military supplies. These two places with Ahmednuggur, Jalna and Baroach had been Scindia’s important military bases in the Deccan. Now all of them were taken.

Perhaps more important than the fall of the fortresses was the surrender of ten of Scindia’s European officers who confirmed that Pohlmann’s thirteen Regular Battalions had disbanded during the retreat after Assaye. One of the officers, Major John James Dupon (or Dupont) who surrendered or was captured in Burhampoor or Asseergurh, had commanded Filoze’s four-battalion compoo. However, there were apparently still at least ten more such officers, eight with British names, in Scindia’s service.

We should note some manoeuvring of the field armies during Stevenson’s sieges. Wellesley moved north on 17 October to be within supporting distance of the Hyderabad force, and was at Ferdapoor, a day’s march north-east of Ajanta, on the 19th. He made the move in case the Mahratta armies had reunited and were about to attack Stevenson. The enemy junction did not take place, however, so Wellesley moved no further. Stevenson was strong enough to beat either Mahratta force separately, a fact the two chiefs undoubtedly appreciated.

Berar did not try to save Scindia’s fortress of Asseergurh, but instead marched south and east as if to raid the Nizam’s territory. His army actually passed between the two British forces about 20 October. Wellesley learnt of Berar’s movements and returned to Ajanta the next day. The following eight days saw some of the finest marching ever done by a British army in India. Wellesley moved south and east covering as much as thirty miles a day, siege train and all. At least once he came within sight of Berar’s army. The Mahrattas are said to have been driven from five campsites in two days until finally Berar lost his nerve and moved north-east again towards his own capital.

We should note the significance of Wellesley’s ‘two army’ strategy. He used Stevenson to capture places of importance while he himself prevented the enemy from raiding friendly territory. When the Mahratta chiefs moved with cavalry only, they were reasonably safe but could accomplish little. A force of cavalry alone could not even take a mud-walled village. Scindia in early September and Berar in late October could have made a dash for Hyderabad City, but they held back because Wellesley would have followed them. They might not have been caught but would have been prevented from plundering in their fashion. Since Mahratta cavalry served mostly for plunder, an arduous and dangerous raid deep into Hyderabad with small expectations of profit was not attractive.

Berar would not cross the Godavery with his cavalry only and retreated north to join his regular infantry and artillery. Wellesley learnt of this decision on 10 November and for a week stopped where he was, near Chicholi, fifteen miles north of the Godavery. Stevenson was to get ready to move on Gawilghur, the principal enemy fortress in the hills which separated Berar’s country from Hyderabad. Wellesley had already decided that Gawilghur would be Stevenson’s next objective.

On the 11th Scindia’s vakels (negotiators) had arrived in Wellesley’s camp asking for an armistice. Wellesley was not surprised; he had detailed information about General Lake’s victories against Perron, Scindia’s semi-independent French subordinate who ruled a vast area to the north, including Delhi and Agra. As has already been mentioned, Lake began hostilities against Perron independently of Wellesley’s declaration against Scindia. He marched from Cawnpore on 7 August, one day before Wellesley moved on Ahmednuggur. Lake took several important fortresses, including Alyghur, during the next month. He won a battle at Delhi on 11 September and occupied the old Mogul capital. However, according to Wellesley’s most recent information Perron’s army was still undestroyed and active early in October. Lake’s magnificent victory at Laswaree was still three weeks away.

Scindia would benefit from an armistice in his southern theatre of operations if he could quickly transfer any of his strength north against Lake. But this was hardly practical. The two theatres were too far apart for Scindia to shuttle units from one to the other. The journey would have taken nearly two months. Besides, Perron was not really subordinate to Scindia any longer.

Wellesley saw no harm in granting Scindia an armistice for a short time, if he could separate him from Berar. The British armies would then be able to take Gawilghur and move on against Berar’s capital more easily. Wellesley agreed to a cessation of hostilities, but insisted that it begin only if and when Scindia moved his entire force fifty miles east of Ellichpoor. Thus his army could neither help Berar nor suddenly move against Poona or Hyderabad. Wellesley did not count on any good faith from Scindia, but he had nothing to lose and a good deal to gain if the armistice terms were met.

By then Wellesley’s system of intelligence was functioning almost perfectly as regards any major enemy movement. Small Mahratta detachments were able to march without having their movements reported, but not the main armies. The British commander knew Berar had moved towards his own infantry and artillery at about the same time as the armistice agreement with Scindia’s negotiators was completed. Scindia was moving in the same direction, either to unite with Berar and continue the war, or fulfil the conditions of the armistice agreement. Stevenson had begun his march for Gawilghur on 15 November. A day later Wellesley began his own to the north and east from the Godavery to join the older commander in that area. Since the four forces were converging on roughly the same point, something was likely to happen.

Wellesley’s army was at Rajoora on the 23rd and at Akola on the 27th. He sent word to Stevenson that he would meet him near Parterly on the morning of the 30th. The two commanders met on schedule, conferred briefly, and then about noon climbed to the flat top of a fortified tower in Parterly. It was unusually large and well built and allowed an all-round view of the country from the top. The Mahrattas, presumably both Scindia and Berar’s forces, were in plain sight to the north. Bisnapah’s Mysore light cavalry was expertly skirmishing with the opposition; he would undoubtedly report soon.

Wellesley got out his telescope and began to examine the area behind the skirmishing horsemen. He could see a large army to the north, beyond the village of Sirsoli but south of the village of Argaum. It was already formed into something resembling a line. Was another battle imminent? Wellesley’s mind began to work like a computer on times, positions and probable speeds. If the Mahrattas had formed their line – and it certainly looked as if they had – they would be unlikely to retire before nightfall.

Though Berar had infantry and artillery with him, those of Scindia in the Deccan were known to be nearly wiped out. The Begum’s Regular Battalions were north of the Tap tee. The enemy forces could not be more numerous than at Assaye and probably not of such quality. Wellesley now had both British armies at hand. The only problem was one of fatigue: his own army had moved eighteen miles since dawn; Stevenson’s appears to have moved hardly less; and it had been a hot day. Wellesley was once more faced with the choice of attacking with an exhausted army or allowing the enemy to slip away. Again the decision was to attack, and orders to that effect were given quickly.

The baggage and siege trains of both armies went into separate camps sufficiently secure to be proof against Mahratta cavalry of any strength. As at Naulniah, Wellesley chose his camp guard carefully. It was composed of his favourite 1/8 Madras, the pickets of the day before, and about three squadrons of Mysore horse. The guard had several field pieces as well as the four 12-pounder siege guns.

The British armies advanced north from Parterly apparently in four columns. Wellesley’s cavalry was on the extreme right; his infantry came next. Stevenson’s cavalry was on the extreme left with his infantry adjacent to Wellesley’s. Stevenson’s total British infantry force was only slightly, if at all, less numerous than Wellesley’s because his one King’s infantry and his five EIC battalions were stronger individually than Wellesley’s two King’s and five EIC battalions. Stevenson was weaker in British cavalry; he had only two EIC regiments against Wellesley’s one King’s and three EIC units, but he still had several thousand Mogul cavalry which were more numerous and more effective in battle than Wellesley’s Mysore light horsemen. Wellesley’s Mahrattas were marching separately at this time; his orders to them were carried by a messenger who ‘missed his road’ so ‘they were not engaged during the 29th’.

Stevenson’s infantry column was led by his pickets of the day; his strong European infantry battalion, now officially the King’s 94th Foot came next followed by his five full-strength EIC Madras battalions. I believe their order was the 2/2, the 2/9, the 1/11, the 2/11, and the 1/6. These battalions were fresher than Wellesley’s; their order was undisturbed by their halt near Parterly.

Wellesley’s infantry battalions were not in order, probably because one brigade had countermarched. His pickets of the day were in the lead, but were followed by the 2/12 and the 1/10 Madras. Then came the King’s 78th, the King’s 74th and three more EIC Madras units, the 1/2, the 1/3 and the 1/4.

The four British columns approached the village of Sirsoli and the plain of Argaum from the south. This area is in the black-earth section of Nagpoor State and is now noted for its production of wheat and cotton. At that time it was covered with millet, the individual stalks of which were seven to nine feet tall. A man on foot could neither sec nor be seen. When Wellesley had observed the country from the tower in Parterly, his elevation and the fact that the whole flat plain is slightly tilted up to the north had allowed a distant but unobstructed view of the enemy’s Argaum line. Now he could see little from around Sirsoli even on horseback. The plain was still exceptionally flat, but it was cut almost haphazardly by deep narrow canals. A nullah or wet-weather river ran generally north and south from before Sirsoli almost to Argaum.

Wellesley made a quick personal reconnaissance to the north and reached a spot from which he could see that the Mahrattas were still in place. The deep narrow canals caused him considerable anxiety. Almost certainly, the enemy had taken up a situation behind one or more of them. He did not like attacking a Mahratta army head-on in a position of its own choice, but there appeared to be no alternative unless he did not attack at all. There were only about three and a half hours of daylight left, enough for a careful assault, but not for any extensive preliminary manoeuvres. Wellesley again decided on attack.

He returned to Sirsoli as the head of his infantry column passed the village. He ordered them to oblique slightly to the right to clear a bend in the central nullah; Wallace was told to guide his pickets of the day to the east for about 1,000 yards, enough space for seven and a half under-strength battalions to form into line, with battalion guns between each unit. The infantry line was then to halt.

Wellesley met Stevenson near Sirsoli. The old colonel was too weak from sickness to mount a horse, but his mind was clear. He exercised all command functions from a comfortable seat in the howdah of an elephant. Arthur quickly explained his battle plan. Stevenson’s infantry line would form in line with his own, but on the west side of the nullah. The colonel’s cavalry under an exceptionally able EIC officer, Lieutenant-Colonel A. Sentleger of the 6th NC, was to protect the left or western flank of the entire infantry line with Stevenson’s two EIC mounted regiments and presumably several thousand Mogul horse. Wellesley’s own cavalry was to protect the right or eastern flank.

So far everything appeared to be going perfectly. Another ten minutes and the British armies would be in formal combat alignment, a considerable accomplishment in view of the fact that the two commanders and their forces had been more than twenty miles apart at sunrise. But battles seldom go as planned. As Wellesley’s pickets passed the nullah, changed direction and began to march east, they came clearly into the view of the Mahratta gunners south of Argaum; the millet did not grow in the semi-dry water course. The sight of the British column may have given the Mahratta commander the first sure evidence of the presence of a considerable British force.

In any event, the enemy guns opened fire, although the range was about 3,000 yards. In the era of solid-shot artillery a column almost in line was a tempting target regardless of range. A round ball from one of the Mahratta guns, frequently 18-pounders even for field service, could kill several men. As often happened in those days, the first rounds were more accurate than those which followed. The air overhead was filled with the awe-inspiring sound of the passage of large shot; perhaps many of them were visible too. One of the balls struck a British bullock-drawn 6-pounder. The ten animals attached to it appear to have survived, but wheeled to the rear and went off in panic. Another gun team did likewise, although apparently it was undamaged.

The two runaway guns drawn by panicking bullocks careered back into the two King’s and six EIC half companies which made up the pickets of the day. The Europeans dodged the guns and kept their position, but the sepoys unaccountably broke. A mass of 250 men, twenty bullocks and two guns pushed back without warning into the next two battalions. Although the sepoy units had fought valiantly at Assaye, they were also seized by the unreasoning fear that sometimes causes the best of soldiers to misbehave. Fortunately, Wellesley himself was within 150 yards. He rode towards them and endeavoured to stop their flight. When this did not succeed, ‘… instead of losing his temper, unbraiding them, and endeavouring to force them back to the spot from which they had fled, he quietly ordered their officers to lead the men under cover of the village.’

Argaum II

Meanwhile, the King’s 78th came up with pipes skirling, past the temporarily disordered sepoys, every Highlander in perfect step and kilts snapping in unison. Red tunics, white belts, gleaming weapons and tall black bearskins made them appear superhuman. The Madras sepoys were good soldiers too and clamoured for another chance. Wellesley took them to their places on the right of the line, made sure they were properly positioned with their battalion guns between each units and had them lie down.

Once his own infantry was all in position, Wellesley ordered Stevenson and Wallace to take the whole British line forward cautiously. Wellesley personally galloped off to the head of his cavalry column which had halted for orders. He advanced with the four cavalry regiments – with Dallas sick and Maxwell killed, they lacked an experienced field officer – and their eight gallopers into the flat, but canal-bisected area well to the east of the Sirsoli–Argaum nullah. The cavalry could usually see over the millet; the enemy line opposite them stretched to the east for a considerable distance, more than the British cavalry could efficiently occupy. But this was unimportant; there was nothing in the rear for the enemy to attack save Bisnapah’s Mysore cavalry which was more than capable of caring for itself.

Wellesley advanced to within 800 yards of the enemy and formed his cavalry into line, each unit slightly separated from the next. He ordered the troopers to dismount, but had the eight cavalry gallopers advance another 200 yards or more until the gunners could see the enemy line clearly; they then opened fire. Wellesley instructed each unit commander separately. They were to wait until the 6-pounders made an impression on the enemy and then to attack, but Wellesley cautioned them not to charge headlong into a canal.

The British commander then returned to his infantry in the centre. He had ordered his own and Stevenson’s battalions to advance in rough alignment while he was taking forward the cavalry. The infantry, which consisted of three fine King’s regiments and ten veteran EIC units with a total of twenty-eight guns in pairs, placed in the intervals between the battalions and on the flanks, was no more than 1,000 yards from the enemy when Wellesley returned. Infantrymen could rarely see the Mahratta line because of the level ground and the millet, but every man knew it was there. The canals were not difficult to cross either on foot or mounted, but ranks had temporarily to be broken. Where necessary, field guns were unlimbered and manhandled over the narrow cuts and reassembled on the other side. All units had been kept roughly in line by Stevenson, Wallace and their own mounted officers. The old colonel on his elephant had an advantage in this terrain.

The infantry had advanced for about 2,000 yards under desultory Mahratta fire but suffered only a few casualties because the enemy gunners were initially at almost maximum range. Later on they were fatigued. In the muzzle-loading era, even the best of artillerymen did not shoot well when they were tired and dirty and their pieces overheated. The Mahratta gunners were handling poorer weapons than Pohlmann had at Assaye, and their targets were mostly hidden by the millet.

Wellesley allowed his infantry to continue its slow advance until it was within 500 yards of the enemy. Then he gave a prearranged signal, perhaps with his hat. The white Mysore artillery bullocks, five pairs per team, wheeled to the rear and brought the gun muzzles to bear on the enemy. The European gunners, the matrosses and the Indian lascars unlimbered smartly, loaded and fired. The first rounds that day were aimed at the opposing infantry. Each piece was cool, clean and handled by a skilful, disciplined crew. They appeared not to hurry, but they were probably delivering three rounds per minute. Round shot and grape tore into the Mahratta infantry and artillery. By this time the enemy guns were so hot that they were almost useless.

Back to the British cavalry on the extreme right. Their eight 6-pounders were in action for ten minutes before they began to accomplish what Wellesley had anticipated. They probably knocked out any artillery the Mahratta cavalry might have had, and then sent solid shot ploughing through the semi-formed enemy horse. Field guns were important in cavalry actions in India; one shot often caused several casualties and had a tremendous effect on morale. Both Hindoos and Muslims had a fatalistic acceptance of death which made them extremely, but passively, brave. They could not, however, stand artillery fire and their units began to waver visibly. The commanding officers of the 19th Dragoons and the three Native Cavalry regiments, four corps that had been companions for many months of active campaigning, went forward individually and with caution. When each unit came within about 200 yards of the enemy and the ground was clearly practical for horse, they increased the pace to a full trot which was about the optimum speed for the proper employment of shock from momentum and weapons.

For a few seconds each British regiment had a real fight. The Mah-rattas were good horsemen. Many were well armed and partially armoured. A few had the courage and ability with their tulwars to challenge British troopers individually. But they lacked the coordination of discipline and training and the uniform weapon efficiency that is the result of practice. British sabres were better because of the temper of the steel and the strong muscles of the men who used them. Hours of sword exercise produced skill, dexterity and power for cutting and thrusting. Most important of all, the British cavalry were in formation so that every trooper could use his weapons and to some extent support his comrades on either side.

The cavalry combats on the right flank were all successful. Berar’s Mahrattas broke and went off in panic, leaving perhaps a few misfit artillery pieces and some other fairly useless equipment. The British units did not immediately pursue, although some of Bisnapah’s horsemen may have done so even at this early stage of the action.

In the centre where Wellesley was personally in command, the opposing Mahratta infantry probably had been unable to see the cavalry action just described, although it apparently was concluded before the central part of the battle began in earnest. Because of flat terrain, high grain and deep ditches, the battle appears to have been fought in three separate parts.

The artillery assigned to British infantry battalions did not find it easy to disorganize the enemy regular infantry. The Mahratta commander in this area was the Rajah of Berar’s brother, Manoo Bappoo, a braver man than either the Rajah or Scindia. He kept his disciplined infantry steady and sent forward a unit of 1,000 to 1,500 Arabs, the best professional soldiers in India. They came on unsupported and attacked the two King’s regiments in the centre of Wellesley’s section of the British line. They fell almost to a man, mostly by the fire of the Highlanders and the British artillery, but some survived the hail of lead and iron to die on Scottish bayonets.

One wonders if Manoo Bappoo realized that both King’s units of Wellesley’s army were in the centre of his line; their normal places were on the flanks. At 500–600 yards one line of men in red jackets and white belts looks much like another, especially through growing millet. Manoo Bappoo’s Arabs might have fared better against EIC units.

Perhaps a few minutes before, the two left flank battalions of Stevenson’s section of the infantry line, the 1/6 and the 2/11 Madras, were attacked by Scindia’s cavalry. The Mahratta horsemen came within about one hundred yards, but were already in the process of refusing to close when the two EIC battalions delivered their volleys. The action appears to have become little more than a feint.

Soon after the elimination of the Arabs, Wellesley sent the entire infantry-artillery line forward; the units moved individually and carefully, not in a line en echelon assault as at Assaye. The infantry guns were manhandled forward beside the battalions to which they belonged, keeping up a slow fire during the advance. Both infantry and artillery had to cross ditches in order to get at the enemy.1 One battalion after another would cross a canal, form on the other side, and continue the attack.

Manoo Bappoo’s regular infantry probably numbered no more than 15,000 including artillerymen. They were well posted and reasonably well led, but weakened by seeing the Arabs defeated and receiving perhaps twenty minutes of intermittent artillery fire. Some, though probably not all, units tried to exchange volleys of musketry with the British battalions. The battle in the centre was decided in these isolated infantry duels. In every case the King’s and EIC units quickly won. Manoo Bappoo’s men withdrew to the rear in panic. As often happened, once the better troops of an Indian army were defeated, the rest fled. The large body of enemy infantry in the second Mahratta line seems not to have fired a shot before it went to the right about and headed for safety. Victory in the centre came at least half an hour after Wellesley’s cavalry had won on the right.

We know less about what happened on the British left, Stevenson’s flank, mainly because there were only a handful of Europeans involved, none of whom wrote a surviving account. Lieutenant-Colonel A. Sentleger competently commanded a composite EIC and Mogul cavalry force, but we do not know the details. I assume that he employed essentially the same tactics as Wellesley on the right.

Scindia’s negotiators were still with Wellesley’s army. They had tried unsuccessfully to persuade him not to attack their master because of the armistice, but Wellesley pointed out that the armistice was not to go into effect until Scindia had complied with its terms. Instead of going fifty miles east of Ellichpoor, he had actively joined Berar. Wellesley obviously had no choice except to consider him an enemy.

Scindia’s army at Argaum was all cavalry and formed in two large divisions one behind the other. As already mentioned, Scindia’s horsemen attacked early in Stevenson’s advance. Sentleger’s cavalry may have had a part in the action. Both EIC and Mogul mounted units appear to have had light field pieces attached to them which probably opened fire in the same manner as Wellesley’s had done. They may eventually have charged, but the fighting on the left cannot have been severe. Stevenson’s two EIC cavalry regiments lost a total of two Europeans and eleven Indians wounded, one Indian killed and one missing. Scindia’s army certainly left the battlefield before Wellesley’s infantry attack in the centre had been completed.

On the other hand, when the Mahratta centre finally did break, Sentleger as senior cavalry officer present seems to have taken over Wellesley’s four British regiments as well as his own two and the Mogul horse and continued the pursuit of the unfortunate enemy infantry for two days. Thousands of Mahrattas were killed, especially during the first moonlit night. Elephants, camels, horses and bullocks, many of them laden with baggage, were captured. Wellesley himself was in the saddle until midnight. The Mysore horsemen under Bisnapah went after the enemy throughout the hours of darkness. The Mahratta allies under Goklah and Appah Dessaye joined in the next morning.

The total casualties for both British armies appear to have been 361, with only fifteen European and thirty-one Indian deaths. The Mahratta losses may have been as high as 5,000 or even 10,000. They lost all their artillery, thirty-eight pieces, and their ammunition. Argaum was a magnificent victory won at relatively small cost.

One wonders why the Mahrattas fought here at all. They had lost at Assaye when they had Scindia’s Regular Battalions instead of Berar’s against a British force half as powerful. An obvious answer is that the Mahratta generals did not know that Wellesley and Stevenson had joined forces. Bisnapah and his Mysore light cavalry had covered the junction of the two armies splendidly and screened their subsequent advance. The tall millet may have been a contributing factor.

Another answer may be Manoo Bappoo’s pride in his own regular infantry and his confidence in the Arabs. He probably had not been at Assaye and may not have seen British troops in action. Once he knew that he was opposing both Wellesley and Stevenson, his control of an enormous army may have been so faulty that a retreat from his carefully taken position was next to impossible.

The relative ease of victory should not tempt us to overlook either the sound professional performance of the British commander and his armies or the disadvantages under which they fought. As usual Wellesley’s army had marched their eighteen miles by noon and moved on at least a further four miles to Sirsoli. Most units probably covered nearly twenty-four miles before they began to fight the battle. Stevenson’s army probably covered about twenty miles. But all British units continued as required without complaint.

The British armies at Argaum did full justice to their training and their months of active campaigning. The artillery was particularly efficient; Wellesley praised both artillery commanders. But the guns were a part of infantry-artillery and cavalry-artillery teams, not a separate arm. All units handled themselves well on an exceptionally difficult battlefield. Wellesley’s two King’s infantry regiments resoundingly defeated the ill-conceived attack of the Arabs, suffering moderately severe casualties. Stevenson’s 1/6 and the 2/11 Madras defeated Scindia’s horsemen at long range; they suffered hardly at all; during the whole day only eleven sepoys were wounded. The only unit in Stevenson’s army to suffer moderately was his King’s regiment, the 94th Foot, to use its new name. It lost two killed, thirty-seven wounded and two missing.

We should look again at the slightly unusual order of Wellesley’s infantry battalions which may have contributed to the momentary panic at Sirsoli. The pickets led as usual, with two King’s half companies at their head. Harness’s Brigade under Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Adams of the 78th came next, but with the battalions reversed. The 78th was at the rear, the 1/10 in the middle, and the 2/12 next to the pickets. Adams may not have realized at the beginning of the battle that he was in charge of the brigade. As mentioned earlier, Harness tried to carry out his regular duties, but Wellesley had to order him back into his palanquin. Had the 78th been in front, there would have been no panic except perhaps from six sepoy half companies. The momentary discomfiture, if it was caused by the battalion transposition, was more than made up for by the presence of Wellesley’s two battalions of Scots in the middle rather than at the ends of the line when they defeated the Arabs in the only serious infantry combat of the entire battle.

Wellesley’s personal contribution to the victory at Argaum began days before when he sensed that he and Stevenson should again move closer together. For only the fourth time in more than seven months, the two armies were in sight of each other. The first had been at Aklooss in mid-April; the second and third had been before and after Assaye.

At Parterly as at Naulniah, Wellesley was faced with the decision whether or not to attack with units which would undoubtedly not be at their best because of fatigue. Again he chose to fight immediately, because if he let the opportunity slip the enemy would surely have retired during the night. It should be clearly understood, however, that the British forces were not really over-tired. There is no indication that any unit was ineffective, and they were all in fine marching trim.

Wellesley’s personal reconnaissance before Argaum involved less riding and included nothing as dramatic as the discovery of the ‘secret ford’ at Assaye. But during his ride north, apparently along the central nullah and then probably to the east of it, he was able to get the entire battle area firmly in mind and issue his orders on that basis. His rallying of two and a half battalions of sepoys may have been of extreme importance.

Once the infantry of both armies was in position, Wellesley left them with appropriate orders under veteran commanders to take charge of the cavalry himself. He personally positioned the four regiments and gave them definite and simple instructions. He then returned to the combined infantry line because the battle would be won or lost there. He was on guard against and finally overcame the problem of the ‘canals’ which might have defeated a less able commander. In a few minutes he evolved a shift in tactics to fit the unusual circumstances the ditches presented. He accomplished with fire from both artillery and infantry what he could not do with a single shock assault. He remained at hand to see that all went well.

In spite of his illness Stevenson made significant contributions to the victory at Argaum as well as to the successful campaign which it terminated. After a quarter of a century in India he had in 1799 come under the influence and intermittent command of a man almost young enough to be his son, but he never complained and did his level best. It cannot have been easy for him to learn a new strategy and new tactics; he had grown up in the ‘God will provide’ school of logistics under commanders who moved ponderously when they moved at all. By the time of Argaum, however, he had assimilated the ideas of his mentor about precise movement, efficient staff work and the importance of detail.

Stevenson had learned neither quickly nor painlessly; Wellesley’s coaching was effective but not always pleasant. When Stevenson took counsel of his fears or allowed Mahratta brindarries to annoy him, he received prompt admonishment. But he persevered in the use of Wellesley’s advice and found that it worked. On several occasions he became audacious and beat the enemy at their own game, but he did not go too far and bring on a battle when unsupported. In fact, ‘the colonel with great prudence and propriety halted’ so that the two armies could meet at Parterly at noon on the 29th.

Stevenson’s movement towards Gawilghur – after he had equipped his army for the siege at Asseergurh – had brought on the battle at Argaum. He fought there propped up in the howdah of an elephant, but he fully deserved Wellesley’s praise; he had definitely become what is quite rare in military history, a capable subordinate commander of a semi-independent army.

British Attack French and Spanish Territory in Asia 1740-62 Part I

Joseph François Dupleix who initiated French intervention in Burma

Negrais Massacre

Coinciding precisely with Clive’s triumphal progress in Bengal, and yet utterly devoid of either glory or consequence, the Burmese or ‘Negrais Affair’ is readily consigned to oblivion. As with other things Burmese, the facts are obscure and the locations unfamiliar. Quite reasonably one could dismiss the whole business as just another example of that disastrous British obsession with off-shore properties – Pulo Run, Pulo Condore, and now the island of Negrais. Alternatively – and this was the view taken by Alexander Dalrymple, a man of whom more will be heard – Negrais was the first uncertain step towards the re-establishment of the Company’s trade in south-east Asia. It should be bracketed not with Pulo Run but with Singapore, not with Pulo Condore but with Hong Kong.

From the Company’s settlements at Masulipatnam, Madras and Calcutta, English private traders had been calling at the ports of southern Burma ever since the mid-seventeenth century. Syriam, their usual destination, was the main outlet for the Mon kingdom of Pegu which also controlled the wide Irrawaddy delta. Here rubies and lac (a resinous red dye) were sometimes available although the main attraction was Burmese teak, the finest shipbuilding material in the East. For repairing Indiamen the timber was freighted to Bombay and Calcutta while the smaller vessels operated by country traders were usually repaired and indeed built in Syriam itself. By the 1730s the volume of this business had justified the appointment of an English ‘Resident’ who although not a Company servant handled both Company and private business. His few European companions included a representative of the French Compagnie des Indes whose ships’ timbers were also repaired with Burmese teak. But there seems to have been no great hostility between the two and when in 1743 Syriam was twice sacked as a result of renewed fighting between the Mons and the up-country Burmans, both men withdrew to their parent establishments at Madras and Pondicherry.

With southern Burma in turmoil and with the European trading companies locked into their own war over Jenkins’s ear and the Austrian Succession, no further attempts were made to reopen a Burmese establishment until 1750. In that year Mon representatives appeared in Pondicherry with a proposal which Dupleix, having just handed Chanda Sahib on to the throne of the Carnatic, was happy to consider. The Mons wanted military assistance against their Burman rivals. There was the possibility of opening another grand field for French ambition. More to the point, Dupleix welcomed the proposal as a means of securing a safe haven on the opposite side of the Bay of Bengal.

The absence of harbours on the Coromandel Coast has already been stressed. With the arrival of those squadrons under Barnett (then Peyton), La Bourdonnais, and Boscawen and with the consequent inauguration of the Bay of Bengal as a theatre for naval warfare, this deficiency became critical. Every monsoon the fleets must desert their station or risk the sort of losses suffered by La Bourdonnais after the capture of Madras. Similarly every time ships needed refitting they must leave the coastal settlements to the tender mercies of the enemy and make for Dutch Trinconomalee (Sri Lanka), Mauritius or Bombay.

Under the impression that they might have found a solution, Boscawen and Lawrence had just wrenched the port of Devikottai from the Raja of Tanjore. But Devikottai proved as useless for ships of deep draught as every other inlet on The Coast. Word, therefore, that Dupleix had sent a French envoy to Pegu to negotiate for a Burmese harbour threw Madras into consternation. President Saunders wrote immediately to London and, without waiting for an answer, prepared to forestall the competition by occupying the island of Negrais.

At the south-western extremity of Burmese territory and therefore the nearest point to Madras, Negrais had been recommended by one of the numerous Englishmen engaged in private trade between The Coast and Burma. Curiously neither he nor Saunders seems to have been aware that the Company actually had a claim on the place. Sixty years previously it was to Negrais that Captain Weltden had repaired after he and Samuel White had been attacked at Mergui. Weltden had allegedly hoisted the English flag on the island and had left an inscription, beaten in tin, recording his claim. It was a pity that this memorial was not rediscovered. The memory of the Mergui massacre might have alerted the Negrais settlers to the possibility of a repeat performance.

Negrais had been chosen by Saunders on the grounds that it had potential for ‘a capacious harbour for shipping being well secured against all sorts of winds’. What he did not realize, but what the thirty-odd pioneers quickly discovered, was that it was not secured against all sorts of tides. After a few weeks of being flooded out every time a high sea and a spring tide coincided, the disgruntled and fever-ridden settlers sailed away to the mainland and the comparative comfort of Syriam.

In the meantime the Court of Directors in London had received Saunders’s letter and approved his anxiety about a French naval base in the Bay. In 1752 they wrote endorsing the Negrais settlement and in 1753, on learning that Dupleix’s envoy was in high favour at Pegu, Saunders made a second attempt to establish a settlement. This time it was on a much larger scale. Four ships were to convey the new pioneers across the Bay and two covenanted servants, one from the St Helena Council, the other from Benkulen, were to take command. The appointments were made by the directors in London who no doubt recalled the disastrous jealousies aroused when such matters were left to Madras. But it is indicative of the unpopularity of the enterprise that the Benkulen man opted out, preferring even Sumatra’s pestilential climate to waterlogged Negrais. Shipwrights and labourers had to be impressed into service; the guard of thirty-odd Europeans and seventy peons mutinied soon after arrival.

To the problems of fever and flood was added that of famine. It was hoped that the settlers would soon be either self-sufficient or able to obtain rice from the mainland. But the Burmese refused any trade and, though the island abounded in game, it was also a paradise for tigers. The settlers lived off turtles; the tigers lived off settlers. Hunt, the man from St Helena, died of dysentery, the work of fortification ground to a standstill, and the Mon authorities steadfastly refused to countenance the new settlement.

Nevertheless the disconsolate settlers, now commanded by Henry Brooke, a writer from Madras, stayed put. By 1754 the Mon-Burman war was going badly for the Mons. Disappointed in their French allies, there seemed to be a real prospect of the Mons granting, in return for military aid, not only Negrais but also the adjacent mainland port of Bassein plus extensive privileges in Syriam. The British contingent in Syriam played along with their Mon hosts; but to Saunders in Madras and to Brooke at Negrais it was now evident that they were backing a loser. When Burman troops occupied Bassein and much of the intervening Delta, Brooke therefore switched allegiance. Missions were exchanged between Negrais and Alungpaya, the Burman sovereign, who was then encamped beside the mighty Shwe Dagôn pagoda at a place which he renamed Yangon (Rangoon). The Company moved its Syriam establishment to the new capital and by 1756 both Company and private ships were calling there for repairs.

While the storm clouds gathered in Bengal, Burma seemingly basked in sunshine. At last the British had backed a winner and, within a month of Siraj-ud-Daula’s capture off Fort William, Alungpaya had taken Syriam, the French had been expelled, their agent roasted alive, and the British were constructing a fort at Bassein which, with a fine sense of Highland symmetry, they called Fort Augustus. Amazingly for a sovereign who considered himself more than a match for the Moghul, Alungpaya had even committed his favourable sentiments to writing by opening a correspondence with George II, or rather ‘The King of England, Madras, Bengal, Fort St David and Devikottai’. In a letter which took the form of a tray of gold covered with Burmese characters there was barely room to do more than recite the titles of the writer. But the ‘King of Burma, Thailand and Cambodia’, ‘the Lord of the Mines of Rubies, Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron and Amber’, the Lord, too, of ‘the White Elephant, the Spotted Elephant and the Red Elephant’ not to mention ‘the Vital Golden Lance’, many golden palaces, sundry other kingdoms, etc, in short ‘the Descendant of the Nation of the Sun’ did positively transfer the desired site at Bassein and looked forward to ‘a constant union and amity with His Majesty of England, Madras, Bengal [etc] and his Royal Family and subjects’.

Perhaps if this letter had received the gracious response it undoubtedly deserved, lives could have been saved. It did indeed reach George II but no answer whatsoever did either he or the Company send; the last that is heard of the priceless missive is an unseemly wrangle about whether the tray had originally been encrusted with rubies and, if so, what had happened to them. By opening a correspondence with a mere earth-ling the lord of all those elephants had chanced his solar dignity. It was not something he did lightly. In the following year he put his seal to a treaty of friendship with the Company but thereafter, as the months slipped by without so much as an acknowledgement from the Hanoverian, he began to take an exceedingly dim view of British protestations of amity.

There were, though, other sources of friction. British ships putting into Rangoon for repairs and cargoes had fallen foul of Alungpaya’s officials and had even joined the Mons in several abortive attempts to storm the place. The Bassein/Negrais settlers were not held responsible for these outrages but, under the terms of the new treaty, Alungpaya did expect them to supply him with the guns and powder which had so often been promised. Yet, excepting the odd presentation cannon and a few barrels of powder, of arms – as of answer – came there none. Worse still, it appeared that the Company was now keen to wash its hands of both Alungpaya and his country. In Madras Saunders had been replaced by the more sceptical Pigot, in Negrais Brooke had been relieved by a man who succumbed to the climate almost immediately, and in London, with rumours rife of Siraj’s advance on Calcutta, the directors had espoused a retrenchment which included withdrawal from Negrais. News of Plassey failed to change the corporate mind. ‘Schemes of this kind,’ they wrote in 1758, ‘must be deferred till more tranquil times.’ It was, after all, year two of the Seven Years War.

But it was also year six of the Negrais establishment which, against all the odds, now boasted some substantial buildings, plentiful stocks of teak and a modest population. A partial evacuation was effected in April 1759 but there remained a small guard under Ensign Hope and a considerable civilian population. In view of frequent French visits to the Bay of Bengal it seemed prudent to maintain a presence. Later in the same year Captain Southby came ashore from the Victoria as Hope’s replacement. His arrival coincided with that of an East Indiaman in search of provisions plus three small Burmese vessels accompanying the local Governor. October was one of Negrais’s better months. While the Victoria unloaded and the Indiaman took on water, Hope and Southby entertained the Governor ashore with two days of feasting and compliments. Of Portuguese extraction, he seemed to appreciate the hospitality and to enjoy the company.

His hosts were thus totally off guard when at the farewell reception the Governor’s Burmese escort suddenly bolted all the doors and drew their daggers. Hope and Southby were cut to pieces immediately. Of the other European officers and guards only one escaped and only two were taken prisoner. The rest were butchered along with countless Indians. If the figure of sixty men and four women is correct for those taken off by the boats, the carnage must have been at least three times that of Plassey. The settlement was then looted and burnt to the ground. A week later Captain Alves of the Victoria, while remaining on station to warn off other British shipping, went ashore for a last look. The corpses were now rotting, the tigers gorged, the fires out. Alves, then on the threshold of a long and intriguing career as a private trader, was profoundly disturbed. It was ‘one of the most shocking sights I ever beheld’.

What, if anything, lay behind the Negrais Massacre is unknown. Alungpaya would deny all responsibility and, nine months later, Alves would travel unmolested right up to Mandalay to secure the release of the prisoners. One can only bracket the mindless carnage with all those other tropical affrays in which the degree of premeditation is as unfathomable as the degree of provocation.

Happily no such uncertainty surrounded British thinking. The object of Company policy over Negrais had been to prevent the French from gaining a naval base in Burma and so supremacy in the Bay of Bengal. In the event Alungpaya had done the job for them. His sack of Syriam in 1757, which had resulted in the extinction of the French interest, coincided almost exactly with Watson’s bombardment of Chandernagar. Taken together, these two reverses meant that henceforth the French could operate in Indian waters only at a severe disadvantage.

It also meant that for the British Negrais became superfluous. Significantly the first, partial evacuation of the settlement had been carried out from Calcutta and it was from there that Hope, Southby and Alves all hailed. The Burmese adventure had been Madras’s initiative and Madras could no longer support it. Alungpaya had been disappointed in his expectation of military assistance, and the Negrais settlers had been left to fend for themselves, because Madras had neither the men nor the matchlocks to spare. Indeed when in 1758 the orders for withdrawal arrived from London, Fort St George was itself under siege. The Seven Years War had at last been joined in India.

In this war, as in that of the Austrian Succession, military manoeuvres in India would be restricted to the Carnatic, although with a related campaign in Hyderabad. And as in the old war so in the new, the French opened proceedings by attacking Forts St David (Cuddalore) and St George (Madras) while the British closed them, three years later, with a grand assault on Pondicherry. This helpful resemblance, though, is superficial; for the important point is that in every instance the outcome was different. This time Fort St David was attacked first and taken, Fort St George held out, Pondicherry did not. The result was therefore decisive. French ambitions in India collapsed. It was the end of a chapter, not the beginning.

The outcome owed much to the availability of supplies, troops and above all funds from Calcutta. If Madras’s troops had saved Bengal in 1756-7, Bengal’s rupees saved Madras in 1758-60. It was not just a question of repaying a favour. Had the French made good their second bid for hegemony in the Carnatic, Bengal itself would have been threatened. Clive was well aware of this and in not returning to Madras after the recapture of Calcutta – as he had promised and as Madras desperately urged – he took a terrible risk. It paid off thanks to the heroics of the squadron under Admiral Pocock, Watson’s successor. Not for the first time, Clive’s reputation was saved by the Royal Navy.

More even than in the earlier war, seapower proved crucial. Three naval battles, each more decisive than the last, offset the French superiority in land forces and dictated the course of the struggle ashore. As in the Americas so in India; it was courtesy of the King’s navy that Britain emerged from the Seven Years War with a global empire. Any narrative, therefore, that presumes to disentangle the Company’s history from that of the British Navy, or indeed of British India, may be excused from treating the final phase of the Anglo-French struggle in any detail.