The Battle of Talikota in 1565 was the absolute downfall of the Vijayanagara Empire and the wide-scale plundering and desecration of the temples in Hampi. The combined forces of the Deccan sultanates overpowered Rama Raya, the last king of the Vijayanagara Empire, whose mid-battle beheading sent the Vijaynagar troops into disarray.
The Battle of Talikota is a watershed moment in South Indian medieval history, but the fall of Vijaynagar had been set in motion four-and-a-half decades earlier at the Battle of Raichur (1520). The old adage of having won the battle but lost the war stands true when it comes to the decline of India’s most glorious empire at the time.
Here’s a brief retelling of the epic Battle of Raichur between Krishna Deva Raya, the king of the Vijayanagara Empire at its prime, and Ismail Adil Shah, ruler of the Bijapur Sultanate, as recorded by the Portuguese chronicler, Fernão Nunes.
Krishna Deva Raya rallied a massive military force (750,000 soldiers and 550 elephants) and marched north-east towards the citadel of Raichur. Their passage across the cotton plains alleviated the discomfort caused by the oncoming south Indian summer. Krishna Deva Raya pitched camp on the eastern side of the Raichur Fort and ordered a relentless siege of the fortress.
Ismail Adil Shah, with an army of close to 150,000 on horseback, crossed the Krishna River from the north and set up camp nine miles from Raichur. The Adil Shah deployed his troops over a wide area expecting the Vijaynagar king to do the same. The following day, Krishna Deva Raya attacked through the middle. The Vijaynagar army outnumbered the opposition but the Shah opened canon fire and the Raya’s troops had no choice but to fall back. This retreat was slowly turning into a rout when Krishna Deva Raya ordered all his divisions forward in a final attempt to thwart the rising tide of the Adil Shah’s troops.
This resulted in complete success because the Shah’s troops were disorganized and spread across too wide an area. Krishna Deva Raya and his humongous army drove the enemy to the banks of the Krishna, where a bloody slaughter took place. Krishna Deva Raya crossed the river, captured the Shah’s camp, and Ismail Adil Shah barely made it out alive, having escaped on the back of an elephant. With the help of Portuguese sharpshooters wielding arquebuses (long-barrelled guns), Krishna Deva Raya captured the unprotected Raichur Fort and claimed a decisive victory.
How then could the pivotal victory at the Battle of Raichur prove to be the undoing of the Vijayanagara Empire?
Krishna Deva Raya’s victory at Raichur severely crippled the power and prestige of the Adil Shah of Bijapur. He did not dream of revenge on his own. Instead, he began slowly forming a coalition with the Deccan sultanates. The various Muhammadan sovereigns of the South had one thought in mind- if the Adil Shah could so easily be defeated, could their subjugation be far behind? With this in mind, an alliance between the five Muslim dynasties of the Deccan Plateau resulted in the Battle of Talikota where the Vijayanagara Empire met its demise.
There is no way Krishna Deva Raya could have avoided the Battle of Raichur. The only defence during medieval times was a constant offence. From the time of Bukka I, the Vijayanagara Empire was expanded and fortified on the basis of a strong military stratagem. There comes a time when every great empire must fall and Vijayanagara’s days were numbered the moment Krishna Deva Raya marched into Raichur, proclaiming his victory over an enemy who would soon come calling, stronger than ever.