Military achievements Raghunatha Nayak, ruler of Tanjore

  • Know about the military achievements of Raghunatha Nayak (1600-1634). He was also a man of art and culture.

The battle of Talikota took away the protection of Hindus that had protected them for nearly for 250 years against Muslim Sultanates. The loss paved the way for Muslim powers to set their base in south India. The combined forces of Sultanates wrecked havoc on Vijayanagar territories, started from capital itself. It was burning it for almost six months and population was killed. This installed a sense of terror in South India.


Although Tirumala Raya shifted his capital to Penukonda (in modern day Andhra), and tried to recover the lost glory of the empire, his death created anarchy and a political vacuum. It gave the Sultanates an opportunity to insert their religion and authority on South India.


Venkata, the worthy successor of Tirumala decided to reclaim the glory of the empire but had many challenges before of him. He had to face the combined attacks of the Sultanates, rebel chieftains all over the kingdom, deal with the European powers and recapture lost forts. In such difficult times where Allies were either deserting the empire or declaring independence or becoming part of the Sultanates, one person who stood like a rock to revive its glory, both culturally and martially and stem the growth of Sultanates in south India. That man was Raghunatha Nayaka of Tanjore.


After the fall of Cholas, Tanjore went to Vijayanagar. In 1533 A.D. Achyuta Raya, the successor of Krishna Devaraya appointed Sevappa Nayak as governor of Tanjore and granted him the permission to establish a feudatory kingdom. Tanjore nayaks, remained loyal to the empire in critical times. Sevappa was succeeded by Achyutappa Nayak in 1560. A loyalist of the Vijayanagara Empire, Achuthappa Nayak assisted the Emperor in Thalikottai War and also contained the power of the Madurai Nayak. He paid revenue to the Emperor regularly and was considered as confidante of the Emperor.


Raghunatha was born to Achyutappa Nayak, year is not known. He had given education in the Sastras, Rajaniti, the art of warfare, and in the use of various weapons. Raghunatha’s appointment as Yuvaraja in his youth was noticed. For a number of years he was joint ruler along with his father. He soon proved his prowess in the war against Qutb Shah of Golconda. 


In 1588, Venkata, the emperor of Vijaynagar instigated a war against sultanates to recover his lost territories. To check his progress, a combined army of Adil Shah and Qutb Shah attacked Vijaynagar. In Penukonda, a fierce war ensued in which Hindu army slew 50,000 Muslims and achieved grand victory and recovered much of territories. In this battle Raghunatha assisted Venkata. Contemporary records praise the valor of Raghunatha Nayaka in grand manner. Thus, at an early age he proved himself as worthy successor of Achyutappa.


Raghunatha ascended the throne of Thanjavur in 1600 AD.


According to Portuguese records, Raghunatha killed his step brother and ascended the throne. But according to contemporary texts like The Raghunathabhyudayam and the Sahityaratnakara alike say that Achyutappa was for long, without a child and add that he even did penance before Raghunatha was born to him and to Murtimamba. Govinda Dlkshita, in his introduction to the Sangtta Sudha, speaks of Raghunatha only, as the son of Achyutappa and there is nothing even in the Telugu works to imply or indicate that he had a brother. In the face of these hard facts, the reference to Raghunatha’s brother in the Jesuit letters is wholly misleading and unreliable and could be based on misconceptions. 


Raghunatha after ascending the throne, engaged himself in a expedition against Solaga. Solaga, a chieftain under Madurai Nayakas, was known for his cruelty towards his subjects. He also helped the Portuguese many times in building mud forts in coastal areas, blocking the path of devotees of Rameshwaram. He used to pour lead in eyes and ears of general population. After hearing about his deeds, Raghunatha marched with a huge army and attacked the Solaga near his territory, i.e. near Kumbhakonam. Solaga was assisted by Portuguese. In fierce battle, Raghunatha defeated Solaga and put him in prison with his family.


In north Sri Lanka, also known as Nepala or Jaffna, there ruled a Hindu dynasty named Aryachakravarthi. From 1540’s they started facing Portuguese inroads in their kingdom. During the reign of Cankili 1, the Portuguese started mass conversion of people living in coastal areas. Cankili, sensing the future danger attacked missionaries and killed majority of converts. Portuguese then attacked Cankili and in the battle that ensued, the Portuguese were badly defeated. A peace treaty signed between both the parties. But they continued their conversion activities and became powerful enough to dislodge the king from throne. Ethiramana Cinkam, the king of that dynasty died and his nephew Cankili 2 claimed the throne but this was not acceptable to the Portuguese. Cankili sought the help of Raghunatha Nayaka of Tanjore. Raghunatha after subduing Solaga marched towards Jaffna, defeated the Portuguese and placed Cankili 2 on the throne. 


In 1614 Venkata, the emperor of Vijayanagar having no issue, appointed his nephew as his successor before his death.


Unhappy with this decision his queen Bayamma, adopted a Brahmin boy and declared him as a successor with the help of her brother Gobburi Jaggaraya.  Gobburi wanted to rule Vijayanagar as a regent. He then kidnapped and massacred the whole family of the nephew so appointed.


Only one survived that massacre. That son was transported by a washerman, to Yachama Nayaka, the loyal feudatory of Vijayanagar.


The Nayaks of Madurai and Gingee, the Ruler of Travancore, Muslims, Portuguese and other rebel chiefs joined Gobburi Jaggaraya. Yachama asked for the help of Raghunatha Nayak against rebels. Raghunatha marched towards Yachama but Gobburi destroyed the bridge. This angered Raghunatha and he took pledge that he will rebuild this bridge with the skulls of his enemies. Raghunatha joined Yachama near Toppur. His army consisted of elite horse and elephant cavalry, gunners and special force of firearms.


At Toppur a battle between loyalist and rebels ensued. It was one of the biggest battles in India during seventeenth century. Raghunatha personally led from front, showed utmost valor in this battle. Gobburi Jaggaraya was killed in this battle and Nayaks of Gingee and Madurai fled from the battlefield. Thus, the loyalist faction under Raghunatha and Yachma won the battle and they coronated Ramadevaraya, as new emperor of Vijayanagar. Raghunatha Nayak erected a victory pillar. 


Now, he got a title as “Establisher of Karnata (Vijayanagara) and Nepala (Jaffna) kings." 


Thus, he restored the peace in the empire and also established a king in Lanka by defeating the European power. Later, he sent six expeditions to Jaffna to subdue Portuguese but except one, all others failed. Though Raghunatha Nayak tried his best to befriend the Madurai Nayaks, the relationship weakened once Muthu Veerappa Nayak became the King of Madurai. Raghunatha Nayak married the daughter of Muthu Veerappa Nayak to defuse the situation and to re-establish the friendship. However, the Madurai Tanjore relationship remained strained forever.


Apart from military achievements Raghunatha was man of arts and culture.

Raghunatha Nayaka followed the foot-steps of his father Achyutappa in the patronage of Vishnu temples. Being a great Rama bhakta, he authored Raghunath Ramayanam. He read the Rama katha daily and created a cell called ‘Srirama Soudam’ in the Thanjavur palace for the display of the different images of Rama. He was titled as anaviratharamakadamrudha sevakan, to mark his devotion to Rama bhakti.


Raghunatha built the Ramasamy temple at Kumbakonam where he arranged the coronation ceremony of the Vijayanagar Emperor Ramarayan. He erected sixteen small shrines around the sacred Mahamaham tank to mark sixteen kind of danas. In 1609 A.D., he endowed 60 veli of the land to the Bhaktavachala Perumal temple at Thirukkannamangai. He installed new copper icons in many of the temples which received his patronage.


Raghunath Nayak created an endowment out of the income from the Nodyur village. The Thiruvalangadu Vedavaraneswarar Thirukkoyil was one among them where the new copper icons were installed. Further he donated cars for temples at Thiruvidaimarudur, Thiruvaiyaru and Pattiswaram. The image of Raghunath Nayak was carved out in the temple’s cars. This support cost a lot.


He was a gifted scholar in both Sanskrit and Telugu languages, and a talented musician. The court was crowded with poets and scholars. Raghunatha takes credit for not only writing several books on music and Telugu literature, but also compositions. Raghunatha created new ragas, talas, and melas like Jayanta sena (ragam), Ramananda (Talam), Sargita vidya and Raghunatha (Mela). Maduravani and Ramabhadramba were famous poets in his court, whereas Sudhindra and Raghavendra were two famous Madhava gurus patronized by him. Govinda Dikshita continued to be a minister in his court as well and Raghunatha’s Sanskrit treatise on music, Sangita Sudha opened the intricacies and secrets of music to the public. The later scholar Venketamakhin states however that the Sangita Sudha was actually authored by Govinda Dikshita.


Raghunatha also composed kavyas and dance-dramas.  


The mela veena or the Saraswati veena (a.k.a Tanjore veena), which is staple to Carnatic music today, was developed by Raghunatha


It was during Raghunatha’s reign that a palace library was established and it was in this Saraswati Bhandar (modern day Thanjavur Palace) is where the manuscripts from Raghunatha’s prolific court scholars were collected and preserved. 


Raghtnatha Nayak specifically mentions in Sangitha Sudha that he undertook the task of simplifying classical music so that there was no variation between the defined and actual recitals. His aim was that people should recognize the ragas simply by listening to the songs once and that it was his aim to open the secrets of music to all.


Thus, after long rule from 1589, he died in 1634. Raghunatha emerged when the Sultanates hounded Hindu rulers from all sides. Raghunatha stood rock solid against every calamity and became the beacon of Dharma after the Battle of Talikota 1565.


To read all articles by author


Also read

1. Battle of Talikota

2. Album Thanjavur Palace Complex

3. Album Temples of Kumbakonam

4. Step-well Penukonda Fort   

Receive Site Updates