Short Essay on Ala-Ud-Din’s Devagiri Expedition

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Ala-ud-din now began preparation to lead an expedition against the Maratha kingdom- Devagiri-which was at that time ruled by the Yadava king Ramachandra (also known as Ramadeva) who had ascended the throne in A.D. 1271 after the death of his uncle Mahadeva. Devagiri flourished during his reign.

His armies invaded Malwa and Mysore. He was a patron of learning and under him flourished the great Maratha poet Dyandev. Kinciad and Parasnis in their celebrated work, A History of the Maratha People, speak highly of this greatest king of Deccan: “For twenty-five years Rama Chandra had ruled prosperously.

The valour of his armies guarded his far flung frontier. The wisdom of Hemadpant secured the prosperity of his subjects and filled the treasury of the monarch.” There was brisk trade and commerce which further enriched the king and his people.

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Ala-ud-din made preparations with the ostensible object of invading Chanderi, a Rajput fortress in Central India, about 150 km north of Vindhya Mountains. His real motive, however, was to conquer Devagiri about whose riches he had heard so much.

His intelligence had further told him that the time was very opportune as the main army of Ramachandra had marched towards the Hoysala frontier under the command of his son Singhana Deva. Ala-ud-din at once went straight to Ellichpur with 8000 chosen horsemen.

His task had further been considerably eased by his clever move to hood-wink the Hindu Rajas by proclaiming that he was a fugitive prince who had fled from the royal court to escape the wrath of the Sultan. He took rest there for 2 days and reorganized his forces and then crossed the pass, Khim and Ghati Lazaura or Lasaura about 12 miles from Devagiri.

Here he faced a valiant Hindu Raja, Kanha, a vassal of Ramachandra who offered stiff resistance. He was joined by two other high ranking brave ladies with their retinues.

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S.K. Lai in his History of the Khaljis, quotes a contemporary historian Isami, author of Futuh-us-Salatin, “In the battle against Ala-ud-din these ‘tigresses’ charged the enemy with such fury that he was compelled to fall back some distance.

In the second charge, however, the latter advanced with greater determination and Kanha was defeated. The vanquished army retreated precipitately; its route was complete and its losses heavy.”

Ala-ud-din had no doubt won the battle, but he had at the same time seen the mettle of southerners. Therefore, before marching forward to his main objective Devagiri, he addressed his officers and men and brought home to them the idea of the tough work that lay ahead.

“In a country”, said he, “where women do not retreat before us……………… I do not know what men would do to us on the field of battle.” The soldiers were disheartened and were not in a mood to move forward in such a unhospitable land. But Ala-ud-din was made of a sterner stuff.

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He made a courageous speech to his soldiers. He admitted that there were dangers ahead but at the same time he tempted them with the wealth they would obtain in plunder. All of them swore to fight to the last and win at any cost.

Luck also helped Ala-ud-din. Devagiri at this time was without a sizeable army. The choicest of troops, as earlier stated, had gone southwards under Singhana Deva.

Still, it seems, the king gathered a few thousand troops to meet the advancing Muhammadan forces. Ala-ud-din easily overpowered them and pursued the retreating army to Devagiri where the king finding no alternative, took refuge in the fort and prepared himself for a siege.

Devagiri was one of the strongest fortresses of medieval India. It was situated on a steep hill 640 feet high with walls and bastions. It was surrounded by a 50 feet deep moat which made it impregnable.

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But the peace and prosperity of the country for a long time and their unquestioned superiority over their neighboring states had made Yadavas, complacent about their own defence.

The moat had remained dry for quite a long time and there were no provisions in the fort. Incidentally, however, a few merchants had left some sacks at the approach of the invaders; these were seized and hastily put into the fort.

Ramachandra had thus withdrawn himself in the fort leaving the lower city later known as Kataka to the mercy of the invaders. Ala-ud-din plundered the city, and took all the influential persons as prisoners.

Some of them were put to death and others were exhibited before the fort in chains to strike terror into the heart of the besieged and dishearten them. The crafty general also spread the rumour that he was leading only vanguard of the forces of the Delhi emperor while the major army twenty thousand strong would be arriving soon.

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Ramachandra naturally felt disheartened. He was further dismayed to find that the sacks which he had seized did not contain grain but salt. He,therefore, thought, it advisable to open negotiations. He, however, shrewdly reminded the invader that his son Singhana with his forces was likely to turn up any moment.

He also warned that he would have to pass through inhospitable Hindu kingdoms on his way back. Ala- ud-din too thought it prudent to patch up a truce, after levying a war indemnity. He promised to leave the city within a fortnight. But the events took a different turn with the arrival of Singhana.

Brave and courageous, as he was, he threatened Ala-ud-din with dire consequences if he did not leave the city immediately and return all the money he had looted. His father sent him a message entreating him not to take any rash step as the enemy was very tough and he had already concluded a treaty with him.

But the young prince did not listen to his advice. Ala-ud-din felt outraged, captured the envoys of Singhana, blackened their face and paraded them among his army and made preparations for war. Leaving Nusrat Khan with one thousand soldiers to guard the fort so that the father could not join with his son, he fell upon the Maratha soldiers.

There was a fierce battle and the tide was definitely in favour of Singhana when Nusrat Khan witnessing the desperate condition of the Muslim army, joined them with a contingent of his fresh soldiers. Marathas mistook it to be the vanguard of the 20,000 soldiers about which Ala-ud-din had spread a false rumour.

There was a great confusion and panic among the Singhana’s troops who were completely disheartened and fled in all directions. Ala-ud-din renewed the siege of the fort. He killed most of the brahmans and merchants he had taken prisoners and paraded others before the fort. Ramadeva again sued for peace. Ala-ud-din’s terms were much tougher now.

He asked for a huge war indemnity besides the surrender of Ellichpur. The old king had no alternative but to accept these conditions. It is difficult to ascertain the exact amount which was extricated. Ala-ud-din thus left Devagiri after 25 days, laden with enormous booty in gold and silver and reducing the position of this giant kingdom to that of a vassal state.

Briggs pays a handsome tribute to Ala-ud-din on his achievements. “In the long volumes of history, there is scarcely anything to be compared with this exploit, whether we regard the resolution in forming the plan, the boldness of its execution, or the great good fortune that attended its accomplishment.”

The effects of this invasion were far reaching. It not only provided Ala-ud-din with the money, he needed so badly to further his ambitious plans to succeed to the throne of Delhi but also opened the way to the South India to the Muhammadans, none of whom had dared to cross the Vindhyas so far.

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