Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

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Onake Obavva :: An Informal History of the Chitradurga Nayakas

An Informal History of the Chitradurga Nayakas



An Informal History of the Chitradurga Nayakas

Much of Karnataka endured chronic social and political upheaval in the centuries between the collapse of the Vijayanagara Empire in the late 1500s and the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799. It was an era of dynamic change, during which petty rulers and chiefs, variously called “little kings,” nayakas, and poligars in historical accounts, fought war after war against outsiders and each other. Mysore was ultimately the most successful of these polities and its history dominates what has been written about this period. Several smaller kingdoms, most notably Chitradurga and Keladi (Bednur, Bednore), endured into the middle 1700s and were of considerable regional importance.

Between 1500-1800, Chitradurga was at times a province of Vijayanagara, an independent kingdom, a tributary of the Marathas, a tributary of the Mughals, a tributary of Mysore, and, finally, a Mysore province. In spite of this tumultuous past, the Chitradurga nayakas have received so little attention from modern researchers that, until recently, its story was only a modest footnote in Karnataka history.

Origins of the Chitradurga Nayakas

Chitradurga was one of several central Karnataka regions governed by local chieftains well before the rise of Vijayanagara, which inherited control of the region from the Hoysalas in the early 1300s. By the 1500s, it was largely dominated by Bedar (Valmiki) families who traced their origins to southern Andhra Pradesh from which they had emigrated with their herds. Like most of the families that rose to power in the 1500s, the Chitradurga nayakas based the legitimacy of their rule on their relationship with the Vijayanagara kings, who appointed several of their line as local governors after they attracted the attention of the Vijayanagara rulers through acts of daring and bravery.

One such ruler was Timmanna Nayaka, who was attacked by a Vijayanagara force in the early 1560s because he had raided neighboring poligar territories. In a daring act of bravery and sheer arrogance, Timmanna Nayaka decided to steal the horse of the Vijayanagara prince who commanded the forces sent against him. Under cover of night, he stole into the enemy camp and found the prince’s horse. Before he could make his getaway, a groom arrived to re-tether the horse. Hiding literally at the groom’s feet, Timmanna Nayaka lay unnoticed in the darkness as the groom drove the tether rope peg through his hand. Pinned to the ground, Timmanna Nayaka waited for the groom to leave, cut off his hand to free himself, and rode away on the prince’s horse. It is said that the event convinced the Vijayanagara army that they could not defeat Timmanna Nayaka and they sued for peace. The Vijayanagara king formally appointed him as the governor of Chitradurga and he enjoyed a brief interlude of favor at court. Regrettably, it did not last and he died in prison at Vijayanagara.

Chitradurga Fort is the most visible modern reminder of the nayakas who once held sway across this part of central Karnataka. Although traces of older fortification walls can still be found there (the best example being the early Vijayanagara era covered gateway and walls you pass through when you enter the fort past the ASI ticket booth on Ta Ra Su Street), most of the standing walls and gateways were constructed by the Chitradurga nayakas and Tipu Sultan. This fort was effectively the heart of the kingdom.

click on a picture to see a larger version

Mysore, AD 1625For a long time after the collapse of the Vijayanagara empire, the rulers of small states fought with each other and outsiders for control of the region (Source of figure: Rice 1897, Vol. I, facing p. 357).
Royal Display AreaThe gateway in the right foreground leads to Hidimbeswara temple, one of the oldest temples on the hill. A monolithic pillar and two swing frames lie between the entrance to this gateway and the Sampige Siddheshvara temple, which rests at the foot of the hill in the left background.
The MintWest of the Hidimbeswara Temple complex (right background) is a walled compound popularly called the Mint (foreground). A road leads past the Mint to the main western gate, called Basavana Bagilu, and another line of fortifications, which protect the inner fort.
Inner FortThis area contains the remains of the palace complex, its ornamental gardens, and many warehouses and granaries. In the background, across the Gopalaswamy Honda, can be seen the Gopalakrishna Temple, the image of which is mentioned in inscriptions that date to the early 14th century.

Independence and Expansion

After the fall of the city of Vijayanagara in 1565, the Chitradurga family and most other central Karnataka nayakas soon declared their independence of the remnants of that empire. They also were in the thick of the chronic regional warfare that devastated central Karnataka for the next 250 years. They warred repeatedly with the Basavapatna or Tarikere poligars whose country lay to the west, with the Harapanahalli poligars to the north at Uchchangidurga; with the Harati or Nidugal family at Dodderi and later at Nidugal; with the Hatti family, whose headquarters town was Nayakanahatti; and with the Rayadurga poligars, among others. The political stability of the region was complicated further in the mid-1600s, when the Mughals invaded central Karnataka and established the suba or major province of Sira. Although the territories of many former poligars in the region became parganas or lesser provinces under the Mughals, Chitradurga was one of the fortunate few to enjoy limited independence as a tributary of Sira.

These events did not lessen the pace of regional warfare, which continued on the borders of Chitradurga. The story of the unfortunate end of Bharamappa Nayaka’s son, Hire Madakeri Nayaka, illustrates the temper of this era. He succeeded to the Chitradurga throne in 1721 and the kingdom enjoyed considerable military and economic successes during his reign. It ended, however, when a coalition of armies of the principal poligars whose territories bordered that of Chitradurga drew him into a decisive battle at Mayaconda around 1747. A kafiyat or town history, which was recorded at Mayaconda in 1801, describes how Hire Madakeri Nayaka advanced to receive the attack of his enemies with 20,000 Chitradurga soldiers and 5,000 soldiers of his Maratha allies. When the armies met, however, the Marathas refused to fight, having reputedly been bribed by the poligar coalition to stay out of the battle. Rather than retreat, Hire Madakeri Nayaka advanced to meet the enemy on his war elephant and engaged Konati Nayak, the Rayadurga poligar (other sources say it was Somashekhara Nayaka of Harapanahalli) in personal combat, chaining their elephants’ legs to hold them steady. Wounded by Konati Nayak’s arrows, Hire Madakeri Nayaka fell from his elephant and was beheaded by soldiers of the Savanur poligar. Defeated, the Chitradurga troops retreated and the poligar coalition army laid siege to Mayakonda fort for several months. The siege was eventually lifted by Hire Madakeri Nayaka’s son, Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka II.

Today, little evidence marks the mid-1700s clash of armies at Mayakonda. There is no trace either of the substantial fort that once stood here. All that remains is a small mantapa a little beyond the north side of town and, largely obscured by the grass and weeds around it, one can see the faint outline of what was once a small ornamental garden in the Mughal style. Here is where Hire Madakeri Nayaka’s body was burned, closing the chapter on one ruler’s reign and beginning a fresh and equally violent one for his successor.

The Fall of the Chitradurga Nayakas

Chitradurga’s political position became untenable in the mid-1700s after it was caught between the Marathas and Haidar Ali of Mysore in their struggle for control of central Karnataka. Gambling that the Marathas would eventually prevail, the Chitradurga rulers entered into secret negotiations with them. Had the plan succeeded, they would have had a valuable ally in their continuing military conflicts with the Keladi (Bednore) kings of modern-day Shimoga district; it may have even helped them to sustain their rule into the 19th century.

Haidar Ali, however, proved to be more than equal to the task of dealing with Chitradurga and thwarting the regional ambitions of the Marathas. After three sharp clashes with Chitradurga in the 1760s and 1770s, Haidar Ali finally took the fort in 1779 and the region became a Mysore province. Madakari Nayaka IV, the last ruler of Chitradurga, and his family were imprisoned at Shrirangapattana, where they died. To break the power of the Bedar caste in the region, which had loyally supported the Chitradurga nayakas, Haidar Ali is said to have moved more than 20,000 Bedars from Chitradurga to Shrirangapattana, the young men of which were pressed in his chela battalions and recruited into his army. As the historian and early British Resident at Mysore noted in the early 1800s, Chitradurga soldiers in the Mysore army enjoyed a reputation for bravery and military effectiveness in the Mysore wars that followed in the late 1700s.

Among the many heroes and heroines of Chitradurga, mention must be made of Onake Obavva, the wife of a common soldier, who, while fetching water during one of the several sieges of the fort, heard the muffled sound of enemy soldiers attempting to enter the fort walls through a small crevice that was just big enough for one person at a time to crawl through. Hiding silently next to the crevice with an onake, or pestle, she killed each soldier as his head appeared in the opening and dragged his body inside the wall. By the time her husband and others came to her aid, many dead soldiers lay around her. Onake Obavva’s courage and quick thinking single-handedly saved the fort that day. Her bravery is commemorated in Chitradurga by the name of Onake Obavva Stadium and by an extraordinary new sculpture near the DC Office. The sculpture was commissioned by the Government of Karnataka and brilliantly executed by the distinguished sculptor Ashok Gudigar.

Fort GatewaysMany of the fortification lines possess elaborate gateways. This gateway on the eastern side of the fort shows design elements typical of the Bahami sultanate in northern Karnataka.
Fortification LinesMost of Chitradurga’s rulers added to its fortifications. The wall walks and gun platforms seen in this slide are among the latest additions to the fort. Their design and construction suggest that they were built by mercenary European military engineers in the late 1700s.
Storehouses and GranariesForts show considerable investment in storage facilities for food, water, and the military stores necessary to withstand a siege. Chitradurga is unusual among South Indian forts in that its storage facilities are still well preserved.
Mud BricksMud brick walls of the storehouses and granaries at Chitradurga Fort. These bricks were laid down more than 200 years ago and are slowly melting away with each monsoon.

Chitradurga in the Early 1800s

After Tipu Sultan’s death in early May of 1799, which marked the end of the 4th Mysore War, the Mysore kingdom was recreated under the Wodeyars. Chitradurga remained a Mysore province and was governed from Mysore. Chitradurga Fort, which was viewed by the British as a potentially useful base along Mysore’s northern line of defense, was garrisoned by British troops between 1799-1809, after which it passed back into the hands of the Mysore government.

As an epilogue to the story of the Chitradurga nayakas, British troops detained Dodda Madakari Nayaka, a cousin of Madakari Nayaka IV, at Calicut in Malabar in early 1800. He requested a troop escort and passports so he could visit Madras to make his claim as the legitimate successor to Madakari Nayaka IV. After what was undoubtedly very careful consideration of the political implications of his requests, the Governor-in-Council at Madras rejected his claim to Chitradurga because Madakari Nayaka IV surrendered to Haidar Ali before the British conquest of Mysore and Dodda Madakari Nayaka had entered the service of Haidar Ali after the fall of Chitradurga, but later deserted to Travancore. By this reasoning, he had no legitimate claim to the territory of Chitradurga, whether from his relationship with Madakari Nayaka IV or with Tipu Sultan. It should also go without saying that, had the Governor-in-Council approved Dodda Madakari Nayaka’s requests, it could ultimately have posed a threat to the stability of the Wodeyar government in Mysore. Such a possibility, of course, was not in the interests of the Wodeyars or the British. According to G. N. Saletore’s account of these events Dodda Madakari Nayaka was eventually granted a pension by Dewan Purnaiya, regent for Mummadi Krishnaraja III Wodeyar of Mysore.

Until the late 1990s when Davangere district was created, the boundaries of Chitradurga district reflected its nayaka heritage. Its boundaries encompassed most of the territory held by Madakeri Nayaka IV when Chitradurga Fort fell to Haidar Ali.

Chitradurga, AD 1800The province consisted of 12 parganas, each of which contained a headquarters town that answered to the provincial capital at Chitradurga.
Sentry BoxesMany of the latest additions to the fort were made of fired bricks set in mortar, covered with a thin veneer of cement or chunam, and painted. Much of this brickwork has lost its protective coating of cement over the past 200 years.
The British at ChitradurgaThe East India Company garrison made few significant changes to the fort. This sign, painted on a boulder, identified the location of a post.
Scottish CannonThis cannon, one of two 18-pounders abandoned at the Tipu Sultan Battery on the northeastern corner of the fort, was cast in 1799 at the Carron Works in Falkirk, Scotland.


Patil, C. S. (1999) Karnataka Kotegalu [Forts of Karnataka]. Hampi: Kannada University.

Puttanna, M. S. (1924) Chitradurgada Paleyagararu [Chitradurga Poligars]. Bangalore.

Ramachandra Rao, P. B. (1943) The Poligars of Mysore and Their Civilization. Teppakulam: Palaniappa Bros.

Rice, B. Lewis (1897) Mysore: A Gazetteer Compiled for Government. Revised edition. 2 Vols. London: Archibald Constable and Company.

Rice, B. Lewis (1903) Inscriptions in the Chitaldroog District. Epigraphia Carnatica, Vol. XI. Bangalore: Mysore Government Central Press.

Saletore, R. N. (1940) The Conquest of Citradurga by Hyder Ali. Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society 29:171-188.

Sathyan, B. N., ed. (1967) Mysore State Gazetteer: Chitradurga District. Bangalore: Government Press.

Srikanta Sastri, S. (1928) Capitulation of Chitradurga. Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society 18:145-154.

Srikantaya, S. (1941) Chitaldrug. Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society 31:339-356.

Wilks, Mark (1989) Historical Sketches of the South of India in an Attempt to Trace the History of Mysore. 2 vols. Reprint of 1930 edition; originally published in 1810. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Dr, Barry Lewis



In press

Channabasappa S. Patil: An Appreciation. In Vijayanagara, Archaeological Exploration, 1990-2000, Papers in memory of Channabasappa S. Patil, edited by John M. Fritz, Robert Brubaker and Teresa Raczek. VRP Monograph Series 10. Manohar and American Institute of Indian Studies, New Delhi.

Hillside Shiva Shrine in Vijayanagara’s Eastern Urban Core.  In Vijayanagara, Archaeological Exploration, 1990-2000, Papers in memory of Channabasappa S. Patil, edited by John M. Fritz, Robert Brubaker and Teresa Raczek. VRP Monograph Series 10. Manohar and American Institute of Indian Studies, New Delhi. (with Nicholas Powell)


UPAA 9e cover

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, by Barry Lewis, Robert Jurmain, and Lynn Kilgore. 2007. 9th edition. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning:Belmont, CA.

Please send comments, corrections, suggestions for future editions to blewis@uiuc.edu

Chitradurga Drawings

Chitradurga in the Early 1800s: Archaeological Interpretations of Colonial Drawings. 2006. Indian Council of Historical Research, Southern Regional Centre, Lecture Series Publication 6. Bangalore, India.

2005. The Mysore Kingdom at AD 1800: Archaeological Applications of the Mysore Survey of Colin Mackenzie. In South Asian Archaeology 2001, edited by Catherine Jarrige and Vincent Lefèvre, Volume II, pp. 557-565. Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, Paris.

2004. NVivo 2.0 and ATLAS.ti 5.0: A Comparative Review of Two Popular Qualitative Data Analysis Programs. Field Methods 16:439-464.

2003. Chitradurga: A Nayaka Period Successor State in South India. Asian Perspectives 42:267-286. (with C. S. Patil)

2003. Review of “The Jungle Kings: Ethnohistorical Aspects of Politics and Ritual in Orissa” by Burkhard Schnepel. The Journal of Asian Studies 62:1297-1298.

2002. Review of “Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos” by Sally A. Kitt Chappell. Journal of Illinois History 5:247-248.

cahokia2.jpg (144453 bytes)

Cahokia and the Hinterlands, edited by Thomas E. Emerson and R. Barry Lewis. 2000. Illini edition.  University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

2000. Sea Level Rise and Subsidence Effects on Gulf Coast Archaeological Site Distributions. American Antiquity 65:525-541.

2000. ArcView 3.2a, MapInfo 6.0, and Manifold 4.5: A Comparative Review of Geographical Information System (GIS) Software.  Field Methods 12:358-377.

2000. Review of “The Cahokia Chiefdom: The Archaeology of a Mississippian Society,” by George R. Milner.  Journal of Field Archaeology 27:107-108.

2000. Review of “Precolumbian Architecture in Eastern North America,” by William N. Morgan. American Antiquity 65:208.

Selected Older Publications

1999. The Mississippian Town as Metaphor.  In Self, Place & Imagination: Cross-Cultural Thinking in Architecture, edited by Samer Akkach, Stanislaus Fung, and Peter Schriver, pp. 93-105.  Proceedings of the Second International Symposium of the Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture.  University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.

Towns.jpg (153239 bytes)

Mississippian Towns and Sacred Spaces: Searching for An Architectural Grammar, edited by R. Barry Lewis and Charles Stout.  1998. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

ky2.jpg (188025 bytes)

Kentucky Archaeology. 1996. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington. (editor)

1996. The Western Kentucky Border and the Cairo Lowland. In Prehistory of the Central Mississippi Valley, edited by Charles McNutt, pp. 47-75. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

1995. Neon Leon. Louisiana Literature 12:44-49.

1995. Constantine Rafinesque and the Canton Site, A Mississippian Town in Trigg County, Kentucky. Southeastern Archaeology 14:83-90. (with Charles Stout).

1990. The Late Prehistory of the Ohio-Mississippi Rivers Confluence Region, Kentucky and Missouri. In Towns and Temples along the Mississippi River, edited by David Dye and Cheryl A. Cox, pp. 38-58. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

1988. Fires on the Bayou: Cultural Adaptations in the Mississippi Sound Region. Southeastern Archaeology 7:109-123.

1988. Old World Dice in the Protohistoric Southern United States. Current Anthropology 29:759-68.

1986 The Analysis of Contingency Tables in Archaeology. In Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, edited by Michael B. Schiffer, vol. 9, pp. 277-310. Academic Press, New York.

Miss Towns

Mississippian Towns of the Western Kentucky Border: The Adams, Wickliffe, and Sassafras Ridge Sites, edited by R. Barry Lewis. 1986. The Kentucky Heritage Council, Frankfort.

1985. Radiocarbon Dating and Lower Mississippi Valley Archaeology. North American Archaeologist 6:213-225.

1983. Archaic Adaptations to the Illinois Prairie: The Salt Creek Region. In Archaic Hunters and Gatherers in the American Midwest, edited by James Phillips and James Brown, pp. 99-116. Academic Press, New York.

Miss Hamlets

Excavations at Two Mississippian Hamlets in the Cairo Lowland of Southeast Missouri. 1982. Special Publications 2. Illinois Archaeological Survey, Urbana.

Hood Site

The Hood Site: a Late Woodland Hamlet in the Sangamon Valley of Central Illinois. 1975. Reports of Investigations 31. Illinois State Museum, Springfield.

Southeast Missouri

Mississippian Exploitative Strategies: A Southeast Missouri Example. 1974. Research Series 11. Missouri Archaeological Survey, Columbia.


October 21, 2006 - Posted by | EKAVI COORG-KODAGU, History of Karnataka


  1. Its good to know about forgotten heroes of karnataka, please give more information about chitradurga battles, and publish about SURAPURADA ARASOO RAJA VENKKATAPPA NAYAKA who fought against BRITISH, JAI KARNATAKA.

    Comment by sp | April 26, 2007 | Reply

  2. its very fine one but theres no photo graph na!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by varuni | July 19, 2009 | Reply

  3. Just wish to say your article is as surprising.
    The clearness on your submit is just spectacular and i could
    suppose you are an expert in this subject. Fine along with your permission allow me to grab your feed to stay up to
    date with drawing close post. Thank you one million and please carry on the rewarding work.

    Comment by porn | April 11, 2015 | Reply

  4. Thank you for this. I am not a Kannadiga however am married to a Kannadiga. I teach theatre and had found a children’s book in Kannada (with the help of the Kannada teacher in school) to help develop a story-line for Onake Obava. The history of the Nayaks would give students a clearer idea of the kind of people who were at Chitradurga. Thanks.

    Comment by Nala Nantha | March 19, 2017 | Reply

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