Madurai Nayak Dynasty

Madurai Nayak Kingdom
Madurai Nayak Kingdom.jpg
Approximate extent of the Madurai Nayakar Kingdom, circa 1570 CE.
Official language Telugu, Tamil
Capitals Madurai 1529 – 1616, Tiruchirapalli1616–1634, again Madurai 1634 – 1695, Tiruchirapalli1695-1716,Madurai 1716–1736.
Government Governors, then Monarchy
Preceding States Pandiyan Dynasty, Delhi Sultanate, Vijayanagara Empire
Succeeding States Nawab of Carnatic, British India, Kingdom of Mysore (for Dindigul, Coimbatore, Salem provinces)
Breakaway States Ramnad (circa 1702),

Pudukkottai and Sivaganga (from Ramnad)

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The Madurai Nayaks or Nayak Dynasty of Madurai were rulers of a region comprising most of modern-day Tamil Nadu, India, with Madurai as their capital.[1] The Nayak reign was an era noted for its achievement in arts, cultural and administrative reforms, revitalization of temples previously ransacked by the Delhi Sultans, and inauguration of a unique architectural style.

The dynasty consisted of 13 rulers, of whom 9 were kings, 2 were queens, and 2 were joint-kings. The most notable of these were the king, Tirumalai Nayak, and the queen, Rani Mangammal. Foreign trade was conducted mainly with the Dutch and the Portuguese, as the British and the French had not yet made inroads in the region.

Madurai Nayaks belonged to the Balija social group [2][3]. They claimed a Bana descent [4].


Muslim dynasty at Madurai

Early in the fourteenth century AD a dispute arose over the succession to the Pandya throne. One claimant appealed for help to emperor Ala-ud-din of Delhi, who dispatched his general, Malik Kafur, in 1310 AD. Malik Kafur marched south, ransacking kingdoms on the way and causing enormous changes to the political configuration of central and Southern India. He marched into Madurai, sacking the town, paralysing trade, suppressing public worship, and making civilian life miserable. The great Meenakshi temple with its fourteen towers was pulled down, destroying the nearby streets and buildings, and leaving only the two shrines of Sundaresvara and Meenakshi intact. The events are controversial: as another account describes them,

"...the Deccan was soon to feel the force of Islam, which was already the master of Northern India. In the reign of the able sultan of Delhi, Ala-ud-din Khalji (1296$2—1315$2 AD), a series of brilliant raids, led by the eunuch general Malik Kafur, a converted Hindu, crushed the Deccan kingdoms, and for a time a Muslim sultanate was set up even in Madurai, in the extreme south."[5]

Malik Kafur returned to Delhi following these events. The Pandyas protested the invasion, which continued for a few years in spasmodic fashion. The weakness of the Pandya regime caused the neighboring Chera ruler to invade and defeat the Pandya ruler, and he crowned himself in 1313. This was followed by a Chera occupation. However, the Chera occupation was transitory. A Muslim dynasty was soon re-established at Madurai, ruling Madurai, Trichinopoly and even South Arcot, for the next 48 years, first as feudatories of the Delhi Sultanate and later as independent monarchies.

In 1333 AD, during the rule of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, Ala ud din Ahasan Shah declared independence from the Delhi sultanate and ruled the area until he was killed by one of his officers in 1339. Alaud din Udauji Shah (AD 1339–1340) took power in 1339, but soon met with the same fate. Qutb ud din Firoz took over in 1340 AD and was killed in about forty days. Giyaz uddin Muhammad Damghan (AD 1340–1344) ascended the throne in 1340 and later married a daughter of Ahasan Shah. Ibn Batuta visited Madura during his reign and he testifies to his atrocious behaviour. He was defeated initially by the Hoysala Veera Ballala, but later captured and killed Ballala. He died in 1344. Nazir ud din Mahmud Damghan (AD 1344–1356), Adl Shah (AD 1356–1359), Faqr ud din Mubarak (AD 1359–1368) and Ala ud din Sikandar (AD 1368–1377) followed him in succession. When Sikandar was defeated by Bukka in 1377, the region became part of the Vijayanagara Empire.

== Vijayanagar Domination, 1365 AD ==

Muslim rule of the region was overthrown in 1377 AD by the new Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar, which had been founded at Hampi.[6] For the next two centuries, this empire withstood repeated Muslim invasions from the north.

Kampana Udaiyar, a Vijayanagar prince and an agent of Bukka Raya who also served as a General in the Vijayanagar army, marched into Madurai in 1372.[7] He expelled the Muslim sultan out of Madurai and started a dynasty, subordinate to the court of Vijayanagar that lasted until 1404. The immediate effect of this victory was the reopening of the Siva and Vishnu temples. The rule was continued by Vijayanagar-appointed governors who had "Nayaka" as a title. King Krishna Devaraya (1509$2–1529$2 AD), the greatest ruler of the Vijayanagar dynasty, exercised close control over this part of his empire.

After ruling for sometime, Kampana Udaiyar left his son Embana Udaiyar in charge of Madurai, who was succeeded by his brother-in-law Porkasa Udeiyar. Around 1404 AD, Porkasa Udaiyar was succeeded by a man named Lakkana Nayakkan, thus bringing the dynastic rule of Kampana Udaiyar to an end. Lekkina Nayakkan jointly ruled Madurai with another Nayaka named Mathanan until 1451 AD.[8]

Between 1451 to 1499 AD, the Madurai regions were ruled by four persons brought by Lakkana Nayakkan whom he declared to be of true Pandya stock. The four persons were Sundara Tol Maha Vilivanathi Rayar, Kaleiyar Somanar, Anjatha Perumal and Muttarasa Thirumalai Maha Vilivanathi Rayar. A commentator, James Nelson, mentions that all the four persons belonged to the same family, and were illegitimate sons of a petty Pandyan chieftain. However, all four of them enjoyed kingly powers for 48 years from 1451 to around 1499 AD and are said to have built four gopurams of the Madurai temple which was destroyed by the Mohemmadans. After the ouster by the Muslims, the Vilivanathis are said to have retired.

The existing four gopurams were built by the following:

  • East Gopuram was built by Pandiya King Maravarman Sundara Pandiyan in 1216 AD. This is the oldest of all Gopurams.
  • West Gopuram was built by Parakirama Pandiyan between 1315–1347 AD. This is the second gopuram built without steps to bring goods inside.
  • South Gopuram was built by Sevvandhi Moorthy Chettiar of Srimalai in AD 1559.[9]
  • North gopuram was built by Krishna Veerappa Nayakkar between 1564–1572 AD, and left without completion hence it is still called Mottai gopuram meaning Flat tower.[10]

The Nayak Dynasty

Prior to the formation of the Nayak dynasty, Madurai and its surrounding areas were ruled by Bana chieftains. When Kulottunga Chola III conquered Madurai in the 13th century AD, he installed a Bana as the ruler.[11] The Banas were feudatories of both the Cholas and the Pandyas. Therefore, when Sundara Pandya was helped by a Bana chieftain in his campaign against Kulothunga Chola III in about 1216 to 1217 AD, he too gave a part of the Chola country to a Bana as a reward.[12] Subsequently, the Banas ruling as the Nayaka under-lords of the Vijayanagar empire left inscriptions that provide us their names. An inscription of 1477 AD refers to a Thirumalirunjolai Mahabalivana as the ruler of Madurai; and an epigraph dated 1483 AD in Pudukkotai refers to one Bana chieftain named Virapratapa Sundarattoludaiyan Mahabali Vanadhiraya ruling in Conjivaram (Kanchipuram) in 1469 AD[13] The Nayakas appointed to rule Madurai under the Vijayanagar empire were[14][15]

  • Narasa Nayakka
  • Tenna Nayakka
  • Narasa Pillai
  • Kuru Kuru Timmappa Nayakka
  • Kattiyama Kamayya Nayakka
  • Chinnappa Nayakka
  • Ayyakarai Veyyappa Nayakka
  • Visvanatha Nayakka Ayyar


After Vishwanatha Nayaka took over the country, it was held by the Nayak dynasty for two centuries, with a few short periods of break, until in a chaotic situation Muslims took it in 1736 for a brief period, and finally the British took it during the 1780$2s.


In 1538 AD, the Vijayanagara commander Kotikam Nagama Nayaka defeated Veerasekara Chola who occupied the Pandyan region. However, Nagama Nayakka declared independence from the Vijayanagar dynasty instead of handing back the kingdom. A folk story says he did so under the influence of a girl with whom he was in love. To check the rebellion of Nagama Nayaka, emperor Krishnadeva Raya sent a large force under Viswanatha Nayak. Vishwanatha Nayaka was the son of Nagama Nayaka. Viswanatha eventually defeated and imprisoned his father. He was rewarded by the Vijayanagar king who made him the Viceroy of the Tamil Country. Krishnadeva Raya did not punish Nagama Nayak. The emperor gave him some religious work and allowed him to attend the royal court.[16][17][18] Viswanatha Nayudu obeyed the orders of the Vijayanagar king nominally, and placed the Pandya on the throne who ruled for a while. However, Vishwanatha Nayaka later set out to rule on his own account; and in 1559 when the Vijayanagara Kingdom was in decline, he established a dynastic rule.

Nagama Nayak

According to historian V. Vriddhagirisan, Nagama Nayak, an officer under Krishnadeva Raya was the brother of Timappa Nayak[19]. As noted above, Nagama Nayak was the father of Visvanatha Nayak (founder of the Madurai Nayak dynastic line). Timappa Nayak was the father of Sevappa Nayak who founded the Tanjore Nayak dynastic line. Hence Viswanatha Nayak and Sevappa Nayak were cousins.

Visvanatha Nayakka Ayyar

Kings and Queen Regents of
Madurai Nayak Dynasty
Part of History of Tamil Nadu
Tirumalai Nayak Palace
Madurai Nayak Rulers
Viswanatha Nayak 1529—1563
Kumara Krishnappa Nayak 1563—1573
Joint Rulers Group I 1573—1595
Joint Rulers Group II 1595—1602
Muttu Krishnappa Nayak 1602—1609
Muttu Virappa Nayak 1609—1623
Tirumalai Nayak 1623—1659
Muthu Alakadri Nayak 1659—1662
Chokkanatha Nayak 1662—1682
Rangakrishna Muthu Virappa Nayak 1682—1689
Rani Mangammal‡ 1689—1704
Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha Nayak 1704—1731
Queen Meenakshi‡ 1731—1736
‡ Regent Queens
Madurai 1529—1616
Tiruchirapalli 1616—1634
Madurai 1634—1665
Tiruchirapalli 1665—1736
Major Forts
Madurai 72 Bastion Fort
Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort
Dindigul Fort
Thirunelvelli Fort
Thirumalai Nayak Mahal, Madurai
Chokkanatha Nayak Palace/Durbar Hall, Tiruchirapalli
Rani Mangammal Tamukkam palace Madurai
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Viswanatha Nayaka was appointed as the Vijayanagara viceroy to Madurai in South India during the 16th century[20]. According to the Kaifiyat of Karnata-Kotikam Kings, Vishwanatha Nayudu held the titles of Ayyar and Nayaka[21][22].

Viswanatha Nayak was formally crowned as the Madura king by Acyutadeva Maharaya. Following his appointment, Viswanatha is said to have set himself immediately to strengthening his capital and improving the administration of his dominions. He was supported by his able general Ariyanatha Mudaliar who led Viswantha Nayak's army and had become second in command taking power along with the latter.[23] He demolished the Pandya rampart and ditch which at that time surrounded merely the walls of Madurai's great temple, and erected in their place an extensive double-walled fortress defended by 72 bastions; and he constructed channels from upper waters of the Vaigai river to supply the kingdom with water. Perhaps the Peranai and Chittanai dams owe their origins to him.

Vishwanatha Nayaka ruled from 900 to 950 AD, and was succeeded by Varadappa Nayaka who ruled for a very short period of about a year. In 945, Dumbicchi Nayakan became the Governor, and after twenty months, he was succeeded by Vishwanatha Nayaka again, until Vitthala Raja took over.[24] Vitthala Raja ruled from 1546 to 1558. Thereafter Vishwanatha Nayaka took over again from 956 to 976.[25] After Vishwanatha Nayak, his son Kumara Krishnappa Nayaka took over and from thereon, the heredity rule of Vishwanatha Nayaka continued.

Introduction of the polygar (palayakkarar) system

In his administrative improvements Viswanatha was ably seconded by his Prime Minister Ariyanatha Mudaliar (or, as he is still commonly called, Ariyanatha), a man born into a poor Vellala family in Meippedu village, Tondaimandalam (the present day Kanchipuram district) who had won his way by sheer ability to a high position in the Vijayanagar court.[26][27] When the Vijayanagara empire fell, he became the Dalavoy (General) and the second-in command to the Vijayanagara viceroy Viswanatha Nayaka of Madurai.[23]

Ariyanatha Mudaliar utilized the palayam or poligar system which was widely used to govern the Nayak kingdom. The system was a quasi-fedual organization of the country, which was divided into multiple palayams or small provinces; and each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief.[23] Ariyanatha organized the Pandyan kingdom into 72 palayams and ruled over the 72 dry-zone poligars chiefs for over fifty years. The feudal chiefs of southern Tamil Nadu continue to be specially attached to his memory to this very day.[20][23] Each was placed in charge of one of the 72 bastions of the Madurai fortifications. They were responsible for the immediate control of their estates. They paid a fixed tribute to the Nayaka kings and maintained a quota of troops ready for immediate service.

The Meenakshi Temple, destroyed by the Mohammedans was re-constructed in 1569. At the entrance of the Thousand Pillar Mandapam, we can still see the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a beautiful horse-back which flanks one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is still periodically crowned with garlands by modern worshippers. He lived until 1600 and had great influence upon the fate of the Nayaka dynasty until his death.[28]

Ariyanatha Mudaliar was not only the pre-colonial military man but also enjoyed a cult status in southern Tamil Nadu and became a tutelary patron figure amongst some of the region's cattle-keeping predator groups.[23]

These men did much for the country in those days, founding villages, building dams, constructing tanks and erecting temples. Many of them bore the title of Nayakkan, and hence the common "nayakkanur" as a termination to the place names in this district. They also brought with them the gods of the Deccan, and thus we find in Madurai many shrines to Ahobilam and other deities who rarely are worshipped in the Tamil country. Their successors, the present zamindars of the district, still look upon Ariyanatha as a sort of patron saint.

Visvanatha Nayaka added the fort of Trichinopoly to his possessions. The Vijayanagar viceroy who governed the Tanjore country had failed to police the pilgrim roads which ran through Trichinopoly, to the shrines at Srirangam and Ramesvaram, and devotees were afraid to visit those holy places. Visvanatha exchanged that town for his fort at Vallam, in Tanjore. He then improved the fortifications and town of Trichinopoly, and the temple of Srirangam, and he cleared the banks of the Cauvery river of robbers.

Visvanatha had difficulty with some of the local chieftains, who resisted his authority in Tinnevelly, but after vanquishing them he improved that town and district. Visvanatha died aged and honoured in 1563. He still is affectionately remembered as having been a great benefactor of his country.

Vitthala Raja (1546–1558)

In 1532 the king of Travancore overran a large part of the Pandya country and defied the authority of Vijayanagar. In response, Achyuta Deva Raya, king of Vijayanagar from 1530 to 1542$2, organised a successful expedition into the extreme south of India. He exacted tribute from the king of Travancore, suppressed two troublesome chieftains and married the daughter of the Pandya king resulting in the Pandya country being held more firmly and directly by the representatives of the Vijayanagar Empire.

The native chronicles continued to confuse the authority of these suzerains, their governors, and the Pandya rulers, treating each as though it was supreme. Vitthala Raja, a prince of Vijayanagar who invaded Travancore for a second time in 1543, took over Madurai around 1546–1547 and ruled Madurai for 12 years, until 1557–1558. James Nelson mentions that this Vitthala Raja was none other than Rama Raja of Vijayanagar.

An inscription in an old Perumal temple at Madura states that certain things were done during the rule of "Rama Raja Vitthala Deva Maha Rayar"; and based on the dates within the short period assigned, Nelson reasons that Vitthala Raja was none other than Rama Raya; and that the name Vitthala was assumed as an epithet by Rama Raya. Rama Raya ruled Madurai more or less directly until 1557–1558; after which the Madurai country was left in a state of chaos, anarchy and confusion. During this time, a Pandya contrived to get himself crowned as the king, but the Raja of Tanjore drove him away. Then a Vijayanagar general drove the Tanjore Raja away from Madurai, and tried to make himself independent.

After this eventful period, Vishwanatha Nayak took over the reins of Madurai again around 1559 and ruled until 1563. After the Nayak dynasty took over Madurai, it raised the Madurai country to probably the highest level of civilisation attainable by a native government.[29]

Kumara Krishnappa (1563—1573)

Viswantha Nayak was succeeded by his son Krishnappa Nayak who along with his father's able minister Ariyanatha expanded the Madurai Kingdom under the Nayaks and brought most of the ancient Pandyan territory under its rule.[18] Kumara Krishnappa is remembered as having been a brave and politic ruler. A revolt occurred among the polygars, during his reign, but its leader Thumbichi Naidu (Dumbicchi Nayakkan) was captured and the trouble was quenched.[1]

Fall of the Vijayanagar Kingdom, 1565

In 1565 the Muslim rulers of the Deccan defeated Vijayanagar, the suzerain of the Nayaks, at the battle of Talikota. Vijayanagar had to abandon Bellary and Anantapur, flee their capital, and take refuge at Penukonda in Anantapur, then at Vellore, and then at Chandragiri near Tirupathi, which later granted land to the British East India Company to build a fort at the present day Chennai. Finally they settled at Vellore in North Arcot. Their governors at Madurai, Kalahasti, Gingee and Tanjore still paid them tribute and other marks of respect; but in later years, when their suzerainty became weak, the Nayaks ruled independently.

Joint Rulers

Kumara Krishnappa was succeeded in 1573 by his two sons, who ruled jointly and uneventfully until 1595, when they in turn were succeeded by their two sons, one of whom ruled until 1602.

Muttu Krishnappa (1602—1609)

These were followed by Muttu Krishnappa. He is credited with having given the Setupatis of Ramnad a considerable slice of territory in the Maravar country, on condition that they suppress crime and protect pilgrims journeying to Rameswaram. These were the beginnings of Ramnad zamindari.

Muttu Virappa (1609—1623)

Muttu Krishnappa was succeeded by his eldest son, Muttu Virappa. He began the construction of the Dindigul Fort at Dindigul on the Hill, along with the Temple on it, which later was completed by Tirumalai Nayak. Muttu Virappa's rule was in general not noteworthy and he is said to have allowed his favourites to tyrannise the people unchecked.[30] Muttu Virappa is said to have had several vassals under him indicating that he must have already obtained great power; and he is stated to have paid the Vijayanagar king at Chandragiri a tribute of 600,000 pagodas in 1616 AD.[31]

Civil War in Vellore

During Muthu Virappa's rule, a civil war involving succession to the throne was taking place in the Vijayanagara Kingdom, now based in Vellore and Chandragiri. Gobburi Jagga Raya, brother of the previous ruler Venkata II’s favourite Queen Obayamma claimed her putative son as the King and murdered Sriranga II along with his family in the Vellore Prison. Jagga Raya was strongly challenged by Yachamanedu,the chief of Kalahasti who claimed the throne for Rama Deva, the rightful heir whom he had smuggled out from the Vellore Prison. Jagga Raya sought help from the Gingee Nayak and Muttu Virappa to attack Yachamanedu and Rama Deva. Yachamanedu and Ramadeva sought support from Raghunatha Nayak of Tanjore, who still treated the Vijaynagar as his authority.

The Battle of Toppur

Jagga Raya assembled a large army near Tiruchirapalli, the capital of Muttu Virappa comprising the armies of Gingee, Chera, Madurai, and some Portuguese from the coast. Yachama led the forces of Vijayanagara and Kalahasti from Vellore and was joined midway by Tanjore forces headed by Raghunatha. Yachama's army was further strengthened by nobles from Karnataka.

Both the Armies met at Toppur, an open field on the northern banks of River Cauvery, between Tiruchirapalli and Grand Anicut in late months of 1616. The huge assembly of forces on either side is estimated to be as many as a Million soldiers (according to Dr. Barradas in Sewell’s Book) and considered to be one of the biggest battles in the Southern India.


In the battle, Jagga Raya's troops could not withstand the aggression generated by the imperial forces. Yachama and Raghunatha, the generals of the imperial camp led their forces with great discipline. Jagga Raya was slain by Yachama, and his army broke the ranks and took flight. Yethiraja, the brother of Jagga Raya, had to run for his life.

Muttu Virappa tried to escape, he was pursued by Yachama's general Rao Dama Nayani who captured him near Tiruchirapalli. The Nayak of Gingee in the encounter lost all his forts except Gingee Fort. And the putative son of Venkata II, who was the cause of all the trouble was captured.

The victory was celebrated by the imperial armies headed by the Thanjavur Nayak and Yachamanedu, who planted pillars of victory and crowned Rama Deva as Rama Deva Raya, the Vijayanagar King, in early months of 1617. Ramadeva was barely 15 years old when he ascended the throne.

Tirumalai Nayak (1623—1659)

Meanwhile in the Madurai country, Muthu Virappa, mentioned above, was succeeded by the great "Tirumalai Nayak", the most powerful and best-known member of his dynasty, who ruled for thirty-six eventful years.

Before Thirumalai Nayaka came to power, the court of Madurai was being held at Trichy for some ten to twelve years. Thirumalai Nayaka would have continued to rule from Trichy but for a dream. Thirumalai was suffering from Catarrah which the royal physicians were unable to cure. While he was once marching towards Madurai, Thirumalai's sickness worsened and he halted near Dindigul. When he slept in his tent, God Sundareshwara and Goddess Meenakshi appeared to him in a dream, and mentioned that they wud cure him if he would make Madurai his capital.

As soon as he awoke from his dream just before dawn, Thirumalai called for the Brahmans and others in attendance, who advised him to obey the will of God. Thirumalai Nayaka then not only vowed to make Madurai his capital but also to expend 5 lakh pons (100,000 pounds) in sacred works. Immediately thereafter, he felt the disease leave him. An overjoyed Thirumalai Nayaka thereafter determined to devote his life to the worship and service of the Gods of Madura and supposedly adopted the Saiva faith.[32]

Lord Vishnu Hands over his Sister to Lord Siva

Thirumalai Nayaka was assisted by his Dalavay Ramappayan, who was also the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Madurai Army. Ramappayan helped crush the rebellion of the Setupatis of Ramnad.[33] The Setupathi and his Maravas withdrew to the island of Pamban and procured the assistance of Europeans. While at the verge of attaining victory of the Setupathi, Ramapayyan suddenly fell sick and died. He was succeeded by his son-in-law Siva Ramaya who proved himself well worthy of the post and captured a nephew of the Setupati, Tanakka Tevan. With the Setupathi himself imprisoned, the Maravas of Ramnad quietly submitted to the authority of Siva Ramaya.[34] From a historical document Ramappayyan Ammanai, we know that the Dalavoy Ramappayan, a Brahmin, had also proven his mettle in the war against Randaula Khan and Sriranga III between 1639 to 1641.[35][36]

After a glorious rule of 36 years, Thirumalai Nayaka died in 1659 in his capital Madurai, between the ages of 60 and 70 years of age.[37]

Muttu Alakadri (1659—1662)

Tirumala was succeeded by his son Muttu Alakadri, whose first act was to shake off the hated Muslim yoke. He tried to induce the Nayak of Tanjore to join the enterprise. However, alarmed at the power aspirations of his neighbour, the Tanjore ruler disclaimed all connection with his neighbour’s aspirations and made an attempt to conciliate with the Muslims. The Muslim invaders moved against Trichinopoly and Madurai, spreading havoc, while Muttu Alakadri remained inactive behind the walls of the fort. Fortunately for him, the enemy soon had to retire, for their devastations produced a local famine and pestilence from which they themselves suffered terribly. They made a half-hearted attempt on Trichinopoly and then permitted themselves to be bought off for a very moderate sum. Muttu Alakadri did not long survive their departure, but gave himself over to debauchery with an abandon which soon brought him to a dishonoured grave.

Chokkanatha Nayaka (1662—1682)

Muthu Alakadri Nayak was succeeded by his son Chokkanatha, a promising boy of sixteen. Please see the separate article devoted to him at Chokkanatha Nayak.

Rangakrishna Muthu Virappa (1682—1689)

Rangakrishna Muthu Virappa, who succeeded Chokkanatha was a spirited boy of fifteen. He tried to revive the diminished fortunes of the kingdom. He made a name for himself by ignoring Aurangazeb with courage, but little enough of his territories remained to him to rule. The greater part of them was held by Mysore, some by the Maravans, some by the Marathas of Gingee, and some by the Marathas of Tanjore. At first, the country was subject to anarchy and pillage, foreign enemies occupied all the forts, and robber chiefs were masters of the rural areas and carried on their brigandage there with impunity.

Matters slowly improved, with Mysore soon distracted by a war with the Marathas of Gingee, and both the Setupathis of Ramnad and the Marathas of Tanjore occupied by wars within their own countries. Emperor Aurangzeb in 1686$2—1687$2 conquered the kingdoms of Madura’s old enemies, Golconda and Bijapur, and he was for many years engaged in an exhausting war with the Marathas. Moreover the young Nayak of Madurai, though imbued with a boyish love of fun and adventure which endeared him to his countrymen, also had a stock of sound sense and ability which evoked the admiration of his ministers, and he took advantage of his improving prospects.

Muthu Virappa recovered his capital in 1685$2, and he gradually reconquered large parts of the ancient kingdom of his forefathers and succeeded in restoring the power of the Nayaks of Madurai. Unfortunately he died of smallpox in 1689, at the early age of 22. His young widow Muttammal – the only woman, strange to say, whom he had married – was inconsolable at his loss and, though she was far advanced in pregnancy, insisted upon committing sati on his funeral pyre. His mother, Rani Mangammal, with great difficulty persuaded her to wait until her child was born, solemnly swearing that she could then have her way. When the child (a son) arrived, she was put off with various excuses until, despairing of being allowed her wish, she put an end to her own life.

Rani Mangammal (1689—1704)

Mangammal, the mother of the late Nayak, acted for the next fifteen years as Queen-Regent on behalf of her grandson. She was the most popular of all the Nayaks.

Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha (1704—1731)

Her grandson Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha, starting on a bad note, enjoyed a long but apparently dull reign of 26 years, paving way for the demise of the dynasty. He was vain and weak-minded, and unfit to govern either himself or others. His reign was distinguished by the ill-regulated and extraordinary munificence of his gifts to Brahmins and religious institutions. The injustice of his rule caused a serious riot in Madurai, the mutiny of his troops, and incessant disturbances.

His only warfare was over the succession to the throne of Ramnad, in 1725. Of the two claimants, one was supported by Tanjore Marathas and the other by Madurai and the Tondaiman of Pudukkotai. The Tanjore troops won a decisive victory and placed their protege on the throne. A year or two later the Tanjore king deposed this very protege, and divided Ramnad into Ramnad and Sivaganga, which became independent Marava powers.

Queen Meenakshi, Chanda Sahib, & the End of the Nayaks (1731—1736)

Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha died in 1731, and was succeeded by his widow Meenakshi, who acted as Queen-Regent on behalf of a young boy she had adopted as the heir of her dead husband. She had only ruled a year or two when an insurrection was raised against her by Vangaru Tirumala, the father of her adopted son, who pretended to have claims of his own to the throne of Madurai. At this juncture representatives of the Mughals appeared on the scene and took an important part in the struggle.

Since 1693$2, Madurai nominally had been the feudatory of the emperor of Delhi, and since 1698 the Carnatic region north of the Coleroon (Kollidam) river had been under direct Muslim rule. The local representative of the Mughal was the Nawab of Arcot, and an intermediate authority was held by the Nizam of Hyderabad, who was in theory both a subordinate of the emperor, and the superior of the Nawab.

How regularly the kings of Tanjore and Madura paid their tribute is not clear, but in 1734$2 – about the time, in fact, that Meenakshi and Vangaru Thirumala were fighting for the crown – an expedition was sent by the then-Nawab of Arcot to exact tribute and submission from the kingdoms of the south. The leaders of this expedition were the Nawab’s son, Safdar Ali Khan, and his nephew and confidential adviser, the well-known Chanda Sahib.

The invaders took Tanjore by storm and, leaving the stronghold of Trichinopoly untouched, swept across Madurai and Tinnevelly and into Travancore. On their return from this expedition they took part in the quarrel between Meenakshi and Vangaru Tirumala. The latter approached Safdar Ali Khan with an offer of three million rupees if he would oust the queen in favour of himself. Unwilling to attack Trichinopoly, the Muslim prince contented himself with solemnly declaring Vangaru Thirumala to be king and taking the bond for the three millions. He then marched away, leaving Chanda Sahib to enforce his award as best he could. The queen, alarmed at the turn affairs now had taken, had little difficulty in persuading that facile politician to accept her bond for a crore of rupees (ten million) and declare her duly entitled to the throne.

Queen Meenakshi required him to swear on the Koran that he would adhere faithfully to his engagement, and he accordingly took an oath on a brick wrapped up in the spledid covering usually reserved for that holy book. He was admitted into the Trichinopoly fort and Vangaru Thirumala – apparently with the good will of the queen, who, strangely enough, does not seem to have wished him any harm – went off to Madurai, to rule over that country and Tirunelveli.

Chanda Sahib accepted the crore of rupees and departed to Arcot. Two years later, in 1736 he returned, again was admitted into the fort, and proceeded to make himself master of the kingdom. Meenakshi soon was little but a puppet: she had fallen in love with Chanda Sahib and so let him have his own way unhindered.

Chanda Sahib eventually marched against Vangaru Thirumala, who still was ruling in the south, defeated him at Ammaya Nayakkanur and Dindigul, drove him to take refuge in Sivaganga, and occupied the southern provinces of the Madurai kingdom. Having now made himself master of all of the unfortunate Meenakshi’s realms, he threw off the mask, ceased to treat her with the consideration he hitherto had extended to her, locked her up in her palace, and proclaimed himself ruler of her kingdom. The hapless lady took poison and ended her life shortly afterwards.

Muslim Domination under Chanda Sahib (1736—1740)

For a time, Chanda Sahib had his own way. His success was regarded with suspicion and even hostility by the Nawab of Arcot. But family loyalties prevented a rupture and Chanda Sahib was left undisturbed, while he strengthened the fortifications of Trichinopoly and appointed his two brothers as governors of the strongholds of Dindigul and Madurai. It was at this period that he subjugated the king of Tanjore, although he did not annex his territory, and he compelled them to cede Karaikkal (Pondicherry) to the French.

Chanda Sahib and The Maratha Interlude (1740—1743)

For additional details see Vangaru Thirumala Unable to help themselves, the king of Tanjore and Vangaru Tirumala called for the assistance of the Marathas of Satara in Bombay. These people had their own grievance against the Muslims of Arcot, with whom Chanda Sahib still was identified, because of long-delayed payment of the chouth, or one-fourth of their revenues, which they had promised in return for the withdrawal of the Marathas from their country and the discontinuation of their incursions. They also were encouraged to attempt reprisals by the Nizam of Hyderabad, who – jealous of the increasing power of the Nawab and careless of the loyalty due to co-religionists – gladly would have seen his dangerous subordinate brought to the ground.

Early in 1740, therefore, the Marathas appeared in the south with a vast army, and defeated and killed the Nawab of Arcot in the pass of Damalcheruvu in North Arcot. Then they came to an understanding with his son, the Safdar Ali mentioned above, recognised him as Nawab, and retired for a time.

Chanda Sahib had made a faint pretence of helping the Nawab to resist the Marathas, and he now came to offer his submission to Sardar Ali. The princes parted with apparent amity, but at the end of the same year the Marathas, at the secret invitation of Safdar Ali, suddenly reappeared and made straight for Trichinopoly. Their temporary withdrawal had been designed to put Chanda Sahib off his guard; and it succeeded in that Trichinopoly was very poorly-provisioned. They surrounded the town closely, defeated and killed the two brothers of Chanda Sahib as they advanced to his help from their provinces of Madurai and Dindigul, and, after a siege of three months, compelled the surrender of Trichinopoly. They took Chanda Sahib captive at Satara and, disregarding the claims of Vangaru Tirumala, appointed a Maratha, the well-known Morari Rao of Gooty, as their governor of the conquered kingdom.

Muslim authority re-established, 1743

Morari Rao remained in power for two years and finally retired, in 1743, before the invading army of the Nizam re-established his weakened authority in the Carnatic and in 1744 appointed Anwar-uddin as Nawab of Arcot. The Nizam ordered that Vangaru Tirumala should be appointed king of Madurai, however the Arcot Nawab disregarded this order and Vangaru Tirumala disappeared from the scene, poisoned, some say, by Anwar-uddin.

The British

Later, in the scramble for the Carnatic throne between Chanda Sahib, who was supported by French, and the Arcot Nawabs, Chanda Sahib was defeated in the Carnatic war and was killed by their allies Tanjore Marathas.In 1751 the Madurai kingdom smoothly passed into the British fold, when the Arcot Nawab ceded the former state to the later for the repayment of his huge loans from the British East India Company. Thus began the British rule in the Madurai and Tamil Country, after many wars with "Mysore Hyder Ali", Tipu Sultan, and various other polygars, including Puli Thevan, Veerapandya Kattabomman and the Marudhu brothers. By the end of 18th century the British comfortably had settled into the Madurai country, after subduiong most of the rebellious Polygars of the former Madurai state.

Polygar Wars

Till 1800's the British had to face stiff oppositions from several of the Kingdoms governors called Palayakarrars. There were two Poligar Wars fought between the British and some of the Polygars at the turn of 19th century, which is also one of the earliest Indian Independence wars.

Descendants of Vangaru Thirumalai

As late as 1820$2, a descendant of Vangaru Thirumalai, bearing the same name, was in Madurai endeavouring to obtain pecuniary assistance from the government. He and his family lived in Vellaikurichi, in the Sivaganga zamindari, and their children were there until quite recently. It is said that they still kept up the old tradition of holding recitations, on the first day of Chittrai in each year, of a long account of their pedigree and of a description of the boundaries of the great kingdom of which their forebears had been rulers.

Nayaks of Kandy

Some of the family members of Vangaru Thirumalai established a Nayak dynasty in Sri Lanka known as the Kandy Nayaks. They ruled till 1815 with Kandy as their capital and were also the last ruling dynasty of Sri Lanka. The Kings of Kandy had from an early time sought and procured their wives from Madurai. The Kandy Nayaks received military support from the Nayaks of Madurai in fighting off the Portugese. And in the 17th and 18th centuries, marital alliances between the Kandyan kings and Nayak princesses had become a matter of policy.[38]


The Nayak rulers started with Madurai as their capital. In 1616$2, Muttu Virappa Nayak shifted the capital to Tiruchirapalli, but Thirumalai Nayak moved it back to Madurai in 1634. In 1665, Thirumalai Nayak's grandson, Chokkanatha Nayak, once again shifted the capital to Tiruchirapalli and built a palace inside the Fort. Irrespective of the location of the capital, the region was known throughout the period as 'Madurai Country', and all rulers held their coronation in Madurai, which served as their religious and cultural capital.

Nayak rule and Tiruchi

The Rock Fort complex in Tiruchirapalli

The significance of Nayak rule in checking invasion by northern rulers elevated Tiruchi in the eyes of national history. Had it not been for the Nayak rule, the central part of Tamil Nadu, particularly what today has come to be known as Tiruchi, Thanjavur, and Perambalur districts, would not have gained its own historical identity and unique cultural development.

The Tiruchi range comprised five major paalayams: Udayarpalayam, Ariyalur, Marungapuri, Thuraiyur and Cuddalore. They constructed new mandapams at several temples, including the Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, and the Rock Fort.

The Vijayanagar dynasty was chiefly responsible for the present and permanent glory of Tamil Nadu, which was ransacked by the earlier Delhi Sultanate. But for the invasions by Kumara Kampana Udayar against the Sultans of Madurai, the state's cultural civilisation would have been doomed. Wasteland development and the setting up of water harvest structures formed part of the Nayak rulers' welfare programmes. It was at Rani Mangammal Hall in Tiruchi that one of the Nayak rulers, Vijayaranga Chokkanatha Nayak, launched a stiff opposition to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

Nayak coins

The Nayaka Murals showing images of Nayak Kings and Queens at Srirangam Temple

Most Nayak coins were made of gold or copper. The design, figures, size, and weight of Nayak coins all were similar to those of Vijayanagara coins. Sadasiva Nayak issued some beautiful Nayak coins: one gold coin shows Shiva and Parvati seated next to one another – Shiva holds the trisula (trident) and the mriga (antelope) in his hands. Another gold coin of the same ruler features the mythical bird Gandaberunda. This coin is almost identical to the gandabherunda coins minted by the Vijayanagara ruler Achyutaraya.

A rare copper coin of this ruler displays, on its obverse, the standing figure of Kartikeya (Muruga), with his favourite peacock behind him. The reverse depicts the Nandi (sacred bull) below the Shivalinga.

The Madurai Nayaks issued many coins featuring fish, the emblem of the Pandyas, who ruled Madurai before the Vijayanagara and Nayak rulers.

Some early Madurai Nayak coins portray the figure of the king. The bull also is seen frequently on the Madurai Nayak coins. Chokkanatha Nayak, one of the last rulers of the dynasty, issued coins displaying various animals, such as the bear, elephant and lion. He also issued coins featuring Hanuman and Garuda. The inscriptions on the Nayak coins are in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Nagari scripts. Unlike the coins of many of the earlier dynasties, the Nayak coins are easily available for coin-collectors.[39]

Nayak temples

The Madurai and Tanjavur Nayaks made great contributions to architectural style, the main characteristics of the style during this period being the elaborate mandapas of the "hundred-pillared" and "thousand-pillared" types, the high gopurams with stucco statues on the surface and the long corridors.

The main temples representing this style are:

  • The Ranganatha temple at Srirangam – noted for its increase in the number of enclosures;
  • The temple at Rameswaram – noted for its long corridors;
  • The Subramanya temple at the Brihadisvara Temple court at Tanjavur – noted for its fine vimana with ratha and maha mandapas;
  • Meenakshi Temple at Madurai – noted for the great splendour of its gopuras, its "thousand-pillared" mandapam, and the Mariamman Teppakulam ("water tank" / reflecting pool).



  1. ^ a b Nayaks of Madura. 
  2. ^ Further Sources of Vijayanagara History by K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, p.179 mentions: Moreover, Acyutadeva Maharaya formally crowned Viswanatha Nayadu of the Garikepati family of the Balija caste as the king of Pandya country yielding a revenue of 2 and 1/2 crores of varahas; and he presented him the golden idols of Durga, Laksmi and Lakshmi-Narayana and sent him with ministers, councillors and troops to the south. Visvanatha Nayudu reached the city of Madhura, from which he began to govern the country entrusted to his care. - taken from the Kaifiyat of Karnata-Kotikam Kings, LR8, pp.319-22.
  3. ^ Religion in Vijayanagara Empire, by Konduri Sarojini Devi, p.100 mentions: "Granting that Acyuta conferred on Visvanatha the kingship of the Pandya Mandalam as Father Heras believes, it is possible that Visvanatha changed his faith to Vaishnavism to suit the exigencies. According to the Kaifiyat of the Karnata Kotikam Kings, "Acyutadeva Maharaya formally crowned Visvanatha Nayadu of the Garikepati family of the Balija caste as the King of Pandya country yielding a revenue of 2 and 1/2 crores of varahas.."
  4. ^ The history of Andhra country, 1000 AD - 1500 AD, By Yashoda Devi, p.387 mentions: The last date for the Vijayanagar viceroys of Madura claiming Bana descent is AD 1546.
  5. ^ Basham, A.L.. The Wonder That Was India : a survey of the culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims (New York : Grove Press, 1959 c1954) page 76.
  6. ^ Basham op. cit. page 76. |"Within a few years of Malik Kafur's raids, in 1336$2, an independent Hindu kingdom was founded at Vijayanagara, on the Tungabhadra river. This kingdom, after desperately resisting the Bahmani sultans of the Northern Deccan, established its hegemony over the whole Peninsula, from the Krishna river southwards. Learning something of military strategy from their Muslim enemies, the kings of Vijayanagara maintained their independence until the middle of the 16th century and, in a reduced form, even later. Of the splendour and affluence of their capital we have European accounts, from the Italian Nicolo dei Conti, who visited India in the early 15th century AD and from the Portuguese travellers Paes and Nuniz, who made contact with the kingdom of Vijayanagara about a hundred years later from the recently established Portuguese settlement of Goa. All were impressed by the splendour of the capital and the wealth of the court."
  7. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.81-82.
  8. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.82.
  9. ^ History & description of Sri Meenakshi Temple, by T. G. S. Balaram Iyer and T. R. Rajagopalan, pp.6–45.
  10. ^ History & description of Sri Meenakshi Temple, by T. G. S. Balaram Iyer and T. R. Rajagopalan, pp.6–45
  11. ^ Tamil coins: a study, by Irāmaccantiran Nākacāmi, p.96.
  12. ^ Madurai through the ages: from the earliest times to 1801 A.D, by D. Devakunjari, p.176.
  13. ^ Proceedings – Indian History Congress, p.203-204.
  14. ^ A Forgotten Empire, Vijayanagar: A Contribution to the History of India, Robert Sewell, p.345-346 [1]
  15. ^ Lists of inscriptions, and sketch of the dynasties of southern India, by Robert Sewell, p.224.
  16. ^ Lineage and surname of Viswanatha:
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b The New Cambridge History of India By Gordon Johnson, Christopher Alan Bayly, J. F. Richards
  19. ^ Nayaks of Tanjore By V. Vriddhagirisn, p.151
  20. ^ a b Nayaks of Tanjore By V. Vriddhagirisan, C.S. Srinivasachariar
  21. ^ Further Sources of Vijayanagara History by K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, p.179
  22. ^ A Forgotten Empire, Vijayanagar: A Contribution to the History of India, by Robert Sewell: [2]
  23. ^ a b c d e Saints, Goddesses and Kings By Susan Bayly
  24. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.85
  25. ^ A Forgotten Empire, Vijayanagar: A Contribution to the History of India, Robert Sewell, p.346.
  26. ^ Early Capitalism and Local History in South India by David E. Ludden – History – 2005 – 342 pages
  27. ^
  28. ^ History&Description of Sri Meenakshi Temple, by T. G. S. Balaram Iyer, T. R. Rajagopalan
  29. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.86.
  30. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.120.
  31. ^ A Forgotten Empire, Vijayanagar: A Contribution to the History of India, by Robert Sewell, p.346.
  32. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.122.
  33. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.125-128.
  34. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.129.
  35. ^ History of Thirumalai Nayak, by K.Rajaram, p.27-31
  36. ^ History of Tamilnad, Volume 2, by N. Subrahmanian, p.282.
  37. ^ The Madura country: a manual, by James Henry Nelson, p.139.
  38. ^ Enemy lines: childhood, warfare, and play in Batticaloa, By Margaret Trawick, p.40.
  39. ^ "The Hindu : Crafted coins". The Hindu. India. Retrieved 14 June 2008. 
  • Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Symbols of substance : court and state in Nayaka period Tamil Nadu (Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1998) ; xix, 349 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 22 cm. ; Oxford India paperbacks ; Includes bibliographical references and index ; ISBN 0-19-564399-2.
  • Devakunjari, D., 1921–. Madurai through the ages : from the earliest times to 1801 A.D. general editor, R. Nagaswamy (Madras : Society for Archaeological, Historical, and Epigraphical Research, [1979]) ; 336 p., [26] leaves of plates : ill. ; 22 cm. ; SAHER publication no. 8. ; "Thesis submitted to the University of Madras for the award of PhD degree in the year 1957"--T.p. verso. ; bibliography: p. 334–336.
  • Rajaram, K. (Kumarasamy), 1940–. History of Thirumalai Nayak (Madurai : Ennes Publications, 1982) ; 128 p., [1] leaf of plates : ill., maps ; 23 cm. ; revision of the author's thesis (M. Phil.--Madurai-Kamaraj University, 1978) Includes index ; bibliography p. 119–125 ; on the achievements of Tirumala Nayaka, fl. 1623–1659, Madurai ruler.
  • Balendu Sekaram, Kandavalli, 1909–. The Nayaks of Madura by Khandavalli Balendusekharam (Hyderabad : Andhra Pradesh Sahithya Akademi, 1975) ; 30 p. ; 22 cm. ; "World Telugu Conference publication." ; History of the Telugu speaking Nayaka kings of Pandyan Kingdom, Madurai, 16th–18th century.
  • Sathianathaier, R. History of the Nayaks of Madura [microform] by R. Sathyanatha Aiyar ; edited for the University, with introduction and notes by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar ([Madras] : Oxford University Press, 1924) ; see also ([London] : H. Milford, Oxford university press, 1924) ; xvi, 403 p. ; 21 cm. ; SAMP early 20th-century Indian books project item 10819.
  • Ghurye G.S, "Caste and Race in India"(page number 116)
  • Edwart Albert Gait, " Census of India-1901( Volume 15,chapter VIII, Page number 144)

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