Then we notice the ascent of the rule of the Nayakas in Tamil Nadu. This royal branch was a part of the Vijayanagara Empire itself. After the Cholas, the Pandyas came into prominence. After that, political power was assimiliated into the overarching Vijayanagara kingdom.
The Nayakas who ruled Gingee, Thanjavur, and Madurai were feudatory kings who paid their tributes to the Vijayanagara Emperor. Of these Nayakas, the most prominent was Vishwanatha Nayaka ruling from Thanjavur as his capital. Although he was subordinate to the Vijayanagara Empire, he grew by his own prowess and brilliance. The great Nayakas, inspired by the Vijayanagara Empire, undertook several activities related to the construction, beautification, and management of the grand temples of Tamil Nadu: the spacious and magnificent temple premises, fortification, extraordinary Raayagopuras, verandas with thousands of pillars, countless forms of worship, celebration of various festivals, rewards and respect to all temple staff and officials, trade and commerce, etc.
In classical Telugu literature, this era has been hailed as "Dakshinaandhrayuga" (Era of the South Andhras). The Nayakas wholeheartedly nourished poetry and music compositions, song and dance, Vedic recitation, worship, and the development of various shaastras. Later in the era of the Bhosles in Thanjavur, the fragrance of Marathi was also added to the existing Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada. As for Sanskrit, it was omnipresent.
In the later years of the Nayakas, sectarian narrow-mindedness increased. The fights between Shaivas and Vaishnavas crossed all limits. Due to this sectarianism, by the time of the 17th century CE, the spirit of kshaatra took a huge beating.
After Chokkanatha Nayaka of Madurai killed Vijayaraghava Nayaka of Thanjavur in war, the era of the Nayakas witnesssed its dusk.
The greatest warriors of Tamil Nadu who stand out are Narasimhavarma Pallava, Raja Raja Chola, and Rajendra Chola. But in Karnataka, we find Pulakeshi II, Vikramaditya VI, Bittideva, Praudhadevaraya, Krishnadevaraya, Someshwara II, and other great warriors who created a golden period in our history. And as for the Rashtrakutas, who were out and out Kannadigas, they were great warriors each following the other. Even the Sevunas were courageous and valorous. This is perhaps the reason that the poet Rajashekhara who lived in north/central India between 10th to 11th century CE hails the Kannada people as naturally skilled in war (war-mongering, in other words) and highly ambitious, even as he subtly mocks them. But sadly all this glorious spirit of kshaatra diminished by the sixteenth century.
In ancient Andhra, however, we don't find such kshaatra spirit. The earliest rulers of that region were the Shatavahanas. But they belonged to the whole of South India. Thus the capable royal dynasty that we see in Andhra is the Kakatiyas. Ganapatideva is the foremost of the Kakatiya kings (1198-1262 CE). Even as a young boy, he was captured by the Yadavas of Devagiri; he freed himself and established an independent kingdom. The Kakatiya kingdom grew and was able to survive for over a hundred years primarily due to the efforts of Ganapatideva.
The Heroism of Rudramadevi
After Ganapatideva, his only daughter Rudramadevi ascended the throne (1262-1296 CE). She ruled the kingdom without a break for thirty-six years. Her husband was Chalukya Virabhadreshwara. Ganapatideva did not have any sons. Rudramadevi too did not have any male offspring. Rudramadevi's daughter was Mummudayya. Her son was Prataparudradeva. Rudramadevi placed her grandson Prataparudra at the forefront and ruled the kingdom. It is not uncommon to see such great queens in South India.
Rudramadevi fought a war against her husband. She struck a fatal blow to her husband, who had rebelled against her. When her co-wife's sons Murarideva and Harihara plotted to kill her grandson Prataparudra, she went with a women's battalion and killed them both. Through her foresight and strategies, she had under her control countless male commanders who were autocratic by nature. When the vanquisher of the Cholas, Rajasimhajatavarma Sundarapandya brought a huge army for a war on land and sea, she chased him away. In all these wars, the commanders who stood by her include Ambadeva, Jannigadeva, Kolanirudra, and Annamantrishvara. These commanders belonged to various social backgrounds and varnas. But they all united together and without any notion of female inferiority toiled for the victory of their land.
Rudramadevi would don the clothes of a man and would survey the battlefield, moving about everywhere. She competently defended her kingdom against the onslaught of the Yadavas of Devagiri from the north.
During her period, the fights between the Vaishnavas and the Shaivas reached their zenith. At that time, Andhra's famed 'Kavibrahma' Tikkana Somayaji helped her in creating harmony between the two groups, bringing together Hari and Hara and by emphasizing the Kevalaadvaita philosophy.
Rudramadevi expanded her kingdom; she nourished poets and scholars. Vyaakhyaanashiromani (Literally, "crest jewel of commentary") Kolaachala Mallinaatha, a great scholar and commentator lived in the last years of Prataparudra. His grandfather was also a Mallinaatha, who was a Shataavadhaani. According to historical records that are available, he is one of the oldest Sanskrit shataavadhaanis. Rudramadevi had performed a kanakaabhisheka for this Mallinaatha. Vidyaanaatha was Mallinaatha's maternal uncle. He composed a treatise on Alankaarashaastra (Poetics) titled "Prataaparudrayashobhooshana."
Later, during the first wave of the barbaric Islamic assault on South India, Prataparudra bravely defended his kingdom. Prataparudra's prime minister was the highly intelligent Yugandhara. There are several Telugu folktales about his bravery, intelligence, and tactfulness.
Once Prataparudra was captured and imprisoned in Delhi. Yugandhara donned the clothes of a mantrik, brought a huge and beautiful ship, and parked it on the banks of the Yamuna. When it was communicated that only the king can set a price on the ship, Prataparudra was sent with a retinue of servants to the ship in order to estimate the price. As soon as Prataparudra entered the ship, the anchor was lifted, the servants were warded off, and the ship took off with great alacrity thus rescuing Prataparudra.
Heroic Women Warriors
Just like Rudramadevi, we find many brave queens in Karnataka. One such great warrior is Belavadi Mallamma. Situated near modern-day Bailahongal (Belagavi district), Belavadi was an independent establishment made up of three hundred and fifty villages.
Mallamma's husband was Ishaprabhu. He had decided that he would rebel against the Bijapur Sultanate and extend a hand of friendship towards Shivaji. But the Marathas raided his lands and stole his cattle. Angered, Ishaprabhu waged war against the Marathas and died on the battlefield. Unfazed by her husband's death, Mallamma continued fighting even as her husband's dead body lay on the battlefield. Eventually Mallamma lost the war. But looking at her fortitude, bravery, and valour, Shivaji returned her kingdom. Subsequently, she raised several hero-stones in honour of her husband. But she did not live long.
In one of the sculptures in a temple in Yadavagad, there is a depiction of Shivaji feeding milk in a traditional spoon to Mallamma's son. Shivaji considered Mallamma to be his sister and after her death protected her son and took care of him.
Ranabhairavi was yet another brave warrior-woman who went to the battlefield even during her old age. Akkadevi of the Chalukyas is a person who was of the same caliber of valorous women.
Unable to bear the onslaught of Aurangzeb, Shivaji's second son Rajaram took refuge with Chennammaji of Bidanur. In 1671 CE, her husband succumbed to his vices and was killed. She fought against Chikkadevaraya Wodeyar of Mysore and lost. But for the sake of Rajaram, she fought against the forces of the Delhi emperor Aurangzeb and emerged victorious. She was able to achieve what no male king or warrior in India could!
Such examples of warrior women in Europe in the Common Era are extremely rare. Joan of Arc and Elizabeth I are a few examples that we can think of. But we must remember that none of them actually took up arms and entered the battlefield.