The Madurai Sultanate

If you are one of those interested in arts, history, and culture, look no further than Madurai, an ancient city of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The history of this bustling and colorful city can be traced back to before two millennia’s in time. The reigns of the various ruling empires have left their own indelible marks on this city. The reign of the Madurai sultanate is no less even though it was for a comparatively short time and full of bloodshed.

The ruling Pandyan Empire of south India was repeatedly invaded by armies from the Delhi Sultanate during the fourteenth century, and after the third invasion, the empire finally collapsed beyond revival. The Madurai Sultanate was thus founded. This sultanate is officially known as the Ma’bar Sultanate and was officially proclaimed as an independent Muslim kingdom in 1335. The just and peaceful reign of the Hindu emperors was thus replaced by the oppressive rule of the Muslim kingdom.

Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan was the first ruler to declare his independence from the ruling Delhi Sultanate. He and his 7 descendants ruled Madurai willfully till 1378 when the last sultan, Ala-ud-Din Sikander Shah succumbed to the forces of the Vijayanagar Empire. During the period between 1344 and 1357, the Madurai Sultanate was subject to a lot of infighting with the sultanate frequently changing hands; the Vijayanagar Empire was also waging frequent wars against this Muslim kingdom to end the cruel tyranny against the Hindus and re-establish a Hindu Empire. The frequent invasions over the years finally managed to control and overthrow the Madurai Sultanates’ reign over southern India in 1378. Thus ended the 48 years rule of the short-lived Muslim dynasty.

A Muslim Moroccan traveler, Ibn Battuta, well known for his extensive travels through Africa and Asia, visited the court of the fourth sultan of the Madurai Sultanate, Ghiyas-ud-Din Muhammad Damghani and was shocked at the atrocities being committed against the local Hindu population. He was in the habit of rounding up innocent villagers and impaling them on wooden spikes and leaving them to die. Their wives and children suffered no less atrocity as they too were cruelly killed. Ibn Battuta describes this as shameful conduct he had never seen any sovereign guilty of and maybe this is why God hastened the sultan’s death just after four years of his terrible reign.

The recapture of the Madurai sultanate is chronicled in the Sanskrit poem ‘Madhura Vijayam’ (the conquest of Madurai) as written by Kampanna’s wife Gangadevi. It was her husband, Kumara Kampanna Udaiyar whose army finally overthrew the Muslim reign of terror over Madurai and made it ‘Madhura’ (sweet) again!