The closing years of Krishnadevaraya, witnessed the establishment of Nayak Principalities at Gingee, Tanjore and Madurai. These Nayakas were subordinates of the imperial Vijayanagar emperors, but as times passed by they grew powerful, and often tried to establish independent authority. They have also issued coins of their own. During their reign, the coins of the Vijayanagar issues and also their own were in circulation. The coins of the Nayak have not received due attention they deserve. Secondly there were so many issues, majority of them bearing no legens, but only representing gods and some symbols. It is not an easy task to assign them to any ruler with certainity. The irregular way which these coins are issued, raises the doubt whether there was any effective central control over the mints. The lack of any regular form or precision indicate a near chaotic condition mainly due to the internecine war. However an attempt is made in these pages to deal atleast with few coins which can reasonably be studied.
The Tanjore Nayak rule was established in the reign of Achyuta deva Raya, the Vijayanagar emperor around 1532. China Sevvappa was the first ruler of the Tanjore dynasty. He was one of the sons of Timmappa and Bayyambika and served first as vassal and subsequently as Dalavay to Achyutaraya. Achyuta gave his sister-in-law, Murti Amba, in marriage to Sevvappa and made him the rulerof Tanjore. It is said that the Tanjore Sirmai was given as a stridana to Sevappa. Before assuming power of the Tanjore kingdom, Sevvappa, distinguished himself under Krishnadavaraya. Under Krishnadevaraya’s order, he built the tall tower of Thiruvannamalai. From 1532 to 1560, Sevvappa had a prosperous rule. During his reign the Vallam fort was taken over by him and the Trichy fort was handed over to the Nayak of Madurai (Viswanatha). It was during his reign the fatal Talikota was fought. Sevvappa was a great builder. He repaired the Sivaganga tank at Tanjore and dug another lake named after him as Sevvappaneri. He erected huge prakaras at Vrddhachalam and Kanchipuram. Both the Vaishnavite shrines of Thiruppati and Srirangam were covered with gold. He was a ruler of Catholic outlook. He made a great gift to Buddha Palli. He gifted seven Velis of land to a Muslim edifice called Samusaru Palli at Tanjore. It was also during his time, that the Portughese were settled in Nagappattinam and built the two Churches, St. Francis of Assissi and our lady of Hatt. St. Xaviour was received in his country in his reign 550 A.D. About 1560 A.D. he made his son Achyutappa a coregent, and spent his life in religious pursuit and died in 1580 A.D.
The coins issued by this ruler have not been identified so far. I recently came across a coin which is of interest. It carries a figure of a Chank within a circle of dots. On the reverse, two lines of writing ‘Cavappa’ are in Nagari characters. In epigraphy Sevappa is called Sevanrpati, Sevabhupa, Chinnaseva, and Siruceva. The name Cavappa is also found in literary work.
In the reign of Raghunatha, the grandsom of Sevvappa, Rama bhadramba a court poetess wrote a work called Raghunathabhyudayam. In the work, the word cavappa occurs for Sevappa.
Sariravan dharma ivajanishta
Canvabhidhana Kshitipala chandra(1)
The coins with the name ‘cavappa’ are found in Tanjore region and are undoubtedly a coin of the ruler Sevappa, the founder of the dynasty.
Sevappa Nayak nominated his son Achyutappa as heir apparent in 1560 and jointly ruled the kingdom till 1580 when he passed away. Achyutappa ruled till 1614, and had a prosperous life. He had the assistance of Govinda Dikshita an outstanding minister who paid great attention to the development of Agriculture by improving irrigation. Achyutappa remained loyal to the Vijayanagar emperor and won battles against the Portughese and the Nayak of Madurai. His long rule enabled him to contribute substantially to the enrichment of several temples, Srirangam received the maximum. He covered the inner most shrine with gold, and gifted a golden Simhasana, golden crown, jewels etc., besides building gopuras in the east, north and west. He visited Ramesvaram annually and built the Gopura there. His portrait is found there. Mayuram, Kumbakonam, Thiruvidaimarudur, Thiruvadigai, Muvalur, Vilanagar, and Chidambaram received his gifts. The most outstanding construction of his reign is the mandapa at Srimushnam. Achyuta made his son Raghunatha-Nayak, the virtual ruler in 1600 A.D.
Achyutappa’s coin has not yet been identified. No doubt the coin issued by the Vijayanagar overlord were in circulation.
The most outstanding ruler of the Tanjore Nayak dynasty was Vijaya Raghunatha Nayak, the son and successor of Achyutappa. He ruled between 1600 and 1630. Even in 1589, as a youth, Raghunatha went to the aid the Vijayanagar Emperor Venkata an won a significant victory against the Golkonda ruler. A distinguished fighter, Raghunatha won many battles. He subdued the Cholaga and captured him a prisoner. At the request of the King of Jaffna, he invaded Ceylon and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Portugheese fleet. But the most memorable war he won was against Jaggaraya, an usurper who grabbed power by putting to the sword the Vijayanagar emperor Sriranga. The great battle was fought at Thoppur near Trichy. Jaggaraya was aided by the Nayaks of Madurai and Gingee. Raghunatha with Yachama Nayak, destroyed the army of Jaggaraya killed him in the battle. While the Nayaks of Madurai and Gingee ran for their lives, Raghunatha crowned Ramaraya, a young boy of Sriranga, as the Vijayanagar emperor, To commemorate his victory Raghunatha built the Ramaswamy temple at Kumbakonam, a gem among the Tanjore Nayak buildings.
He was a great devotee of Rama and styled himself a servant ever devoted to listening to Ramakatha. Anavarada Ramakathamrtha Sevaka. He built a Rama temple at Srirangam and another at Ramesvaram. Many others received his benefication. He performed Tulabhara Hiranyagarbha, and Mahapursha danas.
Raghunatha was a great poet in Telugu and Sanskrit and composed many Kavyas, prabhandhas and Yakshaganas. He was a great Musician too and invented a new Vina called Raghunathendra Vina. Many new Ragas were composed by him and new talas experimented. He was a great lover of natakas and frequently used to hold assembly of learned men. There are many contemporary biographies of this ruler.
He patronized foreign trade and permitted the Danes to settle at Tranquebar and erect a fort and the Danesborg.
Though coins bearing his name have not so far been brought to notice, it is possible to identify atleast one coin as an issue of this great ruler. The coin in question, frequently met with in Tanjore region bears on the obverse a standing figure of Rama and Lakshmana (Sita) and Hanuman on the obverse. On the reverse is seen a portrait of a King standing in Anjali pose with a long sword hanging from his waist. In the Ramaswamy temple at Kumbakonam, an excellent portait of Raghunatha Nayak is found. The portrait figured in the coin bears close resemblance to the portrait at Kumbakonam. The fact that Rama is portrayed on the obverse and his particular devotion to Rama seen to suggest that the coin was issued by Vijayaraghunatha nayak. Side by side with this coin, the coins of Vijayanagar were also under circulation. Mention has been made earlier that under the patronage of Raghunatha, foreign trade flourished in Tanjore region. So coins issued by the Danish East India company, the Dutch etc. were also under circulation.