Telugu Expansion and Political Centralization: The Kakatiya Transformation, 1175-1324

Oct 2012
Des Moines, Iowa
The rulers of the Kakatiya dynasty, who first emerged during the 9th century and remained in power until the early 14th century, were responsible for building the first strong, centralized state based in Telangana. State formation in this semi-arid, relatively infertile, interior region was made possible due to the construction of hundreds of irrigation tanks throughout the Kakatiya-ruled heartland, which enabled the formation of a large, sedentary population of Telugu cultivators. Accompanying the process of Kakatiya state formation in Telangana was the spread of the Telugu language as the dominant language of official records throughout much of the region, whereas in the pre-Kakatiya period the Telugu language was not widely used in the region for official purposes. However, although the Kakatiyas oversaw the settlement and economic development of Telangana, the early Kakatiya state was relatively weak and decentralized, and resembled a confederation of independent nobles more than a unitary kingdom. This remained the case as the Kakatiyas expanded into coastal Andhra during the early 13th century and absorbed many new nobles into the Kakatiya political network. However, during the later 13th century, the Kakatiya kingdom underwent considerable centralization, and became one of the most powerful and well-organized states in medieval India. In this thread, I will detail this process through several maps and tables, to provide a more empirical and more visual understanding of the historical changes taking place in the Telugu lands under the Kakatiya monarchs.

Changes in the Linguistic Landscape

For roughly 550 years, from 613 (the date of the first Chalukya record issued in Telangana) until 1163 (the date when the Kakatiya ruler Rudradeva proclaimed his independence in his Thousand Pillar Temple Inscription), Telangana was mostly under the domination of dynasties that were based in Karnataka. These dynasties included the Chalukyas of Badami, the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta, and the Chalukyas of Kalyana. As a result of this long history of Kannadiga domination, it was the Kannada language rather than than Telugu which has used as the predominant language of records throughout much of Telangana, as well in parts of southern Andhra that were also under the domination of Kannadiga dynasties. During the 11th and 12th centuries, prior to the rise of the newly-independent Kakatiyas as the dominant power in Telangana, only a handful of locales in the eastern parts of Telangana predominately used Telugu in official records. The following map, which shows the distribution of languages used in Andhra records between roughly 1000 and 1174, makes clear the relative prevalence of Kannada as an official language during this time, while also indicating that the use of Telugu as an official language was largely restricted to coastal Andhra:

In strong contrast, the period from 1175-1324, which spans almost the entire period when the Kakatiyas were an independent and formidable power in their own right, saw the considerable expansion of the usage of Telugu in official records, especially in Telangana. Under the Kakatiyas, Telugu was used as an official language almost everywhere within the modern-day boundaries of Telangana and Andhra, with the exception of a few border districts such as Chittur (where Tamil was predominant) and Anantapur (where Kannada was widely used):

The rising predominance of Telugu can also be seen in the table below, which categorizes over 5000 inscriptions found in Andhra between the 11th and 17th centuries. During the period from 1000-1174, there were 887 Telugu records out of a total of 1060 surveyed records, which gives a percentage of 83.7% Telugu records in Andhra, with most of the 16.3% non-Telugu records being located in western Telangana and Rayalaseema. In contrast, during the period from 1175-1324, there were 1385 Telugu records out of a total of 1518 surveyed records, which yields a percentage of 91.2% Telugu records. The decrease in Kannada records is particularly noteworthy, with Kannada records almost completely disappearing from Telangana after 1200. In addition to the increasing predominance of Telugu as an official language and linguistic homogenization at the official level, the overall number of written records also expanded considerably between these two periods, with the total number of Telugu records rising by 56% and the total number of all records in all languages and scripts rising by 43%. This increase in record production went hand-in-hand with the process of state formation, because many of the records deal with land transactions or gifts of various kinds to temples and notables, which are indicative of the expanding economy that provided the material basis for political development.

Political Centralization Under the Kakatiyas

The process of state formation and economic development under the early Kakatiyas did not automatically result in the creation of a strong, centralized state. On the contrary, the large-scale expansion of agriculture in Telangana led to a large-scale expansion in the number of Telugu clans, and with it, the proliferation of petty nobles (many of whom were identified by the title of reddy) who commanded the loyalty of their fellow clansmen. The early Kakatiya kings had direct control over only the lands immediately around their capital city of Warangal; elsewhere, it was the petty nobility and their patrimonial, kinship-based armies who held real local control. Kakatiya "authority" in such a decentralized political system was necessarily quite restricted. However, even though it was the newly-formed rural nobility who reaped much of the early economic benefit of agricultural expansion, the early Kakatiyas still benefited from the twin process of agricultural expansion and clan proliferation by forging subsidiary alliances with the petty nobility. Although the early Kakatiyas did not directly control the nobles' armies and the land revenue on which they were dependent, they benefited from the troops that the nobles could contribute to the Kakatiyas' wars in exchange for the promise of booty and other such rewards.

It was only after the spread of cultivation in Telangana that this region could support a large military manpower pool that the Kakatiya monarchs could use (albeit indirectly) to achieve victories over their neighbors in coastal Andhra, who had up until now ruled lands that were far more productive than those of Telangana. Before 1200, the Kakatiyas were not able to make any significant headway into coastal Andhra. Prola II (c.1116-1158) launched an abortive invasion of coastal Andhra that led to his death. Rudradeva (c.1158-1196) launched more successful invasions in the 1180s, but these invasions did not produce any significant political effects; they seem to have taken the form of opportunistic raids more than a determined effort to bring coastal Andhra into the sphere of the Kakatiyas. The geographically limited scope of the Kakatiya confederation during the later 12th century can be seen in the distribution of extant Kakatiya records from 1175-1198, which are found only in central Telangana and a part of northern Prakasam district, with a small outlying presence in East Godavari district (a result of Rudradeva's expedition into coastal Andhra):

It was under Ganapatideva (1199-1262) that the Kakatiyas began to seriously incorporate coastal Andhra into their sphere. Ganapatideva first defeated the Chalukya lord Nagatiraja of Mudigonda, who was the last major potentate in Telangana who remained outside of Kakatiya influence. After solidifying the Kakatiya position in Telangana, Ganapatideva launched a series of successful invasions into coastal Andhra, beginning with the invasion of the rich Krishna delta region by the general Malyala Chaunda in 1201. Over the next decade, many of the nobles of coastal Andhra affiliated themselves with the Kakatiyas, and joined their expanding polity. The expansion of Kakatiya power and influence under Ganapatideva can be seen in the great expansion of records issued by him when compared to any previous Kakatiya ruler, not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of their geographic distribution. While previous Kakatiya records are found almost exclusively in Telangana, as seen above, Kakatiya records from the time of Ganapatideva are found increasingly from coastal Andhra (especially the rich deltaic region of the lower Krishna valley), as seen in the map below:

It would be a mistake, however, to think that this increase in epigraphic production necessarily means that the Kakatiya state became far more centralized. The Kakatiya polity during Ganapatideva's reign remained quite decentralized, with local nobility continuing to have substantial autonomy and continuing to command patrimonial armies of their own that remained outside of direct Kakatiya control. It was under the reign of Ganapatideva's daughter and successor, Rudramadevi (1262-1289), that the Kakatiyas began to centralize political authority into their own hands and build a stronger, more unitary monarchy. The impetus for this centralization seems to have been caused by two main factors: (1) military reversals in the 1260s at the hands of the Pandyas in the south and the Eastern Gangas of Kalinga in the northeast, and (2) the rebellion of leading nobles against the Kakatiya monarch, especially Ambadeva in Rayalaseema after 1272. As a result of these pressures, the extent of the Kakatiya sphere of influence stagnated under Rudramadevi's reign, which can be discerned from comparing the geographic distribution of Kakatiya records from 1263-1289:

However, although the geographic distribution of Kakatiya records did not expand under Rudramadevi's reign as they did under Ganapatideva's reign, the strength and cohesion of the Kakatiya state almost certainly did. Beginning in 1269, Rudramadevi promulgated an institution known as nayankara, which involved the granting of land revenue assignments to low-status warriors of humble, non-noble origin who lacked kinship ties to powerful local clans and who had proved their loyalty to the Queen. These nayankapu-varulu (as the holders of the nayankara revenue assignment were called) formed a new class of officials that the central government at Warangal could use to exercise their authority throughout the countryside in a more pervasive manner. It seems that the nayankapu-varulu or nayakas (a title meaning "commander" which was often used) were expected to maintain a certain number of troops for the use of the Kakatiya government using the revenues that they collected from the locality under their jurisdiction, making them similar to the iqtadars of the contemporary Delhi Sultanate. Also, very significantly, the nayakas did not possess actual land ownership rights over the territories granted as nayankara, but only rights over the revenue from the land, and the nayakas could be recalled or transferred by the Kakatiya monarch to another locality at any time. These rules were in place to prevent the nayakas from becoming landed nobility in their own right, and challenging the Kakatiya monarchy as the old nobles had done before; moreover, because the nayakas were of humble, non-noble background, they were far more likely to remain loyal to the Kakatiya monarchy, because they could not rely on influential kinship connections as the old nobility could.

By freeing the Kakatiyas from military dependence on the nobility and their kinship-based armies, and giving them instead a reliable, alternative source of military manpower in the form of the nayakas and their non-clan-based armies maintained through temporary and revocable land revenue assignments, the nayankara system greatly enhanced the power of the Kakatiya monarchy. Although Queen Rudramadevi fell in battle in 1289 alongside her general Mallikarjuna Nayaka, before she could defeat the rebel Ambadeva, her grandson and successor Prataparudra would build on the institutional foundations that she established and bring the Kakatiya kingdom to the height of its power. Ambadeva and other rebels were defeated, as were the neighboring Seunas and Pandyas who had offered aid to them. The geographic distribution of Kakatiya inscriptions became wider than it ever had been, as seen in the map below:

So far, we have talked about political centralization only in abstract terms. How can we empirically measure this variable, and depict it on a map? One way in which this can be done is by determining the proportion of all records that are actually Kakatiya records, as opposed to local records of various local potentates that were not agents of the Kakatiyas as the nayakas were. The plotting of the geographic distribution of Kakatiya records in various parts of Andhra gives a somewhat misleading impression of the extent of Kakatiya authority, because in many localities the Kakatiya records were far outnumbered by non-Kakatiya records which do not make any reference to the Kakatiyas at all, instead referring to some local lord. In several parts of coastal Andhra, for example, less than 10% of the total surveyed records from the period 1175-1324 are Kakatiya records, while the rest of the records are those of autonomous local lords. Thus, we can use the proportion of Kakatiya records out of the total number of records as a rough indicator of the degree of control that the Kakatiya monarchs enjoyed in a particular locality. The stronger the Kakatiya royal authority, the greater the proportion of Kakatiya records in that locality; the weaker the Kakatiya royal authority, the lower the proportion of Kakatiya records and the greater the proportion of local records.

The following table shows allegiance to the Kakatiyas by district, measured by the proportion of Kakatiya records per district. The table shows that only 350 out of 1179 surveyed records, or 30% of the total, are Kakatiya records. However, there is an extreme level of local disparity between districts in the relative proportions of Kakatiya records out of total records, as seen below:

If we plot the information from the above table into a map, we very quickly see that there is a distinct geographic pattern to Kakatiya allegiance, with allegiance to the Kakatiyas being greatest in central Telangana around the capital of Warangal and weakest in parts of coastal Andhra and southern Andhra, with southern Telangana, northern Rayalaseema, and the rich Krishna delta demonstrating a moderate level of Kakatiya allegiance. Thus, on this basis, we can geographically differentiate between Kakatiya core territories (which demonstrate a very high level of allegiance to the Kakatiyas) where Kakatiya royal authority is very strong, and more peripheral, outlying territories where Kakatiya royal authority is considerably weaker:

However, it is not only across space that the strength of Kakatiya royal authority varies considerably, but also across time. During the late 12th century, when the Kakatiya state was still relatively young and highly decentralized, less than 10% of all records were Kakatiya records. In contrast, by the time of Prataparudra in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, this had increased to around 44%, demonstrating a steady increase in Kakatiya royal authority over the course of the 13th century, as seen in the following table:



Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
United States
Wow good work.

So I'm guessing the clans originally each ruled a different area from central towns. The Kakatiyas emerged as the hegemonic ones, probably having some power to order the other clan chiefs to mobilize troops and laborers (and tribute?), but could not directly access those pools of manpower. Later the Kakatiyas increased their centralization and power, largely through that nayankara system where they had sub-rulers at their direct disposal.
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Likes: civfanatic
Oct 2012
Des Moines, Iowa
Wow good work.

So I'm guessing the clans originally each ruled a different area from central towns. The Kakatiyas emerged as the hegemonic ones, probably having some power to order the other clan chiefs to mobilize troops and laborers (and tribute?), but could not directly access those pools of manpower. Later the Kakatiyas increased their centralization and power, largely through that nayankara system where they had sub-rulers at their direct disposal.
Yep, that seems to be the general direction of political development. In the early 12th century, the Kakatiyas were not yet hegemonic throughout the region. They formed just one of several localized clan-states, each with a territorial base of a few hundred square miles ruled from a fortified urban center. By the end of Rudradeva's reign in the late 12th century, the Kakatiyas had achieved a certain level of hegemony over Telangana, but the various noble clans remained entrenched in their respective localities, and the Kakatiya monarchs could not directly access or control the resources of much of their "conquered" territories. The situation began to change over the course of the 13th century, especially after the civil war brought about by Ambadeva's rebellion during the reign of Queen Rudramadevi, when the Kakatiyas developed a loyal and dependable class of military-governors (the nayakas) that they could use to effectively control localities and increase the relative strength of the central government.

I also made a hand-drawn map of the geopolitical situation that prevailed in Telangana in the early 12th century, before the ascendancy of the Kakatiyas to hegemonic status. The map is a rough sketch (I hope to make a more detailed digital version later, though my digital mapping skills are still quite rudimentary), but hopefully it gives a general impression:

To elaborate on the divisions depicted in the map:
  • The Kakatiyas originally dominated a small region based around Anumakonda, in the vicinity of modern-day Warangal. During this time period, they were feudatories of the powerful Kalyana Chalukyas, and often participated in military campaigns on their behalf.
  • The Polavasas were a confederation of chieftains hailing from the town of Polavasa, the modern-day Polasa in Jagtial district of northern Telangana. Their leader Medaraja was defeated by Rudradeva in the latter half of the 12th century.
  • The region of Kandurunadu in southwestern Telangana was dominated by the eponymous Kanduru Chodas, whose two major fortified settlements in the region were Panugallu and Vardhamanapur. By the early 12th century, these two towns had their own prince from the Choda clan, and thus Kandurunadu was divided into two principalities. Bhima Choda, the ruler of Vardhamanapur, and his relative Udaya Choda, the ruler of Panugallu, were both defeated by the Kakatiyas between 1157 and 1162.
  • The region of Visurunadu, located southeast of the Kakatiya domain, was dominated by a branch of the famous Chalukya clan, who had established themselves in this region in the 8th century. Their capital was Mudugonduru, which is the modern-day Mudigonda in Khammam district. The last of the independent Chalukya rulers of Visurunadu were Nagatiraja and his brother Kusumaditya, who were defeated in the early part of Ganapatideva's reign.
  • Finally, the areas based around the prominent towns of Vemulavada and Kollipaka could both be regarded as "provinces" (I use the term loosely) of the Chalukya kingdom of Kalyana, and Kannada influence is quite apparent in these areas. The Kalyana Chalukyas often appointed the rulers of these regions, but local elements remained strong, and often combined with the appointed ruler to push for an independent principality, as we see with the case of the Paramara prince Jagaddeva (who ruled Kollipaka from 1104 to 1108). These areas came to be included within the Kakatiya hegemony after 1163, when Kalyana Chalukya power collapsed and the Kakatiyas formally asserted themselves as sovereign rulers.

    It should be emphasized that this is by no means an exhaustive description of the various clans and polities which could be found in Telangana at this time. Rather than depicting a compact state, every bounded area should be viewed as the general sphere where a particular clan or family was recognized as prominent or hegemonic. Each of the areas depicted on the map had a variety of prominent clans and notables, often with their own patrimonial lands and armies who could ally themselves with outside powers in an opportunistic fashion to enhance their own powers and privileges. For example, there was a clan known as the Cherakus in the southern part of Kandurunadu who allied themselves with the Kakatiyas during the latter's campaign against the Kanduru Chodas. After the Kakatiya victory, the Cherakus established their own patrimonial domain around Srisailam and Umamaheshwara as feudatories of the Kakatiyas. The Kakatiya "conquests" over the course of the 12th century should be viewed as the extension of one hegemonic sphere over many other spheres, rather than the total extirpation of the pre-existing political structure and its replacement with a new, centralized structure. In due course, there would be increased centralization, but that would happen later in Kakatiya history (as explained in the OP).

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