On the banks of the Palar river, off the busy Katpadi road in the bustling city of Vellore in Tamil Nadu, is a single storey modern looking hall called the ‘Muthu Mandapam’ or the ‘Pearl Hall’, which does not attract Indian tourists as it should. But each year, a steady stream of Sri Lankans troop here to pay obeisance. After all it is the resting place of Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe, the last ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy in Sri Lanka, who was exiled to India by the British. Amazingly Rajasinhe belonged to the Telugu & Tamil speaking Nayaka dynasty of Kandy. This was a branch of the Madurai royal family, which would play a pivotal role in Sri Lankan history. Sadly, neither this dynasty of Indian origin nor the last king of Kandy who is buried here, get a passing mention in India.
The story of the Nayaka dynasty, that would later rule large parts of South India and Sri Lanka, begins with the battle of Talikota in 1565 CE. This fateful battle saw the tables turn on the great Vijayanagara Empire. Its army was defeated by a confederacy of Deccan sultanates and it never recovered from it. Taking advantage of the weak central authority, the local Vijayanagar governor of Madurai, Kumara Krishnappa Nayaka started ruling Madurai as an independent ruler. The Nayakas went on to establish a powerful and prosperous kingdom that stretched from Madurai, down to Kanyakumari and built several magnificent buildings which can be seen in Madurai even today. A branch of the Nayaka family also established a kingdom in Thanjavur before being ousted by the Marathas in 1673 CE.
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