About the time the Kalyani Chalukya regime began floundering, another one was taking baby steps near Halebidu in today’s Hassan district of Karnataka: the Yadavas, also known as the Hoysalas. Inscriptions dated 1078 and 1090 indicate that the Hoysalas were descendants of the Yadavas from Mathura in north India.

The folklore is that after Lord Krishna left Mathura for Dwarka in Gujarat, many Yadavas too followed him. Later, they dispersed to various regions in Maharashtra and present-day Karnataka. This is why Yadavas are found in Nashik and also in southern India. All of them describe themselves as Yadukultilak, denoting their connection with the dynasty.

The first official Hoysala family record is dated 950 and mentions that the king Arekalla was succeeded by Maruga and then Nripa Kama I (976). The next ruler, Munda (1006–26), was followed by Nripa Kama II. Initially the Hoysala dynasty was a feudatory of the Kalyani Chalukyas.

The Hoysalas started asserting themselves after the Chalukyas weakened. They first defeated the Cholas in 1116 and moved their capital from Belur to Halebidu. Though they always nursed an ambition to set up their own empire, it was Veera Ballala II who freed the Hoysalas from subordination. The Hoysalas, who began as subordinates of the Chalukyas, later went on to set up their own empire in Karnataka.

One of the offshoots of the Hoysalas flourished in Devgiri, in present-day Daulatabad, Maharashtra. It played a major role in shaping what came to be known as Maharashtra and Marathi culture.

A stone inscription dated AD 860 found at Anjaneri (near Nashik) suggests that a minor branch of the Yadava family ruled a small district, with Anjaneri as its chief city. They set up a city-state named Chandrapur, which is known as Chandor (in Goa) today. The name came from Sevunchandra, who had first served the Rashtrakutas and, after their decline, worked for the Kalyani Chalukyas.

After the Chalukya dynasty faded, this branch of Yadavas set up its own kingdom based around Devgiri. Bhillam V was the first well-known Yadava king. He shifted the Yadava capital from Sindigram (Sinnar) to Devgiri. From then until the end of this empire, Devgiri was its capital city.

Bhillam V ruled from 1147 to 1191. He, and later his son Jaitrapal, spread their kingdom to include the Konkan, Gujarat and Malwa regions. He also fought with the Hoysalas. It was during Jaitrapal’s reign that the famous poet-saint Mukundraj published his popular work Vivek Sindhu. The Devgiri Yadavas came to fame with the rise of Singhan, Jaitrapal’s son. He is considered the greatest of Yadavas and during his reign the kingdom expanded from the Narmada river in the north to the Tungabhadra river in the south.

Singhan brought about the end of the reign of the Hoysalas. Later, he defeated the Shilahars from Kolhapur in western Maharashtra and merged their empire into his own. In fact, nearly all the neighbouring kingdoms surrendered to him and accepted him as their Samrat.

The Yadavas retained the provinces with their principalities such as Shilahar, Kadamba and Sindh. Later, during Ramdevrao Yadava’s rule (1271-1309), his son Bheem took over the small kingdom of Mahim (Mumbai) and brought the entire northern Konkan under Yadava control. The Yadavas thus had all of Maharashtra under their rule, which lasted from 1187 to 1318. Ramdevrao was the last of the dynasty to rule over Maharashtra and even expanded the empire to cover a large portion of Indian territory.

Many historians – such as VK Rajwade, Dr DR Bhandarkar and Dr AS Altekar – attribute the rise of Marathi identity to the Yadavas. According to them, the dynasty was the “first true Marathi empire”.

They were also considered to be Maratha Kshatriyas. Jijabai, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s mother, belonged to the clan of Jadhavas, who were descendants of the Yadavas. They patronised Marathi and made it their court language. This period is considered very important in the history of the Marathi language. During the period of Sevunchandra’s rule, Kannada too enjoyed official status. However, later Marathi became the only official language.

During the Yadava dynasty’s rule, the capital Devgiri attracted scholars from all over. They provided a real impetus to the growth of Marathi language and culture. Singhan was a big patron of learning and literature. He established a college of astronomy for the study of the works of the celebrated astronomer Bhaskaracharya. Many inscriptions have been found with details of donations made for charitable and cultural causes.

The Yadavas ruled from the year AD 235 to 1318, and during this time the region produced many home-grown empires. It is important to note that during this period all these empires had their capital cities in present-day Maharashtra. From the Satavahanas to the Yadavas, six out of seven dynasties had capital cities in Paithan, Nandivardhan and Devgiri.

The Rashtrakutas too had their base near Ellora of today, which was subsequently shifted to Manyakhet (present-day Malkhed). It is part of Karnataka now but, centuries ago, it was Marathi-speaking. The Chalukyas too had their capital city at Manyakhet. Later, they moved it to Kalyani, which is closer to Kalburgi on the present-day Karnataka–Maharashtra border.

This was the era when literature, art and governance flourished in Maharashtra. However, these dynasties were oblivious to developments in the north.

Many of them had marched up to Sindh or Punjab, but none thought of setting up a base there. Thus, they were not prepared for Islamic invasions from the north. This is particularly true of Singhan, who was otherwise the most successful warrior king of the Yadavas. Settled in Maharashtra and content with his empire, he failed to take note of invaders from Delhi marching on to the Malwa and Gujarat regions. The local rulers in those areas, such as the Parmars, were incapable of facing up to the Delhi raiders.

Singhan was not only unsuccessful in saving the local satraps in these regions from falling into the invaders’ hands, but it also didn’t occur to him to organise a united front of all southern and western rulers to take on Delhi. This lack of vision plunged Maharashtra into an era of darkness, one that lasted for well over 350 years.

Renaissance State: The Unwritten Story of the Making of Maharashtra

Excerpted with permission from Renaissance State: The Unwritten Story of the Making of Maharashtra, Girish Kuber, HarperCollins India.