The Nayaks of Madurai were the commanders of Vijayanagar kingdom's army in 1500s CE. At the time of the mighty King Krishnadeva Rai’s reign, Nagama-the father of Viswanatha Nayaka (the first king of Madurai) served as the first governor of Madurai. Nagama revolted against the Vijayanagar kingdom, his son Vishwanatha a devoted soldier of Krishnadeva subdued and arrested his own father under treason.
The above-shown copper coin was the first issue of Viswanatha Nayaka as an independent ruler. The obverse of this coin contains a standing figure of a man which is greatly influenced by the Chola coinage. The reverse of this coin depicts two vertical fishes with a crosier in between with a Tamil legend inscribed on the left which reads ‘Viswanathan’.
The twin fishes were the insignia of the Pandyas. This symbol on the Nayaka coins indicated that they considered themselves as the successor or the overlord to the Pandyas of the Madurai. The Pandyas and Vijayanagar kingdoms were contemporary to each other though, the Pandyan rule was declining at that time. Vishwanatha’s devotion to Krishnadeva Rai made him the viceroy of Madurai in 16th century CE. Later, after the fall of Vijayanagar, he became the ruler of Madurai and founded the Nayaka dynasty.
Krishnadeva Rai anointed Vishwanath as the lord of the Southern throne. This statement also indicates the might of Vijayanagar Empire during Krishnadeva Rai’s rule.
Viswanathan was succeeded by his son Krishnappa Nayaka who expanded the Madurai Kingdom and bought the ancient Pandyan territory of Madurai region under the sovereignty of the Nayaks.
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