The forgotten pinnacle of Multi Weaponry Military Art (SAAMU) – Emperor Deva Raya ii

The origins of ‘SAAMU’, Indian martial art, have traces from the early millennium. Yet it was during the reign of Vijayanagara Empire, the fighting forms of ‘SAAMU’ have earned significant stature. The Vijayanagara Empire was one of the most prosperous and powerful empires in the world that ruled the deccan and southern parts of the India during the renaissance times. The kingdoms of the empire were constantly under the threat of invasions. Especially the provinces that are currently the parts of Andhra, Telangana and North Karnataka had been the battle zones vulnerable to severe attacks. This pregnable situation necessitated the frontier army to train in a multi-weaponry warfare art called ‘SAAMU’, both effective and lethal by its disposition.

As he was a man who knew how to use both sword and dagger better than anyone in his kingdom, avoided by twists and turns of his body the thrusts aimed at him, freed himself from him, and slew him with a short sword that he had.

(Fernão Nunes, Portuguese writer, on Deva raya ii)

The most prominent combatant in this warfare art is the emperor of Vijayanagara himself – Deva raya ii, who ruled during 1425-46. He is ambidextrous and was known to decimate large number of troops single-handedly. Foreign writers Fernao Nunes and the Persian envoy Adbur Razzak described him as a greatest warrior in the battlefields. One incident as described in the book A forgotten empire: Vijayanagar where the bahmani sultans, with the help of deva raya’s nephew, schemes against the emperor to supplant the Hindu rule. Breaching the war conventions, the troops entered the palace in the night and joins the insurgent army bribed by the emperor’s nephew. As per the plan, his nephew successfully helped the enemies to kill the deva raya’s chief commanders along with the emperor’s son who were unarmed and involved in a feast, thereby eliminating the rightful heir to the throne.

Later on, the emperor’s nephew pretending to present a gift enters raya’s castle and tries to stab raya with a poisoned dagger hidden in the golden bowl. Escaping the thrust narrowly, the emperor gets startled when he sees a big army troop with weapons ready to assassinate him. Snatching the dagger from his nephew and a sword from an enemy soldier, he starts fighting with the whole army, estimated to be more than seventy in count, and kills each one of them, at last cutting his nephews head for the treachery.

From royal military and kings, ‘SAAMU’ later on passed to the civilians in the villages, who started using the fighting forms to defend themselves from external attacks. The warfare art started converting into street fighting and signature art of the villagers leading to the different forms such as ‘kathi saamu’, ‘karra saamu’, ‘chedi talimkana’, ‘kata kusti’ ,’hasti kala’ and so on. These fighting arts had been used extensively during the freedom fights against british. Slowly these arts started losing prominence. Now in the modern times, all these are combined and kept into a single combat art – Dommi Saamu