The 12th and the 13th centuries saw the emergence of the Kakatiyas. They were at first the feudatories of the Western Chalukyas of Kalyana, ruling over a small territory near Warangal. A ruler of this dynasty, Prola II, who ruled from A.D.1110 to 1158, extended his sway to the south and declared his independence. His successor Rudra (A.D.1158–1195) pushed the kingdom to the north up to the Godavari delta. He built a fort at Warangal to serve as a second capital and faced the invasions of the Yadavas of Devagiri. The next ruler Mahadeva extended the kingdom to the coastal area. In A.D.1199, Ganapati succeeded him. He was the greatest of the Kakatiyas and the first after the Satavahanas to bring the entire Telugu area under one rule. He put an end to the rule of the Velanati Cholas in A.D.1210. He forced the Telugu Cholas of Vikramasimhapura to accept his suzerainty. He established order in his vast dominion and encouraged trade.
As Ganapati Deva had no sons, his daughter Rudramba succeeded him in A.D.1262 and carried on the administration. Some generals, who did not like to be ruled by her, rebelled. She could, however, suppress the internal rebellions and external invasions with the help of loyal subordinates. The Cholas and the Yadavas suffered such set backs at her hands that they did not think of troubling her for the rest of her rule.
Prataparudra succeeded his grandmother Rudramba in A.D.1295 and ruled till A.D.1323. He pushed the western border of his kingdom up to Raichur. He introduced many administrative reforms. He divided the kingdom into 75 Nayakships, which was later adopted and developed by the Rayas of Vijayanagara. In his time the territory constituting Andhra Pradesh had the first experience of a Muslim invasion. In A.D.1303, the Delhi Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji sent an army to plunder the kingdom. But Prataparudra defeated them at Upparapalli in Karimnagar district. In A.D. 1310, when another army under Malik Kafur invaded Warangal, Prataparudra yielded and agreed to pay a large tribute. In A.D.1318, when Ala-ud-din Khilji died, Prataparudra withheld the tribute. It provoked another invasion of the Muslims. In A.D.1321, Ghiaz-ud-din Tughlaq sent a large army under Ulugh Khan to conquer the Telugu country then called Tilling. He laid siege to Warangal, but owing to internal dissensions he called off the siege and returned to Delhi. Within a short period, he came back with a much bigger army. In spite of unpreparedness, Prataparudra fought bravely. For want of supplies, he surrendered to the enemy who sent him to Delhi as a prisoner, and he died on the way. Thus ended the Kakatiya rule, opening the gates of the Telugu land to anarchy and confusion yielding place to an alien ruler.
The Kakatiya period was rightly called the brightest period of the Telugu history. The entire Telugu speaking area was under the kings who spoke Telugu and encouraged Telugu. They established order throughout the strife torn land and the forts built by them played a dominant role in the defence of the realm. Anumakonda and Gandikota among the `giridurgas’, Kandur and Narayanavanam among the `vanadurgas’, Divi and Kolanu among the `jaladurgas’, and Warangal and Dharanikota among the `sthaladurgas’ were reckoned as the most famous strongholds in the Kakatiya period. The administration of the kingdom was organized with accent on the military.
Though Saivism continued to be the religion of the masses, intellectuals favoured revival of Vedic rituals. They sought to reconcile the Vaishnavites and the Saivites through the worship of Harihara. Arts and literature found patrons in the Kakatiyas and their feudatories. Tikkana Somayaji, who adorned the court of the Telugu Chola ruler Manumasiddhi II, wrote the last 15 cantos of the Mahabharata which was lying unfinished. Sanskrit, which could not find a place in the Muslim-occupied north, received encouragement at the hands of the Kakatiyas. Prataparudra was himself a writer and he encouraged other literature.
The Kakatiya dynasty expressed itself best through religious art. Kakatiya art preserved the balance between architecture and sculpture, that is, while valuing sculpture, it laid emphasis on architecture where due. The Kakatiya temples, dedicated mostly to Siva, reveal in their construction a happy blending of the styles of North India and South India which influenced the political life of the Deccan.
The most important of these temples are those at Palampeta, Hanamkonda and the incomplete one in the Warangal fort. The temple at Palampeta, described as the `brightest gem in the galaxy of Medieval Deccan temple architecture’, was constructed by Recherla Rudra, a general of Kakatiya Ganapati, in S.1135 (A.D.1213). The figures in the temple are of a heterogeneous character comprising gods, goddesses, warriors, acrobats,
musicians, mithuna pairs in abnormal attitudes and dancing girls. The sculptures, especially of the dancing girls, possess the suggestion of movement and pulsating life. A striking peculiarity of this temple is the figure-brackets which spring from the shoulders of the outer pillars of the temple. The figure-brackets are mere ornaments and represent the intermediate stage between their earlier analogues at Sanchi and the later examples at Vijayanagara.
The Thousand-Pillared Temple at Hanamkonda, built by the Kakatiya king Rudra in A.D.1162, is similar in style and workmanship to the Ramappa temple. This temple, dedicated to Siva, Vishnu and Surya, is star-shaped. The Nandi pavilion, in which a huge granite bull still stands, the beautiful entrances to the shrine, the pierced slabs used for screens and windows, and the elegant open work by which the bracket-shafts are attached to the pillars are the other most interesting features of this temple.
The temple in the Warangal fort, believed to have been built by Kakatiya Ganapati, was constructed making use of large slabs. The floor of the shrine is beautifully polished and shines like a mirror. An interesting feature of this temple is the four gateways called `Kirti Stambhas’ which face the four cardinal points of the compass. In their design the gateways are reminiscent of the `toranas’ of the Great Stupa at Sanchi. The architecture and sculpture of these temples are thus conventional to a degree but no one can deny their magnificence nor can any one fail to see the rich imagination, patient industry and skilful workmanship of the builders of the temples of the Kakatiya period.
After the fall of Kakatiyas, uncertainty prevailed over the region. Several small kingdoms came into existence, Musunuri Nayakas occupied Warangal from Muslims and ruled between A.D.1325–1368. The fall of Kakatiya kingdom and its annexation to the Tughlak empire made the Hindu feudatories to unite themselves to liberate the Andhra country from alien rulers. A movement was started at Rekapalli on the bank of the Godavari under the leadership of Musunuri Prolaya Nayaka and his cousin Kapaya Nayaka and succeeded in driving away the Muslims from the Telugu country in A.D.1328. Kapaya Nayaka became the ruler in A.D.1333, after the demise of Prolaya Nayaka, and Warangal was once again the capital of the Telugu Country. They were dethroned by Recherla Chiefs and ruled the entire Telangana from A.D.1325 to 1474 with Rachakonda as their capital. The coastal area was ruled by the Reddis of Kondavidu between A.D.1325 and 1424. Addanki was their first capital which was later shifted to Kondavidu. There was also another branch of Reddis at Rajahmundry. In due course, Reddi kingdom disappeared in the hands of Vijayanagar kings, and Gajapatis of Orissa in the frequent battles with each other. The Gajapatis of Orissa with Cuttack as their capital extended their territory far into Telugu land by conquering the Reddis of Rajahmundry in A.D.1448. They also occupied some parts of the Bahmani kingdom. But, Vijayanagar king, Krishnadevaraya, occupied the entire Telugu region that was in the possession of Gajapatis.
The Reddis and Recherla chiefs were the patrons of learning. The renowned poet Srinatha, and one of the three great poets who wrote the Mahabharata in Telugu, Errapraggada lived in that age.