Monthly Archives: January 2010

Vijayanagara- The never to be forgotten Empire.

Awe-struck by the splendor and prosperity prevailing in the Vijayanagar Empire, Abdur Razaak said,- “The pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the world”. Abdur Razaak was the Persian ambassador who had visited Vijayanagara in 1446.

Origins: The kingdom was founded in 1336 by the Sangama brothers, Harihara and Bukkaraya. Preceding 1336 saw the invasion of foreigners who after establishing their sway over the whole of North India started making inroads into South India. This had caused a great upheaval as the invaders tried to uproot the prevailing socio-religious beliefs and system and implant alien culture forcibly. The Sangama brothers not only checked the invading barbarians but also protected Hindu religion and culture from going into oblivion. They established political stability all over the Southern Indian peninsula, encouraged agriculture and industries and patronised men of art and letters. Various dynasties like Sangama, Saluva, Tulava and Aravidu ruled the kingdom till 1646 and produced eminent rulers like Devaraya I, Devaraya II, Saluva Narasimha, Tuluva Narasanayaka, Krishnadevaraya and Ramaraya.

The Nayakara System: The political necessity of defending the empire against external enemies compelled the Vijayanagara rulers to parcel out large territories to Amaranayakas whose primary duty was to raise the armies for the emperor. Amaranayakas were military officers who held lands from the kings and in return made financial contribution to the government which usually was half of their revenue and maintained a fixed number of troops for the king. Besides they had to attend the king’s court, give present on the king’s birthday and supply food articles to the palace. The Nayakas so appointed later become independent when the Vijayanagara kingdom lost its vigour. The Nayakas of Keladi, Chitradurga, Wodeyars of Mysore, Nadaprabhus of Yelahanka in Karnataka continued the legacy of the Vijayanagara rulers by giving fillip to agriculture by building tanks and lakes, encouraging industries and promoting art and culture. The Dasara festival celebrated as nada habba in Mysore is but a reminiscence of the Navarathri festival celebrated publicly by the Vijayanagara rulers.

Economic Prosperity: Economically Vijayanagara was very prosperous. Durate Barbosa who visited the kingdom during 1514-15 says that the kingdom is very rich and well supplied with provisions and is very full of cities and large townships. He says that people belonging to different nations and creed can be seen in the capital city of Vijayanagara. Another traveler Dominigo Paes who visited Vijayanagara in 1520 says that Vijayanagara was as large as Rome and very beautiful. The land was fertile and great encouragement was given to agriculture, he adds. In fact we find rulers of this kingdom excavating large tanks and canals. Bukkasamudram, Vyasasamudram, Krishnadevarayasagara, Sadashivasagara were some of the tanks and Rayara Kaluve, Basavana Kaluve were some of the canals to name a few. According to Abdur Razaak the kingdom had nearly 300 ports and imports and exports were carried on a large scale. The capital city Vijayanagara was a great center of trade and precious stone were sold in open markets here which stunned the foreign visitors. There were trade guilds which carried on extensive trade activities. Inscriptions of Vijayanagara period refer particularly to Salu Mule Banajigas who were a dominant trade guild in Vijayanagara. They were well organised and had entered into contract with the government for the purpose of carrying trade. Gold coins like Gadyana, Varaha, Ponnu, silver coins called Tara and copper coins called Pana, Duddu were in circulation. Even private individuals were given the right of issuing coins and owning private mints.

Memorable Monuments: The Vijayanagar rulers built numerous temples all over south India. These temples were not only acted as centers of worship but also promoted agriculture by purchasing various edible items for feeding the devotees visiting the temple and for preparing prasada, encouraged learning and cultural activities and the temple treasure acted as a bank. Hampi, itself has more than 100 monuments. A typical Vijayanagara temple is big and spacious and built out of granite stone which was available plenty in the city capital itself. The temple consists of a sanctum, an antechamber, a pradakshinapatha, a navaranga, a mukha mantapa, a kalyana mantapa, an utsava mantapa and parivara shrines. Often the temples also contain a balipitha, dipa stambha and a dvaja stambha. A high wall encloses the whole complex with entrances marked by gopuras. The civil architecture exhibits a harmonious blending of Hindu and Islamic principles of architecture and style with liberal use of bricks, mortar and stucco.  The Vijaya Vithala Swami temple, the Hazara Ramaswami and Krishnaswamy temples are some of the famous temples of that period.

Literature: Huge chunk of literature was brought out especially in Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil during the Vijayanagara period. Sayana and Madhava wrote commentaries on the Vedas called Vedartha Prakasha running into several volumes. The Ashtadiggajas, eight eminent Telugu poets stayed in the court of Krishnadevaraya. Of them Allasani Peddana wrote Manucharitamu, Nandi Timmanna wrote Parijatapaharanamu. Members of the royal family were also writers.  Krishnadevaraya wrote Amuktamalyada which contains his political ideas. Celebrated Kannada poets like Kumaravyasa, Chamarasa and Ratnakaravarni, the vachana and dasa sahitya received patronage in the kingdom.

Religious Toleration: Though regularly attacked by the Muslim kingdoms in the north, Vijayanagara rulers showed exceptional religious toleration towards every religion and sects. Devaraya II had built a mosque for his Muslim soldiers and had placed a copy of Koran before his throne for them to pay their obeisance. The rulers also encouraged the construction of dargas (e.g. the Babayya darga at Penugonda). Ramaraya’s wife had adopted Ali Adil Shah, the ruler of Bijapur as her son after the death of her own son. According to Ramarajana Bakhair, after his capture by the enemies at the battle of Talikota, Ramaraya wanted Ali Adil Shah to cut his head in order to avert the dishonour of him being killed at the hands of other mussalman kings. The Portuguese missionaries who had visited the court of Venkata II at Chandragiri were so well received by the emperor that they thought of the possibility of easily converting the emperor to Christianity. The Portuguese traveler, Barbosa says that the king allowed full religious freedom to every person coming into his kingdom without and discrimination. Various Hindu sects like Madhvas, Srivaishnavas, Veerashivas and Jains lived in harmony and the rulers patronised religious men of all sects. Saints like Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa spoke against discrimination based on caste and preached social equality.