Foreign Traveller’s High Praise of the Vijayanagara Empire:
Almost all travellers who visited the Vijayanagara empire which lasted more than 200 years (1336 A.D. to 1565 A.D.) have spoken highly of the economic, cultural, political and social life of the empire.
Under the leadership of some very able rulers, the Vijayanagara empire attained immense prosperity in all walks of life.
The Italian traveller Nicolo and Persian traveller Abdul Razaq visited Vijayanagara empire towards the middle of the 15th century A.D. The Portuguese travellers Dominigos Pius, Barbosa and Nuniz came to India in the early part of the 16th century.
Nicolo has written specifically about the religious life of the people. He has also written about the military also. Abdul Razaq has thrown a good deal of light about the political conditions and the administrative set-up. Barbosa has written about the rich social life and Dominigo Pius has described the flourishing city of Vijayanagara-the capital of the Kingdom.
Prosperity of the people:
The Vijayanagara empire was the most prosperous state of its time in India. All commodities were available in abundance. Their prices were low and everything remained stored up properly and adequately in case of need. All the foreign travellers who visited Vijayanagara during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have given glowing description of the wealth and prosperity of the state and its people. The Persian ambassador Abdur Razaq, the Portuguese traveller Paes and the Italian traveller Nicolo Conti have praised the riches of the Vijayanagara empire.
They state that not only the king and the nobles were rich but even the common people enjoyed prosperity. The common people could afford to wear ornaments in their ears, necks, arms, fingers, etc. The prosperity of the Vijayanagara empire was on account of the growth of agriculture, industries, trade and commerce. The land was very fertile; Most of the land in the countryside was under cultivation.
Trade and Commerce:
Commerce was inland, coastal and overseas. The city of Vijayanagara was the most important seat of commerce in the country. It carried on trade in diamonds, rubies, pearls etc. Also Calicut was another important port on the Malabar Coast.
According to Abdur Razaq, “There were as many as 300 sea ports in the Vijayanagara empire. There were commercial relations with the islands in the Indian Ocean, the Malaya Archipelago, Burma, China, Arabia, Persia, South Africa, Abyssinia and Portugal. The imports were horses, elephants, pearls, copper, coral, mercury, China silk and velvet. The exports were cloth, rice, iron, salt petre, sugar and spices.
The main industries of the Vijayanagara empire were cloth, perfumes and utensils of various kinds. The traders and those engaged in industries were organised into trade guilds to look after the interests of trade and industry.
The coins of the empire were those of copper, gold and silver. The coins carried beautiful bird ‘gandabirinda’.
Glory of Vijayanagara City:
Abdual Razaq has given a vivid description of the city of Vijayanagara. He wrote that it was an unprecedented city, the like of which was never seen in the whole world. This city was built in such a way that seven guarding fort gates were built within each other. In the city there was a separate market for every main occupation. The jewelers freely sold diamonds, pearls rubies etc.
The circumference of the city was sixty miles and its walls extended to the hills. About 90,000 people of the city were capable of weilding weapons. Vijayanagara had beautiful lakes, open gardens, broad and well laid roads and splendid buildings. The Tungbhadara river had a dam which provided water for the long canal of the city. Vijayanagara city was described larger than Rome or any biggest city in the western world.
Position of women:
Women occupied a high position in the society. They took part in the literary, political and social life of the society. They were educated and worked at various posts in the government departments. They were trained in fine arts like music, dance and painting. They also received training in wrestling and fighting. They were employed body guards as well. Social evils concerning women were also prevalent. These were child marriages, polygamy, dowry system and practice of ‘sati’.
Women worked in different occupations. According to Nuniz, “The king of Vijayanagara has also women who wrestle, and others who are astrologers and soothsayers; and has women who write all the accounts of expenses that are incurred insides the gates of the palace and others whose duty is to write all the affairs of the kingdom and compare their books with those of writers outside; he has women also for music, who play instruments and sing. Even the wives of the kings are well-versed in music… He has judges as well as watchman who every night guard the palace, and these are women.”
High position of the Brahmanas:
The ruler of Vijayanagar empire gave a lot of honour and respect to the Brahmanas. Naturally therefore, the Brahmans exercised a great influence in political and religious fields. According to Nuniz the Brahmanas were honest men, very good at accounts but little fit for hard work.
Brahmanas were vegetarians and all others were free to eat meat except of cows and oxen. Animal sacrifices were common.
During the Vijayanagara empire, remarkable texts on Hindu religion, philosophy, grammar, drama, dance, music etc. were produced. The rulers encouraged Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada literature and languages. It is said that the reign of Krishnadeva Raya marked the dawn of a new era in the literary history of South India.
He himself was a great scholar, a musician and a poet. His work in Telugu entitled Amuktamalyada deals with several matters including the art of government. In his court there were 8 famous poets called ‘Ashta Digyajas.’
During the period several temples of remarkable beauty were constructed. The Hazara temple and the Vitthalaswami temples built by Krishnadeva Raya have been regarded as the finest specimens of Hindu architecture. It was evolved out of Pandyan, and Chalukyan elements of a later period.
The style is ornate and magnificently exuberant. The material used was hard granite. It has got features similar to that at Tamil architecture. The pillars of mandapas are fully decorated and beautifully carved and their varieties are countless. The temples and monuments are situated mostly between the Kamalapuram and Hampi.
The king was considered as the representative of God. He was a benevolent ruler and worked in accordance with ‘Dharmshastras’ of the Hindus.
According to Nuniz, “No written orders are even issued, nor any charter granted for the favours he (the king) bestows or the commands he gives, but when he confers a favour on anyone it remains written in the register of the secretaries. The king however, gives to the recipient of a favour a seal impressed in wax from one of his rings which his minister keeps and these seals serve for letter patents”.
Nuniz in this connection states, “The punishments that they (kings) inflict in this kingdom are these: for a theft, whatever theft he commits, however little it be, they forthwith cut off a foot and a hand; and if this theft be a great one, he is hanged with a hook under his chin. If a man outrages a respectable woman or a virgin it was the same punishment and if he does any another such violence his punishment is of a like kind. Nobles who become traitors are sent to be impaled alive on a wooden stake thrust through the belly.”
Liberal religious policy:
All the rulers of the Vijayanagara empire were devout Hindus. Most of the rulers were devotees of Vaishnavism. However, they were tolerant towards all religions. The Muslims, the Christians and the Yahudis and the people of other faiths enjoyed equal freedom. According to a foreign traveller Eduardo Barbosa, “The Kings allow such freedom that every man may come and go and live according to his own creed.”