In the history of India in general and South India in particular, the Vijayanagara kingdom is remembered even today for its extensive political control of a large territorial state.
Its legacy of architectural wonder of Hampi and magnificent religious structures throughout South India.
These kings are also remembered for their policy of promotion of agriculture, trade and commerce, and by their contribution to the greatest literary surge in Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil.
They made themselves memorable by their policy of separating religious dogmatism from the sphere of politics.
Foreign travelers’ accounts of Abdul Razak, Nicolo Conti, Domingo Paes and other Portuguese traders paint a picture of affluence and wealth enjoyed by the kings, nobles and courtiers, while the common people led the life of subsistence due to excessive taxation. The origin and early history of the Vyayanagara kingdom is shrouded in mystery.
Historians are not unanimous regarding the original home or the founders of the kingdom. Though all historians agree on the role played by Harihara and Bukka, in the foundation of the kingdom and the role of Sage Vidyaranya in inspiring and helping them, there is a difference of opinion regarding their original place of birth and mother-tongue.
Literary traditions and epigraphs testify that Vijayanagara kingdom was founded in AD 1336 by Harihara and Bukka, the two Sangama brothers. Robert Sewell, who brought to light this “Forgotten Empire”, refers to seven ‘traditions’ regarding the origin of the foundations of this Vijayanagara kingdom. Rev. Fr. Heras, S. Krishnaswamy Ayyangar, B.A. Saletore, P.B. Desai, G.S. Gai and some other scholars support the theory of Kannada origin by associating the founders with Hoyasala Ballala III.
Numerous traditions like Kumararama Katha, Kampiliyuddha, etc. in Kannada refer to the Kampili origin of the founders of Vijayanagara. Robert Sewell, N. Venkata Ramanayya, M. Somasekhara Sarma are of the view that the founders of the Vijayanagara kingdom were Andhras, in the service of Prataparudra of the Kakatiya dynasty. Whatever may be the original home of the founders of Vijayanagara kingdom, it is to be noted that in building their system of administration, the Vijayanagara rulers used the Tamil traditions of the Cholas, Kannada traditions of the Hoyasalas and the Telugu traditions of the Kakatiyas as they represented themselves as rulers of entire South India.
There is also a controversy regarding the role of Sage Vidyaranya in founding the city of Vyayanagara. As the city of Vijayanagara has an alternate name of Vidyanagara, it is believed that Sage Vidyaranya was responsible for the construction of the city also. Inscriptions contain certain evidence that Vijayanagara was founded and completed by the two brothers Harihara and Bukka. Treating the epigraphs that refer to Vidyaranya as spurious, Fleet, Rice, Fr. Heras, Narasimhachar and Gopinadha Rao question the role of Vidyaranya in founding the city as well as the kingdom.
A strong belief prevails that the primary objective of establishing the Vijayanagara kingdom was to stop the penetration of Islamic way of life and worship into South India as well as to preserve and conserve the age-old Dharmic culture of the Sanatanadharrm from pollution. Vidyaranya’s role is minimized by the advocates of this view, who also point out that the Vijayanagara rulers ruled as trustees of the kingdom on behalf of their tutelary deity Virupaksha.
This view is rejected by others who argue that the decline of the Delhi Sultanate was the main reason for the emergence of Vijayanagara state in South India. There is no definite proof that Vijayanagara rulers were fanatical Hindu revivalists or champions of Hindu faith. A critical examination of their pragmatic religious policy and other policies and their relations with contemporary political power centres, indicate that political considerations and self-interests outweighed protecting Hindu Dharma against Islam.
The recruitment of proficient archers belonging to Islamic faith, construction of a mosque and venerating Islamic religious text Quran and the title of Yavanarajyasthapamcharya by Krishnadevaraya are some examples to suggest that the Vijayanagara rulers were not influenced by religious consideration in framing their policy. Taking advantage of the decline of the Delhi Sultanate after the Tughlaks and the disintegration of the erstwhile power centres of the Yadavas, the Kakatiyas, the Hoyasalas, and the Pandyas, the resultant vacuum was filled by the Vijayanagara rulers.
The Vijayanagara and Bahmani kingdoms were contemporary power centres, one located in Karnataka and the other in the upper Deccan. While the Vijayanagara kingdom was established in AD 1336, the Bahmani kingdom was founded in AD 1347. Vijayanagara and Bahmani rulers opposed each other at regular intervals, until their energies and resources were dissipated in this constant struggle for control of fertile zones.
Satish Chandra rightly observes that the interests of the Vijayanagara rulers and the Bahmani Sultans clashed in three separate and distinct areas in the Tungabhadra Doab, in the Krishna-Godavari delta and in the Marathwada country. The Tungabhadra Doab was the region between the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra. On account of its wealth and economic resources, it had been the bone of contention between rival political powers for a long time.
The struggle for mastery of the fertile Krishna-Godavari basin, which on account of numerous ports controlled the long distance sea trade of the region, was often linked with the struggle for the Tungabhadra Doab. The smaller powers of the time either allied with Vijayanagara or Bahmani rulers depending on their immediate interests. In the Marathwada region, the main contention was for the control of the Konkan and the area, which gave access to it.
The Konkan is a narrow strip of land between the Western Ghats and the sea. Its principal port Goa, was thus of great importance to the southern states. Further, the military conflict between the Vijayanagara and the Bahmani kingdom was a constant feature throughout the existence of these two kingdoms. This constant friction based on rivalry made both these states ever ready for war. They are in fact viewed as military states given the fact that they belonged to two distinct religions. The struggle therefore was also given a religious colour, although it does not seem to be so as there are other factors that came into play.
Yet, the religious dimension cannot, however, be ignored totally as it made the conflict more bitter, leading to wide spread devastation in the contested areas with significant loss and destruction. The rivalry started in AD 1356 and continued with political fluctuations till the end of Aravidu dynasty of the Vijayanagara kingdom. The battles between Vijayanagara and the Bahmanis are described in great detail by medieval writers favouring either the Bahmanis or the Vijayanagara rulers, where the victim was the truth and the villain was parochialism.
The Vijayanagara kingdom witnessed the rule of four dynasties: Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva and Aravidu. Sangama dynasty ruled for a period of 150 years from AD 1336 to 1486. The important rulers of this dynasty were Harihara and Bukka I, the founders of the Vijayanagara kingdom.
Devaraya I who ruled from AD 1406 to 1422 was made memorable by constructing a dam across the Tungabhadra River to irrigate cultivable land lying waste and to relieve Vijayanagara of water shortage. Devaraya II, who ruled from AD 1422 to 1446, was the greatest of this dynasty.
It is he who recruited 2,000 Muslims in the army and gave them Jagirs. During his reign two foreign travellers, Nicolo Conti, an Italian traveller and Abdul Razak, an envoy from Persia visited his court in AD 1420 and 1443 respectively. The last of the Sangamas, Virupaksha II was overthrown by Saluva Narasimha in AD 1486. Saluva dynasty ruled from AD 1486 to 1505. Viranarasimha of the Tuluva dynasty usurped the Vijayanagara throne in AD 1505.
During reign of the Tuluva dynasty, the prestige and glory of Vijayanagara reached its climax particularly under the rule of Krishnadevaraya. But disintegration also set in towards the end of the Tuluva dynasty. Krishnadevaraya is appropriately considered the greatest ruler of South India.
The throne ascended by Krishnadevaraya was not a bed of roses but full of thorns and the Vijayanagara kingdom’s prestige was in its lowest ebb. Krishnadevaraya had to establish once again the internal law and order and to deal with the enemies of Vijayanagara, the successor states of the Bahamani kingdom, Bijapur, Bidar, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar and Berar and the Gajapatis of Kalinga who usurped many Vijayanagara territories. He also had to face the growing power of the Portuguese.
Krishnadevaraya rose to the occasion as a warrior, general and statesman and in a series of battles lasting seven years. Krishnadevaraya successfully compelled Gajapatis to restore to Vijayanagara all the territories up to the river Krishna. After strengthening his position, Krishnadevaraya restarted the old struggle for the control of Tungabhadra Doab and made the necessary preparations to teach a lesson to Gajapatis and the successor states of the Bahmani.
He completely defeated Bijapur by AD 1520 and destroyed Gulbarga and a truce was entered into. With this, Krishnadevaraya’s wars with old enemies came to an end, and Vyayanagara emerged as the strongest military power in South India. Krishnadevaraya like the earlier Cholas committed the mistake of paying scant attention to the development of a naval force and forgot the threat of danger from the sea-power of the Portuguese.
Krishnadevaraya had no male issue for a long time and at last, his chief queen Tirumaladeva gave birth to a son called Tirumaladeva Maharaja. Krishnadevaraya, out of paternal love and affection, crowned the young prince and himself became the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the Crown Prince passed away within eight months and his death was attributed to the poisoning by Timmanadadanayaka. In a fit of anger, Krishnadevaraya appears to have ordered for the execution of Timmana and his father Timmarasu to be blinded. This was a sad conclusion to a glorious reign.
The foreign travellers who visited his court testify to the prosperity, affluence and pomp of the kingdom under Krishnadevaraya. Paes, an Italian, who spent a number of years at his court remarks: “He is a great ruler and a man of much justice, but subject to sudden fits of rage”.
His paternal attitude towards his subjects and his concern for their welfare are proverbial. Paes describes Krishnadevaraya as a man of medium height, and of fair complexion and good figure; rather fat than thin; he had on his face signs of smallpox. He is the most feared and as perfect a king as could possibly be. Krishnadevaraya’s reign has been recognized as the greatest because in the words of Burton Stein “it is obvious that the resources capable of being regularly appropriated by the (Vijayanagara) kings were those in the Tungabhadra heartland of the kingdom. This was not a small region, nor was its resources meagre.
The Tuluva kings of the first half of the 16th century drew upon a large agricultural zone in the midst of whose dominantly dry cropped fields were small regions of high agriculture based on tank irrigation. In this region there were among the best cotton soils in the peninsula as well as some of the largest pasturages that supported the herding of both cattle and sheep. Thus, cotton and woolen goods were exported from the region as well as bullocks.
Bullocks were used in large numbers because they pulled the guns that now appeared in all armies. This explains how Krishnadevaraya could maintain armies to win battles and undertake welfare measures for the people”. Krishnadevaraya was a warrior and a general of outstanding reputation. He was also a great builder. He built a new town named Nagulapuram near Vijayanagara in memory of his mother Nagulamba and dug an extensive tank for irrigation.
He was a gifted scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu and had the broad mind to patronize the contemporary regional languages Tamil and Kannada by creating Asthadiajas, or Navaratnas (?) and building Bhuvanavijayam. That his administration was efficient and effective is attested by Barbosa, Nunez and Paes who visited his court. Barbosa, writes that the king allows such freedom that every man could come and go, and lives according to his own creed, without suffering from annoyance, without enquiry whether he was Christian, Jew, Moor or Heathen.
The greatest achievement of Krishnadevaraya’s reign was his liberal mindset which enabled him to establish justice and equity among his kingdom. Krishnadevaraya was succeeded by his half-brother Atchyutadevaraya in AD 1529-30 and who, was followed by his son Venkata in AD 1540-41. In the same year the throne passed on to Sadasivaraya, nephew of Atchyutadevaraya. Sadasiva became a puppet of Ramaraya, the Prime Minister and bad days began for the kingdom.
Ramaraya of the Aravidu dynasty, the Prime Minister of Vijayanagara, was an able schemer determined to raise the sunken prestige of the Vijayanagara after the death of Krishnadevaraya. He followed the strategy of entering into alliance of a commercial nature with the Portuguese and made them stop the supply of horses to Bijapur Sultan and defeated the Sultan in a series of battles. With the cooperation of the temporary ally, the Bijapur Sultan, he inflicted a crushing defeat on Ahmadnagar and Golkonda.
Ramaraya’s policy yielded dividends in the shorter run and as planned by him, he could successfully establish a balance of power favourable to Vijayanagara. But in course of time, the Sultans realizing the real intentions of Ramaraya, decided to forget their personal interests and forged a common alliance cemented by matrimonial alliances, to take revenge against Vijayanagara.
In this coalition except Berar, the rest have become active partners and met the Vijayanagara armies at Tallikota in AD 1565. It is also known as the battle of Bannihati. In the battle the Sultans won and the victorious armies damaged the city of Vijayanagara. The defeat was a vital blow to Vijayanagara kingdom, yet it continued to exit till the end of the 17th century. Ranga III of the Aravidu dynasty was the last ruler of significance.
The Vijayanagara rulers built a vast territorial state apparatus by conquests and expansion, consolidation and integration of the different regions comprising different languages and cultures by an effective administrative system. Monarchical form of government was no doubt the order of the day. They followed a policy of benevolent and benign despotism and the king was never an autocrat.
Krishnadevaraya, in his Amuktarmlyada, a Prabandha Kauya describes vividly the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of a ruler, who is interested in the welfare of his subjects. In a nutshell, the philosophy of a ruler should be that “with great care and according to power of the King should attend to the work of protecting (the good) and punishing (the wicked) without neglecting anything that you can see or hear”.
The king is to be the fountainhead of all power. His authority is supreme in all matters pertaining to the interests of the state. The king should follow the injunctions of the Dharmasastras. The king should take the assistance of skilled personnel in matters of administration. The king should utilize the mineral wealth of the state for the economic uplift of the people inhabiting the kingdom.
The king should not impose too many taxes and make the people miserable but should levy moderate taxes. He should employ force through a strong and efficient military and maintain peace and order in the state, driving away the external and the internal enemies of the state. He should exhibit paternal love and affection towards his subjects and be their loving protector.
The king should be dependent on Brahmanical order as the strength and security of the kingdom depended on the successful maintenance of Brahmanical Dharma. The king was assisted by a Mantrimandali or council of ministers. There was no clear-cut demarcation between civil and military assignments. The ministers were appointed from the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaisya communities. Rarely was the post of the minister hereditary. The Prime Minster occupied a very important position in the council of ministers.
We have references to the officers like the Chief Treasurer, custodian of jewels and the Prefect of police. A dark feature to be noted is the rampant corruption prevailing in the administrative set-up at the higher levels in particular. For administrative convenience, the kingdom was divided into Rajyas or Mandalams or provinces below which were Nadu (district), Sthala (sub-district) and Grama or village. During this period, it is believed that the Chola tradition of village self-government was considerably weakened.
For effective administration the vast territory of the Rajya was divided as vassal states and provinces ruled directly by the king’s direct representatives. While the vassal states were administered by the Nayakas or Samantas, the territories directly under the king were called Rajyas, Mandalas and sometimes Chavadis. The governors appear to have enjoyed greater amount of autonomy, leading to the disruption of the empire under its competent rulers.
The other provinces were ruled by the Samatas or Nayakas and this type of administration was known as Nayankara system. This is an important feature of the Vijayanagara provincial organization. The term Nayankara is an abbreviation of Atmranayankara composed of three words; Amara, Nayaka and Kara. Amara literally stands for a command of a thousand foot soldiers. Nayaka stands for the military-chief who held land for the king.
Kara probably means an office. The term Amaranayankara may be taken to refer to a military chief who was granted land, yielding fixed revenue for the sovereign. This system of Nayankara is not a new phenomenon.
It existed during the Kakatiya period under the same name and was called Iqta during the Delhi Sultanate period and Munsabdari system of the Mughals. All these need not necessarily be one and the same; there were minor differences. The Nayaka and the provincial governor’s role appear to be different and neither of them enjoyed the same level of autonomy. The Nayakas had to maintain two agents, one military and the other civil representing his interests at the capital city. Nayaka appears to be military vassal who has to render military and financial assistance to the king.
The office of Nayaka was not transferable from one person to another person. The Vijayanagara epigraphs and later Mackenzie manuscripts refer to the Nayakas as territorial magnets with political aspirations which at times differed from those of the rulers. Krishnaswamy views the Nayankara systems as feudal, but N. Venkata Ramanayya states that the Nayankara system cannot be feudal because it did not contain the elements of fealty, homage and sub-infeudation.
D.C. Sircar also refutes the theory of feudalism and explains it as a kind of landlordism, a variant of feudalism in which land was allotted to the Amara Nayankara for military services rendered by them to the king. The importance and dependence on Nayakas can be understood from the fact that three-fourth of the area of land in Vijayanagara territory was alienated under the Nayaka system. The Nayankara system had both merits and demerits. As long as the king was powerful and strong, the Nayakas were under control but once the king became weak, the Nayakas behaved as independent rulers and destabilized the kingdom.
The merits of this system were the formations of new settlements, extension of irrigation facilities bringing new areas under cultivation and measures to preserve and conserve age-old culture. The Rajyas or Mandals are further sub-divided for administrative convenience and to ensure efficient and effective administration. The nomenclature of the subdivided divisions differed from locality to locality. They are known as Kottams or Ventures or districts, Nadus or Seemas or Talukas or present-day Mandalams and Sthala or a group of villages.
The village was the basic unit, and each village is said to be a self-sufficient one in all aspects, which is debatable. There is an accepted view that during this period autonomous local institutions experienced a setback in Tamil, Karnataka and Andhra regions. The Ayagar system became widely prevalent in the macro-Vijayanagara region.
The Ayagars were village servants or functionaries and consisted of group of families. These Ayagars were headman of the village (Reddi or Gaunda or Gauda or Maniyam), accountant (Karnam or Senabhova) and watchman or Talari or Talavari. These Ayagars were given land either tax free or as Manya and these were provisions for payment in kind for their services by the villagers. Other Ayagars like washer men, potter, blacksmith, carpenter, watchman and charmakara were also allotted land and paid in kind for their services. There is a view that these payments were provided for the first time to village servants holding a particular office.
Law and Justice:
The king was the supreme authority in the matter of justice. His verdict was final and irrevocable. The subjects of the kingdom, in case of injustice could submit a petition either to the king or the prime minister – judgment was delivered as per the merits of the petition. Hindu law and tradition was the basis of law. Trial by jury was in practice. Criminal justice was very severe and harsh. The Nayakas and Gaundas were given authority to settle cases in their jurisdiction.
K.A. Nilakanta Sastri seems to be right in stating that the Vijayanagara state was a military confederacy of many chieftains cooperating among themselves under the leadership of the strongest among them. This view gains strength because of the importance given to the Amara Nayaka system by the Vijayanagara rulers as already referred to above.
The Vijayanagara rulers maintained a large standing army besides the army supplied by the Amarnayakas. The army consisted of infantry, cavalry, elephantry and artillery. The rulers selected and recruited into army from all castes and creeds. While Devaraya I maintained 10,000 Muslim soldiers, Devaraya II appointed 2,000 Muslims to teach archery to the Hindus.
Vijayanagara rulers strengthened cavalry by importing good breed of horses from Hormaz with the help of the Portuguese merchants. The Vijayanagara rulers organized a military department called Kandachara under the control of the Dandanayaka and forts played crucial role in the military organization. Like our Republic Day festival, Maharnavami festival was used by Krishnadevaraya to exhibit the strength of his armed forces and rewards were presented to the winners in various competitions.
Nature of the State:
There is a great deal of debate among historians about the nature of the Vijayanagara state. In the last three decades and more, debate on state-formation and its apparent nature has come to occupy a key position in discourses on Indian history. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, a traditional historian, regards the Vijayanagara state as an example of a war state. Satish Chandra however argues, Vijayanagara was a war state only in the sense that all medieval states had to be constantly ready for war. There is also a view that the Vyayanagara state was a loose association of semi-autonomous military and territorial leaders and that it was not a centralized state like that of the Delhi Sultanate.
In this connection, Satish Chandra distinguishes between Amaram and Iqta and holds that Amaram cannot be equated to the Turkish Iqta system. Further, Burton Stein regards the Vijayanagara state as a segmentary state and suggests that absolute political sovereignty rested with the centre and symbolic or ritual sovereignty rested with the Nayakas and the Brahmin commanders in the periphery.
He also thinks that the relationship between the segments and the centre was pyramidally arranged and the distance between the segments and the centre decided the nature of relationship between the two. Disagreeing with the view of Burton Stein, R.S. Sharma, D.N. Jha and R. Champakalakshmi try to fix Vijayanagara state in the model of a feudal polity and society.
These scholars stress that the practice of giving land grants to Brahmins was an important factor that led to the rise of feudal segments and these feudal lords in turn gave lands to their subordinates and thus paved way for sub-infatuation. The proponents of feudal model argue that the extent of the empire and the absence of adequate means of transport and communication made it necessary for the rulers to delegate power to these feudal segments and to depend on them.
Noboru Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu also noticed feudal elements in the Vijayanagara state to a certain extent. Cynthia Talbot also suggests that the pre-colonial state structures in South India cannot be fixed into any particular models of segmentary, feudal or integrative state. At our present state of knowledge, it is not easy to fix in a certain model, the pre-colonial medieval supra-regional powers like Vijayanagara. The debate is still going on regarding the nature of the state of Vijayanagara as well of medieval and late medieval state structures of south India and the accepted view so far is a monarchical system based on the loose association of supra-local leaders or Samantas and vassals.
Society under the Vijayanagara kingdom was in a state of flux. The components of the society consisted of the native indigenous population and the foreigners like the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and the British along with Muslims of Turkish origin. The indigenous population was divided into Varnas and Jatis and also we notice the proliferation of sub-castes based on new professions and occupations needed for the changing social and economic orders.
Consequently, new ideas and values began to influence the society. Brahmins, the custodians of scholarship, living with religious rituals and practices had begun to perform secular functions as landlords, and Dandanayakas in charge of forts, commanders, managers of religious structures-temples and Mathas. Some Brahmins possessing land and political power became dominant but they were in a very small number.
Another factor to be reckoned with was the territorial segmentation of society. It means that the social groups were divided on the basis of natural sub-regions inhabited by them along with occupational patterns associated with them. These social groups practiced exclusivity by preferring consanguineous marriages.
Another feature to be noticed under the Vijayanagara rule in the Tamil region was the dual division of lower castes into Idangai and Vadangai to the right-hand and left-hand castes. This division does not appear to be in vogue in Andhra and Karnataka. Those castes which were engaged in primary agricultural production were called right-hand castes and the mobile artisan communities engaged in non-agricultural pursuits were called left-hand castes.
Owing to increase in the temple construction, extensive agricultural operations and growth of internal trade and commerce, the economic and social conditions of the artisans improved and they began to claim a sacred social and ritual status and thus we come across a social group of people calling themselves Satsudras among the Sudra community. Further, the social space accorded to a caste or Jati is determined by their participation in the worship of a particular deity in temple management and ritual. The entire caste spectrum appears to have been given due representation by the state.
The same is the case with the Mathas; where both Brahmins and non-Brahmin social groups enjoyed social space. Yet in that social structure, the Brahmans, the right-and left-hand castes and Satsudra social groups of Vellalas and among the artisans the weavers occupied a better position. The social structure thus was not static but reflected the spirit of the times. The influence and the impact of the Dharmasastric literature were overshadowed by pragmatic social and political consideration.
Abdul Razak testifies that the courtesans of the age had a place of honour in the social order. They not only participated in royal processions and festivals but also paid taxes to the state treasury. The practice of child marriages, payment of dowry, Satisahagamana, sacrifice of animals at the time of Jataras and human sacrifice were some of the defects to be noticed during this age. Mostly women were viewed as objects of luxury and not as equal participants in social system.
The economic soundness of the Vijayanagara kingdom depended on flourishing agriculture along with trade and commerce. Agriculture was the main occupation of the large sections of the people. The Vijayanagara rulers promoted agricultural operations on a large scale by constructing tanks and by providing canals to supply water continuously for irrigational purposes. They allotted to small farmers cultivable land lying waste and even provided loans at lower rate of interest. Further, they repaired old irrigational tanks and constructed dams and dykes. Rice was the main crop of the region.
Besides, cereals like gram and pulses, spices like black pepper, coconut and betel nuts were produced in good quantities. Land revenue differed from region to region and depended on fertility of the soil. Generally, it is one-sixth of the produce but in some cases it went up to one-fourth also. The rise in land revenue was exempted in the case of Brahmins and temples as 1/20 to 1/30 respectively.
The land revenue was paid in cash or in kind. Vijayanagara epigraphs refer to three categories of land tenure: Amara, Bhandaravada and Manya. The Bhandaravada villages are crown villages, and a part of this revenue was utilized for the maintenance of forts. Manya land villages were tax-free lands and Amara lands or villages, were allotted to Samantas or vassals who utilized the revenue to maintain the armies to be supplied to the king as and when needed.
Besides land tax the Vyayanagara rulers imposed taxes on shopkeepers, farm servants, shepherds, washermen, potters, shoemakers and musicians. Further, they collected tax on property owned by individuals. House tax and taxes on grazing land were collected. Village officers were maintained by the state with the money collected from the villagers. The state also collected transit duties in the Sthaladayam, Magadayam and Manuladayam and also earned income through Dasavanda in the Tamil country and Kattukadage in Andhra and Karnataka for providing irrigation facilities in semi-arid zones, which were conducive for carrying out development projects.
Land was held not only by the crown and individuals but by temples also. Some big temples become landowners and the state appointed officers to collect and to supervise proper spending of the money collected from Devadana villages. During this period, the temples became important centres of economic activity. The travelogues of contemporary foreign travellers testify that local and long distance trade flourished under Vijayanagara regime. The state provided reasonably good roads and facilities for travellers between towns. For short distance transport, carts were in vogue.
The travelers refer to riverine shipping especially the backwater system on the west coast. Pack animals were put to use in long distance transport. Armed guards protected the goods and merchandise for long distance traders. Local officials and nobility also gave sufficient encouragement to trade and commerce by organizing fairs at regular intervals. Merchants and traders formed into Srenis and head of the guild of traders was known as Pattana Swami.
The literary works and the epigraphs of the 14th to the 16th centuries record that there existed 80 major trade centres. We also notice the growth of urban centres, of these some were religious and others were commercial and administrative centres. Markets were divided on the basis of commodities sold there.
Markets existed separately for agricultural and non-agricultural products of the right-and left-hand castes. In temple towns, the items needed by pilgrims were sold. Traders and artisan communities of the medieval times were identified with certain towns. For example, the oil pressers or the Telikas claim to be the inhabitants of the town of Bezwada. The temple epigraphs and the foreign traveler’s account refer to the economic prosperity and prestige of the merchants and traders in the towns.
Krishnadevaraya’s Amuktamalyada, the accounts of Domingo Peas and Nunez provide a vivid description of horse-trade carried on at that time. The role of the Indian merchants in the long distance foreign trade was nominal. Barbosa testifies that the Indian overseas trade was completely controlled by the Muslim merchants.
The rulers realizing the importance of long distance trade provided special facilities to the foreign traders by providing a bodyguard, a Chetti accountant and a broker for help in local dealings. Even the royal monopoly of pearl fisheries was given to Muslim merchants. In the beginning, the Arabs and later the Portuguese controlled horse-trade. Horses were brought from Arabia, Syria and Turkey to the ports on the west coast. Besides horses, ivory, pearls, spices, precious stones, coconuts, palm-sugar, and salt were also imported while white rice, sugar cane and iron were exported from Vijayanagara.
Nunez states that the diamond mines of the Vijayanagara times were the richest in the world and were located on the banks of the river Krishna in Kurnool and Anantapur. The availability of diamonds in large numbers led to the promotion of diamond-cutting and polishing of diamonds, sapphires and rubies in Vijayanagara and Malabar. Honnavar Bhatkal, Nagapatnam and Pulicat were the important ports of the Vijayanagara times. Krishnadevaraya in Amuktamalyada states: “A king should improve the harbours of his country and encourage its commerce so that horses, elephants, precious gems, sandalwood, pearls and other articles are freely imported.
He should arrange that the foreign sailors who land in his country on account of storms, illness and exhaustion are looked after in a manner suitable to their nationalities. Make the merchants of distant foreign countries who import elephants and good horses attached to you by providing them with daily audience, presents and allowing decent profits. Then those articles will never go to your enemies”. The recent researches of Sanjay Subramanyam on trade and the regional economy of South India offer valuable new evidence on the relationship of overseas, coastal and inland trade and changes in political fortunes.
On account of growth of trade and commerce foreign Muslims and Indian Muslims or Mappallas dominated the south-west coast long distance trade and coastal and local trade respectively. Overseas trade was dominated by Arabs, Jews, Armenians and Christians of Portuguese origin. While Sarasvat Brahmins dominated as traders on the Karnataka coast, in the northern Coromandal Telugu speaking Balija Naidus, Berichettis and Komatis dominated. In this age trade was no longer the monopoly of the Vaishyas or Komatis. Sanjay Subrahmanyam postulates a hypothesis that this age saw the beginning of ‘Portfolio capitalists’.
The Vijayanagara rulers followed a policy of providing social space to all religions and their adherents. In the larger and longer interests of stability and security of the empire, they made a clear-cut distinction between their personal faith and religious sentiments of their subjects. Duerate Barbosa states that Krishnadevaraya treated Saivites, Vaishnavites, Jainas, Christians, Jews and Moors with kindness compassion and love, though Krishnadevaraya’s personal faith was Vaishnavism.
Atchyutadevaraya was a follower of Vishnu but he gave donations to Saiva temples at Kanchi and Lepakshi. Ramaraya is said to have had the Quran placed before him when Muslim soldiers rendered obedience to him. Further, Ramaraya appears to have allowed the Muslims to kill cows in the city of Vijayanagara.
Some epigraphs testify that there were sectarian rivalries, but were amicably settled. But there is a strong view that religion and religious groups played a crucial role in political, social and economic life of the kingdom. Maharnavami festival or the annual royal ceremony was celebrated for nine days and it ended as Dasarah festival on the 10th day.
It is viewed as ritual kingship. Celebration of Dasarah by the ruler may also be taken as a gesture on the part of the ruler to identify him with the collective interests of the population rather than ritual kingship. No doubt, there existed relationship between kings, sects and temples. Large number of temples came into existence during the Vijayanagara rule and it is said that the temple acted as an integrative factor and as a central place of multifarious activities. The Vijayanagara rulers built large number of temples by donations and took measures for their upkeep and regular maintenance.
Patronage of Literature:
The Vijayanagara rulers exhibited keen interest in promoting Sanskrit and Telugu, Tamil and Kannada literature. T.V. Mahalingam aptly remarks: The foundation of Vijayanagara Empire coincided in point of time with the outburst of a momentous literary movement in South India. As language and literature are recognized as binding forces of oneness in a region, the rulers for their enlightened self-interest promoted and developed Sanskrit as well as regional languages spoken in their territory of rule. Vast literary output in Sanskrit was produced by eminent scholars like Vidyasankara, Vidyaranya, Sayana and his son Madhava Mantri. Sayana’s Vedantaprakasa, a commentary on the Vedas was undoubtedly the greatest of work of the period.
Iswara Dikshita wrote two commentaries on Ramayana during this period. Vedanta Desika, Srikantha Pandita and Jaya Thirtha wrote on Vaishanava, Saiva and Madhva sects respectively. Gangaamba and Tirumalamba wrote historical Kavyas Madhuravijayam and Varadambikaparinayam respectively. Among the rulers Devaraya II is known to be the author of Mahanataka Sudhanidhi and Krishnadevaraya wrote Amuktamalyada besides Madalasacharitra, Rasamanjari and Jambavati Kalyamm. Celebrated books on music, erotic’s, medicine and grammar were written during this period. Of such works, Vidyarayana’s Sangitasara on music, Sayana’s Ayurveda Sudhanidhi and Lakshmana Pandita’s Vaidyarajya Vallabham’ are outstanding works.
The reign of Krishnadevaraya is a well-known Prabandhayugam of Telugu literature. Krishnadevaraya himself was scholar, musician and a poet and he loved to gather around him poets, philosophers and religious teachers whom he honoured and respected by offering gifts and lands. Krishnadevaraya patronized a group of eight poets or Asthadiggajas and conducted literary salons in famous Bhuvana Vijayam specially built for this purpose.
The Asthadiggajas are:
(1) Allasani Peddana, the author of Manucharita,
(2) Timmana, the author of Parijatapaharanam
(3) Dhurjati, the author of Kalahastisvaramahatyam
(4) Ramaraja Bhushana or Bhattumurti, the author of Vasucharitra,
(5) Pingali Surana, the author of Raghavapattdaviyam and Kakpurnodayam,
(6) Tenali Ramakrishna Kavi the author of Pandurangamahatyam and Ghatikachalamahatyam, and
(7) Ayyalaraju Ramabhadra, the author of Rartmbhyudayam and
(8) Madayagari Mallana.
Kannada literature also flourished during this age. Literary texts in Kannada dealing with Jainism, Virasaivism and Brahmanism appeared in this age. Of the Jaina Kannada literature, mention has to be made of Mathura’s Dharmanathapuram, Vritha Vilasa’s Dharmapariksha Sastrasara, and Saiva’s Jain version of Mahabharata also deserve to be mentioned.
The Virasaiva scholars promoted Kannada prose. Chamarasa, the author of Prabhuragalila along with Bommarasa, Kallarasa, Tontada and Siddhesvara were well-known Kannada literary giants. Kumaravyasa and Timmana were well-known popular Brahmanical writers. Sripadaraya, Purandharadasa and Kanakadasa are well-known Kannada composers of musical Kirtanas.
In the history of Tamil literature, the period of450 years from AD 1200 to 1650 is considered to be the last great period. It was a period of large output of philosophical works, commentaries, Puranas and Prabandhas. The numerous authors professed faith in both Vaishnavism and Saivism along with Jainism. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri states that though Vyayanagara rulers patronized Sanskrit and Telugu languages, there is no setback to the promotion and development of Tamil literature. Svarupananda Desika and his pupil Tattuvarayar at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century wrote the celebrated book on Advaita. Haridasa, the author of Irusamaya Vilakkam, an exposition on
Vaishnavism and Saivism were patronized by Krishnadevaraya as a court poet. Turasai Ambalavana Desikar of the 16th century wrote many religious works like Sittanta Sikhamani, Nittai Vilakkam and Sammargasittiyar and Puppilai-Atavanai.
We come across much stress on the religious and philosophical aspect in the Tamil literature. In lexicography, the most popular lexicon Nigandu Chudamani was composed by Mandala Purusha, who is doubtfully said to be of the time of Krishnadevaraya.
Architecture, Art and Painting:
The Vijayanagara rulers left behind marvellous architectural edifices, both religious and secular, whose ruins make us to look at them with awe and wonder. It was a remarkable period in the sphere of art, sculpture and painting. Vijayanagara or the city of victory is the capital as well as the name of the kingdom and it can be safely identified as Hampi and its present surroundings. Nearly 77 epigraphs of the Vijayanagara rulers have been found here.
George Mitchell, architectural historian who had documented the city of Vijayanagara delineated three board zones:
(1) The sacred centre,
(2) The urban core, and
(3) The royal centre.
These three zones are separated from each other by an irrigation canal. In the sacred centre of the city, which is along the river side of the Tungabhadra, we notice the temple complexes dedicated to Virupaksha, Balakrishna, Tiruvengalanatha Vittala, Raggunatha and Pattabhirama.
All these temples reflea the Vijayanagara temple style. Domingo Paes records, “the King has made Vijayanagara a very strong city, fortified it with walls and towers, and the gates at the entrance are very strong, these walls are not made like those of other cities, but are made of very strong masonry and inside very beautiful rows of buildings with flat roofs.
There live many merchants, and it is filled with a high population because the King induces many honourable merchants to go there from his cities”. Paes further reports that “before the Ramachandra temple there was a broad and beautiful street fill of fine houses. And it is understood that the houses belong to Merchants, and there you find all sorts of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds and pearls and clothes and every sort of thing there is on the earth that you may wish to buy.
There you have every evening a fair where they sell many common horses, and also many citrons, and limes, and oranges and grapes, and every kind of garden stuff and wood, you have all this in the street (which) leads to the palace”.
In the royal centre, we witness a system of roads, many stone-paved, radiating outward for main open area in front of the Ramachandra temple and reaching all parts of the site south of the agricultural zone and a few of these extending northward to the Tungabhadra.
Thirty or so palaces have been noted in various parts of the city and mostly in royal centre one of the most striking of all of Hampi structures is Maharnavami or Dassarahdibba. We also come across a two-storeyed pavilion, the ‘Lotus Mahal’ which is full of Hindu and Muslim elements. We also have an evidence of an elephant stable with eleven domes and a guard’s quarter and a pavilion for royal bath. Thus, Vijayanagara was a royal city, a commercial centre and a place where kings spent most of their time conducting royal duties.
KA Nilakanta Sastri rightly observes:
Under Vijayanagara, South Indian art attained a certain fullness and freedom of rich expression in keeping with the general consciousness of the great task of the empire, namely the preservation and development of all that remained of Hinduism against the onslaught of Islam. In this period, temple became very elaborate both in structure and organization; even the old temples were amplified by the addition of pillared halls, pavilions and other subordinate structures.
The most characteristic addition to the temple is the Kalyana Mandapa, which is a very ornate pillared platform in the centre for the reception of the deity and his consort at the annual celebration of their marriage ceremony. Another feature to be noted is the ‘Thousand Pillared Mandapa’, a huge hall with many rows of pillars.
The most striking feature of the Vijayanagara style was the varied and complicated treatment of the pillars, and all pillars had ornamental brackets as part of these capitals and below the bracket we come across an inverted lotus bud. Another feature of Vijayanagara style is the tall entrance or Gopura. The principal temples of Vittala and the Hazara Rama are the most important exhibits of Vijayanagara style. Vittala temple is by far the most ornate. These temples had three entrances with Gopuras and those on the east and south are considered to be the most important.
The Hazara Rama temple is a modest but perfectly finished example of the Vijayanagara style. Besides the main temple, there is a shrine for the goddess, a Kalyana Mandapa and other subsidiary temples all enclosed in a courtyard by a wall of 24 feet height. Vellore, Kumbakonam, Kanchipuram, Tadipatri and Srirangam temples are also perfect examples of the Vijayanagara style.
The Kalyana Mandapa of Vellore is considered to be the most beautiful structure with its tall tower or Gopura. Two Gopuras of the temple of Rameswara at Tadipatri are remarkable for their rich and exquisite carvings. Ferguson is of the view that these carvings are in better taste than anything else in this style. Percy Brown observes that Seshagirimandapa at Srirangam contains a colonnade of furiously fighting steeds each rearing up to a height of nearly nine feet, the whole executed in a technique … not like stone but hardened steel”.
Madhura Nayakas also encouraged the Vijayanagara style of architecture in the later stage. The art of casting bronzes flourished under the rule of the Vijayanagara rulers. The subject of sculpture is made memorable by the life-size statues of Krishnadevaraya and his two wives located at Tirupati.
In the end, we can conclude with the statement of Burton Stein that the Vijayanagara epoch saw the transition of South Indian society from its medieval past to its modem future based on modernization and urbanism or economy backed by flourishing surplus agriculture and trade and commerce with modern weapons of warfare guns. It can be the study of the kings which indicates that Vijayanagara age is a synthesis of the age-old Indian tradition and values of life.