Chapter : 7

What Are An Imperial Capital: Vijayanagar ?

  • Vijayanagara or ‘city of victory’ was the name of both a city and an empire. The empire was founded in the fourteenth century.
  • In its golden era, it stretched from the river Krishna in the north to the extreme south of the peninsula. In 1565, the city was sacked and subsequently deserted.
  • Although it fell into ruin in the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries, it lived on in the memories of people living in the Krishna-Tungabhadra doab. They remembered it as Hampi, a name derived from that of the local mother goddess, Pampadevi.
  • These oral traditions combined with archaeological finds, monuments and inscriptions and other records helped scholars to rediscover the Vijayanagara Empire.

The Discovery of Hampi

  • The ruins at Hampi were brought to light in 1800 by an engineer and antiquarian named Colonel Colin Mackenzie. He was an employee of the English East India Company, and prepared the first survey map of the site.
  • Much of the initial information he received was based on the memories of priests of the Virupaksha temple and the shrine of Pampadevi.
  • From 1856, photographers began to record the monuments which enabled scholars to study them. As early as 1836 epigraphists began collecting several dozen inscriptions found at this and other temples at Hampi.
  • In an effort to reconstruct the history of the city and the empire, historians collated information from these sources with accounts of foreign travellers and other literature written in Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Sanskrit.
  • By studying Vijayanagara, Mackenzie believed that the East India Company could gain much useful information on many of these institutions, laws and customs whose influence still prevails among the various Tribes of Natives forming the general mass of the population to this day.

Rayas, Nayakas and S ultans

  • According to tradition and epigraphic evidence two brothers, Harihara and Bukka, founded the Vijayanagara Empire in 1336. This empire included within its fluctuating frontiers peoples who spoke different languages and followed different religious traditions.
  • On their northern frontier, the Vijayanagara kings competed with contemporary rulers : including the Sultans of the Deccan and the Gajapati rulers of Orissa : for control of the fertile river valleys and the resources generated by lucrative overseas trade.
  • At the same time, interaction between these states led to sharing of ideas, especially in the field of architecture. The rulers of Vijayanagara borrowed concepts and building techniques which they then developed further.
  • Some of the areas that were incorporated within the empire had witnessed the development of powerful states such as those of the Cholas in Tamil Nadu and the Hoysalas in Karnataka.
  • Ruling elites in these areas had extended patronage to elaborate temples such as the Brihadishvara temple at Thanjavur and the Chennakeshava temple at Belur.
  • The rulers of Vijayanagara, who called themselves rayas, built on these traditions and carried them to new heights.

The apogee and decline of the empire

  • The first dynasty, known as the Sangama dynasty, exercised control till 1485. They were supplanted by the Saluvas, military commanders, who remained in power till 1503 when they were replaced by the Tuluvas.
  • Krishnadeva Raya belonged to the Tuluva dynasty. His rule was characterised by expansion and consolidation. This was the time when the land between the Tungabhadra and Krishna rivers (the Raichur doab) was acquired (1512), the rulers of Orissa were subdued (1514) and severe defeats were inflicted on the Sultan of Bijapur (1520).
  • Although the kingdom remained in a constant state of military preparedness, it flourished under conditions of unparalleled peace and prosperity.
  • Krishnadeva Raya is credited with building some fine temples and adding impressive gopurams to many important south Indian temples. He also founded a suburban township near Vijayanagara called Nagalapuram after his mother.
  • Some of the most detailed descriptions of Vijayanagara come from his time or just after. Strain began to show within the imperial structure following Krishnadeva Raya’s death in 1529.
  • His successors were troubled by rebellious nayakas or military chiefs. By 1542, control at the centre had shifted to another ruling lineage, that of the Aravidu, which remained in power till the end of the 17Th century.
  • During this period, as indeed earlier, the military ambitions of the rulers of Vijayanagara as well as those of the Deccan Sultanates resulted in shifting alignments. Eventually this led to an alliance of the Sultanates against Vijayanagara.
  • In 1565 Rama Raya, the chief minister of Vijayanagara, led the army into battle at Rakshasi-Tangadi (also known as Talikota), where his forces were routed by the combined armies of Bijapur, Ahmadnagar and Golconda.
  • The victorious armies sacked the city of Vijayanagara. The city was totally abandoned within a few years.
  • Now the focus of the empire shifted to the east where the Aravidu dynasty ruled from Penukonda and later from Chandragiri (near Tirupati).
  • Although the armies of the Sultans were responsible for the destruction of the city of Vijayanagara, relations between the Sultans and the rayas were not always or inevitably hostile, in spite of religious differences.

The rayas and the na yakas

  • Among those who exercised power in the empire were military chiefs who usually controlled forts and had armed supporters. These chiefs were known as nayakas and they usually spoke Telugu or Kannada.
  • Many nayakas submitted to the authority of the kings of Vijayanagara but they often rebelled and had to be subdued by military action.
  • The amara-nayaka system was a major political innovation of the Vijayanagara Empire. It is likely that many features of this system were derived from the iqta system of the Delhi Sultanate.
  • The amara-nayakas were military commanders who were given territories to govern by the raya. They collected taxes and other dues from peasants, crafts persons and traders in the area. They retained part of the revenue for personal use and for maintaining a stipulated contingent of horses and elephants.
  • These contingents provided the Vijayanagara kings with an effective fighting force with which they brought the entire southern peninsula under their control. Some of the revenue was also used for the maintenance of temples and irrigation works.
  • The amara-nayakas sent tribute to the king annually and personally appeared in the royal court with gifts to express their loyalty. Kings occasionally asserted their control over them by transferring them from one place to another.
  • However, during the course of the seventeenth century, many of these nayakas established independent kingdoms. This hastened the collapse of the central imperial structure.

Vijayanagara : The Capital and its Environs

  • Like most capitals, Vijayanagara, was characterised by a distinctive physical layout and building style. The most striking feature about the location of Vijayanagara is the natural basin formed by the river Tungabhadra which flows in a north-easterly direction.
  • Several travellers visited the city and wrote about it. Notable among their accounts are those of an Italian trader named Nicolo de Conti, an ambassador named Abdur Razzaq sent by the ruler of Persia, a merchant named Afanasii Nikitin from Russia, all of whom visited the city in the fifteenth century, and those of Duarte Barbosa, Domingo Paes and Fernao Nuniz from Portugal, who came in the sixteenth century.
  • Rulers very often encouraged temple building as a means of associating themselves with the divine – often, the deity was explicitly or implicitly identified with the king.
  • Temples also functioned as centres of learning. Besides, rulers and others often granted land and other resources for the maintenance of temples.
  • In fact the Vijayanagara kings claimed to rule on behalf of the god Virupaksha. All royal orders were signed ‘Shri Virupaksha’, usually in the Kannada script.
  • Rulers also indicated their close links with the gods by using the title ‘Hindu Suratrana’. This was a Sanskritisation of the Arabic term Sultan, meaning king, so it literally meant Hindu Sultan.

Plotting Palaces, Temples and Bazaars

  • After the initial surveys by Mackenzie, information was pieced together from travellers’ accounts and inscriptions. Through the twentieth century, the site was preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Karnataka Department of Archaeology and Museums.
  • In 1976, Hampi was recognised as a site of national importance. Then, in the early 1980s, an important project was launched to document the material remains at Vijayanagara in detail, through extensive and intensive surveys, using a variety of recording techniques.

• Over nearly twenty years, dozens of scholars from all over the world worked to compile and preserve this information.