Vijayanagara Empire (vijayanagara empire) (ವಿಜಯನಗರ ಸಾಮ್ರಾಜ್ಯ) is often portrayed as a metaphor for the coming together of Hindu elements against the the Islamic invasion. This binary division and the consequent attitudinal issues have dimmed the prospects of a more objective assessment of the complex phenomenon. This empire which thrived for a little more than three centuries was not monolithic in the sense that it was not ruled by a single dynasty. In reality it was a continuum that consisted of four dynasties namely sangama dynasty, sALuva vamsha, tuLuva vamsha and aravIDu vamsha in that order. (Vamsha= dynasty) The contribution of this Empire to the religion, literature, fine arts, architecture and sculpture of Karnataka are immense. There is no dearth of information about this Empire because inscriptions, travel accounts penned by visitors from abroad, literary texts and material that can be gleaned from oral and non-verbal sources have gushed about the glory that was Vijayanagara.
The founding of the Empire is attributed to brothers Hakka and Bukka guided and inspired by the scholar-saint Vidyaranya. There are variant schools of thought about the origin of Sangama vamsha. Some scholars have argued that they belonged to the Orangal region of Andhrapradesh and that they were Telugu people. Another argument is that they had affinities with the Hoysala dynasty and that they belonged to Kannada speaking communities. They are of the opinion that Hakka and Bukka were in a way successors of Kumararama because they continued to oppose the invasive forces from the North. Some ancestors of Hakka might have worked under the Hoysala kings. Some of the important kings who ruled over the Vijayanagara kingdom are as follows:
a. sangama dynasty:
1. harihara-1(hakka) 1336-56 A.D.
2. bukka-1 1356-77 A.D.
3. harihara-2 1377-1404 A.D.
4. dEvarAya 1406-22 A.D.
5. dEvarAya-2 (prouDhadEvarAya) 1424-1446 A.D.
6. mallikArjuna (dEvarAya-3) 1446-1465 A.D.
7. virUpAksha-3 1465-1485 A.D.
b. sALuva dynasty:
1. sALuva narasimhadEvarAya 1485-1491 A.D.
2. narasimha rAya-2 1491-1505 A.D.
c. tuLuva dynasty:
1. vIra narasimha rAya 1505-1509 A.D.
2. krishNadEvarAya 1509-1529 A.D.
3. acyutadEva rAya 1529-1542 A.D.
4. sadAshiva rAya 1542-1570 A.D.
d. aravIDu dynasty:
1. (aLiya rAmarAya) (Royal Guardian, in virtual control) 1542-65 A.D.
2. tirumala ( Ruled from penugonda) 1570-1572 A.D.
3. shrIranga-1 1572-1586 A.D.
4. venkaTapati-2(ruled from candragiri) 1586-1614 A.D.
5. rAmadEvarAya 1617-1632 A.D.
venkaTapati-3 (ruled from
7. cinnavenkaTa shrIranga-3 1642-1646 A.D.
It is to be noted that these names do not indicate direct succession from father to son and that there are many gaps of very short durations.
It is not possible to document the political and martial endeavors of all these kings in detail. This brief survey is confined to some very important monarchs. They are harihara, bukka-1, prouDhadEvarAya, and krishNadEvarAya and aLiya rAmarAya. The aravIDu dynasty which came to power after the dissolution of the empire ruled from minor towns and did not really became a powerful entity.
Hariharadeva (hakka), the founder of
the kingdom was under the aegis of the Hoysala kings till 1342 A.D. and after
that he declared his independence and concentrated on expanding the kingdom and
taking benevolent administrative measures. He ruled from dOrasamudra and his
brothers were in charge of regions in and around muLabAgilu, udayagiri (
Bukkaraja consolidated the kingdom
established by his brother. He defeated the chieftains of Arcot,
(shambhuvarAya) sultans of
also known as immaDi dEvarAya and pratApadEva rAya is next important monarch of
the kingdom. He is known less for his military exploits and more renowned for
his other achievements. He suffered few setbacks and expanded the kingdom up to
the banks of the
Both the kings belonging to the sALuva dynasty ruled for very short intervals and sALuva narasimha did try to bring about internal peace and stability.
Krishnadevaraya the tuLuva monarch
who ruled for twenty years is one of the most renowned monarchs of Karnataka as
aLiya rAmarAya who presided over the
dissolution of the Empire was not the Emperor at any point of time in a
technical sense. However, he was the de facto Emperor for more than two decades
either in his capacity as the royal guardian or by keeping the de-juro Emperor
imprisoned. His period was totally occupied with never ending battles with one
or the other Sultans of the Bahmani and Adilshahi kingdoms. He adopted the
policy of dividing the five sultans and pitting them against one another. Of
course, this policy boomeranged on him when all the five sultans came together
and attacked him. A decisive battle ensued in 1565 A.D. in the region between
the villages of rakkasagi and tangaDagi on the banks of the river
The attempts of the aravIDu dynasty to resurrect the glories of Vijayanagara met with little success even though they did rule for almost hundred years from small towns and commanded ineffectual armies.
Vijayanagara Empire was a monarchy and obviously the kings had absolute powers. However it was tempered to an extent by time honoured traditions and religious pressure. The kingdom was divided into divisions such as rAjya, manDala and nADu. tuLu rAjya, penugonDe rAjya, tuLu rAjya and muLuvAyi rAjya are some illustrations. These rAjyas had their own regional capitals. The commanders of these states were either related to the king or well trusted by them. They had revenue powers, judicial powers and the power to levy taxes. The small kingdoms acquired by the Empire usually continued to enjoy feudatory status and they were obliged to render military assistance and monetary support to the monarch.
Local administration was by and large left to the grAmasabhAs and professional guilds. There was hardly any interference by the powers above. They controlled the religious, caste-oriented and societal aspects of the life style.
It was mandatory for the Empire to have access to huge funds because of constant warfare and consequent military expenditure. Naturally, agriculture, trade and commerce were encouraged and the profits were heavily taxed. Artisan classes flourished well and they had their own guilds. Even routine events such as having a haircut and rare events such as weddings were taxed. (nAvidavAri) and people were hard pressed to meet these demands. Brahmins held dominant positions in state affairs and religious institutions. Such powers were often used injudiciously.
Inscriptions installed during this period far outnumber the inscriptions of any other period. About 9000 inscriptions in Kannada, Sanskrit, Telugu, and Tamil are found in different regions of the Empire. Usually, they are carved on granite and are not particularly known for the aesthetic quality of the script. Many of them do not exhibit a literary flair either. They are matter of fact and record grants of lands and other bounty to religious institutions and ‘deserving’ individuals. Many inscriptions have retained the regional features of Kannada language and could help diachronic studies of Kannada dialects. Copper plate inscriptions are usually in Sanskrit and they make use of ‘nandinAgari’ script. Some inscriptions by bukkarAja, prouDhadEvarAya and krishnadEvarAya are known for their religious tolerance and tact.
during this regime was crucial because of the importance given to trade and
commerce. Payment by money became more common. Almost all the kings starting
from Harihara-1 to ShrIranga have issued their own coins. They make use of
Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit languages and relevant scripts. The name of the
king occasionally with titles, an icon of a God and specific designs form
integral parts of these coins. Coins were usually made of gold. However, silver
and copper coins were also minted. varaha (pon, pagODa, gadyANa), paNa and hAga
were gold coins.
The contribution of this Empire to the architecture and sculpture of India are immense. The ruins at Hampi have drawn universal attention and praise. The temples of viRUpAksha, vijaya vittala and hajAra rAma and non religious relics that are found and being excavated continuously are repositories of great works of art. These are dealt with in separate entries. (Hampi, Architecture and Sculpture of Vijayanagara) The murals on the walls of the VirUpAksha temple bear witness to the encouragement given to painting during this period. (Mural paintings of Karnataka). Many murals and paintings in Anegondi, lEpAkshi, tanjAvOru and candragiri were commissioned by the kings of Vijayanagara. Foreign travelers have described the paintings present in the palaces of Krishnadevaraya.
The domains that came under the Vijayanagara Empire were multilingual and it is but natural that the Empire encouraged writers in Kannada, Telugu, Sanskrit and other languages. Some of the kings such as krishnadevaraya and prouDhadEvarAya were writers on their own right and almost all of them had an inclination and resources to patronise literature. Madura, VrittavilAs, BAskara, bommarasa, pAlkurike sOmanAtha, virUpAksha paNdita, lakkaNa danDEsha, purandaradAsa, kanakadAsa, kumAravyAsa, cATu viTTalanAtha, gubbi mallaNArya, cAmarasa and ratnAkaravarNi were either patronized by the royal courts or wrote elsewhere but during the rule of the Empire. Some well known Kannada works such as ‘basavapurANa’ were translated in to Telugu and many vice versa because of the bilingual nature of the Empire.
sAyaNa, vidyAraNya, gangAdEvi (the author of ‘madurAvijaya’ a historical epic.) and vAdirAja are important among the writers who have contributed original works and commentaries in Sanskrit.
Fine arts like music and dance were practiced diligently and many texts on musicology were written by scholars such as Vidyaranya, Kallinaatha and Venkatamukhi. Purandaradasa is recognized as the founding father of ‘Karnataka Sangiita’. Compositions by him and Kanakadasa are set to music. Nijaguna Shivayogi writes extensively on music in ‘vivEkacintAmaNi’, an encyclopaediac work written by him. There are tangible evidence for the popularity of classical dance in temple sculpture and the travel accounts written by foreigners.
All in all, the Vijayanagara Empire constitutes an extremely important chapter in the political and cultural histories of Karnataka.
Further Readings and Links:
Sculpture at Vijayanagara: Iconography and style, By
Dallapiccola, Anna libera and Anila Varghese, 1996, Manohar,
2. Vijayanagara, City and Empire: New currents of research (2 Vols.). Beiträge zur Südasienforschung100, 1985, Stuttgart: Steiner
3. The Irrigation and Water Supply Systems of Vijayanagara by Davison-Jenkins, Dominic J., 1995, New Delhi: Manohar.
Vijayanagara Inscriptions, by Gopal, B.R., 1985,
Directorate of Archaeology and Museums,
5. Administration and Social Life under Vijayanagar. By Mahalingam T.V., University Historical Series 15. [Madras]: University of Madras.
6. Further Sources of Vijayanagara history. by K.A.Nilakantha Sastry and N.Venkata Ramanaiah, 1945, Madras University historical Series 18. Madras: Univ. of Madras.
7. Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire (A.D. 1346-A.D. 1646), Saletore Bhaskar Anand, 1934, Madras: B. G. Paul & Company
8. A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar; a contribution to the history of India. By Robert Sewell, 1970, (Reprint) New Delhi, National Book Trust India.
9. Vijayanagara Paintings. By Sivaramamurthy C., 1985, New Delhi: Publications Division Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Govt. of India.
10. Vijayanagara. New Cambridge History of India1; The Mughals and their contemporaries 2. By Burton Stein, 1989, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
11. Religious Traditions
at Vijayanagara, as Revealed Through its Monuments. By Varghese Anila, 1995, Vijayanagara
Research Project Monograph Series 4. New Delhi: Manohar, American Institute of
12. A Concordance of Nayaks-The Vijayanagar Inscriptions in South India, By Karashimi Noburu, 2002, Oxford University Press
13. The Trading World of the Tamil Merchant: Evolution of Merchant Capitalism in Coromandel, by Kanaklath Mukund, 1999, Orient Longman, Chennai.
14. ‘Coins and
Currency systems in Vijayanagar Empire’ By A.V. Narasimha Murthy, 1991, The
Numismatic Society of India,
nANyasampada’ (Kannada), 1996, Prasaranga,
16. ‘Inscriptions of Vijayanagara rulers’ (In 3 volumes), Edited by Srinivasa Ritti and B.R. Gopal, 2004, 2008, 2009, I.C.H.R.