The Vijayanagara Empire and Its Socio-Economic-Cultural conditions

Vijaynagra _empire_map_Srikrishnadeva_raya
Vijayanagara empire
The Vijayanagara Empire, an important South Indian empire was founded by Harihara Raya I and his brother Bukka Raya I. The capital of the empire was Vijayanagara, present days Hampi in Karnataka. The empire ruled from 1336 AD to 1646 AD although the power of the empire declined after the Battle of Talikota in 1565 AD.
Vijayanagara Empire was ruled by maily four important dynasties. They were
1.Sangama Dynasty: It was the first dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire and Harihara Raya I( 1336-1356 AD) was the first ruler of the dynasty. Some of the rulers of the dynasty were: Bukka Raya, Virupaksha Raya, Deva Raya, Ramachandra Raya, Mallikarjuna Raya and Praudha Raya.

2.Saluva Dynasty: It was the first dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire and Narasimhadeva Raya (1485 AD to 1491 AD) first ruler of Saluva Dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire. He was succeeded by his son Thimma Bhupala. Narasimha Raya II was the last ruler of Saluva Dynasty succeeded his father Thimma Bhupala.

3.Tuluva Dynasty: It was the third dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire. The rulers of Tuluva Dynasty were: Narasa Nayaka, Viranarasimha Raya, KrishnadevaRaya, Achyutadeva Raya and Sadasiva Raya. Krishnadeva raya was a very powerful ruler of Vijayanagara Empire. It is considered that during his reign the empire reached its zenith. He ruled the empire from 1509 AD to 1529 AD. (for more detail about KrishnadevaRaya, see the individual section.)

4.Aravidu Dynasty: The fourth and last dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire was Aravidu Dynasty. After the Battle of Talikota the empire started to decline and Muslim states of Bijapur became prominent.

Sources: The history of Vijayanagar Empire constitutes an important chapter in the history of India. Four dynasties – Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva and Aravidu – ruled Vijayanagar from A.D. 1336 to 1672. The sources for the study of Vijayanagar are varied such as literary, archaeological and numismatics. Krishnadevaraya’s Amukthamalyada, Gangadevi’s Maduravijayam and Allasani Peddanna’s Manucharitam are some of the indigenous literature of this period.

Many foreign travelers visited the Vijayanagar Empire and their accounts are also valuable. The Moroccan traveler, Ibn Battuta, Venetian traveler Nicolo de Conti, Persian traveler Abdur Razzak and the Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes were among them who left valuable accounts on the socio-economic conditions of the Vijayanagar Empire.

The copper plate inscriptions such as the Srirangam copper plates of Devaraya II provide the genealogy and achievements of Vijayanagar rulers. The Hampi ruins and other monuments of Vijayanagar provide information on the cultural contributions of the Vijayanagar rulers. The numerous coins issued by the Vijayanagar rulers contain figures and legends explaining their tittles and achievements.

Political History: Vijayanagar was founded in 1336 by Harihara and Bukka of the Sangama dynasty. They were originally served under the Kakatiya rulers of Warangal. Then they went to Kampili where they were imprisoned and converted to Islam. Later, they returned to the Hindu fold at the initiative of the saint Vidyaranya. They also proclaimed their independence and founded a new city on the south bank of the Tungabhadra river. It was called Vijayanagar meaning city of victory

The decline of the Hoysala kingdom enabled Harihara and Bukka to expand their newly founded kingdom. By 1346, they brought the whole of the Hoysala kingdom under their control. The struggle between Vijayanagar and Sultanate of Madurai lasted for about four decades. Kumarakampana’s expedition to Madurai was described in the Maduravijayam. He destroyed the Madurai Sultans and as a result, the Vijayanagar Empire comprised the whole of South India up to Rameswaram.

The conflict between Vijayanagar Empire and the Bahmani kingdom lasted for many years. The dispute over Raichur Doab, the region between the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra and also over the fertile areas of Krishna-Godavari delta led to this long-drawn conflict. The greatest ruler of the Sangama dynasty was Deva Raya II. But he could not win any clear victory over the Bahmani Sultans. After his death, Sangama dynasty became weak. The next dynasty, Saluva dynasty founded by Saluva Narasimha reigned only for a brief period (1486-1509).

Administration: The administration under the Vijayanagar Empire was well organized. The king enjoyed absolute authority in executive, judicial and legislative matters. He was the highest court of appeal. The succession to the throne was on the principle of hereditary. Sometimes usurpation to the throne took place as Saluva Narasimha came to power by ending the Sangama dynasty. The king was assisted by a council of ministers in his day to day administration. The Empire was divided into different administrative units called Mandalams, Nadus, sthalas and finally into gramas. The governor of Mandalam was called Mandaleswara or Nayak. Vijayanagar rulers gave full powers to the local authorities in the administration.

Besides land revenue, tributes and gifts from vassals and feudal chiefs, customs collected at the ports, taxes on various professions were other sources of income to the government. Land revenue was fixed generally one sixth of the produce. The expenditure of the government includes personal expenses of king and the charities given by him and military expenditure. In the matter of justice, harsh punishments such as mutilation and throwing to elephants were followed.

The Vijayanagar army was well-organized and efficient. It consisted of the cavalry, infantry, artillery and elephants. High-breed horses were procured from foreign traders. The top-grade officers of the army were known as Nayaks or Poligars. They were granted land in lieu of their services. These lands were called amaram. Soldiers were usually paid in cash.

Social Life: Allasani Peddanna in his Manucharitam refers the existence of four castes – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras - in the Vijayanagar society. Foreign travelers left vivid accounts on the splendour of buildings and luxurious social life in the city of Vijayanagar. Silk and cotton clothes were mainly used for dress. Perfumes, flowers and ornaments were used by the people. Paes mentions of the beautiful houses of the rich and the large number of their household servants. Nicolo Conti refers to the prevalence of slavery. Dancing, music, wrestling, gambling and cock-fighting were some of the amusements. The Sangama rulers were chiefly Saivaites and Virupaksha was their family deity. But other dynasties were Vaishnavites. Srivaishnavism of Ramanuja was very popular. But all kings were tolerant towards other religions. Borbosa referred to the religious freedom enjoyed by everyone. Muslims were employed in the administration and they were freely allowed to build mosques and worship. A large number of temples were built during this period and numerous festivals were celebrated. The Epics and the Puranas were popular among the masses.

The position of women had not improved. However, some of them were learned. Gangadevi, wife of Kumarakampana authored the famous work Maduravijayam. Hannamma and Thirumalamma were famous poets of this period. According to Nuniz, a large number of women were employed in royal palaces as dancers, domestic servants and palanquin bearers. The attachment of dancing girls to temples was in practice. Paes refers to the flourishing devadasi system. Polygamy was prevalent among the royal families. Sati was honoured and Nuniz gives a description of it.

Economic Condition: According to the accounts of the foreign travelers, the Vijayanagar Empire was one of the wealthiest parts of the world at that time. Agriculture continued to be the chief occupation of the people. The Vijayanagar rulers provided a stimulus to its further growth by providing irrigation facilities. New tanks were built and dams were constructed across the rivers like Tunghabadra. Nuniz refers to the excavation of canals.

There were numerous industries and they were organized into guilds. Metal workers and other craftsmen flourished during this period. Diamond mines were located in Kurnool and Anantapur district. Vijayanagar was also a great centre of trade. The chief gold coin was the varaha but weights and measures varied from place to place. Inland, coastal and overseas trade led to the general prosperity. There were a number of seaports on the Malabar coast, the chief being Cannanore. Commercial contacts with Arabia, Persia, South Africa and Portugal on the west and with Burma, Malay peninsula and China on the east flourished. The chief items of exports were cotton and silk clothes, spices, rice, iron, saltpeter and sugar. The imports consisted of horses, pearls, copper, coral, mercury, China silk and velvet clothes. The art of shipbuilding had developed.

Cultural Contributions: The temple building activity further gained momentum during the Vijayanagar rule. The chief characteristics of the Vijayanagara architecture were the construction of tall Raya Gopurams or gateways and the Kalyanamandapam with carved pillars in the temple premises. The sculptures on the pillars were carved with distinctive features. The horse was the most common animal found in these pillars. Large mandapams contain one hundred pillars as well as one thousand pillars in some big temples. These mandapams were used for seating the deity on festival occasions. Also, many Amman shrines were added to the already existing temples during this period.

The most important temples of the Vijayanagar style were found in the Hampi ruins or the city of Vijayanagar. Vittalaswamy and Hazara Ramaswamy temples were the best examples of this style.

The Varadharaja and Ekamparanatha temples at Kanchipuram stand as examples for the magnificence of the Vijayanagara style of temple architecture. The Raya Gopurams at Thiruvannamalai and Chidambaram speak the glorious epoch of Vijayanagar. They were continued by the Nayak rulers in the later period. The metal images of Krishna Deva Raya and his queens at Tirupati are examples for casting of metal images. Music and dancing were also patronized by the rulers of Vijayanagar.

Different languages such as Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil flourished in the regions. There was a great development in Sanskrit and Telugu literature. The peak of literary achievement was reached during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya. He himself was a scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu. His famous court poet Allasani Peddanna was distinguished in Telugu literature. Thus the cultural contributions of the Vijayanagar rulers were many-sided and remarkable.


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