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Vijayanagara Empire

The Vijayanagara empire was based in the Deccan, in peninsular and southern India, from 1336 onwards. It was founded by Harihara, also known as Hakka, and his brother Bukka Raya. It is named after its capital city Vijayanagara, whose impressive ruins surround Hampi in modern Karnataka, India. It lasted from about 1336 to perhaps about 1660, though throughout its last century it was in a slow decline due to a massive and catastrophic defeat at the hands of an alliance of the sultanates, and the capital was taken and brutally razed and looted. Its foundation, and even great part of its history, is obscure; but its power and wealth are attested by more than one European traveller, such as the Portuguese travelers Domingo Paes and Nuniz, and the Venetian Niccolò Da Conti.

The founding of the original kingdom was based on the principality of Anegondi, based on a fortified town on the Tungabhadra river in the Deccan. In the century preceding the founding of the empire, the old kingdoms of the Deccan had been overrun by Muslim invaders from the north. From 1309, Malik Kafur reached and captured Warangal, later on reaching the Malabar kingdoms. Mubarak of Delhi reached Warangal again in 1323. Between 1334 and 1336, Muhammad Tughlaq of Delhi again overran the region, capturing Anegondi.

Well known historians from Archeological Survey of India hold their own opinions about the origin of the empire. While Prof.K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, Dr. N. Ventakaramanayya and B. Surya Narayana Rao claim a Telugu origin of Harihara and Bukka Raya, historians, Dr. Desai, Dr.Henry Heras, Prof. Dr.B.A. Saletore attest to the empires Kannada origin. Their claim is supported by certain findings. Among them are that almost half of the Vijayanagar inscriptions are in Kannada, the parton saint of the early kings was saint Vidyaranya, the 12th Shankaracharya of Sringeri in Karnataka, the surnames of many kings were in Kannada langauge, Lord Chennakeshava of Belur and Lord Virupaksha of Hampi were the family gods of the Sangama clan. Also, they claim that in political and administrative matters, the Vijayanagar kings followed the Hoysala framework. They also mention that where as the Sangama brothers had to wage war against the Reddy's of Kondavidu and Velamas of Rachakonda in Telugu country, Gajapathis of Orissa, chieftens of Madhuri and Quilon etc., the entire area that constituted the Hoysala kingdom came under the rule of the Sangama brothers without any clash for power. This would not have been possible unless the Sangama brothers were local to Hampi and of Kannada origin. Historically, it is also known the the Sangama dynasty was followed by the Saluva and Tuluva dynasties who hailed from Coastal Karnataka. As well known historian K. Appadurai puts it, The Karnataka Empire or Vijayanagar Empire embraced in its ample fold all of Karnataka and Andhra, all Tamilnadu and Kerala countries and even extended into the Utkal or Orissa region. But as its name implies, it was originally of the Karnataka country and it drew its inspirations from the Hoysalas and the Gangas of the Karnataka and the Cholas and Pandyas of the Tamil country. But it is chiefly remarkable in raising above all regionalism and in creating the all India nationalism of to-day in all of its spheres of activities.

A popular account (supported by Department Of Tourism, Govt. Of India, copyright 2003 Eicher Goodearth Ltd. New Delhi) says that the Hampi region was part of a tiny kingdom of Kampili in the 14th Century AD when large parts of north India was under muslim rule. In 1326 AD Mohammed Bin Tughluq defeated and killed the king of Kampili. Among those taken prisoner were sons of Sangama, Hukka and Bukka, both treasury officers of Kampili, who were forced to convert to Islam. Some years later the sultan sent the two brothers back to govern the province. In 1336 AD, they laid foundation of an independent kingdom, with the help of sage Vidyaranya, denying any allegiance to the Tughluqs and became Hindu again. They laid foundation to the Sangama dynsaty with its citadel in Vijayanagara. History has it that the governors of Hoysala, Singeya Nayaka-III (1280 - 1300) declared independence and formed the kingdom of Kampili around 1280 AD. The kingdom faced constant threat from the powerful kingdom of Hoysalas and Yadavas. But in 1327 AD, the Muslim expedition took toll of Yadavas and the kingdom of Kampiladeva as well and opened up routes for the Muslim rulers.

Another story avers that the hermit Vidyarnya himself founded the city after the discovery of a hidden treasure, ruled over it himself, and left it after his death to a Kuruba family who established the first regular dynasty. + Many other stories add intrigue and mystery to the founding of the Empire but with lack of epigraphal support.

A fourth account states that while Vidyaranya was living his ascetic life amongst the mountains he was supported by meals brought to him by a shepherd of Kuruba caste called Bukka, "and one day the Brahmin said to him, 'You shall be king and emperor of all Bharata.' The other shepherds learned this, and began to treat this shepherd with veneration and made him their head; and he acquired the name of 'king,' and began to conquer his neighbours. Bukka established a city "and called it Vijaya Nagar – the city of victory . As Muhammud Tughlaq's rule ended amidst revolts against him by his Muslim subjects in the Deccan, the area ruled by Harihara expanded greatly and quickly. The city of Vijayanagara was established by about 1340 on the bank of the Tungabhadra opposite Anegondi.

Harihara was succeeded, probably around 1343, by his brother, Bukka Raya, who ruled till about 1379. By the end of Bukka's reign, most of southern India to the south of the Tungabhadra had accepted his suzerainity.

The empire at its peak

In the following two centuries, the Vijayanagar empire dominated all of southern India, and was probably stronger than any other power in the subcontinent. The empire during that period served as a bulwark against invasion from the Turkic Sultanates of the Indo-Gangetic Plain; and remained in constant competition and conflict with the five Deccan Sultanates that established themselves in the Deccan to the north of it. It remained a land power.

In about 1510, Goa, which had been under the rule of the Sultan of Bijapur, was captured by the Portuguese, possibly with the approval or connivance of Vijayanagara. Commerce between the Portuguese and Vijayanagara became very important to both sides.

The empire is generally considered to have reached its peak during the rule of Krishna Deva Raya. He conquered or subjugated territories on the east of the Deccan that belonged previously to Orissa. Many of the great monuments of the empire date from his time. Among these are the Hazara Rama temple, the Krishna temple and the Ugra Narasimha idol, all at Vijayanagara.

Krishna Deva Raya was followed by Achyuta Raya in 1530. In 1542, Achyuta was succeeded by Sada Siva Raya. But the real power lay with Rama (of the third dynasty, who followed him), who seems to have made a point of unnecessarily provoking the Deccan sultanates, so that eventually they allied against him. In 1565, at the Battle of Talikota, the army of Vijayanagara was routed by an alliance of the Deccan sultanates. Rama Raya was killed and his head annually covered with oil and red pigment was exhibited in Ahmednagar till 1829. With this, the last significant Hindu state in the Deccan came to an end. Tirumala Raya, the sole survivor left Vijayanagar with treasure on back of 550 elephants to Penukonda. Please refer to Robert Sewell's excellent reasearch on Vijayanagar.

Vijayanagara is considered by many today, especially in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, to have been a golden age of culture and learning.

The Haridasa Movement and the Empire

The Haridasa movement presented, like the Virashaiva movement, another strong current of Bhakthi, pervading the lives of millions. Thus the Haridasas presented two groups – Vyasakuta and Dasakuta. The former were required to be proficient in the Vedas, Upanishads and other Darshanas, while the Dasakuta merely conveyed the message of Madhwa through Kannada language to the people. The gospel of Madhwacharya was preserved and perpetuated by his eminent disciples like Vyasathirtha or Vyasaraja, Narahari Thirtha, Padmanabha Thirtha, Akshobhya Thirtha, Jaya Thirtha and others. In the fifteenth century, the Haridasa movement took shape under Sripadaraja of Mulbagal; but this disciple Vyasathirtha or Vyasaraja (1447 – 1539 A. D.) provided it a strong organizational base. He was intimately associated with the Vijayanagar Empire, where he became a great moral and spiritual force. His eminent disciples were Sri Vadirajaswami and Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. Vyasathirtha was the guru of Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara empire.

Kannada Literature

Kannada literature took a strong Hindu bend with the orthodox Vijayanagara kings. Some eminent names were Kumara Vyasa, Narahari, BhimaKavi, Padmanaka, Mallanarya, Singiraja and Chamarasa. Kumar Vyasa wrote Gadugina Bharata which was completed by Timmanna Kavi, Narahari wrote Torave Ramayana. Other important works were Bhagavatha by Vittalanatha, Nala Charite, Haribhakthisara, Mohana Tarangini and Ramadhanya Charitre by the saint Kanakadasa, Dasa Sahithya and Keerthanas by Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa, Bharatesha Vaibhava of Ratnakarvarni, Prabhulinga Leele of Chamarasa and Kumara Rama Charita of Nanjunda. Kanakadasa's Ramadhanya Charitre is considered a unique work on class struggle.


The architecture of Vijayanagar Empire is considered by many historians as a vibrant combination of Chalukya, Hoysala and Dravida styles. The hallmark of their architecture was the ornate pillared Kalyana Mantapa. While their monuments are spread over the whole of Southern India, nothing surpasses the vast open air museum of monumnets at their regal capital at Hampi. Upto about the 1450AD, the kings continued to build Vesara style monuments from the deccan style but later incorporated more dravida style gopurams to meet their ritualistic needs. At Hampi, though the Vittala temple is the epitome of their pillared Kalyanamantapa style, the Hazara Ramaswamy temple is a more modest but perfectly finished example of this style. Vijaynagar temples of coastal Karnataka, Tadapatri in Andhra, Velluru, Kumbhakonam, Kanchi and Srirangam in Tamil Nadu are also great examples of their style. Some structures in Hampi also exhibit secular architecture with mixing of Hindu and Islamic styles.

The decline

While the empire still continued to have some power, and commanded respect, it went into a considerable decline. The rulers of this period are difficult to place clearly. It is known however that they continued to trade with the Portuguese, and that they gave the British the land grant that enabled the establishment of Madras. The Telugu work Vasucharitamu refers to Tirumala, the first of the Aravidu line of rulers as the reviver of the Karanata empire. He is said to have crowned himself as king in 1570 A.D. at Penugonda (Telugu Inscriptions from Vijayanagar Empire, ASI)


This article is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Vijayanagara Empire"


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