Decoding the Vijaynagar Empire           

The emergence of the Vijaynagar Empire in the backdrop of the Muslim invasions from the north in the fourteenth century requires to be seen as a political and social response of the people of the country to the newly emerging political and social realities.  Thus decoding of this empire will help us to show how a Hindu kingdom inspired by the sage Vidyaranya has shown (a) a spirit of tolerance to other religions (by encouraging employment of the Muslim archers and giving the freedom of worship in their capital city), (b) adopting  technologies from the newly emerging foreign powers such as Portuguese to meet the irrigation and drinking water requirements, (c) in encouraging foreign trade especially in the west coast through Calicut port and  (d) in uplifting the spirits of the people by practicing and patronizing fine arts such as a music, poetry, dance, art and architecture and encouraging the regional languages thus creating which contiune to  impact  the lives of the people of the South India even to this day.   When the forces of Muhammad bin Tughluq swept over the South in the early decades of the fourteenth century and  reached the Krishna River the Hindus to their south, stricken with terror, combined, and gathered in haste to the new standard [of Vijaynagar] which alone seemed to offer some hope of protection. The decayed old states crumbled away into nothingness, and the fighting kings of Vijaynagar became the saviours of the south for two and a half centuries”  .  Although the Vijaynagar Empire did protect Hindu faith and culture and helped to preserve ancient Hindu ideals of kingship, law and justice, it cannot be termed as a reaction solely to the Muslim rule. It is a response of the society against the centralised form of administration like many other Muslim provincial dynasties. The rulers of Vijaynagar were followers of Vishnu but they followed a policy of religious toleration towards all .  The Retreat of Mohammed Bin Tughluq from his expedition to Ma’bar on account of plague emboldened Kapayanayaka who expelled Muslim governor of Telangana and took up the title of Andhradeshadhivashara. This resistance spread westward in to the kingdom of Kampli in the west. It is said that in order to quell this rebellion Mohammed Bin Tughluq released Harihara and Bukka from prison on an oath of fidelity and sent them with a large army.  However, on reaching Anegondi they asserted their independence and reverted to their ancestral faith. Thus, the Vijaynagar Empire was founded in 1336 by Harihara and Bukka, two of the five sons of the Sangama. In 1344 they became a part of a confederation organised by Krishnanayaka, the ruler of Warangal to drive the Muslims from the Deccan. After the death of Ballala the brothers brought under their control the domains of Hoysalas and extended their kingdom from Krishna in the north to the neighbourhood of Kaveri in the south, and the land between eastern and western seas.  In all four dynasties namely Sangama, Saluva and Tuluva and Aravidu ruled the Vijaynagar Empire.  An outstanding feature of the Vijayanagar kings was their liberal behavior in the matter of religion. Bukka I brought about reconciliation between the Jains and the Vaishnavas by asking them to worship in their own manner and with equal freedom. Deva Raya II (1422 -1446) was impressed by the efficiency of Muslim cavalry and recruited Muslim horsemen in his own army without caring for any religious prejudices. He is a man of many reforms. He appointed a minister for overseas commerce.   Two foreign visitors Nicolo Conti (1420) and Abdul Razzaq (1442) visited Vijaynagar and gave a vivid description of the city, its social conditions like polygamy in the wealthy classes, details of festivals celebrated to convey a feel of vibrant, rich and tolerant society.    The most illustrious ruler of the Vijaynagar Empire was Krishna Deva Rai (1509-1530) of the Tuluva dynasty. He is rated one the most famous kings in the history of India  .   He carried pen and sword with him wherever he went.  A keen observer of men and manners, he immortalized the conditions of the society in Amuktamalyada.   By his military prowess he extended his empire in south Konkan in the west to Vishakhapatnam in the east and to the extreme border of the peninsula in the south. He had friendly relations with the Portuguese. Among the later rulers, the stewardship of Rama Raya to Sadasiva Raya was very important. Rama Raya was determined to restore the prestige of the empire (which was losing ground due to the activities of Achyuta Raya  which annoyed his viceroys who were reluctant to obey him )  by actively interfering in the quarrels of  the rulers of  the Deccan , by joining one alliance or the other and thereby weakening them .  However the efforts of Rama Raya to maintain balance of power in his favour were scuttled brought by all the Muslims kings who formed quadruple alliance against Vijaynagar. This resulted in Battle of Tallikot (1565) where Rama Raya was killed. This defeat, as Sewell puts it in a forgotten empire, “was not a defeat merely it was cataclysm, all hope was gone. The city was looted by different tribes and invading armies and ruined the glorious city.  Dr Ishwari Prasad sums up the state of Vijaynagar in the best possible manner  .  After the battle of Tallikota, Vijaynagar Empire was able to recover once again under the guidance of Tirumala, brother of Rama Raya. He went back to Vijaynagar; thereafter he went to Penugonda and restored the prestige of Vijaynagar. In 1570 Tirumala removed Sadasiva and started ruling the empire.   Thus Aravidu dynasty began.  Venkata II (1586-1614) was a successful ruler and after him the dismemberment of empire started due to selfishness and rebellion of the feudatories.  The Vijaynagar Empire gave an administration which is suitable for that time. King was the fountainhead of all power, civil, military and judiciary, he was required to rule according to dharma  . The king was helped by a council of ministers, provincial governors and military commanders and priestly class and poets. The members were nominated by the king. The ministers were taken from different caste. Caste was no bar to rise to high military positions and included officers from the Kuruba, Nayaka and Bedas.  Although Vijaynagar presented a centralisied administration in any war state model, when there were weak rulers it could not curb the individualistic tendencies of the provincial governors.  The use of paper for administrative purposes was popularized , though about 7000 stone and copper plate inscriptions (Shasana) have been discovered. Taxes were levied on all land revenue (major source), property, trader shops, marriage, toddy, and salt.  The Prime minister advised the king in all matters. However there was corruption everywhere .  The empire was divided into many provinces . People could pay taxes either in cash or kind. Kavyakartha was chief secretary to the king and was also called Rayaswami.Navigadaprabhu was the naval chief.  The Vijaynagar kings encouraged trade which can be gazed from the fact of the number of foreign travelers who visited the kingdom. However there was a failure to develop a sustained commercial activity, the rulers gave concessions to the Portuguese by doing so they sacrificed the stability of the empire for the sake of profit.   Of the justice administration it may be seen that civil cases were decided according to the principles of Hindu law and the usage of country, documents were attested by witnesses, people were fined for breach of civil law. Administration of criminal law was harsh; torture was allowed to find the truth .   Women occupied a high position in society; they were engaged in different fields of astrology accounts, soothsayers, wrestlers even the queens were well versed in music. The prosperity of Vijaynagar was due to the growth of the agriculture, industry trade and commerce, they followed a wise irrigation policy .exports were usually cloth, iron rice, the art of shipbuilding was well known to them .Horses were the most valuable imports.  Thus the Vijaynagar Empire served a high historical purpose by providing an alternative system of administration by attracting best military and administrative talent irrespective of religion or caste.  It had many temples of remarkable beauty, the Hazara temple and Vithala swami temple are temples of excellence, music theatre and literature progressed remarkably in this period. Krishna Deva Raya’s regime witnessed a flourish of literary activities in Sanskrit and all South Indian languages especially Telugu. The rulers encouraged people to write on music dance drama grammar logic and philosophy, thus this empire was a synthesis of south Indian culture.


Sivakumar Komaragiri : The author is  a student of Law at University School of Law and Legal Studies, Indraprastha University.





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