Vijayanagar Empire -Medieval India Part 21

Vijayanagar Empire

Origin and Expansion

  • There are different traditions regarding the foundation of the Vijayanagar kingdom.
  • It is now generally accepted, on the basis of contemporary inscriptions, that the two brothers Harihara and Bukka, the eldest sons of one Sangama, earlier serving the Hoysala rulers of Karnataka, asserted their independence and laid foundation for a new kingdom in about 1336.
  • This happened soon after the death of the Hoysala king Ballala III at the hands of the Madurai Sultan.
  • Initially the capital was in or near about Anegondi on the north bank of the Tungabhadra river.But soon it was shifted to the Hoylsala town Hosapattana (near Hampi) on the south bank.
  • The capital was expanded and renamed Vijayanagara, the city of Victory. Thereafter, they proclaimed themselves the rulers of Vijayanagara or of Karnata-Vijayanagara.
  • Harihara celebrated his coronation in 1346 at this city. Historians call this dynasty started by Harihara as Sangama after the name of his father or forefather.
  • Vijayanagara rulers adopted the emblem of the Chalukyas, the boar, or varahaas their royal insignia.

Fig : Vittala Temple 

Fact :

Vittala Temple was built in the 15th century during the reign of King Devaraya II (1422- 1446 A.D.) of the Vijayanagara Empire. Several sections of the temple were expanded and renovated during the reign of Krishnadevaraya (1509- 1529 A.D.),


According to somelater-day tradition, Vidyaranya (also called Madhava), a renowned Saiva saint and Sanskrit scholar, is said to have persuaded the brothers to abandon their service to the Tughluqs and also to renounce Islam that they had adopted when they were imprisoned by the Sultanin Delhi. Vidyaranya is believed to have played an important role in the foundation of the Vijayanagara kingdom. This is doubtfulas, according to some inscriptions,Vidyaranya lived atthe end of the fourteenth century, nearly sixty years afterthe foundation of Vijayanagar.

The Vijayanagar kingdom was successively ruled by four dynasties over a period of more than three hundred years:

  • the Sangama dynasty (1336–1485),
  • the Saluva dynasty (1485–1505),
  • the Tuluva dynasty (1505–1570) and
  • the Aravidu dynasty (1570–1650).
  • In the beginning, the Vijayanagar kingdom was one among many small principalities of the time, under the rule of some local chiefs in different parts of south India.
  • The three big states of the thirteenth century, the Pandyas in Tamil Nadu, the Hoysalas in Karnataka and the Kakatiyas in Andhra had almost been destroyed by the military expeditions of the Delhi Sultanate in the first three decades of the fourteenth century, leaving a big political vacuum.
  • The turbulent political situation provided an opportunity to the five Sangama brothers, headed by Harihara, to consolidate and expand the territory.
  • Besides, the Muslim Sultanate that had been established in Madurai a little earlier and the Bahmani Sultanate that came up in 1347 started to rule independently of Delhi.
  • The Delhi Sultanate itself became weak and did not take much interest in the south.
  • Within the first four decades the small principality became a big kingdom through the military activities of the five brothers in different directions.
  • First the entire core area of the Hoysala kingdom in Karnataka was incorporated into Vijayanagar.
  • The coastal parts of Karnataka were soon taken over and remained an important part of the kingdom until the end.
  • As this gave access to several port towns, good care was taken to administer this part under a successive line of pradhani or governors.
  • Under Bukka I, attention was turned to Tondai-mandalam, covering the northern districts of Tamil area, which was under the rule of the Sambuvaraya chiefs.
  • The prince Kampana (usually called Kumara Kampana), son of Bukka I, carried out this work successfully with the help of his faithful general Maraya- Nayak. He is also given credit for slaying the Madurai Sultan and bringing to an end that Sultanate in about 1370.
  • This is mentioned in Madura-vijayam, a Sanskrit work written by Kampana’s wife, Gangadevi. But strangely, the Pandya country including Madurai was not annexed to the Vijayanagar kingdom at that time.
  • It became a part of the kingdom only around 1500, more than a hundred years later.
  • Until then only the northern and central parts of the Tamil country up to the Kaveri delta were under the direct administration of the Sangama and Saluva dynasties.

Vijayanagar – Bahmani conflict

  • From the beginning, both the Bahmani and Vijayangar kingdoms were in constant conflict.
  • The contest for territory, tribute, and the control of horse trade were the major subjects of conflict.
  • Each of them wanted to annex and dominate the fertile area between the Krishna and the Tungabhadra (the Raichur doab).

Fig : Raichur Doab

  • Though neither of them succeeded fully, much bloodshed took place for some transitory success. Some historians argue that religious rivalry between the Hindu Vijayanagar and the Muslim Sultanate was the basic cause of this continuous fight.
  • Actually the Vijayanagar kings fought also with many Hindu, non-Muslim rulers, like those of Warangal, Kondavidu, Orissa, etc., in which Muslim rulers took part as allies sometimes and as enemies on other times.
  • The control of horse trade that passed through Goa and other ports was another reason for the fighting. Horses were necessary for the armies of both sides.
  • In spite of continuous fighting, the Krishna river was more or less the dividing line between the two powers.
  • In coastal Andhra, the power struggle was between the Gajapati kingdom of Orissa and Vijayanagar. Vijayanagar could not make much headway until the time of Devaraya II (1422–46), who defeated the Orissan army in some battles. But these conquests were only to extract tribute, and no territory was added. Devaraya II was the greatest ruler of the Sangama dynasty.
  • He strengthened his cavalry by recruiting trained Muslim cavalry for his army and giving archery training to his soldiers.
  • Abdur Razaak, the Persian ambassador who visited the Zamorin of Kochi and the Vijayanagar court during this time states that Devaraya II controlled a vast area. He received tribute from the king of Sri Lanka too.
  • Viyayanagar empire went through a crisis after Devaraya II.
  • Quarrels on account of succession and the inefficient successors encouraged the Gajapati king to dominate the coastal Andhra.
  • Between 1460–65, the Gajapati army attacked many times and it conducted a victorious expedition even up to Tiruchirappalli on the Kaveri river, causing much destruction on the way and plundering the wealth of many temples.
  • Taking advantage of the situation, the feudatories assumed independence. Thus, Tirumalaideva and then Konerideva began to rule independently in the Thanjavur– Tiruchirappalli area for some decades, during the interregnum before the rise of the Saluva rule.
  • Power passed on to the trusted commander Saluva Narasimha who defended the kingdom from the Gajapatis and recovered parts of coastal Andhra.
  • Around 1485 Saluva Narasimha usurped the throne and declared himself as king, starting the short-lived Saluva dynasty.
  • He was assisted by his general and great warrior Narasa Nayak, who tried to quell the rebellious local chiefs in the south.
  • Saluva Narasimha died in 1491 leaving his young sons under the care of Narasa Nayak.
  • Narasa Nayak became the de facto ruler and took several steps to safeguard the country until his death.
  • In about 1505, his elder son Viranarasimha started the third dynasty, known as the Tuluva dynasty.
  • He had a short but eventful reign and was succeeded by his younger brother Krishnadevaraya.

Krishnadevaraya (1509–29)

Fig : Krishnadevaraya

  • Krishnadevaraya is considered the greatest of the Vijayanagar kings. He built upon the strong military base laid by his father and elder brother.
  • He tried to keep the greatness of the kingdom intact, by undertaking many military expeditions during much of his reign.
  • Early in his reign he fought with the rebellious Ummattur chief (near about Mysore) and brought him to submission.
  • He then had to fight almost continuously on two fronts, one against the traditional enemy, the Bahmani Sultans and the other against the Orissa king Gajapati.
  • There are several inscriptions graphically describing his seizure of many forts like Udayagiri, under the control of Gajapati, during the course of this eastern expedition. Finally, he put a pillar of victory at Simhachalam.
  • Krishnadevaraya had to undertake more than one expedition to repulse the Bahmani forces, which were intruding into his territory on a regular annual basis.
  • In some of these ventures the Portuguese, trying to establish their power in the Malabar and Konkan coast, helped Krishanadevaraya with military aid, and got permission to build a fort at Bhatkal.
  • Though he was quite successful for a time, his victories made the warring Bahmani sultans to become united for their survival.
  • There are some other reasons for the celebration of Krishnadevaraya as the greatest ruler of Vijayanagar.
  • He made very large donations to many of the greatest Siva and Vishnu temples of the day- Srisailam, Tirupati, Kalahasti, Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, etc.
  • He added towering gopuras to many of those temples, which survive to this day. Contemporary foreign visitors like Paes and Nuniz, who visited Vijayanagar left glowing tributes to his personality, and the grandeur and opulence of the city.
  • His court was also adorned by some great poets like Allasani Peddana.

Fig :Allasani Peddana.

  • He himself is considered a great scholar and is author of the famous poem Amuktamalyada (the story of Andal).
  • But his crowning achievement, as a clever administrator, was the reorganization of the Nayak or nayankara system and giving legal recognition to the system. This is explained below under administration.

The battle of Talikota

Fig : Cannon used in Battle of Talikota

  • At Krishnadevaraya‘s death, his son was a small child and so his younger brother Achyutadevaraya became king.
  • Soon some succession disputes started as Ramaraya, the son-in-law of Krishnadevaraya wanted to dominate the affairs by crowning the infant as king.
  • Achyutadevaraya was however supported by Chellappa (also known as Saluva Nayak), the greatest Nayak of the day who controlled a major part of the Tamil area.
  • Soon after, however, Chellapa became a rebel himself and Achyutadevaraya had to take a big expedition to the south to subdue him.
  • He had some encounters with the Deccan sultans too. After his death in 1542, his nephew Sadasivaraya succeeded him and ruled for about thirty years (1542–70).
  • But real power lay in the hands of Ramaraya, who got support from many of his close kinsmen (of Aravidu clan) by appointing them as Nayak of many strategic localities.
  • Ramaraya, a great warrior and strategist, was able to play off the Bahmani Muslim powers against one another.
  • He entered into a commercial treaty with the Portuguese whereby the supply of horses to the Bijapur ruler was stopped.
  • He fought with the Bijapur ruler and after some time, he allied with the Bijapur ruler against Golkonda and Ahmadnagar. This divide and rule policy provoked much enmity against Vijayanagar.
  • Forgetting their mutual quarrels, the Deccan states, joined hands to wage the last great battle against their common enemy.
  • The battle was fought at Talikota or Rakshasi-Tangadi in January 1565 in which Ramaraya, in spite of his old age, personally commanded the forces along with his cousins and brothers.
  • In the final stages, the battle was lost. Ramaraya was imprisoned and executed immediately.
  • The victorious Bahmani armies entered the Vijayanagar city for the first time in their history, and ransacked it for several months laying it waste.
  • This battle is generally considered the signal for the end of Vijayanagar.
  • The king Sadasiva and some of his retinue escaped to Penugonda. Tirumala, brother of Ramaraya, declared himself king in 1570, starting the Aravidu, that is the fourth dynasty.
  • After this his sons and grandsons ruled the truncated kingdom for two generations, probably up to 1630.
  • There were some more kings who ruled as fugitives until 1670 without a permanent capital. Real power was wielded by the many Nayak chiefs in various parts of the country.
  • Some of them feigned loyalty to the king while others opposed him. There were fights between the loyalists and others.
  • In 1601 there was bitter fighting near Uttaramerur between the loyalist Yachama Nayak of Perumbedu and the Nayak of Vellur (Vellore).
  • In this quarrel Vellur Nayak was supported by Tanjavur, Madurai and Senji Nayak, who had become independent rulers.


  • The king was the ultimate authority in the kingdom. He was also the supreme commander of the army. He was assisted by several high-ranking officers.
  • The chief minister was known as the mahapradhani. He led a number of lower-ranking officers, like Dalavay (commander), Vassal (guard of the palace), Rayasam (secretary/ accountant), Adaippam (personal attendant), and Kariya-karta (executive agents).
  • As Harihara I and his immediate successors consolidated their territorial acquisitions, they tried to organize the territory by creating administrative divisions called rajyas or provinces each under a governor called pradhani. Some of the prominent rajyas were the Hoysala rajya, Araga, Barakur (Mangalur), and Muluvay.
  • As and when new conquests were made they were put under new rajyas. By 1400, there were five rajyas in the Tamil area: Chandragiri, Padaividu, Valudalampattu, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruvarur.
  • The pradhaniwas either a royal member or a military officer not related to the royal family.
  • The pradhani had his own revenue accountants and military to assist in his administration. Within each rajya, there were smaller administrative divisions like nadu, sima, sthala, kampana, etc.
  • The lowest unit was of course the village. The rajyas lost their administrative and revenue status under the Tuluva dynasty due to the development of the Nayak system under Krishadevaraya.

Nayak System

  • The term Nayak is used from thirteenth century onwards in Telugu and Kannada areas in the sense of a military leader or simply soldier.
  • Assigning the revenue of a particular locality to the Nayak for their military service is found in the Kakatiya kingdom during the thirteenth century.
  • This is similar to the iqta system practiced by the Delhi Sultanate at that time.
  • But in the Vijayanagar kingdom the regular assignment of revenue yielding territory in return for military service is clearly found only from about 1500 or a little earlier.
  • Inscriptions refer to this revenue assignment as nayakkattanam in Tamil, Nayaktanam in Kannada, and nayankaramu in Telugu.
  • The practice became established during the reign of Krishnadevaraya and Achyuta Devaraya.
  • Later-day vamsavalis (family history) of the Palayagars, who were mostly successors of the old Nayak families, support the fact that the Nayak system was perfected during the time of Krishnadevaraya.
  • Most of these Nayak were the Kannadiga and Telugu warriors besides some local chiefs.
  • They belonged to different castes, Brahmana as well as non- Brahmana. The non-Brahmana Nayak again had different social backgrounds: traditional warrior groups, pastoral and forest clans (Yadava, Billama), peasant families (Reddi), merchants (Balija) and so on. Some of the prominent Nayak, like Chellappa under Krishnadevaraya, were brahmanas.
  • This system worked smoothly as long as there were strong kings like Krishnadevaraya.
  • These chiefs controlled production within their Nayaktanam territories by creating commercial centres (pettai) and markets, by encouraging settlement of cultivators and artisans with tax concessions, by creating and maintaining irrigation facilities, etc.
  • Many of them started as high officials (commander, governor,accountant, etc.) and served as the king’s agents.
  • After the Talikota battle, the Nayak chiefs became more or less independent of the Vijayanagar king.
  • Some of them, like those of Madurai, Tanjavur, Ikkeri, etc. established powerful states controlling many smaller chiefs under them. The seventeenth century was the century of these bigger Nayak kingdoms.

Fig : Virupaksha Temple -The temple was built by Lakkan Dandesha, a nayaka (chieftain) under the ruler Deva Raya II also known as Prauda Deva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Society and Economy

  • Continuous warfare and the resultant widespread sufferings were common features of all early and medieval societies.
  • Bahmani and Vijayanagar period is no exception to this. Perhaps the scale looks larger due to the availability of many eye-witness accounts.
  • The other consequences which were enduring over the centuries were the displacement and migration of people.
  • During the three centuries of this chapter, we find such migrations everywhere.
  • The conflicts in the Bahmani courts were much due to the migration of Turks, Afghans and Persians into the Deccan.
  • As far the Vijayanagar area is concerned there took place migrations of Kannada and Telugu warriors and their followers into Tamil areas and elsewhere.
  • Many of the Nayaka chiefs belong to these language groups. Peasants, artisans and other toiling groups were also part of this migration.
  • The other consequence was the widening gap between the ruling class and the ruled. All the foreign visitors refer to the enormous riches and affluence enjoyed by the rulers, the officials and the upper echelons in the capital cities like Vijayanagar, Bijapur, and the like, in contrast to widespread poverty among the masses. They also refer to the prevalence of slavery.
  • The state had to derive their revenue only by taxing the people. It is found that during the Sangama dynasty when the Vijayanagar rule was extended to new areas, their officers were harsh in tax collection, which provoked the toiling people to rise in revolt.
  • One such revolt took place in 1430 in central parts of Tamil Nadu. This was the revolt in which all the basic producers joined forgetting their caste differences.
  • The revolt took place due to the unjust and arbitrary tax demands of the government including the pradhani (governor), his military bodies, and the landlords. It is said the Vijayanagar Prince intervened and pacified the revolting people by allowing tax reduction.
  • During the sixteenth century, under the Nayak system, the local Nayakas tried to encourage craft production, like weaving, by giving tax concessions now and then.
  • The Vijayanagar period witnessed striking development in the field of non-agrarian crafts.
  • Until the thirteenth century the economy was mainly agrarian. From the fourteenth onwards the economy became more commercial. With the beginning of the era of money economy, circulation and use of coined money increased manifold.
  • Artisans like weavers, smiths, and masons became more prominent in the society.
  • These non-agrarian groups were generally called the pattadaior (workshop people) and kasaya-vargam that is- the group that pays taxes in cash. Large number of commercial and weaving centres came up in northern Tamil Nadu, Rayalasima and coastal Andhra.
  • Naturally the textiles formed an important commodity exported from south Indian ports.
  • Textiles became main commercial attractions for the Portuguese and other European traders who started coming from the early sixteenth century.


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