The Vijayanagara Empire: Emergence and Decline

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Hampi Stone Chariot
Hampi, a village in the Bellary district of Karnataka, is one of the World Heritage Sites in India. Once it was the magnificent capital of the mighty Hindu Kingdom, the Vijayanagara Empire, which dominated the Southern India for more than 200 years (1336-1565). Vijayanagara, the City of Victory, is now a ruined city. Situated on the banks of the River Tungabhadra, the ruins of the ancient city silently narrates the past glory of a wealthy empire. Among the ruins are beautiful temples, palaces, aquatic structures, fortifications, elephant stables, ancient market streets, pavilions, bastions: the list is endlesss. Virupaksha Temple, Balakrishna Temple, Hampi Bazaar, Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Big Shivlinga, Vithala Temple and the Stone Chariot, Hazara Rama Temple, Queen's Bath, Zanana Enclosure and the Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Achyut Raya temple, Mahanavmi Dibba, the Matanga Hill are some of the important sites at Hampi. 

The splendor and richness of the empire became so well known that it attracted travelers and visitors from  all over the world. The Persian ambassador Abdul Razak, who visited Vijayanagara in 1443, says that 'the city is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it, and ear of intelligence has never been informed that existed anything to equal it in the World'. It is said that diamonds and other precious stones were sold on the streets. The land was very fertile and was watered by the river Tungabhadra. The kingdom had commercial relations with the islands in the Indian Ocean, Burma, China, Arabia, Persia, South Africa, Abyssinia and Portugal. The empire included more than sixty sea ports. The exports from Vijayanagar include textiles, rice, iron, salt peter, sugar and spices. The major imports were horses, elephants, pearls, copper, coral, mercury, china silks and velvet. The kings were tolerant of all religions and they employed many Muslims in their army and court. The kings built many temples, magnificent buildings and promoted arts and culture. They were patrons of Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada literature and languages. What happened to Hampi?

A Forgotten Empire (1336-1646)

The Vijayanagara and the Bahmani kingdoms emerged during the reign of the Delhi Sultan Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq. The Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagara was founded by two Sangama brothers Harihara and Bukka in 1336, who declared their independence from Delhi Sultanate under the inspiration of their Guru Madhav Vidyaranya. The kingdom was situated on the banks of the river Tungabhatra, close to Anegundi fortress. At the same time the Bahmani kingdom was emerging on the other side of the Krishna River (1347).  The rulers of the Vijayanagara empire were known as Rayas. There were four dynasties ruled over Vijayanagar and they are: Sangama Dynasty (1336-1485), Saluva Dynasty (1485-1505), Tuluva Dynasty (1503-1570) and Aravidu Dynasty (1565-1646). Vijayanagara and Bahmani kingdoms were fought frequently for control over Raichur Doab, an area between the Rivers Krishna and Thungabhadra. 

The Rayas of Vijayanagar:

Sangama Dynasty (1336-1485):

Harihara (1336-1356) was the first ruler of the Sangama dynasty. He expanded the territory by occupying the Udayagiri fort in the Nellore region and Penukonda fort from Hoyasalas.

Harihara was succeeded by his brother Bukka (1356-1377) in 1356. He send an embassy to China for the development trade links in 1374. He further expanded the kingdom by defeating the kingdom of Arcot, the Reddys of Kondavidu and the Sultan of Madurai.

Bukka was succeeded by Harihara II (1377-1404), who assumed the title Maharajadiraja and conquered many areas which were under the Bahmanis during the period of Muhammad Shah II. However, he was defeated by Firuz Shah Bahmani in 1398 and lost the Raichur Doab. Harihara II was succeeded by Virupaksha Raya (1404-1405), Bukka Raya II (1405-1406) and Devaraya I (1406-1422). During his reign Firuz Shah invaded Vijayanagar and he had to sign a treaty by giving his daughter in marriage to Firuz. Later Devaraya defeated him. Devaraya was succeeded by Ramachandra Raya (1422) and Vira Vijaya Bukka Raya (1422-1424).

Deva Raya II (1424-1446): was the greatest ruler of the Sangama dynasty. He was called ‘Immadi Devaraya’ and also ‘Proudha Devaraya’ by his subjects. During his reign, Ahmed Shah Bahmani invaded Vijayanagar and exacted a war indemnity. Devaraya II was succeeded by Malikarjuna (1446-1465) and Virupaksha II (1465-1485).

Saluva Dynasty (1485-1505):

Saluva Narasimha (1485-1491), the vassal of Vijayanagara, who usurped the throne after the death of Virupaksha Raya II in 1485. After the death of Narasimha, his general, Tuluva Narasa Nayaka (1491-1503) became the regent for the two sons of Narasimha: Thimma Bhupala and Narasimha Raya II. Vasco Da Gama’ landed in Calicut during his reign in 1498.

Tuluva Dynasty (1503-1570):

After the death of Narasa Nayaka, his son Vira Narasimha (1503-1509) proclaimed himself as the ruler of Vijayanagar and established the Tuluva dynasty.

Krishnadeva Raya (1509-1529): succeeded his brother Vira Narasimha in 1509. Krishnadeva Raya, popularly known as Andhra Bhoja, was the most famous king of the Vijayanagara empire. The empire reached its peaks of glory during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya. Meanwhile the Bahmani Kingdom broke up into five independent states. Under Krishnadeva Raya, the empire extended from Orissa to Sri Lanka and covered almost the entire South India. He established good trade relations with Portuguese. He also helped the Portuguese to capture Goa from the Bijapur kingdom in 1510. He captured Raichur from Ismail Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur after winning the Battle of Raichur (1520) and also defeated Prataparudra Gajapathi, the king of Orissa. He was a great scholar, a musician and a poet. He wrote the famous Amuktamalyada in Telugu. His court was adorned by eight distinguished poets who were known as the Ashtadiggajas. (Allasani Peddana, Nandi Timmana, Dhurjati, Tenali Ramakrishna, Mallana, Ramarajabhushana, Pingali Surana and Rudra) He built a beautiful suburb near Vijayanagara called Nagalapura in memory of his mother, Nagala Devi. The famous Hazara Ramaswamy temple, one of the best examples of Hindu architecture, was built during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya. It can be say that the decline of the great empire began with the death of Krishnadeva Raya in 1529. Krishna Deva Raya was followed by his younger brother Achyuta Raya (1529-1542), who successfully fought with the Deccan Sultans, however, was imprisoned by Rama Raya, the son-in-law of Krishnadeva Raya. Achyuta had to hand over his sovereignty to Rama Raya.

Rama Raya (1542-1565)After the death of Achyuta Raya (1529-1542), Rama Raya rose in to power and became the Regent during the minority of the prince Sadashiva (1542-1570). Sadashiva, being only nominally king, the whole power of the state was in the hands of Rama Raya and his two brothers, Tirumala and Venkatadri. He attempted to rebuild the glory of the empire which had declined after the rule of Krishnadeva Raya. During Rama Raya's rule, the Deccan Sultanates were constantly fighting with each other and he interfered in the conflicts among them, first, in alliance with one, and then with another. In the beginning he joined with Ahmednagar, Bidar and Golconda and fought with Bijapur. Later he joined Bijapur and attacked the other Sultanates. Rama Raya invaded Ahmednagar, joining with Ali Adil Shah and during this march, his army insulted the Muslim women, destructed Mosques and disrespected the holy Quran. Meanwhile the Muslim Sultanates lost many of their dominions to Rama Raya. The Vijayanagara forces was too vast that no single Muslim Sultanate can think of defeating it. Finally the Sultans decided tо unite and crush the Vijayanagar kingdom. After resolving all mutual differences through agreements and marriage alliances, the four Deccan Sultans: Hussein Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar, Ibrahim Qutub Shah of Golconda, Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur and Ali Barid Shah of Bidar, joined the confederacy against Vijayanagara and a decisive battle took place at Talikota in 1565. 

Battle of Talikota (1565):

The Battle of Talikotta was fought between Rama Raya of Vijayanagara and the combined armies of the four Deccan Sultans lead by Nizam Shah, on the banks of the river Krishna on 26 Jan 1565. Rama Raya, an old but energetic man in his 90's, himself commanded the army against Ahmednagar. The combined forces of Golkanda and Bidar on the right was led by Venkatadri whereas the Bijapur forces on left was led by Tirumala. Rama Raya was so confident that he ordered his men to get him the head of Nizam Shah and bring Adil Shah and Ibrahim alive, so that he would keep them in prison forever. Unfortunately, an elephant belonging to Nizam Shah, became wild and dashed towards Rama Raya and he fell down from the palanquin. Before he could recover, he was bounded by ropes and taken to Nizam Shah and, finally, he was beheaded. The Muslim army looted the city for almost six months; people were slaughtered; temples and houses were burnt; the sacred Hindu idols were destroyed and the wealthy empire was plundered. The Battle of Talikotta marked the fall of the mighty empire.

Aravidu Dynasty (1565-1646):

Although Vijayanagara was destroyed, Tirumala along with Sadashiva escaped to Penukonda where they tried to rebuild the empire. Although failed to rebuild the empire, Tirumala ruled from 1565-1575. He appointed hіs three sons, Sri Ranga, Rama аnd Venkata аs viceroys аt Penukonda, Srirangapatanam аnd Chandragiri tо respectively. Tirumala was succeeded by his son Sri Ranga Raya (1575-1586) and later followed by his brother, Venkatapati Raya I (1586-1614) who shifted the capital from Penukonda to Chandra Giri. During that time, the largest feudatories of the Vijayanagar empire; the Wodeyars of Mysore and the Keladi Nayakas of Ikkeri declared their independence. Venkatapati was succeeded by Sri Ranga Raya II in 1614 and later by Ramadeva (1617-1632). Venkata III (1632-1642) again shifted the capital to Vellore. Sri Ranga III (1642-1646) was the last ruler of the Vijayanagara empire.

The Vijayanagara kings celebrated Dasara on a grand scale which was then revived by the Wodeyars in 1610.

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