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History of Vijayanagara

The expansion of the Vijayanagara empire parallels that of the city itself. Under the Sangama Dynasty (1336-1485), most regions of southern India, in the modern states of Karnataka, Andhra, Tamilnadu and Kerala, came under the authority of Vijayanagara as provinces of a rapidly growing kingdom. Members of the royal household sometimes ruled these provinces, assuring control of local chiefs who often attempted rebellion. By the turn of the fifteenth century, Vijayanagara had assumed the proportions of an empire, stretching southwards from the Tungabhadra River to the tip of Tamilnadu, and from the Bay of Bengal on the east to the Arabian Sea on the west. Much of the wealth of this vast zone was concentrated on the capital itself, the markets of which gained world renown as a source of luxury goods, including diamonds. The Vijayanagara kings who were particularly interested in importing horses from the Arabian Peninsula, encouraged overseas trade. During the fifteenth century the Arabs dominated this trade, but they were replaced by the Portuguese after the latter established themselves in Goa in 1510.

The Sangamas fought the Bahmani sultanate, based successively at Gulbarga and Bidar, for control of intervening territory on more than a dozen occasions. However, when the dynasty declined and was replaced by the Saluva Dynasty (1485-1505), the Bahmani kingdom was also at its weakest. After 1485, it broke up into five independent states. The most powerful of these was the Adil Shahi Dynasty of Bijapur.

In the first half of the sixteenth century under the Tuluvas (1505-1570), the empire reached its maximum extent, and both Krishnadevaraya (reigned 1509-1529) and Achyutaraya (reigned 1529-1542) undertook extensive tours of their domains, making conspicuous donations to important temples, and reinforcing the allegiance of local chiefs and governors. A feature of this period was the employment of warriors from the Eastern Ghats, known as Nayakas, who were installed as governors in the provinces of Tamilnadu. The Nayakas were responsible for collecting taxes on behalf of the Vijayanagara kings and providing troops and war animals to military campaigns. In fact, both Krishnadevaraya and Achyutaraya made raids into the hostile territories of the Deccan sultans and even into the Gajapati kingdom of Orissa.

An outstanding feature of life in the capital was the great Mahanavami festival that took place each year at the end of the rainy season in September-October, after which the Vijayanagara rulers planned military expeditions. The Mahanavami probably focused on the worship of Durga, the goddess who empowered the king’s weapons, troops and animals. The ceremonies took place over nine nights, after which there was a great parade and feast. All of the governors and commanders of the empire were encouraged to attend this event, during which they paid tribute and expressed their homage to the Vijayanagara ruler. Foreigners were also invited to the capital on this occasion, and their descriptions of the spectacular events make for lively reading.

Though the calamity of 1565 led to the abandonment of the capital, the empire was by no means annihilated. Under the rule of the last line of Vijayanagara kings, that of the Aravidus (1570-1646), the empire continued for almost another hundred years. The Aravidus established themselves at the fortified sites of Penukonda and then at Chandragiri, near the shrines at Tirumala-Tirupati, in southern Andhra. However, the northern parts of the empire were lost to the Deccan sultans. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Nayakas asserted their independence as rulers over much of Tamilnadu and local chiefs, known as Poligars divided northern Karnataka and Andhra. A civil war in 1614 left the Aravidus with a much-reduced kingdom. The last of the Vijayanagara kings died in 1664.

However, a family whose seat is in Anegondi on the north bank of the Tungabhadra River, have been considered successors of the Vijayanagara rulers for more than a century and a half.

For articles on Krishnadevaraya, see Gopal, 2010, Life and Achievements of Sri Krishnadevaraya, and Verghese, 2013, Krishnadevaraya and His Time, in Bibliography.

Museum, Kamalapura

Royal Portraits, Archaeology Museum Kamalapura

Vijayanagara

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Last updated February 9, 2014 - ©2014 Vijayanagara Research Project