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Introduction: An understanding of the Vijaynagara polity requires knowledge about the

political conjuncture from which it originated. After the invasion of Harsha for the next
600 years peninsular India was insulated from political incursion of northern India. Delhi
Sultanate did not penetrate south India in the first century of its existence. By 1300 it
had started sending its armies (during the time of Alauddin Khalji) to the peninsular
India. Military successes of the Delhi Sultanate had long standing repercussions on
peninsular India. It destroyed the existing kingships all the four major kingdoms,
Yadavas of Devagiri, Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra, Pandyas of Madurai and finally the
Kakatiyas of Warangal fell one after another. Muhammad bin Tughluq vanquished the
last remaining ruler of peninsular India, Prataprudradeva of the Kakatiya dynasty. The
political vacuum paved the way for emergence of a new state Vijayanagara
established by the indigenous group of warriors. Muhammad bin Tughluqs decision to
transfer the capital to Devagiri also saw major influx of Islamic literati and holy men
which helped Islamic culture and religion taking roots in the region. Convergence of
these factors political vacuum and the impact of the Islamicate culture and polity in
peninsular India has much to do with the growth of Vijaynagara empire.
In the historical literature generally Vijayanagara state has been projected as a
strong military machine, the last bastion of Hindu polity against the rising tide of
Islamicate state. However, Vijayanagara's militarism was largely a result of indigenous
developments, although it was intensified by competition with more technologically
advanced states in an age of escalating warfare worldwide. Not only the Bahmani
Sultanate but also the Gajapati kingdom of Orissa was a great rival of Vijayanagara. The
rulers of the last mentioned state were Hindu. The Vijayanagara kings did not perceive
themselves as engaged in mortal combat with the Bahamani rulers for the survival of
Hinduism and south Indian society. The rulers of Vijayanagara did attempt to act as
righteous kings preserving dharma mainly as protection of the social order and most
particularly upholding the Brahmin privilege. However increasingly from the early
medieval period onward, notions of royal legitimacy came to rest on linkages with
temple deities rather than with Brahmins. It was in the combined role of servant and
patron of the gods that the Vijayanagara kings excelled. The Sangamas typically signed
the name of Virupaksha to royal decrees rather than their own, suggesting that he was
the true lord of the realm.

A brief political history: There are differing opinions regarding the origins of the founders
the Sangamas. Scholars debated on whether the Sangamas were warriors initially from
the Karnataka region or from the Andhra region to its east, since both regions wished to
claim them as sons of the soil. The dominant view till the recent times was they
belonged to the elite of the Kakatiya rulers of Warangal and thus to Andhra. After the
defeat of the ruler, they were taken to Delhi, converted to Islam and sent back as
administrators. Reconverted to Hindu religion under the influence of Vidyaranya, a
Hindu ascetic, they freed themselves from the shackles of the Sultanate, founded the
Sangama dynasty (named after their father Sangama). The rival view connects them to
the Hoyasala king Ballala III and thus to Karnataka.
The firmament implied that Vijayanagara was an overtly Hindu state, which has
rejected Islamic religion and a Muslim overlord. Recent views suggest that there was no
proselytization, acceptance of the Tughluq rule was voluntary and after the weakening of
the Tughluq state they asserted their independence. There was a major ceremony in
1346 which probably marked the true commencement of their rule, rather than the
traditional date of 1336. The Sangamas were but the first of four ruling dynasties. That is
why the kingdom was named not after the kings of the first dynasty but after the new
name coined for the capital, Vijayanagara or "City of Victory." Today the site is known
both as Vijayanagara and also as Hampi, a variation on the name of the goddess, Pampa
Devi, long associated with the region.
Although Vijayanagara eventually become the largest state ever created in south
India, it expanded quite slowly. Initially various members of the extended Sangama
family ruled the different provinces of the small kingdom, extending only from central
and southern Karnataka into the interior portion of southern Andhra in a semi-
autonomous fashion. The state finally began to grow only after power was consolidated
within one lineage of the Sangamas in the first half of the fifteenth century.
Vijayanagara's chief rival during its first century of existence was the Bahmani
Sultanate, established as an independent state in 1347. The Bahmani capital was soon
moved from Daulatabad to the more centrally located Gulbarga and then during the
1420s to Bidar. Bahmanis held sway in the western Deccan north of the Krishna River,
while Vijayanagara was dominant in the western Deccan south of the Tungabhadra river.
The alluvial zone in between those rivers, known as the Raichur doab, was hotly
contested by the two states. Both the states also tried to extend their influence into the
fertile Krishna-Godavari river delta of the Andhra region to the east. A third area of
conflict between the two states was the western coast, because it would give direct
access to the maritime routes of Indian Ocean trade, gateway to the most important
strategic commodity of the time: war horses imported from Arabia, Persia, and Central
Asia. Initially, Vijayanagara troops could not prevail over the smaller army of the
Bahmani sultan because the sultan's advantage lay in cavalry, which is why he was also
kown as the Ashvapat or Lord of Horses. In contrast the Vijayanagara kings were called
the Lord of Men or Infantry (Narapat).
Devaraya II (r. 1432--46) was largely responsible for narrowing the military gap,
welcoming Muslims. He reputedly enlisted 200 Muslims at the officer rank, as well as
many more at lower levels. The adoption of advanced military techniques and the
importation of war-horses contributed considerably to the success of Devaraya II.
Another adversary of the Vijayanagara kings ruled over a humid and forested region of
Orissa where supply of war-elephants were still plentiful and the title "Lord of the
Elephants" or Gajapati was given to these Orissa kings by their contemporaries..
After Devaraya II's death in 1446, his successors could not contain Gajapati
power and the Gajapatis began to overrun Vijayanagara's eastern lands. By the 1480s,
the Vijayanagara kingdom had lost much of their territories to the Gajapatis and the
Bahmanis, who had overrun much of the west coast. This led Saluva Narasimha, the
most active general in the struggle against Vijayanagara's enemies, to usurp the throne
in1485. The short-lived Saluva dynasty was ousted in turn in 1505 when another general,
this time from the Tuluva family, seized power. Under the Tuluvas, the third royal dynasty
of Vijayanagara, the kingdom not only regained its strength but went on to achieve its
greatest glory. Krishnadeva Raya (r. 1509-29), the second of Vijayanagara's Tuluva rulers,
is largely responsible for making Vijayanagara the paramount polity in the peninsula. He
led aggressive campaigns against the Gajapatis initiated in 1513. Within two years
important sites situated to the south of the Krishna river were recovered.
Vijayanagara was able to become dominant in the early sixteenth century not
only because of the military abilities of kings like Krishnadeva Raya but also because its
second important rival, the Bahmani Sultanate, had begun to disintegrate into smaller
segments. The provincial governors of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar were independent by
1500 for all practical purposes, while the separate states of Golkonda, Berar, and Bidar
emerged over the next few decades from what was left of the Bahmani Sultanate.
Krishnadevaraya also brought the southern territories more firmly under control.
With growing numbers of Vijayanagara nayakas or war lords settled in the various
localities of the Tamil country, the mantle of Vijayanagara rule came to rest more heavily
on the far south. During his reign, the Vijayanagara kingdom attained its largest size and
its greatest degree of centralization.
Command over the outlying territories was entrusted to elite Vijayanagara
warriors, known as nayakas who carried out both military and civilian duties. With
increasing frequency from the late fifteenth century on, members of the ruling class
were rewarded with the assignment of nayankara territories - villages, districts, or even
entire provinces over which they had the right to retain certain amount of revenue in
lieu of military services. The king had the right to revoke a nayankara assignment or
switch the land included in a nayankara, so that no subordinate could build up his own
local power base and pose a challenge to the king. Nayankara medieval Islamic
institution of iqtas, which was introduced to India by the Delhi Sultanate though one can
also find similarities with the local tradition of lenka or padikaval as well. Some of the
duties and privileges of Vijayanagara's nayaka lords are described by Domingo Paes, a
contemporary Portuguese observer. Besides maintaining these troops, it was customary
for each captain to make his annual payments to the king or giving presents on different
occasions.
Two Tuluva rulers followed Krishnadeva Raya on the Vijayanagara throne. Internal
struggles in the court and the increasing independence of the major lords led to a
weakening of the king's position. In the 1540s , Rama Raya of the powerful Aravidu
family acted in the name of the king and wielded the actual power. He ruthlessly
repressed all opposition at court and in the southern territories. He also kept the Deccan
states at bay through skillfully playing one off against another. His brilliant, if diabolic,
strategy eventually backfired. Distrust of Vijayanagara grew so strong over the years that
the rulers of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, and Golkonda overcame their own mutual hostility
and banded together to attack Vijayanagara forces. At the fateful battle of Talikota in
1565, Rama Raya was killed and the city of Vijayanagara left defenseless. Rama Raya's
brother Tirumala soon abandoned the capital and retrenched in southern Andhra,
where he became the first member of the Vijayanagara's final royal dynasty, the
Aravidus. Although the Vijayanagara kingdom, now based in Andhra and much smaller in
size, remained in existence for another century, its days of greatness were gone after
1565.

Martial spirit: Why was Vijayanagara widely acknowledged to be the most militarized of
the non-Muslim states of south India. Generally this has been attributed to its successful
opposition to Islamicate state. However much of this militaristic orientation was a result
of its origins as a polity created by an upwardly mobile warrior lineage in the Deccan.
The semi-arid environment of the peninsular interior had long hosted non-agrarian
peoples, engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture, herding, and trade. Pastoral activities
saw cattle raids encouraging the development of martial skills as evidenced through
enormous amount of memorial stones raised in the memory of the fallen heroes found
in the region. Such an environment led to the emergence of warlords. Since the late
twelfth century, warriors from the semi-arid zone had become politically dominant
throughout the peninsula. Improvements in horse-riding equipment that had
disseminated from the northwest into the Deccan during the century or two prior to the
establishment of the Vijayanagara state facilitated their dominance. The innovations
included the foot-stirrup providing greater support for the rider, better harnesses
allowing more control over the horse, high saddles with pommels, and nailed
horseshoes. These changes in horse-riding technology enhanced the destructive
capabilities of cavalry and made it the decisive factor in an army's success in battle. The
availability of quality horses, which had also contributed to the Ghurid and Delhi
Sultanate's military successes, was another factor leading to greater militancy in the
peninsula in the period immediately before the founding of Vijayanagara. The early
fourteenth-century incursions of the Khalji and Tughluq armies, by dislodging indigenous
warrior lineages from their positions of power led into a power vacuum. This resulted in
increase of political violence which further promoted the growth of militarism in the
peninsula. There was plenty of motivation for those with sufficient martial skills. Thus it
was not only the presence of Muslim states but in an an era when the scale and lethal
capacity of armed force was escalating not only throughout the subcontinent but also
throughout most of the Eurasian landmass, war became the way of life. Gunpowder was
introduced into thirteenth-century India by the Mongols, who learned about it from the
Chinese. According to Ferishta, as many as 2,300 cannon and many smaller guns were
deployed by the Vijayanagara army at the battle of Talikota in 1565.

King: Vijayanagara was a monarchy. The Coronation durbar was a grand affair attended
by numerous chieftains, officers and leaders of people. Vijayanagara kings nominated
their heirs as yuvaraja during their life time possibly to avoid succession disputes as well
as to give them a feel of the real administration. The crown prince held charge of one or
more provinces. When the kings were too young to govern regents assumed the
responsibility of the government. Some of the regents abused and usurped power. Such
palace revolutions had repercussions on the empire.
The rulers of Vijayanagara did attempt to act as righteous kings behaving
according to dharma, that is, who lived up to traditional Indic expectations of rulers. An
important aspect of kingly duties in classical Indian thought was the protection of the
social order and particularly the upholding of Brahmin privilege ("upholders of
varnashrama dharma"). There are instances when the king interfered in the
administration of the provinces to end the oppression of the people by their chiefs. The
other responsibility was to maintain law and order. Vijayanagara kings also paid
attention to the economic well being forest cleared, fresh lands brought under
cultivation, new village founded, trade with foreign countries was encouraged. People
like Domingo Paes, a horse trader and Abur Razzak, an envoy of the Persian king were
accorded state honour for ease of trade.
King was the highest court of appeal when the lower court failed to do justice. TV
Mahalingam distinguishes between Imperial council and Council of ministers. The
former comprised of nayakas from the provinces, feudal vassals, heads of the mathas,
scholars, poets and other people from different walks of life. Such an unwieldy body of
miscellaneous elements would not have been an effective body, mainly consultative in
nature. Council of ministers was smaller in size though the exact figures of the
members are not known it is presumed that like Shivajis astapradhan, it consisted of
eight ministers. It generally met in a hall called venkatavilasamantapa. Strict secrecy was
maintained about the deliberations. A person with the title pradhani was the chief
minister.
Essential qualification for a minister was to be a scholar, aged between fifty to
seventy and having long familiarity with the kings person and family. Generally
hereditary principle was in vogue for selection of ministers. There are instances of same
persons functioning as ministers under successive kings.
How far the council of ministers could influence the affairs of the state depended
on the personality of the king. Under strong rulers they suffered while during the reign
of weak kings they controlled the functioning of the state.

Administrative staff: Details of the administration were attended by a number of staff.


Amuktyamalyada, composed by Krishnadevaraya himself, expresses the view that the
efficiency of the administration was proportional with the increase or decrease of the
staff. Rayasam recorded the oral orders of the king; karanikam was the accountant,
there was hardly any department during the time of the Vijayanagara that was without
its staff of karanikam. Sarvanayaka, mudrakarta and vasalkariyam were some of the
officers who linked the king with the court. Abdur Razzak, a foreign traveler, saw the
secretariat functioning in the forty pillared hall which he calls Diwankhana.

Political economy: Continuous war preparedness required large revenue income. The
government derived its revenue from a variety of sources. Kadamai, magamai,
Kanikkai, Kattanam, kanam, vari, pattam, irai, and kattayam were some of the tax terms
denoting land revenue , property tax, commercial taxes, profession taxes, industry taxes,
military levy social and communal taxes and judicial fines. Land revenue was the most
important source of revenue, land was carefully assessed and the state claimed 1/6 of
the produce. The nature of the villages, the tenure of the land, kind of crops raised were
all considered before the tax was calculated. Land revenue was paid both in cash and
kind. Inscriptions credit Krishnadevaraya with systematic land survey. Nadalavukal,
ajavthadankol, gandarayagandakol, were names of measuring rods. Properties like
houses, treasure-troves, horses, cattle and even trees were taxed. Customs duties in
articles of internal as well as export trade gave immense amount of revenue. Kondavide
inscription of Krishnadevaraya gave the rate of taxes on a list of 59 articles. According to
Abdur Razzak the right to collect customs duties in Vijayanagara alone was farmed out at
12000 pardaos annually. Professionals like kaikkolar (weavers), fishermen, shephers,
oilmongers, musicians etc. had to pay taxes for their professions. Excise duties on the
production of salt and toddy were imposed. Taxes were imposed on the people for the
maintenance of the forts and the army. An impost was levied for the defence for the
defence of the conquered country. These contributions were either collected by the
state or given over to the public and social institutions like temples or educational
instutions.
Four different methods were employed to collect revenue 1. Collected by the
state itself; 2. Collection rights farmed out to individuals; 3. Government delegating the
right of collection to a body/ group of persons in a village; 4. Government granting
portions of the empire to the nayakas, in return for the military service and a fixed
tribute to the imperial government.

Judicial administration: Treason against the state was regarded as heinous crime. King
was the fountain head of justice. Abdur Razzak refers to pradhani functioning as the
chief justice. The assumption of the title dharmapratpalaka by the prime minister
during the time of Saluva Narasimha indicates that he had judicial functions as well.
There was a police force to maintain law and order in the realm. The city of Vijaynagara
was said to be protected by a police force comprising 12000 men. In the provinces the
police duties were performed by the kavalkaras under the nayakas. The kavalkaras
generally belonged to the martial communities like Maravars and Kallars (in Tamil
countries). Apart from granting them revenue free lands kavalkani, the villagers also paid
the kavalkaras partly in cash and kind. The right of policing sometimes were sold or
farmed out, which was known as patkaval. Sometimes the kavalkaras donated their
dues from the tax to the temples.

Army: In a very competitive political atmosphere the Vijayanagara kings were forced to
maintain a very large army. There were two methods of recruitment. Either the state
directly recruited soldiers, or feudal vassals were required to maintain requisite number
of troops. The nayakas were obliged to maintain a requisite number of soldiers. This
class of feudatories held lands on an amaram tenure in return and hence known as
amaranayakas. The army had four divisions infantry, cavalry, elephants and artillery.
Importance of the forts were fully realized.

Provincial government: The large empire was divided into many provinces- called rajya,
mandalam. Size of the provinces depended on historical forces. Sangama princes of
royal blood were appointed as governors, known as udaiyar, a practice stopped by the
Saluvas and Tuluvas. Sometimes officers of great ability were appointed as governors
known as dandanayaka. Few of the governors held dual charges as governors and
ministers. (Saluva Timma, the prime minister of Krishnadevaraya was the governor of
Kondavidu). These minister-governors administered their provinces through karyakartas.
The governors held semi-autonomous powers having all portfolios under them at the
provincial level. There are instances of overbearing provincial governing usurping power
Saluva Narasimha was the governor of Chandragiri.
Another important feature of the provincial government was the nayankara
system; the nayakas were required to maintain a requisite number of forces to serve the
king in wars, as well as pay a fixed annual financial contribution. The constitutional
position of the nayakas seem to be different from that of governor of a province; he
enjoyed comparatively greater freedom in his province, not usually subject to transfer
from one province to another. The nayakas maintained two sets of officers at the
imperial headquarters, the officer-in-charges tationed at the capital; another the
sthanapat or civil agent who represented the interests of his master.

The rajya had its own divisions and subdivisions in the Tamil country they were divided
into districts called kottam and kurram. The kottam was divided into nadus. In the
Karnataka region a province was divided into venthe, venthe into sime, a sime into sthala
and a sthala into valithas.
During the time of the Vijayanagara rule in the Tamil country the autonomy of
the local self governing institutions like sabhas were eroded.
An important feature of the village system was ayagar system. According to it,
every village was a separate unit and its affairs were conducted by a body of 12
functionaries who were collectively known as the ayagars. They had hereditary right
over their offices. They were granted with revenue free land (manyam). No transfer of
property could be effected or grant made without the knowledge of these functionaries.

The Spectacle of Royal Capital and Ritual(s): The Vijayanagara capital was a massive site,
the largest surviving in South Asia today, the defensive walls of which were intended to
fend off invaders physically and at the same time overwhelm viewers by their awesome
scale. Public rituals in the capital city highlighted the state's military prowess. During the
nine-day Mahanavami festival associated with veneration of the goddess Durga, all the
great nayaka lords and their armies were required to attend the festival, after which a
general muster of the troops was held outside the city proper. Mahanavami Dibba where
the king displayed himself to his lords and in turn was paid homage by them, was shared
by the king and the deity provides an important insight into the concept of kingship
under the Vijayanagara rulers. It was built in four successive stages, the last built by
Krishnadeva Raya to commemorate his victorious Orissa campaign. Virupaksha was not
the only god venerated by the Vijayanagara kings. A temple to Rama, an incarnation of
the god Vishnu, was constructed in the early fifteenth century. The importance of Rama
to the Vijayanagara kings is evident from the centrality given to the Ramachandra
temple in the overall plan of the capital city as it evolved in the first half of the fifteenth
century.