The History of India: Vijaynagar Empire - The Last Hindu Empire of South India The History of India: Vijaynagar Empire - The Last Hindu Empire of South India

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vijaynagar Empire - The Last Hindu Empire of South India

The Beginning:
The Vijayanagara Empire was founded in 1336 AD by the two brothers Harihara I and Bukka Raya I with the purpose of stemming the tide of rising Muslim power in South India. The empire lasted till 1660 AD, though it lost most of its power after its defeat and destruction in 1565 AD by the combined forces of the Deccan sultanates in the Battle of Tallikota.

Before the rise of the Vijayanagara Empire by 1336 AD, the Hindu kingdoms of the Deccan, the Yadava Empire of Devagiri, the Kakatiya Kingdom of Warangal, the Pandyan Empire of Madurai, and the tiny kingdom of Kampili had all been defeated by Alla-ud-din Khilji and subsequently Muhammad bin Tughluq, the Sultans of Delhi. Harihara and Bukka were treasury officers of in the court of the  last Kakatiya king Prataparudra of Warangal. The then Delhi Sultan, Muhammad bin Tughluq, captured and converted the brothers to Islam and sent them back to put down the rebellion of the Hoysala kingdom. The brothers successfully completed the task but came under the influence of Vidyaranya, the sage of Sringeri monastery, who reconverted the brothers to Hinduism and guided them to establish the kingdom of Vijayanagar to safeguard Hindu religion. He later served as a mentor and guide to three generations of kings who ruled over the Vijayanagar empire.

Folklore has it that when the brothers were travelling with Vidyaranya, they witnessed a rabbit chasing a dog. Vidyaranya seeing the miracle, planned to establish the kingdom there. He identified a muhurat (auspicious time) at which the foundation stone needed to be laid so that the new empire would last for the coming 2000 years. The sage instructed the two brothers that he would stand on the next hilltop, observe the celestial star positions and blow the shankha (conch) on hearing which they should lay the foundation stone. After some time, Harihara and Bukka heard the sound of a shankha and laid the foundation stone. But soon after there was a second blow of the shankha. When Vidyaranya returned he asked them for which sound they laid the stone, to which they replied, the first one. To their dismay, the guru told them that the first blow of conch was by a traveling begger.Vidyaranya calculated the horoscope for the time at which the first sound was heard.  Based on his calculations he predicted that the empire would last for only 200 years. The Vijaynagra empire declined after its defeat in 1565 to the Deccan Sultanates, 229 years after its establishment.

The Rise:

Over its existance the Vijayanagra empire was ruled by four dynasties - Sangama Dynasty, Saluva Dynasty, Tuluva Dynasty and Aravidu Dynasty.

Over the next two centuries after its establishment the Vijayanagar empire dominated all of southern India, and was probably stronger than any other power in the subcontinent. The empire during that period served as a  tide breaker against invasion from the Muslim Sultanates from Northern India and remained in a state of constant cconflict with the five Deccan Sultanates- Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar, that established themselves in the Deccan to the north of it. 

The empire reached the peal of its power and prosperity during the reign of Tuluva king,Krishnadevaraya. Krishnadevaraya, who ruled 1509 - 1529 AD, was a great administrator, general, patron of art, music, dance and literature and an accomplished poet himself in Telugu. Telugu people especially consider him as the greatest king ever to rule the Āndhradeśa (Telugu land) and his reign is considered as Swarnayuga (Golden period or Zenith) in the cultural and literary history of Telugus. During his reign he repeatedly defeated the five Deccan Sultanates . The highlight of his conquests occurred on May 19, 1520 where he secured the fortress of Raichur from Ismail Adil Shah of Bijapur after a difficult siege. His empire extended over the whole of South India.

Under the Vijayanagra empire Kannada and Telgu literature flourished. Poets, scholars and philosophers wrote in Kannada, Sanskrit and Telugu and covered a wide breadth of subjects including religion, biography, fiction, music, grammar, poetry and medicine. The Kannada poets and scholars of the empire produced important writings supporting the Vaishnava Bhakti movement. Kumara Vyasa, the most notable of Brahmin scholars wrote Gadugina Bharata, a translation of the epic Mahabharata. This work marks a transition of Kannada literature from old Kannada to modern Kannada. This period was also the age of Srinatha, the greatest of all Telugu poets, who wrote books like Marutratcharitamu and Salivahana-sapta-sati.

Narsimha Statue in Vijaynagar
Vijayanagara architecture was a combination of the Chalukyan, Hoysalan, Pandyan and Cholan styles. This mingling of the South Indian styles resulted in a richness not seen in earlier centuries, a focus on reliefs in addition to sculpture that surpasses that previously in India. Another component of the Vijayanagara style sculpture is the carving of large monoliths such as the Sasivekalu (mustard) Ganesha and Kadalekalu (ground nut) Ganesha at Hampi, the Gommateshvara Bahubali statues in Karkala and Venur, and the Nandi bull in Lepakshi. While the empire is well known for its monuments in the regal capital, Vijayanagara, it also built many temples in other areas of South India.

The Decline:
After Krishnadevaraya's death, the kingdom passed to Achyuta Raya, upon whose demise in 1542, the throne came to his nephew Sadashiva Raya, who was then a minor. Rama Raya, son-in-law of Krishnadevaraya, appointed himself regent and ruled the empire having confined Sadashiva Raya. During his rule, the Deccan Sultanates were constantly involved in internal fights and requested Rama Raya on more than one occasion to act as a mediator. This enabled Rama Raya to play one Sultan against the other and push north of Krishna river and expand his domains utilizing the disunity of the Deccan Sultans.Over the period the Sultans became suspicious of Rama Raya's intents and their fears brought them together to form an alliance. Intermarraige between Sultanate families also helped solve internal differences between the Muslim rulers. This consolidation of Muslim power in the northern Deccan resulted eventually in the Battle of Talikota. 

On January 26, 1565 the Deccan Sultanates of Ahmednagar, Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda formed a grand alliance and met the Vijayanagara army at Talikota. The army of Vijayanagara was routed Rama Raya was killed. Hiis head was annually covered with oil and red pigment and exhibited in Ahmednagar till 1829. The victorious armies pillaged the capital and completely destroyed the city of Vijayanagara which never recovered from the onslaught. With this, the last significant Hindu state in the Deccan came to an end. Tirumala Raya, the sole survivor left Vijayanagar with treasure on back of 550 elephants to Penukonda. 

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