The Vijayanagara Empire referred to as the Kingdom of Bisnegar by the Portuguese, was an empire based in South India, in the Deccan Plateau region. It was established in 1336 by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty. The empire rose to prominence as a culmination of attempts by the southern powers to ward off Islamic invasions by the end of the 13th century. It lasted until 1646 although its power declined after a major military defeat in 1565 by the Deccan sultanates. The empire is named after its capital city of Vijayanagara, whose ruins surround present day Hampi, now a World Heritage Site in Karnataka, India.The writings of medieval European travelers such as Domingo Paes, Fernão Nunes and Niccolò Da Conti, and the literature in local languages provide crucial information about its history. Archaeological excavations at Vijayanagara have revealed the empire's power and wealth.
The empire's legacy includes many monuments spread over South India, the best known of which is the group at Hampi. The previous temple building traditions in South India came together in the Vijayanagara Architecture style. The mingling of all faiths and vernaculars inspired architectural innovation of Hindu temple construction, first in the Deccan and later in the Dravidian idioms using the local granite. Efficient administration and vigorous overseas trade brought new technologies such as water management systems for irrigation. The empire's patronage enabled fine arts and literature to reach new heights in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit, while Carnatic music evolved into its current form. The Vijayanagara Empire created an epoch in South Indian history that transcended regionalism by promoting Hinduism as a unifying factor.
Brief History of the Vijayanagar empire
Differing theories have been proposed regarding the Vijayanagara empire's origins. Many historians propose Harihara I and Bukka, the founders of the empire, were Kannadigas and commanders in the army of the Hoysala Empire stationed in the Tungabhadra region to ward off Muslim invasions from the Northern India. Others claim that they were Telugu people first associated with the Kakatiya Kingdom who took control of the northern parts of the Hoysala Empire during its decline. Irrespective of their origin, historians agree the founders were supported and inspired by Vidyaranya, a saint at the Sringeri monastery to fight the Muslim invasion of South India. Writings by foreign travelers during the late medieval era combined with recent excavations in the Vijayanagara principality have uncovered much-needed information about the empire's history, fortifications, scientific developments and architectural innovations.
Before the early 14th-century rise of the Vijayanagara Empire, the Hindu states of the Deccan, the Yadava Empire of Devagiri, the Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal, the Pandyan Empire of Madurai, and the tiny kingdom of Kampili had been repeatedly invaded by Muslims from the north, and by 1336 they had all been defeated by Alla-ud-din Khilji and Muhammad bin Tughluq, the Sultans of Delhi. The Hoysala Empire was the sole remaining Hindu state in the path of the Muslim invasion. After the death of Hoysala king Veera Ballala III during a battle against the Sultan of Madurai in 1343, the Hoysala Empire merged with the growing Vijayanagara empire.
In the first two decades after the founding of the empire, Harihara I gained control over most of the area south of the Tungabhadra river and earned the title of Purvapaschima Samudradhishavara ("master of the eastern and western seas"). By 1374 Bukka Raya I, successor to Harihara I, had defeated the chiefdom of Arcot, the Reddys of Kondavidu, the Sultan of Madurai and gained control over Goa in the west and the Tungabhadra-Krishna River doab in the north. The original capital was in the principality of Anegondi on the northern banks of the Tungabhadra River in today's Karnataka. It was later moved to nearby Vijayanagara on the river's southern banks during the reign of Bukka Raya I.
With the Vijayanagara Kingdom now imperial in stature, Harihara II, the second son of Bukka Raya I, further consolidated the kingdom beyond the Krishna River and brought the whole of South India under the Vijayanagara umbrella.The next ruler, Deva Raya I, emerged successful against the Gajapatis of Odisha and undertook important works of fortification and irrigation. Italian traveler Niccolo de Conti wrote of him as the most powerful ruler of India. Deva Raya II (called Gajabetekara) succeeded to the throne in 1424 and was possibly the most capable of the Sangama dynasty rulers. He quelled rebelling feudal lords as well as the Zamorin of Calicut and Quilon in the south. He invaded the island of Lanka and became overlord of the kings of Burma at Pegu and Tanasserim. The empire declined in the late 15th century until the serious attempts by commander Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya in 1485 and by general Tuluva Narasa Nayaka in 1491 to reconsolidate the empire.
After nearly two decades of conflict with rebellious chieftains, the empire eventually came under the rule of Krishna Deva Raya, the son of Tuluva Narasa Nayaka. In the following decades the Vijayanagara empire dominated all of Southern India and fought off invasions from the five established Deccan Sultanates. The empire reached its peak during the rule of Krishna Deva Raya when Vijayanagara armies were consistently victorious. The empire annexed areas formerly under the Sultanates in the northern Deccan and the territories in the eastern Deccan, including Kalinga, while simultaneously maintaining control over all its subordinates in the south. Many important monuments were either completed or commissioned during the time of Krishna Deva Raya.
Krishna Deva Raya was followed by his younger half-brother Achyuta Deva Raya in 1529. When Achyuta Deva Raya died in 1542, Sadashiva Raya, the teenage nephew of Achyuta Raya was appointed king though real power was wielded by Rama Raya, Krishna Deva Raya's son-in-law. When Sadashiva was old enough to claim absolute power, Aliya Rama Raya had him imprisoned and became the de facto ruler. Eager to take advantage of the disunity among the Sultanates of Bijapur, Ahamednagar, Berar, Golkonda, and Bidar, Rama Raya involved himself in the political affairs of the powers across the Krishna river to the north. His ploy of supporting militarily one Sultanate against another, often changing alliances, brought rich rewards for a while. However, by 1563, exhausted with his intrigues, the bitter rivals from the north formed an alliance. They marched against Rama Raya and clashed with the Vijayanagara's forces in January 1565.The capture and killing of Aliya Rama Raya in the famous Battle of Talikota, after a seemingly easy victory for the Vijayanagara armies, created havoc and confusion in the Vijayanagara ranks, which were then completely routed. The Sultanates' army later plundered Hampi and reduced it to the ruinous state in which it remains; it was never re-occupied. Tirumala Deva Raya, Rama Raya's younger brother who was the sole surviving commander, left Vijayanagara for Penukonda with vast amounts of treasure on the back of 1500 elephants.
The empire went into a slow decline regionally, although trade with the Portuguese continued, and the British were given a land grant for the establishment of Madras.Tirumala Deva Raya was succeeded by his son Sriranga I later followed by Venkata II who was the last king of Vijayanagara empire, made his capital Chandragiri and Vellore, repulsed the invasion of the Deccan Sultanates and saved Penukonda from being captured.
His successor Rama Deva Raya took power and ruled until 1632, after whose death Venkata III became king and ruled for about ten years. The empire was finally conquered by the Sultanates of Bijapur and Golkonda. The largest feudatories of the Vijayanagar empire – the Mysore Kingdom, Keladi Nayaka, Nayaks of Madurai, Nayaks of Tanjore, Nayakas of Chitradurga and Nayak Kingdom of Gingee declared independence and went on to have a significant impact on the history of South India in the coming centuries. These Nayaka kingdoms lasted into the 18th century while the Mysore Kingdom remained a princely state until Indian Independence in 1947 although they came under the British Raj in 1799 after the death of Tipu Sultan.