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Vijayanagara Dynasty

  • The Vijayanagara Dynasty was an empire based in the Deccan Plateau region of South India. It was established by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty in 1336 and lasted until 1646. The Empire is named after its capital Vijayanagara, whose ruins surround Hampi, now a World Heritage Site in Karnataka.
  • The Empire's legacy has several monuments spread over South India, the most famous of which is the group at Hampi. The Empire's support enabled literature and fine arts to reach new heights in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada while Carnatic music evolved into its present form.


  • Before the early 14th-century rise of the Vijayanagara Empire, the tiny kingdom of Kampili, the Pandyan Empire of Madurai, the Kakatiya Dynasty of Warangal, the Yadava Empire of Devagiri and the Hindu states of the Deccan had been repeatedly attacked by Muslims from the north, and by 1336 they all had been defeated by Muhammad bin Tughluq and Alla-ud-din Khilji, the Sultans of Delhi. The sole remaining Hindu state in the path of the Muslim invasion was the Hoysala Empire. The Hoysala Empire merged with the growing Vijayanagara Empire following the death of Hoysala king Veera Ballala III in 1343.
  • During the first two decades after the founding of the Empire, Harihara I captured most of the area south of the Tungabhadra river. By 1374 successor to Harihara I, Bukka Raya I, had defeated the Sultan of Madurai, the Reddys of Kondavidu, and the chiefdom of Arcot as well as gained control over the Tungabhadra-Krishna River doab in the north and Goa in the west. Originally the capital was in Anegondi on the northern banks of the Tungabhadra River in Karnataka. Later it was shifted to Vijayanagara on the river's southern banks.
  • Harihara II, the second son of Bukka Raya I, brought the whole of South India under the Vijayanagara control. The next ruler, Deva Raya I, undertook important works of irrigation and fortification. Deva Raya II succeeded to the throne in 1424. He crushed rebelling feudal lords and the Zamorin of Quilon and Calicut.
  • The Empire ultimately came under the rule of Krishna Deva Raya, the son of Tuluva Narasa Nayaka after about two decades. The Vijayanagara Empire dominated all of Southern India during the following decades. During the rule of Krishna Deva Raya, the Empire reached its zenith when Vijayanagara armies were continuously winning battles. The Empire occupied territories previously under the Sultanates in the northern Deccan and the areas in the eastern Deccan. During the period of Krishna Deva Raya a number of important monuments were either commissioned or completed.
  • In 1529, his younger half-brother Achyuta Deva Raya followed Krishna Deva Raya. The teenage nephew of Achyuta Raya, Sadashiva Raya, was appointed king in 1542 when Achyuta Deva Raya died, even though real power was wielded by Krishna Deva Raya's son-in-law, Rama Raya. Aliya Rama Raya imprisoned Sadashiva and became the de facto ruler. Rama Raya supported one Sultanate against another militarily. However, the bitter rivals from the north formed an alliance. They clashed with the Vijayanagara's forces in January 1565.
  • Havoc and confusion was created in the Vijayanagara ranks after killing of Aliya Rama Raya in the famous Battle of Talikota. Later the Sultanates' army reduced Hampi to the ruinous state. Rama Raya's younger brother, Tirumala Deva Raya, left Vijayanagara for Penukonda with huge amounts of treasure on 1500 elephants. Sriranga I succeeded his father, Tirumala Deva Raya and was later followed by Venkata II who was the last king of Vijayanagara dynasty.
  • His successor Rama Deva Raya ruled until 1632. After Rama Deva Raya’s death Venkata III ruled for about 10 years. The empire was eventually conquered by the Sultanates of Golkonda and Bijapur.
  • To govern their territories, the rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire followed the administrative methods developed by the Hoysala, Kakatiya and Pandya kingdoms and made changes only when required. The King was the final authority, helped by a cabinet of ministers which was headed by the Prime Minister. Military training was compulsory for all high ranking ministers and officers. The palace administration was divided into 72 departments; each had many female attendants selected for their youth and beauty who were trained to handle petty administrative matters and to serve men of nobility as concubines or courtesans.
  • The empire was divided into 5 provinces, each headed by a governor. A province was divided into regions and further divided into counties which were subdivided into municipalities.
  • The king's commanders led the troops in the battlefields. The Empire's war strategy involved attacking and destroying individual forts. The Empire was among the first in India to use long range artillery. There were two types of army troops: The king's personal army and the feudal army under each feudatory.


  • The Empire's economy depended on agriculture. Sorghum, cotton and pulse legumes grew in semi-arid areas, while wheat, rice and sugarcane grew in rainy areas. Coconut, areca, and betel leaves were the main cash crops. Spices such as ginger, cardamom, pepper and turmeric grew in the Malnad hill region and were transported to the city. The Empire's capital city was a trading hub. Prolific temple-building created jobs for thousands of sculptors, masons and other skilled artisans.
  • Most of the growers were tenant farmers and had the right of part ownership of the land. Exports to China increased and included perfumes, coral, amber, ebony, rhino horn, ivory, semi-precious stones, jewels, spices and cotton. Large vessels from China brought Chinese products to the Empire's ports on the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The ports of Dharmadam, Machilipatnam, Cannanore, Cochin, Barkur, Bhatkal, Honavar and Mangalore were busy ports.
  • The goods from merchant ships were taken into official custody and import duties were levied on all items. The administration officials ensured the security of the imported items.
  • The Empire's main exports were porcelain, cotton cloth, aloe, rhubarb, ambergris, musk, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, anafistula, tamarind timber, myrobalan, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and pepper. Indigo was shipped to Persia and Cotton yarn to Burma. Main imports from Palestine were gold, copper and silver, coloured camlets, knives, rose water, coloured velvets, saffron, coral, vermilion and mercury. Sugar was imported from Bengal and Silk arrived from China.
  • Tobacco, pulse, millet and rice were grown on a large scale in Golkonda. Machilipatnam, a mineral rich region, was the gateway for high quality steel and iron exports. Diamonds were mined in the Kollur region. Two types of cottons were produced by the cotton weaving industry, muslin and plain calico. Printed cloth with coloured patterns were exported to the Far East and Java. The main imports on the east coast were luxury goods, silk, porcelain, camphor, and non-ferrous metals.
  • The Hindu caste system was predominant and strictly followed. Each caste was represented by elders who represented the community. These elders framed the rules and regulations which were implemented with the assistance of royal decrees. Untouchability was part of the caste system. The Muslim communities were represented by their own group. However, the caste system didn’t inhibit distinguished people from all castes from promotion to high ranking cadre in the administration and army. In civil life, Brahmins enjoyed a high level of respect. Most Brahmins concentrated on literary and religious matters. Their separation from power and material wealth made them perfect arbiters in local judicial problems, and their presence in every village and town was helpful to maintain order. However, the fame of low-caste scholars and their works is an indication of the level of social flexibility in the society.
  • The practice of Sati was customary, though voluntary, and mostly practiced by the upper classes.
  • Women were actively involved in matters such as the fine arts, trade business and administration. Gangadevi who wrote Madhuravijayam and Tirumalamba Devi who wrote Varadambika Parinayam were among the famous women poets of the era. Early Telugu women poets like Atukuri Molla and Tallapaka Timmakka gained popularity during this period. The court of the Nayaks of Tanjore patronised many women poets. Legalised prostitution was relegated to a few streets in each city.
  • Wealthy men wore a tall turban made of silk and decorated with gold. Men and women used necklaces and ear rings of different types, finger-rings, bracelets and anklets. During celebrations, men and women beautified themselves with flower garlands and used perfumes made of sandalwood, musk, civet musk or rose water. In sharp contrast to the common people whose lives were modest, the lives of the Empire's queens and kings were full of ceremonial pomp in the court. Princesses and queens had several attendants who were lavishly dressed and adorned with fine jewellery.
  • Physical exercises were popular among men and wrestling was an important entertainment and sport. There were gymnasiums inside royal quarters for regular physical training for commanders and their armies during peace time. Market places and royal palaces had special grounds where common people and royalty amused by watching matches such as wrestling, ram fights and cock fights. Different types of community-based activities included engravings on temple floors, rock platforms and boulders.