Krishnadeva Raya & the glorious Vijayanagar Empire

published on February 7, 2010
V.N. Gopalakrishnan



The 500th anniversary of the coronation of Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar Empire was held from January 27 to 29, 2010. The festival was kicked off with competitions on Vijayanagar Empire and the rule of Krishnadeva Raya. The article throws light on the Vijayanagar Empire and the contribution of its popular Hindu king Krishnadeva Raya.

Krishnadeva Raya, the benevolent Hindu king ascended the throne of the Vijayanagar Empire on July 26, 1509, and during the two decades of his rule (1509-1529), he proved himself to be a perfect ruler by providing good governance to his subjects.  This period was considered as the golden age of the Vijayanagar history. Krishnadeva Raya was a versatile personality- a great warrior and military general, wise statesman, able administrator, lover of literature, patron of arts and architecture and above all a ruler known for promoting religious tolerance. For the Kannadigas, he was a heroic figure and the Telugu people hailed him as Kannada Raya, Kannada Rajya Rama Ramana, Mooru Rayara Ganda (King of Three Kings) and Andhra Bhoja. Krishnadeva Raya belonged to the Tuluva dynasty, the third to rule over the empire following the Sangama and Saluva dynasties. The dynasty acquired the name as Tuluva from the Tulu speaking region called Tulunadu. The kings were referred to as Rayas (Raja in Sanskrit).

Vijayanagar Empire reached the pinnacle of its glory during his reign. He was successful in all the wars he waged and defeated the King of Orissa and annexed Vijaywada and Rajmahendri. Under Krishnadeva Raya, the Vijayanagar Empire extended from Cuttack in the east to the frontiers of Goa in the west and from the Raichur Doab in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south.

The Vijayanagar Empire was founded in 1336 with Vijayanagara (modern Hampi in the Bellary district of Karnataka) as the capital. Vijayanagar (‘City of Victory’) was the empire ruled first from the city and later from Penukonda (in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh) between 1336 and 1614. The site of the city, on the Tungabhadra River is now partly occupied by the village of Hampi in eastern Karnataka. The city emerged during the first half of the 14th century, and thrived until the middle of the 17th century.

European travellers including Domingo Paes, Fernao Nuniz and Niccolo Da Conti provide veritable information about the history Vijayanagar. The architectural wonder is seen in the temple building traditions in South India. Fine arts and literature reached new heights in the languages of Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit, thanks to the patronage from rulers. The founders of the Vijayanagar Empire were supported and inspired by Saint Vidyaranya.

The King was the ultimate authority, assisted by a cabinet of ministers (Pradhana) headed by the Prime Minister (Mahapradhana). Other important titles were the Chief Secretary (Karyakartha or Rayaswami) and the imperial officers (Adhikari). Caste system was rigidly followed and Brahmins enjoyed a high level of respect. Women were actively involved in administration, business and trade. The kings used the title Hindurayasuratrana (Upholder of Hindu faith).

The Bhakti movement was active and involved well-known Haridasas (devotee saints) of that time. They represented two groups – the Vyasakuta who were proficient in the Vedas, Upanishads and Darshanas whereas the Dasakuta only conveyed the message of Madhvacharya in the form of devotional songs. Vyasatirtha, Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa earned the devotion of King Krishnadeva Raya. Poets, scholars and philosophers wrote in Sanskrit and in regional languages. Telugu language became a popular literary medium and the Telegu literature flourished under him. The official languages of the Vijayanagara court were Kannada and Telugu.

Krishnadeva Raya was an accomplished Telugu scholar and wrote the celebrated Amuktamalyada. His Sanskrit works include Madalasa Charita, Satyavadu Parinaya, Rasamanjari and Jambavati Kalyana. His court was adorned by eight distinguished poets and scholars who were known as the Ashtadiggajas. Tenali Ramakrishna, the scholar who was famous for his wisdom and wit was a prominent member of Krishnadeva Raya’s court.

Krishnadeva Raya was generous to his people and patronized arts and letters. Painting, sculpture, dance and music were greatly encouraged by him and his successors. He built some of the magnificent temples in the country and was a devotee of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. He was very much concerned about the welfare of the people and undertook regular tours of the empire to get first hand information.

According to Domingo Paes, the city of Vijayanagara was as large as Rome, very beautiful and the best provided city in the world. Krishnadeva Raya built a new city near Vijayanagara and named it as Nagalapura after his mother Nagala Devi. He also constructed the Krishnaswamy and Vithalaswamy temples and a number of secular buildings in the imperial capital whose remains are still found at Hampi. The decline of the Vijayanagar Empire began with the death of Krishnadeva Raya in 1529. The kingdom came to an end in 1565.

(The author is a social activist and Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting. He can be contacted on [email protected])

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