Vijayanagara Empire: The Guardian Angel of Kerala

published on May 29, 2010

Prof. C I Issac

The Empire is known after the name of its capital city, Vijayanagaram. The city of Vijayanagaram was found in order to commemorate [Madhava] Vidhyarnya’s cause for the revitalization of Hindutva forces of the Dakshin [Deccan]. It was the first largest South India based Hindu regime and the empire spread widely over the Dakshin Plateau of India. It came into being on 18th of April 1336 with the coronation of Harihara I in front of the sanctum sanctorum of the Viroopaksha Temple of Hampi in the presence of his brother Bukka Raya I. Thus Hampi became the seat of a new city and Hindu political power. Jawaharlal Nehru remarks that “After Timur’s sack of Delhi, ………… South India was better off and the largest and most powerful of the southern kingdoms was Vijayanagar”. [Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India, p 235]
The empire exactly lasted for 310 years, the longest in the history of India. But its glory began to fade after the major military defeat in the 1565 Battle of Talikotta.  By ignoring the differences amongst the sultans of Deccan they united against most secular and progressive Hindu empire, Vijayanagara, on the ground of their religion. The outcome was the defeat of the Empire in the battle of Talikotta. Hindus were massacred with great ferocity by Muslims. The wrath of Muslim conspiracy not ended in the victory of the battle alone but it ravaged the entire territory of the empire. “The plunder was so great that every private man in the allied army became rich in gold, jewels, arms, horses, and slaves, the kings permitting every person to retain what he acquired reserving the elephants only for their own use”. Robert Sewell writes, “With fire and sword, with crowbars and axes they carried on day after day their work of destruction”. [Robert Sewell, A Forgotten Empire]. Its capital Hampi was set ablaze and the city burned for months and the victorious Muslim fundamentalism not even spared Hindu women and children.

Most of the present day historical narrations on Vijayanagara are chiefly concentrating merely on the rivalries with Bhamini. In the same way they attempt to hide the ugly face of political Islam. All are in search of economic reason for the Talikota Battle and knowingly bypasses the intolerance of Islam. They deliberately ignore the Empire’s role as the defenders of Hindu life from the proselytism designs of Islam and Christianity and the inherent Hindu habit of recognition to all faiths and societies. Jawaharlal Nehru quotes Domingo Paes, a Portuguese traveller: “Of the ruler, Krishna Deva Raya, is the most feared and perfect king that could possibly be, cheerful of disposition and very merry; he is one that seeks to honour foreigners, and receives them kindly, asking all their affairs whatever their condition may be” [Discovery of India, p 235].

 Medieval Kerala had much indebted to Vijayanagaram.

It has an umbilical connection with Vijayanagara Empire. The ideological base of the Empire, Madhava-Sayana factor, had adhered from the scholastic line of Sree Sankara of Kerala. Madhavacharya’s disciples still continuing to lineup as Sankaracharyas of Sringeri Mut which was founded by Sree Sankara once again cementing Kerala’s age-old reciprocal relation with Vijayanagram. In the cultural scenario, particularly of its Carnatic Music tradition, Kerala is much indebted to Vijayanagaram and its hero King Krishnadevaraya. Purandra Dasa, the father of Carnatic music, not only received the patronage of King Krishnadevaraya but also worshiped as the Kuladevata [household divinity] of the dynasty and honoured him in his writings. Now the Carnatic Music became part and parcel of socio-cultural entity of Kerala. The King Swati Thirunnal of nineteenth century Kerala acquired a lot from the musical tradition of Purandra Dasa and exalted the Carnatic Music and through it Kerala also. No doubt, it is the sign of a time honoured cultural tie-up between Kerala and the rest Hindu life. Still Kerala keeps this musical tradition dynamic and vibrant.

Another cultural impact of the political nexus of Vijayanagar with a Kerala kingdom, Kolathiri, is still persisting in the Theyyam songs of Northern Kerala. It is said that the characters appearing in Theyyam, the ritualistic folk dance of Northern Kerala, represent those who had helped king Kolathiri in his fight against the attack of the Vijayanagar Empire.
Most parts of the medieval Kerala were under the direct rule of Vjayanagar.

Muslim rulers of Madurai were driven out by a Hindu confederation headed by the chiefs of Vijayanagar and Kerala was absorbed in the Vijayanagar Empire until its destruction by Mahommedans 1565.
[V. A. Smith, Early History of India, Ch XVI].  In the 14th century, the administration of Kolathiri kingdom of Northern Kerala was vested with the Ikkeri Naikans by Vijayaanagar. They continued to be the rulers till the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire in 16th century.

During the sixteenth century Hindu society subjected to the ordeal of European Christian Inquisition under the stewardship of Padre Francis Xavier. Several of its temples were set to ablaze. [A. Sreedharamenon, A Survey of Kerala History, pp 228, 229]. Thus A. Sreedharamenon, an authority of Kerala history, says; “The Portuguese were indulging in atrocities such as large scale massacres of civilian population and destruction of temples and mosques and this created a feeling of revulsion in the minds of the common people” [A Survey of Kerala History, p 231]. Vijayanagar sent its forces under the command of Ramaraya Vithala for the rescue of the Hindus society of the extreme south.“The famous Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier, was carrying on missionary activities in Nanjanad during this period. The Venad king is said to have given him all facilities to carry out his evangelism mission. A notable clash of arms took place between Venad and Vijayanagar during this period. The real motive behind the Vijayanagar was to prevent the large scale conversion of the Paravas on the Fishery Coast to Christianity”. [A. Sreedharamenon, p 238].

Vijayanagara rushed its forces in order to protect Hinduism in the extreme south. One could not find any fault with this action of Vijayanagar. They never intended it as the part of their imperial expansion. Their object was to secure Hindu life in the tiny principality of Venad in Kerala. Not only to the south but the Empire revivified as the custodian of Hindu life all over India. Jawaharlal Nehru writes, “South India was better off [during the Timur’s Invasion] and the largest and most powerful of the southern kingdoms was Vijayanagar. This state and the city attracted many of the Hindu refugees from the north” [Discovery of India, p 235]. Vijayanagara army after restoring a secured life to the Hindus of Kerala and had begun the construction of a Gopuram [tower] to the famous Suchindram temple. [A. Sreedharamenon, p 238]. Beyond doubt once again Vijayanagara Empire had proved its commitment to Hindu life through this action.

Kerala as politico-social entity never be in the periphery but in the core of all Hindu movements since the days of the historic battle of Kurukshetra. It had a remarkable share in the long line of rishis and sages of India, up till now. Arya Bhatta, Sankara Narayana, Sree Sankara, Naryana Guru, etc are some prominent figures of this line. There are historical reasons behind this link of Kerala with Hindu revival movement of Sree Krishna Deva Raya and Vijayanagar.   

After Talikota, the memories of the Empire remained in the minds of thousands but historians of the subsequent period deliberately avoided it from their purview. The writings of medieval travelers such as Abdur-Razzak, Nicolo Conti, Domingo Paes, Fernao Nuniz and the literature in local vernaculars provide crucial information about its history. Above all the archaeological excavations at Vijayanagara have revealed the extent and depth of the empire’s power and wealth. The unfading memories survived in the Hindu social psyche of the subsequent generations gave way to the birth of several patriots. In the opinion of K. A. Nilkanta Sastri, the catastrophic end of Vijayanagar is not the end of the Hindu spirit of nationalism. [A History of South India, p337]. Venkita II, the last ruler of the Aravidu dynasty reigned Vijayanagara until 1614. In 1612 another Hindu kingdom rose to prominence in South India was Mysore, under Raja Oedyar. No doubt, it is sufficient testimony to the idea of an uninterrupted survival of the nationhood feeling among the Hindu social psyche. Similarly powerful Hindu dynasties such as Travancore, Cochin, Madurai, etc were continued over the South India. The coronation of Chatrapti Sivaji in 1674 was, no doubt, an appendix to the great saga of the Vijayanagara experience.

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