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Vijayangara Empire - Brief History


The Empire

Tungabadra at Hampi
The Virupaksha Temple !!!

Founded in the middle of the 14th century in the wake of the invasion of South India by the armies of the Delhi sultans, Vijayanagara became the seat of a line of powerful Hindu emperors. During the next 200 years, they established their authority over a territory that encompassed the diverse populations of southern India, including present-day Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. As the capital grew in wealth, size and splendour, its fame attracted foreign visitors who wrote vivid accounts of the city and empire. The rulers competed with the rajas of Orissa and the sultans of the Deccan kingdoms that lay immediately to the north. In 1565, the Vijayanagara army lost a major battle, and the capital was subsequently abandoned and sacked. The court shifted to southern Andhra Pradesh where the kings ruled over their dwindling domains until the middle of the 17th century.

To know More about Vijayanagara - Click here (Part of Our Indian History Section)

The History Of Hampi

The ruins of Vijayanagara occupy a dramatic rocky site in central Karnataka, through which the Tungabhadra river flows in a northeasterly direction. The oldest historic settlement at this site is Hampi, a Hindu tirtha where the river goddess Pampa and her consort Virupaksha, a form of Shiva, are worshiped. The Virupaksha cult at Hampi has been in existence since the eighth-ninth centuries; it survives down to the present day as the most important pilgrimage spot in this part of southern India.

The devastation of the Deccan and South India by the armies of the Delhi sultan at the turn of the fourteenth century provided opportunities for local warriors to assert their autonomy. Among these were Sangama and his five sons, who were probably local chiefs in the service of Kampila. This local ruler valiantly fought the invaders, but lost his life in 1327. The Sangama brothers established themselves in the Hampi area, donating to the Virupaksha temple there and adding temples on Hemakuta hill immediately to the south. From here, they set out to reclaim the territories lost to the sultanate armies, thereby creating a vast kingdom that extended all the way to Tamilnadu.

In the course of the second half of the fourteenth century, under Bukka I (reigned 1355-77) and Harihara II (reigned 1377-1404), the Hampi tirtha had been incorporated into a walled city, which they named Vijayanagara. The ramparts of the city exploited the defensive advantages of the rocky landscape, while the river protected the city’s northern flank and provided essential water for agriculture and domestic use. At the core of this walled zone was the royal centre, where the Sangama kings had their palaces, private chapels for worship and platforms and halls for their royal ceremonies.

By the beginning of the fifteenth century, under two successive Sangama kings both named Devaraya (1406-22 and 1424-46), the city was further expanded with the construction of additional protective walls and gateways. By this time, Vijayanagara had become a true capital city with a varied population of people from all parts of southern India, including Jains and Muslims. The reputation of Vijayanagara as a mighty capital spread rapidly. Foreign visitors were attracted to the city, and their descriptions of the splendours of the Vijayanagara court provide important evidence of life in the city.

Among the royal structures constructed at this time were the domed Elephant Stables built in a style influenced by the architecture of the Bahmanis. These sultans governed a kingdom that lay to the north of Vijayanagara, at the heart of the Deccan plateau. Frequent raids and wars between the Sangamas and the Bahmanis resulted from their attempts to control of the richly irrigated lands that lay in between their capitals.

Building activity at Vijayanagara was halted temporarily toward the end of the fifteenth century, as a result of two successive military coupes. Stability was restored only at the turn of the sixteenth century by the rulers of the Tuluva dynasty. Under Krishnadevaraya (reigned 1510-29) and his bother-in-law Achyutaraya (reigned 1529-42), the city was greatly expanded. New suburbs with great temple complexes were laid out, including those dedicated to Balakrishna,Tiruvengalanatha (Venkateshvara),Vitthala,Pattabhirama and Anantashayana.

Meanwhile, the Virupaksha cult at Hampi was renovated and expanded, and a new palace was established some 12 kilometres away, at a site coinciding with the modern town of Hospet. Conflict with the Deccan sultans intensified during Tuluva times, leading eventually to the famous battle fought near Talikota, a site some 100 km away from the capital, in January 1565. After the catastrophic defeat of their army, the Vijayanagara king and court fled the capital, leaving it to the mercy of the sultanate soldiers. Judging from the extensive destruction, the city was sacked and wooden structures were burnt. Both sultanate and Vijayanagara officers briefly attempted to reoccupy the remains of the city after its destruction. Soon thereafter, the ruins were left to agriculturalists, treasure seekers and tigers. However, some suburbs, such as Anegondi, continued to be inhabited.