gigatos | January 9, 2022
The Vijayanagara Empire was born on the Deccan plateau in south-central India, which at its peak came to possess the southern third of the subcontinent. In Kannada he is known by ವಿಜಯನಗರ ಸಾಮ್ರಾಜ್ಯ (Vijayanagara Sāmrājya) and in Telugu he is called విజయనగర సామ్రాజ్యము (Vijayanagara Sāmrājyam). Established in 1336 by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I, it existed until 1646, although its decline began after a crushing military defeat against the Deccan sultanates in 1565 from which it never recovered.
The Empire receives the official name given at the time to its capital, Vijayanagara (in English: The City of Victory), whose ruins, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, surround the town now called Hampi in the state of Karnataka. The chronicles of travelers of the time, such as Duarte Barbosa, Niccolò Da Conti or Domingo Paes and Fernão Nunes, who, based on their experiences in India gave rise to the Chronica dos Reis de Bisnaga, and local records provide us with crucial information about its history. Archaeological excavations reveal the power and wealth of this Empire.
The legacy of the Empire includes a large number of monuments scattered throughout southern India, although the most important remains are those of Hampi. The millenary architectural schools of India were combined, creating in Vijayanagara a new style of its own, which would be reflected in the Hindu temples that were erected during the period, first in the Deccan and then in the other regions of the Empire through the use of the materials that were available according to the place. The oldest structures show influences from the Delhi Sultanate. Efficient administration and intense maritime trade provided the Empire with the latest technological advances, such as the use of new irrigation systems. The imperial court encouraged the fine arts, leading to a revival of literature in Kannada, Thamil, Telugu and Sanskrit, while Carnatic music evolved from centuries of static postures to adopt the rules still in use today. The Vijayanagara Empire was a turning point in the history of the subcontinent that transcended regionalisms by promoting Hinduism as a unifying factor.
Several theories circulate regarding the origin of the Vijayanagara Empire: some sources indicate that Harihara I and Bukka Raya I, founders of the Empire, were Telugu nobles of the Seuna dynasty of Devagiri who proclaimed themselves descendants of the Aryan tribe of the Iadus and conquered the northern territories of the decaying Hoysala Empire. Other historians consider them as commanders of the Hoysala army forces stationed in Tungabhadra to prevent a Muslim invasion from the north or as leaders of the Principality of Anegondi, in Karnataka, leading a coalition of small Hindu kingdoms against the Muslim invaders. Beyond their origin, historians agree that the brothers were supported and inspired by Vidyaranya (14th century), a monk of the Sringeri monastery, to prevent the penetration of Muslims in southern India. The study of writings of some medieval travelers passing through India has led to the discovery of ancient population centers of the Empire. Excavations in the ancient territory of Vijayanagara, whose archaeological site is still under study after more than a century, have brought to light a wealth of information about its history, fortifications and technological and architectural development. The Mauyas wanted to continue dealing with people more handicapped than themselves, which is why the information recorded throughout the empire did not allow the fortification of innumerable structures throughout history.
Prior to the emergence of the Empire in the early 14th century, the Hindu kingdoms of the Deccan (the Seuna of Devagiri, the Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal, the Pandya kingdom of Madurai, the Hoysala Empire and the small kingdom of Kampili) were accustomed to periodic Muslim invasions from the north, and throughout the first half of the 14th century they were virtually destroyed after the sacking of their capitals by Alaudin Khilji and Muhammad bin Tughluq, the sultans of Delhi. However, due to the internal instability of the sultanate, the Hindu kingdoms were allowed to keep almost all their territories as long as they paid tribute. After the death of Hoysala king Vira Ballala III in a battle against the nascent Madurai sultanate in 1343, the Hoysala Empire was absorbed by the nascent Vijayanagara Empire, which took over from him. Over the next two decades, Harihara I would gain control of most of the territory south of the Krishna River, earning him the title Purvapaschima Samudradhishavara (lord of the oceans of the East and West).
By 1374, Bukka Raya I, brother and successor of Harihara I at his death, had annexed the territories of the lordship of Arcot, of the Reddy dynasty of Kondavidu, of the sultanate of Madurai and had extended his dominions to Goa, in the west, and to the doab (tongue of land between two rivers) of the Tungabhadra and Krishna rivers to the north. It came to receive tribute from the island of Lanka and to exchange embassies with the Ming dynasty of China. The first capital was located in the Principality of Anegondi, on the north bank of the Tungabhadra River, in what is now Karnataka, and Bukka Raya I moved it to Vijayanagara, south of the river.
With the Empire in his hands, Harihara II, the second son of Bukka Raya I, expanded his lands beyond the Krishna River and consolidated the Empire by dominating all of southern India. The next ruler, Deva Raya I, successfully confronted the Gajapati of Orissa and undertook major fortification and irrigation projects. Deva Raya II (called Gajabetekara) succeeded him in 1424 and was probably the most able of the Sangama dynasty rulers. He quelled a rebellion launched by the nobles of Kollam and kept the zamorin (ruler) of Kozhikode at bay. He invaded the island of Sri Lanka and subdued the kings of Pegu and Tenasserim, in present-day Burma. The Empire went into crisis towards the end of the 15th century until the interventions of the commander and prime minister Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya in 1485 and the general Tuluva Narasa Nayaka in 1491. After twenty years of instability and rebellions, Krishna Deva Raya, son of Tuluva Narasa Nayaka, ascended to the throne.
Over the next few decades, the Empire re-established its control of the Indian peninsula and repulsed invasions from the five Deccan sultanates. The Empire entered a Golden Age, its battles counted as victories. The Empire annexed areas that had historically remained under the control of the northern sultanates, and territories east of the Deccan, including Kalinga, while maintaining its control over its southern vassals. Many great monuments were erected and planned during this era.
Krishna Deva Raya was followed by Achyuta Raya in 1530 and Sadasiva Raya in 1542, although the effective power fell into the hands of Aliya Rama Raya, son-in-law of Krishna Deva Raya, whose relationship with the Deccan sultanates that had allied against him has been the subject of controversy.
The sudden death of Aliya Rama Raya in 1565 in the battle of Talikota against the alliance formed by the Deccan sultanates in what was announced as a clear victory for Vijayanagara, plunged the imperial ranks into chaos. Not only did the Vijayanagara Empire suffer a severe defeat on the battlefield: Hampi, the capital, was occupied, sacked and destroyed. The city was never rebuilt, and its ruins remain intact today. Tirumala Raya, the only surviving commander, left Vijayanagara and marched to Penukonda with 550 elephants laden with wealth.
The Empire gradually went into decline, although commercial relations with Portugal were maintained, and the British Empire was ceded a series of territories where later the city of Madras was erected. Tirumala Deva Raya was succeeded by his son Sriranga I, and upon his death without descendants his younger brother, Venkata II, ascended to the throne, who was forced to move the capital to Chandragiri, although he finally managed to repel the attacks of the Bahmani Sultanate and keep Penukonda. In 1614 he named Sriranga II as his successor, but the decision caused conflicts among the nobility and Sriranga II was assassinated. After a bloody three-year civil war, Ramadeva was proclaimed king until his death in 1632. His successor, Venkata III, moved the capital to Vellore after being surprised by a rebellion led by his nephew in 1638. He died in 1642 under strange circumstances, and his nephew took power as Srinanga III.
Finally, what was left of the Empire was conquered in 1646 by the armies of Bijapur and Golconda. The main vassals of the Empire – the kingdom of Mysore, and the territories of the main Nayakas – declared themselves independent and, although they would never reach the importance of Vijayanagara, they would successfully fulfill the mission of safeguarding Hindu culture. The kingdoms of the Nayakas survived until the 18th century, and the kingdom of Mysore remained an independent principality until India”s Independence, although it was administered by the British Raj after the death of Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu in 1799.
The rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire adopted the administration of the Hoysala, Kakatiya and Pandya kingdoms, although they adopted certain customs of the Delhi Sultanate. The king was the supreme authority, but he was assisted by a council of ministers (pradhana) with a valide or prime minister at the head (mahapradhana). Other government offices important enough to be engraved in stone were the secretary of state (karyakartha or raya-swami) and the imperial officers (adhikari). All ministers and high officials, to qualify for the post, had to demonstrate expertise in military tactics. A secretariat attached to the royal palace employed scribes and other officials who organized the Empire”s bureaucracy; communiqués and laws were signed with wax seals bearing the king”s emblem. At the lowest level were the accountants (karanikas or karnam) and palace guards (kavalu), supervised by the wealthiest feudal landowners (goudas). The palace administration was divided into 72 departments (niyogas) in which a large number of women were employed, chosen for their youth and beauty (some foreign or captured as spoils of war), who had previously been instructed in simple administrative tasks and in service to the nobility, either as courtesans or concubines.
The Empire was divided into five large provinces (rajya or ”kingdoms”), each under the control of a supreme commander (danda-nayaka or danda-natha) and administered by a governor, usually belonging to the royal family, who used local languages to streamline administration. A rajya was divided into regions (visahaya vente or kottam), and these into counties (sime or nadu), which in turn were subdivided into municipalities (kampana or sthala). Noble families administered and inherited their own territories and paid tribute to the emperor, although some places, such as Keladi or Madurai, were under the direct supervision of a commander.
On the battlefield, command was held by royal commanders. Imperial strategy was rarely based on large-scale invasions; the usual technique was to develop small staggered attacks in which forts were attacked and destroyed one by one. The Empire was one of the first Indian kingdoms to employ long-range artillery manned by foreign soldiers (the best of whom were said to have come from what is now Turkmenistan). There were two classes of soldiers: those who made up the Royal Guard, recruited directly by the Empire, and those who formed part of the ranks in the service of individual nobles.
The personal army of King Krishna Deva Raya came to consist of 100,000 soldiers, 20,000 cavalrymen and more than 900 war elephants. This was only a fraction of the army, which is known to have numbered more than two million at some points and a navy, as evidenced by the use of the term navigadaprabhu (supreme admiral). Levies were suffered equally by all social classes, but landowners were also obliged to pay additional tribute. The infantry consisted of archers and musketeers protected with quilted tunics, armor-clad soldiers armed with swords and daggers, and men equipped with shields so large that they needed no additional protection. Horses and elephants were heavily protected by full metal armor, and elephants carried knives strapped to their tusks to cause as much damage as possible.
The capital was completely dependent on an artificial system of water distribution and storage, and therefore the supply of water was guaranteed for a whole year. The remains of this system represent an opportunity for historians to learn about the methods of surface water distribution (rivers and lakes) at that time in a then semi-arid environment. Inscriptions and the accounts of those who visited the region describe how huge storage tanks were erected. Excavations have uncovered the remains of an advanced distribution system that served only the royal quarters and the main temples, suggesting that it was used exclusively by royalty and for the most important ceremonies, with sophisticated channels that used the force of gravity and made use of siphons to transport water through pipes. The only structures that indicate a possible public use of the system are large tanks in which water was stored during the monsoon season and dried up in summer (except in cases where the tank was connected to springs or subway streams). In more fertile regions, near the Tungabhadra River, canals were dug to divert the river to pools. These pools had sluices that opened and closed to distribute the flow of water. In other regions, the administration promoted the creation of wells. The large cisterns in the capital were subsidized with money from the royal coffers, while the smaller containers were paid for by nobles and bourgeois who sought social recognition.
The foundation and expansion of the Empire meant a revitalization of the Indian economy, and its coincidence in time with the arrival of the first European explorers meant an explosion of large-scale commercial activity thanks to a centralized and regulated economic system, and solid commercial relations with Portugal and China. Harihara I ordered the creation of mints in the main cities of the kingdom with the aim of ending the shortage of foreign currency and, in case of need, the government authorized some nobles to issue coins in the name of the king. The official currency of the Empire, made of gold, received the official name of varaha, and was divisible into fractions according to its weight. In addition, for small-scale trade, silver and copper coins such as the tara, kani or jital were put into circulation. The varaha was also popularly known as pon, hon or gadyana. The English called it (and still do today) pagoda, usually with the image of some divinity on the obverse and the reverse uncarved, or with the Emperor”s name in Kannada or Sanskrit.
The empire”s economy depended heavily on agriculture. Grain (jowar), cotton and legumes were planted in the drier regions, while sugar cane, rice and wheat were grown in the rainier areas. Betel leaves (and large-scale cotton production) supplied the country”s booming textile industry. Spices such as pepper, cardamom, turmeric and ginger, which originated in the mountainous Malenadu region of Karnataka, were transported to the cities in sufficient quantities for trade. The capital was a thriving business center with a growing market for gold and precious stones. Prolific temple construction provided stability and employment for architects, sculptors, craftsmen and laborers alike.
Land ownership was important. Most farmers farmed land in the service of a nobleman and in certain cases were granted rights to it. Taxes were calculated according to the production of a product and its impact on other sectors. For example, perfume manufacturers needed certain quantities of rose petals to make a profitable product, so rose cultivation was taxed at a lower rate. A similar system was followed for salt production. The sale of ghee (butter), whether for human consumption or for lamps, was profitable. Trade with China intensified, including cotton, spices, jewelry, semiprecious stones, ivory, rhinoceros horn, ebony, amber and aromatic products such as perfumes. Large Chinese ships would approach, including some under the control of the famous Admiral Zheng He, and dock at any of the more than 300 ports the Empire owned from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, most notably Mangalore, Honavar, Bhatkal, Barkur, Cochin, Cananor, Machilipatnam and Dharmadam.
Once a merchant ship docked at a port, the goods were guarded by the authorities, and all goods sold were charged tariffs. Merchants from different parts of the world (Arabs, Persians, Gujarati, Khorasmians) settled in Calicut, seeking to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this market. The nautical industry also flourished, ships capable of holding several tons were built using the technique of stitching with ropes, instead of fastening the planks one by one with nails. Ships sometimes sailed to ports as far away as Aden or Jeddah, with access to Mecca, for the transport of imperial goods to countries as remote as Venice. The most demanded item abroad was pepper, but also exported in large quantities were ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cherries, tamarind wood, cassia purgative, precious and semi-precious stones, pearls, musk, ambergris, rhubarb plants and seeds, aloe, cotton and porcelain clothing and tablecloths. Cotton fiber was exported to Burma and indigo to Persia for the manufacture of purple dye. From Palestine copper, mercury, vermilion, coral, saffron, velvet, rose water, knives, camel skin garments, gold and silver were imported. Horses were bought from Persia. Silk was brought from China, and from Bengal, sugar. The main trading partner for all imports from the West, however, was Portugal, which from its base in Goa traded with Vijayanagara, supporting them financially in case of war against the Muslim sultanates.
Trade on the east coast reached heights never before seen in the region, with exchanges with Golconda, where rice, millet, legumes and tobacco were produced on a large scale. Crops of dye plants were large enough to supply the country”s entire industry. Machilipatnam, a mineral-rich region, was the source of iron and steel of the highest quality and of greatest interest to foreign traders. Diamond mining was an established industry in the Kollam region. The cotton refining industry produced two types of cloth: calico and muslin. Java and the Far East were the destination for clothing made from colored patterns devised by local weavers and tailors. Golconda specialized in virgin cotton and Paliacate in colored cotton. The foreign products most commonly received by the East Coast were non-ferrous metals, camphor and luxury goods, such as porcelain and silk.
Most of the details we know about the society of the Vijayanagara Empire have come down to us through travelogues written by contemporary visitors, and information from archaeological excavations. The caste system was a social norm of the first order that was observed and enforced to the letter. Each caste was represented in each village by a council of elders. These groups were responsible for the promulgation and maintenance of laws, although they needed a royal decree authorizing them to apply a certain rule. The untouchables were also part of the caste system, and were represented by various leaders (kaivadadavaru).
The Muslim communities had their own representatives in Karnataka. The caste system, however, did not influence the promotion of people who had rendered valuable service to higher positions in the army or the administration. On the other hand, the system did serve to hold Brahmins in high esteem. With the exception of those who chose military careers, Brahmins devoted themselves to spirituality and literature. Their separation from material wealth and power made them the ideal arbiters of local judicial disputes, and the presence of Brahmins in every town and village was organized from aristocratic circles to maintain order. Moreover, the fame achieved by lower caste intellectuals (or Sarvajna, in Kannada) shows the degree of social cohesion and fluidity that the Empire achieved.
Women possibly wore petha or kullavi, a silk turban inlaid with gold. As in practically all Hindu societies, jewelry and luxury ornaments were an accessory worn by both men and women; descriptions have come down to us of the use of anklets, bracelets, bangles, rings, necklaces and earrings of all kinds. At parties, men and women adorned themselves with garlands of flowers and used perfumes of rose water, musk or sandalwood. In contrast to the more humble, the royal family lived surrounded by pomp at court. Queens and princesses had a multitude of servants, and all of them were dressed in the finest fabrics and jewels; and their jobs were, besides being very specific, not very cumbersome.
Physical exercise was a very popular practice among men, and the most popular sport was wrestling, and even female wrestlers are known to exist. Even the existence of female wrestlers is known. The royal palaces in each city had a gymnasium, and in times of peace the commanders and their armies were ordered to train. The royal palaces and markets had specific places for both the nobles and the common people to enjoy championships of cockfighting, rams or women”s wrestling. The excavations in the city of Vijayanagara show us the public life in its day to day by means of engravings in stone, tribunes, ways, and temples, indicating that they were places in which the people were related. Games also appear, some of which are still practiced today, while others have yet to be identified.
During the Vijayanagara Empire, the arts in general flourished. During the most stable periods, large investments were made in infrastructure, long-term architectural projects and the patronage and sponsorship of musicians, writers, poets, sculptors, painters, religious figures and even sportsmen was encouraged. To fulfill the role of Vijayanagara as the main standard of the millenary Hindu culture, the recovery of traditional art was sought, which evolved in a way that is still tangible today.
The architecture of the Empire is a harmonious combination of the Chalukya, Pandya, Hoysala and Chola styles, the predominant ones in the region during the previous centuries. The influence of this union in architecture, sculpture and painting made this new style to remain as the model to follow centuries after the fall of Vijayanagara. The architectural works of reference are undoubtedly the Kalyanamantapa (Wedding Hall), the Vasanthamantapa (Uncovered Corridor) and the Rayagopura or Tower. The architects and sculptors made use of the abundant and resistant granite found in the area in order to better protect the city from the permanent risk of invasion. There are monuments scattered throughout the southern half of India, but there are none comparable to the buildings of Vijayanagara, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
Throughout the 14th century, the monarchs continued to inspire buildings in the vesara style, typical of the Deccan, but also introduced Dravidian gopurams for religious reasons. The Prasanna Virupaksha temple (subway temple) of Bukka Raya I and the Hazare Rama temple of Krishna Deva Raya I are examples of Deccan architecture. The varied and intricate ornamentation of the columns is its hallmark. In Hampi, the Vittala temple (the most prominent example of Kalyanamantapa style columns) and the Hazara Ramaswamy stand out as the most refined construction. A visible aspect of this style is its return to the more serene and simplistic art of the Chalukya dynasty. The construction of the Vittala temple continued for decades under the Tuluva dynasty.
Other outstanding examples of the Vijayanagara style are the great Sasivekalu (mustard) Ganesha and Kadalekalu (peanut) monoliths at Hampi, the Gomateshwara statues at Karkala and Venur, and the Nandi bull at Lepakshi. The transcendence of this style is evidenced by the multitude of temples scattered in cities such as Bhatkal, Kanakagiri, Sringeri, Tadpatri, Lepakshi, Ahobilam, Tirupati and Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh; and Vellore, Kumbanokam, Kanchi and Srirangam in Tamil Nadu. Mural paintings such as the Dasavathara (the ten avatars of Vishnu) and the Shivapurana or Shiva stories, both in the Virupaksha temple at Hampi; and other minor paintings in Jain Basadi temples or in Kamaskshi and Varadaraja, two elevated temples in Kanchi, are also preserved. A recurring aesthetic motif was to carve the pillars with the appearance of horses, as a sign of the importance of the cavalry for the army. This mixture of regional styles brought cultural richness to the peoples through which it spread; it brought an air of renewal to the rigid Hindu styles that had prevailed until then.
An example that demonstrates the cosmopolitanism of the capital is the presence of a large number of buildings with Islamic features. History only analyzes the political confrontation between Vijayanagara and the sultanates of the Deccan, leaving aside the evident trace of collaboration between the two confessions at the civil level. A large number of arches, domes and vaults still survive as evidence of this cultural exchange, as well as remains of pavilions, stables and towers, suggesting that the same rulers encouraged the coexistence of the two religions. It is considered that this influence may have been especially powerful in the early 15th century, coinciding with the reign of Deva Raya I and Deva Raya II, who are known to have had a good number of Muslims in the army and at court, including architects. This harmonious exchange of ideas, however, would have occurred only during the brief periods of peace between the Empire and its Muslim rivals. Some reliefs on the Great Platform (Mahanavami dibba) include figures with typical Central Asian Turkic features, who would have had a place as attendants to the Royal Family.
Kannada, Telugu and Thamil languages were used in their respective areas of influence. A total of over 7000 inscriptions (Shasana) including 300 copper plates (Tamarashasana) have been recovered in Kannada (about half), Telugu, Thamil and Sanskrit. Bilingual inscriptions ceased to be used by the end of the 14th century. The oldest examples depict Hánuman and Garudá (divine eagle), the vehicle of the god Vishnu. The official archaeological research agency of the Indian government has recovered and deciphered inscriptions in Kannada and Telugu.
In the Vijayanagara Empire, poets, intellectuals and philosophers were given the freedom to write in Sanskrit or any local language (Kannada, Telugu and Thamil), covering subjects such as religion, biographies, prabandha (fictional novels), music, poetry, grammar and medicine. Telugu became the literary language par excellence and reached its zenith under the reign of Krishna Deva Raya. Sanskrit works were mostly commentaries on the Vedas, or essays on the Ramayana and Mahabharata, written by famous intellectuals such as Sayana and Vidyaranya, who extolled the superiority of the Advaita doctrine over its rivals.
There were also writers who were followers of the Dvaita faith, monks from Udupi, such as Jayatirtha (deserving of the nickname tika acharya for his polemical writings); Vyasatirtha, writer of refutations of Advaita philosophy and of various classical thinkers such as Gaudapada; and Vadi Raja Tirtha and Sripada Raya, also critical of the beliefs of Adi Shankara, the first great Advaita. In addition to these monks, many other Sanskrit writers populated the royal court and the palaces of the nobles. Many kings were also literati, such as King Krishna Deva Raya, author of the great classic Jambavati Kalyana, a poetic drama.
The Kannada writers and poets of the time also wrote extensive works on the bhakti movement and the haridasas, Brahmin literature and works on the Lingayati. The haridasas also composed religious songs (devaranama), with ragale metrics.The teachers and inspirers of the literary movement were Madhvacharya and Vyasatirtha. Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa are considered the first among many dasas (devotees) for their extensive and important contribution.Kumara Vyasa, the most prominent Brahmin scholar, wrote the Gudugina Bharata, a translation of the Mahabharata. This work represents a turning point between ancient and modern Kannada. Chamarasa was a renowned virashaiva, intellectual and poet, who held public discussions on philosophy and religion with the Vaisnava sages of the court of Deva Raya II. His Prabhulinga Lile, later translated into Telugu and Thamil, is in praise of the 12th century mystic Allama Prabhu, whom he considered to be the reincarnation of the god Ganapati.
At this peak moment for Telugu literature came the Manu Charitamu, the most important prabhanda (commentary). Krishna Deva Raya – an expert connoisseur of the language – wrote the famous Amuktamalyada, and the eight astadiggajas, the most important writers of the language, gathered under his court.
Worthy of note among them are Allasani Peddana (called andhra-kavita-pita-maha, ”great father of the Telugu language”), the most prestigious author, and Tenali Ramakrishna, court jester and author of the Panduranga Mahatyam, the masterpiece of Telugu literature. Srinatha, author of Marutratcharitamu and Salivahana Sapta Sati, protégé of King Deva Raya II, and possessing a status as important as that of any minister, also belongs to this period.
Although most of the literature written in Thamil during this period was created in the areas under the control of the Pandya vassal kings, the Vijayanagara kings also paid attention to their poets. Svarupananda Desikar wrote an anthology of 2824 verses, Sivaprakasap-perundirattu, on advaita philosophy. His pupil, the ascetic Tattuvarayar, authored another shorter anthology, Kurundirattu, with about half as many verses. Krishna Deva Raya protected and subsidized the Tamil poet Haridasa, whose Irusamaya Vilakkam is an exposition of the two great Hindu currents, Vaishnavism and Shivaism, with a predilection for the former.
Literature was also a field of political and religious intrigue, as kings acted as patrons of Vaishnava or Shiva writers depending on their affiliation and the social sectors they needed at any given time.
Other prominent authors and works on musical and medicinal knowledge were Vidyaranya (author of the Rati Ratna Pradipika), Sayana (author of the Sudhanidhi Ayurveda) and Lakshmana Pandita (author of the Vaidyarajavallabham).
Music was an important part of Vijayanagara society, as it was directly linked to the Hindu religious tradition. Traditional Carnatic music, typical of southern India, dates back to the time of the Vedas, but it is thanks to the Bhakti movement, which took place at this time, that it was renewed and reached previously unseen heights of profusion and quality.
The depositaries of the musical tradition as an extension of religion were the Brahmins and some noble families of ancient lineage. The spaces in which it was commonly practiced were the mandirs or temples, and the languages in which it was sung were Sanskrit or Telugu.
The first of the great composers of Carnatic music developed during the Empire was Annamacharya (1408-1503), master composer of the Tirumala temple, whose prolific work includes more than 32,000 poems and even a sung form of the Ramayana. Today he is considered by some admirers to be a reincarnation of Vishnu.
However, the true father of Carnatic music was Purandara Dasa (1484-1564). His birth and formation coincided in time with the ascension to the throne of Krishna Deva Raya. Until then, Carnatic music consisted of religious songs of a few verses in length. Purandaradasa, on the other hand, elaborated his compositions from the experiences of the common people. He synthesized and fused the basic musical schemes, creating new ways of making music. All the great composers of Carnatic music since then have worked according to the rules that Purandaradasa established.
Although the self-proclaimed destiny of the Empire was to preserve Hindu dharma from the Muslim enemy, the kings were tolerant of all religions and sects practiced in their territory. The kings used titles such as Go brahmana prati palana acharya (”protector of cows, Brahmins and people”) or hindu raya suratrana (”defender of the Hindu faith”), which enhanced their intention to protect Hinduism.
The founders Harihara I and Bukka Raya I themselves were self-confessed Shivaites, but they promoted Vaishnavism in places like Shringeri through their patriarch, Vidyaranya, and made the varaha (the boar, symbol of Vishnu) their emblem. Other kings, such as the Saluvas and Tuluvas, were Vaisnavas, but they prostrated themselves equally before Virupaksha (representation of Shiva) at Hampi and before Venkateshwara (Vishnu) at Tirupati. A Sanskrit work, the Jambavati Kalyanam, written by Krishna Deva Raya, calls Virupaksha Karnata rajya raksha mani (Protecting Jewel of the Karnata Empire or of Karnataka, another name by which the Empire was known at the time). Moreover, when successive kings visited Udupi, they worshipped the dvaita order (doctrine of ”duality”) founded there in the 13th century by Madhua Acharia.
The bhakti (devotional) movement permeated the lives of millions of people. Like the virashaiva movement of the 12th century, great haridasas or monks came out of seclusion and spread the age-old Hindu traditions among the common people. There were two types of haridasas: the vyasakuta, knowers of the Vedas, the Upanishads” the Puranas and the other scriptures, and the dasakuta, disseminators of Madhvacharya”s message through devotional songs (devara namas and kīrtanas) in Kannada.
The dwaita doctrine was transmitted by such eminent disciples as Naraharitirtha, Jayatirtha, Vyasatirtha, Sripadaraya, Vadirajatirtha, among others. Vyasatirtha, guru of Vadirajatirtha; Purandara Dasa, the father of Carnatic music; and Kanakadasa aroused the admiration of Krishna Deva Raya. The king even honored Purandara Dasa by considering him a kuladevata (family deity), and honoring him in his writings. It was at that time that, in the city of Tirupati, the musician Annamacharya composed hundreds of Kīrtanas in Telugu.
Jainism was in clear decline in the subcontinent after the destruction of the Western Ganga dynasty by the Chola in the 11th century and the growing popularity of Vaishnavism and the Lingayati. Even so, two large pockets of believers remained active in the Empire at Shravanabelagola and Kambadahalli.
The first contact of the peninsula with Islam occurred in the 7th century, as a result of trade exchanges between the southern kingdoms and some Arab peoples. The first mosques in the area were built within the Rashtrakuta Empire before the year 1000, and the Muslim faith was already firmly established along the Malabar coast in the first third of the 14th century. Many Muslim immigrants married Hindu women; their children were called mappillas or moplahs. The beginning of the Vijayanagara Empire”s relations with the northern Bahmani Sultanate increased the Muslim presence in the south.
On the other hand, the oldest Christian influence has been registered at the beginning of the VIII century. Tamarashasana (copper plates) have been found with inscriptions giving land to a number of Christian Malabar peasants. Jordan recorded the scarcity of Christians in South India during the Middle Ages, and invited the sending of missionaries. Trade relations with the Portuguese Empire from the 15th century onwards, the missionary activity of St. Francis Xavier, and the later influence of the Dutch Empire in the area fostered the presence of the Christian imaginary among the native population.