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Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


General editor GORDON JOHNSON 

Director, Centre of South Asian Studies, University of 
Cambridge, and Fellow of Selwyn College 

Associate editors C. A. BAYLY 

Smuts Reader in Commonwealth Studies, University of 
Cambridge, and Fellow of St Catharine’s College 


Professor of History, Duke University 

Although the original Cambridge History of India, published between 1922 
and 1937, did much to formulate a chronology for Indian history and de- 
scribe the administrative structures of government in India, it has inevitably 
been overtaken by the mass of new research published over the last fifty 

Designed to take full account of recent scholarship and changing conceptions 
of South Asia’s historical development, The New Cambridge History of India 
will be published as a series of short, self-contained volumes, each dealing with 
a separate theme and written by a single person. Within an overall four-part 
structure, thirty-one complementary volumes in uniform format will be 
published during the next five years. As before, each will conclude with a 
substantial bibliographical essay designed to lead non-specialists further into 
the literature. 

The four parts planned are as follows: 

I The Mughals and their Contemporaries. 
II Indian States and the Transition to Colonialism. 
III The Indian Empire and the Beginnings of Modern Society. 
IV The Evolution of Contemporary South Asia. 

A list of individual titles in preparation will be found at the end of the volume. 

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© Cambridge University Press 1989 

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception 
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, 
no reproduction of any part may take place without 
the written permission of Cambridge University Press. 

First published 1989 
First paperback edition 2005 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress cataloguing in publication data 

The new Cambridge history of India/ 
general editor Gordon Johnson. 
associate editors C. A. Bayly and John F. Richards. 
p. cm. 
Previous published: The Cambridge history of India 
Bibliography: pt. 1, v. 2. 
Includes index. 
Contents: pt. 1, v. 2. Vijjayanagara/Burton Stein 
ISBN 0 521 26693 9 (pt. 1, v. 2) hardback 
1. India — History. 
|. Johnson, Gordon. I. Bayly, C. A. (Christopher Alan) 
III. Richards, J. F. TV. Cambridge history of India. 
DS436.N47_ 1989 
954 — de 19 89-690 CIP 

ISBN 0 521 26693 9 hardback 
ISBN 0 521 61925 4 paperback 

Frontispiece: An image of Hanuman in front of 
the gateway of the Hazara Rama temple. 

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Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

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List of illustrations page viii 
General editor’s preface ix 
Preface xi 
Maps XII-X1V 
1 Introduction I 
2 The medieval past: continuity and disjunction 13 
3 The city and the kingdom 31 
4 Politicaleconomy and society: thesixteenthcentury 72 
5 Imperial collapse and aftermath: 1542-1700 109 
6 Conclusion 140 
Bibliographical essay 147 
Index 153 

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wa" f— te NO | 





Between pages so and 51 

Elephant stables 

Courtyard of the Virupaksha temple 

Octagonal fountain 

Large step-well 

A view of the towered gateway (gopuram) of the 
Virupaksha temple 

Eastern towered gateway (gopuram) of the 
Virupaksha temple 

Scenes from the Krishna legend in the Hazara 
Rama temple 

The Pattabhirama temple seen through the Chinna 
Hudiam emple 


The southern peninsula, c. 1400-1500 page xii 
The city and its zones XIV 

Frontispiece and plates 6-8 by courtesy of George Michell. 
Plates 1-5 by courtesy of John Gollings. 

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The New Cambridge History of India covers the period from the 
beginning of the sixteenth century. In some respects it marks a 
radical change in the style of Cambridge Histories, but in others the 
editors feel that they are working firmly within an established 
academic tradition. 

During the summer of 1896, F. W. Maitland and Lord Acton 
between them evolved the idea for a comprehensive modern history. 
By the end of the year the Syndics of the University Press had 
committed themselves to the Cambridge Modern History, and Lord 
Acton had been put in charge of it. It was hoped that publication 
would begin in 1899 and be completed by 1904, but the first volume 
in fact came out in 1902 and the last in 1910, with additional volumes 
of tables and maps in 1911 and 1912. 

The History was a great success, and it was followed by a whole 
series of distinctive Cambridge Histories covering English Litera- 
ture, the Ancient World, India, British Foreign Policy, Economic 
History, Medieval History, the British Empire, Africa, China and 
Latin America; and even now other new series are being prepared. 
Indeed, the various Histories have given the Press notable strength 
in the publication of general reference books in the arts and social 

What had made the Cambridge Histories so distinctive is that 
they have never been simply dictionaries or encyclopedias. The 
Histories have, in H. A. L. Fisher’s words, always been ‘written by 
an army of specialists concentrating the latest results of special 
study’. Yet as Acton agreed with the Syndics in 1896, they have not 
been mere compilations of existing material but original works. 
Undoubtedly many of the Histories are uneven in quality, some 
have become out of date very rapidly, but their virtue has been that 
they have consistently done more than simply record an existing 
state of knowledge: they have tended to focus interest on research 
and they have provided a massive stimulus to further work. This has 
made their publication doubly worthwhile and has distinguished 
them intellectually from other sorts of reference book. The editors 


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of the New Cambridge History of India have acknowledged this in 
their work. 

The original Cambridge History of India was published betweeen 
1922 and 1937. It was planned in six volumes, but of these, volume 2 
dealing with the period between the first century a. D. and the 
Muslim invasion of India never appeared. Some of the material is 
still of value, but in many respects it is now out of date. The last fifty 
years have seen a great deal of new research on India, and a striking 
feature of recent work has been to cast doubt on the validity of the 
quite arbitrary chronological and categorical way in which history 
has been conventionally divided. 

The editors decided that it would not be academically desirable to 
prepare a new History of India using the traditional format. The 
selective nature of research on Indian history over the past half- 
century would doom such a project from the start and the whole of 
Indian history could not be covered in an even or comprehensive 
manner. They concluded that the best scheme would be to have a 
History divided into four overlapping chronological volumes, each 
containing about eight short books on individual themes or subjects. 
Although in extent the work will therefore be equivalent to a dozen 
massive tomes of the traditional sort, in form the New Cambridge 
History of India will appear as a shelf full of separate but com- 
plementary parts. Accordingly, the main divisions are between 
I. The Mughals and their Contemporaries, Il. Indian States and the 
Transition to Colonialism, Ul. The Indian Empire and the Begin- 
nings of Modern Society, and IV. The Evolution of Contemporary 
South Asia. 

Just as the books within these volumes are complementary so too 
do they intersect with each other, both thematically and chrono- 
logically. As the books appear they are intended to give a view of the 
subject as it now stands and to act as a stimulus to further research. 
We do not expect the New Cambridge History of India to be the last 
work on the subject but an essential voice in the continuing 
discourse about it. 

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The Vijayanagara kingdom ruled a substantial part of the southern 
peninsula of India for three centuries, beginning in the middle of the 
fourteenth, and during this epoch this Indian society was trans- 
formed from its medieval past toward its modern, colonial future. 
At the same time that its kings, or ‘Rayas’, were peninsular 
overlords and their capital, ‘the City of Victory’, or Vijayanagara, 
was the symbol of vast power and wealth, lordships of all sorts 
became more powerful than ever before. This resulted from the 
martialisation of its politics, and the transfiguring of older economic 
and social institutions by the forces of urbanisation, commerciali- 
sation and monetisation. These changes were gradual and only 
dimly perceived during the time of its first dynasts, who were 
content to be conquerors whose digvijaya, or righteous conquests, 
in Tamil country left the ancient royal houses of the Cholas and 
Pandyas in their sovereign places, except that they were reduced by 
their homage to the Karnatak kings of Vijayanagara. 

At the zenith of their power and authority during the early 
sixteenth century, Vijayanagara kings were among the greatest 
historical rulers of India. They had reduced to subjugation numer- 
ous royal and chiefly lineages that they did not uproot and had 
humiliated the several Muslim sultanate regimes of Deccan. Yet, 
even then, the sovereignty of the Rayas remained what kingship had 
long been, that is, ritual, so that, beyond the heartland of their 
kingdom, where their hegemony and resource commanded were 
formidable, they were content with the homage and occasional 
tribute of distant lords. Moreover, they forbore, if they did not 
actually foster, the creation by their nominal agents of a whole set of 
compact and clonal kingdoms — denominated as ‘nayaka kingdoms’ 
~ whose competition later helped to destroy the kingdom. For the 
series of which it is part, this volume seeks to sketch — it can do little 
more ~ the broad development of society in South India from its 
medieval foundation to its late, pre-colonial, incipiently modern, 
era. Because of the temporal scope of The New Cambridge History 
of India, this analysis is most schematic for the early times of the 


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kingdom, hence several controversial, and the continually debated 
historiographical, issues are barely touched upon; these include the 
actual founding of the kingdom around 1340 and its ideological 
character then and later. Oriented as this book is toward later 
developments, with which other volumes of the series will be 
concerned, detailed and systematic treatment of the kingdom begins 
in the late fifteenth century and carries through the late sixteenth 
century. By that time, the kingdom was in crisis, unable to recover 
its early é/an and overtaken by a whole set of new conditions. Yet, 
the idea and the structure of the Vijayanagara kingdom lived on in 
the smaller regimes spawned by the kingdom. These regimes and 
their little kingly rulers came to deny ever larger parts of the 
peninsula to the successors of its great sixteenth-century kings. 

The Vijayanagara era was one in which I see a new form of polity, 
but one with important links to earlier polities in being segmentary 
in character and one in which kings continued to be essentially ritual 
figures rather than, like contemporaries in western Europe, auto- 
crats ruling bureaucratised, absolutist regimes. But it is less in its 
political forms than in others, I believe, that the kingdom attains its 
primary historical importance. For this we must look elsewhere: to 
the massive architectural style that permeated all of the southern 
peninsula in the building and rebuilding of its temples and to the 
first, permanent, non-religious, or civil, buildings, including royal 
palaces; to the expansion of agrarian institutions as well as its new 
towns and its commerce over the whole of the peninsula; and to the 
proliferation of whole structures of local rights, or entailments, by 
all sorts of social groups who constitute the society over which the 
first of the colonial institutions came to be imposed, beginning in the 
late eighteenth century. 

Inevitably, a work of this synthetic nature bears a large debt to the 
scholarship of others of which only some can be acknowledged in 
the text or the appended bibliographical note. 


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2 The city and its zones 

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The kingdom or ‘empire’ of Vijayanagara takes its name,‘City of 
Victory’, from its capital on the Tungabhadra River, near the centre 
of the sub-continent. Its rulers over three centuries claimed a 
universal sovereignty — ‘to rule the vast world under a single 
umbrella’ — and they also, more modestly, referred to themselves as 
the rulers of Karnata, modern Karnataka. This seemingly humble 
reduction of the scope of their suzerainty from the world to a small 
portion of the Indian sub-continent is somewhat deceptive. Vijaya- 
nagara kings seemed to have had the sense that the kingdom 
established in the fourteenth century revived an earlier universal 
sovereignty in Karnataka, that of the Chalukyas of Badami (ancient 
Vatapi in Bijapur district of modern Karnataka). Vijayanagara 
kings adopted the emblem of the Chalukyas, the boar, or varaha, 
and perhaps quite consciously modelled their capital on the Chalu- 
kyan capitals of Vatapi and Aihole of the sixth to eighth centuries, 
though Vijayanagara in 1500 was a great fortified place covering 10 
square miles, dwarfing the Chalukyan cities. Even so, the first 
temples which they built in the city were somewhat enlarged 
replicas of those found at Chalukyan capitals. 

Also as with the Chalukyas, there were several distinct lineages, 
or dynasties, of Vijayanagara rulers. The first of these was some- 
times called Yadavas, but was more often known as Sangamas, for 
the chief whose sons established the kingdom around 1340. 
Descendants of one of the sons of Sangama, who ruled as Bukka I 
(reign, 1344-77), expanded the city and realm until the late fifteenth 
century when a second, or Saluva, ruling line was established briefly 
by a Vijayanagara generalissimo, Saluva Narasimha. In 1505, a third 
dynasty came into being called Tuluvas, suggesting that they came 
from the coastal part of Karnataka called Tulu. Under their four 
decades of rule, the realm reached its greatest extent and its rulers 
their greatest power. The last Vijayanagara dynasty, of the Aravidu 
family, assumed authority in 1542; it was named for another 
generalissimo, Aravidi Bukka, whose sons founded a line of rulers; 
members of this family held diminished imperial authority until the 


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late seventeenth century when, as a result of repeated invasions from 
Muslim states to the North and civil wars within, Vijayanagara 
authority was fragmented among a set of smaller, independent 
regional domains tracing their ruling credentials from the kingdom. 

Among Indian kingdoms, a rule of three centuries is very long, 
and this together with the large territory over which Vijayanagara 
kings reigned makes it one of the great states in Indian history. The 
realm can be defined by the provenance of royal inscriptions over 
some 140,000 square miles, about the same area as the Madras 
Presidency in 1900, when the first histories of Vijayanagara 


However, a century before, when the presidency was taking the 
shape that it was to have until 1947, two partial accounts of 
Vijayanagara were presented to the English-speaking world, the 
first by Mark Wilks in 1810 and the second by Colonel Colin 
Mackenzie in 1815. It was to be another century before Vijayana- 
gara history was taken up again, by Robert Sewell, in 1900. 

Wilks’s work was prepared while he was the political agent 
(‘resident’) for the East India Company at the court of the rajas of 
Mysore, after the Wodeyar rajas had been reinstalled in 1799 on a 
throne seized some forty years before by Haidar Ali Khan. The 
basis of Wilks’s reconstruction was an eighteenth-century Kannada 
language work, written on a cotton scroll, by a Brahman savant 
known as Pootia Pundit. Colin Mackenzie, a military surveyor 
turned antiquarian, collected this and other accounts as well as 
making copies of numerous inscriptions from all over Madras and 
Mysore. He was aided by a set of learned Indians who copied and 
translated temple inscriptions and ‘traditional histories’ around 
1800, which became the first sources of the reconstruction of early 
Indian history; they also collected artifacts that became exhibits in 
the first museums in India. 

Mackenzie only once offered an interpretation of these sources; 
this was in an address he delivered to the Asiatic Society of Bengal 
on 5 April 1815, though not published in the journal of the Society 
until 1844. However, the direct participation of Indians in the 


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Mackenzie collections makes their writings of historical accounts of 
Vijayanagar among the first in which Indians presented something 
of their own history. 

Sewell, like his two English predecessors, was an official, and as a 
member of the Madras civil service he was charged with collecting 
information about the south Indian past and with publishing works 
On inscriptions and antiquarian remains in the Madras Presidency. 
This task he carried out, like Wilks and Mackenzie before him, with 
the help of Indians, whose knowledge of Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, 
Kannada, and Malayalam — the historical and modern languages of 
the southern peninsula — was essential and whose experience with 
Sewell prepared some of them to carry out independent researches 
which were published during the early years of the twentieth 
century. All of this continued investigations begun a century before 
under Mackenzie and with the same purpose. 

These Britons at opposite ends of the nineteenth century sought 
to devise an historical past not for the sake of pure knowing, but for 
the purpose of controlling a subject people whose past was to be so 
constructed as to make British rule a necessity as well as a virtue. 

This intention is exemplified in the only popular work published 
by Sewell in 1900, Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar). Here, an outline 
of the genealogical and chronological evidence on the dynasties of 
Vijayanagara was briefly presented, followed by two long and 
historically configuring translations of the accounts of two six- 
teenth-century Portuguese visitors to the city. These Portuguese 
merchant adventurers knew no Indian languages well enough to 
correct their visual impressions through understandings obtained 
from verbal or written views of Indians. Vijayanagara kings of the 
sixteenth century were presented as oriental despots whose auth- 
ority consisted partly of sacred power founded upon, or regenerated 
by, royal sacrifices and partly on feudal relations between them and 
great territorial lords (‘captains’). Finally, to these was added the 
orientalist notion of the fabulous riches of Asia which was sup- 
ported by the splendours of the city itself, its vastness, its 
monumentality, and the wealth of its citizens. 

Chronicles of the sixteenth-century Portuguese visitors have 
become important fixtures in the historiography of Vijayanagara, 
and rightly, because these were not mere inventions. The royal 


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ceremonies they described have since been authenticated by enact- 
ments in numerous royal courts in South India as well as by texts 
pertaining to them that were being brought into European know- 
ledge in Sewell’s time. Moreover, the vivid descriptions of the city 
have since been verified by archaeological research that has been 
carried out at Hampi, the site of Vijayanagara, by contemporary 
scholars from India and Europe, as well as by photography of the 
site that goes back to 1856. 

Still, the orientalising intention of men like Sewell cannot be set 
aside. Though much of the epigraphical and textual analyses of 
Sewell and other European founders of pre-modern history in South 
India was done by Indians such as S.M. Natesa Sastri, H. Krishna 
Sastri, and S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, it was a European intentio- 
nality that prevailed. Harsh oriental despotisms and factious local 
magnates were seen to have led to the dominion of Muslims in the 
North of India and they threatened the South as well. Despite the 
peril to Hindu institutions posed by Muslim powers in peninsular 
India after the fourteenth century, Indians, in this view, could not 
overcome the flaws in their political institutions. This task awaited 
the British; what even the great Mughals failed to achieve in India, 
the British would to create order and progress over the entire 

Such views were bound to change as Indians seized control of 
their history. The earliest and most influential successor to Sewell 
was S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. After completing his post-graduate 
degree in 1897 and teaching in a Bangalore college for a decade, he 
initiated the chair in Indian History and Archaeology established at 
the University of Madras in 1914. He saw Sewell’s last works on the 
inscriptions and historical chronology of South India through 
publication, on the Englishman’s recommendation, and by the 
mid-1920s Krishnaswami Aiyangar had published extensively on 
topics in Vijayanagara history. 

He departed in two important ways from the historiography 
inherited from Sewell and other Europeans. One was his emphasis 
on Hindu—Muslim conflict as being the cause and principal shaper 
of the Vijayanagara kingdom and the claim that resistance to Islam 
was the great vindication of Vijayanagara. This view is evident in his 
first major historical publication, Ancient India (1911), which was 


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based on his MA thesis of 1898; in later work, especially in his South 
India and her Muhammadan Invaders (1921), the view about 
Hindu—Muslim conflict is fully worked out. There he spoke of how 
the last ruler of the Hoysala kingdom of Karnataka, Vira Ballala III, 
‘made a patriotic effort to dislodge the Muhammadans from the 
South ... fell in the effort, and brought his dynasty to an end in 
carrying on this great national war of the Hindus’ and of how 
Vijayanagara succeeded to this ‘patriotic national’ mission. 

This early orientation to Hindu—Muslim conflict had another 
important manifestation. This was a perception, held by him from 
1897, that the patriotic mission of Vijayanagara was passed directly 
to the next great defenders of Hindu dharma, the Maratha kingdom 
of Sivaji. An historical connection with Vijayanagara was claimed 
through Shahji, Shivaji’s father who had served his Bijapur sultanate 
masters for many years in Bangalore, the heart of the waning 
Vijayanagara kingdom in the seventeenth century. 

Vijayanagara historiography also changed because of Krishnas- 
wami Aiyangar’s insistence that literary evidence of that period 
should have as much standing in the interpretations of historians as 
epigraphy and archaeology. From the very beginning, his writing on 
Vijayanagara followed this methodology. Poems of praise (kavya) 
and genealogical accounts of great families (vamsavali) in Sanskrit 
and other languages marked a return to the sources that Wilks and 
Mackenzie considered the most important; this shifted the focus of 
the previous generation of historians. Sewell and others had concen- 
trated upon the royal families of Vijayanagara in their great capital 
and had relied on Portuguese chronicles and Muslim accounts such 
as that of Muhammad Kasim Firishtah which had been translated in 
1910. Krishnaswami Aiyangar turned to the study of the numerous 
magnates in Karnataka and elsewhere in the ‘empire’, but his 
historical reconstructions, while based on literary sources, were 
always attentive to evidence from inscriptions. He insisted that the 
latter could only provide the ‘barebones’ of historical study, literary 
sources must do the rest. This approach was passed to his own 
students at the University of Madras until his retirement in 1929. 

By that time, and thanks to Krishnaswami Aiyangar, the field of 
Vijayanagara history was well established, though it was beginning 
to reflect new emphases and concerns of that time. Among the more 


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important was the rise of regional nationalism in parts of the large 
Madras Presidency, especially among Kannada and Telugu 
speakers. The important works of two young historians of the 1930s 
manifest this: B. A. Saletore writing on Karnataka history and 
N. Venkataramanayya writing on Andhra. They adopted Krishnas- 
wami Aiyangar’s reliance upon literary evidence, but differed from 
him in that they looked at Vijayanagara history from the core of the 
kingdom, in the border region between Kannada-speaking Karna- 
taka and Telugu-speaking Andhra, rather than from either Tamil 
country or the perspective of the peninsula as a whole. 

For Saletore, the Vijayanagara kingdom of the fourteenth century 
was created by the release of ‘the latent energy of the Hindu Dharma 
in southern India’ by Muslim conquest and humiliation. This view 
had already been given prominence by Krishnaswami Aiyangar in 
Madras, as well as by the Reverend Henry Heras teaching in 
Bombay, whose student Saletore had been. But Saletore went 
further with this argument. He made Vijayanagara an expression of 
Karnataka nationalism. Thus, in the founding of the new kingdom 
by the five sons of the chief Sangama 

did Karnataka vindicate to the rest of the Hindu world her honour 
by sending forth a little band of five brothers ... Karnataka by 
birth and Karnataka in valour, as the champions of all that was 
worth preserving in Hindu religion and culture.! 

Saletore also insisted that ‘ancient constitutional usage’ in Karnataka 
(purvada mariyade) was maintained by rulers of the new kingdom 
even to the extent that by doing so the seeds of the kingdom’s 
destruction were sown. Here, again, Saletore was indebted to 
predecessors like Krishna Sastri and Krishnaswami Aiyangar who 
had said that the ultimate defeat of Vijayanagara resulted from the 
failure of its rulers to strengthen central administrative control by 
diminishing the ancient authority of village and locality institutions 
and their leaders ranging from village headmen to ‘feudatory 

Even as Saletore was completing his University of London 
doctoral thesis in 1931, from which the above quotations come, 

1B. A. Saletore, Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire (Madras: 
B. G. Paul, 1934), vol. 1, p. 39. 

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Venkataramanayya was preparing a monograph denying the Kar- 
nataka-centred views of Saletore and Heras. 

Two of his monographs appeared in 1933 and 1935 challenging 
both Karnatak historians. These works presented the counter- 
interpretation that the Sangama brothers who founded Vijayanagara 
were not Kannada speakers (or Kannadigas) but were Telugus from 
the Andhra coast of the Bay of Bengal and that the boar emblem that 
was thought to connect Viyjayanagara with the ancient Karnatak 
kingdom of the Chalukyas of nearly a thousand years before was 
really borrowed from the Telugu Kakatiya kingdom of the four- 
teenth century. He also argued that two of the foundational 
institutions of the Vijayanagara state were introduced by the Telugu 
conquerors of Karnataka on the model of the Kakatiyas; these were 
the distinctive form of military land tenure called the nayankara 
system and the distinctive form of paid village servants called the 
ayagar system. 

By 1940, the historiography on Vijayanagara had passed through 
three stages. European orientalists, using earlier Indian accounts and 
with the help of Indian subordinates, opened the field by having 
identified its major literary and inscriptional sources and its broad 
chronology. This largely technical phase lost its orientalist colour- 
ing and assumed another ideological overlay during the intermediate 
custodianship of scholars like Krishnaswami Aiyangar and Heras 
who, in their somewhat different ways, imbued Vijayanagara histo- 
riography with an anti-Muslim and broad nationalistic bias. From 
them, and with their benedictions, Vijayanagara history passed into 
a third phase when scholars like Saletore and Venkataramanayya 
saw in that history a basis for the narrower nationalism or regional 
patriotisms of Karnataka and Andhra. 

New scholars were slowly being recruited; one was T. V. Mahal- 
ingam. Encouraged by K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, who succeeded 
Krishnaswami Aiyangar in the history chair at the University of 
Madras, Mahalingam undertook work on administrative and 
economic aspects of Vijayanagara history. This followed some of 
the pioneering work of Krishnaswami Aiyangar on Vijayanagara, 
but more especially Nilakanta Sastri?s own work on the Tamil 
Chola dynasty of the ninth to thirteenth centuries in which adminis- 
trative history was accorded new saliency. Mahalingam and others 


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added to the rich, detailed, and diverse historiography on Vijayana- 
gara that had emerged by the 1940s; they explored the rise and fall of 
numerous chiefly families everywhere, their alliances and their 
oppositions to the Vijayanagara imperial order as well as the 
conquests of its kings, or rayas,? and their occasional humiliations. 
But none had yet surpassed the breadth of vision of Krishnaswami 
Aiyangar during the early years of the twentieth century. 

In 1919, he had inaugurated the University of Madras historical 
series with the publication of Sources of Vijayanagar History. The 
latter work consisted of one hundred texts and translations from 
inscriptions and literary works, including chronicles on various 
Vijayanagara kings and great families of the age. The historical series 
was ably continued under Nilakanta Sastri as professor of Indian 
history and archaeology from 1929 to 1947; it became the vehicle for 
major publications on Vijayanagara during the 1930s and 1940s, and 
all reflected the imprimatur of its distinguished editor. 

The impact of Nilakanta Sastri upon Vijayanagara history was 
profound, though he published no monographic research in the 
field. He had taken up one of the strands of Krishnaswami 
Aiyangar’s wider-ranging scholarship — that on Chola administra- 
tive history — and made it the focus of his major work on the Chola 
kingdom. Nilakanta Sastri’s scepticism about historical sources 
other than inscriptional ones made some of his writings different 
from that of Krishnaswami Aiyangar and from that of some of his 
own students at Madras. Venkataramanayya and Mahalingam, for 
example, depended heavily on literary sources; both used the local 
traditions collected by Colin Mackenzie during the early nineteenth 
century where it was maintained at the Oriental Manuscripts 
Library of the University of Madras; both also used poetical works 
as well as Muslim and Portuguese chronicles. In that, they and their 
younger colleagues seemed to be defying Nilakanta Sastri’s efforts 
to construct a history of pre-modern South India free from the 
quirkiness of Indian literary evidence that had drawn the disdain of 
European historians from Macaulay in the 1830s onward. To 
Nilakanta Sastri, the way to a historiography that Europeans could 
admire was through reliance upon the relatively chaste, datable, and 
locatable epigraphical records, of which tens of thousands had been 

2 The Sanskrit ‘raja’ and its derivative ‘raya’ mean ‘king’. 


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collected in South India, and by casting interpretations of these 
fragmentary data in a universal frame that showed medieval South 
Indian administrative institutions to be of the same quality as 
European ones. This ambition was partially manifested in the 
delineation by Venkataramanayya and Mahalingam of so-called 
‘central’, ‘provincial’, and ‘local government’ administrative levels 
in Vijayanagara times, though they managed no better than their 
teacher to resolve contradictions posed by these variously perceived 

Nilakanta Sastri’s major contributions to Viyayanagara history 
were of another sort. One was his sponsorship of a three-volume 
Further Sources of Vijayanagara History in 1946, edited jointly with 
Venkataramanayya; another was his long, synthetic chapters on 
Vijayanagara in his A History of South India, first published in 1955. 

Further Sources followed the pattern of Krishnaswami Aiyangar’s 
collection of sources in 1919; it was justified on the grounds that 
‘Hindu literary sources’ corrected the bias of Muslim chronicles and 
‘foreign’ accounts. This justified the use of the ‘Mackenzie Manu- 
scripts’. The first volume of Further Sources consisted of a 369-page 
introduction to the document by Venkataramanayya and consti- 
tuted one of the few general histories of Vijayanagara since the early 
works of Sewell and Krishnaswami Aiyangar; the pioneering schol- 
arship of the latter received little notice from Venkataramanayya 
except for minor corrections. Still, this ‘introduction’ harked back 
to Krishnaswami Alyangar’s political understandings in two ways. 
One was in seeing Vijayanagara history as a heroic struggle to 
protect dharma from Islam — ‘the last glorious chapter of the 
independent Hindu India of the South’; the other was in seeing the 
polity of Vijayanagara to be about relations among great warrior 
families, rather than about conventional, centralized administration. 
In the latter view, Venkataramanayya implicitly repudiated Nila- 
kanta Sastri’s conception of the medieval south Indian state, in 
particular, the latter’s interpretation of Chola history as having 
precociously anticipated the modern centralised, bureaucratic state. 
Such a Chola model still lurked in the characterisation of the 
Vijayanagara political system of Nilakanta Sastri’s History of South 
India, but different conditions were seen to have made for different 
political arrangements. Hence, Nilakanta Sastri took Vijayanagara 


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as a centralised, ‘hereditary monarchy’, which was prevented from 
achieving full central authority because of the constant threat from 
Muslim states and the ‘intransigence of [its] feudatories’. Both 
external and internal threats to Vijayanagara produced ‘the nearest 
approach to a war-state ever made by a Hindu kingdom’. And 
though central authority failed to be realised, autonomous local 
Tamil institutions, which Nilakanta Sastri admired, were fatally 
weakened, having ‘suffered abridgment as their officials came to be 
linked more and more closely with the central government’. 

Nilakanta Sastri’s efforts in the 1950s to make Vijayanagara out to 
be a centralised empire has influenced subsequent writing on in two 
ways, both negative. One was in A. Krishnaswami Pillai’s The 
Tamil Country under Vijayanagara (1964). The politics of the 
kingdom are seen by him as ‘feudal’ everywhere in the southern 
peninsula, but especially in Tamil country on which his work 
concentrated. His was an attempt to provide a positive foundation 
for the Vijayanagara state, something better than Nilakanta Sastri’s, 
which rested weakly on a conception of flawed centralism. 
However, Krishnaswami Pillai’s appliqué of feudalism is unpersua- 
sive and diminishes a monograph otherwise rich in detailed analysis, 
whose main thrust recalls the earlier works of Krishnaswami 
Aiyangar and Venkataramanayya. A second negative reaction to 
Nilakanta Sastri’s treatment of Vijayanagara came from the present 
author in his Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India of 
1980. The latter work on Chola history was concerned to present an 
alternative to the centralised political conception of Nilakanta 
Sastri. Accordingly, the idea of a ‘segmentary state’ was proposed as 
appropriate for the Cholas as well as for Vijayanagara. 

In broad terms, that argument of several years ago is still 
considered valid, and it informs the present historiographical dis- 
cussion and the rest of this study of late Vijayanagara. There are 
differences between my 1980 formulation and the present study that 
should be noted here. One certainly is an acknowledgement of 
criticism of some aspects of the argument in the Vuayanagara 
sections of Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India 
prompting certain corrections. Another is the incorporation here of 
the work that has been achieved in several different international 
collaborations on Vijayanagara in recent years: the impressive joint 


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studies conducted by Japanese and Indian scholars on the pre- 
modern economy of South India; the work that has been done by 
archaeologists, architectural historians and others at Hampi, the site 
of the Vyayanagara capital of old; and the recent and continuing 
studies by Indian and other scholars of Telugu and Tamil literature 
of the Vijayanagara era. All of these contribute to the present work 
as well as leading back to the place of S. Krishnaswami Atyangar in 
the whole historiographical enterprise on Vijayanagara. 

Nilakanta Sastri made the centre of his interpretive analysis the 
onslaught of Islam. The military consequences of this led to what he 
called the ‘war state’ of Vijayanagara. However, such militarisation 
would surely have come with the Europeans in the sixteenth century 
as indeed it did in the form of guns, mercenaries, and war horses 
then. The effects, too, would have been the same in disrupting the 
system of medieval political relations. Disruption of older forms 
became an irreversible transformation when to the changes in the 
levels of force came changes in levels of the economy, especially 
commercial developments. The combined impact upon peninsular 
India from two massive forces operating in Eurasia — the expanding 
Islamic ‘gunpowder empires’ of the Middle East and Mughals of 
India as well as the sixteenth-century expansion of Europe — 
generated transforming forces of such military and commercial 
significance as to render the old regime of medieval South India 
impossible to sustain. The demand for Indian spices and textiles 
inevitably grew and with that the massive import of bullion, a 
conjuncture that could not but alter ancient peninsular forms. 
Krishnaswami Aiyangar’s openness about the evolving structure of 
society and politics in the peninsula gives his work of the early 
twentieth century a remarkable freshness, especially for its readiness 
to be aware of some of the new forces at work. Thus, in his 
treatment of the complex relations among the rulers of the Deccan 
sultanates and the numerous regimes of great warrior families 
throughout the South, his writings suffered less of the conventional 
regrets about the fissiparous forces that weakened Vijayanagara in 
its sacred, dharmic mission. He also eschewed the centrist bias of 
many later Vijayanagara historians that saw Hindu opponents of a 
Vijayanagara peninsular hegemony as anti-nationalist. In these, he 
exhibited a greater detachment from the presentistic preoccupations 


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of his time than many of his contemporaries and successors. We are 
therefore now permitted to see in his work possibilities for under- 
standing that were unfortunately closed off in the work of many that 
came after him. 


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If the interpretative lead of S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar and some 
historians of Maharashtra is followed, then Vijayanagara was the 
precursor of and the precedent for the Maratha state of the seven- 
teenth century. Yet, Vijayanagara was also a medieval south Indian 
kingdom, one of about fifty royal houses whose inscriptions and 
whose sovereign claims extended over more than one of the 
linguistic, or cultural, regions of the peninsula from the time of the 
Chalukyas of Badami. Some sixty Vijayanagara rulers issued royal 
inscriptions claiming universal authority throughout the peninsula 
south of the Krishna River. In addition, there exist royal inscrip- 
tions of another twenty ruling families who acknowledged the 
overlordship of Vijayanagara kings, and another forty or so 
independent ruling families left inscriptions asserting sovereignty 
over some peninsular territory in the Viyjayanagara age. 

This multiplicity of sovereignties is very likely an underestimate, 
and it poses one set of confusions. Another arises from the fact that 
kings of Vijayanagara were of four distinct ruling lineages; they 
differed in language and provenance, in their religious affiliations 
and even in where their capitals were after the catastrophic sack of 
Vijayanagara in 1565. A beginning point in ordering that history is 
the founding of the fortified city on the Tungabhadra around 1340; a 
possibly earlier beginning point may well be the onset of the 
incursions of soldiers serving the Khalji sultans of Delhi, which 
allegedly created the reasons and conditions for the new dynasty 
and city of Vijayanagara. 


Krishnaswami Aiyangar postulated that the ordering principle of 
Vijayanagara history was to be a bastion against Islam, and he 
delineated the process generated by that principle. His South India 
and her Muhammadan Invaders outlined two separate histories 


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whose trajectories joined conjuncturally in the founding of Vijaya- 
nagara. One traced the fragmentation of the Chola political order 
during the thirteenth century, the other the Khalji and Tughlak 
invasions of the South during the fourteenth century. 

By the beginning of the reign of Rajaraja IT] early in the thirteenth 
century, Chola sovereignty had shrunk to a small portion of what 
his namesake and real founder of the ‘imperial’ Cholas held at the 
time of his death in 1016. The old core area of the kingdom — 
Cholamandalam — was no longer under Rajaraja IIT’s control. North 
of the Kaveri, power had passed to several families of landed 
magnates. One claiming descent from the ancient Pallavas ruled a 
territory from the Kaveri to the Pennar River, near modern Madras; 
to the north of that was another chiefdom claiming descent from the 
Cholas themselves and ruling the delta of the Krishna and Godavari 
Rivers; while yet another line of rulers, the Kakatiyas, claimed 
hegemony over most of interior Telugu country. South of the 
shrunken Chola core area was a revived Pandya kingship. All of 
these rulers were rightly perceived by Krishnaswami Aiyangar as 
contending authors of a new political integration in the South; and 
in addition he referred to a large number of ‘chieftains’ from whom 
little could be expected except political disorder as each sought to 
expand against his neighbours. To this epoch of political reordering, 
and drawn by it, came a new and vigorous Karnatak kingship, the 
Hoysalas. Its fourth ruler, Vira Narasimha (reign 1220-38), estab- 
lished himself in the heart of Chola-Pandya country, at a place called 
Kannanur near the Kaveri. 

The prospect of victory by any of the principal actors in this 
competition was thwarted by divisions within each of them; brother 
fought brother among Pandyans (Sundara versus Vira Pandya) and 
Cholas (Rajaraja III versus Rajendra III), and the two princely 
brothers of the Hoysala Somesvara (reign 1233-67) divided Hoysala 
authority between themselves, Ramanatha in Kannanur and Tamil 
country and Narasimha III in Karnataka with his capital at Dvarasa- 
mudram, 200 miles away. Another aspect of diversity arose from 
differences in form among the three major kingdoms of the southern 
peninsula: Hoysalas in Karnataka, Kakatiyas in Andhra, and the 
Chola and Pandya kingdoms of Tamil country. These differences 
can be regarded as no more than tendencies now because they have 


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been little noted by South Indian historians, most of whom attribute 
a sameness to all Indian monarchies purporting to derive from 
ancient normative texts on government. However, changed con- 
ditions can be discerned, and these shaped the Viyayanagara 
kingdom of the fourteenth century and later. 

Two factors are important: the resource bases of each of the three 
regional kingdoms and the geopolitical context in which each had to 
govern. The cores of the Hoysala and Kakatiya kingdoms lay 
respectively in the modern Hassan and Mandya districts of Karna- 
taka and in Warangal district of Andhra. The resource bases of both 
can be assessed from conditions reported. in the late eighteenth 
century and later. Both were in zones of low rainfall, receiving about 
30 inches per year upon which crop production, and thus royal 
revenues, hazardously depended; in both realms the proportion of 
high agriculture based on irrigation was small, about one-fifth of 
sown acres in Hoysala domains and one-eighth in Kakatiya; in both 
also the ratio of cultivated to non-cultivated lands was relatively 
low, less than half. On agricultural grounds, thus, the central areas 
of both northern kingdoms were modest as compared with the 
Pandyas and Cholas. 

The core territories of the latter nested within rich riverine basins 
providing extended zones of irrigated cultivation and thus more 
dense populations than could be sustained in the dry northern 
kingdoms. A territory like Tirunelveli, part of the Pandyan 
kingdom, was able to export grain, cotton, cotton cloth, and 
bullocks to the Malabar coast; the trade was balanced by the 
importation of money, coconuts, and fish into the principal core of 
Pandyan authority in the Vaigai basin at Madurai during the 
fourteenth century, according to the recent research of David 
Ludden. Even more, the Cholas were beneficiaries of extended 
exchange relations that reached to Malaysia, based on grain surpluses 
from the Kaveri. Thus, both Pandya and Chola kings could realise 
substantial revenue from agriculture as well as from trade that was 
available to neither Hoysalas nor Kakatiyas from within their 
domains. The central domains of the Pandyas and Cholas were 
treated as properties from which the ruling families of both 
extracted regular payments in kind and money. 

Lacking such resources, the northern kingdoms undertook, on 


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the one hand, to establish and nurture trade centres which could 
exploit the slender commodity potentials of their domain and, on 
the other hand, to seize control of more established trade centres on 
their respective coasts. For them, conquest was an essential means of 
increasing the meagre resources they could command to meet the 
costs of warfare that this age entailed. An important indication of 
these differences in the scale and character of resources available and 
the strategies for their realisation to the respective kingdoms was the 
siting of their capitals. 

The Hoysala capital until the late fourteenth century was Dvara- 
samudram, established in the hill-bounded area of modern Halebid 
in Hassan district by an eleventh-century Hoysala chief. Originally 
hill chiefs from the 5,o00-foot highlands fifty miles west of Halebid, 
the Hoysalas moved from their hill fastness on to the neighbouring 
plains and replaced the fading overlordship of the Chalukyas of 
Kalyani. Their gradually expanding domain was protected by the 
fortified capital of Dvarasamudram set into the rock hills that 
extended from the northern highlands such as to effect a defensible 
frontier against the Chalukyas. Dvarasamudram was over twenty- 
five miles from the major area of agricultural production and 
settlement of the kingdom, on the Hemavati River, and forty-two 
miles north of the Kaveri, which formed the boundary with 
Gangavadi and its ancient Ganga kings to the south. Like the latter, 
the early Hoysalas were Jainas, and their capital became an impor- 
tant centre of Jainism (as was Talkad, the Ganga capital) until 
Hoysala Vishnuvardhana (reign 1110-52) converted to Vaishna- 
vism, drove the Jainas from his capital, and built the distinctive 
temples to be seen at Halebid and Belur. By then too, the Hoysalas 
had become a dominant military power, adding to their realm by 
conquests that during the thirteenth century carried their authority 
to where the Kaveri delta began, between the centres of Chola and 
Pandya power in the south. There the second Hoysala capital 
Kannanur was established in the uplands over the gateway to the 
Kaveri delta where it resembled the capitals of other masters of river 
valleys more than it did Dvarasamudram and thus reflected the now 
divided character of the Hoysala kingdom. 

The Kakatiya’s Warangal was a twelfth-century capital as well. It 
was sited in a countryside even less prepossessing than Dvarasamu- 


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dram and chosen for defence amongst great rocky outcrops and 
stony ridges. A great fortress was constructed there within whose 
walls there was extensive cultivation of dry crops. Irrigated culti- 
vation was carried out at nearby Anamkonda, an earlier and less 
defensible capital and Jaina centre, where two large irrigation tanks 
existed. The Kakatiya captial, like the Hoysala one, was on a 
defensive frontier, whereas those of the Pandyas and Cholas were 
sited in the centre of the most valuable production for the most 
efficient management of their relatively greater resources. 

The geopolitical context of the two northern kingdoms offers yet 
other explanations. The hill chieftains who established the Hoysala 
kingdom developed their military credentials during the twelfth 
century as paid soldiers under the older Karnataka kingdoms of the 
Kalyana Chalukyas and the Gangas. The centre of their new 
kingdom on the edge of the Karnataka plain had previously had no 
major political identity, being an area between two ancient terri- 
tories — Banavasi and Nolambavadi in the north and Gangavadi in 
the south, the ancient Ganga kingdom. During the long reign of the 
Kalyana Chalukyan king, Vikramaditya (reign 1076-1126), the 
Hoysala chiefs began to be mentioned in inscriptions as subord- 
inates who conquered the Ganga country and fought valiantly 
against the Cholas and other enemies of Vikramaditya. The Kaka- 
tiyas also set up their authority in an interstitial political zone and 
they, too, were involved with the Chalukyas of Kalyani. Kakatiya 
chiefs served under Chalukya Somesvara I when the latter cam- 
paigned in northern Andhra and attacked Kanchivaram and other 
places in northern Tamil country. By the late twelfth century, 
Kakatiya chiefs were issuing inscriptions of their own boasting of 
how they routed the Chalukya king Tailapa III (reign 1149-63). 
Both of the new kingdoms strove to establish their power along the 
rich trading coasts on opposite sides of the peninsula. The Kakatiyas 
extending their control from Telangana to the rich deltaic lands and 
ports of the Krishna-Godavarai delta; the Hoysalas, during the 
reign of Vishnuvardhana, seized the western coast from the Konkan, 
around Goa, south to Malabar. Both royal houses also expanded 
northward from their core territories, thereby setting a collision 
course with the southward expanding forces of the Delhi sultans 
during the fourteenth century. 


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The encounter with Muslim power from Delhi is perhaps the most 
important political fact of the period, as Krishnaswami Aiyangar 
and others have insisted. In the far south, Madurai was seized and 
brought under the Khalji sultanate in 1310, after their intervention 
in a civil war was sought by one of two warring Pandyan princes; 
Pandyan internecine fighting had already encouraged other inter- 
ventions which weakened its authority, notably the invasion of the 
Travancore raja Ravivarman Kulasekhara. Further north, the 
Hoysala king, Vira Ballala III, was defeated and killed by Muslim 
soldiers of the breakway sultanate established at Madurai after he 
had reunited the kingdom previously divided between Tamil 
country and Karnataka by his father and uncle; later in 1329, 
soldiers of the Delhi sultan, Muhammad bin Tughlak, crushed the 
Kampili successors of the Hoysalas in Karnataka. Thus, within a 
remarkably brief period in the fourteenth century, all older centres 
of authority in the peninsula were obliterated by Muslim horsemen, 
leaving a vacuum that was to be filled by the able fighters who 
established Vijayanagara on the grave of the Kampili kingdom. 
This was on the frontier where Muslim power at last took root in 
the middle of the peninsula, finding a permanent territorial base 
after fifty years of plundering. Between the short-lived Kampili 
kingdom and Vijayanagara were many links. Kampili was a mere 
twenty miles from where Vijayanagara was later established. The 
founder of Kampili, one Mummadi Singa, was, like the five sons of 
Sangama, a warrior in search of a territory to rule. In the case of 
Mummadi Singa, though, he was clearly a warrior from the hill 
country (malnad) of Karnataka, whereas the origin of the Vijayana- 
gara founders remains uncertain. When the raja in whose service he 
was, Ramadevaraya of Devagiri, fell before the Muslims, Mummadi 
Singa fled south to the Tungabhadra where he established a strong 
fortress at Anegondi, in the same rocky outcrops along the Tungab- 
hadra that shortly afterwards attracted the founders of Vijayanagara. 
From here, until his death in 1324, he won territories and followers 
from as far south as the Rayadurga, fifty miles away, and also 
imposed his authority over Raichur, north of the Tungabhadra, and 
even took Badami, seventy miles from his capital. His successor 


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Kampiladevaraya consolidated these conquests with the administra- 
tive assistance of Bukka, the son of Sangama, and with the military 
help of Bukka’s four brothers who took service under Kampiladeva- 
raya in campaigns into Telangana against the Kakatiyas. When the 
Delhi horsemen fell upon and killed Kampiladevaraya in 1327 it was 
ostensibly because the latter had chivalrously given shelter to one of 
the commanders of Muhammad bin Tughlak who quit the sultan’s 
service. Raichur thereupon came under Muslim rule and remained 
the most serious issue of contention between the two states that 
succeeded to rule this portion of the central peninsula, Vijayanagara 
and the Bahmani sultans. 


Bukka and Harihara and the three other Sangama brothers in the 
service of Kampiladevaraya escaped from Anegondi when it was 
taken by Muhammad bin Tughlak’s soldiers. Most historians of Kar- 
nataka claim that the brothers then took service under the Hoysala 
king Vira Ballala IfI. When the latter’s capital of Dvarasamudram 
was in its turn sacked in 1327, Vira Ballala moved his court to Tiru- 
vannamalai in northern Tamil country. At the same time, it is again 
supposed, Ballala established the fortified city on the Tungbhadra 
River across from Anegondi that was to become Vijayanagara. 
Among its several names then, the city was called Virupakshapattana 
(the town under the protection of Siva as the god Virupaksha whose 
shrine was there); this was intended to hold off further Muslim incur- 
sions into southern Karnataka. Bukka and Harihara were appointed 
to govern the new city according to these historians. 

N. Venkataramanayya advanced a different possibility from 
documents of the seventeenth century purporting to prove that 
Harihara and Bukka had held important posts under Kakatiya 
Prataparudra, not Hoysala Vira Ballala. According to traditions he 
assembled, when Tughlak forces finally reduced the great fort at 
Warangal, the five sons of Sangama (Bukka, Harihara, Kampana, 
Mudappa, and Marappa) were made prisoners. They later converted 
to Islam and were employed by the sultan to govern the newly 
conquered Kampili territories. These persistent traditions plus 
others that refer to their later apostasy from Islam under the 


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guidance of the famous savant and religious leader Madhavacharya, 
or Vidyaranya, and their establishment of a Hindu kingdom com- 
prise the central mythical core of the origin of Vijayanagara. 

Other elements of these origin accounts stress the incessant 
warfare among the numerous Hindu kingdoms of the peninsula 
which opened that territory to Muslim conquest. Ambitious war- 
riors assumed royal titles and strove for dominance over kinsmen 
and neighbours; mobile warriors like the sons of Sangama roved the 
peninsula in quest of a territory to rule. All of this also forms part of 
the legend of Vijayanagara’s foundation, and it applies as well to the 
ordinary political processes of later medieval South India. To view 
this disruption and competition as some sort of inter-imperial 
political chaos — as the disorder that followed the fall of older 
regimes such as Hoysalas and Kakatiyas or the Cholas and an 
anticipation of the new imperial order under Vijayanagara — posits a 
false telos. Fundamentally, the founding of Vijayanagara around 
1340 occurred within and in response to a set of political processes 
that existed through much of the medieval era. 

One factor, however, must be considered new — the fiercely 
expansive Muslim power of the fourteenth century. But even that is 
subject to the important qualification introduced by Krishnaswami 
Aiyangar, who was among the first to give Islam its critical place in 
Vijayanagara history. This was that Muslims had been part of South 
Indian society for a long time before Vijayanagara was founded. 
Muslim traders and even fighters were known on the Malabar coast 
from the tenth century. Arabs and other Muslims formed parts of 
the cosmopolitan trading communities found scattered along the 
whole western coast of India, and their presence along the eastern 
coast was recorded not much after the tenth century. Moreover, as 
early as the 1140s there are references to Muslim fighers employed 
by Hindu kings, such as the Hoysala king Jagademalla. These 
soldiers had no apparent connection with the Turkic warriors from 
Delhi who began their incursions into the South in the early 
fourteenth century. 

The latter constituted a destructive element in the south for about 
half a century by amplifying an existing set of fissiparous forces 
within South Indian politics, though Turkic Muslims did not create 
the pervasive disorder of the age. 


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That was perhaps more the consequence of other processes, of 
which one was a shift of dominance in peninsular politics from the 
old riverine core kingdoms of the earlier medieval age to the large 
zone of upland, dry zone. Vijayanagara was to prove the grand 
apotheosis of this latter type of dominance. 

Here, mixed rural economies of peasants, herdsmen, and forest 
people were the consequence of an age-long process of movement of 
an agricultural frontier from the ancient riverine cores to the 
watershed regions of the peninsula. In these areas of sparse rainfall, 
hardy peasant groups, prevented by insufficient water from achiev- 
ing high levels of multi-crop production, were compelled to pursue 
plundering expeditions with fighting skills honed by turbulent 
relations with herdsmen and forest people. The Reddis and Velamas 
of Andhra and Vanniyars of Tamil country exemplify such warlike 
peasantries. Herdsmen, for their part, combined animal husbandry 
with dangerous long-distance trading, which was only possible 
using bullocks, and with plunder if trade was not possible. Finally, 
there were the hill and forest people who combined shifting 
cultivation with hunting and with raids upon peasants and 
herdsmen; their fighting skills were valued and purchased in the way 
that the founding chiefly family of the Hoysala kingdom, among 
others, have recounted of their forebears in their own genealogical 

The opening of the extensive dry zone of the central peninsula — 
homelands of Hoysalas, Kakatiyas, and, later, Vijayanagara — was 
critically dependent upon tank irrigation. This was an agrarian 
technology whose antiquity reached back a millennium to Pallava 
and Chalukyan times and involved the bunding of low-lying lands 
to serve as catchments of rainfall and streams. 

With the thirteenth-century Hoysalas and Kakatiyas, the ingre- 
dients for a more warlike age were at hand for peninsular societies. 
The superior cavalry and archery of Muslim fighters intensified this 
emerging martial quality, gave it an edge that doomed the older, 
more prosperous areas of agriculture and settlement in the river 
valleys to political subordination and plunder. 


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The early forays by the Khalji generalissimo Malik Kafur 
between 1290 and 1320 were probably more significant for 
northern India than for the South because the treasure from these 
plundering campaigns bought Delhi for Ala-ud-Din Khalji. 
However, Muhammad bin Tughlak’s bold decision in 1328 to move 
his capital from Delhi to Devagiri brought Muslim power more 
dangerously close. Devagiri was the former capital of the Yadava 
kings of Maharashtra, (renamed Daulatabad): Muslim occupation 
there heralded a change in the conditions of Islamic power in the 
peninsula. Predation yielded to permanent domain, and Muslim 
influences upon a whole range of matters, including military ones, 
became more profound. 


Contemporary documents confirm the impression among southern 
peoples that the Muslim horsemen from the North introduced a 
superior mode of cavalry warfare that both intensified military 
engagements and made them costlier. The ease with which small 
cavalry forces of sultanate soldiers brushed aside opponents points 
to the decisive edge in tactics and possibly in their élan as pro- 
fessional soldiers. Ala-ud-Din’s first assault upon the peninsular 
kingdoms during the 1290s was at the head of 8,000 horsemen who 
crossed the Mahado Hills from around Gwalior to Devagiri, a dis- 
tance of 400 miles, to win a treasure that helped to secure the Delhi 
throne for him. To succeed against such new foes required Hindu 
kings to imitate them: more and better horsemen and stronger for- 
tresses. During the Tughlak era in the South, Hindu kings were 
compelled to have a core of soldiers in their permanent employ in 
order to field forces with more technical abilities than Hindu 
armies were required to have in the past. To cope with the large and 
mobile cavalry forces of the sultans, a Hindu ruler had to have 
similar force even if for longer campaigns he had to depend upon 
the levies of local chiefs. The provision of cavalry mounts, the 
expense of their maintenance and that of the fighters who used 
them was a heavy, new financial charge upon Hindu rulers. War 
elephants were another, and the latter became among the most 
valuable prizes of warfare and a reason for Hindu kings to have 


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control of, or good relations with, forest chiefdoms where elephants 
were captured and trained for work or fighting. 

Other evidence refers to the growing number of fighters seeking 
military employment in the peninsula, among them Sangama and his 
sons. The reported standing of Bukka and Harihara derived from 
their prowess as soldiers. Military careers offered ever wider 
choices of employers, and these increased for any fighter who con- 
verted to Islam. While being a Muslim did not confer equality with 
the great Turkic commanders, it did nevertheless open great careers. 
An example was the Khalji commander Malik Kafur, a Gujarati 
convert to Islam, who held the view that Muslim soldiers serving 
Hindu kings whom he captured should not be killed because they 
could at least repeat the credo. Thus, being a Muslim did confer 
standing for any man in a society becoming more urban under 
Muslim pressures. 

When Muhammad bin Tughlak decided to establish his capital in 
Maharashtra, he ordered Delhi citizens to trek the 500 miles to it. 
This notorious act is but an extreme manifestation of the urban- 
centredness of all Muslim regimes in India. Accordingly, it has 
proved pointless to attempt to analyse the administrative control of 
the southern countryside under the Tughlaks, because there was no 
such control. Great commanders were granted igta holdings nomi- 
nally assignments of land revenue for their maintenance, by the 
sultan, but such grants never became reliable sources of income 
either to a sultan or to his assignees during the fourteenth century, if 
they ever did. When Muslim power struck roots in the peninsula, it 
was in cities, even if, as in the case of Muhammad bin Tughlak, these 
had to be ‘imported’ from elsewhere. Cities provided military secur- 
ity and commercial wealth and became the nodes of Muslim power 
and settlement; where the mosque was established the moral centre 
of society existed and being a Muslim meant superior standing. 


Under the changing conditions of the fourteenth century — a more 
professionalised military that offered great careers to Muslim 
soldiers and hastened urbanisation — an ancient Indian conception of 


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polity came under threat. This was the idea underpinning the 
segmentary political forms of the Chola age and earlier that assumed 
that political authority was shared between great kings and local, 
landed lordships — the idea of dayada. That this conception was not 
wholly displaced, any more than the segmentary forms with which 
it was associated, is clear from the seventeenth-century Marathi 
treatise on polity by Banahatti, Ajynapatra. According to this text 
that had currency during the age of Maratha supremacy in India, the 
small, self-sufficient chiefs of the countryside, deceptively regarded 
as ‘office-holders’, in reality were sharers of royal sovereignty. Such 
a conception of sovereignty was weakened by Muslim rulers under 
whom local Hindu lordships were wholly suspect and for whom 
such a notion of sharing was as morally unacceptable as it was 
normative for Hindus. But such a weakening provided a new basis 
for post-Muslim kingdoms of the south, and most especially that of 

The corroding effect of urbanisation upon the old order was not 
merely set by military and political factors; temples were another 
cause. By late medieval times, when state building and tank building 
had become a single process, both were additionally linked to the 
raising of temple towns. The pre-Vijayanagara age saw develop- 
ments in temple construction that have become canonical in Indian 
art history. Equally well recognised now by economic historians is 
the important role of temples in their often extensive rural hinter- 
lands. During the late, pre- Vijayanagara age, money and lands were 
gifted to temples to support priests and others upon whom worship, 
administration and care of temples depended. A common method of 
resource management by temple authorities with large landholdings 
was the deployment of money endowments as investments in 
irrigation works in ‘temple villages’ in order to increase the income 
upon which temples had a claim. 

By an interrelated combination of political and religious invest- 
ments, therefore, many places in the dry peninsula developed 
microzones of high agriculture based on tank irrigation and often 
upon the production of cash crops like cotton and indigo. The 
proliferation of such microzones resulted from the same investment 
practices being followed in smaller temples as well as larger ones, 
and by great and small chiefs. All contributed to transforming the 


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dry upland interior of the peninsula from a zone of marginal 
agriculture and animal rearing into a zone of robust, mixed agri- 
culture capable of supporting increasing numbers of people and 
more elaborate social and political institutions. And as with frontier 
societies elsewhere, those of the peninsular upland were led by 
fighting chiefs and its people trained and accustomed to fighting for 
their new lands. The Vijayanagara kingdom of the fourteenth 
century was a major beneficiary of this long process of develop- 
ment, and, in their turn, its rulers lent support to it. 

Another prior development from which the Vijayanagara 
kingdom benefited was a commercial resource of almost unlimited 
potential based upon expanding international trade from the coasts 
of the peninsula. While the military impact of Muslims upon South 
India and Vijayanagara has been a fixture of Vijayanagara historio- 
graphy for over a century, the simultaneous commercial impact is 
still too recent as a subject to have been assimiltated to most 
interpretations of Vijayanagara. How recent this is may be judged 
from the significance accorded to K. N. Chaudhuri’s Trade and 
Civilization in the Indian Ocean; An Economic History from the 
Rise of Islam to 1750, published in 1985. 

The west coast of India was part of a system of ‘emporia trade’ 
that stretched over the whole of what Chaudhuri called ‘the zone of 
Islamic influence’. This reached from the Atlantic coasts of Iberia 
and West Africa to the Indonesian archipelago and China and was 
defined by two trade modes, an overland caravan route and a sea 
route. The latter began in the Mediterranean and consisted of trade 
centres from the Arabian peninsula to India’s western coast, to 
Malacca, and to southern China. This oceanic network had come 
into existence around aD 1000 replacing more hazardous single 
voyages from the Arabian core of the Islamic world to China which 
prevailed from the eighth to the eleventh centuries. According to 
Chaudhuri, the shaping force was political: the coalescence of two 
great political orders at opposite ends of the Eurasian world, which 
he dates in the early seventh century with the establishment of the 
T’ang dynasty in China and the flight of the Prophet Muhammad 
from Mecca to Medina: ‘Separate and unconnected events mark out 
a fresh beginning, a new order.’ 

The seventh-century China-Near Eastern conjuncture was to be 


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followed by a second around the year 1000. Then, China was ruled 
by an expansive Sung dynasty, and the Arabic successors of the 
prophet had become absorbed into the ancient political formation of 
the Near East, now revitalised by Islam under the Baghdad: Abbasid 
caliphs continuing an Islamic expansion that profoundly altered the 
late medieval Indian world, its warfare, politics, and commerce. 

Everywhere in the Islamic world after AD 1000, there was the 
growth of urban centres spurred by political integration and nur- 
tured by new concentrations of administrative-military élites with 
high consumption demands. This ‘universal feature of Islam’, in 
Chaudhuri’s terms, stimulated international trade. When the 
Abbasid regime was swept away by Central-Asian Muslim Turks 
and by Mongols during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, this 
added to the military superiority of Islam without diminishing the 
forces of economic expansion. Turks and Mongols were assimilated 
to the prevailing Muslim political and economic order and in the end 
fortified it militarily. 

By AD 1500, there were numerous entrepots from East Africa to 
Japan, the tempo of whose commerce was fixed by monsoonal 
winds which set the timings of all sailings; and of the four major 
commodities of this world trade-system, two — sandalwood and 
pepper — were contributed by India. As early as the tenth century, 
Chaudhuri shows, products from the eastern Mediterranean region 
and those from China met on India’s western coast where san- 
dalwood and pepper of Indian provenance were added. Thirteenth- 
century writings of the Sung official Chan Ju-Kua, Jewish mer- 
chants in western India whose letters were found in the Cairo 
Genizah, Marco Polo’s narrative, and Ibn Battuta’s travel account of 
the early fourteenth century all document India’s place in this world 
trade and provide contemporary descriptions of many of the Indian 
emporia. They also took some notice at least of interior urban 
centres whose consumption demands buoyed up the coastal 

Another stimulus to south Indian urbanisation came from Hindu 
temples. Many temple complexes served as political capitals, and 
others which received royal largesse often afforded occasional 
shelter to kings of the pre-Vijayanagara age as they progressed their 
realms; at Hindu shrines, kings received tribute of which part was 


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deployed as gifts to Indian gods in return for which they received 
royal honours from their priests. Moreover, large temple centres, 
with their high walls and lofty gateways, were major military 
centres and protected places of commerce associated with pilgrims. 
For all these reasons, when Vira Ballala III] was driven from 
Dvarasamudram in 1327, he took refuge in the Siva temple-centre of 
Tiruvannamalai in northern Tamil country. And the first generation 
of Vijayanagara rulers established their moral, or dharmic, claims to 
kingship by their publicised protection of Hindu shrines from the 
desecration of Muslims. 


Under these early kings, Vijayanagara became an empire in the sense 
of exercising rule over regions and peoples of the peninsula who 
were of different languages and cultures. They accomplished this 
principally by conquests over lesser Hindu lordships — kingdoms 
and chiefdoms — and by defending their conquests against the 
sultanate founded immediately to the north by Ala-ud-Din Gangu 
Bahmani about a decade after Vijayanagara was established. The 
Bahmani capital was at Gulbarga in Karnataka and its first war 
against Vijayanagara was launched from there in 1347; thereafter 
warfare betweeen the two was frequent. However, when the 
founding Vijayanagara dynasty began to experience its most severe 
difficulties during the late fifteenth century, it was as a result of 
internal dissensions rather than external pressures. These difficulties 
were resolved only after two usurpations at the turn of the sixteenth 
century which brought the Tuluva dynasty to the throne. Under 
them, Vijayanagara authority and glory were revived to a condition 
exceeding anything before, especially under Krishnadevaraya (reign 
1509-29). In the remaining pages of this chapter, the history of the 
first, or Sangama, dynasty will be outlined. 

Harihara ruled as king first and was followed by his old com- 
panion in arms and office, his brother Bukka. The other three 
Sangama brothers each had a portion of the kingdom to conquer and 
govern, and each ruled with a degree of independence that prompted 
Venkataramanayya to observe: ‘Vijayanagara was more a group of 
semi-autonomous states than a unified kingdom.’ The fragmented 


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state was unified under Bukka’s son, of the second generation of 
Vijayanagara kings, who ruled as Harihara II (1377-1404). Central- 
ised authority was enhanced by the occasional appointment of 
non-kinsmen, including Brahmans, to important military com- 
mands, and even to governorships of one of the five core provinces 
(rajya, 1.e. the king’s) in the centre of the kingdom. But this was not 
the usual policy; most often sons of the king ruled for him as 
Harihara’s son, Devaraya, did at the great fortress of Udayagiri in 
Telugu country from where attacks against the dominant local lords 
there were launched. 

The most important of the latter were the Reddi kings of 
Kondavidu, and it was Devaraya’s purpose to drive them from their 
territories south of the Krishna, hoping to make that river the 
north-eastern frontier of Vijayanagara. Devaraya’s campaign 
dragged on for twenty-five years, a tribute to the stubborn fortitude 
of the professedly peasant Reddi kings of Kondavidu and also other 
peasant chieftains of the Velama caste of eastern Telangana. The 
Reddis and Velmas not only resisted the extension of Vijayanagara 
authority into their lands, but made common cause with the 
Bahmanis as well. Thus, attempts to set the north-eastern frontier of 
the kingdom was attended by bloody turmoil and a legacy of 
distrust and opposition that was to plague the kingdom to its final 

To the south and west, conquests were more successful. Under 
Bukka I (reign 1344-77), Madurai was freed from the control of 
Muslim rebel commanders who declared a sultanate independent of 
the Tughlaks in 1334. The Viyayanagara campaign against them was 
carried out between 1365 and 1370 by Bukka I’s son Kumara 
Kampana and was as much a propaganda as military success 
because it was memorialised in numerous inscriptions over the 
southern peninsula proclaiming a new dharmic kingship and an end 
to Muslim oppression. Another of Bukka I’s sons, who was ruler as 
Harihara II (1377-1404), sought to impose the authority of Vijaya- 
nagara over the commercially important Malabar coast, displacing a 
brief Bahmani overlordship from Goa to Chaul, near modern 
Bombay. In the north-west, the River Krishna did become the 
frontier of Vijayanagara as a result of wars with the Bahmani which 
yielded control of the Raichur tract north of their capital. 


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Devaraya I (reign 1406-24) returned to the scenes of his wars as a 
prince in the north-east and was again opposed by the Reddis of 
Kondavidu and the Velamas of Warangal who allied themselves with 
the Bahmanis when necessary and also with the Hindu Gajapati 
kings of Orissa. The latter became an increasingly menacing force 
during the fifteenth century, extending their power into Telangana 
and coastal Andhra and even into Tamil country when any weak- 
ness or preoccupation of the Vijayanagara kings permitted, as after 
the death of Devaraya IT in 1446, the last strong king of the Sangama 

Devaraya II’s Vijayanagara was impressive. He succeeded in 
winning the Velamas over from their Reddi and Bahmani allies and 
with their help defeated the Gajapatis, though that eastern region 
remained a troubled one. His successors were more lasting else- 
where, as in his reassertion of Vijayanagara dominance over the 
commercially important western coast. Much of his success came as 
a result of having recruited Muslim soldiers into his armies, by 
conferring high posts and rewards upon them and by constructing a 
mosque in Vijayanagara. Devaraya also improved the quality of his 
cavalry by controlling Malabar ports through which horses from 
Arabia passed. In addition to all of this, his court was famed for its 
brilliant literary circle in which the king was a participating maker of 
Sanskrit verse and whose most celebrated member was the Telugu 
poet Srinatha. 

After his death, the Orissan Gajapatis, who had fared badly in 
their wars against him, launched a powerful counterattack against 
Vijayanagara authority in Andhra. This the Gajapatis now claimed 
for themselves, and they also drove all Vijayanagara authority from 
the Tamil plain north of the Kaveri by seizing Tiruchirappalli. To 
this humiliation lethal rivalries among members of the royal line 
were added, which permitted power to pass to the trusted comman- 
der, Saluva Narasimha. He defended the kingdom until the late 
years of the fifteenth century when he murdered the last of the 
Sangamas and established himself as king. When Narasimha died in 
1491, he left a young son as the ward of his favourite general, a 
warrior from Tulu country on the western coast, Narasa Nayaka. 
The latter in his turn seized the throne at Viyayanagara, thus 
inaugurating the third dynasty of the kingdom, called the Tuluva. 


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The decline that began after the reign of Devaraya II had many 
causes. Velamas were forced by Bahmani expansion into Telangana 
to move their power southward into Kurnool where they clashed 
with chiefs under a Vijayanagara protection which could not be 
fulfilled. The Bahmanis had begun by now to concert their attacks 
against Vijayanagara with the Gajapatis led by their warrior king 
Kapiladeva. But the major cause of Vijayanagara decline was 
dissension among claimants to the throne and their machinations, 
which finally induced Saluva Narasimha, the military saviour of the 
dynasty in its last years, to seize power. He was to be a bridge into a 
new political phase of Vijayanagara history. 


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The city was known by several names besides ‘Vijayanagara’, which 
is hardly surprising since the earliest inscription from the place in 
Brahmi script dates from about the second century. From the 
eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, several other inscriptions are 
_ found, including one registering gifts made to the temple of the 
goddess Hampadevi (or Pampadevi) from which the modern village 
on the ruins of the city, Hampi, presumably comes. Hoysala-period 
inscriptions refer to the place as Virupakshapattana or Vijaya 
Virupakshapura in honour of the god Siva, as Virupaksha, protector 
of the large settlement the place had become in the fourteenth 
centruy. These pre-Vijayanagara references make it clear that the 
future capital of the Vijayanagara kingdom was one of the many 
places in modern Bellary with a past history dating to Mauryan 
times when Ashokan edicts were inscribed within thirty miles of 
Hampi, along banks of the Tungabhadra. 

Seventy-seven inscriptions of the Vijayanagara age itself have 
been discovered around Hampi. Most (sixty-five) are found 
inscribed on temples along the banks of the Tungabhadra; the 
balance are in parts of the city that were added during the massive 
constructions of the sixteenth century by kings of the Tuluva 
dynasty. Fully half of the inscriptions found on the riverside were 
on the Vithala shrine. The temples upon whose walls and basements 
most inscriptions are found display a cosmopolitan character befit- 
ting an imperial capital. Stylistic variety and other cultural features 
of the ruins at Hampi have been carefully analysed during the 
remarkable efflorescence of Vijayanagara studies that began in the 
1970s, to which valuable contributions have come from foreign as 
well as Indian scholars. Among the former is the architectural 
historian George Michell, who has documented something of the 
variety of styles in the built environment of Hampi. 

He and others delineate three broad zones within the walled 
capital city. One extends along the Tungabhadra bank and has been 
called ‘the sacred centre’ of the city; a second broad zone is called 
‘the urban core’. This part of the Hampi site is designated as ‘the 


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royal centre’, on which no pre-Vijayanagara structures have been 
found. The sacred centre and urban core, with its royal centre, are 
separated from each other by an irrigation canal that defines an 
intervening agricultural zone of Hampi as shown on Map 3. 

Since the ‘royal centre’ includes some sixty ruined temples, the 
designations ‘sacred’ and ‘royal’ should not be taken as rigorous 
categories of built space and function in the city. Among the oldest 
shrines in the ‘royal centre’ is a second dedicated to the god 
Virupakasha in the city, the other being the larger and older temple 
on the river. Michell and others believe that the smaller, fourteenth- 
century Virupaksha shrine may have served as a royal chapel; it 
displays many elements of temple architecture found north of the 
Tungabhadra and is thus designated as ‘Deccan style’. Most smaller 
shrines in this southern part of the Hampi site display a similar 
Deccani style. However, with the fifteenth-century Ramachandra 
temple in the royal centre elements of ‘southern style’ appear. These 
were derived from late Chola and Pandya temples first seen during 
fourteenth-century conquests. ‘Southern’ or ‘Dravidian’ architectu- 
ral elements were adapted to older Deccani ones by adding such 
distinctive features as high-walled enclosures forming interior 
walkways around an often older central shrine, pillared halls, 
sculpted basements, and, most distinctively of all, towering gate- 
ways set into the high walls. 

The best examples of temple building in the sixteenth-century 
heyday of Vijayanagara are found in the northern section of Hampi, 
the ‘sacred centre’ along the riverside. Here are found complete 
temple complexes dedicated to Virupaksha, Balakrishna, 
Tiruvengalanatha (the god Venkatesvara from Tirupati or ‘Achyu- 
tadevaraya’s temple’), Vithala, Ragunatha, and Pattibhirama. These 
several shrines manifest — indeed they constitute — the first examples 
of what art historians call the Viyayanagara temple style, one that 
spread widely with the conquests of the Tuluva kings during the 
sixteenth century. 

Excavations in the vicinity of these several temple complexes now 
permit a better understanding of why each seemed to have a 
somewhat separate and independent identity in inscriptions. The 
precincts of the old, riverside shrine of Virupaksha in the north-west- 
ern part of Hampi was called Virupakshapura in an inscription of 


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Hoysala Ballala III; the environs of the Krishna shrine, north of the 
dividing irrigation canal, was known as Krishnapura. That the 
designation ‘pura’, or ‘city’, was more than a conceit honouring the 
god whose temple formed the focus of the quarter is indicated by 
recent excavations. Fronting all of the principal temples were long, 
paved roads. The road in front of the riverside Virupaksha temple 
extends for one-half mile and along its sides are structures of various 
sorts, some probably being public buildings, perhaps audience halls, 
and others being shops and residences of merchants. A sixteenth- 
century inscription refers to the road beginning in front of the 
Ramachandra temple as ‘big bazaar street’. 

Domingo Paes’s description of the city in 1520 retains remarkable 
freshness; it is also one whose accuracy is validated by each new 
excavation at the Hampi site. Paes entered the city by its western 

The king has made within it a very strong city, fortified with walls 
and towers, and the gates at the entrance are very strong ... these 
walls are not made like those of other cities, but are made of very 
strong masonry ... and inside very beautiful rows of buildings... 
with flat roofs. There live ... many merchants, and it is filled with 
a large population because the king induces many honourable 
merchants to go there from his cities ...! 

Not far from the western gate was the Ramachandra temple, before 
which, Paes reported: 

You have a broad and beautiful street full of fine houses ... and it 
is understood that the houses belong to ... merchants, and there 
you find all sorts of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, and 
pearls ... and cloths and every sort of thing there is on the earth 
that you may wish to buy. Then you have there every evening a 
fair where they sell many common horses, and also many citrons, 
and limes, and oranges, and grapes, and every kind of garden stuff, 
and wood; you have all this in the street [which] ... leads to the 

There was found the king, Krishnadevaraya, who was 

of medium height, and of fair complexion and good figure, rather 
fat than thin; he has on his face signs of smallpox. He is the most 

1 R. Sewell, A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagara) (London: Sonnenswahnheim, 1900), 
p. 244; Delhi edition, 1962: p. 236 
2 Sewell, Forgotten Empire, London edition: pp. 246-7; Delhi edition: p. 239 


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feared and perfect king that could possibly be... He is a great ruler 
and a man of much justice ...> 

Archaeological findings have confirmed inscriptions and Indian 
literary evidence as well as the accounts of foreigners who visited the 
city before and after Paes. As a result of all of this, the city can be 
understood more clearly than ever before. 

Its northern flank was the Tungabhadra on whose north bank 
were defensive walls anchored on the east by the fortress and town 
of Anegondi. This fortified town was constructed by the Kampili 
kings of the fourteenth century, and their defensive walls reached 
northward into the Raichur countryside. South-west of Anegondi, 
on the south bank of the river, is ‘the sacred centre’ of Vijayanagara, 
where, strung along the Tungabhadra, like so many jewels, are the 
remarkable temple complexes. These are nested into small valleys 
that break the rocky ridgeline which follows the southern bank of 
the Tungabhadra. 

Immediately south of this broken riverside ridge lies an extensive 
irrigated, agricultural zone defined by a shallow valley that was 
probably an ancient course of the river to which it is even now 
opened on both of its ends. The canal still passes through this valley 
and makes it a verdant zone of irrigated cultivation; the canal 
receives water from the river through each of the small valleys that 
breach the ridge and provide the settings for each temple complex. 
Ancient bridges cross the canal, connecting two major roads that 
pass from the southern parts of Hampi — ‘the urban core’ — to the 

South of the agricultural zone, the landscape changes only slightly 
to open onto a broken flat area, studded with massive boulders and 
rock outcrops that were ingeniously incorporated into an intricate 
series of defensive walls within which nested other wall-enclosed 
structures. Here, in ‘the urban core’, are found the remains of wells, 
tanks, pottery, and other signs that this was the place where most of 
Vijayanagara’s citizens lived. Among these were Muslim soldiers 
and artisans who served the kings of the sixteenth century and who 
were permitted mosques and tombs and cemeteries. Remains of all 
of these are found on the eastern edge of the urban core of the 

3 Sewell, Forgotten Empire, London edition: pp. 255-6; Delhi edition: pp. 246-7. 


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Hampi site as well as in two of the southern suburbs of the city, 
Kamalapuram and Kadirampur. These Muslim-style structures 
seem to date from the early fifteenth century, and one, a mosque, 
has an inscription dating the building from 1439. 

What scholars of the city are calling ‘the royal centre’ lies in the 
western half of the urban and residential core south of the irrigation 
canal. Here are the largest and possibly the earliest extant remains 
of what can be called ‘civil monuments’ in South India in the sense 
that these structures which were not the shelter of gods and institu- 
tions of religious activity. Another defining characteristic of the 
royal centre is a system of roads, many stone-paved, radiating 
outward from an open area in front of the Ramachandra temple and 
reaching all parts of the site south of the agricultural zone and a few 
of these extending northward to the Tungabhadra banks. 

In the capitals of the Cholas, Pandyas, and Hoysalas — Tanjavur 
and Gangaikondacholapuram, Madurai, and Dvarasamumdram — 
were large temples, and some may have served as the residences of 
kings. But in Vijayanagara there are the remains of imposing secular 
buildings which match the detailed descriptions of Paes and another 
Portuguese traveller, Fernao Nuniz, who was there in 1535. Thirty 
or so ‘palaces’ have now been identified in various parts of the city. 
Most are in the south-western portion, or the royal centre, and 
several have been fully excavated. One set of these structures is 
found north of the irrigation canal, and in it has been found a large 
number of Chinese porcelain pieces, possibly brought from the 
west coast ports where Chinese commodities were reportedly 
exchanged for commodities from India and the Near East. The 
largest of these ‘palace’ buildings so far found is south of the canal 
and covers an area of 7,700 square feet, not including its walls. The 
idea that these buildings were shelters for royals and other impor- 
tant residents of the city is based partly upon the evidence of Paes, 
Nuniz, and other fifteenth- and sixteenth-century visitors, partly 
on their inappropriateness as religious buildings, and partly also on 
the evidence that in them household-scale cooking went on and 
some rooms may have served as offices. The largest number of 
extant great houses are found in close proximity to the Ramachan- 
dra temple and near a set of other ceremonial structures which are 
certainly the same ones described by Paes, Nuniz, and others as 


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where the great royal festival, called Mahanavami or Dassara, was 

Among the most striking of all of Hampi’s ruined structures are 
those where royal ceremonials were conducted. While these struc- 
tures contain architectural and iconographic elements commonly 
found on temples of the time, there were no cells in which the 
images of gods could be placed and worshipped nor are these 
structures oriented appropriately. Some of these ‘civic’ buildings 
possess structural elements that provide for substantial wooden and 
cloth superstructures of a sort described by foreign visitors. One of 
these has a floor area of 5,300 square feet rising by a series of 
sculpted terraces to some 40 feet above a base measuring 11,700 
square feet. This ‘great platform’, or ‘mahanavami dibba’ as the 
modern residents of Hampi call it, is a remarkable structure which 
during the sixteenth century was surmounted by another level 
supported by wooden columns. It is probable that the platform 
dated from the fourteenth century and therefore that many of 
Vijayanagara’s rulers received the homage and their tutelaries the 
worship of their subjects before the time of Krishnadevaraya when 
the final layers of sculpted panels are thought to have been affixed. 

Close to the great platform the ruins of encircling walls and of 
elaborate tanks and aqueducts are found. Among these an exquis- 
itely constructed, large step well has recently been excavated, in a 
design heretofore seen primarily in southern Maharashtra, thus 
extending the symbolic reach of this City of the Rayas. Also near the 
platform other important structures have been found. One of these 
has a floor area twice as large as the ‘dibba’. This is a hall in whose 
floor extending over 17,000 square feet are footings for one hundred 
columns to support another storey connected to the first by a stone 
stairway that still stands. This must be the building mentioned by 
the horse trader and emissary Abdar Razzaq during his visit to the 
city in 1442-3 and which he called ‘the royal audience hall’. Another 
notable recent find is a set of dressed stone slabs that appear to have 
been brought to the city for use in sixteenth-century constructions 
from early Buddhist sites in northern Karnataka. 

The designation by site archaeologists of many of the ruined 
structures as ‘palaces’ departs from their otherwise prudent practice 
of not attributing functions to particular structures as older scholars 


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of the site did when whole sections of the site were identified as 
bureaucratic offices, such as a ‘mint’. There is no evidence that such 
offices existed. The attribution of ‘palace’ to some of these buildings 
may be justified, however, and other sets of structures may also 
justifiably be said to have had public functions. 

One such cluster is in an area north of the great platform of the 
royal centre. It consists of a set of buildings that are so well 
preserved and have such markedly Muslim features that some earlier 
commentators have proposed that they may have dated from after 
the sack of the city in 1565. One of these is a two-storeyed pavilion 
long called the ‘lotus mahal’ which is richly decorated with Hindu 
and Muslim elements, thus adding to the new and eclectic architec- 
ture identified with Vijayanagara. Within the same walled enclosure 
other notable buildings in the same style are discovered. These 
include a building with eleven domes that was almost certainly an 
elephant stable, another was an arched building still preserved, that 
may have served as a ‘guards’ quarters’, and in an adjoining 
enclosure there is a water pavilion which may have served as a royal 
bath and was earlier called ‘the queen’s bath’. The notion that these 
are creations of the post-1565 life of the city is not accepted by art 
and architectural historians. 

Secular or civil buildings of the royal centre south of the agri- 
cultural zone of the city, together with the temple complexes in the 
northern sector of the Hampi site, give an expressive, or emblema- 
tic, character to the whole of Hampi that is most manifest in the 
annual ten-day Mahanavami Festival, conducted during the lunar 
month of Asvina (September/October). Celebrated in this rite were 
the victories, powers, and protection of the tutelary goddess of the 
kings, the apotheosis of perfect kingship as symbolised by the god 
Rama, and the puissance and protection of all of the gods and people 
‘of the world’ by the Vijayanagara kings who were the focus of the 
festival. This annual, royal rite was probably the most important 
ceremony that occurred in the city during its two centuries as a great 
capital, and it serves as a means of understanding the relationship 
among some of the key structures of the royal centre, especially the 
Ramachandra temple, the great platform, and the hundred-pillared 
hall. All are mentioned in the descriptions of the Mahanavami 
Festival by sixteenth-century visitors to the city. 


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In turn, all of this leads to the question of what the city tells us of 
the kingdom and ‘empire’ in whose name they have been known to 

This is not an easy question to answer. For instance, if the triage 
sometimes used to categorise pre-modern cities is applied to Vijaya- 
nagara, the outcome is so ambiguous as to cast doubt upon the 
categories themselves. Vijayanagara was a regal-ritual centre and an 
administrative centre and a commercial centre: it was these and 

It certainly was a royal city and one in which ritual was very 
important in at least two ways. Temples of the so-called sacred 
centre were replete with divine and royal potency. The goddess 
Pampa, consort of Siva, continued to be protector of the city and its 
kings even under the post-Sangama rulers who were personally 
devoted to such Vishnu deities as Krishna and Tiruvengalanatha for 
whom temples were built by Krishnadevaraya and Achyutadeva- 
raya, and the Rama temple of the royal centre was the focus of the 
royal rituals of both. The Balakrishna image installed in a new 
temple by Krishnadevaraya was both his personal god and a trophy 
of his prowess in having seized the image from Udayagiri when that 
fortress was taken from the Gajapatis in 1515. Achyutadevaraya’s 
temple to Tiruvengangalnatha similarly honours the personal god of 
the king (i.e. Venkatesvara) and celebrates his coronation before that 
god in 1529 under very troubled conditions. The Vithala temple 
begun by Devaraya II was possibly the most popular temple of the 
sixteenth century and remains one of the most beautiful temples in 
all of India. Curiously, this manifestation of Vishnu is better known 
in Maharashtra than in Karnataka or further south and therefore 
may take note of Krishnadevaraya’s northern conquests. Hence, all 
of the great shrines of Vijayanagara, including that of Virupaksha, in 
one way or another, ritually focussed upon powerful royal benefac- 
tors; the regal and the ritual constituting as powerful a composite for 
the Vijayanagara kings as for most other Indian kings. As a ritual or 
ceremonial centre, the city was a greatly enlarged, yet unified, 
version of the Chalukyan royal centres of Aihole and Pattadakal, 
according to the descriptions and poetry of contemporaries and to 
what can be beheld by the modern sojourner at Hampi. 

But Vijayanagara was also an important commercial centre. It was 


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the focal point of several transpeninsular trade routes, and the 
commodities which found their way to the city impressed Portu- 
guese visitors of the sixteenth century by their variety and quality. 
Wares would have been seen at the four large bazaars that were said 
to exist in the royal centre alone; in addition, each of the temple 
complexes along the river had a bazaar street whose trade, along 
with that of the several southern suburbs of the city, was conducted 
by the merchant guilds of each. All of this together with the vivid 
descriptions by Paes and Nuniz of the trade that had lured them to 
the city, make Vyayanagara a thriving emporium and production 
centre. And, of course, it was a centre of vast consumption as the 
administrative centre of a great kingdom. 

Vijayanagara was the place where its kings conducted their 
political business for substantial parts of each year, where tribute 
from powerful provincial lords of the realm was received during the 
mahanavami festival, and where the rayas’ army was garrisoned and 
resupplied when it was not in the field. Foreign commentators 
documented all of these activities. Among the earliest, Nicolo di 
Conti reported that the city accommodated an army of 90,000 in 
1420, and later fifteenth-century witnesses referred to even larger 
numbers of soldiers who were garrisoned and otherwise cared for 
there. Nuniz listed the great commanders of these and other forces 
of the kingdom from whom Achyutadevaraya received substantial 
tribute payments in gold coins. While there were said to be some 
two hundred of these ‘captains of his kingdom’, Nuniz recorded the 
tribute received from only eleven, and he stated the territories of 
each. These tributaries paid the king between a third and a half of 
their money collections, retaining the balance to support their own 
armed forces. Nuniz observed that Achyutadevaraya employed 
officials to record and collect the revenues from lands around the 
city — ‘the King’s own lands’ — but that there were no royal officials 
responsible for the general revenues of the kingdom. 


The modest assessment of Vijayanagara state administration set out 
by Paes and Nuniz, and accepted by Robert Sewell, has not been 
contravened by later historians, nor by the excavations being 


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conducted at the Hampi site. For instance, the large enclosure 
within the royal centre that was designated as the ‘mint’ by earlier 
historians (most of whom had never visited Hampi) has been 
rejected partly because there are no material traces of minting and 
partly because the ruined structures of most of the walled enclosures 
are now thought to have been residential quarters — ‘palaces’ — on 
somewhat better, though still slender, evidence. There is an under- 
ground chamber in the royal centre that may have served as a 
treasury, but this merely underscores the modest character of 
administrative functions in the city. What other administrative 
functions might have been present in sixteenth-century Vijayanagara 
has something to do with how the political structure of the kingdom 
is viewed. 

As already noted, historians of Karnataka and Andhra perceive no 
differences between the Vijayanagara regime and its predecessors, 
nor do they admit of changes in the kingdom from the time of its 
founding until, possibly, the sacking of the city in 1565; some do not 
even regard that event as an important turning-point. Tamil his- 
torians, however, see Vijayanagara differently, if only in the sense 
that the Tamils ceased to be subjugators of other peninsular people 
and became the subjugated. But even this reversal is not seen by 
most older Tamil historians as more important than the vaunted role 
of Vijayanagara kings as defenders of southern dharma from Muslim 

The recent research findings of N. Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu 
are important departures from the older historiography in several 
ways. They proceed from a perspective of the pre-Vijayanagara state 
and society, and they make significant temporal comparisons as well 
as being explicitly concerned to stipulate and to theorise the 
connections between the Vijayanagara state and the local lordships 
with which their evidence deals. Karashima at times adopts a feudal 
interpretation of Vijayanagara, one that is focussed upon relations 
between kings and local lordships, emphasising the following 
elements: personal and fealty affinities, a notion of fief attributed to 
landholding terms such as sirmai and nayakattana; the appearance 
of what he calls sub-infeudation among nayakas; and the complex 
landholding rights of Vijayanagara times as compared with the 
communal unity of the Chola period. However, these sorts of 


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relations are not claimed for Tamil country until the sixteenth 
century. Before that the picture presented by Karashima and others 
in unclear. It seems to be that during the fifteenth century, Vijayana- 
gara soldiers are seen to be agents of a conquest state, charged with 
extracting a large money revenue from the conquered Tamils, and 
producing peasant resistance against the extortionate demands of 
these military agents and their Brahman and Tamil landlord allies. 

Relations between local lordships and Vijayanagara kings — 
whether seen as feudal or other — cannot be verified except from 
local documents of the sort studied by Karashima, Subbarayalu, and 
others. Hence, the discussion of this political dimension will be 
treated in the following chapter. Here, the broader history of the 
Vijayanagara kingdom and its political structure will be outlined. 

Two fundamental changes seem to have occurred around the time 
of Devaraya II, in the middle of the fifteenth century. First, he 
strengthened the military base of the kingdom by improving the 
quality of war horses and the training of horsemen and archers 
under his personal command and resources, and, second, he estab- 
lished deeper political control over west-coast emporia, thus linking 
military reform with international commerce. 

Military and administrative dominance over the major ports on 
the Arabian Sea provided Devaraya II with a new and different 
source of state finance that his predecessors ever enjoyed, though 
exactly how trade profits were appropriated during the fifteenth 
century cannot now be ascertained. Fifty years later, there is some 
evidence to suggest that a standard means of realising revenue was 
through tax-farming, though whether tax-farmers were agents of 
the rayas or of other imperial grandees is uncertain. Nevertheless, 
contemporary inscriptions and later literary sources document that 
in addition to older forms of tax in kind, especially on the pro- 
duction of grain and some cash crops, there was added a whole set of 
cash revenue demands. The latter were collected from trade and 
from the production of textiles and metal goods either from the 
headmen of artisanal groups or traders or by contracting out, or 
farming, revenue collections to men with independent military and 
political powers and authority and sometimes to merchants directly 
involved in trade. Customs collections at major trade centres were 
let on rent agreements (or gutta) from powerful, state-level 


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magnates, often with close relations to reigning kings of Vijayana- 
gara. Nuniz, for example, reported in 1535 that the annual collection 
of customs from one of the gateways of Vijayanagara was rented for 
12,000 gold coins. While a full range of taxes collected during the 
fifteenth century is not retrievable, customs, or tribute paid by 
merchants, from port towns 1n the time of Devaraya II could have 
provided the means for him to pay for horses imported from Ormuz 
and elsewhere as well as providing a surplus to pay for the skilled 
horsemen to use them. 

Saluva Narasimha continued Devaraya’s policy of making larger 
appropriations where possible from west-coast emporia and went 
further by attempting to achieve the same in Coromandel. By 
seizing direct control over the northern Coromandel plain and 
extirpating those conquered regimes that had previously been left in 
place on condition of accepting the supremacy of Vijayanagara, 
potential central resources were increased. The initial Vijayanagara 
conquests under Kumara Kampana during the late fourteenth 
century merely demanded the homage of the Sambuvaraya chief of 
Tondaimandalam and that of the royal houses of Cholas and 
Pandyas. This practice of an ancient notion of righteous conquest, 
or digvijaya, was departed from by the earliest kings only in the 
northern portions of the Tamil plain following the defeat of the 
Yadavarayas of Chandragiri. 

There, in northern Coromandel, three new provinces, or rajyas, of 
the Vijayanagara kingdom were created and placed under men loyal 
to the Sangama rayas. Among these commanders was Manugudeva 
who governed the new Chandragiri rajya; his great-grandson, Saluva 
Narasimha, used this as a base, first, to launch his career as a Vijaya- 
nagara generalissimo and then to win the throne in 1485. The two 
other new rayyas created from the conquered territory of the Yadava- 
rayas were Padaividu (modern North Arcot) and Tiruvadi (in 
modern South Arcot). From here, Vijayanagara commanders main- 
tained a fortified military presence on the fringes of the prosperous 
plains of Chingleput and Cuddalore without any apparent inter- 
ference beyond collecting customs along the main trade routes 
nearby. For the rest of Tamil country after the first Vijayanagara 
conquest, old authorities continued until they were swept away by 
Saluva Narasimha and the Tuluva kings who succeeded him. 


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The Tuluvas, or more especially Krishnadevaraya, faced a threat to 
the kingdom as grave as any before. To the north-west of the 
heartland of the kingdom was the new sultanate at Bijapur with 
ambitions to seize Raichur; on the north-eastern frontier were the 
expansionist Gajapatis of Orissa, and to the south were a set of 
Karnatak chiefs who had opposed the Tuluva usurpation and under 
the Ummattur family were expanding across the peninsula into 
Telugu country thus threatening to cut the rayas off from their 
Tamil dominions. 

Krishnadevaraya’s solution to these threats was the old and 
reliable one of a brilliant series of military campaigns followed by a 
bold policy for reducing chiefly power. In a double-sided attack, 
chiefs in the core of the kingdom were constrained from above by a 
system of royal fortresses under Brahman commanders (durga 
dandanayaka) and garrisoned by troops drawn from two sources: 
Portuguese and Muslim mercenary gunners and footsoldiers 
recruited from non-peasant, or forest, people (vedar) found over 
much of the central peninsula. From below, the king devised 
another sort of challenge; this was the enfranchisement of a new 
strata of lesser chiefs totally dependent upon military service under 
Krishnadevaraya; these were the ‘Poligars’ as the British called them 
(from the Marathi palegar, as borrowed from the Tamil palaiyakka- 
rar, and rendered in Telugu as palegadu and in Kannada as palaga- 
raru). Literary and inscriptional evidence of the sixteenth century 
speaks of Krishnadevaraya’s Brahman scribal and military officials 
and his foreign mercenaries, but it is principally to the later 
documentaion of Colin Mackenzie that we owe our knowledge of 
the numerous poligar families in the Karnatak-Andhra core of the 
kingdom who came into existence as military servants of Krishnade- 
varaya as adjunct infantry and keepers of his forts. His unrivalled 
power in Vijayanagara history resulted as much from his control of 
great warrior households in his domain and his reliance on Brahman 
agents who had no territorial bases of their own as to any other 

The brilliance of this strategy for attaining a more centralised state 
by checking the authority of ancient territorial chiefs was as great as 


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his military achievments. But to appreciate the difficulty of his task 
and also to anticipate why it failed in the time of his successors, it is 
necessary to understand the importance of fundamental political 
and economic division of the peninsular polity he was attempting to 
fuse. Essentially, his strategy depended on the wealth from areas of 
high agriculture, population and commerce providing the means for 
controlling the powerful chieftaincies of the dry upland, the very 
heart of his kingdom. During the late fifteenth century there were 
really two countrysides, wholly different rural structures, that 
conditioned all of the politics of the later Vijayanagara kingdom. 
However different, though, both kinds of rural structures posed 
difficulties to a Vijayanagara state striving for the level of centralised 
power and authority required to fend off other conquest regimes of 
the time. 


Demography and the moving agricultural frontier are two factors 
that determined the dual character of political and agrarian institu- 
tions in the South. The population of the peninsula south of the 
Krishna was large relative to other world societies of the sixteenth 
century. It may have been around 25 million, if the population of all 
of India was about the 150 million that has been estimated. But then 
as now, the absolute population of the southern peninsula was less 
significant than its distribution, bearing in mind the differing 
capacities of various parts of the peninsula to support people. 

The extended Cormandel plain between the deltas of the Krishna- 
Godavari and Kaveri Rivers and the narrower, but even better 
watered, plain on the western coast were zones of high populations. 
Along with these coastal plains, there were other zones of high 
agriculture and population in the riverine basins of the Palar, Vaigai 
and Tambraparni and in the Karnatak maidan of the upper Kaveri. 
The whole of the plateau upland between the two coastal plains was, 
and remains, a zone of thin population, but one that appears to have 
grown steadily from 1500 as a result of colonisation and natural 
increase. Present knowledge about these processes at that time 
permits speculation only, and it should be noted that even after three 
centuries, that is in 1800, colonisation and natural increase resulted 


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in quite low densities of population in many parts of the upland, 
about seventy per square mile. 

The dry upland of the peninsula ranges between 1,000 and 2,000 
feet above the coastal plains from whence came most of the people 
who colonised the interior. This was a process that was perhaps a 
thousand years old in 1500, judging from early Tamil poetry which 
deployed an elaborate poetic code for different landscapes and kinds 
of production in diverse peninsular environments. Later, in Chola 
and Pandya times, field agriculturists from both coasts made their 
way onto the interior upland. Though they were permanent settlers, 
they nevertheless retained names that recalled their earlier coastal 
homes. During the same time, organised groups of northern Tamil 
cultivators set up strong chieftaincies from Nellore across the 
peninsula to the Karnataka maidan and the western ghats. Later, 
during the period of Hoysala ascendency in the thirteenth century, 
Kannada-speaking cultivators spread southward in the wake of their 
kings, as the Hoysala historian J.D.M. Derrett deploringly 
observed. Derrett spoke of this thirteenth-century expansion south- 
ward into the heart of Tamil country as an ‘historical aberration’ of 
Ballala II in that it diverted the Hoysalas from their proper mission 
of creating a ‘national empire’ in Karnataka. Apart from the 
anachronistic hyperbole of this judgement, it fails to appreciate the 
lure of the rich lower Kaveri for the poorly resourced but militarily 
strong Hoysalas. High agriculture had by then become a prize for 
the strong of the peninsular dry zone. 

More striking even than the Hoysala bid for overlordship in the 
lower Kaveri was the penetration of Telugus into both the open 
country of the central Deccan and into Tamil country during the 
fifteenth century. Telugu cultivating groups had begun migrating 
from their coastal homelands to the interior upland of Telangana 
from about the twelfth century and from there they continued their 
movement westward into what became the heart of the Vijayanagara 
kingdom. They had modified an irrigation technology based on 
wells in the coastal and deltaic area to that of rain-fed tanks that the 
topography of the upland permitted; they also carried a martial 
tradition that was required to win new tracts from often fierce forest 
peoples above the ghat, whom they partly displaced and partly 
incorporated. During the fifteenth century, these hardy warrior- 


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farmers spread from both the coastal regions of their origins and 
from their new upland villages; they followed the spine of the 
peninsula southward to the very southern tip of the sub-continent, 
partly in the service of Telugu conquerers of Tamil country and 
partly as a continuation of a colonisation process that predated 

Telugu migrations resulted in significant demographic changes in 
many parts of Tamil country. Referred to as vadugan (northerners) 
by Tamils, Telugu farmers and traders took over parts of the upland 
stretching southward into Tirunelveli. At times this meant displac- 
ing or subordinating older Tamil peasant occupants, but often it 
meant opening whole new tracts to field cultivation and developing 
tracts of tank-irrigated agriculture. Both provided the means for 
supporting numerous small chieftaincies. The latter allied them- 
selves to Telugu commanders of Vijayanagara armies that con- 
quered and reconquered parts of Tamil country during the fifteenth 
and sixteenth centuries. 

The causes of this explosion of Telugu cultivators are disputed. 
One seems to have been the opportunity to use their fighting skills 
to augment the wealth that could be produced by dry-land 
cultivation, which always involved considerable spatial mobility in 
any case. Another probable cause was the lure of sparsely populated 
and weakly held tracts of black soils which Telugu cultivators had 
learned to exploit earlier on the eastern plateau. Telugu settlement in 
Tamil country follows the distribution of black soils there quite 
closely as a result of which Telugu farmers and merchants came to 
constitute major elements of the populations of Coimbatore, Salem, 
Madurai, and Tirunelveli. To these ‘pull’ factors a ‘push’ factor must 
be added. That is the Muslim pressure for revenue and military 
manpower as the Bahmani sultans penetrated Telugu districts 
followed by their successors, the Golconda sultans. Accounts of 
Telugu migrants in Tamil country given to the British orientalist- 
official Mackenzie around 1800 refer, quite plausibly, to being 
driven from their Andhra homelands by the demands of sultan 
officials. The accounts of many other local Telugu chiefs who 
remained in Andhra suggest that they took service under the same 
sultanate regimes that drove compatriots into Tamil country. 

Martial peasantries such as these on the agricultural frontiers were 


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not likely to be compliant before the centralising, revenue-seeking 
regime of the sort that Krishnadevaraya sought to create. The 
viability of such migrant communities, like that of the Vijayanagara 
expansion itself, was the same tough, Telugu soldiery. Raising a 
regular revenue from such cultivators led by fighting chiefs would 
have been difficult. Less so was gaining revenues from the older, 
much richer, wet cultivation zones of the peninsula. 

Here, the pattern of exploitation by sixteenth-century conquerors 
seemed to be a combination of tax-farming and tribute methods. 
Collections at points of production and exchange were contracted 
out by landed magnates from whom tribute might be demanded by 
even greater lords, including the Vijayanagara kings themselves. 
Money was the vital link in all of this, and the increase of money-use 
is verified in two principal ways. One was the shift in temple 
endowments during the Viyjayanagara age from payments in kind to 
direct money endowments or to the grant of lands yielding a money 
income to religious beneficiaries; the other was the vastly increased 
demand for money taxes of all sorts. 


That more of land revenue was collected in money during Vijayana- 
gara times than previously is acknowledged by all scholars. One 
cause for, or consequence of, this greater monetisation is given by 
Nuniz, a witness to events in the 1530s. Nuniz was describing the 
system of great commanderies established by Krishnadevaraya for 
controlling the major chiefs of his realm. This was the moment in the 
history of the kingdom when central authority was greatest, shortly 
after Krishnadevaraya’s death. 

Nuniz listed the leading Vijayanagara ‘captains’ of Achyutadeva- 
raya’s time, the territories they held, and the money they collected 
and shared with the king. Nuniz made clear that he was not 
describing ‘officers of the King’, but rather ‘lords, of the kingdom’s 
greatest territories’. Sewell underscored Nuniz’s distinction 
between ‘the King’s own personal lands’ — ‘his home farm so to 
speak’ — and those ‘provinces and estates .. . entrusted to anoble who 
farmed the revenue to his own advantage, paying a fixed sum every 
year to the king’. This understanding of Nuniz is superior to that of 


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many later scholars who distorted Nuniz’s report by reframing it 
either as a form of bureaucratic or feudal appropriation of rural 

An instance of the autonomous authority of these great lords of 
the kingdom comes from an inscription from Mangalagiri, in 
modern Guntur district, Andhra, referring to Krishnadevaraya’s 
Brahman minister, Saluva Timma, and the latter’s two nephews; all 
held nearly independent authority under the king and were instru- 
mental in the victory gained against Gajapati forces at Kondavidu as 
can be judged from this inscription ordered by Saluva Timma in 
1515, which read in part as follows: 

The great chancellor, the glorious Salva-Timma, the best of 
ministers, rules the empire of the glorious king Krishnaraya ... 
When Salva [Shawk’], surnamed Timma ... after having captured 
the swan-like kings appointed by Gajapati in Kondaviti, is plan- 
ning an attack, the hostile princes absconding ... resembling birds 
... The sister’s sons of the glorious minister, Salva Timma, who 
continued his family, were the excellent ministers Nadinla-Appa 
and Gopa ... [the former] obtained from the glorious king, 
Krishna and the minister Timma, a palanquin, two chauris [fly 
wisk emblem of royalty] and a parasol, and the posts of super- 
intendent of [the fortresses at] Vinakonda, Gutti ... of comman- 
der in chief of a large army ... and sole governor of that kingdom 
[Gutti]. The glorious Salva-Timma ... gave to ... Gopa, the best 
among governors and an excellent minister, the post of governor 
of Kondaviti, together with an army ... of elephants, horses and 
infantry and a palanquin and two chauris.4 

First among the ‘great captains’ whom Nuniz later named was 
another commander, ‘Salvanayque’ (Saluva Narasingha Nayaka, or 
Chellappa), a Tamil Brahman. He was one of those to whom 
Krishnadevaraya delegated vast governing responsibility, and he 
retained these powers as Achyutadevaraya’s ‘minister’ and the 
latter’s strong supporter against his rival for the throne in 1529, 
Aliya Rama Raja. Saluva Nayaka’s yearly income was reckoned at 
over a million gold pieces collected from Tamil chiefs of which he 
paid a third to Achyutadevaraya and retained the balance in order to 
maintain his army of 30,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, and 30 war 

4 V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, ed., Selected Telugu Inscriptions (Madras: University 
of Madras, 1952);Telugu edn., N. Venkata Rao, pp. 128-46. 


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elephants. His territory comprised most of the Tamil plain. Second 
after Saluva Nayaka was one whom historians identify as Saluva 
Timmarasu, a Telugu (Niyogi) Brahman and, like Chellappa, a 
former minister of Krishnadevaraya. He ruled Telangana for 
Achyutadevaraya, and his collections were valued at 800,000 gold 
coins each year. Of this, less than half was reportedly given to the 
king, and the balance was spent on his army of 25,000 horsemen, 
1,500 infantry, and 40 elephants. In addition, Saluva Timmarasu was 
responsible for three strategic fortresses — Udayagiri, Kondavidu, 
and Gandikota — as well as for securing two major trade routes 
linking Coromandel and Andhra coastal areas with Vijayanagara, 
one through Kondavidu and the other through Penukonda. Other 
‘captains’ in a descending order of gross collections and military 
obligations held the following territories: Bankapur, a major 
pepper-producing and cattle-breeding area in north-western Karna- 
taka; the southern border area of the city in central Karnataka; the 
area around modern Mysore and Bangalore, and others around 
Chitaldrug, Bangalore, and Kolar. Two other magnates mentioned 
by Nuniz held the country around the fortress at Gooty, with its 
valuable diamond mines, and around Mudkal in Raichur. Apart 
from Saluva Narasimha’s domination of Tamil territory, these 
lordships of the 1530s were either gateways to major commercial 
zones of the peninsula or tracts commanding trade routes, or they 
were territories which had strategic importance in the defence of the 
Vijayanagara core area of the Tungabhadra-Krishna basin. 


Even the most powerful Vijayanagara rulers of the sixteenth century 
— Krishnadevaraya, Achyutadevaraya, and Rama Raja — enjoyed 
only a part of the revenues collected from the richest provinces of 
the realm. These, of course, all lay well outside the kingdom’s core. 
One was the Karnataka maidan of the upper Kaveri, but it was 
gradually lost to any substantial appropriative benefit by Vijayana- 
gara kings during Achyutadevaraya’s time when a young chief, 
odeya (which becomes the dynastic name ‘Wodeyar’), established 
his family’s control over the fortress of Srirangapattanam. This 


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family seems to have come to the region of the upper Kaveri, around 
Halebid, following the demise of the Hoysalas whom they served. 
Having entered the service of Vijayanagara, they benefited from 
Krishnadevaraya’s defeat of the Ummattur chiefs of around Sri- 
rangapattanam, increasing their lordship over the fertile lands 
around Mysore and Bangalore. Tribute and soldiers were supplied 
by the growing chiefdom during the times of Saluva Narasimha and 
Krishnadevaraya, but after that the Wodeyar chiefs slipped central 
obligations and ruled with increasing independence. 

Another rich zone of agriculture far from the capital were the 
wealthy, surplus-producing regions of Tamil country: the Palar 
basin in the centre and the Kaveri basin in the South. These were 
under the stewardship of Saluva Narasimha Nayaka from 1510 to 
1531. This Tamil Brahman enjoyed great titles, responsibilities, and 
privileges during the time of Krishnadevaraya. He even made land 
grants to temples without referring to the king. Chellappa, as he was 
called, must also have passed a substantial tribute to Krishnadeva- 
raya as he did for a few years to Achyutadevaraya, but this financial 
support to the latter was not nearly as important as Chellappa’s 
military support of Achyutadevaraya against the conspiracy of 
Rama Raja. 

Chellappa rose against Achyutadevaraya in concert with other 
Tamil chiefs in 1531. Inscriptional evidence of the time suggests that 
the reason for Chellappa’s rebellion was his resentment that Achyu- 
tadevaraya interfered with his powers to make and protect religious 
endowments in Chola country. Most historians reject this as an 
implausible cause, but serious political consequences could well 
have resulted from challenging so significant an aspect of regal 
power as Chellappa had long possessed, even under Krishnadeva- 
raya. Other reasons for Chellappa’s rebellion pertain to the conspi- 
racies of Aliya Rama Raja. The latter’s plans to displace Achyutade- 
varaya began with the removal of such stalwart supporters as 
Chellappa and their replacement in the rich provinces they con- 
trolled by his own supporters. However, when Chellappa was 
defeated in 1532, he was succeeded by Salakaraju, an affinal kinsman 
of Achyutadevaraya and the latter’s keen supporter against Rama 
Raja; he ruled rule over Tamil country until 1543 when his royal 
ambitions were revealed in a rebellion against central authority. 


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Thus, the Kaveri milch-cow of resources for a central Vijayana- 
gara exchequer proved difficult to milk. During the time of 
Krishnadevaraya and a few years of his successor, most of the 
Tamil plain was under Chellappa who proved a loyal servant and 
provided some financial assistance to Krishnadevaraya and his 
successor as well as a great deal of political support. For the next 
ten or so years, after Chellappa was defeated, the vast wealth of 
the Tamil plain and its ports was in the hands of the ambitious 
and powerful Salakaraju family and provided them with the means 
to pursue dynastic aspirations of their own. Moreover, the wealth 
available from other parts of the far south of Tamil country 
remained out of even the merely potential tributary catchment of 
Vijayanagara kings. Chellappa’s allies in revolt included two chief- 
tains who held most of Madurai and Tirunelveli; another was the 
raja of Travancore. By their alliance with Chellappa, they not only 
denied the Vijayanagara kings of the resources and homage of 
much of Tamil country, but required an expensive campaign to 

If regular revenue from the richest areas of South India proved as 
difficult for the rulers of the kingdom to command as that from the 
numerous, tough chieftains of the dry upland of the realm, what 
then of possibly large revenues from the vigorous international trade 
around the coasts of the peninsula? There is some evidence to 
support that this first became available in the tume of Saluva 
Narasimha, while he served Vijayanagara and, later, when he was 
king late in the century. 

But when this evidence is carefully evaluated, it is difficult to 
sustain the view that a major and regular component of the revenues 
of the Kingdom came from the great and growing trade at Arabian 
Sea ports. Accounts of foreigners — Europeans and Muslims — 
confirm that Vijayanagara rulers like Saluva Narasimha and the 
Tuluva kings offered importers high prices for horses, even dead 
ones, so as to monopolise the traffic in horses. However, there is 
almost no information about foreign trade that can be gleaned from 
indigenous historical sources of the Viyayanagara period, notwith- 
standing the considerable, ostensible importance attributed to 
foreign trade by Krishnadevaraya. This is found in the Telugu 
didactic poem, Amuktamalyada, thought either to have been com- 


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posed by the king or purveying his ideas. In the fourth canto of the 
work, Krishnadevaraya maximises as follows: 

A king should improve the harbours of his country and so 
encourage its commerce that horses, elephants, precious gems, 
sandalwood, pearls and other articles are freely imported ... He 
should arrange that the foreign sailors who land in his country on 
account of storms, illness and exhaustion are looked after in a 
manner suitable to their nationalities ... Make the merchants of 
distant foreign countries who import elephants and good horses 
be attached to yourself by providing them with daily audience, 
presents and allowing decent profits. Then those articles will never 
go to your enemies.° 

If the Vijayanagara kings realised even a fraction of the great 
wealth generated by trade along their western coast, this might have 
sustained the military and other works necessary to achieve 
Krishnadevaraya’s quest for a centralised kingship. Extant indige- 
nous evidence indicates that the most important centres of foreign 
trade could have yielded little on a regular basis to the central 
treasury of the kingdom. 

Tulu country was one of the chief areas of this international trade 
and was probably the ancestral homeland of kings of the third 
dynasty. Along this Arabian Sea littoral were several of the major 
emporia of the time: Bhatakal, as already mentioned Barakuru, and 
Mangaluru. The monograph on Kanara by K. V. Ramesh exhaust- 
ively examines the extant epigraphical evidence and shows that 
references to the international trade that we know existed were both 
rare and indirect. While he notes that most taxes were paid in 
money, as elsewhere in the kingdom, and that each of the two 
headquarters of the province — Barakuru and Mangaluru — had mints 
whose coinage circulated there along with coins from elsewhere, 
Ramesh insists that most revenue collected was from agricultural 
production. He notes few references to commercial taxes as com- 
pared to the many pertaining to agricultural production. 

Still, Ramesh has much to say about corporate mercantile and 
artisanal bodies throughout Kanara or Tuluva. The wealth and 
prestige of such groups are celebrated in their donative inscriptions 
on Hindu and Jaina shrines, where they figure as arbitrators in 

5 Rangasvami Sarasvati, ‘Political Maxims of the Emperor-Poet Krishnadeva Raya’, 
The Journal of Indian History part 3 (1925) pp. 70 and 72 


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temple disputes and as protectors of religious establishments of all 
kinds. There are also references to all kinds of internationally traded 
commodities handled by merchants of Tuluva including imported 
ceramic and cloth wares from China and export goods brought into 
Tulu country from the peninsula above the western ghats. The 
wealth derived from this trade is attested by Portuguese and Muslim 
commentators of the time. 

Impediments to centralised appropriation of some part of that 
wealth were numerous. The rule of Vijayanagara kings or their 
agents (karyakarta) was intermittent and often weak from the time 
that Tulu country was made a royal province by Devaraya II. The 
coastal tract had to be reconquered by Devaraya, but this made little 
difference, and Kanara was conquered yet again in 1522 during the 
reign of Krishnadevaraya. The latter led an army there against one of 
the several large, ancient chiefs of the region, and though the king 
remained for sometime while a commander of his fought the 
Portuguese, he left behind no permanent apparatus for revenue 
extraction. Indeed, between his time and that of Sadasivaraya, that is 
from 1529 to 1576, none of the governors who ruled from Barakuru 
or Mangaluru were appointed by Vijayanagara kings. 

Evidence of Kanara indicates that Vijayanagara kings can have 
received little on a regular basis from its valuable trade. That was the 
preserve of a set of Hindu and Jaina magnates whose local authority 
was fortified by an interlinking of several distinctive elements, 
which proved as difficult for Vijayanagara kings to penetrate as it 
was to prove for the British in the nineteenth century. One was that 
landholding in this highly favoured zone of wet cultivation was 
based on compact ‘estates’, as the British were to call them, under 
the control of warrior families who were linked to ruling chiefs 
(often calling themselves rajas) through kinship and marriage. Grain 
and pepper production of the region was in the hands of trading 
corporations, called magara and settikara, who paid a part of the 
profits of this trade to these local magnates. The difference between 
the two trade corporations seemed to be that the first was probably 
involved in international trade and the second in domestically 
produced commodities and grains. In addition, there were in Tulu 
country corporate groups of artisans, called hanjamana or nagara- 
hanjamana, distinguishing, again, producers and traders of locally 


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produced commodities for local exchange from those involved in 
overseas trade. These corporations were highly localised and some 
of the leading centres of trade, such as Barakuru, had three local 
settikara groups. Endowments to Hindu and Jaina shrines indicate 
that such groups operated within discrete chiefly territories except 
in the main foreign trade centres; all traders enjoyed the protection 
of chiefs in whose territories they operated and to whom they paid 
revenue on their trade and industrial production. It is probable that 
Kanara magnates of the time participated in the trade through agents 
called rajasresthi, royal merchants, as other west-coast rulers did 
during the twelfth century and later. 

Opportunities for central appropriation of wealth from overseas 
trade on the opposite, or Coromandel, coast appear no more 
promising as the historical relations of Vijayanagara there make 


Early in the first dynasty, two powerful chiefdoms on the eastern 
frontier of Vijayanagara were conquered. This was to gain security 
against Reddi and Velama kingdoms of coastal Andhra and Tel- 
angana, but another reason was to open the rich trade coasts and 
adjacent zones of advanced agriculture to Vijayanagara domination 
and its tributary catchment. 

The first of these conquered tracts was centred on the northern 
Tamil plain around Chandragiri where the Yadavaraya chiefs had 
held sway; the second was in the area south of that, including much 
of the modern Arcots then under the Sambuvaraya chiefs. The 
Yadavarayas were local, but claimed to be connected with the 
ancient Eastern Chalukyas and Cholas; the Sambuvarayas were 
Vanniyar chiefs, part of that group of peasant warriors — like the 
Reddis and Velamas of Andhra — who rose to local prominence 
under the imperial Cholas to become the dominant peasantry in 
many parts of the Arcots and Kanchipuram by the fourteenth 
century. Both of these chiefdoms were defeated by Vijayanagara 
soldiers under the command of the general Mangudeva, a subord- 
inate of Kumara Kampana, brother of the king Harihara II, with 
whom Mangu campaigned in southern Tamil country. His reward 


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for these services was the governorship of Chandragiri, newly consti- 
tuted from part of the territory taken from the Yadavarayas. 
Mangudeva and his descendants extended the Chandragiri rajya 
northward to include Guntur and neighbouring parts of southern 
Andhra; they also gained territory to the south asa result of Vijayana- 
gara forays into Tamil country in the time of Devaraya II, into whose 
family the Chandragiri chiefs were now married. These successors to 
Mangu now called themselves, with some justice, ‘Saluva’ (‘hawk’), 
and the greatest of them was Saluva Narasimha whose rise from 
around 1460 culminated with the throne itself in 1485. 

Saluva Narasimha drove the Orissan Gajapati from the border 
country between Karnataka and Andhra and pursued them north- 
ward over 150 miles to fortified Udayagiri, which he seized. 
Returning south, he established direct Vijayanagara authority over 
the entire Tamil plain for the first time, reaching Ramesvaram in the 
1470s. Like other generalissimos of the fifteenth century — Perma- 
ladeva, Devaraya II’s commander and possibly his co-ruler, and 
Mangudeva, his own ancestor — Narasimha commanded a large 
royal army for service against Muslim and Hindu enemies; and like 
the others, the army was Narasimha’s instrument for gaining ever 
greater power within the kingdom. Even before he seized the throne 
for himself, military subordinates of his had begun to make names 
for themselves. One was Isvara Nayaka, whose son Narasa Nayaka 
established the Tuluva Dynasty in 1491; the other was Aravidi 
Bukka, whose descendants established the last Vijayanagara dynasty 
in the 1540s. 

From the very onset of the loose Vijayanagara overlordship in the 
fourteenth century, most of the Coromandel plain was under rulers 
who were independent of royal control. The Coromandel’s trade 
emporia from Motupalli in the delta of the Krishna-Godavari to 
Tuticorin in the far south and its high agriculture from Chandragiri 
to the Tambraparni basin in Tirunelveli yielded wealth to other 
lords. At first, these included the subjugated Sambuvarayas, Cholas, 
and Pandyas, but in the time of Krishnadevaraya, the beneficiaries 
had come to include a set of politico-military personages who 
sprung from the Vijayanagara armies. The latter, soon after the 
reconquest of Tamil country, launched themselves upon indepen- 
dent careers which ultimately limited royal appropriations from the 


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wealth agriculture and trade of Coromandel and then threatened the 
very overlordship of the kingdom on that coastal plain. 


But before opposition in Tamil country could be quelled, Krishna- 
devaraya faced more immediate dangers on taking the throne 
vacated by his half-brother, Vira Narasimha, in 1509. 

Danger was removed by a series of brilliant military campaigns 
against Muslims and Gajapatis on the northern and eastern flanks of 
the Vijayanagara core territory, and Krishnadevaraya returned to 
his troublesome Tamil subjects with enhanced reputation and 
confidence. His achievements were posted a mere six months after 
his coronation in an inscription engraved on the Virupaksha temple 
in Hampi. In this record of January 1510, the titles of “Hindu Sultan’ 
and ‘fever to the elephants of Gajapati’ were added to his coronation 
title of being an incarnation of the god Krishna. Next, the king 
turned to a quarter from which a threat was posed on his western 
flank by a Karnatak chief of the Ummattur family. Gangaraja had 
built strong fortresses in the upper Kaveri at Srirangapattanam and 
Sivasamudram; from these fastnesses he had launched campaigns 
across the Karnataka and Andhra plains to Penukonda, threatening 
both western and southern approaches to Vijayanagara. To subdue 
Gangaraja, Krishnadevaraya is said to have summoned a large force 
of cavalry and infantry from local military chiefs who were as 
worried as the king by the expansion of Gangaraja’s authority, and 
the latter was killed in 1512 and his fortress at Sivasamudram razed. 
Notwithstanding this rebellion, as it was conceived, Gangaraja’s son 
and descendants were permitted to continue to rule from Sriranga- 
pattanam. Later, southern Karnataka was to fall under the rule of 
three of those military leaders who had joined in Krishnadeva- 
raya’s campaign against Gangaraja of whom one, Kempe Gauda, 
became the ruler of Bangalore and its countryside and another, the 
Tamil Brahman generalissimo Saluva Govindaraja, was entrusted to 
the government of parts of southern Karnataka. 

Other of Krishnadevaraya’s trusted soldiers of these several 
campaigns were also destined for important independent careers. 


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Two of these were Nagama Nayaka and Chellappa Saluva Nayaka, 
brother of Saluva Govindaraja. Krishnadevaraya gave both major 
responsibilities and privileges in Tamil country, and both were 
ultimately to rise against their Vijayanagara masters, Nagama 
against Krishnadevaraya and Chellappa against Achyutadevaraya. 
The territories from which the rebellions of both were launched had 
been formed by lands taken from the ancient holders of royal 
authority in Tamil country and placed under Vijayanagara men 
who, in the end, violated their sovereigns’ trusts, but were true to 
the times in seeking royal fortunes for themselves. 

Nagama Nayaka’s treachery is recounted in chronicles of the rise 
of the nayaka kingdom of Madurai. The generalissimo Nagama was 
supposedly dispatched by Krishnadevaraya to punish the Virasek- 
hara Chola for despoiling the Pandayans who were under protection 
of Vijayanagara. Having dealt with the Chola, Nagama proclaimed 
Madurai his own. He, in turn, was denied the fruits of disloyalty by 
his son, Visvanatha Nayaka, who delivered his father over to 
Krishnadevaraya. As a reward, the more loyal subject than son, 
Visvanatha, was appointed governor of a large part of southern 
Tamil country; he and his son Krishnappa supported successive 
rayas until the sack of the city in 1565. Then, with the Viyayanagara 
king in flight, Krishnappa set an independent Madurai kingdom 
whose expansion and consolidation owed much to the help of his 
father’s able minister, Ariyanatha Mudaliar. Thus, the extensive 
domains of the ancient Pandyas, valuable alike for its agriculture and 
its trade coast, provided little regular sustenance to Vujayanagara 
kings and required several chastising campaigns even to secure 

In a like manner, other Vijayanagara generalissimos sent to pacify 
the Tamil plain and secure Vijayanagara hegemony there ended up 
by launching independent kingdoms. One was in a territory reach- 
ing from Nellore to the Kollidam (Coleroon) River, with a capital at 
the fortress of Gingee. This was Tubaki Krishnappa, son of 
Krishnadevaraya’s general Vaiyappa Nayaka. The even more valu- 
able domain of the Kaveri basin was also denied to Krishnadeva- 
raya’s successors by descendants of the latter’s general, Sivappa 
Nayaka. Unlike the Brahman Chellappa, Sivappa was the 
descendant of peasant warriors who formed the core of the rayas’ 


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armies; for his service, Sivappa became a close companion of 
Achyutadevaraya and even married into the latter’s family before 
being appointed to Tanjavur. Inscriptions from the Kaveri basin 
confirm that Sivappa remained loyal, but he seems to have avoided 
some of the campaigns launched in the far south by Rama Raja of the 
Arividu family, who was Sadasivaraya’s powerful generalissimo and 
virtual co-ruler. These campaigns of Rama Raja were to regain 
Vijayanagara control of Chandragiri and to punish a set of Tamil 
chiefs for failing to pay tribute. Not only did Stvappa stay clear of 
such military expeditions, but he seems to have devoted himself to 
enriching Tanjavur beyond its grain surpluses by entering into 
arrangements with the Portuguese whereby the latter paid gener- 
ously to have trading stations along the coast of Tanjavur. 

In the grandest days of Vijayanagara, during the time of Krishna- 
devaraya, it is obvious that the resources capable of being regularly 
appropriated by its kings were those in the Tungabhadra heartland 
of the kingdom. This was not a small region, nor were its resources 
meagre. That heartland extended over 30,000 square miles, from the 
Kannada-speaking, modern Bellary district to the Telugu-speaking 
districts of Kurnool and Cuddapah. This was approximately the 
same territory administered by Thomas Munro between 1800 and 
1808 as collector of the ‘Ceded Districts’ of the Madras Presidency, 
and its population in the sixteenth century may not have been very 
different from that two centuries later, that is, about two million. 

Tuluva kings of the first half of the sixteenth century drew upon a 
large agricultural zone in the midst of whose dominantly dry 
cropped fields were small regions of high agriculture based on tank 
irrigation. In this region there were among the best cotton soils in 
the peninsula as well as some of the largest pasturages that supported 
the herding of both cattle and sheep. Thus, cotton and woollen 
goods were exported from the region as well as bullocks. Bullocks 
were used in large numbers to move commodities over a peninsular 
trade region that centred on the city of Vijayanagara; bullocks also 
began to replace others who had long been aristocrats of the animal 
kingdom — war horses and elephants — because bullocks pulled the 
guns that now appeared in all armies. 

The north-western flank of this peninsular trade system centred 
on Vijayanagara was Bankapur and the south-western flank was 


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Srirangapattanam; both of these Karnatak towns were linked to 
major emporia along the Arabian Sea coast from Chaul in the north 
to Cannanore in the south. Substantial customs dues were collected 
from the trade, these interior towns, and others like Mysore and 
Ikkeri, also served as assembly points for commodities and therefore 
additional custom revenues. On the eastern flank of this trade 
system there were the Coromandel ports from Motupalli south to 
Pulicat, just north of modern Madras. They were connected to 
Vijayanagara by a major route linking the important pilgrimage 
centre at Tirupati, the manufacturing and trade town of Penukonda, 
and the important fortress towns of Chandragiri and Chitaldrug. 

Scattered over this dry upland heart of the kingdom there were 
many pockets of high cultivation and population based on the 
development of tank irrigation by chiefs such as Saluva Narasimha. 
He not only increased irrigation in the Chandragiri area, his base, 
but also encouraged temple authorities at the nearby temples of 
Tirupati and Kalahasti to invest money endowments to improve 
tanks and irrigation canals in hundreds of nearby temple villages. 
This practice was imitated by other magnates, among the most 
important of whom were the eighty or so within the Vijayanagara 
heartland itself. 

Contemporary inscriptions and later accounts collected by the 
first British administrators in the core of the old Vijayanagara 
kingdom provide valuable evidence on the political authority of 
these chiefs, most of whom were called ‘Poligars’ by the British. The 
heyday of these chiefs was the first half of the sixteenth century, but 
most seem to have come into existence during the early sixteenth 
century as a result of Krishnadevaraya’s policies for diminishing 
older chiefly tamilies. 

Thomas Munro, the famous first collector of the region, regarded 
these chiefs as the major centres of resistance to British rule, and he 
justified their removal on the grounds of their historical political 
authority. In Munro’s time, 2,000 villages were held by eighty 
poligari families of different statuses. The highest and perhaps oldest 
of such local magnates are found in modern Bellary district. One 
was the chief of the Anegondi, calling himself the Tirumala Raja and 
claiming descent from a Vijayanagara ruling family; this chief held 
114 villages in 1800. Fifty miles south-west of Anegondi and Hampi 


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was the Harapanahalli poligar; this family seems to have been 
established in the sixteenth century by a Lingayat chief, Dadappa 
Nayar, on the modest basis of his watchman’s (talzyar) rights in two 

The number of villages held by these numerous ruling families in 
Vijayanagara times is not always known from the family records 
said to have been consulted by Munro. Those of the Anegondi and 
Harapanahalli chiefs during the sixteenth century are not known, 
but another, the Jaramali poligar, held 309 villages then and appears 
to have supplied a force of 3,000 foot-soldiers and 500 horsemen to 
the kings. The Rayadrug chief, Venkatapati Nayaka, paid no money 
to Vijayanagara kings either, but contributed 2,000 infantry. Evi- 
dence of around 1800 suggests that other of the eighty poligars of 
this Vijayanagara heartland held some villages free of any payment 
to the Vijayanagara kings and held other villages as tax-farmers. In 
addition, they were obliged to maintain some mounted and some 
foot-soldiers for royal service. Many of the smaller poligars and 
most of the infantry they maintained were Bedars or Boyas, 
swidden cultivators and hunters of the forests, and of these many 
were Lingayats. During the sixteenth century, also, several of these 
chiefs were Muslims. Munro estimated that over 1,200 villages were 
under poligars until 1660 when the former Viyayanagara heartland 
had come under the control of the Bijapur sultans or their comman- 
ders, such as Shahji, father of Sivaji. Of these villages, 682 were held 
free of any money demands and 535 were held as tax-farms for 
which money was paid to sultanate officials. The same eighty 
poligars supplied a total of 29,000 infantry and 1,200 cavalry to 
Biapur armies. 

Asa rough estimate, half of the villages thought to be held by local 
chiefs in the core of the kingdom paid some money to the Vyayana- 
gara kings. The probability is that much of the surplus production in 
other villages of the core of the kingdom was shared between the 
Rayas and Brahmans and other religious beneficiaries so that in the 
very core of the kingdom, the royal share of surpluses may not have 
been very high. Elsewhere it was less. The revenue beneficiaries of 
the thriving international commerce seem to have been the numer- 
ous, small lordships on the western coast and the larger lordships on 
the eastern, or Coromandel, coast. Kings could not have benefited 


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except when a great commander like Chellappa in the time of 
Krishnadevaraya was loyal. Also, while it is true that revenue from 
much of agriculture was in cash, as were inland customs and dues 
extracted from merchants and artisans, there is no evidence that this 
money — or much of it — found its way to Vijayanagara and the 
treasury of the kings. 

The resources for achieving what Krishnadevaraya sought to curb 
the territorial magnates of the peninsula were therefore not abun- 
dant. His wars brought prizes to the city and paid for its many 
monuments, but it is doubtful, again, that this contributed more to 
central power than was lost by the spread of military leaders ever 
more deeply into the peninsular countryside. Warfare tested and 
fortified the military capabilities of the numerous military chiefs of 
the south; wars also spread the poligar institution. Fighters seized or 
were granted income from villages as a means of maintaining the 
petty armed forces used in the wars of greater lords; otherwise, local 
cultivating and trading groups seeking some protection from the 
violence of the times paid for the protection of poligars in many 
places of the far south, as implied by the term padikaval used in 
Ramnad and Pudukkottai. No chieftains could remain aloof from 
nearby warfare, which was bound to lead to a reshuffling of local 
power that left the strong stronger and pushed the weaker into yet 
greater vulnerability and submission. Scattered contests for local 
dominance changed balances between local lordships and the com- 
munal bases of their rule on the one hand and between these local 
lords and the kings of Vijayanagara or their agents on the other. 


The sixteenth-century system of political relations marks a major 
change from all states before Vijayanagara in the South; it is also 
different from the first century of Vijayanagara kings. 

Previous kingdoms — Cholas, Pandyas, Hoysalas, and Kakatiyas — 
were aggregates of numerous chieftaincies over localised, communal 
organisation. The madu in many parts of the South, the okkalu of 
Karnataka, and the highly territorialised caste organisation of 
Reddis and other dominant agricultural communities all point to 
this underlying character of pre- and early-Vijayanagara society and 


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polity. Kings then differed from other lords in having immediate 
mastery over areas of high agriculture and population, in being 
conquerors, and in being anointed. The authority of many pre- 
Vijyayanagara kings and all chiefs was an extension of communal 
morality and lineage or clan organisation. Most chiefs in late 
medieval times, at any rate, sought to escape the confines of the 
communal sources of their authority by establishing relations with 
anointed kings, and seeking thereby to acquire some extra- 
communal, royal authority over resources and people; the kings 
with whom such relations came to exist magnified their royal claims 
thereby, but the substance of their authority was command over the 
rich and populous river valleys during pre-Vijayanagara times. 

Then, too, kings claimed rights to a major share of material and 
human resources within their realms as ksattra, possession by 
lordship. Chola kings, for example, enjoyed this in the Kaveri basin 
~ the core of their realm — and less consistently in the Palar basin as 
well; they claimed the same lordly possession in Pandya country, 
but never achieved a sustained mastery there. Non-royal, or chiefly, 
power and authority arose from headship over dominant, local 
peasant groups. Yet, titles affected by chiefs among Tamils, Telugus, 
and Kannadiyans all derive from a Dravidian root, utai, which, as 
utaimai, had the same meaning as ksattra. Hence, the language of 
royal and chiefly claims was the same, and this is one manifestation 
of what I elsewhere call the ‘segmentary state’. According to this 
notion, the Chola state and other medieval states of the South 
existed as states in the recognition by dispersed locally based 
lordships of the ritual sovereignty of the most powerful of their 
number, the anointed king. Relations between such autochthons 
and anointed kings during the pre-Vijayanagara age were essentially 
ritual, expressed in the dharmic idioms of royal protection and 
lordly service. This occurs in the Tamil muvendavelar (a chief who 
serves the three anointed kings over Tamils: Chola, Pandya, or 
Chera) adopted by great men of the Chola age. 

During the time of Krishnadevaraya, as well as before and after, 
sovereignty in the Vijayanagara kingdom was conceived of as 
divided or shared. Its kings claimed to rule the whole of the 
peninsula south of the Krishna River, a claim which is denominated 
here as ritual sovereignty, distinguishing, thereby, between the 


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political authority that numerous ruling families enjoyed as posses- 
sors of ksattra or utai, everywhere in the kingdom, and the 
recognition by all of these utatyar of the special status of the king. 
The latter, by virtue of his anointment and his responsibility for the 
protection and welfare of all in the kingdom, possessed powers 
conferred by rajadharma as well as ksattra in his central domain. 
These two sources of authority — ksattra/utai and rajadharma — 
were complementary; together they fulfilled the conception of 
appropriate authority in Hindu kingdoms of the age, including 
Vijayanagara. It is in this sense that the concept of dayada, or shared 
sovereignty, is crucial, and it is also in this sense that the Vijayana- 
gara state, and others of the age, may be regarded as polities of 

Monarchies of the medieval age in South India were intended to 
express and preserve chiefly authority and were therefore founded 
on a class formation in which the ruling class was a stratum of chiefs. 
The legitimacy of the latter stemmed from their protection of a 
whole structure of communal entitlements of stratified groups 
within their chiefdoms. Among the latter were the leading landhold- 
ing groups, major merchant and artisanal groups and most religious 
bodies. Ultimately, the success of Krishnadevaraya’s policy of 
reducing the authority of chiefs and increasing royal authority 
depended on the conviction of many in his kingdom that their 
collective entitlements would be preserved under the greater 
centralisation he sought. To the extent that his measures increased 
and strengthened prebendal entitlements, or new rights to wealth, 
the king’s measures must have seemed as threatening to com- 
munally-organised constituents of chiefly authority as to the ancient 
and new stratum of chiefs themselves. 

Krishnadevaraya’s bold attempt to extend the reach of central 
authority was a major innovation of the age, though it was based on 
certain prior developments. Before his time, the ubiquitous Vijaya- 
nagara term for the bond between lesser lord and king was karya- 
karta, that is ‘agent’, a seeming denial of any autochthonous 
authority by the king’s chiefly subjects. Those with the title of 
‘nayaka’ in Vijayanagara times represented a new kind of local 
lordship in two ways. One was the rhetorical shift from the earlier 
implication of terms like nattar, the leaders of the nadu, which 


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signified some tract of land and its dominant cultivators — the 
ancient sense of janapada. During Viayanagara times, such a 
conception continues, but must then be understood not as absolute 
dominion — arising from a group having tamed a forest to regular 
cultivation or from a conquest of existing cultivators, about which 
all south Indians would have agreed earlier. Now, there was little of 
such claims of absolute dominion, but only relative communal 
conceptions or rights to be set off against new and different rights of 
agency held by powerful individuals. A second difference was that 
rights of agency were derived from a king, hence these are prebendal 
rights, different from and in potential conflict with rights derived 
from a community or communal rights. 

The meaning of lordship began to be transformed during the time 
of Devaraya II with the granting of enlarged importance to soldiers 
and to military rank and associated political powers and superior 
landed rights based on military service to the rayas. This is the 
meaning of the term amara (from the Sankrit samara, ‘war’) and the 
associated specific entitling land right, amara-magani, and the title, 
amara-nayaka. Lordship thus becomes a conception of authority 
that, in being understood as derived from the distant authority of a 
high Vijayanagara official, say a mahapradhani, or the king, chal- 
lenged and weakened locally-derived and protected communal 
rights, even when the agent was not actually a ‘foreigner’, as the 
Telugu vadugan was in Tamil country. 

Though there are differences among historians of Tamil country, 
Karnataka, and Andhra about the decline of local corporate institu- 
tions and communal rights during the Viyyayanagara age, on the 
whole it seems true that rights to local resources and power changed 
during the sixteenth century. This was the general effect of the 
confrontation of older systems of communal rights by new preben- 
dal claims of all sorts. New and challenging claims are observed in 
another aspect of lordship in South India. That is, the fiscal demands 
of all superordinate authorities were satisfied only by money. During 
Chola times, references to taxes in money (kasu ayam) are rare in 
comparison to payments in kind or in labour. By the sixteenth 
century, ten categories of money taxes (suvarna sunka) were 
collected that had scarcely ever been mentioned before. These 
included money taxes on agricultural and herding, on forest pro- 


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ducts; on various industrial and commercial activities, including 
taxes on goods imported from overseas; military and police taxes, or 
fees, paid for the protection afforded by a local fort, military 
commander, or to a local watchman, called kavalgar or taltyar; 
professional taxes paid not only by barbers, washermen, and 
goldsmiths, but also by leatherworkers (madiga), hunters (bedar or 
boya) and even by Brahman priests; sets of communal taxes 
(samaya-sunka), including marriage taxes and fines levied on speci- 
fic castes such as one of the time of Venkataraya II (reign 1586-1614) 
raised for the benefit of a Reddi headman (desai, from desa or 
‘locality’). Notwithstanding all of these, and other money taxes 
found in sixteenth-century inscriptions, neither Venkataramanayya, 
who most completely canvassed these terms, nor other scholars of 
the period have been able to determine whether such money taxes 
went to a central treasury. Prebendal entitlements, such as amara 
nayankara, that came into existence during the later fifteenth 
century were not the cause of the monetisation of the age, but 
without that these entitlements could not have been realised by the 
new stratum of prebendal lords. 

Nor can it be said that these new prebendal rights were legislated 
by Vijayanagara kings. It is well to remember that the records of 
payments to satisfy the demands of superior political authorities 
came not from account books of revenue departments, nor even 
from contemporary administrative texts like the Mughal Azn-i- 
Akbari, but from thousands of records of religious endowments and 
later texts collected by Mackenzie. 

Apart from prebendal rights and institutions, such as nayankara, 
the Vijayanagara age saw temples emerge as major political arenas. 
Temples and sectarian (matha) centres were supported by those in 
political authority through their donations of money revenues from 
that income enjoyed as a political right. This was the same whether 
the grantor was Krishnadevaraya, who gave 10,000 gold coins to 
various major temples in Tamil country, or a headman for the 
benefit of a local shrine. 

Arjun Appadurai demonstrated how money as well as land was 
circulated in such a way as to lash together three great institutions of 
the Vijayanagara age: kings and their great commanders, the heads 
of major Hindu sectarian groups, and temples. He documents how 


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the first Vijayanagara incursions into Tamil country resulted in close 
relations between the conquerors and such major temples as that at 
Srirangam through the intermediary activities of sectarian leaders. 
The latter ~ members of the Vaishnava Uttamanambi family — 
translated gifts from Vijayanagara kings to temple managers at 
Srirangam in return for which the royal or official donor received 
the first and highest honours from the god Sriranganatha, thus 
fortifying the royal claims of the conquerors. The Uttamanambi 
intermediaries, for their part, assumed a more strategic place in the 
management of the temple. The same process was repeated in many 
other places, then and later. Saluva Narasimha seized commanding 
influence at the important Vishnu temple of Tirupati in collabor- 
ation with another sect leader, Kandadai Ramanuja Aiyangar. 
Narasimha’s large endowments of land and money were made to the 
god Venkatesvara through Kandadai Ramanuja who was thereby 
entitled to portions of the honours and wealth which was used to 
advance his own position and that of his followers with authorities 
of the temple. Appadurai shows how this was replicated elsewhere, 
including at the Sri Parasarati Swami temple at Triplicane in modern 
Madras during the time of the Vijayanagara kings Sadasivaraya and 
Venkata II (1537-1614). 

Appadurai’s brilliant analysis concluded that kings and other 
great men of the Vijayanagara age exchanged material resources 
which they commanded for temple honours through the agency of 
sect leaders in order to gain control of political constituencies that 
might otherwise have proved refractory. It is important to notice 
that there appears to have been no attempt by these Telugu outsiders 
to preserve an identity as outsiders as might have been thought 
useful to a conquering élite. The contrary is the case. The objective 
of these royal agents, notwithstanding the efforts of Vijayanagara 
kings, especially Krishnadevaraya, was not to forge a unified and 
centralised polity out of the formidable divisions in the southern 
peninsula. Rather, the use by Telugu and Kannadiyan outsiders of 
the temple and sectarian leaders with large, popular followings was 
to enable ambitious military commanders and chiefs of the time to 
create political regimes and to establish political relationships that 
were essentially local, more integrated with older forms of affinity 
and organisation — thus more manageable, than that achievable 


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under the imperial umbrella of Vijayanagara kings. This was one of 
the factors that proved the undoing of Krishnadevaraya’s centralis- 
ing innovation, but there were even more general problems. 


Two crises threatened the protection of his imperial umbrella; both 
arose from the activities of Krishnadevaraya’s kinsman, Aliya 
(which means son-in-law) Rama Raja. In 1529 and again in 1535, he 
challenged Achyutadevaraya, Krishnadevaraya’s chosen successor 
for the throne of the kingdom, and though these attempts failed, his 
actions did much to divide the great imperial families of Andhra and 
set the stage for their internecine warfare shortly after. A second 
way in which Rama Raja laid the foundations for the demise of the 
Viayanagara kingdom was by his aggressive interventions into the 
territories of the sultanates on the kingdom’s northern frontier. His 
adventures there temporarily converted the warring successors of 
the Bahmani rulers of the Deccan into a coalition against Viyayana- 
gara which resulted in a humiliating defeat, Rama Raja’s death and 
the sack of the city. The first of these two portentous actions by 
Rama Raja must be considered here, leaving for a later discussion the 
conditions which led to the humiliating defeat of 1565. 

Historians of the kingdom have condemned Rama Raja for 
abandoning Krishnadevaraya’s centralising initiatives against terri- 
torial chiefs of the realm, but they have been more forgiving of his 
Machiavellian policies against the Deccani sultans, possibly because 
they have accepted the purportedly dharmic mission of the 
kingdom. Neither position seems justified. To take up the adventu- 
rism in the Deccan first, it should be said that the Raichur and 
Krishna River frontiers of the kingdom were never accepted by 
Vijayanagara kings as fixed; these tracts were always prospective 
areas of expansion for the fighting chiefs of the core area of the 
kingdom, just as Tamil country was. Rama Raja’s interventions in 
the Deccan differed from others in being more successful and in 
being carried out by diplomacy as well as military force. As to his 
reversal of Krishnadevaraya’s centralising policies, this was but a 
return to the established politics of the age, the recognition that the 
kingdom was in essence a polity of chiefs and a state only in the 


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sense that the numerous and powerful chiefs of the southern 
peninsula recognised and offered their homage to Vijayanagara 

Rama Raja was one of several sons of Aravidi Bukka, a comman- 
der of Saluva Narasimha’s armies and a soldier who, with the Tuluva 
Narasa Nayaka, helped to make Narasimha the power behind the 
last Sangama holders of the throne and then their successor. During 
the reign of Narasimha, Aravidi Bukka attained the independent 
status of generalissimo, a position he fortified by shifting his 
support from Narasimha’s successor to Narasa Nayaka and the new 
Tuluva kings. He was one of the great men of the kingdom present 
at Krishnadevaraya’s coronation in January 1510, and for his 
support Krishnadevaraya gave one of his daughters and other 
honours to the generalissimo’s capable son, Rama Raja. As an affine 
of the royal family and heir to the large, well-placed followership of 
his father, Rama Raja contested for the Vijayanagara throne in 1529. 
His challenge was formidable because his kinsmen held some of the 
strongest fortresses in the Vijayanagara heartland: Adoni, Kurnool, 
Awuku, and Nandyala. 

Achyutadevaraya survived this threat by his courage and impress- 
ive allies of his own. When his brother died, Achyutadevaraya had 
himself crowned at the Tirupati and Kalahasti temples, the major 
Vishnu and Siva shrines of the eastern heartland of the kingdom, 
near Chandragiri where he had either been content, or constrained 
by Krishnadevaraya, to live, well away from the capital. His 
powerful brothers-in-law, the Salakarajus, one of whom had served 
as the late king’s treasurer, threw their support to the king as did 
Krishnadevaraya’s Brahman military commanders. Of the latter, the 
most important was Chellappa Saluva Nayaka, governor of Chola 
country. The combination of moral advantage in being his brother’s 
choice, his timely temple coronations, and the strength of his allies 
seems to have checked Rama Raja’s scheme and permitted Achyu- 
tadevaraya to proceed to Vijayanagara for a third coronation. He 
followed this, as his brother had done, with creditable victories, 
throwing back another Gajapati invasion of Andhra — the last — and 
checking incursions from the Golkonda sultans on the eastern 
frontier of the kingdom. These successes, plus internal political 
turmoil in the Bijapur sultanate, spared Achyutadevaraya the full- 


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ness of the danger that had confronted Krishnadevaraya in 1509, 
though, like his brother, Achyutadevaraya had also to put down an 
uprising by Ummattur chiefs in southern Karnataka. So vigorous 
was Achyutadevaraya’s defence of his throne that Rama Raja, after 
briefly sulking among kinsmen in Andhra, joined in the suppression 
of Chellappa’s rebellion in 1531. 

Within a few years, however, Rama Raja was again threatening, 
supported as before by the numerous, powerful progeny of his 
father and by two other adroitly contrived elements of strength. 
One was winning one of the Sakalaraju brothers from his alliance 
with Achyutadevaraya; the other was a windfall of military assist- 
ance. The last was an outcome of the serious internal conflicts that 
had rent Byapur earlier and now resulted in a new sultan of Bijapur 
dismissing several thousand foreign Muslim soldiers who had 
opposed him. Rama Raja is reported to have immediately engaged 
these soldiers and made another bid to topple Achyutadevaraya in 

Again, the king succeeded in parrying the challenge. One of the 
methods he adopted was to persuade some of the mightiest military 
commanders of the kingdom to make large and conspicuous dona- 
tions to the god at Tirupati, Achyutadevaraya’s tutelary, proclaim- 
ing their loyalty to him. Having twice mobilised and therefore 
divided the great men of the kingdom in contesting Achyutadeva- 
raya’s kingship, Rama Raja in the end succeeded in realising much of 
his ambition. After Achyutadevaraya’s death in 1542, and possibly 
even before, Rama Raja became the virtual ruler of the country 
through Achyutadevaraya’s young nephew and successor, Sadasiva- 
raya, upon whom Rama Raja forced his regency. 

During the middle of the sixteenth century, partly as a result of 
Rama Raja’s machinations and partly as a result of deeper processes 
of which Rama Raja was a symptom, rather than a cause, extensive 
lordships were created throughout southern India. The agents and 
beneficiaries of this development were those military commanders 
whose service to Vijayanagara kings gave them the means to 
establish their own political places, a process which completed itself 
by the creation of a series of new kingdoms in the South: Mysore 
and Ikkeri in Karnataka and Gingee, Tanjavur and Madurai in Tamil 
country. Such state building had proceeded throughout the Vijaya- 


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nagara period; ambitions for an englobing Vijayanagara over- 
lordship was never free from competitive political activities by great 
men of the time. That some of these activities resulted in dynastic 
changes after 1480 merely masked the deeper processes at work to 
frustrate the creation of a more centralised regime over all of the 
South. Opposing centralising forces were not only a host of 
ambitious men at all times, but still powerful community forces that 
biased political solutions to local rather than imperial levels of 

The critical contribution of the Vijayanagara imperial order was 
precisely in weakening many ancient forms of communal organi- 
sation and allegiance and in empowering a whole new estate of 
warrior chiefs — some as military agents of the Rayas and some as 
local chiefs — to make political niches for themselves, often in 
opposition to the Vijayanagara rulers. Historians of the Vijayana- 
gara age have universally lamented the constant building of such 
anti-imperial centres; they mistakenly take as subversion of the 
Vijayanagara political order what was fundamental in the creation of 
that order during the fifteenth century as well as its destruction 
during the sixteenth century. 

The old, south Indian medieval regime was actually finished by 
1450, and a new kind of political structure had emerged as a result of 
the policies adopted by Devaraya II, an unrecognised architect of 
the Vijayanagara imperial order. His military improvements, based 
on the recruitment of Muslim fighters, set Vijayanagara on a path 
wholly different from that of all previous regimes in South India; his 
determination to control the major west coast ports from which war 
horses and trade treasure could be obtained was equally innovative; 
and his reliance upon and rewards to great military commanders, 
while temporarily strengthening his regime, created the new Vijaya- 
nagara generalissimos, men outside of the royal family whose 
capability as commanders gave them considerable, independent 
political standing. Moreover, Devaraya’s opening to Muslim 
soldiers, his permission to construct mosques and cemeteries in the 
city, must shatter any remaining illusions of historians that the 
Hindu and dharmic ideology which may be attributed to the 
Sangama founders of the kingdom, continued to shape imperial 
policies. In the time of Devaraya, and later, the kingdom and the city 


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came to represent a highly successful conquest state, indistinguisha- 
ble from sultanates of the time and realised even more completely in 
the Maratha kingdom of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

Saluva Narasimha crowned the transformation initiated by Deva- 
raya II and in the process crowned himself. By checking the 
expansion of the Orissan Gajapatis into the wealthy coastal territory 
of the Krishna-Godavari delta and the Coromandel, he not only 
protected his Chandragiri patrimony, but set the stage for sub- 
jugation of the Tamil plain. His Tamil conquests differed from all 
previous Vijayanagara forays into the South by setting aside the 
ancient authority of Tamil kings and chiefs, whom he replaced by 
men like himself representing the new imperial order. Narasimha, 
like Devaraya II before him, also strove for more complete control 
of the west coast emporia to secure something of the trade wealth of 
the region and all of its imported war horses. His military successes 
against the Gajapatis and against Tamil foes came as the sons of 
Devaraya II (Mallikarjuna and Virupaksha II) quarrelled and fought 
each other, thus affording an opening for the political destiny that 
his vaulting reputation as military saviour of the kingdom promised. 
But even as Narasimha was achieving this, his own military com- 
manders — Narasa Nayaka and Aravidi Bukka — were attaining 
something like the same status as generalissimos, thus creating the 
conditions where his new line of Vijayanagara kings was immedi- 
ately placed in danger. 

That Narasimha established a new kingship in 1485 but not a new 
and more secure capital as he might have, say at Chandragiri, 
indicates the widely held recognition of the city as the political 
centre of the entire South — the political capital had become political 
capital. Before its destruction in 1565, the city had come to 
symbolise a state that not only halted the advance of expanding 
Islam, but had extended its own authority over the whole of the 
South. For some time after its devastation, the city continued to 
stand for an exalted kingship to which lords throughout the 
southern peninsula offered homage and military service, if little else. 
But then, little else was really demanded beyond the homage that 
was owing to the great, conquering kings in their city that called 
itself ‘Victory’. 


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The dharmic ideological impetus attributed to the formation of 
Vijayanagara in the fourteenth century was spent by 1450 when the 
reign of Devaraya II ended. Then, and thereafter, Viyayanagara was 
itself a successful conquest state, with much of Tamil country, 
Karnataka, and Andhra under Telugu and Kannadiga chiefs whose 
ruling authority was based upon military service to Vijayanagara 
kings. By the late fifteenth century, too, earlier, medieval political, 
social and economic institutions in the older settled, coastal parts of 
the southern peninsula had been weakened and no longer were the 
model of society that the Vijayanagara state had ostensibly been 
created to defend. Another system of politics, society, and economy 
had become ascendent, one that developed in the interior upland, on 
the dry and high Deccan plateau. The beneficiaries and major 
propagators of this new system were not only military servants of 
Vijayanagara kings, but local-level chieftains of Karnataka and 
Andhra who found new opportunities under the kingdom of 
Vijayanagara, which was now a conquest state. 

In the previous chapter it was argued that while Vijayanagara 
military domination over the southern peninsula was established 
with surprising ease, the fiscal and political reach of the Rayas was 
both short and erratic. This loose suzerainty may account for part of 
the ease of the Vijayanagara conquest. What the sixteenth-century 
city on the Tungabhadra could command of the resources ostensibly 
available to its kings is neither precisely known nor knowable. 
There is not even the very generalized inventory of resources 
claimed as the political fruit of hegemony, such as that available for 
the Mughals in the Ain 1 Akbari, and surely, Vijayanagara claims to 
revenue came nowhere near what some scholars assume was avail- 
able to the Mughals, that is, about 50 per cent of gross agrarian 
production. In the very heart of the Vijayanagara kingdom were 
numerous independent chiefs who, like the Mughal mansabdar and 
jagirdar, contributed troops and military leadership to imperial 
defence and aggression. However, the great chiefs of the Vijayana- 


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gara heartland were not royal officials whose military support could 
simply be commanded nor could they be transferred about from one 
prebend to another. A Vijayanagara chief was more like a Mughal 
zamindar, an autochthonous local lord of a domain that might be 
scattered over hundreds of square miles and therefore the bane of 
any overlord, whether Mughal or Vijayanagara, who sought a 
larger share of local resources and political tractability, dependence 
and order from local authorities. 

The domains of such chiefdoms never appear to have had definite 
boundaries. Each chief, whether great or small, was identified by the 
central core of his authority around a major fortified town and often 
by a family name. The actual region under the domination of a chief 
was not, except at its core, a territory of consolidated power and 
authority. There are two important implications to be drawn from 
the dispersed character of political territories. One is that even the 
smallest chief could attempt to gain the protection of some distant 
great chief against another who might be closer. There appears to 
have been no conception of continuous territorial dominance at any 
level beyond certain ethnically defined cores, as a result of which 
great chiefdoms were mosaics of overlapping interests and hegemo- 
nies consisting of personal relations between some small magnate 
and a great one, and the durability of such relations could be fragile. 
The second implication stemming from this is that a conception of 
feudalism gains theoretical credibility. But there are still numerous 
reasons for rejecting the appropriateness of the feudal conception, 
among which the very high levels of exchange and commodity 
production is very important. 


It has been shown that expanding, robust international trade was no 
more easy for the kings of Vijayanagara to tap for their uses than it 
was for the Mughals, in fact probably a good deal less easy. But this 
does not mean that there were no important consequences of the 
vigorous trade around India’s coasts after 1500, during the ‘Vasco da 
Gama era’. One major consequence was the substantial increase in 
money media which attended foreign trade of that time. All 
evidence points to the favourable trade balances of international 


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trade for India and the settlement of these balances by bullion 
payments by foreign merchants. Only one commodity defied this 
practice. The importation of war-horses, known from the time of 
Marco Polo in the late thirteenth century, increased in volume and 
value during the Vijayanagara period, and so did imported cannon 
and hand guns. These war commodities were paid for by Indian 
exports and bullion according to the accounts of trade at the time. 
Weak additional support for this proposition comes from coin 
hoards, such as one of fourteenth-century coins found in Broach, on 
the western coast. Coins from everywhere in the Mediterranean and 
Indian Ocean were present in this find except for those from the 
horse-exporting Persian Gulf principalities. Apart from gold and 
silver hoarded or recast as personal or religious uses, most of the 
imported money media, including copper, and even cowries, added 
to the stock of money and made possible the expansion of money 
revenue demands everywhere in India and stimulated internal trade. 

Great wealth could be had by those either directly involved in 
trade or politically positioned to take some portion of its rich 
proceeds. The review of trade and politics on the Kanara coast in the 
previous chapter leads to the conclusion that the major political 
beneficiaries of the rich trade there were local Hindu and Jaina chiefs 
during the sixteenth century. 

But local Hindu and Jaina chiefs of the Kanara coast were not the 
only ones to benefit, as the recent research of Sanjay Subrahmanyam 
shows. Rajas on the Malabar coast south of Kanara also gained new 
resources from the increased trade of the sixteenth century and 
readily turned these resources into political assets. Others who 
found ways to convert trade wealth into political dominance were 
Muslims, among the most active traders. Ibn Batuta (d. 1377) 
mentioned one Jamal-ud-Din, son of a Goan shipbuilder and 
merchant, who used his family’s trade wealth to hire an army of 
6,000 and a fleet of over fifty ships. With these, he established 
himself as ‘sultan’ of Honavur, midway between the ports of Goa 
and Mangaluru. Jamal is said to have paid some tribute to Harihara I 
of Vijayanagara. By 1500, Portuguese records show that Honavur 
had reverted to Hindu rule, its chief paying tribute to Vijayanagara, 
but only after an invasion by Devaraya II. Another example of 
Muslim trade and political ascendency on the west coast is that of a 


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Mapilla (Muslim convert) trading family of Cannanore in Malabar 
who achieved a monopoly of trade with the Maldive Islands and 
thus of the coir ropes used by west coast ships between 1500 and 
1530 by successfully fending off Portuguese interlopers. 

Conditions on the eastern, or Coromandel, coast afforded no 
greater direct benefit to the Vijayanagara state. By the sixteenth 
century much of Coromandel trade was in the hands of Muslim 
traders — some Arabs, but mostly Marakkarar converts; others 
included Armenians and Portuguese deserters; the rest were Telugu 
Balija and Komati merchants who linked Pulicat with interior 
markets and production centres. In Pulicat, San Thome, or Naga- 
pattinam, according to foreign descriptions, which alone provide 
evidence on the matter, corporate groups managed the trade, 
administered the ports and collected the customs. The direct 
revenue benefit to the Rayas cannot have been high. However, the 
Rayas would have realised customs revenue as goods passed along 
the high roads connecting the principal Coromandel port at Pulicat 
and that of the Kanara coast, at Bhatkal, with the capital city. 

The sixteenth-century population of the city, over 100,000, was 
an enormous magnet for consumer goods, and the routes connecting 
it with both coasts are reported to have had special military 
protection from Vijayanagara kings. Sixteenth-century Rayas 
sought stable and peaceful relations with the formidable newcomers 
to their shores, the Portuguese, from whom war goods came as well 
as desirable, exotic commodities for court consumption. It is not 
surprising to learn that despite conflicts between the Portuguese and 
traders on both coasts during Vijayanagara times, the trade was so 
valuable to the Portuguese that the defeat of the Rayas in 1565 was 
seen as a disaster. They feared that the victorious Deccan sultans 
might deny them a future place on the coasts because of their 
long-standing trade with Vijayanagara. Even more, however, the 
Portuguese feared that with the defeat of the Rayas general political 
conditions would decline everywhere and with that valuable trade. 

Such fears were misplaced, as we now know. Defeat in 1565 did 
not end the resistance to Muslim expansion southward; this con- 
tinued with perhaps an enhanced place for the Portuguese. But, in 
the end, the trade hegemony that the Portuguese had wrestled from 
the Muslims during the sixteenth century was lost by them to other 


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Europeans: Dutch, British, and finally French. Moreover, the 
forces of commercialisation upon which the value of the Portu- 
guese monopoly depended grew stronger throughout the sixteenth 
century, obedient to processes of which the Portuguese were not 
the cause. Among these processes were changing forms of lordship 
throughout the southern peninsula during the Vijayanagara era, not 
only in the coastal areas of high agriculture and ‘high seas’ com- 
merce, but in the dry interior plateau above the coastal plains where 
political and economic changes had been quickening since the four- 
teenth century. 


Tamil country was the major imperial frontier during the sixteenth 
century; the processes of change there are analysed in recent work 
of Karashima, Subbarayalu, and Ludden. 

Karashima’s analysis of interior sixteenth-century Arcot was 
intended as a contribution to a debate on feudalism in India. 
However, his findings defeat this objective. More significant than 
whether or not it is correct or useful to speak of ‘feudalism’ is his 
general finding about the continuity as well as the changes in 
ancient rights of established landed communities and their commu- 
nal control over agrarian production and temples in the Arcot 
portion of the Tamil plain. He examined inscriptions found around 
the Vijayanagara strongholds of Padaividu and Gingee and, his 
speculations on feudalism apart, Karashima provides further docu- 
mentation in support of Arjun Appadurai’s explanation of how 
powerful outsiders, like Kannadiga warriors in this Tamil tract, 
strengthened their local suzerainty through mastery of temple 
affairs. This they accomplished by their endowments of lands and 
money, by their adjudication of conflicts among devotees and 
priests, and by encouraging, partly through example, the exca- 
vation of tanks and the improvement of water courses in temple vil- 
lages. By these means, Karashima shows, Vijayanagara warriors 
received shares of valuable offerings of consecrated foodstuffs (pra- 
sadam) and other honours as benefactors and protectors of the 
gods, both of which fortified their ruling credentials. Temples 
having become major commercial centres also offered income from 


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customs to locally powerful men for fostering and protecting these 

Trade in the Arcot border country between the eastern ghats and 
the rich coastal agricultural zone was encouraged and exploited by 
soldier-agents of the Rayas and their local allies. The creation of 
markets (pettaz) and fairs (sandai) was encouraged by tax concess- 
ions to those who settled in new market places: merchants, weavers, 
oil producers, betel sellers, and various artisans. Karashima even 
suggests that compulsion was used to increase production of cash 
crops such as sugar and pepper, another linkage between local 
production and international trade. Finally, he draws attention to 
the emergence of new landed groups, those who had no previous 
standing as landlords: Chettis, or merchants; Reddis, or soldiers; 
Kaikkolars, or weavers; and Manradis, or shepherds. These new 
entrants to local dominance displaced older groups, often adopting 
their titles, such as ‘Natter’; they also undertook irrigation improve- 
ments with wealth acquired from trade, production and even office. 

A companion study of the Vellar River valley in southern Arcot, 
by Karashima and Subbarayalu, provides a valuable comparative 
view of conditions of the fifteenth century with those of the 
sixteenth. By the earlier period, this part of the Tamil plain had been 
twice overrun by Viayanagara soldiers who levied such high 
demands upon local cultivators, merchants, and artisans that they 
rose in revolt in 1429. Information on this uprising, said by 
Subbarayalu to be the first ‘peasant revolt’ in Tamil country, is 
drawn from inscriptions found in several places in the northern 
border country of the Kaveri basin. Alliances were formed among 
members of the two broad and usually conflicting groups of Tamil 
castes — right and left castes — to resist new demands by their 
conquerors. These included the introduction of a land measure 
disadvantageous to local cultivators, but there must have been other 
demands involving trade and production because local artisans 
and petty merchants of the left division of castes joined their 
traditional agrarian rivals of the right caste division in opposition. 

Many of the conditions described in these analyses of late 
fifteenth- and sixteenth-century inscriptions from this area on the 
fringes of the Kaveri basin were replicated elsewhere in the southern 
Tamil plain. Foreign magnates — nayakas — closely involved in and 


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benefiting from temple and market centres forged links with the 
older strata of local cultivators and merchants. Karashima distin- 
guishes between certain features of adaptation to foreign warrior- 
rule by Tamils in the upper Vellar valley and those in the middle 
parts of the river basin. In the latter place, it was not so much 
warlord outsiders who exercised local dominance during the 
fifteenth century, but older locality authorities, in loose subordi- 
nation to foreign warlords. These local magnates ruled in collabor- 
ation with a local soldiery, calling themselves ‘Vanniyars’ and drawn 
from Palli people from the nearby hill tracts. There were few foreign 
nayakas in the middle reaches of the Vellar during the fifteenth 
century; independent authority was exercised by local chiefs who 
added to their ancient title of ‘Nattar’ the more fashionable Tamil 
equivalent of ‘Nayaka’ (Tamil: nayanar) and they were not super- 
seded by outsiders until well into the sixteenth century. 

Ludden’s research on Tirunelveli and on the relationship there 
between Vijayanagara conquerors from the north and older Tamil 
lordships of various kinds augments the findings of Karashima and 
Subbarayalu in the central Tamil plain. Pandyan rule over Madurai 
and Tirunelveli had progressively weakened from 1350 as a result of 
Muslim incursions as well as a brief revival of Chola power; this set 
the state for the imposition of Vijayanagara rule in 1550. 

Among the Vijayanagara men who placed their stamp upon this 
far southern region was Saluva Narasimha. While still a loyal 
generalissimo, he rescued the goddess Andal from neglect by 
becoming a generous patron of her temple at Srivilliputtur, in a 
stroke bringing fame to himself and to the goddess. Another 
vaduga, or northerner, left a more permanent mark, because he and 
his family remained in Tirunelveli. This was Ettappa Nayaka. 
Beginning his rise as a warrior in the same Chandragiri that had 
nurtured Saluva Narasimha, Ettappa in 1423 led a band of followers 
to Madurai seeking service with the still independent, though weak, 
Pandyan king. By 1567, his descendants held a large domain of 
black-soil land in the eastern dry zone of the region and a fortress 
named Ettaiyapuram; this warrior family then cast its lot with 
Visvanatha Nayaka when the latter seized the governorship and 
established his independent rule over the territory. In addition to 
warriors like Ettappa and his successors, Telugu merchants and 


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Brahmans also joined the trek southward. All found places within 
the changing society of this region. 

Tirunelveli town had been the southern capital of the Madurai 
Pandyan dynasty and the territory called Pandimandalam. The 
Nellaiappa temple there had been a royal shrine of the Pandyan 
kings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and it benefited 
from the royal support given for the construction of anicuts to 
extend irrigation from the Tambraparni. The enriched central 
Tambraparni river-basin was, and remained, under control of landed 
Brahman communities holding large, self-governing brahmadeya 
villages in alliance with members of the Vellalar cultivating commu- 
nity. When Pandyan royal authority was displaced in the sixteenth 
century by that of Vijayanagara commanders and other military 
adventurers from Andhra and by petty Maravar chieftains from the 
southern fringes of the Tambraparni basin, the central valley 
continued to be controlled by Brahman and Vellalar groups who 
enjoyed the right of kani, or communal ownership of land, as 
kaniyatchikkaran. Other migrants to Tirunelveli, like the Shanar 
palmyra-growers of Travancore and Maravar fighters from 
Ramnad, were also denied access to land in the central river-basin 
and therefore settled in the dry areas to the north and south of the 
valley. Neither they nor the Telugu conquerors themselves proved 
able to penetrate the Brahman-Vellalar monopoly over riverine 
fields, as a result of which Telugus settled on land in the eastern parts 
of the dry zone where they found black soils like those they left in 
their homeland. Interestingly, however, Telugu Brahmans along 
with Brahmans from Karnataka were permitted to join the Tamil 
Brahmans in the rich central plain, perhaps to preserve ancient 
Brahman privilege. 

Lordships in sixteenth-century Tirunelveli reflected the distri- 
bution of its varied peoples in Vijayanagara times. The western 
foothills were settled by Maravars principally, and here a large 
number of Maravar palatyakkarar were found; Telugu and Kannidi- 
gas settled the black-soil tracts in the eastern portion of the dry zone 
of the region and established many chieftaincies, including that of 
Ettaiyapuram. Even the lowly Shanars of Travencore were numer- 
ous enough to support a Shanar chiefdom in the south-eastern 
foothills. All of these chiefs passed under the hegemony of the 


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Nayaka kingdom of Madurai during the sixteenth century when 
Tirunelveli town served as a subsidiary capital as it had done in 
Pandyan times. 

Sixteenth-century Andhra offers an instructive contrast to Tamil 
country in that local lordships, though powerful under the Gol- 
konda sultans, enjoyed less independence than their counterparts in 
Tamil country under Vijayanagara. John Richards’ monograph on 
Golkonda shows that Telangana had a political order very like that 
of Tamil country and Karnataka before the sixteenth century. From 
the Kakatiya period, when they held the major fortresses of the 
kingdom, Velama and Reddi ‘warrior/cultivators’ constituted a 
‘nobility’ in Telangana and Rayalaseema, or northern and southern 
interior Andhra. They and their military followers first fought 
against, then joined, Muslim conquerors of Telangana. The ancient 
Velama/Reddi ‘nobility’ henceforward was a divided one, those of 
Telangana serving Muslim regimes and those of Rayalaseema, to the 
south, the Vijayanagara kings. Under the strong Qutb Shahi ruler 
Ibrahim (reign 1530-80), Reddi and Velama warriors found secure 
political niches. Ibrahim tempered military domination with con- 
siderable sympathy for Telugu culture acquired during a long stay in 
Vijayanagara as a political exile from his murderous brother. This 
together with his Telugu wife and the realities of politics encouraged 
the sultan to incorporate Telangana warrior chiefs into a single, 
Muslim-dominated political order. Moreover, state patronage of 
Brahmans and temples as well as Telugu poets continued. In 
characteristic Telugu royal style, encouragement was given to large 
and small tank-irrigation projects. 

None of these measures would have been sufficient for a stable 
Golkonda regime had not Ibrahim also decided to leave the chiefs of 
Telangana with considerable autonomy in their ancient territories. 
Hence, when the challenge of Vijayanagara expansionism under 
Aliya Rama Raya occurred between 1542 and 1565, Golkonda’s 
Telugu soldiery remained faithful to their Muslim ruler against the 
Hindu king, while their own kinsmen in Rayalaseema supported 
Vijayanagara. Until it was seized by the Mughals in 1687, the 
Golkonda political order remained unchanged. While Hindu chiefs 
ruled the countryside, the sultans built their new capital of Hyder- 
abad in part from booty taken by Golkonda soldiers in the sack of 


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Vijayanagara in 1565. There, and at the old and strengthened fort of 
Golkonda, the sultan maintained their overlordship with a Muslim 
warrior aristocracy of heavy cavalrymen supported by a European 
artillery corps; the former held large lands for their maintenance, 
most realising their incomes through Hindu — mostly Brahman — 
bankers and tax-farmers. A royal monopoly of newly discovered 
diamonds gave the central regime the means of financing part of the 
new capital, paying mercenary artillery-men and buying their 
cannons, and supporting an elaborate court life. Diamond exports 
added to older valuable textiles in making Masulipatam the premier 
port on the Coromandel coast. That delta port eclipsed Pulicat, 
which faded quickly after the 1565 defeat of Vijayanagara, and by 
1590, Masulipatnam rivalled the Mughal port of Surat on the west 
coast with whom it began to compete in the Indian Ocean trade. 
The Muslim Golkonda regime rested on the collaboration of 
Telugu chiefs and Brahmans. Brahmans were the clerks of the 
central administration of the sultanate in Golkonda and its ubiqui- 
tous tax-farmers (Telugu: sunkarulu; Persian: tjaradar). Trade tolls 
and customs were left for others to collect; these were tax-farmers 
recruited from trade guilds whom the sultans, as the Kakatiya kings 
had before them, left free to manage their own trade and the ports 
where the trade was conducted. Telugu chiefs continued as before to 
be linked to others by ties of kinship marriage and interest. Under 
Golkonda, they continued to hold fortresses, but these were now 
under some Muslim control. To compensate for this these chiefs 
received royal honours from the Qutb Shahi court. As a locality 
‘aristocracy’ drawn from ‘Telugu warrior/cultivator castes’, 
nayakas, and especially the greatest of their number, retained 
ancient chiefly authority. That was strengthened by their connec- 
tion with a Muslim kingdom, more powerful than any predecessors 
because of its Muslim cavalrymen and its European gunners, and 
more centralised than the Vijayanagara kingdom, hence its preben- 
dalism correspondingly stronger. By the sixteenth century, differ- 
ences between Hindus and Muslims were no more a barrier to 
political collaboration in Golkonda than they were in Vijayanagara. 
Local lordship in Karnatak was different from that of sixteenth- 
century Golkonda in the greater independence of chiefs from central 
authority and thus its weaker prebendal forms. During the fifteenth 


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and sixteenth centuries, the plain, or mazdan, of southern Karnataka 
was nominally under an agent of the Vijayanagara kings whose 
headquarters was the fortress at Srirangapatman in the upper Kaveri. 
This agent, often dignified by historians with the title of ‘viceroy’, 
was responsible for collecting tribute from surrounding chiefs, 
usually calling themselves odeyar, of whom one was the chief of 
what became Mysore town, ten miles from Srirangapatnam. There 
were other such chiefs in this part of the upper Kaveri valley which 
was destined to become the core of the seventeenth-century Mysore 
kingdom. On the northern boundary of the future core of that 
kingdom was the area called Morasu-nadu (modern Bangalore and 
Tumkur districts) dominated by one of the large sections of the 
southern Karnatak peasantry, Morasu Vokkaligas, who seemed to 
have been Telugu migrants to the area in the fourteenth century. To 
the south of the core of the future Mysore state was Kongu with its 
mixed population of Kannadigas, Telugus, and principally Tamils; 
to the east and north-east there were Telugu chieftains the most 
powerful of whom was the lord of Mulbagal. 

Odeyars (or ‘wodeyars’, to add the Dravidian phonological glide) 
of Mysore arose as minor chiefs during Vijayanagara times; they are 
first glimpsed in the early sixteenth century in a Kannada literary 
work of the time of the chief Chamaraja (1513-53), purportedly a 
local subordinate of Achyutadevaraya. Chamaraja’s domain began 
as a handful of villages along the Kaveri where he established a small 
fortified place called Mahisura-nagara (from which Maisur and 
Mysore). The first inscriptions of these modest chiefs came in the 
time of Timmaraja Wodeyar, in 1551. By the 1570s the chieftaincy 
had expanded to thirty-three villages protected by a force of 300 
soldiers, and in 1610, the last of the Vijayanagara agents at 
Srirangapatanam sold the fortress to Raja Wodeyar (1578-1617) 
under whom the chiefdom expanded into a major principality. 

A more powerful chiefly family there during the sixteenth 
century was that of Yelakanda in the northern part of modern 
Bangalore district. This was a chiefdom established by Tamil 
warriors who migrated from the Kanchi region in the early fifteenth 
century and served in Vijayanagara armies. Most famous of these 
chiefs was Kempe Gowda who assumed the chieftaincy from his 
father in 1513. 


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The modest origin of this family is preserved in the title ‘gowda’, 
usually meaning ‘village headman’, a lineage title used by the family 
founder, Jaya Gowda. His descendant Kempe seems to have been 
responsible for the expansion of a modest chiefly patrimony. 
During the time of Krishnadevaraya villages were added to the 
family’s holdings around Yelakanda, doubling its area, and in the 
time of Achyutadevaraya, Kempe Gowda founded the fortified 
town of Bangaluru and gathered to himself yet more villages. 
Kempe enlarged Bangaluru in the time of Sadasivaraya, building 
several tanks and temples; he also began to mint his own coins then 
and possibly joined with other Karnatak chiefs in opposing the 
Rayas in the late 1550s, perhaps objecting to Aliya Rama Raya’s 
deposition of Sadasivaraya. For the last (but not his other aggran- 
disements) Kempe served some years in prison before being ran- 
somed and released. Shortly after, in 1569, he died. 

Vijayanagara kings endeavoured to maintain some authority over 
the chiefs of southern Karnataka from several fortified places there 
that were entrusted to members of the royal family or to loyal 
soldiers. This proved difficult as a result of which their overlordship 
was weak even in this region close to the kingdom’s heartland. The 
frustrations of their overlordship are exemplified by their relations 
with the Ummattur chiefs of Sivasamudram. These chiefs carried on 
unceasing aggression against neighbours even though subjected to 
punitive expeditions from the time of Narasa Nayaka, after he 
seized the throne in 1497, and Krishnadevaraya from 1510 to 1512, 
as already noted. Even after the brilliant military successes of the 
first years of his reign, Krishnadevaraya was unable to end Ummat- 
tur influence in southern Karnataka, for he appointed the son of 
Gangaraja, the Ummattur chief he had defeated in a difficult 
campaign, to rule over Srirangapatanam, and descendants of that 
family held this fortress until it was yielded to Raja Wodeyar in 

Besides the chiefs of Ummattur and Mysore who bore the title of 
odeyar, there were others in southern Karnataka who maintained 
their independent rule through most of the sixteenth century. 

In northern Karnataka there was an even more impressive chiefly 
house that arose in Vijayanagara times and came to enjoy an 
extensive sovereignty. These were the Keladi chiefs who later 


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founded the Nayaka kingdom of Ikkeri. At its greatest, the Ikkeri 
rajas controlled a territory nearly as large as the Vijayanagara 
heartland, some 20,000 square miles, extending about 180 miles 
south from Goa along the trade-rich Kanara coast. 

The Keladis emerged from obscurity in the decade before 
Krishnadevaraya’s reign. Then, a young farmer-become-warrior 
chief, one Chauda, distinguished himself in service under a Vijaya- 
nagara commander, on the strength of which he strove to create a 
domain of his own. Divine intervention provided him with the 
means to build a fort and add to his followers; this was in the form of 
a treasure-trove pointed out by a goddess as other divines had 
yielded the same knowledge to Kempe Gowda, another peasant 
man, and to a young shepherd who founded the Gingee chiefdom in 
Tamil country. Chauda’s metamorphosis was completed in January 
1500, when he installed himself as Chaudappa Nayaka of the Keladi 
Mula Samasthan (the pivotal great house of Keladi) and consecrated 
a temple dedicated to Siva. He served Achyutadevaraya faithfully 
during the latter’s travails against Chellappa and Rama Raya and 
was rewarded in 1535 with the governorship of Barakuru and 
Mangaluru on the Kanara coast at the base of the ghats on which his 
domain was. 

Chaudappa Nayaka’s son ruled as Sadasiva Nayaka from about 
1540 to 1565. He moved to a higher level of lordship as a comman- 
der of the Rama Raja army that humiliated the Bijapur sultans in 
southern Maratha country by seizing the fortresses of Ahmednagar 
and Gulbarga. As a reward, the Vijayanagara king granted him the 
title ‘Sadasivaraya Nayaka’, and for his later military services he was 
granted the title of “Raja Nayaka’ and the same Kanara governorship 
previously enjoyed by his father. Under such royal sponsorship, he 
began to assume direct control over contiguous tracts of poligar 
holdings and thereby extended his realm over all of Tulu country 
and much of neighbouring Shimoga, or Araga. To temple building, 
close relations with the Sringiri matha, endowments to Jaina and 
Virasaiva shrines, military service to Vijayanagara, and local con- 
quests that enlarged his realm, Sadasivaraya Nayaka of Ikkeri added 
the royal activity of founding new towns and markets. He created 
the pilgrimage centre of Sadasivapura in honour of the king or 
himself, we cannot know. This was a Brahman settlement, or 


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agrahara, to which the Raja added the usual privileges to attract 
merchants and artisans who would make it into a rich revenue 
resource for himself and his successors; privileges included defer- 
ring customs collections for some years and permission for mer- 
chants to build warehouses and residences around the bazaar street 
as well as providing special quarters for various artisan-traders. 
Though a palace was also constructed in Sadasivapura, he promised 
that there would be no royal interference in the town’s government 
by its Brahman and merchant residents. Another new chiefdom of 
the sixteenth century arose at the eastern margins of Karnataka, at 
Lapakshi. This was founded by three sons of a merchant of that 
town. They, like their contemporaries at Keladi, rose to prominence 
as soldiers in the armies of the rayas, bringing fame and fortune to 
their natal town through their military exploits during the sixteenth 
century. As commanders, and later as provincial governors, they 
deployed their royal rewards to create a substantial patrimony 
around Lapakshi and to make the town one of the great Siva 
pilgrimage centres of the century. One of the three, Virapanayya 
Nayaka, became governor of Penukonda-rayyam on whose south- 
ern borders Lapakshi was situated; his capital during the reign of 
Achyutadevaraya was Gooty according to a 1529 inscription. Other 
brothers held offices under the same king in the fortress of Chitra- 
durga. All were devoted Virasaivas, as were the Keladi chiefs, and all 
established and supported Virasaiva mathas or seminaries wherever 
they held authority in the Kannada—Telugu border country. 


Chiefs such as these attained fame and wealth as leaders of military 
contingents in the service of Vijayanagara kings of the fifteenth and 
sixteenth centuries. As benefactors of temples and as town builders, 
they are mentioned in inscriptions of the time. However, most of 
the South Indian countryside was ruled by chiefs of a more modest 
sort, who would have been totally lost to history except for accounts 
of them gathered by Mackenzie during the early nineteenth century. 

Among the most important revelations of the Mackenzie collec- 
tion are those pertaining to administration. Just as coercive means 


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were widely distributed among a large stratum of territorial and 
local magnates, so were administrative capabilities; military fisca- 
lism and modest bureaucraticisation was not imposed from above, 
by royal officials for example, it arose from the base of the political 
system, from its many chiefs, its numerous villages, and its temples. 

Three modes of administration converged to form a single general 
form during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One Mackenzie 
identified as the corps of Brahman accountants and scribes serving 
great imperial households: those of royal lineages and great com- 
manders of the rayas. As both of these kinds of households moved 
from the Deccan heartland of the kingdom into the south, they were 
accompanied by Brahman coadjutors, either Deshastas from 
northern Karnataka or Niyogi Brahmans from Andhra. The latter 
groups gathered information on villages and towns under the 
expanding authority of their warrior masters and negotiated the 
relationships betweeen the latter and the Brahman-dominated 
temples with whom these Vijayanagara agents sought to create an 
enduring conquest. Resource inventories would have been obtained 
by agents of the Rayas from several sources which together consti- 
tuted other modes of existing administration, that of village and 
locality organisations as well as managers of temples. Records of 
landholdings and of shops and artisanal producers were maintained 
by village accountants (e.g. Tamil: nattukaranam or Telugu: des- 
pandya). Most were Brahmans, though in Tamil country they could 
also be Vellalars or Pillais. 

One surviving administrative record of resources is for the town 
of Aluvakonda, or Alamkonda (modern Kurnool district), dating 
from 1563.'! This was an inventory prepared when the town was 
granted as an entitlement to income for military service, or amaram, 
by one Rangapparajaya to a subordinate. This Rangapparajaya 
seems to have been an important chief in the Rayalaseema judging 
from his land gifts to the nearby Vaishnava shrine of Ahobalam at 
the time. According to an account collected by Mackenzie in 1800, 
Aluvakonda was founded by some shepherd chiefs calling them- 
selves ‘Yadava Rajas’ and was enlarged and fortified during the early 
fifteenth century by a chief named Gaurappa Nayudu. Gaurappa’s 

! K. A. Nilakanta Sastri and N. Venkataramanayya, Further Sources in Viyayanagara 
History (Madras: University of Madras, 1946); vol. 3, pp. 121-6. 


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grandson became a rebel against the new Tuluva kings as a result of 
which Vira Narasimharaya (reign 1505—9), Krishnadevaraya’s older 
brother and predecessor, seized Aluvakonda, razed its fort, and 
killed its chief. An inventory of the town and chieftaincy of twelve 
villages was prepared at that time. Its comprehensiveness and detail 
offers strong testimony of the quality of administration available to 
even moderate chiefs of the time. 

According to the inventory, the total money income realisable 
from rents and fees was 4,460 gold coins (gadyana, a coin of 52 
grains). About three-quarters of this total money revenue can be 
accounted from the following sources. Dry fields around the town 
were rented by eighteen different people whose money payments 
comprised a mere 9g per cent of the total income of the town while 
the few wet fields yielded a small money rent and some paddy. 
Thirty-nine shops were enumerated in the town, and these were 
owned by four men: the previous chieftain Gaurappa owned nine of 
them; two, possibly Balija Chetti Telugu merchants, owned six 
each, another man owned six, while the remaining twelve shops 
were owned by smaller Balija Chettis. It was noted that seven of the 
shops paid no rent while the rest paid an aggregate rent of 53 gold 
coins, about 1 per cent of the total rental value of the chieftaincy. 
Looms were subject to a tax and some 400 were reported in the 
town. Of these, half produced red cloth for sale in the bazaar 
established by and named for Gaurappa Nayudu, Gaurap- 
payanipeta. Forty-one of the looms paid no tax; the remainder paid 
the cash equivalent of 5 per cent of the total income, and weavers of 
the town additionally paid a perquisite (vartana) to Gaurappa as 
well as a smaller payment to support the fort that he had built. 
Herdsmen of the area contributed taxes equal to 4 per cent of the 
total income; and certain groups paid jati siddhya, a small commu- 
nal, or caste tax. The largest single source of the town’s revenue was 
from betel traders, oil millers, money changers, liquor makers, 
cotton cleaners, and indigo producers, who paid 1,217 gold coins, or 
27 per cent of the total. The chiefdom’s twelve dependent villages 
contributed about a quarter of its total income. Of those villages that 
can be identified now, several were quite distant from Aluvakonda, 
two being around 50 miles away, thus good examples of the 
scattered interests of contemporary chiefdoms. Each of these vil- 


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lages under protection of the Aluvakonda chiefs seemed to have met 
its obligations by payments from a head merchant (pedda setti), 
perhaps for the shops in and around the tributary village, from a 
headman of local herders (golla), and from a cultivator headman 
(reddi). By the late sixteenth century, when Aluvakonda was 
reassigned to the military dependent of Rangapparayaya, its annual 
rental and tax income had increased four-fold and the villages under 
its domination had risen to forty-three. The wealth of this chief- 
taincy had now become large enough for 10,000 gold coins to be 
alienated for the benefit of Brahmans and temples. 

Of sixteenth-century chiefdoms, Aluvakonda was neither large 
nor important; its administrations would have been dwarfed by 
those of the great chieftaincies in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra 
or some parts of Tamil country and Karnataka. Fortified and 
commercial places like Gandikota in the hilly Cuddapah country- 
side of the middle course of the Penner River, or Nandyal, 30 miles 
from Aluvakonda in Kurnool, were the seats of great chiefly houses 
at the time. Another such place was Anantapur town which was 
called ‘Hande Anantapur’ until well into the nineteenth century, an 
acknowledgement of the dominance of the Hande family whose 
authority reached over a large part of Rayalaseema. The chief 
Rangapparajya who held Aluvakonda is said to have been a depend- 
ent of the Hande samasthanam. The Pemmasani family of Gandi- 
kota and Nandyala chiefs were part of the widely ramified coalition 
of Aliya Rama Raja and contributed to the latter’s overwhelming 
power in the middle of the sixteenth century; they continued long 
after Rama Raja’s time to hold great power in the erstwhile eastern 
heartland of the Vijayanagara kingdom. Controlling numerous 
villages and many large towns, these powerful chiefs commanded 
large mercenary armies that were the vanguard of Viyayanagara 
forces during the sixteenth century. While we have no records of 
their administrations,they would have had to be quite substantial. 

Equally complex and elaborate administrative organisation would 
have been found at temples, especially larger ones, during the 
sixteenth century. One of the largest was that at Tirupati, 125 miles 
south-east of Aluvakonda and set like it at the edge of a range of hills 
on one of whose crests was Tirumalai, the major shrine of the god 
Venkatesvara. Between 1450 and 1550, the Tirupati-Tirumalai 


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temple complex became the most important pilgrimage and secta- 
rian centre in all of the south. This makes it a unique temple, no 
doubt, but the causes of its development were shared by many 
temples of the time. 

Two factors account for the transformation of this small, ancient 
shrine into a teeming centre of pilgrimage and political influence. 
One was the patronage of political notables, in this case Saluva 
Narasimha, whose Chandragiri headquarters was nearby. The 
second factor was the irrigation investments by managers of the 
temple (sthanattar) in lands donated to the god. Both factors came 
into operation at the same time. The first recorded irrigation 
investment of amoney endowment in a Tirupati temple village dates 
from 1454, when a Brahman priest of Chandragiri gave 3,000 gold 
coins (panam of about six grains of gold each) to the temple to 
provide a daily food offering for twelve other Brahmans. This 
endowment specified that the money be used to excavate irrigation 
channels in temple villages and that part of the higher crop yields 
from this investment was to provide the specified food offering. The 
Chandragiri Brahman donor was most likely an agent of Saluva 
Narasimha and a sect leader since the beneficiaries of the grant were 
a group of Brahmans who otherwise performed no services at the 
temple; hence this provides another instance of how funds passed 
from a powerful lord to a sectarian leader and from him to a temple 
conferring merit and honour on both. In 1456, Saluva Narasimha 
made the first of many endowments in his own name to the Tirupati 
temple by granting a village free of all taxes. 

Subsequently he and his successors to the Vijayanagara throne 
enlarged their support to the temple, royal endowments reaching a 
high point in the time of Achyutadevaraya. In the middle of the 
1530s, numerous endowments for the merit of the king were made. 
This reflected more than Achyutadevaraya’s personal allegiance to 
Venkatesvara, whose protection he had sought and before whom he 
was crowned after the death of his brother, Krishnadevaraya. These 
large endowments by royals and their military servants may have 
been intended as a public acknowledgement of support for the king 
in his struggle against Aliya Rama Raja. Between 1530 and 1542, a 
total of thirty-nine different land grants resulted in the alienation of 
income from forty-three villages for the benefit of the Tirupati 


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temple as well as the donation of nearly one-half million small gold 
coins. Achyutadevaraya’s rival, Rama Raja, when he was the power 
behind Sadasivaraya’s throne, after Achyutadevaraya had died, 
granted sixty villages and 190,000 small gold coins to the god 

By Rama Raja’s death in 1565, which marked the end of Vijayana- 
gara greatness and of much of its munificence, the Tirupati temple 
held 170 villages of which about one hundred had received some sort 
of irrigation investment from money endowments. All of the 
transactions — the original gift of a temple village and the subsequent 
investment in irrigation improvements — were punctiliously 
recorded and supervised by temple authorities. Accountants of the 
temple (there were thirteen according to an inscription of 1546) 
maintained the elaborate accounts necessary to ascertain that the 
offerings for which endowments had been made — usually the 
presentation of cooked foods to a deity — were carried out. This 
meant organising the food-stuffs and supervising their preparation 
in the kitchens of the temple, then seeing to it that the valuable 
consecrated food was distributed to various named beneficiaries in 
accordance with the terms of the endowment as recorded in an 
inscription. All of these arrangements required the attention of a 
very large set of temple servants, from treasury officials to a public 
works department to carry out irrigation improvements. It is 
difficult to conceive that even the Vijayanagara kings maintained an 
administrative capability much more elaborate than some temples 
with their extensive holdings of land, their hundreds of priests and 
other employees, including scribes, engravers, accountants, and 
irrigation specialists. 

Accountants, scribes, and bankers constituted an administrative 
infrastructure supporting all major lordships of the later Vijayana- 
gara age. This was a diverse structure of authority, ranging from the 
highest level of Vijayanagara kings and collateral members of ruling 
lineages, and the most trusted military commanders in a descending 
order of lordships to village headmen. All depended on record- 
keepers and other administrative ancillaries including money 
specialists, from minters of coins to handlers of bills through whom 
tribute was transferred over long distances. Local accountants and 
scribes, as well as money men, were essential links between the 


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variety of lordly recipients of wealth and the productive base that 
they exploited. Administrative specialists provided a web upon 
which the entire fabric of Vijayanagara politics was intricately 


The fragmentary character of Vijayanagara politics and society 
could be ameliorated, but not overcome, by any administrative 
structure as long as lordship itself continued to be segmentary. 
Every magnate, large or small, exploited all within his political 
sphere so as to maintain or increase his power with respect to 
aggressive neighbouring lords and so as to increase his standing with 
the warlords whom all were under pressure to serve. Vijayanagara 
political relations had none of the remedies for fissiparous and 
fragmented lordship thought to be found elsewhere in India. There 
was nothing of what many scholars of Mughal society presume in 
their conception of a patrimonial-bureaucratic state or that some 
students of Vijayanagara history presume in their conception of a 
feudal Vijayanagara. Lordship in Vijayanagara times was shaped by 
different factors. Some of these operated at all levels of sixteenth- 
century society, including village society; other factors are to be 
found specifically in political relationships, including those between 
Vijayanagara lords and Muslim regimes north of the Vijayanagara 
kingdom. The first set of these factors impinging on Vijayanagara 
lordship are explored in the remaining pages of the present chapter; 
the second will be dealt with in the following chapter. 

At the highest level of lordship, competition within and among 
royal lineages for the throne set a limit on the degree of centralised 
power attainable in the absence of the sort of imperial military and 
administrative corps of foreigners that could serve as the flywheel of 
the contemporaneous Mughal polity. Yet, even in the Mughal 
regime, succession struggles and even assassinations occurred as they 
did in the Vijayanagara kingdom, where the threat of violent death 
and usurpation at the hand of some relative or military commander 
was ever present. Candidates for the Vijayanagara throne main- 
tained coalitions of supporters who were always ready to resist 
counter-coalitions and any effort toward centralisation. Indeed, at 


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the very outset of the kingdom, it is uncertain whether there was one 
or five kingdoms. Each of the sons of Sangama ruled seemingly as a 
governor, or mahamandelesvara, except that there was no sovereign 
and each ruled over a rayya, or kingdom, on the various frontiers of 

How it was that Bukka I emerged as supreme cannot be recon- 
structed now, but it was his sons and their descendants that became 
the main royal line for the remainder of the first dynasty. This 
created a more powerful, single kingship, but one that was rarely 
free from deadly competition from agnatic and collateral kinsmen of 
disinherited princes. Five assassinations and four usurpations occur- 
red before the Sanagama line itself was displaced by Saluva Nara- 
simha in 1486; hence Narasimha’s action was an innovation in only 
one sense — it signalled the claim for sovereignty by great commanders 
of the kingdom. Even this opening of the throne to military talent 
beyond the royal line was anticipated in the time of Devaraya II when 
enlarged royal mercenary forces began to confer major power and 
influence upon commanders, transforming them into generalissimos 
with considerable independent political standing. 

This was an important change in political forces at the imperial 
level. It added to the already complex mosaic of great houses, with 
their overlapping claims and conflicts, an enhanced power for some 
who, by virtue of leadership of the best armies of the time, were able 
to advance their own territorial interests against the claims of rivals 
and monarchs alike. Thus Saluva Narasimha assiduously expanded 
his patrimonial base in Chandragiri to include much of the northern 
Tamil plain of Tondaimandalam before he seized the throne. Later, 
Aliya Rama Raja’s leading commanders of the Pemmasani, Hande, 
and Nandyala families did the same over much of Rayalaseema and 
Telangana. The proximity and overlappings of territories of these 
major allies of Rama Raja meant that as each strove against the 
others to gain land and followers, and there was no way to ascertain 
the boundaries of any. Boundaries, in fact, mattered less than the 
personal relations between a great and a small chief, however 
separated in space they might be; protection in return for military 
service guided political relations, and these relations were as firm, or 
as fluid, as personalities and circumstances dictated. 

However, in the manner of segmentary political forms anywhere, 


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competing chiefs combined when their overlord called upon them 
and when it was in their interests to do so. This happened during 
Rama Raja’s two challenges to Achyutadevaraya, in 1530 and 1535; 
it happened again when Rama Raya launched his expansionist drive 
across the Tungabhadra and called upon his client chiefs to lead the 
assault against the sultanates there. This Vijayanagara thrust 
inevitably produced a similar combination among the Muslim 
regimes that had superseded the Bahmani sultans, for Rama Raja so 
threatened the sultanate regimes as to force them to set aside 
long-standing conflicts to defeat their common Hindu enemy in 

The first Tuluva kings, Vira Narasimha and his brother Krishna- 
devaraya, appeared determined to bring the great chiefs of the realm 
to heel, possibly because of the widespread opposition to them from 
Karnatak and Tamil chiefs. It is not at all clear what prompted this 
opposition around the turn of the sixteenth century. It is probable 
that the fratricidal conflict among the last of the Sangamas led to the 
development of factional coalitions among powerful houses in 
Andhra and Karnataka and encouraged many to pursue aggrandis- 
ing objectives that depended on a weak central authority. Saluva 
Narasimha quelled some of that by the sheer weight of his military 
power, but the coalition building that led to the replacement of his 
son as king reopened the arena of conflict among ambitious chiefs. 
This may explain the vehemence of Vira Narasimha’s suppression of 
the Aluvakonda chiefdom and the determination with which 
Krishnadevaraya broke the back of the Ummattur-led rebellion of 
southern Karnatak chiefs. He then went further and developed a 
more comprehensive strategy than punishing errant chiefs; he 
sought to create a more certain monopoly of force under royal 
control based, as already noticed, on the fuller use of Brahman 
agents, royal fortresses under Brahman commanders, and garrison 
as well as local militia forces recruited from among the tough forest 
people of the peninsula, his poligars. 

The Telugu didactic poem, Amuktamalyada, said to have been 
composed by Krishnadevaraya commends Brahmans as provincial 
governors and fortress commenders because their first loyalty 
would be to the king and because they would strive to overcome the 
disdain of Kshatriya and Sudra officers. Forest fighters, Boyas or 


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Bedars, were commended as valuable shock troops and plunderers 
during military campaigns and as dependable garrison forces. The 

principal object to be achieved was the reduction of independent 

That king can lay his hand on his breast and sleep peacefully who 
appoints as masters of his fortresses such Brahmins as are attached 
to himself, are learned in many sciences and arts, are addicted to 
dharma, are heroic and have been in ... service since before his 
time ... [and] who give to the subordinate chiefs (samanta) lands 
and other things without lessening in the slightest the degree of 
arrangement with them... [while] minding the (small) faults of the 
forest chiefs ... [without] extensive power is like trying to clean a 
mud wall by pouring water over it. If... [the king] gets angry with 
them he cannot destroy them utterly. If (on the other hand) he 
attaches them to himself by kind words and charity they would be 
useful to him in invading foreign territory and plundering their 
fortresses ...? 

Royal retribution for the sedition or insubordination of chiefs 
became canonised in the late sixteenth-century Telugu poem, the 
Rayavachakamu, which recalled the reign of Krishnadevaraya. 
There the king confided to his trusted Brahman minister, Appaji, a 
desire to visit ‘those kingdoms, forts, countries, strongholds, Visnu 
shrines, the estates of subordinate chiefs and the frontiers’ of the 
kingdom he had received from his brother, father, and grandfather. 
Appaji and other ministers approved: 

One should tour the country ruled over by one’s ancestors. 
Nothing can be known if one remains stationary ... it is necessary 
that the people ... should know Your Majesty ... establish your 
glory by touring the kingdom in all dirctions, accompanied by the 
four-fold army so as to create terror in the mind of enemies and 
subordinate chiefs.? 

Launching a digvijaya, or tour of conquest, was conventional 
advice, of course, but there is more meaning in the verse than that. 
This is the notion that personal rule must be established over all 
chiefs. The Marathi text of governance of a century or so after, the 
Ajnapatra speaks a similar language of suspicion toward local chiefs 

2 Rangasvami Sarasvati, ‘Political Maxims of the Emperor-Poet Krishnadeva Raya’, 
The Journal of Indian History 4, part 3 (1925), p. 72. 

3K. A. Nilakanta Sastri and N. Venkataramanayya, Further Sources in Vijayanagara 
History (Madras: University of Madras, 1946), vol. 3, p. 141. 


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who, while appearing to accept a royal overlordship, actually resort 
to dissension (bheda) to make any lordship difficult since chiefs are 
ever concerned to protect their hereditary rights of rule and 
possession (vatan) against royal or prebendal demands. Neither the 
Telugu Rayavachakamu nor the Marathi Ajnapatra offer solutions 
to the conflict of interests between kings and chiefs beyond a 
personal relationship of dominance over a chief either directly by 
the king or through a personal agent of the king (karyakarta). 
Failure to achieve such a relationship meant a loss of prestige and 
tribute to the king and the risk to the chief of royal chastisement if a 
demand for tribute or troops was not met. 

This was an age when all lordships from the king to even the most 
modest chief were becoming more powerful. Greater militarisation, 
more lethal arms, larger treasuries based upon the expanding 
commerce of the time, and more efficient fiscal controls assured that 
this would be true. And, because all lordships — the great and the 
small — strengthened themselves simultaneously and in the same 
ways, the hazards to all increased simultaneously. Yet there were 
constraints upon the powers that could be garnered to any lord as 
already noticed in the case of the kings themselves and some of the 
great chiefs. Other constraints upon lordships came from below. 


Local politics and property relations, whether in the riverine zones 
of ancient, high agriculture or in the extensive areas of dry- 
cropping, were founded on corporate control, either of communal 
holders of special privileges, usually Brahmans and temples, or of 
corporate landed lineages. Private landed proprietorship did not 
exist in its modern meaning, though it is assumed by Karashima and 
Subbarayalu on the evidence of land transfers among individuals 
dating from Chola times. In most cited instances, the acquisition of 
land by a chief was preliminary to making a gift to some Brahmans, a 
temple, or a matha; thus, they were special cases of chiefly preroga- 
tive. Invariably, such records are temple inscriptions and therefore 
pertain to gifts; if non-religious sales of land were common during 
the sixteenth century, or before, there is no way of knowing it. 
However, because such transactions of which there are records were 


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intended to enhance the ruling credentials of chiefs in accordance 
with prevailing notions of rajadharma or dana (gift), it should not 
be overlooked that religious endowments resulted in various kinds 
of advantage for the chiefly donor besides public esteem and 
religious merit. In many temples, donors were entitled to portions 
(as much as a quarter) of the offerings to a god, prasadam; this was 
valuable and could be gifted or sold. Chiefly and royal donors also 
sought and received administrative and judicial rights in temples 
which conferred material and status benefits. Hence, in rejecting 
Karashima’s claim that private proprietorship of land is attested by 
gifting activities, it is recognised that substantial material benefits 
were nevertheless obtained by the great donors of the age. 

Still, the underlying communal character of landholding during 
Vijayanagara times cannot be questioned, nor is it by Karashima and 
Subbarayalu. The political power arising from the communal 
organisation and ideology of leading sections of dominant landed 
castes on irrigated coastal tracts was very great; this included 
Brahmans, Tamil Vellalars, Kannadiga Vokkaligas, and Telugu 
Reddis. But no less great was that of the major landholding groups 
in the interior upland frontier during the sixteenth century, when 
the same high degree of communal property and politics existed, but 
it was differently constituted. 

The dry-cropping zones between about 1,000 and 3,000 feet over 
the coastal plain constantly expanded; this was the agricultural and 
political frontier of Vijayanagara times. Many of the new settlers 
were migrants from the coasts, such as the Reddis of Telangana and 
Rayalaseema, for example. However, others who opened new tracts 
of field agriculture were those who previously lived by herding 
combined with extensive dry-cropping and even slash-and-burn 
cultivation in the still heavily-forested upland. Dry lands of the 
interior had to be conquered by an armed peasantry under fighting 
chiefs if they were to be held against the opposition of conquered 
cultivators and herdsmen. 

Thus, scattered over the uplands of Andhra, Karnatak, and Tamil 
country were mixed communities of farmers and herdsmen ruled by 
fighting chiefs. These were not an easy people for any would-be 
centralising regime, as that of Krishnadevaraya, to subdue, domi- 
nate, and from whom to realise much financial or political benefit. 


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Here, communal property and privilege was defended partly by 
the fighting capabilities of martial peasantries, but against larger and 
more persistent external foes, such opposition could take other 
forms. One was the convening by village and locality headmen of a 
kuttam, or assembly, of cultivating and other groups of a locality to 
agree measures for opposing demands from above. Resistance could 
range from the withholding of money dues to an overlord to a 
temporary abandonment of villages for the refuge of forests until 
negotiations led to a satisfactory settlement of differences. Assem- 
blies of this sort are known from the fifteenth century, as noted 
above in connection with peasant opposition in Tiruchirappalli in 
1429-30; they continue to be reported in the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries as an established means of coping with 
oppression from above as well as of settling serious internal dis- 
putes. Desertion of their lands was a last answer to oppression by 
dry-zone cultivators; it was often not difficult for these motile 
cultivators to obtain other lands and possibly less demanding 
masters elsewhere. Thus, dry-zone cultivators were armed against 
oppressors by more than their spears (and increasingly their match- 
lock guns). Cultivation skills, material resources, and organisation 
for teasing food and commodities like cotton from harsh soils gave 
them mobility and an ability to bargain favourable terms as valuable 
additions to ambitious lords anywhere, for more men, especially 
potential fighting men, meant more political and economic power. 

In all of these upland communities were found administrative 
offices such as village and locality headmen, usually filled by 
members of the dominant landholding groups, village and locality 
accountants, usually Brahmans, and a variety of lesser offices. All 
were remunerated by chiefly grants of tax-exempt land holdings — 
frequently from scarce irrigated holdings — designated by the 
Sanskrit word, manya, which implies an honour as well as an 
income. This method of paying for local administration was con- 
tinued by the British in the interior districts of Madras Presidency; 
the landholdings in lieu of money payment for village and locality 
officials were then called by the Arabic term imam, and these were 
continued until well into the nineteenth century, even though such 
privileged landholdings might comprise as much as half of all 
cultivated land. 


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The riverine valleys of Tamil country had neither local chiefs nor 
even village headmen. Vijayanagara kings themselves were far less 
evident here, or in deltaic Andhra, than they were in the spacious 
interior upland of the peninsula judging from the relatively few 
Vijayanagara inscriptions found in the wet zones. In areas of ancient 
high agriculture, local authority was held by corporate bodies rather 
than poligars or village and locality headmen. Groups of prestigious 
holders of land rights, such as those in Tamil country, were called 
kantyatchikkaran, or collective hereditary land owners. During the 
colonial epoch, when such communal holders in irrigated zones 
were dubbed with the Persianised title of ‘mirasidar’, they proved as 
resistant to the centralising aspirations of the British as they had 
done to the Vijayanagara state and their successors, the nayaka kings 
of Tanjavur (1530-1680) and of the Maratha Rajas of Tanjavur 

In the irrigated central valley of the Tambraparni, Ludden notes 
the absence of village or locality headmen, accountants, and 
watchmen in early inscriptions. Nineteenth-century reports confirm 
this. Older inscriptional sources without exception place local auth- 
ority over these most valuable irrigated villages in the hands of a 
communal élite of Brahmans and Vellalars. Such village services as 
they required were paid for in cash, just as they paid for the services 
of fighters to defend their wealth from external predators with the 
temerity to challenge the landed wealth that went with high ritual 
status. By the sixteenth century, communal land holding was 
strengthened through other forms of wealth and influence: involve- 
ment in the trade of grain, and scribal and accountancy offices held in 
the regional regimes in the river valleys. Altogether, these holders of 
the kani-right were ‘the government of the wet zone, not only at the 
village level ... [but as a] subregional ruling class’, as Ludden states. 

How the ancient privileges of the wet-zone élite could have 
survived the penetrations of martial Vijayanagara requires expla- 
nation. There appear to be several reasons for it. The river valleys of 
the peninsula yielded the most reliable tribute to Nayaka agents of 
the kingdom because of their large, annual surplus production. 
Providing that the appointed Vijayanagara agent was loyal, money 
tribute was transferred to Vijayanagara. Such was the case under 
Kumara Kampana in the fourteenth century and when Chellappa 


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Saluva Narasimha Nayaka served Krishnadevaraya in the Kaveri 

But, Chellappa ceased sending tribute and threatened the entire 
kingdom by his revolt in 1531. So great were the resources available 
to him that Achyutadevaraya mobilised the rest of the kingdom to 
suppress this Tamil wet-zone revolt. Achyutadevaraya’s hold on the 
throne was tenuous then as a result of the machinations of Aliya 
Rama Raja and his powerful coalition of Rayalaseema chiefs. Hence 
the decisiveness of his response to Chellappa’s sedition indicates 
how critical this challenge was seen to be. Moreover, Rama Raja 
shared this view for he temporarily suspended his active opposition 
to the king during the revolt in the southern peninsula. 

Even with the most reliable subordinates and agents, it would still 
have been difficult to increase the level of royal tribute demanded 
from the Kaveri region or the Tambraparni without replacing the 
ancient communal holders there, the kanzyalar, and thus attacking 
the religious privileges long vested with the riverine élite. To do this. 
might have jeopardised the successful strategy of making the Vijaya- 
nagara lordship acceptable through their dharmic participation in 
temple affairs. And, of course, river-basin societies had military 
protection. In Tanjavur, a part of the large money wealth was 
deployed by the corporate landed élite to pay Vanniyar soldiers 
from north of the Kaveri and Kallar soldiers from the south to 
defend the delta from attacks; similarly, the Tambraparni valley was 
defended from predations by hiring Maravar soldiers as well as 
Telugu fighters, even though both were excluded from holding 
lands in the irrigated valley. It is true that the warrior folk protecting 
the river-basins of Tamil country gradually did encroach upon wet 
lands at the edges of the irrigated systems, but such encroachments 
added an interest for these warrior groups to defend and therefore 
raised the price of more central control by Vijayanagara and its 
successor regimes. 


Among the differences between the riverine and dry-upland soci- 
eties was the way that wealth was produced and labour was 
organised. Wealth in the irrigated zones of the peninsula was 


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produced by the labour of a large agrestic servitude class and was 
realised, in large part, by the export of its rice surplus to Sri Lanka, 
northern Coromandel, and Malabar. While the internal bulking of 
rice surpluses seemed to have been in the hands of the landholding 
élite, foreign traders, as on other coasts of the peninsula, were the 
major Coromandel trade castes - Tamil Chettiyars and Telugu 
Komatis and Balijas as well as indigenous and foreign Muslims. The 
high level of wealth generated by reliable rice surpluses was pro- 
duced by the labour of low-status cultivators who held little or no 
land of their own. Control of this labour force was as important as 
adequate water for cultivation for the wealth produced in places like 
the Kaveri and Tambraparni valleys; the kani right pertained 
especially to water and labour. Maintenance of existing irrigation 
works and drainage systems and their regular extension to new lands 
was no more the responsibility of a central state in the sixteenth 
century than it was in previous centuries. Communal holders of the 
Kani right deployed part of their labour control to maintain anicuts 
and other irrigation works, and they collectively supervised the 
distribution of water among fellow kani-holders. Temple lands in 
the river valleys were similarly managed and enriched as an exten- 
sion of the high-caste élite landholding in any locality. 

However, all in the Tamil wet zone depended upon the labour of 
despised and untouchable Pallas and Pariyans. The formation and 
maintenance of this workforce was as vital to wet-zone agriculture 
as water itself, but little is known of the ways in which this force of 
low workers were bent to their exploitation. In the absence of a state 
policing capability to support agrestic servitude, the most plausible 
explanation for the continued expansion of the riverine workforce is 
that people from the adjacent uplands and dry plains were willing to 
exchange their hazardous independence in this turbulent age for the 
secure food and shelter offered by labour in the wet fields of the 
Brahman and Vellalar élite of Tanjavur and Tirunelveli and the 
Kamma and Reddi landed élite the Krishna-Godavari delta. Sub- 
mission for survival made for a tractable lower stratum in these river 
valleys, one that did not threaten the élite management there nor 
combined to challenge outside oppressors as the people in neigh- 
bouring Tiruchirappalli did in 1429. 

Tiruchirappalli was one of the intermediate, mixed-cropping 


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zones between the riverine basins with social hierarchies dominated 
by communally organised élites of Brahmans and Vellalars, and the 
clan-organised, more egalitarian societies of the dry zones of the 
peninsula. In mixed-cropping zones — including the greater part of 
the Vijayanagara heartland — the potential for reliable irrigation was 
lower than in the river valleys and was achieved by tank reservoirs 
and wells. Here, high-status cultivating groups, who eschewed the 
plough in imitation of Brahmans in riverine areas, cultivated both 
wet and dry fields. Such mixed zones of wet and dry cropping 
comprised substantial parts of Madurai, Arcot, and Kongu in the 
Tamil plain, the Karnataka maidan and some parts of Rayalaseema 
and Telangana. 

Mixed- and dry-cropping zones contributed such major commo- 
dities as cotton and indigo to the peninsular economy; they were not 
merely backward versions of riverine economies. Beginning in 
Chola times, such areas, along with coastal ports, comprised scat- 
tered centres of high commerce and were major corridors of trade. 
During the Vijayanagara period the pace of commercialisation had 
quickened led by two factors: overseas trade and the deliberate 
policy of territorial magnates of augmenting their money revenues 
through customs fees. In upland Kongu, modern Coimbatore, and 
Salem, in the low southern plain of modern Pudukkottai and 
Ramnad, and in the northern Tamil and Andhra dry plains of 
Tondaimandalam and Rayalaseema, were numerous trade centres 
where commercial groups gathered and which they controlled 
through a head merchant, where they supported temples, and where 
commodities from all over the dry- and mixed-cropped areas were 
assembled for shipment, usually by bullock trains, to markets near 
and far. The commodities that made up this trade were textiles, 
cotton, indigo, garden crops, oil seeds, millets, and palm and fruit 
products. Bullocks used in long and short transport and in culti- 
vation everywhere were reared in these mixed and dry zones which 
afforded the required pasturage. Moreover, here, more than in the 
wet zones, temples provided the vital centring to all local commu- 
nities which in the wet areas was achieved by élite communities of 
ancient corporate privilege with heavily inscribed religious 

‘Community’ in Indian sociological and popular usage means 


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‘caste’, a concept so englobing and essentialising as to displace all 
others. The more general meaning of ‘community’ — a people living 
in the same place and sharing many values — has all but disappeared 
and with that the possibility of defining local affinities in terms other 
than the ranking of social groups in accordance with normative 
principles that might have little to do with how actual local societies 
were, or are, constituted. Caste was surely one of the principles of 
social organisation in sixteenth-century South India, but there were 
other kinds of affinities that were more important. Certainly, 
political and religious affiliations and their interrelationship during 
Vijayanagara times was of the first importance if on no other basis 
than the evidence of that time speaks much more about chieftaincy 
and sect than about caste. But it is necessary to admit that not much 
is known about the religious component of local identities then, 
however more is known about that than the usual preferred 
explainer of most Indian social phenomena — caste. 


Aggregative assessments of temples in the Vijayanagara kingdom — 
the number of temples, their distribution, their sectarian affiliations 
—are few, and the same is true (if anything, our ignorance is the more 
profound) about religious networks centred on the sectarian organi- 
sation (matha, ‘seminary’ or ‘monastery’) of the age. 

The leader of a sectarian centre, mathadipati, was among the most 
powerful men of the Vijayanagara age. Many enjoyed royal patron- 
age and confidence that resulted from serving as the spiritual adviser 
(rajaguru) of kings and great chiefs of the realm. Saluva Narasimha’s 
preceptor, Kandadai Ramanuja Ayyangar, was the head of the 
Tengalai Srivaishnava matha at Tirupati, and as a result of Narasim- 
ha’s support, this Brahman held affairs of the Tirupati temple in his 
grip during the late fifteenth century. Similar influence over the 
affairs of the Ahobalam temple was exerted by the head of the 
Vadagalai Srivaishnava matha there who served as the guru of the 
powerful Nandyala chief. Krishnadevaraya’s preceptor was the 
head of the Madhva matha at Tirupati. 

Unlike other religious personages of the time, the head of a matha 
was not limited by collegial relations with other priests. All prop- 


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erty donated to a matha to support instruction of neophytes and 
sectarian propaganda was the personal wealth of the head, who 
determined those to be initiated and who was to be appointed his 
successor. A head of a matha was usually a Brahman except in the 
case of Virasaiva’s whose non-Brahman heads enjoyed the same 
high standing among devotees and others. The mathadipati toured 
the areas where his followers lived, and his progress was conducted 
in the manner of a king, on elephants, with the royal paraphernalia 
of umbrellas and drummers, and with large retinues. And like the 
Vijayanagara rayas, these heads sent their agents to where their 
followers lived to advise them in matters spiritual and secular, to 
collect funds for the order, sometimes to initiate new members, to 
arbitrate disputes among them, and to preach the doctrines of the 
sect. Among the most vigorous and successful of such itinerant 
propagandists were those attached to the Srivaishnava matha at 
Tirupati and at Ahobalam and the karayakarta and mudrakarta 
attached to the Virasaiva matha at Srisailam. 

At the opposite pole of political authority from kings and great 
chiefs and their preceptors was the world of local chiefs whose 
relations with local temples, sects, and cultural traditions were as 
important. We are afforded an excellent insight into this by Rogh- 
air’s study of “The Epic of Palnad’ or ‘the story of the Palnad 
heroes’: palnati virula katha. In this remote, western corner of 
Guntur, the struggle between local Velama cultivators, under their 
epic chief, Brahma Nayudu, and their Haihaya Raju overlords has 
been recited and re-enacted for possibly eight centuries. At another 
level, the struggle was also between the ‘indigenous’ Vaishnavism of 
the Velamas and the ‘foreign’ Virasaivism of their opponents. This 
story (katha) was probably committed to written Telugu in the 
early fifteenth century at about the same time that inscriptions were 
engraved on two of the temples of Karempudi where the epic is 
centred and where Brahma Nayudu and the heroes of the epic are 
worshipped. Inscriptions of Karempudi continue to refer to the 
‘heroes’ until as late as 1625, and during the present century, the Siva 
‘temple of heroes’ has been the seat of Brahman preceptors of the 
Velama cultivators and others who worshipped there. 

Temples and matha were prime instruments for Vijayanagara 
political purposes; they enjoyed a moral standing which no Hindu 


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kingdom could ignore or oppose. Every temple can be said to have 
represented, or to have constituted, as a single entity the diverse 
peoples whose worship it attracted. While it is true that major 
Hindu institutions were increasingly to be found in urban situ- 
ations, sixteenth-century South India was still rural, and older 
communal agrarian rights, which remained intact, were registered 
in, as well as protected by temples. In villages and localities there 
were often the shrines of guardian deities — usually goddesses — 
whom all of the place worshipped; there were also lineage shrines 
sheltering the tutelaries of dominant landed folk as well as the 
shrines of deities who protected the people and welfare of larger 
territories. These territorial guardian temples existed before Vijaya- 
nagara and were dedicated to some manifestation of Siva in Tamil 
country as in Telangana. 

Gods selected as well as protected their worshippers, which lent 
temples their social significance during the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries and made them prizes for Vijayanagara to win over. 
Temple worship involved the complex transactions of a body of 
worshippers and the god of their devotion; there was selection of 
who could offer worship and who could receive the fruits of 
worship. The last were usually transvalued substances such as food 
offered for the sustenance of the god or clothes for his or her 
adornment; these were returned to devotees as prasadam, the god’s 
grace. Eligibility to give to and to receive from a god, and the order 
in which giving and receiving occurred, was monitored by priests 
and devotees, for such transactions defined an entire community 
and the ranking of persons and groups within it. Accordingly, the 
lowest social groups were excluded from worship, adding to their 
isolation and degradation. Failure to assure that only those fit to 
worship participated, and in the correct order, could discredit and 
shame a deity and its devotees. 

The ease with which the remote sovereignty of the rayas came to 
be exercised over the Tamils and others depended upon the favour 
they showed to Tamil deities; but it depended, too, upon the same 
sort of favour to most local magnates in their undisturbed mastery 
of the countryside and many of the new towns. Chiefs, for their 
part, used their connections with the largely ritual Vijayanagara 
kingship to enhance their authority on their own turfs. Thus the 


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great foreign sovereigns of Vijayanagara added to the greatness of 
the little kings of Tamil country and elsewhere. This was dayada of 
the Ajnapatra, the sharing of sovereignty between great kings and 
territorial chiefs. 

The latter were principal movers in the integration of religious 
affiliations in which often humble lineage and clan shrines under 
their protection mimicked the grandeur of canonical temples. But 
more was done than this. Such new shrines ‘explained’ themselves 
and their status in new texts. Temple chronicles of the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries ~ mahamatya and sthalapurana — provided 
myths about two sorts of connection: that between a particular 
people and their guardian deity — most often a goddess — and that 
between the latter and older territorial gods of the great pantheon, 
usually Siva. Tamil poems of praise — satakam — of the same period 
added to these ideological constructions. In the process, chief- 
tainship and the standing of the dominant landed people represented 
by chiefs were enhanced by the binding of local guardian spirits to 
more distant and majestic divinities. This was but an extension at the 
level of religion of what had been happening in secular politics to 
bring local magnates and superior lordships of the Vijayanagara age 
into closer relationship. Political integration of the age was thus 
matched, especially in the extensive agricultural and political 
frontier, by a linking of local magnates, their penates and ancient 
canonical gods. That would seem to be the evidence of Tamil 
country at least. 

Enhanced and more integrated secular and divine lordships in 
Tamil country and elsewhere closed some of the distance between 
Vijayanagara kings and the multitude of chiefs of the peninsula. But, 
at the same time, this amalgamation of secular and divine lordship, 
by strengthening territorial bonds and resistance to external coer- 
cion, limited the centralising forces emanating from sixteenth- 
century Vijayanagara. Most of the means at the disposal of Vijaya- 
nagara kings and their agents for extending central authority were 
also available to lesser magnates: better and more armed soldiers, 
larger money revenues, and closer administrative control from 
urban political and commercial centres. There seems to have been no 
lag between the adoption of stronger, centralised control of people 
and resources by the Vijayanagara ruler and by ‘subordinate chiefs’ 


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whom Krishnadevaraya was purportedly instructed by his ministers 
to overawe according to the Rayavachakamu. Both were strength- 
ened simultaneously, and one consequence of this was the increased 
exploitation of lower orders of the society by both local and central 
authorities; another consequence was an era of military adventurism 
by Vijayanagara against the Muslim regimes to the north as a means 
of expanding the prizes of lordship in the peninsula. This second 
consequence will be dealt with in the next chapter. 

South Indian communities were not single, undifferentiated 
moral entities in the sense that caste implies. Dominant landed 
communities were internally differentiated. All major landed 
groups in South India were territorially subdivided into local 
segments which in places like Kongu acted as clans, possessing their 
own chiefs and guardian deities within which interactions and 
loyalties were the most enduring. Marriage arrangements also 
differentiated families in any subcaste or clan of landed folk. Within 
landed groups considerations of rank and standing entered into 
marriage alliances among families; these considerations were most 
exacting among chiefly families and more loosely graded with social 
distance from ruling lineages. Finally, wealth entered the calculus of 
marriage alliances within all landed groups, for marriage was one of 
several strategies for increasing the land held by a family. 

It is also probable that the definition of ‘lower orders’ had 
undergone many changes by the sixteenth century. During the 
thirteenth century the southern peninsula began to undergo an 
urbanisation driven by the development of larger temples and 
chiefly fortifications. With their large priestly and non-priestly 
staffs and their ever-increasing throngs of pilgrims, temple centres 
fostered elaborate urban facilities and attracted permanent commer- 
cial and artisanal populations. Religiously-inspired urbanisation 
was soon augmented by political factors as chiefdoms and kingdoms 
became ever larger, better fortified and competitive. It was this 
which led to the demise of the Cholas and Hoysalas in their turn, 
especially when Muslim soldiers raised the whole level of military 
activity and violence. All of this had created the conditions for the 
rise of the Viyayanagara. 

By the sixteenth century, the forces tending toward greater 
urbanisation were crowned by the cumulative impact of Vijayana- 


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gara rule. Agents of the Rayas were urban magnates; their fortified 
headquarters were garrisons that underpinned dispersed Vijayana- 
gara authority, and large bodies of soldiers and numerous chiefly 
courts made towns centres of wealth and consumption. Such 
political centres either were temple centres at the outset or they 
became that as a result of the largesse of chiefs. In these numerous 
new towns of the Vijayanagara period a major redefinition of ‘lower 
orders’ occurred, this having to do with the division of right and left 

In myth and in social process, the left division of castes in the 
Vijayanagara domains suffered the historical disadvantage of being 
marginal to the dominant rural-centred society in which they lived. 
The core of the left division in most places consisted of highly skilled 
artisan-trading groups and regional merchant groups; to this core 
was added a substantial section of untouchable producers of com- 
modities such as the widely-traded leather commodities of Tamil 
and Telugu scavengers and leather workers (Chakkilars and 
Madigas). Additionally, in Tamil country, the left division included 
the large cultivating group of Pallis. This was anomalous since most 
important cultivating groups — Tamil Vellalars, Karnatak Vokkali- 
gas, and Telugu Reddis — were either affiliated with the right 
division or were regarded with Brahmans and some transregional 
merchants and bankers (such as Telugu Komatis) as neutral or 
unaligned. The Palli affiliation to the left may be explained by their 
late emergence as dominant landholding cultivators and by their 
claim to a prior martial history and Kshatriya status. To the core of 
cultivators of the right division were added other agrarian groups 
such as most herdsmen, grain traders and transporters, those 
providing goods and services for village people, such as potters, 
barbers, washermen, non-Brahman priests, and untouchable field 
labourers (Tamil Paratyans, Karnatak Holeyas, and Telugu Malas). 

Differences between the interests of these two broad coalitions of 
agrarian and non-agrarian groupings certainly resulted in conflicts, 
and the pre-Vijayanagara historical record contains many examples 
of that. However, there is as much evidence of co-operation in 
support of temples and against outside oppressors as occurred at the 
fringes of the Kaveri delta in 1429-30 against the demands of 
Vijayanagara agents and their Tamil allies. 


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The pace of urbanisation during the fifteenth and sixteenth cen- 
turies altered the balance between the right and left coalitions of 
castes. Leading groups of the right division, whose core interests 
were agrarian, had become deeply implicated in town life and in the 
more generalised exchange systems of the age. At the same time, the 
left division of castes, the core of whose interests were commodity 
production for extended exchange, and whose locus of operations 
were the new towns of the southern peninsula, were in a better 
position to demand quality of status and social privileges with those 
of the right division. From the time of Devaraya I to Achyutadeva- 
raya, inscriptions are found in many parts of the southern peninsula 
entitling right and left castes to the same privileges, including the 
privilege of holding processions and displaying emblems. Royal 
adjudications were sought and gained by the leading groups of left 
castes, skilled artisan-traders called Kanmalars among Tamils, Pan- 
chala in Karnataka, and Panchanulu in Andhra. 

The increasingly congruent interests of leaders of the right and 
left coalition and the readiness of state-level officials to certify 
demands for equality of social standing by left castes were important 
changes. Now, equalising privileges that marked status could be 
achieved without resort to the violent conflicts that sometimes 
erupted before, and this diminished the needs for internal solidarity 
of both coalitions. There seems little reason to doubt, and some 
evidence to support, the proposition that heightened demands for 
money revenues through the entire chain of lordships in the 
sixteenth century were passed by the more powerful to the less 
powertul in the chain of production from which all wealth came. 


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The Vijayanagara kingdom at its greatest moment during the first 
half of the sixteenth century consisted of few durable elements. 
Though between 1509 and 1565 Krishnadevaraya, Achyutadevaraya, 
and Aliya Rama Raja proved competent warriors and statesmen, all 
were aware of the dangers of assassination by kinsmen and usur- 
pation by other powerful families. By the sixteenth century both 
threats had been realised too many times for any ruler to be secure. 
Another hazard were the shifting alliances among the great warlord 
families of the kingdom. This was especially the condition in the 
Karnataka and Rayalaseema heartland, the base of royal authority 
during most reigns. Any king’s power depended upon a coalition 
whose focus he was; a personal relationship with the king opened 
wide possibilities for any great Deccan magnate. Often a personal 
relationship could be strengthened by marriage of a daughter into 
the royal lineage. The powerful Rama Raja, titled aliya, ‘son-in- 
law’, claimed the throne as husband of the daughter of Krishnadeva- 
raya, and though he was long frustrated in that ambition, some of his 
considerable authority later derived as much from this affinal 
connection as from being the son and successor of Aravidi Bukka. 
Combinations amongst powerful families were shifting and 
complex; all were alert to advantages and ready to seize political 
initiatives when the powers of a neighbouring chief or the king 

Adding to this competitive and dangerous world of the great 
households of the kingdom was the Muslim factor. Throughout 
Vijayanagara history Muslim warriors played a part of coalition 
building. This began in pre-Vijayanagara times when Ala-ud-din 
Khalji’s trusted commander Malik Kafur, a converted Hindu, was 
invited into the succession struggles between Pandyan princes and 
laid the foundation for the short-lived sultanate regime there. 
Though the Vijayanagara kingdom itself was launched with an 
ostensibly anti-Muslim ideology, in less than a century Muslim 
fighters served as commanders in Devaraya II’s army. A prospective 


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ally was not rejected for being Muslim by a Hindu magnate, nor a 
Hindu by a Muslim either in the Muslim Golconda or Hindu 

Beneath the world of aristocratic coalitions and counter- 
coalitions was the no less politically contentious world of chiefs and 
their constituencies. These were based upon communal institutions 
of kinship, locality, occupational/caste affiliations in the right and 
left divisions, and upon sect and temple. While much of this 
communally based world of localities had been altered by the 
sixteenth century — partly the result of the character and structure of 
Vijayanagara power with its intrusive military outsiders and partly 
as the result of the forces of commercialisation and urbanisation — 
local sodalities in the southern peninsula retained a large capacity to 
frustrate the ambitions of the mighty. 

For most historians, the kingdom was what Nilakanta Sastri 
called a ‘war state’, one ruled by warrior-chiefs whose whole being 
was bent on attaining ever greater military force to be applied to any 
enemy, Hindu and Muslim. The large and expanding frontier of the 
kingdom, it must be remembered, had long been to the Hindu 
South, not the Muslim-ruled North; the fruits of military success — 
in wealth, territory, and sovereignty — were principally garnered in 
Tamil country. Vijayanagara was also an incorporative regime, one 
that sought to win to itself the allegiance and military capability of 
the many warriors throughout the peninsula. These objects of 
Vijayanagara courtship were also chiefs, or ‘little kings’ — with 
armed men, horses, and firearms at their disposal and hence worth 
the wooing. And furthermore, Vijayanagara was a parasitic regime 
that extracted tribute from the productivity and commerce of its 
peoples and contributed little itself to either. 

It is, of course, true that the Vijayanagara kings boosted the level 
of violence through its armies and the attendant privileging of its 
military agents to the greatest dignities and wealth available in the 
southern peninsula, but historians usually justify this by the heroic 
defence of Hinduism against Islam. Still, it is difficult to identify the 
ways in which Vijayanagara as a state made a difference. It is perhaps 
strange, and it may appear trivial, that one way in which Vyayana- 
gara influence may be seen to have mattered was in changes of 
architectural styles of temples. 

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As already observed, art and architectural historians speak of a 
‘Vijayanagara temple style’ whose features distinguish it from all 
others. The researches of George Michell at Hampi and his com- 
parative grasp of temples elsewhere in the peninsula leads him to 
observe that there was a sudden break in the style of temple 
construction in the fourteenth century. Temples in the Hoysala and 
Kakatiya styles of the previous two centuries virtually ceased to be 
built, and, for a time during the fourteenth century, a simpler and 
earlier Deccan style was reverted to for shrines built at Vijayanagara 
and elsewhere in its hinterland. 

The very first datable shrines constructed at Hampi during the 
first dynasty of Vijayanagara were devoted to Jaina deities. This not 
only manifested the continued importance of that religion in 
Karnataka, and perhaps even the allegiance to it by the early 
Vijayanagara kings, like the earliest of the Hoysalas, but also 
suggests a deliberate symbolic shift from that of previous Hindu 
regimes whom Vijayanagara had succeeded. A style very like that of 
the ancient Chaluyan kingdom of Badami and its temple complexes 
at Aihole and Pattadakal seemed to be affected. The anachronistic 
Deccan style of temple found at Vijayanagara was imitated at the 
Saiva centre of Sringiri; for example, the Vidya Shankara temple of 
the mid-fourteenth century, associated with Vidyaranya, the Raja- 
guru of the founders, was built to a Deccan plan. 

By the middle of the fifteenth century, when a distinctive 
Vijayanagara style of temple had begun to evolve, its core design was 
derived from Tamil-country and late Chola shrines. The Ramachan- 
dra temple was at the symbolic centre, the urban core of Vijayana- 
gara, where royal ceremonies were enacted; it was probably begun 
by Devaraya I in the early fourteenth century in imitation of late 
Chola temples. Other places where this southern temple style was 
found at about the same time was Penukonda, at temples dedicated 
to Siva and to Rama, and at Srisailam, another Saiva centre patron- 
ised by the Saivite kings of the first dynasty. A mature Viyayanagara 
style was only achieved in the time of Krishnadevaraya. 

This style continued Chola forms, but certain Chola elements 
were raised to a previously unknown monumentality, especially the 


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gateway, or gopuram. The Virupaksha temple at Hampi, though its 
foundations are ancient, was substantially rebuilt in Krishnadeva- 
raya’s time; similarly, the Vithala shrine, begun by Devaraya I, was 
expanded at the time of Krishnadevaraya. Shortly after, other major 
temples of Hampi were constructed to the same large scale as were 
temples in such chiefly centres as Tadpatri and Lepakshi and at the 
older temple centres of Ahobalam and Kalahasti. The mature 
Vijayanagara style began to find its way back to its origins in Tamil 
country with additions to the Ekambaranatha and Varadaraja 
temples at Kanchipuram, the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram, the 
Jalakanteshvara temple at Vellore, and at Srirangam and Tiruvanna- 
malai. All came to be marked with the distinctive towering gateway 
called ‘Rayagopuram’, and many also had portrait statues of Vijaya- 
nagara kings and other important patrons. Thus, personal icono- 
graphic connection was established between these most important 
shrines and the great political figures of the time. The seventeenth- 
century Nayaka kingdom temples of the peninsula steadfastly held 
to this Vijayanagara style, displaying even more monumentality and 
elaborating the motif of sculpted animal pillars introduced earlier. 
Considering the symbolic power of temples in Vijayanagara 
times, it is likely that these stylistic developments conveyed impor- 
tant meanings to contemporaries, as they do to the modern archi- 
tectural historian. One meaning was that the Vijayanagara state was 
of surpassing ritual importance for Tamil, Telugu, and Kannadiga 
subjects of the rayas and their chiefs. Historians have insisted that 
there was much more to the Vijayanagara state, of course, and one of 
the chief foci of their arguments pertains to what is called ‘the 
foreign policy’ of the kingdom during the last several decades of its 
greatness. One reason for attention to this policy is that its failures 
served to explain why the great kingdom collapsed, leaving the way 
open for Islam to resume its march southward in the seventeenth 
century. If not the result of the bold, if perhaps misconceived 
foreign policy of Aliya Rama Raja in the middle decades of the 
sixteenth century, why should this powerful kingdom have so 
suddenly and catastrophically crashed? Such a question does not 
parody the conventional historiography on Vijayanagara, but it 
does draw attention to the false robustness attributed by most 
historians to the kingdom and their unwillingness to apprehend the 


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many limits upon Vijayanagara power and authority even in its 


None probed these limits so completely or so ruthlessly as Rama 
Raja, son-in-law of Krishnadevaraya, contender against the latter’s 
chosen successor, Achyutadevaraya, and the most powerful Vijaya- 
nagara lord of the mid-sixteenth century. 

His father, Aravidi Bukka, was a major player in the dangerous 
game of usurpation at the time of Saluva Narasimha. Even more 
dangerously, Aravidu Bukka shifted his loyalty to the rising Tuluva 
nayakas before they snatched the throne from Saluva Narasimha’s 
son. With what in other times might have been deemed sedition, 
Rama Raja appears to have served for a time as commander in the 
army of the Golkonda sultanate as other Rayalaseema chiefs did and 
were to do again. Then, with his father, he shifted allegiance to the 
Tuluvas and served Krishnadevaraya at the same lofty rank as his 
father. As acommander of the Raya’s army he distinguished himself 
against the Orissan Gajapati and also in campaigns against Bijapur 
and Golkonda. Having married into the royal family as well as being 
widely regarded as a suitable candidate for the throne, Rama Raja 
was supported by a broad coalition of magnates to succeed in 
preference to the two brothers of Krishnadevaraya, Tirumala and 
Achyutadevaraya. The latter was designated as his successor just 
before Krishnadevaraya died, and at the same time Rama Raja was 
appointed his chief minister. When Krishnadevaraya died in 1529, 
the powerful coalition backing Rama Raja, including many of his 
kinsmen, challenged the late king’s decision and openly supported 
Rama Raja’s enthronement. 

Twice thwarted, it is hardly surprising that when Achyutadeva- 
raya died in 1542 Rama Raja should again have been pressing against 
the royal gates of Vijayanagara nor that by then he should have been 
successful. But this success required raising the military stakes even 
higher to overcome his opponents. Unhesitatingly he did this by 
entering into an agreement with the sultan of Bijapur. The latter was 
to join in the struggle against the still powerful allies of Achyutade- 
varaya, the Salakarajus, who now supported the candidacy of their 


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kinsman Tirumalaraya against Rama Raja’s candidate, and Achyu- 
tadevaraya’s nephew Sadasivaraya. Several fierce battles were fought 
between the two coalitions — at Gandikota, Penukonda, Kurnool, 
and Adoni — before success came to Rama Raja, and this was only 
after his ally Ibhrahim Adil Shahi entered the fray. In 1543 the 
adolescent Sadasivaraya was crowned and Rama Raja was declared 
his regent. 

To the older nucleus of the regent’s power, consisting of the 
powerful chiefs who had followed his father, were added his two 
seasoned warrior brothers, Venkatadri and Tirumala, and his own 
five sons and other kinsmen. All were given high posts as governors, 
often replacing Brahman officers; this fortified the coalition of 
chiefs on whom Rama Raja had long depended and who provided 
the troops and their commanders for his strong rule over the great 
peninsular territory that acknowledged the sovereignty of the 
youthful Sadasivaraya. When that unfortunate boy attained his 
majority in 1550, he was deposed, possibly imprisoned, and Rama 
Raja began to rule in his own name. 

Even before this, however, Rama Raja had launched new imperial 
initiatives on two fronts. Early in his regency, he sought a more 
secure imperial presence in the far south where nayaka control over 
Madurai was being consolidated. Rama Raja’s aim was not to abort 
the latter development, but to check growing Portuguese influence 
along both rich trade coasts at the southern tip of the peninsula. To 
frustrate this, in 1544 he dispatched a large army under his nephew 
Vithala to punish the Travancore raja Unni Varma for encouraging 
Portuguese encroachments and for refusing to transmit a portion of 
the trade tribute gained from the Portuguese to Vijayanagara. 
Vithala was assisted in the campaign by Visvanatha and his son 
Krishnappa, the nayaka rulers of Madurai, and the successful 
progress of the campaign against the Portuguese and the Travancore 
raja can be traced in inscriptions of the time as well as from Jesuit 
records of Unni Varma’s Portuguese ally. As a preliminary to this 
campaign, Rama Raja had taken the precaution of proclaiming direct 
rule over Tirunelveli, thereby denying it to either Madurai or to 
Tranvancore, both of which regimes sought contro! of the central 
Tambraparni basin. After victories on the west coast, Vithala led his 
army across the peninsula, seizing the port of Tuticorin; he 


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remained in the far south for a decade longer in order to forestall a 
renewal of Portuguese penetrations on the Coromandel coast. That 
Vithala made Tiruchirapalli, rather than Madurai, his head- 
quarters during these years suggests that neither he nor his mentor 
Rama Raja were much concerned about the ambitions of the 
Madurai nayakas. No efforts were made to deflect the consolidation 
of their authority suggesting that such a large and independent 
authority in distant Tamil country was not seen as a threat to or 
departure from the political arrangements thought proper and 
desirable under Vijayanagara. 

The second front on which Rama Raja sought to establish greater 
imperial control was north of Vijayanagara. Here the game was 
more dangerous and, in the end, disastrous for the Rayas. 

From the beginning, Vijayanagara kings had looked to northern 
Karnataka as a potential zone of authority; in this sense, as well as in 
their early temple building, theirs was a Karnatak kingdom. Vijaya- 
nagara inscriptions are found in northern Karnataka and in southern 
Maharashtra until the fifteenth century. However, the early 
Bahmani sultans Muhammed I and Mujahid (c. 1358-78) waged 
such successful wars for this territory that during the fifteenth 
century the Tungabhadra became a boundary between the two 
kingdoms, with the interfluvial tract of Raichur constituting a buffer 
that changed hands frequently. Krishnadevaraya’s early sixteenth- 
century campaigns put Raichur in Vijayanagara hands for a time and 
provided a base from which Rama Raja launched his more 
aggressive northern campaign. 

A combination of high skill and arrogance characterised Rama 
Raja’s policies toward the Muslim sultanates of the Deccan in the 
judgements of most historians. The skill of his diplomacy produced 
an extended period — over a decade — of Vijayanagara hegemony in 
northern Karnataka, opening a new frontier of opportunity for 
warrior chiefs devoted to his interests. However, that balance of 
power hegemony sowed seeds of the bitter fruit of 1565 when the 
great city was humiliated and destroyed. 

The five sultanate regimes that partitioned the Bahmani Deccan 
territory around the beginning of the fifteenth century were given 
an unforgettable infancy at the hands of Krishnadevaraya. The 
Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar, the Imad Shahis of Berar, the Barid 


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Shahis of Bidar, and the Adil Shahis of Bijapur began ruling about 
1490; the Golkonda regime of the Qutb Shahis came two decades 
later. Each struggled to replace Bahmani authority and resume the 
southward march of Islam in the peninsula; but each also struggled 
against internal enemies. This not only delayed the resumption of 
southern expansion to the verdant river valleys to the south, with 
the prospects of wealth unknown in the dry upland of the Deccan, 
but regularly threatened the existence of each regime. Krishnadeva- 
raya proved the implacable barrier to the realisation of their dreams 
of expansion southward after he smashed their alliance against him 
in 1510. That victory also won Raichur back and the possibilities of 
deeper penetrations by Vijayanagara into northern Karnataka and 
southern Marathi country. 

When Krishnadevaraya died and the turmoil of Achyutadeva- 
raya’s succession and Chellappa’s rebellion still raged, the Deccan 
sultans struck back. Quili Qutb Shah successfully attacked the 
fortress of Kondavidu in 1530, but was forced to abandon it by 
Achyutadevaraya’s vigorous counter-attack led by his governor of 
the eastern rajya, Salakaraju Tirumalayadeva, acting with the 
powerful local chief of the Velugoti family which dominated the 
Venkatagiri area from the thirteenth century. While Achyutadeva- 
raya was thus engaged on his north-east frontier and soon after with 
Rama Raja’s attempted coup and Chellappa’s rebellion in the south, 
Ismail Adil Shah of Bijapur seized the Vijayanagara forts at Raichur 
and Mudkal acting in concert with Amir Barid of Bidar. The two 
allies fell out soon after and therefore relieved Achyutadevaraya of 
the threat poised against the city itself. Shortly thereafter, more 
breathing-space was created by the death of Ismail Adil Shah in 15 34 
and a succession struggle there. To add to these convoluted politics, 
one of the candidates in the Byapur succession struggle, Asad Khan 
of Belgaum, on the border of northern Karnataka and southern 
Maharashtra, entered into an agreement with Achyutadevaraya and 
the Portuguese to support his candidacy for the Biyapur throne. 
Achyutadevaraya duly invaded Raichur both to regain his territory 
and simultaneously to defeat enemies of Asad Khan. A recon- 
ciliation between the new Bijapur sultan and Asad Khan ended the 
possibility for Achyutadevaraya to achieve more than this restoration 
of Raichur. There matters stood when Achyutadevaraya died in 


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1542 and Rama Raja became the virtual ruler of Vijayanagara as 

The momentary dissaffection of Asad Khan exposes a deeper 
characteristic of politics of the era, whether among Muslims or 
Hindus. That was the constant grasping about by great and small 
lords of the Deccan for advantage through coalitions and alliances, a 
strategy which recognised no frontiers between the Hindu kingdom 
and its supposed Muslim adversaries to the north. Contemporary 
Muslim chronicles and accounts later gathered by Colin Mackenzie 
document such activity and its consequences in the grand alliance of 
sultans formed against Rama Raja’s Vijayanagara and, after his 
defeat in 1565, the cynical and violent efforts that were made by 
Vijayanagara grandees to put themselves into the same regency role 
as that held by Rama Raja, that is as the greatest generalissimo of 
South India. 

One set of complicated diplomatics began in 1543 or 15.44, just as 
Rama Raja, as regent, took direction of the kingdom. The sultan of 
Ahmadnagar, Burhan Khan (reign 1509-53), and Ibrahim Adil Shah 
of Bijapur agreed that Ahmadnagar would invade and seize territory 
from his enemy the sultan of Bidar while Ibrahim would invade 
Vijayanagara. Each thus sought to assure that the other ally would 
not be free to seize their lands while they were engaged in plunder- 
ing other neighbours. Rama Raja foiled this, cleverly, by a stunning 
long-distance strike against Ahmednagar where he managed to 
capture Burhan Khan. The latter was easily persuaded to ally 
himself with Rama Raja and with the new sultan of Golkonda, 
Jamshid (reign 1543-50), for an invasion of Biapur. Ibrahim Adil 
Shah met this danger by entering into a separate peace with Rama 
Raja through the concession of territory; this freed him to deal with 
his less threatening Muslim enemies whom he defeated. In 1549, 
another intricate, machiavellian dance was begun with Biapur, 
again, the chief prospective victim. This time the allies of Rama Raja 
held fast permitting him, with an army led by Sadasiva Nayaka of 
Ikkeri and by Burhan Khan, to defeat Ibrahim at Kalyani, the 
ancient Chalukyan capital. 

Rama Raja added to his weapons against Muslim enemies by 
sheltering a Golkonda prince named Ibrahim from the wrath of his 
sultan father, and when the latter died, Rama Raja provided the 


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young prince with 30,000 foot-soldiers and cavalry under his 
brother Venkatadri to take the throne of Golkonda. Having made 
these efforts to create an ally in Golkonda, Rama Raja decided to 
take up the cause of a now weakened Biyapur against Golkonda a 
few years later. This was not the first time that Rama Raja sought to 
arbitrate power there, as his arrangement with Asad Khan and the 
Portuguese some time before indicate. 

However, in 1555, Rama Raja shifted his policy, and when his 
Golkonda protégé, Ibrahim, and the sultan of Ahmadnagar invaded 
Bijapur, he supported Bijapur, perhaps hoping thus to make it a 
client. Stull later, Rama Raja struck again against his protégé the 
sultan of Golkonda, by unleashing close supporters in Rayalaseema 
to seize southern Golkonda territories for themselves. The chiefs of 
Kandbir, Rajamundry, and Venkatagiri took Golkonda forts and 
their adjoining territories at Kondapalli, Ellore, and Gandikota. The 
Vijayanagara regent tried to strike even closer to the heart of his 
erstwhile protégé by fomenting a conspiracy among the Telugu 
commanders of garrison troops (nayakawar1) of forts in the centre 
of Golkonda; they agreed to hand their forts to Rama Raja’s soldiers 
when the latter invaded Golkonda. This conspiracy was discovered 
by Ibrahim and thwarted by a large-scale massacre of Telugu 
garrison soldiers. 


For twenty years Rama Raja’s daring and ruthless policy had 
worked well. Vijayanagara was seldom exposed to the dangers the 
city had known from the Bahmanis during the fifteenth century. To 
achieve all this, Rama Raja had to have a strike-force able to 
intervene in affairs north of Vijayanagara on short notice, and this 
was supplied by a set of chiefs in Karnataka and Rayalaseema willing 
to risk war for a portion of sultanate territory near their chiefdoms 
and the loot that came with seizing a sultanate city. Over the years, 
his men held major parts of Dharwar and Bankapur and many lesser 
places in Raichur and elsewhere, and many a chiefly temple must 
have been built with the pillage from Bijapur or Ahmadnagar. The 
main commanders of this force were his brothers — Tirumala and 

Venkatadri — and Sadasiva Nayaka of Ikkeri, his Marlborough. All 

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had become expert in the use of artillery by then, even though their 
gunners were Portuguese or Muslim, just as the light horse- and 
foot-soldiers of the Muslim regimes were often Marathas. 
Moreover, Muslim chroniclers of the time were persuaded that 
Rama Raja’s great advantage over any of his Muslim rivals was his 
treasury burgeoning from customs collected from the ports and 
towns of Vijayanagara. Such wealth both necessitated a recon- 
ciliation among the sultans and offered the prize of permanent 
possession of its sources. 

Rama Raja’s great game could not be played much longer, for 
he was now, in 1564, eighty. Anticipating the retribution that must 
come against Vijayanagara he had added to the defences of the city 
and other fortresses south of the Tungabhadra. He cannot have been 
surprised when the sultans agreed to end their long, divisive 

The initiative for this diplomatic revolution came from the most 
recent heavy losers in Rama Raja’s game — Husain Nizam Shah of 
Ahmadnagar and Ibrahim Qutb Shah of Golkonda. The latter 
achieved the most difficult task of persuading Husain and Ali Adil 
Shah of Bijapur to give up their struggles in Maratha country and 
to seal their amity with a royal marriage. When Rama Raja learned 
of the grand alliance against him, he produced one of his own, 
calling upon dependent chiefs near and far, including the nayaka of 
Madurai, Krishnappa, who had recently succeeded his father Visva- 
natha. Krishnappa is said to have sent his able minister and chief 
agent of his consolidation of power in Madurai, Ariyanatha Muda- 
liar, with a large force to join Rama Raja as he marched northward to 
meet the assembled Muslim force on the Krishna River, eighty miles 
north of Vijayanagara. There, on the south bank of the river, in late 
January 1565, the Vijayanagara armies were at last decisively 
defeated, Rama Raja and many of his kinsmen and dependants were 
killed and the city opened to sacking by a combination of Golkonda 
soldiers and poligars from nearer to Vijayanagara. 

Rama Raja’s warrior brother Tirumala survived the battle and 
brought the remnants of the once great army to Viyayanagara. Soon 
after, at the approach of the celebrating Golkonda army, he sought a 
place of greater security. This may have been Penukonda, a long- 
time royal stronghold, 120 miles and eight days’ journey south-east 


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of Vijayanagara; others believe that Tirumala took refuge behind the 
high walls of Venkatesvara’s temple at Tirupati, still further away. 
The Muslim confederates immediately retrieved most of the terri- 
tory that had been seized by Rama Raja during the previous twenty 
years, but certain places remained in Hindu hands for a longer time: 
Adoni was held until 1568 and Dharwar and Bankapur until 1573. 
After looting and a brief occupation, Viyayanagara was left to a 
future of neglect which has only been lifted recently by archae- 
ologists and art historians working at Hampi. Less than a year later, 
the sultanate confederates fell out. Bijapur attacked Ahmadnagar 
and Golkonda joined forces with the latter. Some contemporary 
accounts even relate how Tirumala was approached to become a 
co-belligerent against Bijapur in the resurgent struggles! This last 
scheme did not materialise, leaving Tirumala free to commence his 
rule of the kingdom, nominally as regent, for Sadasivaraya was still 
alive and remained so until perhaps 1575. Vijayanagara appears to 
have been reoccupied by Tirumala for a time after his victors 
departed, but his efforts to repopulate the city were frustrated by 
attacks upon it by Bijapur soldiers who might have been invited 
there by Peda Tirumala, Rama Raja’s son, who opposed his uncle’s 
seizure of the regency. Tirumala may also have decided to leave 
Vijayanagara because of the support that Peda Tirumala, his 
nephew, enjoyed there. In any case, he moved back to Penukonda 
where the court was to be. 


Tirumala, a younger son of Aravidi Bukka, ruled as regent until 
1572; his son, Sri Ranga, ruled as king as did his grandson, Venkata 
II, who succeeded in 1586, and Sri Ranga II, in 1614. In 1630, the 
royal line reverted to the descendants of Rama Raja through Peda 
Tirumala, with Venkata III and Sri Ranga III ruling until 1650. Thus 
did the Aravidu dynasty survive for a century the defeat of 1565 and 
the flight from Vijayanagara. For the most part these late kings were 
pathetic pawns in the struggles among the great Telugu houses 
either to seize and revive the Viyayanagara throne or to prevent 
others from doing so. Not surprisingly therefore, the later kings had 
to seek the goodwill, or self-interest, of sometime Muslim allies 


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against other Hindu and Muslim foes. Neither proved reliable 
instruments for restoring the great kingdom, of which only a shell 
remained. Still, that was enough for some imperial grandees to fight 
two civil wars, while at the same time, others were establishing new 
kingdoms whose legitimacy derived from the ‘Raya samasthanam’. 
The latter included the kingdoms of the nayakas of Karnataka and 
Tamil country and the hundreds of ‘little kingdoms’ of poligars and 
other smaller sovereignties. 

The nayaka regimes appear to have come into existence around 
1530, well before the defeat of Aliya Rama Raja’s army on the 
Krishna River and the sacking of Viyyayanagara. Though some 
historians haggle about when it is appropriate to speak of these 
purported Vijayanagara ‘successors’, there is general agreement that 
it might well have been around 1530. Given this agreement, there is a 
paradox that has never been faced, much less resolved, in Vijayana- 
gara historiography. It is this: at the moment that the kingdom was 
at its greatest, during the reign of Krishnadevaraya, who died in 
1529, ‘successor’ regimes existed, and the kingdom, or ‘empire’, was 
beginning to be partitioned into independent states consisting of 
some of its richest parts: Tanjavur, Madurai, Gingee, and Ikkeri. 
Obviously, this contradiction can itself be dissolved only by con- 
ceding that the Vijayanagara kingdom, at the moment when its 
central authority was greatest, was a weakly-centralised polity, one 
in which the most important of its parts were regarded by con- 
temporaries as independent in every respect save that they could not 
claim to be fully-fledged kingdoms. This last condition was to be 
achieved not long after the time of Aliya Rama Raja. But even during 
a time of his vigorous authority, in the middle decades of the 
sixteenth century, we have seen that in relation to the Madurai 
nayakas, neither he nor his nephew, Vithala, attemped to alter the 
considerable independent power that was being consolidated at 
Madurai under its nayaka rulers. Presumably it was not deemed a 
breach of Vijayanagara royal authority for Visvanatha Nayaka and 
his son Krishnappa to exercise independence over a principality of 
over 36,000 square miles. 

The crucial element of the history of the final century of Vijayana- 
gara by successors of Rama Raja, descendants of Aravidi Bukka, was 
the struggle to reconsolidate a degree of central authority against 


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powerful military overlords bent upon creating independent 
monarchies. All of this was set against relentless pressure from 
Bijapur and Golkonda. Both sultanates had, since their foundation a 
century before, become more effectively centralised regimes than 
Vijayanagara in the sense that both had arrived at stable, hegemonic 
superiority over local chieftains. Both now sought to extend their 
authority southward in order to enlarge the base from which wealth 
could be appropriated from agricultural production and internal 
commerce or from the rich trade emporia on both coasts of the 
peninsula. By the late seventeenth century, this aggrandising expan- 
sion had been turned to a desperate flight of these sultans from the 
encroaching Mughals who soon after ended the careers of both. 

After the defeat of 1565, two events signalled the futility of 
reconstituting a single, powerful kingdom. One was a civil war that 
began in 1614 and lasted for a decade. This involved scions of the 
royal Aravidu family for control of a throne which now possessed 
neither a capital nor even a fixed territory. The war began with the 
death of Venkata II, a nephew of Rama Raja and second son of the 
king Tirumala. Venkata had ruled from 1586 to 1614; his designated 
successor, Sri Ranga, failed to win the support of many imperial 
grandees on grounds of his doubtful legitimacy and capabilities. 
Many also considered Sri Ranga too dependent upon Raghunatha, 
the Nayaka ruler of Tanjavur, who had links to the displaced Tuluva 
family through his father and founder of the Tanjavur nakayaship, 
Sevappa, a brother-in-law of Achyutadevaraya. Such a connection 
placed Raghunatha outside the charmed circle of kinsmen of Aravidi 
Bukka. High Telugu imperial families thus were divided between 
supporters of the new king, Sri Ranga, led by Yachama Nayudu, or 
Nayaka, of the Velugoti family of Venkatagiri in Nellore, and 
another faction of grandees who supported another doubtful son of 
Venkata II, Ramadeva. The latter faction was led by a brother of the 
favourite queen of Venkata named Jagga Raya whose family held 
sway in eastern Kurnool. 

Jagga Raya seized the initiative in a ferocious manner by murd- 
ering Sri Ranga and his family, an act which apparently lost him 
enough supporters to cause his defeat in a battle against Yachama 
Nayaka in 1616. This was fought on the Kaveri, near Tiruchira- 
palli, possibly because of the alliances betweeen Telugu royal 


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aspirants and their Tamil allies. Yachama had the support of the 
nayaka of Tanjavur whereas Jagga Raya had the support of the 
nayaka Madurai, Muttuvirappa, and the nayaka of Gingee, Krish- 
nappa. The only gainers from this warfare, in which Jagga Raya 
died, were the nayaka of Tanjavur who acquired valuable territory 
from neighbouring Gingee and the nayakas (or rajas) of Mysore and 
Ikkeri, who, by remaining aloof from this struggle, were free to 
strengthen their respective holds over Karnataka. Finally, there was 
the sultan of Byapur for whom the warfare and divisions among the 
most powerful Telugu warlords opened new southern tracts in 
western Kurnool to his conquests. Any possible recrudescence of a 
powerful Vijayanagara was thereafter sealed by another period of 
blood-letting among the great households of Vijayanagara. 

This occurred after the turbulent reign of Ramadeva in 1630. 
Then, the latter’s choice of successor was contested by another of 
Rama Raja’s relatives, and for five years longer the great Telugu 
households fought each other with nayaka kings of Tamil country — 
Tanjavur, Madurai, and Gingee supporting one set of Telugu 
grandees and Chamaraja Wodeyar of Mysore, and at one point the 
Dutch, supporting another faction. 

The nayakas of Ikkeri in northern Karnataka, who had played a 
vital role in Rama Raja’s adventures in the Deccan, stayed out of 
these two wars. During the first, in 1614, Venkatappa Nayaka (reign 
1586-1629) opportunistically extended his power over neighbour- 
ing chiefs, bringing the [kkeri kingdom to its apogee, with control 
over all of the Kanara coast (Tulu rajya) and a great part of the 
adjacent upland (Male rajya). His successor Virabhadra Nayaka 
(reign 1629-45) had little choice about fishing the waters stirred by 
the second Vijayanagara succession war of the 1630s, for he was 
preoccupied with recalcitrant chiefs whose powers his father had 
sought to expunge, but who now strove to wrest back lost authority 
and lands. In addition, Virabhadra had to fend off a usurpation of his 
throne by a royal kinsman, Virappa Nayaka. During the course of 
this second epoch of wars, Ikkeri and other Karnatak lords also 
faced two invasions by Biyapur, just as Telugu and Tamil magnates 
faced a similar onslaught by Golkonda into the Coromandel plain. 

Lethal, fratricidal warfare among the great households of Vijaya- 
nagara during the middle 1630s stemmed not only from the determi- 


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nation among the Tamil country nayakas to prevent the 
enthronement of a potentially strong Vijayanagara king, already 
present during the earlier civil war, but also another factor which 
inflected strategies of all who inherited Vijayanagara authority in the 
southern peninsula. This was the degree to which kinship had 
become the basis upon which all great households constituted and 
preserved their power and formed alliances. 

Aliya Rama Raja appears responsible for this patrimonialism. At 
the outset of his direct rule of the kingdom in 1542, after Achyu- 
tadevaraya’s death, he replaced the Brahman commanders of major 
fortresses of the Karnatak-Andhra heartland of the kingdom with 
his kinsmen; he permitted more autonomy to the Telugu warrior 
chiefs, upon whom his power depended, than they had in the reigns 
of Krishnadevaraya and Achyutadevaraya, when significant auth- 
ority had been vested in the Brahman servants of the kings in Tamil 
country as well as in Andhra. These Brahmans were not ritual 
specialists, nor sectarian leaders, nor scholars, but men trained in 
scribal, accounting, and military skills. They had stood above the 
framework of kinship affinities and allegiances of territorial chief- 
taincies in the core of the kingdom. This made them particularly 
suitable administrative and military instruments for Krishnadeva- 
raya’s daunting task of establishing royal authority in those tracts 
which his brilliant military victories won for his new dynasty. There 
seems to have been a backlash of chiefly authority against the 
restrictions imposed by Krishnadevaraya, and this was nurtured and 
exploited by Rama Raja, whose formidable coalition of Telugu 
chiefs was united by marriage ties among each other and often with 
the ruling family itself. Rama Raja, it is recalled, was married to a 
sister of Krishnadevaraya, and the Salakaraju family, upon whom 
Achyutadevaraya depended for his throne and his life against the 
cabals of Rama Raja and the rebellion of Chellappa, also had 
marriage links with the ruling family. 

Rama Raja’s reversal of Krishnadevaraya’s policies for creating a 
more centralised regime meant a return to the earliest days of the 
kingdom when the five brothers of Sangama ruled the parts 
independently, except now there was a strong focus of royal 
authority in Rama Raja. He placed all of the parts of the kingdom 
under his sons and gave the high command of his army to his two 


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able brothers, Tirumala and Venkatadri. This was a family business 
and on a very large scale; it was also the beginning of patrimonial 
politics which were to thrive in the peninsula until the consolidation 
of British rule, in the late eighteenth century. As long as Rama Raja 
held hegemonic royal power, he was willing for distant great 
households like Madurai and Ikkeri to grow stronger in return for 
their contributions to his armies. Beneath the power of Rama Raja 
and his weaker and beleaguered successors, patrimonial relations 
came to dominate all others as the basis of rule, and patrimonial 
politics — the wars among the great households — prevented either 
resistance to the encroachments of the sultanate regimes or the first 
flutterings of intervention of Europeans in the great political games 
of the time. 

During the middle of the sixteenth century, Bijapur followed the 
lead of Vijayanagara in concluding treaties with the Portuguese by 
offering trade concessions in return for an uninterrupted supply of 
war-horses and other trade goods; this reversed several decades of 
attempts by the Muslims to drive the Portuguese from the western 
coast. In 1639, during the second civil war among Vijayanagara 
grandees, the Portuguese were enlisted as military allies by the 
nayakas of Madurai while the Dutch Company sided with the raja of 
Ramnad in one phase of the war; at the same time, Venkatapappa 
Nayaka of Ikkeri reversed his predecessors’ opposition to the 
Portuguese trade monopoly on the Kanara coast. 

Patrimonialism and trade became the two historical motifs of this 
last phase of Vijayanagara. The first had become the essential 
condition of politics in the post-Rama Raja era owing, in part, to the 
latter’s preference for (or obligation to follow) this sort of politics 
and, in part owing to the fading significance of a ruling family which 
had no territorial base of its own as its kings fled successively to 
Penukonda, Chandragiri, and Vellore. The beleaguered kings had 
become a burden to those magnates, like the raja of Mysore, who 
occasionally appeared to be committed to preserving a viable 
Vijayanagara kingship and who therefore supported one or another 
of the successors of Rama Raja. 

The latter’s twelve-year campaign for the throne after Krishnade- 
varaya’s death meant successive additions to his coalition of chiefs 
and concessions to chiefly power. By the time he had secured the 


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throne in 1542, Rama Raja was unable — even if he had wanted — to 
revive Krishnadevaraya’s policy of limiting ‘subordinate chiefs’ 
from above through a system of royal forts and garrisons and from 
below by supporting the local ruling credentials of the many 
poligars who garrisoned royal forts and held small chiefdoms. The 
tiger of chiefly power that Rama Raja rode successfully threw off his 
weaker successors. Now, great and small chiefs could no longer base 
their regimes on service ties to great kings, for there were none. 
Bereft of personal ties with and service under great kings, ‘subord- 
inate chiefs’ were left with little else but a reversion to an earlier 
form of ritual obedience to shadowy Vijayanagara kings, while 
relying concretely upon the unifying relations and idioms of 
kinship. Territorial magnates sought to reinforce the patrimonialism 
that was thrust upon them; they contrived ideological and 
institutional surrogates for that earlier provided by the Viyayanagara 
kings. A new form of kingship was evolving during the sixteenth 
and seventeenth centuries, one that took its principles from the late 
Vijayanagara era of Rama Raja rather than that of Krishnadevaraya. 


Before discussing these new forms of monarchy, it is necessary to 
return to the world of commerce that provided development and 
therefore made it possible in the form it took then. The recent 
doctoral thesis of Sanjay Subrahmanyam on trade and the regional 
economy of South India from 1550 to 1650 provides valuable new 
documentation on the relationship of overseas, coastal, and inland 
trade and permits a somewhat better assessment of the political 
economy of the late Vijayanagara era when great commerce and 
changing political forms went hand in hand. 

What is known of the international trade of the peninsula — its 
major ports, traders, and commodities — is far greater than what is 
known about the coastal and inland trade upon which it depended. 
There were always two different sets of commodities: high-value 
pepper, ginger, sandal, and fine textiles, and low-value paddy, 
timber, and coir. These commodity sets were complementary since 
the international trade vessels plying from Pulicat or Masulipatam, 


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Cochin or Bhatkal depended on the coastal and inland trades for 
part of their cargoes and for provisioning while on shore. Therefore, 
when the international port of Pulicat declined after the sack of 
Vijayanagara, it did so slowly and continued to service established 
commercial networks of coasters and bullock trains from the 
interior. The supersession of Pulicat as the primary Coromandel 
port of Vijayanagara by Masulipatam, Golkonda’s chief port, was 
hastened and encouraged by the direct interest of the Qutb Shahi 
sultans in trade and pilgrim passage as well as by the early interest of 
Portuguese and Dutch traders. Masulipatam’s situation and the 
trade attracted by its large population of 100,000 by the end of the 
sixteenth century helped to make it the major Coromandel port 
until it was overtaken by Madras around 1680. To provision its large 
population, Masulipatam had to be supplied from often distant 
places. After 1570, supplies for the town came from coastal Orissa in 
an annual flotilla of some forty ships bearing rice and other grains, 
edible oils, and other food-stuffs and carrying back raw cotton, 
tobacco (introduced here and in Tirunelveli by the Portuguese at 
about the same time), iron, and crucible steel smelted in the 
Masulipatam hinterland of Telangana. 

Frustratingly little new information is available on two other 
aspects of the trade systems of the time: who were the major Indian 
participants in the international and related trades and what were the 
fiscal demands upon these trades? 

From Subrahmanyam we learn that coastal traders differed from 
those involved in overseas trading. On the south-west coast, long- 
distance traders were foreign Muslims (parades) whereas the coastal 
and local trade were in the hands of local Muslims, or Mapillas. On 
the Kanara coast to the north, Konkani-speaking Saraswat Brah- 
mans were the most important coastal traders with minor roles for 
other Hindu and Jaina merchants, but overseas trade was dominated 
by Arabs, Jews, Armenians, and some Christian offsprings of 
Portuguese miscegenation. In northern Coromandel, most coastal 
and inland traders were Telugus — Balija Nayudus, Beri Chettis, and 
Komatis — and in southern Coromandel ports, indigenous Marak- 
kayar Muslims were important. 

Subrahmanyam called the most important of all Coromandel 
trader ‘portfolio capitalists’. This was a recognition of their complex 


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and overlapping interests: in overseas, coastal, and inland trade as 
well as tax-farming for Golkonda and other regimes and as ‘head 
merchants’ for the European companies. Two such merchants of the 
early seventeenth century were the Telugu Balija brothers Achyu- 
tappa and Chinnana who were at the apex of internal and external 
trades on their own accounts and served the Dutch as brokers and 
bankers. In addition to all that, they also held tax-farms under 
Golkonda, the rajas of Chandragiri (who were scions of the 
Vijayanagara royal family) and other local rulers. Not surprisingly, 
this family of merchants provide the best-documented information 
on the linkage between the great trades of the age and fiscal systems 
and demands of various Coromandel regimes. 

By the early seventeenth century, when Achyutappa and Chin- 
nana and their kinsmen strode the commercial stage, there was no 
single political regime over the peninsula that the Vijayanagara kings 
had once called their own. But, neither then, when a Vijayanagara 
king claimed the entire peninsula, nor later, did royal treasuries 
regularly benefit from customs receipts from expanding commerce. 
Subrahmanyam finds no basis on which to support the notions of 
some scholars that anything besides tribute payments from foreign 
traders was realised by Viyayanagara kings; he also, with good 
reason, denies propositions about ‘forced commercialisation’ as 
Vijayanagara state policy. The benefits of commerce and its profits 
were obvious to all who had participated in commodity production 
and exchange in the southern peninsula whether Indian or foreign. 

A distinction less fully developed by Subrahmanyam and others 
pertains to the fiscal implications of there being two fundamental 
production zones in the peninsula. On the riverine plains and along 
the coasts there were established production and crafting centres 
which permitted lucrative revenue-farming contracts. Here were 
valuable and viable circuits of production and exchange into which 
profitable investment could be made from the revenues that tax- 
farmers contracted to collect on behalf of the powerful Golkonda or 
the weaker nayaka regimes of Gingee or Chandragiri. However, in 
the upland zone of dry and mixed cultivation, the same level of 
production and exchange did not exist; all there was too dispersed 
for ‘portfolio capitalists’ like Achyutappa to combine tax collecting, 
agricultural trading, irrigation investment, and long-distance ship- 


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ping and banking into a single successful, profitable operation. This 
zonal distinction depends, of course, on seeing revenue-farming, as 
Subrahmanyam rightly does, playing a constructive economic role, 
not a parasitical or extortionate one. In the extensive dry upland 
where large mercantile capitals were more difficult to mobilise, the 
role of entrepreneurs was more modest and was taken by local big 
men and chiefs. It was they who set up markets (pettaz) in towns and 
organised the weekly fairs (sandaz) that attracted merchants and 
consumers; it was these local big men who provided inducements to 
weavers and other producers to settle and work in small towns and 
industrial villages; and it was they who derived the revenue benefits 
from such entrepreneurship. 

It is important to appreciate that such mercantilist activities were 
essential to those who dominated the upland agrarian frontier of the 
- Vijayanagara age. For them, land revenue was not, nor could it be, 
the sole source of money income required to meet military and other 
costs. Soldiers, especially foreign mercenaries, were paid in cash as 
were many indigenous fighters, but most local soldiers were given 
land on which very low revenue was demanded. Chikkadeveraya of 
Mysore followed the latter practice in the seventeenth century, 
which caused a widespread uprising of ordinary cultivators led by 
Virasaiva priests (Jangamas); that was bloodily suppressed and 
resulted in the flight of Virasaivas from southern Karnataka. 

By 1800, when British records became available, the extent to 
which such concessionary arrangements of the land-tax to soldiers 
existed is documented in the old Vijayanagara heartland and else- 
where as historical landed privilege called by the Persian term in’am. 
In 1805, Thomas Munro reported that over half of the 3.3 million 
acres of cultivated land in the Ceded Districts of Madras was held 
under tenures that paid almost no land revenue, and this was after 
efforts by several Muslim regimes during the eighteenth century — 
Tipu sultan and the nizam of Hyderabad — to claw back alienated 
revenue for their own uses. 

Such massive alienations of revenue lands as reported by Munro 
in the Ceded Districts of Madras were matched, if not exceeded, by 
the tax-free status of lands held by temples and other religious 
institutions throughout the southern peninsula. This must cast 
serious doubt upon the persistently expressed view of scholars that 


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productive land constituted the sole or principal basis of public 
revenue in pre-colonial times. The best lands in the zone of dry and 
mixed cultivation were irrigated by tanks or wells; these were 
heritable holdings of various privileged groups: priestly families, 
headmen or accountant families, or they were held as the communal 
property of dominant cultivating families of a locality, on shares 
which were periodically reapportioned among families. 

This meant that most regimes of the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries were dependent on taxes raised from trade and industrial 
production to meet their needs. The sixteenth-century findings 
from the town of Aluvakonda, discussed in the preceding chapter, 
supports such a proposition, for it was found there that a large 
portion of the money revenue upon land was granted by chiefs of 
that town and territory as income to temples, and the largest 
category of revenue payers were industrial producers and mer- 

The nayaka kingdoms established during the sixteenth century 
offer other examples of the same processes, though each was 
organised in different ways. Yet more striking examples of how 
cultivated lands, which allegedly supported state regimes, were 
actually alienated by their rulers come from among the last of 

regimes to be established under the auspices of Vijayanagara in 
Ramnad and Pudukkottai. 


Vijayanagara historians designate as ‘nayaka kingdoms’ three in 
Tamil country and two in Karnataka: Madurai, Tanjavur, and 
Gingee and Ikkeri and Mysore. These regimes are distinguished 
from all others in the southern peninsula in being larger than others 
and in enjoying a special historical significance in the minds of 
modern scholars. Madurai under Tirumala Nayaka, 1623-59, and 
Ikkeri under Venkatappa Nayaka, 1586-1629, were as extensive as 
the heartland of the Vijayanagara kingdom under Krishnadevaraya. 
Tanjavur and Mysore were not so large, but both had been and were 
to be kingdoms in their own rights, the former with its Chola past 
and Maratha future, and Mysore with its future kings who patron- 
ised modern historical scholarship. The standing of Gingee appears 


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to rest on a Tamil-language history prepared in 1803 by a 
descendant of the shepherd chief who founded and first fortified 
Gingee. Narayana Pillai was encouraged to compose his Karnataka 
Rajakkal Savistara Charitram by the first British collector of the 
Gingee region, William Macleod, a military colleague of Thomas 
Munro who was also assigned administrative tasks; Narayana 
Pillai’s history became part of the corpus of Mackenzie documents. 

These several regimes share another important attribute: they 
were not located in Andhra and therefore they were not centrally 
involved in the coalitions of Telugu grandees and chiefs who fought 
over control of the Vijayanagara throne during the seventeenth 
century. Still, all of the nayakas, except those of Ikkeri, took some 
part in the complex and violent machinations of would-be succes- 
sors of Rama Raja, and like other participants in these dangerous 
politics, the nayakas sought to avert the re-emergence of a strong 
Vijyayanagara king capable of reducing their authority and territorial 

Another attribute which the nayaka regimes are thought to share 
by many historians is that they were ‘successor states’ in the same 
sense that Avadh and Hyderabad were of the Mughals. But the 
nayaka kings were not successors of Vijayanagara; they emerged as 
independent polities at the very zenith of the Vijayanagara 
monarchy, during the early sixteenth century. However, although 
these regimes exhibited clear characteristics of Vijayanagara, they 
also differed in important ways from it and from each other 
according to political, economic and cultural features of the regions 
of their provenance. Apart from the cynical participation of some of 
them in the travails of the Vijayanagara kings after the 1565 defeat, 
these five kingdoms, like the Vijayanagara order from which they 
emerged, were all patrimonial, military regimes; they all found ways 
of trenching upon the wealth of commerce and commodity pro- 
duction without, however, achieving (or even seeking) direct 
control over their regional economies; and they all patronised local 
systems of religious affiliation and made themselves masters of 
religious institutions. How these tendencies were manifested in the 
several nayaka regimes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries 
was conditioned by particular and prior conditions found in each 
region; it was also important that the two Karnataka regimes were 


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ruled by indigenous chiefly families, while those of Tamil country 
were ruled by Telugus. 

Histories of the three Tamil kingdoms were published between 
forty and sixty years ago and all sought to soften the charge that 
these regimes contributed to the ignominious demise of the Vijaya- 
nagara kingdom. Generally, the attempt is to date the independent 
rule of each as late as possible and to claim that its nayaka rulers 
before that time were loyal ‘governors’ or ‘feudatories’ of the 
Vijayanagara kings. But the facts are obstinately otherwise for the 
most part. The Ikkeri regime began when Chaudappa founded his 
samasthanam at Keladi before 1500 (Ikkeri, six miles away, was 
made the seat of its rulers around 1560 and remained so until 1640 
when Bijapur invasions forced the better defences at Bednur, 40 
miles from Ikkeri). The last of the eighteen crowned rulers of Ikkeri 
was deposed by Haidar Ali Khan in 1763, ending a royal line which 
lasted 265 years. The Mysore kingdom was founded by a line of 
chiefs whose local authority dated from the same time and was 
fostered in the same way by military service to Vijayanagara; 
however, the rule of the Wodeyar rajas of Mysore extended into 
India’s independent era. The kingdoms of Madurai, Tanjavur, and 
Gingee were established less than half a century later by sons of 
Vijayanagara military commanders proclaiming themselves kings 
and undergoing royal anointment (pattabhisekha). 

Little is actually known about the coronation rituals of any of 
these kings. Probably, though, the Vijayanagara model was fol- 
lowed as it was at Madurai according to the Telugu Rayavachakamu 
composed there in the late sixteenth century. Reminiscent of 
Vijayanagara coronation rites were the important place of the royal 
tutelaries. Krishnadevaraya’s evocation of the divinity of his family 
tutelary is described by Portuguese witnesses of the mahanavami 
festival at Vijayanagara, and Achyutadevaraya, who was thrice 
crowned, invoked the authority of his personal god, Venkatesvara, 
at Tirupati, the major territorial Siva at Kalahasti, and the Tuluva 
tutelary at Vijayanagara. Also conspicuous in these coronations was 
the participation of Brahman ministers of the king, as in the cases of 
Krishnadevaraya and his minister, Saluva Timma, in 1509, and later 
Ragunatha Nayaka of Tanjavur and his illustriously learned minis- 
ter, Govinda Dikshita. However, when kings were made, as Sadasi- 


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varaya was by Rama Raja in 1542, it was the non-Brahman 
king-maker, Rama Raja, that played the conspicuous role. The - 
frequent inscriptional and literary references to coronations and also 
to the practice of ruling kings installing their sons as heirs-apparent 
(yuvaraja) makes a nonsense of the pious reiteration of historians 
that the nayakas of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century were 
merely royal officials. For the people that they ruled and in the 
inscriptions that they caused to be engraved, they were kings, even 
though they acknowledged the superior kingship of the rayas. 

A widespread, if not universal, royal ceremony which followed 
immediately upon the anointing of a maharaja of the Tuluva or 
Aravidu lines, or a raja in the nayaka realms, was common food- 
taking by the ruler and his closest kinsmen and supporters. This 
signified a kind of parity among the participants in the sense of being 
members of the same ruling lineage (Sanskrit: varga; Tamil: varuk- 
kam). This practice was followed in Madurai and helped to define a 
ruling order of princes (kumara-varukkam) in that kingdom during 
the reign of Visvanatha Nayaka, which began in 1529. Madurai’s 
nayaka rulers appear in other ways to have been more imitative of 
Vijayanagara royal practice than other great households. 

But in Madurai, there was more than mere imitation of the rayas, 
for the Telugu rulers there seemed to have reached back to a 
pre-Vijayanagara method for achieving political solidity. They 
resurrected a Kakatiya practice of symbolically associating 
territorial chieftains of that realm with its kings by the metaphoric 
use of the royal fortress to stand for the realm as a whole. Great 
chiefs were notionally made responsible for a bastion of that fortress 
and hence for the kingdom as a whole. The inventive Visvanatha 
Nayaka recovered another Kakatiya practice by devising a system of 
military dependencies during the sixteenth century. ‘Palaiyam’ 
means military encampment and the keepers of them, called pal- 
atyakkarar in Tamil, were constituted as a formal system of 
authority consisting of seventy-two autonomous chiefs — Telugu 
and Tamil — who were conceived as a ruling set, each the protector of 
a bastion of the Madurai fort and thereby a member of Madurai’s 
ruling estate, the kumara-varukkam. Evidence from no other great 
household of the sixteenth century quite suggests the degree of 
integration of kinship and military and chiefly authority that was 


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achieved at Madurai. In Tanjavur at the time, there appear to have 
been neither palaiyams nor poligars, and in other nayaka realms the 
relations between raja or nayaka and subordinate chiefs was more 
openly conflictful. 

Nayakas in Tanjavur and to a lesser degree in Gingee left the 
ancient landed élite of Brahmans and Vellalars dominant over the 
rich, irrigated cultivation systems in both places. The share of 
production which these nayaka regimes enjoyed was possibly not 
different from what it had been in Chola times, though it was 
received in money, not kind. However, the fiscal regimes of these 
nayaka kingdoms drew substantial wealth from the advanced com- 
merce in rice and textiles of the sixteenth century, much of which 
was also in the hands of the Brahman and Vellalar élite. Similar 
indulgence was shown by the nayakas of Madurai to the same élite 
landholders in the Vagai and Tambraparni river valleys, but there is 
a difference of importance to be noted. In Madurai, there was a 
highly-organised military force sustained by the palaiyam system 
that gave protection to the wet zones of the kingdom as well as the 
rest of its territory. In Tanjavur, and possibly also in Gingee, 
military protection was provided by mercenaries, paid out of the 
rice and textile surpluses and advanced commerce of both coastal 
realms. The nayakas of Tanjavur and also of Gingee appear to have 
realised their major income from the farming of the fixed shares of 
production claimed by them to élite tax-farming contractors. The 
latter purchased the right to collect the revenue which was partly in 
rice and textiles; this was then sold by the local tax-farmers to 
regional merchants who carried the commodities by oxen-loads 
either to the coasts for export to Sri Lanka, Malabar, and South-East 
Asia or to other interior market centres in the peninsula. The money 
received by the rulers of Tanjavur and Gingee from contracting out 
revenue collections permitted the hiring of fighters from the neigh- 
bouring dry zones or from some coastal communities where Euro- 
pean deserters and their mestizo offspring offered themselves for 
military service. 

In Karnataka, the ruling Ikkeri and Mysore houses seem not to 
have discovered satisfactory ways of dealing with the independent 
chiefs of their realms. During the sixteenth and seventeenth cen- 
turies, both ruling houses fought to maintain their overlordships 


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against minor chiefs, from the one side, and the invasions of Bijapuri 
soldiers — often with the connivance of chiefs — from the other. Little 
wonder, therefore, that both Karnataka kingdoms steered a careful 
course around most of the civil strife of the time. Exceptionally, the 
Wodeyar raja of Mysore, Kanthirava Narasa, invaded the northern 
Madurai tract of Dindigal around 1655 possibly as his solution to 
the problem of recalcitrant chiefs; for one way of minimising his 
predecessors’ problems with local Kannadiga chiefs was to extend 
his tributary catchment southward into Dindigal and Kongu 
(modern Salem and Coimbatore). But that kind of solution to 
recalcitrance among Karnatak chiefs fetched dangers as great, for the 
Wodeyar raja’s incursions were met by counter-invasions from 
Tirumala Nayaka of Madurai with an army that reportedly had 
25,000 Maravar troops. Tirumala Nayaka was probably exacting 
more than vengeance, for he, too, sought more tractable zones of 
exploitation than those of his southern flank, Ramnad and Puduk- 
kottai, where martial Maravars were local rulers. In these last two 
places are discovered what was perhaps the fullest realisation of the 
connection of patrimonial authority and trade in Ramnad and 

The Maravar kingdom of Ramnad was inaugurated by the 
Madurai nayaka Muttu Krishnappa in the early years of the seven- 
teenth century, an act of conventional Indian overlordship. Mara- 
vars were a people with a notoriety as fierce hunters and fighters as 
ancient as the Tamil Sangam poetry of about the third century. 
Later, they served as soldiers under Pandyan, Chola, and Vijayana- 
gara kings. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Maravars should 
have had powerful chiefdoms in Ramnad, nor that under their 
fighting chiefs they should have spread into Tirunelveli and other 
southern places by the fourteenth century, finally finding service in 
the armies of the nayakas of Madurai. The Maravar homeland 
remained in Ramnad, however, and here a major chieftainship arose 
centred upon Ramesvaram, sacred in the Ramayana legend as the 
link between India and Sri Lanka. 

From the fifteenth century, the temple at Ramesvaram, also called 
Sethu, was under the protection and patronage of the Maravar chiefs 
who assumed the title of Udaiyan Sethupatis (‘chiefs who were the 
lords of Sethu’). Visvanatha Nayaka of Madurai conquered Ramnad 


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in the middle of the sixteenth century, drawn, no doubt, by the rich 
trade there and its customs income. This deprived the Sethupati 
chiefs of their glorious responsibilities and honours; but later 
Madurai nayakas reinstalled them, and by 1606 another Udaiyan 
Sethupati was issuing inscriptions commemorating his gifts to the 
god Ramanatha at Ramesvaram and constructing new shrines there. 
Thus, all of the appropriate royal activities were followed by the 
newly-minted Maravar kings of Ramnad, but the basis of their 
power remained the ancient military organisation of Marava clans- 
men to which had recently been added money income from the 
trade of their coastal ports. Portuguese and Dutch traders paid well 
for the right to trade exclusively on this famous ‘Fishery Coast’ of 
Ramnad, and the Portuguese were not inhibited from converting the 
fisherfolk there, the Paravars, to Christianity. Proceeds from this 
tribute plus the customs collected from pilgrims and traders to and 
from Ramesvaram supported a substantial military force whose core 
consisted of Maravar clansmen, organised under Maravar chiefs 
with ties of ritual and service to the royal Maravar Sethupati. 

Kallars in Pudukkottai developed a similar type of organisation, 
and thanks to the recent ethnohistorical account of Nicholas Dirks, 
we are able to examine in greater detail how the military power of 
the Tondaiman rajas of Pudukkottai was sustained. 

This was a small principality of 1,000 square miles lodged 
between the nayaka kings of Tanjavur and Madurai. It had been 
settled by field agriculturists during Chola times when the tract 
constituted a buffer between the Chola kingdom and the Pandyas; it 
was also a major trade corridor connecting ports at the south- 
eastern tip of the peninsula with Chola and Pandya countries as well 
as with the major transpeninsular trade routes linked to Malabar 
ports on the Arabian Sea. 

Like the ruling Maravars of Ramnad, the Kallars of Pudukkottai 
mounted their military power upon an elaborate subcaste organi- 
sation which extended the reach of the Kallar Tondaiman raja’s 
authority over the whole of Pudukkottai. The Tondaimans, while 
still one of several major Kallar chiefly houses, served as fighters 
under the Sethupati rulers of Ramnad; eventually they entered 
marriage relations with the Sethupati family, which secured the 
more reliable military services of the Tondaiman chiefs to the 


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former and also added prestige to the Tondaiman lineage by 
differentiating them from other Kallar chiefs. That was in the late 
seventeenth century when lesser Kallar chiefs also subordinated 
themselves to the Tondaiman chiefs, accepting their protection in 
return for which these chiefs provided the Kallar Tondaiman rulers 
with military service. Ruling authority by Tondaimans as well as by 
lesser Kallar chiefs was shared and was constantly reaffirmed by 
transactions of durbar deference from Kallar chiefs and royal 
honours conferred by the Tondaimans. 

Like Maravars, the Kallars of Pudukkottai based their warrants 
for local rule (patta) upon protection (Raval) of people and their 
localities, hence upon the right of pattakaval. Kallar chiefs, aratyar, 
as protectors (deskavalkaran) also patronised temples and Brah- 
mans; and for their protection and king-like patronage, they 
received a share of agricultural production as well as first temple 
honours. By the sixteenth century, several Kallar chiefly families 
began to assume royal titles and prerogatives on the claim of serving 
the Vijayanagara kings; one of these was the Tondaiman chief. 

Tondaiman traditions collected by Colin Mackenzie’s ubiquitous 
Brahmans recorded seventeen generations of rulers between the 
seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. They were kings within 
Pudukkottai and also proudly bore the title of poligars as military 
servants of the nayaka kings of Madurai and as protectors of one of 
the bastions of the Madurai fort. Along with other Kallar chiefs, the - 
Tondaimans of Pudukkottai served other great households of the 
southern peninsula, including the Sethupatis of Ramnad and the 
nayakas of Tanjavur. All of these great lordships recognised the 
local lordship of the Tondaimans, with the highest honour and 
recognition being the title ‘Raja Tondaiman’ conferred by the last of 
the Vijayanagara kings, Sri Ranga III, who died in 1672. 

Kallars were political masters of Pudukkottai, even though they 
were a majority in only a few parts of the realm. Their authority 
originated from clan rights they enjoyed in various parts of the 
territory, which entitled them to hold superior land rights as well as 
such offices as village or locality headmen. Kallar clans, or subcastes, 
were called nadu, an ancient Tamil term designating a tract of land 
or an assembly of groups controlling the tract. Each clan territory 
might consist of some fifteen villages and in the principality as a 


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whole there were thirty of these territories, each with its Kallar chief 
and its major temple sheltering a local tutelary (usually a goddess) 
under the protection and patronage of the locality chief. 

Rights to land by Kallar clansmen derived from an ancient con- 
guest, but they were fortified by warrants (patta) issued by the 
Kallar Tondaiman raja. Dirks found that about two-thirds of all cul- 
tivable land in Pudukkottai was held under such warrants from the 
raja, a massive degree of royal largesse. As in the heartland of Vijaya- 
nagara, temples and Brahmans were the principal holders of these 
lands (45 per cent) on which no or very low taxes were due; but 
unlike the Vijayanagara heartland, with its hundred or so major 
chiefly families, one third of the alienated land in Pudukkottai was 
held as nearly autonomous domains by several collateral members of 
the royal lineage who were responsible for maintaining a large 
portion of the 8,000 or so fighters (amarakarar), the core of the raja’s 
forces during the eighteenth century. These Kallar fighters served 
under commanders drawn mostly from affinal kinsmen holding 
large landed estates. It seems probable that in earlier times the pro- 
portion of cultivable land alienated to support soldiers of the Ton- 
daiman rajas was as high as that granted to the support of temples and 
Brahmans. It is obvious, therefore, that only a very small revenue 
could have been raised from the land by the seventeenth-century 
Tondaiman rajas since the bulk of these revenues were in the hands 
of Kallar chiefs composing the core of their soldiers. 

Lacking the large money incomes of the Tanjavur and Gingee 
nayakas, where the share claimed by the ruler from the substantial 
surplus of grain could be contracted to merchants for sale elsewhere 
in the peninsula, or overseas, most lordships of the southern 
peninsula during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were 
fiscally dependent upon taxes from commodity production. This 
would have to be true for the Tondaimans whose territory was an 
established trade corridor linking the Fishery Coast with the Kaveri 
and interior Kongu (Coimbatore and Salem) and thence with 
Arabian Sea ports. The most important sources of commercial 
revenue consisted of customs collected on goods transiting the 
realms of the numerous lordships of the time, taxes raised from 
producers of non-agricultural commodities, especially cotton, 
indigo, and textiles; taxes on mercantile establishments, bazaars and 


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fairs; and tribute paid by European or Muslim traders who con- 
ducted their trade at and usually controlled any ports that might lie 
in any realm. To tap these sources of state revenue required that 
rulers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries involved the more 
substantial merchants of their realms or attracted others to act as 
their money agents and their negotiators with foreign trade-groups 
and to take tax-farmers. 

Pre-eminent among such moneyed men were the ‘portfolio 
capitalists’ that Subrahmanyam spoke of; such men were the Malaya 
family of Telugu merchants, founded by one Achyutappa Chetti at 
the turn of the seventeenth century. He began serving the Dutch 
Company on the Gingee coast as a translator and broker around 
1608 and was engaged by them to negotiate a trade agreement with 
the nayaka of Gingee for the creation of a port in his territory at 
Porto Novo. This successfully completed, Achyutappa became 
more deeply involved with the Dutch as their principal banker. His 
Dutch connection did not inhibit an approach to the rival English 
East India Company with an offer to procure textiles. By the 16303, 
Achyutappa and his brother Chinnana had become the major 
procurement agents for the Dutch in Tanjavur as well as Gingee, and 
both had also become shipowners and exporters on their own 
accounts, trading with Sri Lanka, Burma, and Malaya. The brothers 
also began to farm revenues in the Gingee and Chandragiri terti- 
tories, especially around the ports of Pulicat, Puducheri, and Porto 
Novo. In these ways, these traders and other merchants and bankers 
contributed to the increasing trade along Coromandel and to the 
generation of new and large taxes for the lords of Gingee, Tanjavur, 
and Chandragiri. In return, the merchants gained administrative 
powers as tax collectors to back their diverse commercial and 
banking enterprises. Seshadra, a nephew of Achyutappa, later 
became the powerful chief merchant of the English Company at 
Madras, thereby forging another of the many links between later 
Vijayanagara institutions and the new era of British dominance that 
was beginning to take shape in the southern peninsula. 


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The Tondaiman chief received his title of raja from the last of the 
Vijayanagara kings, a strange and ironic conferment. For this was a 
symbolic entitling of a ‘little king’, already master of a small realm, 
by the last of a line of kings that had dominated the southern 
peninsula for three centuries, but who was master of little more than 
titles to be exchanged for military services he desperately needed 
merely to stay alive. But more linked the beleaguered Sri Ranga HI 
and the Tondaiman raja than an entitlement, which hardly created 
the rajadom of Pudukkottai. The more significant connections were 
of another sort which had to do with what had become essential 
about the Vijayanagara kingdoms from the fifteenth century on. 

The Vijayanagara epoch saw the transition of South Indian 
society from its medieval past to its modern future. During the time 
that the rayas were peninsular overlords and their capital the symbol 
of vast power and wealth, south Indian society was transformed in 
several important ways. Through most of the first dynasty, Vijaya- 
nagara kings were content to be conquerors whose digivajaya, or 
righteous conquests, of Tamil country left the ancient Cholas and 
Panyas in their sovereign places, except that they were reduced by 
their homage to Vijayanagara. Until the early sixteenth century, the 
latter were ritual sovereigns everywhere outside their Deccan heart- 
land; apart from occasional plundering forays, they were content 
with the homage of distant lords. 

Krishnadevaraya changed much of this. He replaced earlier royal 
predecessors by his own Brahmans and military commanders — the 
great Telugu nayakas — and charged his agents to extract money 
tribute from subordinate lords who had previously been required to 
pay nothing to Vijayanagara, merely to acknowledge the latter’s 
hegemony in a number of symbolic ways, including the acceptance 
of an important role in temple affairs by royally sponsored sectarian 
leaders. Economic relations became increasingly monetised as a 
result of the demands upon rayas and chiefs alike to pay for soldiers, 
arms, and horses, demands which were made possible by the vast 
increase in gold and silver from the international demand for Indian 


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commodities. Urban settlements proliferated both to stimulate and 
then to tap the increasingly generalised exchange of the southern 
peninsula as well as to serve as fortified headquarters of military 
lordships — Pudukkottai, the capital of the Tondaimans, meant ‘new 
fort’. Temples of the epoch fed this urbanising process as these 
institutions became the arenas where the new stratum of local lords 
— often outsiders — sought to ingratiate their armed rule by raising 
local deities to new, august statuses. Throughout the Vijayanagara 
period, but especially after 1500, the pace of agricultural expansion 
quickened from older zones of riverine cultivation to drier, upland 
tracts for centuries, bringing whole new regions under the plough 
and commodities like cotton and indigo into markets to supply a 
textile industry growing ever larger to meet external demand. 

In the beginning, the Vijayanagara kingdom was not very differ- 
ent from its medieval predecessors, Hoysalas and Kakatiyas. But 
one difference there was, and it explained why the latter two 
kingdoms were replaceable. That was the urgency to develop better 
military means to cope with Muslim newcomers to the peninsula. 
The Sangama founders of Vijayanagana knew the new conditions 
better than most, having been victims of Muslim expansion against 
Kakatiya and having later taken service under their Muslim con- 
querors. The lesson of improved war capability was dearly learned 
until the fifteenth century when Vijayanagara rulers began incorpo- 
rating Muslim and later European fighters into their forces. What- 
ever the lost dharmic credentials of this decision — which seems to 
have meant more to twentieth-century historians than to the 
Vijayanagara contemporaries — it was more than compensated by an 
enhanced ability to hold off Muslim predations and, later, to allow 
counter-incursions into sultanate territories. 

But this very success bore other costs for the kingdom. Paying 
for mercenaries, their guns, and for better war-horses meant violat- 
ing ancient institutional immunities protected by previous south 
Indian lordships and communities. Thus, Krishnadevaraya cast 
aside the ancient Chola and Pandya kings in the South and installed 
military commanders who not long after established centres of 
sovereignty opposed to his successors. Indeed, all kings from Deva- 
raya II in the middle of the fifteenth century to Sriranga III were as 
often captives of their powerful generalissimos as their masters; and 


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in the Tamil country and Karnataka, at least, the whole of an ancient 
system of local ruling institutions was attacked’ by military men 
whose credentials to rule were gained from their service in Vijaya- 
nagara armies. 

Still, many earlier communal forms — entitlements and institu- 
tions — remained in the late seventeenth century when the last of the 
Vijayanagara regimes was established in Pudukkottai. Rights and 
immunities originating from royal grants to Brahmans, temples and 
even to certain of the cultivating groups of the river valleys con- 
tinued to be honoured and protected by overlords; and powerful 
kinship-based authorities — such as the Tondaiman rajas of Puduk- 
kottai — were able to resist attacks upon their clan-based power by 
dint of their military abilities. Not even the new era of sultans of the 
eighteenth century — the Mysore usurpers Haidar Ali Khan and 
Tipu Sultan and the Mughal-sponsored Nawab of Arcot — could 
extirpate communal rights in their domains. Thus, dual sovereignty 
continued. On the one hand, there were intrusive royal powers and 
prebendal entitlements, and, on the other hand, there remained 
communally derived and sustained entitlements. The latter were 
destined to be strongly entrenched when the British assumed their 
territorial rule in the late eighteenth century. 

These two sources of authority can be variously designated, as 
royal and chiefly, central and local, prebendal and communal; they 
were not introduced during the Vijayanagara period, but much 
earlier. In Chola times royal gifts to individual or groups of Brah- 
mans as brahmadeya may be understood as the joint action of a 
king or his agent and the major landholding and sometimes com- 
mercial groups of a locality (i.e., mad) acting corporately as the 
people of the locality, or nattar. Enormous Brahman villages were 
created in Tamil country by such joint enactments, which often 
included immunities from local demands and protection by local 
chiefs as well as distant kings. However, enactments such as these 
were restricted to Brahmans or temples then. Similar collective 
entitlements continued to be awarded in Vijayanagara times, 
though seldom for the great Brahman villages of old. During 
Vijayanagara times, temples became the major recipients of royal 
and chiefly largesse, and, as in earlier days, this involved under- 
takings between royals, or their agents, and temple managers who 


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were appointed and supported by local chieftains. But in Vijayana- 
gara times, wholly new prebendal entitlements came into being of 
which amara, or nayankara, entitlements were the most general and 

It was, after all, military modernisation that spurred the trans- 
formation of the late medieval South Indian state — improved 
war-horses and archers to match those of the Muslim fighters and 
guns which they also introduced. Monetisation and urbanisation, 
while shaped by religious and commercial processes, as well as 
political, also supported the military programme of Vijayanagara 
rulers, beginning in the fifteenth century. Europeans, when they 
appeared, intensified the commercial and monetising forces har- 
nessed by Vijayanagara kings of the sixteenth century, and Portu- 
guese soldiers added necessary gunnery skills to the armies of 
Krishnadevaraya and his successors. 

None of these developments required or generated a substantially 
more centralised administration in the kingdom. Administrative 
forms of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries certainly improved and 
were widely adopted by all lordships. But the model for this 
improved administration was more the temples of the age than the 
Vijayanagara state apparatus, which remained primitive. Krishnade- 
varaya’s considered appointment of Brahmans to higher offices, 
including military ones such as fortress commanders, was reversed by 
Aliya Rama Raja within twenty years, and a more pervasively patri- 
monial regime was created involving as its principal actors the great 
Telugu households of the sixteenth century. It was the unleashing of 
armed competition among these Telugu houses that prevented the 
restoration of vigorous royal authority after the defeat of 1565. 

Different configuring factors operated in the contemporary 
Deccani sultanates. As already noted, the Muslim rulers of Gol- 
konda made large accommodations to the sub-stratum of Telugu 
territorial chiefs of their realm. They and the sultans of Bijapur 
offered military service to and patronage for the cultural and 
religious institutions of their Hindu subjects; both also left terri- 
torial chiefs in undiminished, if not enhanced, authority in their 
local domains. In this, neither regime had much choice, since each 
was based upon an élite of Muslim warriors that was Deccani, not 
foreign, in culture and affinity and whose numbers were never so 


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great as to overwhelm local, ancient, Hindu lordships. Notwith- 
standing these limitations upon the ambitions of these Muslim 
regimes, theirs were more powerfully centralised polities than 
Vijayanagara. Though they were rooted in their Deccan situation by 
generations of coresidence and even inter-marriage with Hindus, 
the ruling warrior and learned élite of these sultanates were self- 
consciously Muslim, and that Islamic identity and its institutions 
(such as the robust Sufi tradition of Bijapur analysed by R. M. 
Eaton) provided an ideological frame very different from that of 
Vijayanagara. No notion of shared sovereignty, claims of dayada, 
were brooked in Golkonda or Bijapur, however substantial the 
degree of local power held by Reddi, Velama or Maratha chiefs, 
whereas this was the core of Vijayanagara sovereignty from first to 
last. Also, prebendal rights conferred by Muslim regimes, whether 
to Muslim grandees or to such devoted servants of Bijapur as Shahji 
Bhonsle, were less easily transformed into hereditary chiefly rights, 
though — as Frank Perlin has shown — such communal appro- 
priations did occur among some of the great service and chiefly 
households of Maharashtra during the seventeenth century. One 
other factor lent a relatively greater potential for central power to 
the Golkonda regime, at least. This was their direct involvement in 
the rich Coromandel trade as active administrators and as traders, 
both of which brought resources for strengthening their central 
authority beyond any available to the Vijayanagara kings. 
Nevertheless, everywhere in the southern peninsula, among the 
warring Telugu imperial houses, the more prudent nayaka king- 
doms, and the great host of lesser lords, prebendal rights began to 
compete with as well as to complement older communal ones. The 
eventual stand-off between these two fundamentally different forms 
of right can be attributed to the persistent strength of the latter and 
to the fact that prebendal rights from the start in Vijayanagara — as 
elsewhere in India and elsewhere in the pre-modern world — always 
tended to become hereditary and hence were lost to royal, central, 
or service-connected employment. Thus, the effect in many parts of 
the Vijayanagara South was merely to introduce a new stratum of 
power and authority. Most conspicuously, this consisted of Telugu 
and Kannadiga military agents of the rayas in Tamil country, but it 
also included the enhancing of the authority of some local chiefs 


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against others (such as the Tondaiman Kallar against other Kallars) 
and some local groups against others (such as the Vanniyar peasant- 
warriors against Arcot Vellalars). 

The Vijayanagara transformation of the old regime out of which 
its early rulers emerged was not complete by the late seventeenth 
century, but it was an irreversible change from that old order. In 
fact, the supersession of local chiefs as the protectors of the structure 
of communal rights by centralised authority in the peninsula was 
not accomplished until British times. Neither the Marathas nor the 
Muslim sultans of Mysore — Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan — achieved 
this end, though that is precisely what the latter strenuously sought. 

This is a major reason for continuing to think of the Vijayanagara 
kingdom as a segmentary state. In such a polity, historical commu- 
nity entitlements and institutions remain vigorous. It is true that 
communal rights and such rights protecting bodies as the nad in 
Tamil country were weakened by the imposition of Vijayanagara 
prebendal rights. But the latter in their turn strengthened other local 
institutions, such as local chiefs and temples. This was both a 
symptom and a consequence of the weak prebendalism of Vijayana- 
gara which, in its turn, manifested the weakly centralised character 
of that kingdom. Its élite stratum of warrior chiefs easily and 
continuously transformed rights gained from the state, with their 
attendant authority and military powers into more formidable 
chieftaincies. In the long run, and despite Krishnadevaraya’s efforts, 
this defeated any attempt to increase centralised authority in the 
kingdom. Only by fundamentally changing the balance between its 
kings and its ruling chiefs as was more successfully accomplished in 
the Muslim conquest states of the Deccan could that balance have 
been shifted. Both local chiefly authority and ancient, though 
modified, community rights remained intact structures in the south- 
ern peninsula until the early nineteenth-century consolidation of 
colonial power there. This was the impressive legacy of the segmen- 
tary politics and society of the Vijayanagara age. _ 

Thomas Munro, a shaper of the colonial regime in the peninsula 
grasped this point firmly while he was a young soldier in the East 
India Company army. He seemed to see that Haidar Ali Khan and 
his son, Tipu Sultan, had the ability and the determination to achieve 
the elusive quest for an effectively-centralised political system. This 


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would have been along the lines of Krishnadevaraya, by subordinat- 
ing chiefly authority. In 1790, he wrote to his father in Scotland 
comparing the Maratha and Mysore regimes and criticising his 
superiors who thought the Marathas the greater threat to English 
supremacy in the peninsula. Tipu Sultan’s regime, Munro wrote, 

is the most simple and despotic monarchy in the world, in which 
every department, civil and military, possesses the regularity and 
system communciated to it by the genius of Hyder, and in which 
all pretensions derived from high birth being discouraged, all 
independent chiefs . .. subjected or extirpated, justice severely and 
impartially administered ... a numerous and well-disciplined 
army kept up, and almost every employment of trust and con- 
sequence conferred on men raised from obscurity gives the 
government a vigour hitherto unexampled in India. [Marathas, by 
contrast, were]... a confederation of independent chiefs possess- 
ing extensive dominions, and numerous armies, now acting in 
concert, now jealous of each other, and acting for their own 
advantage, and at all times liable to be detached from the public 
cause ... can never be a dangerous enemy to the English.! 

Krishnaswami Aiyangar, in the earliest phase of Vijayanagara 
historiography proposed that the flame of Vijayanagara passed 
directly to the Marathas and meant by this the defence of Hindu 
society and culture, which he and other Indian nationalist historians 
considered the mission of the Vijayanagara kingdom. That ideo- 
logical framing of Vijayanagara history is rejected here. However, 
the structure of politics in both the Vijayanagara and Maratha 
kingdoms was certainly similar, as Munto implicitly observed. This 
similarity derived from the same general processes that funda- 
mentally altered the political economy of the Deccan inherited from 
the ancient Chalukyan kingdom at Badami and set both Vijayana- 
gara and Maratha kingdoms upon a road to more centralised and 
effective rule, which neither, however, fully travelled. 

' G.R. Gleig, The Life of Major-General Sir Thomas Munro, Bart. and K.C.B., Late 
Governor of Madras, London, 1830, vol. 1, pp. 84-5. 


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Full translations and summaries of inscriptions from the Tamil, Telugu, and 
Kannada continue to be published by the Archaeological Survey of India in 
South Indian Inscriptions and Epigraphia Indica, as well as in inscriptional 
series of Tamilnadu State, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka; Lewis Rice’s 
multi-volumed Epigraphia Carnatica of the Mysore Archaeological Series 
(16 volumes, 1889-1955) has now been substantially revised and extended 
and may be republished in the near future. Glossaries such as D. C. Sircar’s 
Indian Epigraphical Glossary, Delhi, 1966, indexes such as Annual Report 
on South Indian Epigraphy, which date from 1887 and summarise newly 
copied inscriptions, and other reference aids for using inscriptions provide 
access to this primary source, permitting the reader to go beyond the 
readings which follow. 

Literary sources from the Vijayanagara period, ranging from complete 
translations to abbreviated summaries, have long been available, beginning 
with S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar’s The Sources of Vijayanagara History, 
Madras, 1919, and continuing with the much larger Further Sources of 
Vijayanagara History, 3 vols; edited by K. A. Nilakanta Sastri and N. 
Venkataramanayya, Madras, 1946. To these were added the valuable 
‘translations of the oral and manuscript accounts collected by Colin 
Mackenzie during the early nineteenth century under the editorial direction 
of T. V. Mahalingam, Mackenzie Manuscripts; Summaries of the Historical 
Manuscripts in the Mackenzie Collection, 2 vols., Madras, 1972. 


Two types of general works on the Vijayanagara kingdom may be 
distinguished: one that attempts to cover all major aspects of the history of 
the kingdom and another that treats some specific aspects over the entire 
history. Pride of place among histories of the kingdom has usually gone to 
Robert Sewell’s A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar), London, 1900; 
however, this work is valuable not so much for its treatment of the whole of 
the history of the kingdom as for its translations of Portuguese sources of 
the sixteenth century. Sewell’s contributions to the opening of Vijayana- 
gara history are better represented in other of his works upon which other 
early historians substantially drew and through which the first generation 
of Indian historians of the kingdom became familiar with modern, Euro- 


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pean historical methods. Among these other works of Sewell are: ‘List of 
the Inscriptions and Sketch of the Dynasties of Southern India’ and ‘List of 
the Antiquarian Remains in the Presidency of Madras’, published in 
Archaeological Survey of Southern India, vols. 1 and 2, Madras, 1882; The 
Historical Inscriptions of Southern India (collected till 1923) and Outlines of 
Political History, edited and completed by S. Krishnaswami Atyangar 
(Madras, 1932). The latter went on to make the most important contri- 
butions to the general history of Vijayanagara in his Ancient India, Madras, 
1911; South India and Her Muhammadan Invaders, Madras, 1921; and his 
Evolution of Hindu Administrative Institutions of Southern India, Madras, 
1931. By then, the 1930s, there was a flowering of Vijayanagara studies that 
included the publication of Further Sources for which N. Venkataramanayya 
prepared a monograph-length general historical introduction. In addition, 
Karnatak historians produced a large volume commemorating the founding 
of the kingdom three hundred years before — Vijayanagara Sexcentenary 
Commemoration Volume, Dharwar, 1936, containing studies of religion, 
art history, architecture, and literature as well as conventional political 
history. A major point of the volume and a good part of its argumentation 
was to oppose a ‘Telugu’ interpretation of the founding of kingdom in 1336 
that had been presented in several works of N. Venkataramanayya, 
beginning with his 1929 monograph, Kampili and Vijayanagara, Madras, 
and reinforced by his monumental, Studies in the Third Dynasty of 
Vijayanagara, Madras, 1935. Another publication of about the same time 
was B. A. Saletore’s University of London doctoral thesis of 1931 under 
the title Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire, 2 vols., 
Madras, 1934. Several synthetic histories of the Vijayanagara kingdom were 
produced in the next two decades culminating in K. A. Nilakanta Sastri’s 
two long chapters in his A History of South India, Madras, 1955. 

Other works that treat some aspect of the whole of Vijayanagara history 
include studies of other regional polities of the Vijayanagara period: 
A. Krishnaswami Pillai, The Tamil Country under Vijayanagara, Anna- 
malai, 1964; K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, The Pandyan Kingdom from the 
Earliest Times to the Sixteenth Century, London, 1929; K. V. Ramesh, A 
History of South Kanara, Dharwar, 1970; M.D. Sampath, Chittoor 
Through the Ages, Delhi, 1980; H. K. Sherwani and P. M. Joshi, History of 
Medieval Deccan (1295-1724), 2 vols., Hyderabad, 1973; P. Gururaja 
Bhatt, Studies in Tuluva History and Culture, Manipal, 1975; G. Yazdani, 
The Early History of the Deccan, 2 vols., Oxford, 1960; H. Krishna Sastri, 
‘The First [Second and Third] Vijayanagara Dynasty: Its Viceroys and 
Ministers’, Archaeological Survey of India; Annual Report, 1907-8, 
1908-9, 1911-12, Calcutta, 1911-13; ‘The Ajnapatra or Royal Edict’. The 
Journal of Indian History 8, 1929, 83-105; 207-33; V. D. Rao, ‘Ajnyapatra 
Re-examined’, The Journal of Indian History 29, 1951, 63-89. In addition, 
there were studies of social and economic aspects of Vijayanagara society 
found in: A. Appadorai, Economic Conditions in Southern India (A.D. 


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1000-1500) 2 vols., Madras, 1936; T. V. Mahalingam, Administration and 
Social Life under Vijayanagara, Madras, 1940; and his Economic Life in the 
Vijayanagara Empire, Madras, 1951; Vijaya Ramaswamy, ‘Artisans in 
Vijayanagar Society’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 22, 1985, 
417-44; B. Stein, Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India, Delhi, 
1980, and B. Stein (ed.), South Indian Temples; An Analytical Reconstruc- 
tion, New Delhi, 1978; B. A. Saletore, Medieval Jainism with Special 
Reference to the Vijayanagara Empire, Bombay, 1938; T. K. T. Viraragha- 
vacharya, History of Tirupati, 2 vols., Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, 1953. 
Other valuable studies include: F. C. Danvers, The Portuguese in India, 
2 vols., London, 1894; Tapan Raychudhunri, Jan Company in Coromandel, 
’S-Gravenhage, 1962; T. Raychaudhuri and I. Habib, The Cambridge 
Economic History of India, vol. 1, Cambridge, 1982; and D. Ludden, 
Peasant History in South India, Princeton, 1985. 


The conditions under which the kingdom was established in the fourteenth 
century are analysed in the following works: J. D. M Derrett, The Hoysa- 
las. A Medieval Indian Royal Family, London, 1957; H. K. Sherwani, The 
Bahmanis of the Deccan, Hyderabad, 1953; M.Somasekhara Sarma, 
History of the Reddi Kingdom (ca. A.D. 1325 to ca. A.D. 1488), Waltair, 
Andhra Pradesh, 1948; Vasundhara Filliozat, L’Epigraphie de Vijayanagara 
du début a 1377, Paris, 1973, and her La Ramayana 4 Vijayanagar, Paris, 
1983; M. Habib (ed.), A Comprehensive History of India, vol. 5, The Delhi 
Sultanate (A.D. 1206-1526), Delhi, 1970. A valuable discussion of the 
historical debate about the origins of the first dynasty of the kingdom and 
whether they were from Karnataka or Andhra is found in Hermann Kulke, 
‘Maharajas, Mahants and Historians. Reflections on the Historiography of 
Early Vijayanagara and Sringiri’, in A. L. Dallapiccola (ed.), Vijayanagara— 
City and Empire, vol. 1, Stuttgart, 1985, 120-44. 


The earliest of the long list of descriptions of the city are contemporary, 
beginning with Nicolo de Conti’s of about 1420, contained in R. H. Major 
(ed.), India in the Fifteenth Century. Being a Collection of Narratives of 
voyages to India ... London, 1857, and a later set of descriptions com- 
menced with the colonial report on the city of E.C Ravenshaw, ‘Trans- 
lation of Various Inscriptions found among the Ruins of Vijayanagar ...’ 
Asiatic Researches 20, 1836. More contemporary descriptions are had from 
A. H. Longhurst, Hampi Ruins, Described and Illustrated, Calcutta, 1917 
and G. Michell and V. Filliozat, Splendours of the Vijayanagara Empire: 
Hampi, Bombay, Marg, 1981; M.S. Nagaraja Rao, Vyayanagara — Pro- 
gress of Research, 1979-83 [1983-84], Mysore, 1983 and 1985; J. Fritz, 


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G. Michell, and M. S. Nagaraja Rao, The Royal Centre at Viyayanagara, 
Preliminary Report, Melbourne, 1984. The most recent and comprehensive 
scholarly discussions of the capital city in its imperial setting can be found 
in the set of essays edited by A. Dallapiccola, Vijayanagara ~ City and 
Empire, 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1985. 


Venkataramanayya’s Studies in the Third Dynasty, of over half a century 
ago, continues to be the authoritative interpretation of the early sixteenth- 
century kingdom; Henry Heras, The Aravidu Dynasty of Viyayanagara, 
Madras, 1927, continues the political account to the end of the kingdom in 
the seventeenth century. A valuable recent work on the contemporary 
economy is S. Subrahmanyam, “Trade and the Regional Economy of South 
India, c. 1550 to 1650’, unpublished doctoral thesis, Department of 
Economics, Delhi School of Economics, 1986, and forthcoming from 
Cambridge. While there are several translation projects of the Telugu 
poem, ‘Amukatamalyada’ attributed to King Krishnadevaraya, reliance 
must still be placed on the partial translation of A. Rangasvami Sarasvati, 
‘Political Maxims of the Emperor-Poet, Krishnadeva Raya’, The Journal of 
Indian History 4, 1925, 61-88; there is a biographical study of this king by 
M. Rama Rao, Krishnadevaraya, New Delhi, 1971. Sewell’s older trans- 
lation of the Portuguese Paes and Nuniz has been re-examined in, The 
Vijayanagara Empire: As Seen by Domingo Paes and Fernao Nuniz, Two 
Sixteenth-Century Chroniclers, edited by V. Filliozat, New Delhi, 1977; 
and the following works are important on Tamil localised societies of the 
time: N. Karashima, South Indian History and Society; Studies from 
Inscriptions, A.D. 850-1800, Delhi, 1984; Y. Subbarayalu, “The Peasantry 
of the Tiruchirappalli District from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth 
Centuries’, Studies in Socio-Cultural Change in Rural Villages in Tiruchi- 
rappalli District, Tamilnadu, India, Tokyo, 1980; N. Karashima, ‘Nayaka 
Rule in North and South Arcot Districts in South India during the 
Sixteenth Century’, Acta Asiatica [Tokyo], 48, 1985. 


The defeat of Vijayanagara and the sack of the city in 1565 by the 
confederacy of sultanate forces ushered in a period of extended chaos and 
decline that is treated both generally and in terms of Tamil country by 
R. Sathianathaier, Tamilaham in the Seventeenth Century, Madras, 1956; 
other important studies of the era are: the same author’s (under the name 
R. Sathyanatha Aiyar) History of the Nayaks of Madura, Madras, 1924; 
K. D. Swaminathan, The Nayakas of Ikkeri, Madras, 1957; V. Vriddhagi- 
risan, The Nayaks of Tanjore, Annamalainagar, 1942; C. Hayavadana Rao, 
History of Mysore, 2 vols., Bangalore, 1948. This later period has been 


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analysed in historical-cultural terms by N. B. Dirks, The Hollow Crown; 
Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom, Cambridge, 1988 and B. E. F. Beck, 
Peasant Society in Konku, Vancouver, 1972, while aspects of political 
developments, especially in Andhra, are found in J. F. Richards, Mughal 
Administration in Golconda, Oxford, 1975. 


The current efflorescence of Vijayanagara studies has made the present 
work different in many ways from previous works, but, because some of 
the best of the most recent work consists of unpublished theses available 
principally in India, and there on a restricted basis, citation of them is 
pointless for the general reader. However, these studies will be published in 
the coming years and therefore mention should be made of them here. 
Among the most valuable of such studies are theses of the Centre for 
Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University including those of 
J. Lakshmi, on Telengana; Ravi Palat on northern Tamil country; and 
C. N. Subramanian on Tanjavur. Other similar research that has proven 
useful is the Aligarh Muslim University thesis of Parvathi Menon on the 
Carnatic; the University of Hawaii thesis of Venkata Raghotham on Tamil 
country; and the University of Wisconsin thesis of Philip Wagoner on the 
‘Rayavacakamu’. The Vijayanagara project of the Karnataka State Depart- 
ment of Archaeology, whose publications are cited above, continues to 
produce archaeological and art-historical documentation from Hampi, and 
new work is in progress on translations and analysis of Vijayanagara period 
texts in Tamil and Telugu, involving Velcheru Narayana Rao, David 
Shulman, Sanjay Subrahmanyam and others. All of this buttresses the tens 
of thousands of published stone and copper-plate inscriptional records that 
have constituted the foundation of Vijayanagara history. 


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