The origins of the Vijayanagara Empire are shrouded in folklore and literary evidence. It must be noted that by the onset of the fourteenth century, South India was in a state of absolute turmoil, with Alauddin Khilji and his general Malik Kafur sounding the death knell of prosperous empires like the Kakatiyas of Warangal and Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra. In the 1320s, the Kampili Kingdom came into existence for a short period, and it is said that this presaged the beginning of the Vijayanagara Empire.
By the 1320s, Muhammad Tughlaq- the progenitor of the new dynasty in Delhi- was fast losing power in the Deccan. It is said that in 1336, two Hindu princes, Harihar and Bukka founded an independent kingdom in the region between the river Krishna and Tungabhadra in 1336. There is no certainty about the original identity of the brothers, as they are often believed to be generals under the Tughluq regime who reconverted to their Hindu faith under the auspices of Shri Vidyaranya Swami. A lot of other theories are also posited by scholars, but it is well acknowledged that Vidyaranya Swami undoubtedly played a significant role in the emergence of this grand empire.
They soon established their sway over the entire territory between the rivers Krishna in the north and Cauveri in the south. The rising power of the Vijayanagar empire brought it into clash with many rival powers, and right through its existence, it waged wars with the Bahmanis (based out of Gulbarga). The Empire's legacy lies in the formidable steps emperors took to preserve the sanatana tradition and temple-culture in the face of the barbaric Turkic invasions.
Vijayanagara is located in the modern era Indian state of Karnataka, along the banks of the Tungabhadra River. It is central and eastern part of the state, close to the Andhra Pradesh border. The city rapidly grew from an ancient pilgrimage center in 13th-century, to being founded as a capital of Vijayanagara Empire in early 14th century, to being a metropolis stretching by some estimates to 650 square kilometers by early 16th century. At the time of its founding, the capital city was decided as Anegundi, and it was only by the 1350s that the shift to Vijayanagara took place.
The capital city was founded around the religious Hindu temple complex, Pampa Tirtha and Kishkinda that already existed at Hampi. By 1500 CE, Hampi-Vijayanagara was the world's second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing, and probably India's richest at that time, attracting traders from Persia and Portugal.
The rulers of the Vijayanagara empire maintained the well-functioning administrative methods developed by their predecessors, the Hoysala, Kakatiya and Pandya kingdoms, to govern their territories and made changes only where necessary. The King (Svamin), ministry (Amatya), territory (Janapada), fort (Durga), treasury (Kosa), army (Daiufa), and ally (Mitra) formed the seven critical elements that influenced every aspect of governance. The King was the ultimate authority, assisted by a cabinet of ministers (Pradhana) headed by the prime minister (Mahapradhana).
Glory of Krishnadevaraya
The most famous king of the Vijaynagara Empire was Krishnadevaraya. The kingdom reached the pinnacle of its glory during his reign. He was the first ruler in the Tuluva lineage, and acceded to the throne in 1509.
For nearly two decades, the whole of South India remained under the sway of this dynamic ruler. He was a warrior par excellence, succeeding in nearly all the battles he waged in his reign. He defeated the Gajapatis of Odisha and annexed Vijaywada and Rajmahendri. However, the most significant battle won by him was the Battle of Raichur (fought in 1520)[ref], where a conflict over the strategic Raichur Doab resulted in the annihilation of the Adil Shahi forces.
Krishnadevaraya encouraged trade with the western countries. He had cordial relations with the Portuguese who had at that time established trade centres on the west coast of India. Domingo Paes, a Portuguese traveller, wrote highly about the emperor, his aura and the splendour of his kingdom. Krishnadevaraya was not only a great warrior, but was also a playwright and a great patron of learning. The ashtadiggajas were eight influential poets who formed an integral part of the court, the evergreen Tenali Raman is considered to be one among them.
Telegu literature flourished under him. His poem Amuktamalyada enjoys credence in South India even today. Painting, sculpture, dance and music were greatly encouraged by him and his successors. He endeared himself to the people by his personal charm, kindness, and an ideal administration.[ref]
The decline of the Vijayanagar kingdom began with the death of Krishnadevaraya in 1529. The kingdom came to an end in 1565, when Ramaraya was defeated at Talikota by the joint efforts of the Adilshahi, Nizamshahi, Qutubshahi and Baridshahi forces. This was followed by a pillage of Hampi that lasted over six months. After this, the kingdom broke into small states. The Aravidu dynasty continued to thrive first from Penukonda and then Chandragiri. Venkatapati Raya made valiant efforts at reviving the empire to its past glory, but by the middle of the 17th century it had seen its eclipse.