The rise of the Vijayanagar Empire: major kings

Vijaynagar Empire

in this article the following topics will be covered:

  1. origins of the Vijayanagar Empire
  2. prominent kings
    • Harihara & Bukka
    • Krishna Deva Raya

1. origins of the Vijayanagar Empire

The Vijayanagar Empire existed as a South Indian empire based in the Deccan. the Vijayanagar empire was established in the year 1336 by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I, it lasted until 1646 although its power declined after a major military defeat in 1565 by the Deccan sultanates. The empire is named after its capital city of Vijayanagara.

2. Prominent Rulers

Harihara & Bukka – the founders of the Vijayanagar empire


Who were they?

Malik Kafur, a personal favourite of the Alauddin Khilji, was entrusted with the responsibility of invading the southern part of India, a region which had never come under the rule of Delhi Sultanate or any Islamic Sultanate for that matter. Kafur led the Sultan’s forces while attacking Devagiri in 1294. The Yadava pince Sankardeva was slain and the king Ramadeva was forced to become a vassal king of the Delhi Sultanate. Post Ramadeva’s death in 1315 his sons declared independence from Delhi. Malik Kafur came quickly and crushed the rebellion, thereby assuming direct control of the kingdom. Later, the prominent empires of the southern India, including the Hoyasalas, the Kakatiyas, the Yadavas and part of the Pandyas, fell to Malik Kafur.

Haihara and Bukka were two brothers from the Hoyasala army who were captured by the Sultanate forces and brought to the court of the Delhi Sultanate. They were drafted into the Sultanate forces. In one of their southern expeditions, the two brothers came a across Swami Vidyaranya. Inspired by the words of the latter, the two brothers ditched the Sultanate army and formed their own empire, the Vijaynagar Empire. The two brothers received support from the small kingdoms who were oppressed by the Sultanate forces for theformation of the empire. Harihara was crowned as the king of the Vijaynagar Empire.

military expansion 

In the first two decades after the founding of the empire, Harihara I gained control over most of the area south of the Tungabhadra River and earned the title of Purvapaschima Samudradhidhavara (master of the eastern and western seas).By 1347 Bukka Raya I, successor of Harihara I, had defeated the Sultan of Madurai and gained control over Goa.The kings used titles such as Gobrahmana Pratipalanacharya (protector of cows and Brahmins) and Hindurayasuratrana (upholder of Hindu faith).


Contribution of Sringeri Math to the Great south Indian confederation of Hindus:

Vidyaranya, the guru at Sringeri rendered considerable assistance, financial and otherwise, in the foundation of the Vijayanagara Empire. Numerous inscriptions relate the story of Vidyaranya and describe his influence with the early Vijayanagara kings; historians and travellers record the traditions they heard in this behalf.

It was while Sri Vidyaranya was doing tapas at Matanga hill that the two warrior brothers, Harihara and Bukka, sons of Sangama, approached him. Directed by a dream, they sought his blessings and guidance. Earlier, these two brothers had been taken prisoner and led to Delhi. It is believed they were under compulsion to embrace Islam. But the Delhi ruler recognising their valour sent them back to the south. They were sent back as the heads of an army to contain the rebellions brewing in the Deccan.

Seizing this opportunity, the two brothers asserted their independence. With the guidance and blessings of Sri Vidyaranya, they established their own independent kingdom with its capital on the left bank of Tungabhadra river. Following the sage’s counsel, they shifted their capital to the right bank, naming it Vidyanagara, as a mark of respect and gratitude to the sage, whom they regarded as their Guru, God and saviour. The city, which came to be popularly known as Vijayanagara or City of Victory was planned in accordance with the directions of sage Vidyaranya in the form of a Sri Chakra, with the Virupaksha temple in the middle and nine gates all around.

A copper plate grant of 1336 A.D bearing the sign manual ‘Virupaksha’ recounts, ‘Harihara was seated on the throne as directed by Vidyaranya. He made the 16 great gifts resplendent in the city called Vidya, of vast dimensions” The emperor placed at the feet of his master Sri Vidyaranya, all his imperial insignia. Sri Vidyaranya initiated him into Atmavidya and conferred on him the titles, Srimad Rajadhiraja Parameshwara, Aparimita Pratapavira and Narapatin. From then on, the Sringeri Jagadguru came to be addressed as ‘Karnataka Simhasana Pratishtapanacharya’ which is part of their birudavali even to this day.

Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1530 CE)

who was he?

Krishna Deva Raya stands out more conspicuously on the stage of history than any other ruler of Vijayanagar, and under him the empire reached the zenith of its power. The chronicle of Domingos Paes, a Portuguese, who visited Vijayanagar about 1520 states that he was an athlete and kept himself in hard “condition” by regular bodily exercise, rising early and practising swordplay or riding about the plains round the city before sunrise. He had a noble presence, attractive manners and a strong personal influence over those about him. He led his armies in person and yet was a poet and a patron of literature. Able, brave and statesmanlike he was withal a man of much gentleness and generosity of character.


He did more than any of his predecessors to beautify his capital, building in it the ranga-mandapa and eastern gateway of the Pampapati temple, the Krishna and Hazira Rama temples, the great monolithic statue of Narasimha, and the famous temple of Vitthala. As an inscription near it testifies, he made the anicut on the Tungabhadra at Vallabhapuram and the Basavanpa irrigation channel which takes off from it and perhaps constructed others of the Tungabhadra channels. He erected the huge embankment near Hospet at the north western end of the two ranges of hills which enclose the State of Sondur and he built the town of Hospet in honour of his wife Tirumala Devi as already related above.

systemization of the empire

He systematized the organization of the empire, which was divided into a number of provinces each under a local governor, who was responsible for its administration, paid from its revenues a certain fixed annual contribution to the royal ex chequer, kept up a fixed number of troops ready for immediate service on behalf of the king, and retained for his own use such revenues as re mained after satisfying these conditions. He was thus enabled to raise the enormous armies which he led against his enemies and to erect a number of costly buildings in his capital.

poetry and literature 

He greatly encouraged literature and gathered about his court the best poets of his time. He was himself a poet, composing in Sanskrit and Telugu. None of his Sanskrit works has survived, but a Telugu poem of his called Amukthamalyada or Vishnu Chittiyan is pronounced by competent authority to be an excellent production. Until Krishna Deva’s time, Telugu poetry had been confined to versions in that language of the classical Sanskrit works, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, but thenceforth original poems began to be composed. The originator of this advance was Allasăni Peddana, the chief of the poets at Krishna Deva’s court and to this day one of the most popular and best known of Telugu poets.

military expansion 

Krishna Deva’s victories in war were no less renowned than his triumphs in peace. Soon after his accession he reduced to order a refractory vassal in Mysore, capturing the two strong fortresses of Sivasamudram and Seringa patam, both built on islands in the middle of the Kávěrī river. In 1513 he marched against the hill fortress of Udayagiri in the Nellore district, then under the king of Odisha, captured it and brought from it the image of Krishna which was set up in the Krishna temple in his capital. In 1515 he took Kondavidu in the Guntür district and Konda palle in the Kistna district, two very strong hill fortresses, and Rajah mundry in the Godavari district. He thus consolidated his possessions on the east coast of the Presidency.

In 1520 came off the struggle about Raichür, the fortress in the debatable land which for nearly two centuries had been the subject of dispute between his predecessors and their northern neighbours. It belonged at this time to Krishna Diva and Lemail Adil Shah, the king of Bijapur marched against him to recover its possession. A tremendous battle took place between Raichir and the Krisna. Krishna Deva opened the engagement by a frontal attack in mansed formation and drove in the Bijapur centre, but the enemy directed a devastating fire upon the Hindus from guns which had been held in reserve in the rear and following up their advantage with a cavalry charge routed them and pursued them for a mile and a half. Krishna Deva, however, in person rallied and led forward his second line and fell upon the Mussalmans with such impetuosity that he drove them right back into the river, where immense slaughter took place. He then crossed the river and attacked the camp of Ismail Adil Shah, who barely escaped with his life. The result of the action was decisive and Ismail never again attacked the Vijayanagar territories while Krishna Deva was alive. Krishna Deva returned victorious from the battle and his occupation of the Doab and Fort of Raichür, was hereafter uncontested. His success here was in no small measure due to the marksmanship of some Portuguese mercenaries, who with their arquebuses picked off the defenders on the walls and so enabled the besiegers to approach close to the lines of fortification and breach them. The great battle and siege are most vividly described by Nuniz, who appears to have been himself present at both.


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