Let’s read the story of the Vijaynagara empire.
The term Hinduism is fairly new compared to its practice. Known as Sanatan Dharma, people of the Indian subcontinent practised it as a part of their lifestyle. Hence different regions had differences in the practices of ancient Hinduism. What led to the unification of these beliefs under one name was the invasion of a foreign religion. The Muslim dynasties forced the entirety of India to unite as Hindus. The biggest example of this unification and its power is Vijaynagar Empire.
In the year 1300, the Islamic dynasties spread their roots till the Deccan of India. In 1336, two brothers named Bukka Rayya and Harihara started this empire. The brothers belonged to a cow shepherd community named Yadavs. According to the scriptures, Lord Krishna belonged to this clan as well. The two brothers were captured by Ulugh Khan, the general of Allahudin Khilji. Ulugh Khan wanted them to surrender their cows to feed his army. The brothers were deeply religious and chose not to do so. And hence were captured and punished. During their time in captivity, with them was a sage named Vidyaranya.
Vidyaranya would be remembered by the pages of history as the Kingmaker sage. It was Vidyarana who ignited the fire of rebellion in the Yadav brothers. Vidyarana wanted the brothers to throw away the Muslim dynasties out of their land. With the help of the sage and their lineage, the Yadav brothers soon established themselves as prominent leaders. They united the Hindus of the Deccan India and created the Vijaynagar Empire.
Bukka Rayya was the first King of this dynasty. Under his command, the dynasty overthrew the Deccan sultanate. They also extended their empire towards the east and won over the Kalinga state, modern-day Odisha. His successor was his brother Harihara who looked west for expansion. At its peak, he had his dynasty rule over present-day Goa. With two coasts under his reign, he was given the title of Purvapashcima Samudradhishavara, meaning the lord of both east and west seas.
The throne was succeeded by the eldest son of Bukka Rayya. He along with his son started preparing for the defence of this huge empire. They moved their capital to the city of Vijaynagar, from where the dynasty got its name. This city was based in the south of the Tungabhadra river. The river was impossible to cross for 6 months of the year. Only in summer could it be crossed. And summer down south was not ideal for enemy invaders to attack. This move alone reduced the frequency of attacks.
Deva Raya was the most prominent ruler of the dynasty. During his reign, he attacked and won over Northern Srilanka. Through his massive navy, he also became the lord of kings of present-day Myanmar, known as Burma at that time.
The advantage of these takeovers was reaped by his successor Krishna Deva Raya. He established trade deals from both the east and the west. To the east, he exported cotton and spices to the Chinese and in return got silk and tea. Similarly from the west, he got European weapons including canons.
After this came a period of peace. For at least a century, both Hindu and Muslim dynasties stopped fighting with each other. This was the time when art and architecture flourished. The Vijayanagar class of architecture saw pillared temples with monolithic carved idols of God. The amphitheatre at Vijaynagar is Unesco’s world heritage site.
So are the ruins of Hampi. Hampi was a vibrant city during this period but was later attacked and destroyed, leading to its present-day ruined state. Many buildings also show hints of Muslim architecture. During the peace years, Vijaynagar rulers employed Muslim architects to oversee building projects
Vijaynagar was also home to India’s iconic historical figure, Tenali Rama. Childhood in India is incomplete without listening to the stories of Tenali Rama. His stories involved him using extraordinary wits and skills to solve the problems for his kings. While the stories have no proof of existence, the figure does. Tenali was indeed one of the ministers to serve the Vijaynagar rulers. And he was credited to bail his King out of tricky situations.
The decline of this empire came when the Sultanates of north India decided to unite against them. It all came down to the final battle of Talikota. The Sultanates were lesser in number. But the battle was not between the men of the two armies but their technology. It was a battle between European-style weaponry and Turkish-style weaponry.
With most of the iron deposits located in the North, the Sultanate’s army had arrows with Iron heads. This gave them a longer range. The Turks have also provided the Sultanate with early models of guns.
The sultanates also had Arabic horses which were bigger and faster than the locally bred horses of Vijaynagar.
Superior in skills, the Sultanes were able to defeat the Vijaynagar empire. And soon the empire was broken into many smaller states ruled by different Sultans.
Vijaynagar Empire was one of the last Hindu powerhouses of Southern India. With them came the end of South Indian class architecture. The Vijaynagar is a symbol of unity and diversity. Like a lotus blooming in mud, the Vijayanagar empire managed to create a prosperous kingdom though surrounded by enemies. In the current scenario, these ruins and their stories should remind us of the power of unity.