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The Vijayanagar Empire
By Copperknickers, June 2008; Revised
Category: South and Southeast Asia
Origin of Vijayanagar and its Foundation
Vijayanagar was a South Indian Hindu empire, founded in 1336 by Harihara I. Harihara was Bhavana Sangama’s eldest son, of the Kuruba clan of Mysore (now Karnataka), and was founder of the Sangama dynasty, the first of four Dynasties to rule the empire. The original Capital was in the principality of Anegondi on the northern banks of the Tungabhadra River. It was later moved to nearby Vijayanagara on the river's southern banks during the reign of Bukka Raya I, after which the empire was named. Harihara's first exploit was to take control of the northern part of the Kingdom of Hoysala, securing its entire range after the death of their king, Veera Ballala III, in 1343. By 1346, and inscription indicates Harihara I as "Purvapaschima Samudradhishavara": "The ruler of the Eastern and Western seas" showing the true establishment of the city as an empire.
The Rise of the Empire
Hoysala was on a frontier, a border between the old Hindu India and the invading Muslims from the north. By 1336 most of the small Hindu Kingdoms in the South had been defeated by Delhi Sultans. After the death of Hoysala Veera Ballala III the Hoysala empire merged with the growing Vijayanagar empire, which formed a solid wall against the Northern warlike Sultanates.
The reign of Bukka Raya
By 1374 Bukka Raya I, successor to Harihara I, had defeated the Chiefdom of Arcot, the Sultan of Madurai and gained control over Goa in the west and the Tungabhadra-Krishna River doab in the north.
The reign of Harihara II
Harihara II, the second son of Bukka Raya I, expanded the empire beyond the Krishna River and brought the whole of South India under the control of Vijayanagara. Gajabetekara (or Deva Raya II) succeeded to the throne in 1424. He quelled rebelling feudal lords as well as the Zamorin of Calicut and Quilon in the south. He invaded the island of Lanka and defeated the leaders of Pegu and Tanesserim in Myanmar, bringing the empire nearly to its fullest extent.
The Tuluva Dynasty
In the late 15th century, after nearly two decades of conflict with rebellious chieftains, the empire had declined slightly. Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya in 1485 and general Tuluva Narasa Nayaka in 1491 managed to reconsolidate it somewhat, and started the second rise to power of the empire. The coming to power of Tuluva Narasa Nayaka in 1491 marked the start of the Tuluva Dynasty. In the following decades the Vijayanagar empire dominated all of Southern India and fought off invasions from the five Deccan Sultanates in the north. The empire reached its peak during the rule of Krishna Deva Raya when the armies of the empire were nigh unstoppable. Krishna Deva Raya annexed areas formerly under the control of the Sultanates in the northern Deccan and the territories in the eastern Deccan. He also built and commisioned many of the architecture that Vijayanagara is remembered for, and was one of the empire's greatest leaders, governing his subjects well, albeit harshly if they broke his laws. He was followed by Achyuta Raya in 1530 and then the final Tuluva, Sadasiva Raya, in 1541. Both of these were considered fairly weak rulers, and their reigns were the start of the final period of decline that eventually led to the downfall of the empire.
The Destruction of the Empire
The Battle of Talikota was the major factor in the destruction of Vijayanagara. A very rare alliance of the usually sqabbling Deccan sultanates led to a crushing defeat, in which Vijayanagar was completely routed. The Sultanates' army later plundered Vijayanagara and reduced it to the ruinous state in which it remains to this day (as shown in the picture below). Tirumala Raya, the sole surviving commander, left Vijayanagara for Penukonda with vast amounts of treasure on the back of 550 elephants.
The successors of Vijayanagar were the Mysore Kingdom, Keladi Nayaka, the Nayaks of Madurai, the Nayaks of Tanjore, the Nayakas of Chitradurga and the Nayak Kingdom of Gingee all of whom declared independence and went on to have a significant impact on the history of South India. The Nayaka kingdoms lasted into the 18th century before succumbing to the British, while the Mysore Kingdom remained a princely state until Indian Independence in 1947.