Vijayanagar, A Forgotten Empire
November 17, 2006
Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the Robert Sewell book, quoting Portuguese and Persian envoys, about the splendor of Vijayanagar. This book should be made compulsory reading for all high school students in India.
An electronic version can be downlooaded for free from http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3310
which is where I got this excerpt from as well.
I suggest you circulate the book widely. It is a good antidote to the re-toxified textbooks in India.
A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar
Introductory remarks — Sources of information — Sketch of history of
Southern India down to A.D. 1336 — A Hindu bulwark against Muhammadan
conquest — The opening date, as given by Nuniz, wrong — “Togao
Mamede” or Muhammad Taghlaq of Delhi — His career and character.
In the year 1336 A.D., during the reign of Edward III. of England,
there occurred in India an event which almost instantaneously changed
the political condition of the entire south. With that date the volume
of ancient history in that tract closes and the modern begins. It is
the epoch of transition from the Old to the New.
This event was the foundation of the city and kingdom of
Vijayanagar. Prior to A.D. 1336 all Southern India had lain under
the domination of the ancient Hindu kingdoms, — kingdoms so old
that their origin has never been traced, but which are mentioned in
Buddhist edicts rock-cut sixteen centuries earlier; the Pandiyans at
Madura, the Cholas at Tanjore, and others. When Vijayanagar sprang
into existence the past was done with for ever, and the monarchs
of the new state became lords or overlords of the territories lying
between the Dakhan and Ceylon.
There was no miracle in this. It was the natural result of the
persistent efforts made by the Muhammadans to conquer all India. When
these dreaded invaders reached the Krishna River the Hindus to their
south, stricken with terror, combined, and gathered in haste to the
new standard which alone seemed to offer some hope of protection. The
decayed old states crumbled away into nothingness, and the fighting
kings of Vijayanagar became the saviours of the south for two and a
And yet in the present day the very existence of this kingdom is
hardly remembered in India; while its once magnificent capital,
planted on the extreme northern border of its dominions and bearing
the proud title of the “City of Victory,” has entirely disappeared
save for a few scattered ruins of buildings that were once temples
or palaces, and for the long lines of massive walls that constituted
its defences. Even the name has died out of men’s minds and memories,
and the remains that mark its site are known only as the ruins lying
near the little village of Hampe.
Its rulers, however, in their day swayed the destinies of an empire
far larger than Austria, and the city is declared by a succession of
European visitors in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to have
been marvellous for size and prosperity — a city with which for
richness and magnificence no known western capital could compare. Its
importance is shown by the fact that almost all the struggles of the
Portuguese on the western coast were carried on for the purpose of
securing its maritime trade; and that when the empire fell in 1565,
the prosperity of Portuguese Goa fell with it never to rise again.
Our very scanty knowledge of the events that succeeded one another in
the large area dominated by the kings of Vijayanagar has been hitherto
derived partly from the scattered remarks of European travellers
and the desultory references in their writings to the politics of
the inhabitants of India; partly from the summaries compiled by
careful mediaeval historians such as Barros, Couto, and Correa, who,
though to a certain degree interested in the general condition of
the country, yet confined themselves mostly to recording the deeds
of the European colonisers for the enlightenment of their European
readers; partly from the chronicles of a few Muhammadan writers
of the period, who often wrote in fear of the displeasure of their
own lords; and partly from Hindu inscriptions recording grants of
lands to temples and religious institutions, which documents, when
viewed as state papers, seldom yield us more than a few names and
dates. The two chronicles, however, translated and printed at the
end of this volume, will be seen to throw a flood of light upon the
condition of the city of Vijayanagar early in the sixteenth century,
and upon the history of its successive dynasties; and for the rest
I have attempted, as an introduction to these chronicles, to collect
all available materials from the different authorities alluded to and
to weld them into a consecutive whole, so as to form a foundation
upon which may hereafter be constructed a regular history of the
Vijayanagar empire. The result will perhaps seem disjointed, crude,
and uninteresting; but let it be remembered that it is only a first
attempt. I have little doubt that before very long the whole history of
Southern India will be compiled by some writer gifted with the power
of “making the dry bones live;” but meanwhile the bones themselves
must be collected and pieced together, and my duty has been to try
and construct at least the main portions of the skeleton.
Before proceeding to details we must shortly glance at the political
condition of India in the first half of the fourteenth century,
remembering that up to that time the Peninsula had been held by a
number of distinct Hindu kingdoms, those of the Pandiyans at Madura
and of the Cholas at Tanjore being the most important.
The year 1001 A.D. saw the first inroad into India of the Muhammadans
from over the north-west border, under their great leader Mahmud of
Ghazni. He invaded first the plains of the Panjab, then Multan, and
afterwards other places. Year after year he pressed forward and again
retired. In 1021 he was at Kalinga; in 1023 in Kathiawar; but in no
case did he make good his foothold on the country. His expeditions
were raids and nothing more. Other invasions, however, followed in
quick succession, and after the lapse of two centuries the Muhammadans
were firmly and permanently established at Delhi. War followed war,
and from that period Northern India knew no rest. At the end of the
thirteenth century the Muhammadans began to press southwards into
the Dakhan. In 1293 Ala-ud-din Khilji, nephew of the king of Delhi,
captured Devagiri. Four years later Gujarat was attacked. In 1303
the reduction of Warangal was attempted. In 1306 there was a fresh
expedition to Devagiri. In 1309 Malik Kafur, the celebrated general,
with an immense force swept into the Dakhan and captured Warangal. The
old capital of the Hoysala Ballalas at Dvarasamudra was taken in
1310, and Malik Kafur went to the Malabar coast where he erected a
mosque, and afterwards returned to his master with enormous booty.
Fresh fighting took place in 1312. Six years later Mubarak of Delhi
marched to Devagiri and inhumanly flayed alive its unfortunate prince,
Haripala Deva, setting up his head at the gate of his own city. In
1323 Warangal fell.
Thus the period at which our history opens, about the year 1330, found
the whole of Northern India down to the Vindhya mountains firmly
under Moslem rule, while the followers of that faith had overrun
the Dakhan and were threatening the south with the same fate. South
of the Krishna the whole country was still under Hindu domination,
but the supremacy of the old dynasties was shaken to its base by the
rapidly advancing terror from the north. With the accession in 1325 of
Muhammad Taghlaq of Delhi things became worse still. Marvellous stories
of his extraordinary proceedings circulated amongst the inhabitants
of the Peninsula, and there seemed to be no bound to his intolerance,
ambition, and ferocity.
Everything, therefore, seemed to be leading up to but one
inevitable end — the ruin and devastation of the Hindu provinces;
the annihilation of their old royal houses, the destruction of their
religion, their temples, their cities. All that the dwellers in the
south held most dear seemed tottering to its fall.
Suddenly, about the year 1344 A.D., there was a check to this wave
of foreign invasion — a stop — a halt — then a solid wall of
opposition; and for 250 years Southern India was saved.
The check was caused by a combination of small Hindu states — two
of them already defeated, Warangal and Dvarasamudra — defeated,
and therefore in all probability not over-confident; the third, the
tiny principality of Anegundi. The solid wall consisted of Anegundi
grown into the great empire of the Vijayanagar. To the kings of this
house all the nations of the south submitted.