Jul 26, 2009
As the mantra of ‘good governance’ has become a catchy phrase during the elections in modern times, it would be appropriate to remember with pride that exactly five hundred years ago on 26 July 1509, a ruler ascended the throne of the Vijayanagara Empire and during two decades of his rule (1509-1529) he proved himself a perfect ruler by providing good governance to his subjects. This ruler was Krishnadevaraya.
The period of Krishnadevaraya was considered as the golden age of the Vijayanagara history. He was a great warrior and military general, wise statesman, efficient administrator, promoter of religious toleration, lover of literature and patron of arts and architecture. He was a heroic figure for the Kannadigas and Telugu people who hailed him as ‘Kannada Raya’, ‘Kannada Rajya Rama Ramana’, ‘Mooru Rayara Ganda’(King of Three Kings) and ‘Andhra Bhoja’.
Vijayanagara Empire was founded in 1336 with Vijayanagara (modern Hampi in the Bellary district of Karnataka) as the capital. Krishnadevaraya belonged to the Tuluva dynasty, the third dynasty to rule over the empire following the Sangama and Saluva dynasties.
The founder of the Tuluva dynasty was Narsa Nayaka, father of Krishnadevaraya who belonged to the coastal Karnataka. The dynasty acquired the name as Tuluva due to the fact that Narsa Nayaka was from the Tulu speaking region called ‘Tulunadu’.
Narsa Nayaka who was the regent for the last ruler of the Saluva dynasty was the de facto ruler of the empire. Following his death, his elder son, Viranarasimha, having got the nominal ruler killed, became the new ruler of the Viajayanagara Empire and founder of the Tuluva dynasty.
Krishnadevaraya, the half-brother of Viranarasimha, ascended the throne of Vijayanagara after the death of the latter on 26 July 1509. On his accession, Krishnadevaraya found the empire in a condition of instability. He had to deal with rebellious feudatories and aggressive neighbours-the Bahamani Sultans in the north and the Gajapati rulers of Orissa in the northeast.
During his reign of two decades from 1509 to 1529, Krishnadevaraya succeeded not only in subjugating the deviant subordinates, but also achieved many victories against the traditional enemies of the Vijayanagara Empire. Under the Raya, the Vijayanagara Empire reached to the maximum territorial extent from Cuttack in the east to the frontiers of Goa in the west and from the Raichur Doab in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south.
Krishnadevaraya was a great warrior and general. He was always successful in wars that he waged almost throughout his reign either against the internal rebels or external enemies. He firmly believed that the proper place of a monarch on the battlefield was at the head of his forces. Under Krishnadevaraya the triumphant forces of Vijayanagara entered even the capitals of his enemies including Cuttack, Bidar, Gulbarga and Bijapur.
During the early period of Krishnadevaraya’s reign, the Portuguese established their political and economic power on the west coast of India with Goa as their headquarters (1510). Rather than confronting the Portuguese, the Raya maintained friendly relations with them and obtained guns and Arabian horses from the Portuguese merchants which he could use effectively against his enemies.
Though he was friendly with the Portuguese, Krishnadevaraya never allowed himself to be drawn into an alliance with them. He politely declined the request of the Portuguese to help them in capturing Calicut from the Zamorin. However, he took the help of the Portuguese experts to improve water supply to the capital city of Vijayanagara. A number of Portuguese merchants and travellers visited the Vijayanagara city and empire, the most important being Durate Barboza and Domino Paes, who had left valuable information regarding Krishnadevaraya’s personality and the Vijayanagara city.
Domingo Paes who visited Vijayanagara in 1520, describes the personality of the Raya. According to him, Krishnadevaraya was of medium height, had a cheerful disposition, respectful to foreign visitors and ruthless in maintaining the law and order. He maintained himself to a high level of physical fitness through daily exercises and horse ride. He was not only an able administrator, but also an excellent army general, leading from the front in battle and even attending to the wounded. Paes praises Krishnadevaraya as, “the most feared King, but very cheerful and merciful… a great ruler and a man of much justice”.
Krishnadevaraya was a liberal ruler and followed the policy of religious toleration. He was a devotee of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. Even today one can see the images of Krishnadevaraya along with his two consorts- Tirumala Devi and Chinna Devi standing with folded hands in the Tirupati temple.
Though a Vaishnavite himself, Krishnadevaraya showed respect to all sects of Hinduism and other religions as well. The Madhwa saint, Vyasatirtha was held in high reverence by the Raya. The saint poets-Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa were his contemporaries. According to Durate Barboza, the King allowed such freedom that every man might come and go and live according to his own creed without suffering any annoyance and without enquiries whether he was Christian, Jew, Moor or Hindu.
Krishnadevaraya was of the opinion that the King should always rule with an eye towards ‘Dharma’. He was very much concerned about the welfare of the people and undertook regular tours of the empire to get first hand information about the condition of his subjects and tried to redress their grievances there an then. He endeavoured to increase the prosperity of his people.
The capital city of Vijayanagara, presently the ruins of Hampi, manifested the glory and prosperity of the empire. According to Paes, the city of Vijayanagara was as large as Rome, very beautiful and the best provided city in the world.
Barboza was of the opinion that Vijayanagara was very prosperous with abundance of foodstuffs, vegetables, fruits and animals being sold in plenty in the markets of the city at cheap rates. He also speaks of the trade in jewels, diamonds, pearls and silk brocades, which were in plenty on its streets. Further he adds that the city of Vijayanagara was constantly filled with an innumerable crowd belonging to all nations and religions.
The official languages of the Vijayanagara court were Kannada and Telugu. Krishnadevaraya patronized literature in various languages.
Many Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Sanskrit scholars and poets were part of the royal court who contributed largely to the literature in their respective languages.
Krishnadevaraya himself was proficient in Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit and was an accomplished scholar. His Sanskrit works include ‘Madalasa Charita’, ‘Satyavadu Parinaya’, ‘Rasamanjari’ and ‘Jambavati Kalyana’.
He also composed a monumental work in Telugu titled ‘Amuktamalyada’. His court was adorned by eight distinguished poets and scholars who were known as the ‘Ashtadiggajas’. Tenali Ramakrishna - the scholar who was famous for his wisdom and wit was a prominent member of Krishnadevaraya’s court.
Krishnadevaraya was a builder to cities and monuments. He built a new city near Vijayanagara and named it as Nagalapura after his mother Nagala Devi. He expanded the temple of Ramaswamy at Vijayanagara and added a kalyanamantapa and tower to the temple of Virupaksha. He also constructed the Krishnaswamy and Vithalaswamy temples and a number of secular buildings in the imperial capital whose remains are still found at Hampi.
Following the death of Krishnadevaraya in 1529, the Vijayanagara Empire faced decline and disintegration due to court intrigues and ambition of Ramaraya, the son-in-law of Krishnadevaraya who became the de facto ruler. Ramaraya’s interference in the affairs of the Bahmani Sultanates by pitting one Sultan against the other ventually led to a coalition of the four out of the five Sultanates against Vijayanagara Empire. In a deadly war that was fought in 1565 at Talikota, the once mighty Vijayanagara Empire was defeated and the capital city was plundered and destroyed by the Bahamanis. Thereafter, the Vijayanagara Empire broke into several regional kingdoms, the Mysore Kingdom under the Wodeyar dynasty being one of them.
To commemorate the 500th year of the accession of Krishnadevaraya and to remember his great contribution to the Vijayanagara Empire and emulate his example of ‘good governance’ and broad religious toleration would be a befitting tribute to one of the perfect rulers of medieval India. Are the governments of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh listening?
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