Vijayanagar: city of victory | Page 3 | Sunday Observer

Vijayanagar: city of victory

12 March, 2023
Lotus Mahal in Vijayanagar
Lotus Mahal in Vijayanagar

Four centuries ago, Vijayanagar in the state of Karnataka in South India was famous for pearls, rubies and diamonds. Today, however, it sells glass and plastic bangles in the bazaar. Even the original name of the city Vijayanagar (City of Victory) has been changed to Hampi.

If you visit Hampi, you will see chillies spread on mats where Krisnadeva Raya, the great Nayaka king, used to entertain thousands of guests from near and far. You will also see monkeys, giant lizards, king fishers and green parrots moving around granite balustrades where lovely courtesans used to dance. According to local legend, the inhabitants of Vijayanagar were from the Indian epic Ramayana.

Vijayanagar was built around 1336 by two brothers – Harihara and Bukka – who had been employed as treasury officials in Kampila 19 kilometres East of Hampi. The majestic city was captured by Muslim Turki Sultan of Delhi Mohammed-Bin-Tughluq. The inhabitants were taken to Delhi where they were converted to Islam.

Assuming them to be suitably tamed, the Delhi Sultan dispatched them to quell civil strife in Kampila. They did their duty well, but gave up Islam and their allegiance to Delhi.

Shortly afterwards, they established their own independent Hindu kingdom. Within a few years, they controlled vast areas of land from coast to coast. In 1343, their new capital Vijayanagar was founded on the southern banks of the River Tungabhadra, a location long considered sacred by Hindus. The rise of Vijayanagar seems to have been a direct response to the expansionist aims of Muslim rulers from the North. To underline the importance and wealth of the empire, Vijayanagar unified all the areas South of the Krishna River.

They employed the finest architects and artisans of the day and embellished the new capital’s public buildings. Huge slabs of granite were split from boulders that dotted the surrounding hills. In fact, the city stood on a surreal boulder strewn plain surrounded by rugged craggy hills.

Vijayanagar began its days as Krishkinda, the monkey kingdom of the Ramayana. While building the magnificent city, elephants helped manoeuvre pillars and crossbeams into position and every joint was skillfully interlocked to produce intricate structures that could tower several high storeys.

Skilled stone carvers decorated the famous Hazara Rama Temple with stylised floral and geometric patterns as well as horses, elephants, temple dancers and characters from Hindu epics. A pillar carved from a single block of stone measured up to 16 feet and some had up to a dozen layers of decoration.

The king’s platform, a structure of huge granite block, provided a vast space for carvers. Indian mythology was a rich source of material as well as battle scenes and portraits of kings and nobles.

The court dance performances and feats, hunting expeditions and even strings of camels going through the desert had been frozen for all times. Muslim influence is evident in many buildings, especially the Lotus Mahal and the elephant stables, both notable for fine stucco ornamentation of their windows and doorways.

Between the 14th and 16th centuries, Vijayanagar was the most powerful Hindu capital in the Deccan. Travellers such as the Portuguese writer Domingo Paez were astonished by the size and wealth of the city. They listened to tales of markets spilling over with silk and precious gems, its beautiful bejewelled courtesans, ornate palaces and joyous festivities.

Domingo Paez described Vijayanagar at its peak in the mid-16th century as “Large as Rome and very beautiful, the best provided city in the world.” Its temples, palaces, aqueducts and seven rows of fortified wall spread out over more than 20 square kilometres. The city’s most glorious period was under the reign of King Sri Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529).

Vijayanagar’s days of splendour were brought to an abrupt halt in 1565 AD. The city was deserted when the invading army of the Deccan Sultan defeated the Vijayanagar forces and laid waste their capital.

However, the massive complex about 280 km North of Bangalore still remains remarkably intact. Many of Vijayanagar temples are still used for worship and devotees bring coconuts, flowers and incense to honour gods. Bells ring every few minutes to summon the deity in the temple of Virupaksha, a Shiva temple.

Vijayanagar was once a dazzling city. The Persian Ambassador Abdul Razzaq who visited Vijaya Nagar in 1443 AD wrote: “The city of Vijayanagar is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the world.” Unfortunately, the magnificent city lies in ruins today like the famous library of Nalanda.

The write is a freelance journalist and indologist based in Hyderabad, India.