(This is a series of blog posts by me about the Vijayanagara Empire one of the greatest empires in history of India, that ruled for 250 years, and effectively checked the Muslim advance down South).
“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. It is built in such a manner that seven citadels and the same number of walls enclose each other. Around the first citadel are stones of the height of a man, one half of which is sunk in the ground while the other half rises above it. These are fixed one beside the other in such a manner that no horse or foot soldier could boldly or with ease approach the citadel.”- Abdur Razzaq, Persian Ambassador
Forty-five leagues from these mountains there is a very large city which is called Bijanaguer, very populous, and surrounded on one side by a very good wall, and on another by a river, and on the other by a mountain. This city is on level ground; the king of Narsinga (Vijayanagara) always resides in it. He has in this place very large and handsome palaces, with numerous courts…. There are also in this city many other palaces of great lords, who live there.- Domingo Paeas.
The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it; I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight- Domingo Paes.
At it’s peak, the Vijayanagar empire covered a size that was as vast as Austria and Rome. It was one of the richest empires of it’s time, which made foreign visitors wonder in awe, be it the architecture, the urban layouts, its immense wealth in diamonds and riches.When Mohd Bin Tughlaq took over as the ruler in 1325 AD, his forces overran a vast part of Northern, Central India, conquering many kingdoms, and they were right at the doorstep of South. The older kingdoms like the Hoysalas, the Chalukyas, Kakatiyas had been subjugated, and while South of the Krishna-Tunghabhadra river, the Hindu kingdoms still prevailed, there was a growing apprehension in the air. Of their once mighty kingdoms being destroyed, their temples being demolished, en masse forcible conversion to Islam, and large scale looting. It was around this time, that the Vijayanagar Empire emerged. For over 250 years, Vijayanagara Empire acted as a defense in the South against the Muslim invasions that ravaged the Northern parts of India. It protected the Hindu dharma and kingdoms in South, it preserved the culture, the temples, and acted like a solid wall, against the Muslim invaders.
The year 1336 AD, when King Edward III was ruling over England, two brothers Harihara and Bukka Raya, were out hunting, somewhere in the rocky terrain of the Deccan. They chanced upon a hare that was being chased by a pack of dogs, and the hare in turn, chased the dogs back. This incident, made the brothers believe there was something unique about the place, and they informed their guru Vidyaranya Swamy, who promptly advised them to set up their kingdom there. That indeed goes the story about the founding of Vijayanagara Empire, which is believed to be named after the great seer. While this has been taken as the origin of Vijayanagara Empire, in truth, there are many theories about it,primarily on Harihara, Bukka and Vidayaranya Swamy himself.
Harihara and Bukka Raya
The early life of the brothers is indeed unknown, with various theories about their origin. What is indeed a common thread is that both of them, were sons of Sangama, after whom the founding dynasty of Vijayanagara is named. One school of thought propounded by scholars like B.L.Rice, P.B.Desai etc, is that both the brothers were serving under the Hoysalas. This theory states that Sangama was in the service of Veera Ballala III, and both Harihara and Bukka were feudatories under the Hoysala ruler. Harihara I was a commander in Veera Ballala’s army and he played a major role in expanding the territories. Vijayanagara was already founded around 1336, under the name of Hosapattana, on the Tunghabhadra river, and there was a gradual transfer of power later on, when the Hoysalas began to decline. The fact that Harihara assumed the Kannada titles of Purvapaschima Samudradhishvara( Master of the East and West Oceans), Bhashegetappuvarayaraganda( “Punisher of those who never kept a promise”) and that they were referred to as Karnataka Kshitinatha by Telugu poets like Srinatha, points to their origin as per historian Suryanatha Kamath. Furthermore Kamath points out the fact that over 7000 inscriptions were in Kannada. One more fact supporting the Kannada origin theory was that their patron saint Vidyaranya Swamy, was the Jagadguru of the Shringeri Sharada Peetam. The claim that Harihara and Bukka Raya, were soldiers in Kakatiya empire, who were captured by Muslim rulers, converted to Islam and again reconverted back, is a bit far fetched, as per this school.
The other theory propounded by Robert Sewell, Subbarayulu, and others, testify to the Telugu origin of the brothers. This theory states that both Harihara and Bukka were in charge of the Kakatiya treasury, who escaped after the kingdom had fallen to the Muslim rulers. They fled to Anegondi, where they met Vidyaranya, who advised them to establish Vijayanagara Empire in order to safeguard Hindu Dharma. While Robert Sewell, concludes that the brothers were primarily Kuruba Gowdas, as per another scholar, Srinivas Rao, texts establish the fact that the brothers were Gollas and worshipped the Goddess Bhuvaneshwari. This theory about the brothers serving the Kakatiya ruler Prataparudra and being taken captive after the fall of Warangal, was proposed by Muslim scholars like Ziauddin Barani, Ferishta and foreign visitors like Ibn Batuta.
One of the more plausible theories is that both the brothers were serving under the Kakatiya rulers, and when the empire fell, they fled to Anegondi, where they took service under the local Rajah there. Having seen the atrocities of the Muslim invaders, the brothers had sworn to protect the Hindu Dharma from invaders. They worked as treasurer and minister in the Rajah’s palace, and in 1334, the chief, gave refuge to Baha-ud-din, the nephew of Mohd. Bin Tughlaq, who had rebelled against him. Mohd Bin Tughlaq attacked Anegundi, and the chief surrendered Baha-ud-din to him, who then was butchered in the most gruesome manner. As per an eye witness account,
“The Sultan ordered the prisoner to be taken to the women his relations, and these insulted him and spat upon him. Then he ordered him to be skinned alive, and as his skin was torn off his flesh was cooked with rice. Some was sent to his children and his wife, and the remainder was put into a great dish and given to the elephants to eat, but they would not touch it. The Sultan ordered his skin to be stuffed with straw, to be placed along with the remains of Bahadur Bura, and to be exhibited through the country.”
After the capture of Anegundi, the Sultan, left for Delhi leaving it in the care of Malik Naib, whom he appointed as the Governor. However the local Hindus rose in revolt against Malik, overthrew him, and in due course of time, the city of Vijayanagara was founded. The brothers Harihara and Bukka Raya effectively became the first king and minister.
While one could debate about the origins of Harihara and Bukka Raya, and the founding of the Vijayanagara Empire, what is clear is that they laid the foundations for one of the world’s most magnificent empires. An empire that covered as much area as Austria did, acted as a bulwark against the Muslim invasions, and touched new heights in arts, architecture, literature. In the next article in this series, will be looking at the Sangama dynasty, the first of those that ruled Vijayanagara.
A Forgotten Empire by Robert Sewell- http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/3310/pg3310.html