Continuing with my series on Vijayanagara, I had in my last post, covered the rise of the Sangamas under Deva Raya I, in this post, will be taking a look at the reign of Deva Raya II, the last great king of the Sangama dynasty, and how Vijayanagara rose under his reign.
Deva Raya II, took over Vijayanagara at a very crucial period, when it was plunged into chaos and uncertainity, following the death of Deva Raya I. The rather undistinguished reign of Ramachandra Raya and Vira Vijaya Bukka Raya, meant loss of many territories, and feudatory kingdoms asserting themselves. Devaraya II’s first task was to subdue the neighboring kingdoms, assert Vijayanagara’s supremacy. Taking over the throne in 1426, Devaraya turned his attention towards those territories lost to the Reddy Kings of Kondavidu, and the fort was recaptured back in 1432. Most of the territories lost to the Reddy Kings were taken back. In 3 successive battles with the Gajapatis of Odisha, in 1427, 1436 and 1441, he managed to defeat them, and win back the territories lost. After establishing his hold over the Deccan, Deva Raya II turned his attention down South to Kerala and Ceylon. The ruler of Quilon was defeated and so were many other regional chieftains in the Malabar region, who had to pay him tribute. While the Zamorin of Calicut managed to withstand the invasion, he was mortally afraid of Deva Raya II’s strength. From Quilon to Ceylon, rulers paid him tribute, and even the Burmese kings of Pegu, Tanaserrim too paid him tributes. Under Deva Raya II’s rule, Vijayanagara extended from Kalinga to the Malabar and from Gulbarga to Ceylon, and the possession of various ports on the Western Coast meant that trade flourished.
Rivalry with Bahmanis
After the loss of Panagal to Deva Raya I, and a humiliating rout at Gulbarga in the hands of Vijayanagara forces, Feroze Shah Bahmani’s spirit was broken, and lost interest in the throne. He desired that his son Hassan, take up the throne, however his other son Ahmed Khankhanan, contested the claim, and Feroze was forced to concede his claim. Feroze passed away in 1422, and Khankhanan, ascended the throne assuming the title of Ahmad Shah I at Gulbarga. Having sworn to avenge the loss of Panagal, he built up a huge army and advanced to attack Vijayanagara. Deva Raya II, led an equally large force against him, and both encamped on opposite banks of the Tungabhadra River. Deva Raya II, had requested the Warangal rulers to assist him in the battle, and they too had sent their forces. However a surprise attack by the Bahmani forces,took the Vijayanagara army off guard and Deva Raya II, accompanied by nobles and a few other soldiers, had to retreat back to Vijayanagara.
Ahmed Shah I, pursued Deva Raya II, to Vijayanagara, on his way devastating large tracts of open country, destroying temples, slaughtering Hindus mercilessly. Around 5000 Hindus enraged by the desecration of their temples, came together, monitored his movements, and when they saw that at one stage he was separated from the rest of his army, attacked. It was a furious attack, that left many of the Bahmani soldiers dead, and the Sultan himself was in mortal danger. However a last minute rear guard action by Abd-al-Kadir, saved the Sultan, and he in turn mounted a furious counter assault on the attackers. Ahmed Shah I, after this narrow escape, attacked Vijayanagara, and laid seige for a long time. Deva Raya II was forced to sue for peace, and signed a treaty agreeing to pay tribute. In 1425, Warangal was successfully overrun by Ahmed Shah I, and the kingdom ceased to exist.
Another defeat at the hands of Ahmed Shah I’s successor Allaudin Shah in 1435, and loss of a whole lot of forts like Raichur, Sholapur, Bijapur meant that Deva Raya II had to think about ways of countering the Bahmanis. Deva Raya II, held a meeting with the nobles and advisers on how to counter them, which is when they bought up two issues. One was that the Arabian horses used by the Bahmanis, were faster, stronger, than the native ones, which could not bear the fatigue. Another critical advantage the Bahmanis had were the archers in their army, well trained and professional, something which Vijayanagara lacked. It was then Deva Raya II decided to recruit Muslim archers into the Army, who would train his soldiers. These Muslim archers were given full freedom to practice their own religion, given jagirs and a mosque too was built in Vijayanagara for them. The move paid off and the Vijayanagara Army now had a professional archery unit with 2000 Muslims and 60000 Hindus, ready to attack. In 1436, Devaraya II, mounted an attack on the Mudgal fort, and recaptured it back.
Vijayanagara under Deva Raya II
“The great city of Bizenegalia is situated near very steep mountains. The circumference of the city is sixty miles; its walls are carried up to the mountains and enclose the valleys at their foot, so that its extent is thereby increased. In this city there are estimated to be ninety thousand men fit to bear arms.”- Nicolo Conti
During Devaraya II’s reign, Vijayanagar was visited by Nicolo Conti, and later Abdur Razzaq, both of whom described the glory of the city in their accounts. What was clear from all accounts was that the city had an impeccable defense, which enable it to withstand multiple attacks. You had long stone walls around the city, that ran up the hills and the rocky valleys, that kept out the invaders. The valleys were inhabited by peasants, richer nobles, merchants, upper classes in their large mansions, magnificent temples and elaborately constructed canals, that bought water to the city. Right now most of these are in a state of ruin, but they can still be seen in Anegundi, Hospet, Kampli, all of which are located around Hampi.
As per Nicolo Conti, polygamy was common among the nobles, and upper classes, with Devaraya II, himself estimated to be having around 4000 wives in his harem, who would follow him wherever he went. Sati was quite common, and ladies would immolate themselves on the funeral pyre after their husband’s death. Ugadi, Mahanavami, Diwali, Holi were some of the major festivals celebrated. During Ugadi celebrations that lasted for 3 days, there would be bathing in rivers and seas, following which new garments would be worn followed by singing, dancing and festivities. Mahanavami celebrations would last for 9 days, where huge poles would be set up on the roads, decorated with beautiful cloth. During Diwali time, temples would be lit up with innumerable lamps lighted with oil, that would be burning day and night. Writing was still done on palmyra leaves, and keeping slaves was quite a common practice.
“The city of Bidjanagar 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 Razzak
Abdur Razzak, a Persian traveler was another to visit Vijayanagara, and he spoke glowingly of the grandeur and the 7 walls and citadels that surrounded it. The outermost layer of walls, was somewhere close to Hospet, which was the first line of defense many invaders usually encountered. The 2nd and 3rd walls were encircling what is called as Hospet now. The 4th and 5th walls enclose the village of Malpangudi, which to date still has many old buildings. The 6th wall covered the Kamalapur tank, while the last wall, covered the palace and the main buildings. All the seven gates were guarded well, and octroi was levied on goods coming in.
The bazaars were extremely long and broad, and each one of them had a lofty arcade. Roses were sold in these bazaars, while jewelers publicly sold precious stones like diamonds, rubies, emeralds. The King’s palace had a Diwani Khanah on one side, where the King’s dewan would listen to the people’s problems. The Daftar Khanah on the other side, would contain the Government scribes. The Mint where coins were minted, was located to left of the Palace, and right opposite was the stable for elephants. Each elephant had it’s own compartment in the stable, and they were well cared for. The Governor’s home was located opposite the Mint, which was guarded by around 12000 soldiers.
The Mahanavami was glowingly described by Abdur Razzak in his memoirs for the scale of it’s celebrations. Elephants were bought in by generals and chieftains from all corners of the empire, and congregated at one place. Huge pavilions were erected, ranging from 3-7 storeys, and some of those pavilions also doubled up as chambers. The palace had 9 pavilions, with the king seated at the last one, while musicians, storytellers occupied the other ones. There were performances from dancing girls, jugglers and elephant feats too. Fireworks, games, amusements formed part of the festivities. The king’s throne was made of gold, adorned with precious stones, and just before it there, was a square cushion with pearls embedded in it.
Culture and Arts
Deva Raya II had the sobriquet of Gajaventekara or Gajabetekara, meaning the elephant hunter, and was a patron of arts and culture. The king himself was a poet and wrote the Sobagina Sone, a collection of romantic stories in Kannada, where the author narrates to his wife. Many famous temples in Hampi were constructed during his period, and scholars in Sanskrit, as well as Telugu, Kannada were patronized.