‘The city of Vijayanagara simply has no equal in the world,’
wrote Abdur Razzak Samarqandi, an envoy from the Timurid Empire, which ruled
the 15th century Central Asia.
He was no court poet nor was he obligated to write good
about the Vijayanagara Empire, but he did. He also adds that he is refraining
from describing the city as it may sound too exaggerated. Such was the
splendour and wealth of the Vijayanagara Empire and its glory has survived in
forms of the magnificent architecture and art forms.
The capital of the empire, Hampe (or Hampi as it is known
today) is declared a UNESCO Heritage lies on the banks of the river Tungabhadra
in Karnataka, India. After the military campaigns of Allauddin Khilji, a sultan
from Delhi, the entire southern peninsula was in a state of political chaos
without the presence of any significant power.
Photo Credits - bahadur_subhash
Two brothers, Harihara I and Bukka I, under the guidance of
Hindu spiritual teacher Vidyaranya, established a strong city in Hampi in 1336
AD and called it Viajaynagara, which in the native language of Kannada means
‘City of Victory’ and ruled over adjacent territories. The empire reached its
peak during the rule of Krishnadevaraya, when it was the counted among the most
prosperous and powerful nations in the world.
The Vijayanagara Empire brought about several changes in the
society and its functioning but perhaps their biggest impact lies in the field
of architecture and arts.
The wonders of Vijayanagara were not just matter of gold,
silver and precious stones: the City of Victory was also a major centre of
South Indian culture— retaining and developing the best of that which had been
salvaged from the wreck of the three greatest Empires of southern history: the
Pallavas, the Chalukyas and above all the mighty Cholas of Tanjore. Perhaps the
most remarkable and celebrated of the city’s intellectuals, and the principal
catalyst for its rich civilisation, was also its greatest ruler.
Vijayanagar era architecture can be broadly classified into
religious, courtly, and civic architecture. Its style is a harmonious
combination of the Chalukya, Hoysala, Pandya, and Chola styles that evolved in
earlier centuries and represents a return to the simplicity and serenity of the
past. Preferred for its durability, local hard granite was the building
material of choice, as it had been for the Badami Chalukyas; however,
soapstone, which was soft and easily carved, was also used for reliefs and
Krishnadevaraya who revolutionised the look of his city,
transforming it as Augustus had transformed Rome. It was he who created a new
Vijayanagaran temple style, first with his magnificent additions—halls,
courtyards and gateways—to the city’s central Virupaksha temple, then in his
new Vitthala temple, the most delicate and beautiful of them all. He also
commissioned several magnificent new megalithic sculptures to adorn his
capital. Several have survived intact, including the spectacular carved granite
monolith of Vishnu Narasimha, showing the ferocious lion-headed God sitting in
state of uncharacteristic peace, resting cross-legged in a yogic position with
his legs bound with a yoga-band. Krishnadevaraya also provided a remarkable
irrigation system, with water being brought to the city by a network of
The Vijayanagar Empire’s patronage enabled its fine arts and
literature to rise to new heights. Its legacy of sculpture, painting, and
architecture influenced the development of the arts in South India long after
the empire came to an end. The mingling of South Indian styles resulted in a
richness not seen in earlier centuries, including a focus on reliefs in
addition to sculpture that surpassed that seen previously in India.
Painting in the Vijayanagara Empire, which evolved into the
Mysore style of painting, is best illustrated in the elaborate wall paintings
In addition to architecture and sculpture, the Vijayanagara
emperors were enthusiastic patrons of painting. The Vijayanagara school of
painting was renowned for its frescoes of Hindu mythological themes on temple
walls and ceilings. The rulers of Vijayanagara encouraged literature, art,
architecture, religious, and philosophical discussions. With the fall of the
Vijayanagara empire after the Battle of Talikota in 1565 CE, the artists who
were under royal patronage migrated to various other places such as Mysore,
Tanjore, and Surpur.