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Vijayanagar Empire - 1336-1672 - Society

India History Map - 1520 Vijayanagar EmpireAllasani Peddanna in his Manucharitam refers the existence of four castes Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras - in the Vijayanagar society. Foreign travelers left vivid accounts on the splendour of buildings and luxurious social life in the city of Vijayanagar. Silk and cotton clothes were mainly used for dress. Perfumes, flowers and ornaments were used by the people. Paes mentions of the beautiful houses of the rich and the large number of their household servants. Nicolo Conti refers to the prevalence of slavery. Dancing, music, wrestling, gambling and cock-fighting were some of the amusements.

The Sangama rulers were chiefly Saivaites and Virupaksha was their family deity. But other dynasties were Vaishnavites. Srivaishnavism of Ramanuja was very popular. But all kings were tolerant towards other religions. Borbosa referred to the religious freedom enjoyed by everyone. Muslims were employed in the administration and they were freely allowed to build mosques and worship. A large number of temples were built during this period and numerous festivals were celebrated. The Epics and the Puranas were popular among the masses.

The position of women had not improved. However, some of them were learned. Gangadevi, wife of Kumarakampana authored the famous work Maduravijayam. Hannamma and Thirumalamma were famous poets of this period. According to Nuniz, a large number of women were employed in royal palaces as dancers, domestic servants and palanquin bearers. The attachment of dancing girls to temples was in practice. Paes refers to the flourishing devadasi system. Polygamy was prevalent among the royal families. Sati was honoured and Nuniz gives a description of it.

According to the accounts of the foreign travelers, the Vijayanagar Empire was one of the wealthiest parts of the world at that time. Agriculture continued to be the chief occupation of the people. The Vijayanagar rulers provided a stimulus to its further growth by providing irrigation facilities. New tanks were built and dams were constructed across the rivers like Tunghabadra. Nuniz refers to the excavation of canals.

There were numerous industries and they were organized into guilds. Metal workers and other craftsmen flourished during this period. Diamond mines were located in Kurnool and Anantapur district. Vijayanagar was also a great centre of trade. The chief gold coin was the varaha but weights and measures varied from place to place. Inland, coastal and overseas trade led to the general prosperity. There were a number of seaports on the Malabar coast, the chief being Cannanore. Commercial contacts with Arabia, Persia, South Africa and Portugal on the west and with Burma, Malay peninsula and China on the east flourished. The chief items of exports were cotton and silk clothes, spices, rice, iron, saltpeter and sugar. The imports consisted of horses, pearls, copper, coral, mercury, China silk and velvet clothes. The art of shipbuilding had developed.

The temple building activity further gained momentum during the Vijayanagar rule. The chief characteristics of the Vijayanagara architecture were the construction of tall Raya Gopurams or gateways and the Kalyanamandapam with carved pillars in the temple premises. The sculptures on the pillars were carved with distinctive features. The horse was the most common animal found in these pillars. Large mandapams contain one hundred pillars as well as one thousand pillars in some big temples. These mandapams were used for seating the deity on festival occasions. Also, many Amman shrines were added to the already existing temples during this period.

The most important temples of the Vijayanagar style were found in the Hampi ruins or the city of Vijayanagar. Vittalaswamy and Hazara Ramaswamy temples were the best examples of this style. The Varadharaja and Ekamparanatha temples at Kanchipuram stand as examples for the magnificence of the Vijayanagara style of temple architecture. The Raya Gopurams at Thiruvannamalai and Chidambaram speak the glorious epoch of Vijayanagar. They were continued by the Nayak rulers in the later period.

The metal images of Krishna Deva Raya and his queens at Tirupati are examples for casting of metal images. Music and dancing were also patronized by the rulers of Vijayanagar. Different languages such as Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil flourished in the regions. There was a great development in Sanskrit and Telugu literature. The peak of literary achievement was reached during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya. He himself was a scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu. His famous court poet Allasani Peddanna was distinguished in Telugu literature. Thus the cultural contributions of the Vijayanagar rulers were many-sided and remarkable.



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