ruins of Vijayanagara occupy a dramatic rocky site in central Karnataka,
through which the Tungabhadra river flows
in a northeasterly direction. Villages sited on terraces above the floor
of the Tungabhadra valley date from prehistoric and early historic times.
Burial grounds and paintings preserved under rock shelters are also
preserved from these early periods.
The oldest historic settlement at this site is Hampi, a Hindu tirtha
where the river goddess Pampa
and her consort Virupaksha, a form of Shiva, are worshiped. The Virupaksha
cult at Hampi has been in existence since the eighth-ninth centuries;
it survives down to the present day as the most important pilgrimage
spot in this part of southern India.
The devastation of the Deccan and South India by the armies
of the Delhi sultan at the turn of the fourteenth century provided opportunities
for local warriors to assert their autonomy. Among these were Sangama
and his five sons, who were probably local chiefs in the service of
This local ruler valiantly fought the invaders, but lost his life in
1327. The Sangama brothers established themselves in the Hampi area,
donating to the Virupaksha temple there and adding temples
on Hemakuta hill immediately to the south. From here, they set out to
reclaim the territories lost to the sultanate armies, thereby creating
a vast kingdom that extended all the way to Tamilnadu. In the course
of the second half of the fourteenth century, under Bukka
I (reigned 1355-77) and Harihara
II (reigned 1377-1404), the Hampi tirtha had been
incorporated into a walled city, which they named Vijayanagara.
The ramparts of the city exploited the defensive advantages of the rocky
landscape, while the river protected the city’s northern flank
and provided essential water for agriculture and domestic use. At the
core of this walled zone was the royal centre,
where the Sangama kings had their palaces, private chapels
for worship and platforms and halls for their royal ceremonies.
By the beginning of the fifteenth century, under
two successive Sangama kings both named Devaraya
(1406-22 and 1424-46), the city was further expanded with
the construction of additional protective walls and gateways.
By this time, Vijayanagara had become a true capital city with
a varied population of people from all parts of southern India, including
Jains and Muslims. The reputation of Vijayanagara as a mighty capital
spread rapidly. Foreign visitors were attracted to the city, and their
descriptions of the splendours of the Vijayanagara court provide important
evidence of life in the city. Among the royal structures constructed
at this time were the domed Elephant
Stables built in a style influenced by the architecture
of the Bahmanis.
These sultans governed a kingdom that lay to the north of Vijayanagara,
at the heart of the Deccan plateau. Frequent raids and wars between
the Sangamas and the Bahmanis resulted from their attempts to control
of the richly irrigated lands that lay in between their capitals.
Building activity at Vijayanagara was halted temporarily toward the
end of the fifteenth century, as a result of two successive military
coupes. Stability was restored only at the turn of the sixteenth century
by the rulers of the Tuluva dynasty. Under Krishnadevaraya
(reigned 1510-29) and his bother-in-law Achyutaraya
(reigned 1529-42), the city was greatly expanded. New suburbs with great
temple complexes were laid out, including those dedicated to Balakrishna,Tiruvengalanatha
Meanwhile, the Virupaksha cult at Hampi was renovated and expanded,
and a new palace was established some 12 kilometres away, at a site
coinciding with the modern town of Hospet.
Conflict with the Deccan sultans intensified during Tuluva times, leading
eventually to the famous battle fought near Talikota, a site some 100
km away from the capital, in January 1565. After the catastrophic defeat
of their army, the Vijayanagara king
and court fled the capital, leaving it to the mercy of the sultanate
soldiers. Judging from the extensive destruction, the city was sacked
and wooden structures were burnt.
Both sultanate and Vijayanagara officers briefly attempted to reoccupy
the remains of the city after its destruction. Soon thereafter, the
ruins were left to agriculturalists, treasure seekers and tigers. However,
some suburbs, such as Anegondi, continued to be inhabited.