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An Imperial Capital of Vijayanagara | Class 12 History Notes

The chapter introduces students to one of the greatest empires of southern India, the Vijayanagara empire. We highlight various dynasties and all the developments that happened during their regime, also the architectural wisdom of the empire and some of the greatest temples.



The rebellion against the Tughluq led to the establishment of the Vijayanagara Empire. The militarization of politics in the peninsular region played a major role in shaping the history of the empire.

Many significant developments like urbanisation and monetized economy caused the political and military Conflict among the major kingdoms of the peninsular area.

The Development of the Empire

The Vijayanagara empire was established by the two brothers Harihara & Bukka Rai in 1336. The empire included the territories from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The kingdom lasted for about 230 years, in this time span, many dynasties ruled the kingdom of Vijayanagar.


  • Sangama Dynasty (1336-1485)

  • Saluva Dynasty (1885-1505)

  • Taluva Dynasty (1505-1565)

The Discovery of Hampi

What is the relevance of Hampi in the history of the Vijayanagara Empire?

Hampi is an ancient village in Karnataka, situated on the south bank of river Tungabhadra.

The Vijayanagara Empire is well known for its temple architecture where the ruins of the numerous temple complexes were found.

The Virupaksha temple is one of the archaeological structures situated in Hampi, which was built in the reign of Devaraya-II, a prominent Sangama Ruler.

What was the role of the East India Company?

The East India Company published the first authentic Geographical map of South India.

Colonel Colin Mackenzie was the first one to bring to light the rich architectural heritage of the Vijayanagar Ruins at Hampi.

All the local histories, inscriptions, religious practices & cultures were recorded. The initial information was based on the memory of the priest of the Virupaksha Temple and the shrine of Pampa Devi.

Subsequently, from 1856, photographers began to record the monuments which enabled scholars to study them.

As early as 1836 epigraphists began collecting several dozen inscriptions found at this and other temples at Hampi.

The accounts of the foreign travellers like Nicolo Conti & Abdul Razzaq and other literature written in various languages like Telugu, Kannada, Tamil & Sanskrit.

Krishna Deva Raya

The ruler Krishna deva Raya belonged to the Tuluva Dynasty. His rule was characterised by consolidation & expansion.

  • He was a very powerful ruler; he defeated the Bahmani kings & the kings of Orissa.

  • He also annexed the Raichur Doab, the land between Tungabhadra & the Krishna River.

  • Krishna Deva Raya is credited with building some fine temples & adding impressive Gopuram to many temples in south India.

  • He also founded a Suburban Township near Vijayanagar called Nagalapuram after his mother.

The Vijayanagara competed with contemporary rulers

On their Northern Frontier, the kingdom competed with many rulers; the Sultans of Deccan & the Gajapati rulers of Orissa.

Some of the areas that were incorporated within the empire had witnessed the development of powerful states such as those of the Cholas in Tamil Nadu and the Hoysalas in Karnataka.

Kings and Traders

This mediaeval period relied on effective cavalry, which had brought in horses from Arabia and Central Asia.

The local traders, called kuthirai chettis, supplied horses to the Vijayanagara kings.

In 1498, the Portuguese arrived and quickly established commerce and military bases. Their superior military technology, particularly their employment of muskets, allowed them to rise to prominence.

Spices, fabrics, and precious stones are also sold in Vijayanagar marketplaces. For cities like these, trade was seen as a prestige symbol.

After the death of Krishna Deva Raya, the Vijayanagara was weakened, and his successor was plagued by the Nayaks or military commanders.

After 1542, Aravidu seized control of the capital and ruled until the end of the 17th century. In 1565, Rama Raya, Vijayanagara's chief minister, led his army into the Battle of Rakshasi-Tangadi (also known as Talikota), when his forces were beaten by the united armies of Bijapur and Talikota.

Golconda and Ahmadnagar are two of the most important cities in the state of Gujarat.

Bijapur, Golconda, and Ahmednagar's victorious forces banded together and sacked Vijayanagar.

In a few years, the city was completely depopulated.

The Vijayanagara Empire's Amara Nayaka system was a significant political development. Many aspects of this system are considered to have been taken from the Delhi Sultanate's Iqta system.

In the Vijayanagara empire, military chiefs wielded power, controlling forts and commanding armies. They went from place to place, accompanied by peasants who were looking for fertile land to dwell.

The Raya entrusted the Amara-nayakas with the administration of their respective areas. Taxes and other fees were collected from peasants and artisans.

A portion of the money was kept for personal use and to keep a specified number of horses and elephants in the stable.

The money was utilised to keep the temples in good repair. The Amara-nayakas paid yearly tribute to the king and came to the royal court with presents to show their devotion.

They were occasionally transferred from one location to another by kings to establish their authority over them.

Many of these Nayakas created their own kingdoms during the seventeenth century.

The central imperial structure's downfall was expedited by this.

Architectural Wisdom of Vijayanagara

What were the exciting features of the water resources that the Vijayanagara Empire had?

The Natural basin formed by the river Tungabhadra was the most exciting feature of the Vijayanagara.

The surrounding landscape is characterised by stunning granite hills that form a girdle around the city. A number of streams flow down to the river from these rocky outcrops.

Reservoirs & tanks of various sizes were built along these streams to store water and conduct it to the city. The foreign traveller ‘Domingo Paes’ also praised the ingenuity of the Krishna Deva Raya, considering the Kamalapuram tank.

Water from these fields was used for irrigation and was also conducted through channels to ‘Royal Centre’. The ‘Hiriya Canal’ is one of the most prominent waterworks.


The empire had amazing and impressive fortifications in the different parts; the empire was enclosed by the great fortress walls. There were seven lines of forts. These encircled not only the city of Vijayanagara but also its agricultural land and forests.

The ambassador of the ruler of Persia, Abdul Razzaq was highly impressed by the fortifications. He mentioned seven lines of the fort, which encircle the major areas also the agricultural hinterland and forests.

The outermost wall linked the hills surrounding the city. The massive masonry construction was slightly tapered.

No mortar or cementing agent was employed anywhere in the construction.

The stone blocks were wedge-shaped, which held them in place, and the inner portion of the walls was of earth packed with rubble. Abdul Razzaq noted that between the first, second & third walls agricultural tracts and garden fields were built.

Domingo Paes observed that “from the first circuit enter the city there is a great distance, in which are fields in which they sow rice and have many gardens and much water, in which water comes from two lakes.”

Why were agricultural tracts incorporated within the fortified areas?

The objective of mediaeval sieges was to starve the defenders into submission. These sieges could last for several months and sometimes even years.

The rulers prepared themselves for such situations by building large granaries within fortified areas.

The rulers of Vijayanagara adopted a more expensive and elaborate strategy of protecting the agricultural belt itself.

The second line of fortification went around the inner core of the urban complex & the third surrounded the royal centre. Each set of the major buildings was surrounded by its own high walls.

Roads in Vijayanagar

The roads in the empire were planned before being laid. The fort was entered through well-guarded gates, which linked the city to the major roads.

The roads have been identified by tracing paths through gateways, as well as by finds of pavements. Roads generally wound around through the valleys, avoiding rocky terrain.

Some of the most important roads extended from temple gateways and were lined by bazaars.

The Urban core

The urban core was the elite residential zone of the Vijayanagara capital. The evidence of ‘fine Chinese porcelain’ in some areas, including in the north-eastern corner of the urban core suggests that these areas may have been occupied by rich traders.

Tombs and mosques found here have distinctive functions; their architecture resembles that of Mandapas found in the temples of Hampi.

The entire area was dotted with numerous shrines and small temples, pointing towards the prevalence of various Cults, perhaps supported by different communities. The wells, rainwater tanks as well as temple tanks may have served as sources of water to the ordinary town dwellers.

The Royal Centre

What are the features of the Royal Centre?

The royal centre was located in the southwestern parts of the settlement. It includes 30 temples.

About 30 building complexes have been identified as places. These are relatively large structures that do not seem to have been associated with ritual functions.

The difference between the structures and temples is that temples were constructed of masonry, while the secular buildings were made of perishable materials.

The most distinctive structure was the “Kings Place” which is the largest of the enclosures but has not yielded definitive evidence of being a royal residence.

It has an audience hall & the “Mahanavmi Dibba” ; the entire complex was surrounded by high double walls with a street running in between them. The Audience hall has a high platform with slots for wooden pillars at close and regular intervals. It has a staircase running up to the second floor.

The Mahanavmi Dibba was a platform rising from the base of about 11000 sq. ft to a height of supported a wooden structure. The base was covered with relief carvings.

What were the rituals performed at Mahanavmi Dibba?

The following rituals were performed:

  • Worship of the Image

  • Worship of the state horse

  • The sacrifice of buffaloes & other animals.

  • Dancing, wrestling matches etc.

  • Durga pooja, Navaratri or Mahanavami were also celebrated.

The Vijayanagara kings displayed their prestige, power and suzerainty on this occasion.

The Lotus Mahal

It is the most beautiful structure named by British travellers in the nineteenth century. It is a two-storeyed pavilion made on a slightly uplifted platform. The ground floor of the structure is not enclosed by walls on any side.

The upper floor is a closed pavilion with many rectangular windows.

The ceilings of the structure are engraved with the resembling structures of the Hindu Temples.

The Elephant Stable

The Elephant Stables is another important structure, it has Eleven rooms & beautiful structures over them. This was used for keeping Special elephants for the King's Family.

Hazara Rama Temple

The Hazara Rama Temple was meant to be used by the King and his family. The inner walls had a sculpture with scenes of Ramayana.

Many of these structures were destroyed when this city got sacked.

The Sacred Centre

The hills surrounding the Sacred Centre sheltered the monkey kingdom of Bali & Sugriva as mentioned in Ramayana.

The Pampadevi, (local mother goddess), did penance in these hills in order to marry Virupaksha, the guardian deity of the kingdom, also recognised as a form of Shiva. These hills were associated with several sacred traditions such as Pallavas, Hoysalas, Chalukyas.

Maintaining The Temples

What was the role of the rulers in building & maintaining the temples?

The Rulers encouraged temple building as they were comparing themselves with the divine. Temples were also the centres of learning and rulers often granted land and other resources for maintenance.

The point of view of the rulers, constructing, repairing and maintaining temples were important means of winning support and recognition for their power, wealth and piety.

The kings of Vijayanagara claimed to rule on the behalf of lord Virupaksha

All royal orders were signed “Shri Virupaksha”, usually in the Kannada script. Rulers also indicated their close links with the gods by using the title “Hindu Suratrana”.

This was a Sanskritisation of the Arabic term Sultan, meaning king, so it literally meant Hindu Sultan.

Gopurams & Mandapas

The Raya gopurams or royal gateways often dwarfed the towers on the central shrines and signalled the presence of the temple from a great distance.

They were usually meant as a reminder of the power of the kings.

Other distinctive features include mandapas or pavilions and long, pillared corridors that often ran around the shrines within the temple complex.

Virupaksha Temple

The temple was built in the 10th century. The hall in front of the main shrine was built by Krishna Deva Raya.

He is also credited with the construction of Eastern Gopuram, which made the centre small. The halls in the temple were used for a variety of purposes.

Some were spaces in which the images of gods were placed to witness special programmes of music, dance, drama, etc.

Others were used to celebrate the marriages of deities, and yet others were meant for the deities to swing in.

The Vitthala Temple

Principal Deity: Vitthala (A form of Vishnu)

The introduction of the worship of the deity in Karnataka is another indication of the ways in which the rulers of Vijayanagara drew on different traditions to create an imperial culture.

As in the case of other temples, this temple too has several halls and a unique shrine designed as a chariot.

How the bazaars were plotted and placed?

The planning and plotting were done using different techniques like Mapping. The first step was to divide the entire area into a set of 25 squares, each designated by a letter of the alphabet.

Then, each of the small squares was subdivided into a set of even smaller squares. This was not all: each of these smaller squares was further subdivided into yet smaller units.


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