Hare and the Hound: The Story of Vijayanagara
The emergence of Vijayanagara state has been a subject of scholarly debate among historians, with various theories and perspectives. One of the debatable points is whether it was a Hindu kingdom, and the origins of the Sangama brothers who founded the state. Scholars have used various sources, including contemporary accounts, foreign traveler accounts, inscriptions, and contemporary court historians to explore these questions.
In the mid-fourteenth century, two independent kingdoms were established in the south peninsula of India. The first was the Vijayanagara Empire, founded by indigenous warriors who shaped the society and culture of south India for centuries thereafter. The second was the Bahmani Empire, established by Central Asian Muslim warriors in the Deccan in 1347. The Islamic religion and culture that had taken root in the Deccan under the Tughluq sultans of Delhi’s continued to flourish in subsequent times. The Vijayanagara Empire extended from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal and from the Deccan Plateau to the tip of the peninsula.
The Myth of the Hare and the Hound
One myth associated with the emergence of the Vijayanagara Empire is the story of the “Hare and the Hounds.” According to this tale, the first two kings of Vijayanagara, Hukka and Bukka, were out hunting in the Hampi region when the hare that was being pursued by their hunting dogs suddenly turned on its adversaries and began to chase the fierce hounds. On being consulted by the two brothers, the great sage Vidyaranya who was meditating at the site, explained the meaning of this omen- this was an auspicious spot to situate a capital for here the weak would become strong and would challenge the mighty. The Rayavachakamu, a Telugu text written in the reign of Krishnadevaraya, emphasizes the same theme through a different myth.
The first rulers of the Vijayanagara state were the two brothers who belonged to the Sangama family. The Sangama brothers consisted of Bukka, Harihara, Kampana, Mudappa, and Marappa. The question is where they came from. Although both the Karnataka and Andhra regions claimed them as sons of the soil, scholars have disagreed on whether the Sangamas were warriors initially from the Karnataka region or from the Andhra region to its east. Hermann Kulke and Phillip Wagoner have given a different interpretation that the Sangama brothers were probably local warriors from Karnataka who first served in the army of Hoysala king, neither converted to Islam nor were they affiliated with a Hindu sage.
The Muhammad Tughluq’s loss of authority over Dulatabad (Deccan) was the responsible cause for the emergence of the new state, which was called Vijayanagara or “city of Victory.” Sangamas held a major ceremony in 1346 to celebrate their conquest up to that time; this probably marks the true commencement of their kingdom, rather than the traditional date of 1336. Sangama brothers were initially sent as representatives of the Delhi Sultanate to take over the administration of Kampili from Malik Muhammad and deal with the revolt of the Hindu subject. But the Sangama brothers established their own independent kingdom on Hindu fold with the help of a sage Vidyaranya according to Hindu tradition.
Burton Stein’s work “Vijayanagara” provides a detailed analysis of the historiography of the Vijayanagara state, which he divides into three phases. The first phase was characterized by the work of European Orientalists such as Mark Wilks and Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who relied on earlier Indian accounts and Indian subordinates to construct a narrative of the kingdom. The second phase, according to Stein, saw the emergence of nationalist historiography with an anti-Muslim bias, as exemplified by Krishnaswami Aiyangar and Heras. In the third phase, scholars like Saletore and Venkataramanayya saw the history of Vijayanagara as a basis for the narrower nationalism or regional patriotisms of Karnataka and Andhra.
The debate over whether Vijayanagara was a Hindu kingdom or not is a contentious one. However, one can argue against the notion that religion was the first priority of the rulers. The main focus of the Vijayanagara kings was territorial expansion and consolidation of the kingdom, rather than religion. An important agricultural zone near the capital was the Raichur Doab, which was a zone of contention throughout the Vijayanagara period and control over it changed frequently and violently. The Raichur Doab was the main issue of rivalry between the Bahamini Sultanate and the Vijayanagara Empire. The western coast was also a source of conflict between the two states, as it would confer direct access to the maritime routes of the Indian Ocean.
The Vijayanagara kings, known as the Lord of men or Infantry (Narpati), borrowed military personnel and technologies from contemporary rulers like the Bahmani. During the reign of Devaraya II (r. 1432-46), there was a significant effort to narrow the military gap, and Muslims were highly respected for their martial skills. Devaraya II reputedly enlisted 200 special force called the “Turushka Regiment,” which was made up of Muslim soldiers. This move not only helped to close the military gap but also reflected the tolerant nature of Vijayanagara society. Despite being in a state of constant conflict with the Muslim kingdoms to the north, Vijayanagara continued to maintain diplomatic and economic relations with them.
Moreover, the Vijayanagara Empire was not just a military power but also a cultural and economic one. Its capital, Vijayanagara, was a center of learning and attracted scholars and artists from across the subcontinent. The empire also had a thriving trade network that spanned across Southeast Asia, China, and Europe. The wealth generated from trade helped to fund the military and other endeavors of the empire.
However, despite its military might, cultural richness, and economic prosperity, the Vijayanagara Empire faced a significant threat from within. The rise of the five Deccan Sultanates in the 16th century posed a severe challenge to Vijayanagara’s dominance. The Sultanates, which were formed after the disintegration of the Bahmani Sultanate, were able to unite against the common enemy and defeat the Vijayanagara army in the Battle of Talikota in 1565. The defeat resulted in the collapse of the Vijayanagara Empire, which was subsequently pillaged and destroyed.
Overall, the Vijayanagara Empire was a significant power in medieval India, and its military strength was a key factor in its success. However, it was also a complex society that valued cultural and economic pursuits, which contributed to its overall prosperity. The empire’s downfall serves as a reminder that military might alone cannot guarantee the survival of a state, and that other factors such as diplomacy, governance, and economic stability also play a critical role in ensuring a nation’s survival.