In early 14th century, the Delhi Sultanate set out on an ambitious plan to capture vast areas of the Deccan and South India. They conquered most of the Indian subcontinent by 1327 CE under the leadership of Muhammad bin Tughlaq. However, to rule over and defend such a vast territory proved to be challenging and by the 1330s, they had lost control over the Deccan. This along with the wipeout of the old local kingdoms created a power vacuum and paved the way for local chieftains to assert themselves.
One such duo were two brothers named Harihara and Bukka from the Sangam family. Inspired by Guru Vidyaranya of the Sringeri Mutt, they built an army to resist invasion from the Islamic ruler of Delhi. Their cause of protecting faith, culture, and traditions found much favour locally and gave them a strong identity.
They established their capital in Hampi in 1336 CE and renamed the city Vijayanagara (City of Victory). This led to the birth of the Vijayanagara Empire. Not only did they keep the Sultanate at bay, they even captured large territories in the surrounding region. Consequently, their empire covered most of Southern India within a period of 30 years.
Even before the Vijayanagara Empire, Hampi was already a place of great religious importance. The Sangam brothers established themselves as protectors of the Hindu faith by making it their capital and won the approval of the vast population.
What also made Hampi a great location for a capital city was its terrain. The boulder hills on all sides of the region acted as a natural line of defence against invading armies. These hills also provided an inexhaustible supply of granite for building the great city. The river Tunghabadra flowing through Hampi provided water for agriculture, which in turn fed its inhabitants.
While the Vijayanagara Empire established itself with a strong Hindu Identity, it has to be noted that the Kings were liberal. They allowed people of all faiths to live in the city and practise their faith. The Empire’s military included Muslim militia and the Kings married princesses from neighbouring Islamic Kingdoms. Jains and Muslims also built their places of worship within the capital city.
The city is believed to have housed half a million residents at its peak. This would make it the second largest city in the world at that time. Many Persian, European and Chinese travellers have chronicled their experiences in the great city of Vijayanagara. Join us on the next blog article where we cover the social life during the Vijayanagara period.