When we think of Vijayanagara  kingdom, it reminds us of four prominent names viz. Sri Krishna Devaraya, Maha Manthri Thimmarusu, Hampi and the Ashta Diggajas( 8 Poets). Undoubtedly Sri Krishna Devaraya was the most successful ruler of Vijayanagara dynasty and was one of the most famous kings in the history of India and is considered as the greatest Hindu king to have ever lived. With Hampi as his capital, Sri Krishna Devaraya ruled the Vijayanagara kingdom during 1509-1529 AD. He was a dynamic and multifaceted personality, a great warrior, a great leader and a good administrator.He was ably assisted by his mentor Sri Thimmarusu, affectionately called as Appaji, and popularly known as Maha Manthri Thimmarusu. He was also his (Krishna Devaraya’s) Prime Minister who was known for his tactical skill. Sri Krishna Devaraya was associated with the great Madhwa saint and philosopher Sri Vyasarajaru (Vyasarayaru) who was his Raja Guru and helped Sri Krishna Devaraya to pass through a crisis in his life by ascending the throne for a brief period.The present Rayalaseema (The land of Krishnarayalu) of Andhra Pradesh forms the core of Krishnarayalu’s Empire. A lot of information about his reign comes from the accounts of Portuguese travelers Domingos Paes and Nuniz.

Krishnadevaraya also called Krishnaraya or Srikrishna Devarayalu was born to King Narasa Nayaka of Tuluva dynasty and is stated to have ascended the throne on the death of his brother Veera-Narasimha Rayalu  in May 1509. An empire-wide exemption of the marriage-tax seems to be almost the first act that the king enacted soon after assuming the reins of the kingdom. The daily proceedings in the court took place in Telugu. Krishnadevaraya said about Telugu: “Desabhashalandu Telugu lessa”. It means “Telugu is the best among the national languages”.

Within six months of his coronation, Krishnadevaraya started his military campaigns by invading and defeating the sultanate of Bidar and the king of Bidar’s ally, Yusuf Adil Khan.By the year 1510, most of northern Karnataka was under his rule. Krishnadevaraya conquered Raichur, Gulburga and Bidar. Having conquered such vast lands, he built a beautiful city in Srirangapatnam and made it the capital of Vijayanagaram. By 1516 Vijayanagar’s territory stretched all the way to the Krishna and Godavari rivers. Krishna Devaraya’s conquests forced him to continually  at war with Bijapur and Golconda, both of which he successfully defeated and captured the commander of Golconda, Madurul-Mulk. The highlight of his conquests occurred on May 19, 1520 where he secured the fortress of Raichur from Ismail Adil Shah of Bijapur after a difficult seige during which 16,000 Vijaynagara soldiers were killed. During the campaign against Raichur, it is said that 703,000 infantry, 32,600 cavalry and 551 elephants were used. Finally, in his last battle, he razed to the ground the fortress of Gulburga, the early capital of the Bahmani sultanate. His empire extended over wide areas of the present day Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

He utilized his trading skills to obtain the Portuguese guns and Arabian horses in order to strengthen his kingdom. He also utilized the Portuguese expertise in improving water supply to Vijayanagaram City. A traveler to Vijayanagara, Domingo Paes, describes Krishnadevaraya’s Vijayanagara as “the best provided city in the world with a population of not less than a half a million.” In fact he estimated the size of the city to be around that of Rome at that time. He also described Krishnadevaraya as “the most feared and perfect king that could possibly be, cheerful of disposition and very merry, he is one that seeks to honor foreigners, receives them kindly. He is a great ruler and man of much justice.” The empire was divided into a number of provinces often under members of the royal family and into further sub divisions.

Emperor Krishnarayalu was not only a great warrior and administrator but also an accomplished poet. As a patron of art and Telugu literature he was unsurpassed in the history of Telugu people. He wrote Amuktamalyada, a ‘prabandhamu.’ Prabandhamu is a variety of Telugu poetry which is mainly a narrative or a continued discourse. Often sensuality (sringaramu) dominates in Prabandha. Amuktamalyada’ tells the well-known story of the daughter of Periazhvar, Goda Devi, who used to wear the garlands intended for Lord Ranganatha before they were offered to the deity, and hence the name ‘Amukta Malya Da’ — one who wears and gives away garlands. In Amuktamalyada, Emperor Krishnaraya beautifully describes the pangs of separation suffered by Goda devi (the human incarnation of mother Earth, the wife of Lord Vishnu) for her lover Lord Vishnu. He describes Godadevi’s physical beauty in thirty verses. Even the descriptions of spring and monsoon seasons add to the strength of sensuality. The sensual pleasure of union extends beyond the physical level and becomes a path to the spirituality and ultimate union with the lord Vishnu leading to Moksha, a state of being united with God. Here Godadevi represents the humanity and her longing for Lord Vishnu (the Ultimate Supreme God) is the humanity’s search for Moksha and divinity. One of the main characters in this ‘prabandhamu’ is Vishnuchittudu, the father of Goda Devi. Lord Vishnu commands Vishnuchittudu to teach King of Pandya Dynasty the path of knowledge to Moksha. There are several short tales described in Amuktamalyada in the course of the main story of Goda Devi, e.g., narration of Khandikhya-Kesidvaja, Maladasari, Yamunacharya, Chandala-Brahmarakshasa Vivadamu-the argument between chandala (outcaste) and brahmarakshasa (spirit of a Brahmin), etc. The main purpose of this prabandhamu is to spread the Vaishnavite religion and the path of knowledge. Emperor Krishnarayalu was also well-versed in Sanskrit and Kannada languages. “Jambavati Kalyanamu” is his Sanskrit work.

As a king, Krishnadevaraya is known to have built many temples in his kingdom, restrengthening Hinduism after India’s lands had fallen to Muslim sultans. Krishnadevaraya did a lot for Hinduism in a rather dark era for Hinduism. Krishna Devaraya respected all sects of Hinduism, although he personally leaned in favour of Vaishnavism. Apart from being a great ruler and warrior, Sri Krishna Devaraya was also a great patron of art and culture. He himself was a great scholar and poet and he had in his court many poetic stalwarts in different languages. Prominent among them were eight great poetic personalities who were referred to as Ashta Diggajas. He had a great passion for Telugu language besides himself being a great scholar and poet in Telugu. Eight poets known as Astadiggajalu(eight elephants in the eight cardinal points such as North, South etc.) were part of his court known as Bhuvanavijayamu. According to the Vaishnavite tradition there are eight elephants in eight corners in space and hold the earth in its place. Similarly these eight poets were the eight pillars of his literary assembly. These Astadiggajas were: Allasani Peddana, Nandi Thimmana, Madayyagari Mallana, Dhurjati, Ayyalaraju Ramambhadrudu, Pingali Surana, Ramarajabhushanudu, and Tenali Ramakrishnudu. Among these eight poets Allasani Peddana is considered to be the greatest and is given the title of Andhra Kavita Pitamaha (the father of Telugu poetry). The period of the Empire is known as “Prabandha Period,” because of the quality of the Prabandha literature produced during this time.

Sri Krishnadevaraya lavished on the Tirupati temple numerous objects of priceless value ranging from diamond studded crowns to golden swords. He is known to have commissioned the making of statutes of himself and his two wives at the temple complex. This can be seen in a mandapam at Tirupathi temple and is called Sri Krishna Deva Raya Mandapam or Pratima Mandapam. It hosts the bronze portrait icons of the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadevaraya and his two consorts, Tirumala Devi to his left and Chinna Devi to his right.

Sri krishnadevaraya’s  son Tirumala having predeceased him, Achyuta succeeded the throne after the death of the Sri Krishnadevaraya at the end of 1529. It is said that as per scripts his coronation took place on 26th July 1509. His reign was known as a Golden era and his capital Hampi in Bellary district of Karnataka state is today a world heritage centre attracting lakhs of pilgrims from across the world.

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