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The king was the ultimate authority in the kingdom. He was also the supreme commander of the army. He was assisted by several high-ranking officers. The chief minister was known as the mahapradhani. He led a number of lower-ranking officers, like Dalavay (commander), Vassal (guard of the palace), Rayasam (secretary/ accountant), Adaippam (personal attendant), and Kariya-karta (executive agents). As Harihara I and his immediate successors consolidated their territorial acquisitions, they tried to organize the territory by creating administrative divisions called rajyas or provinces each under a governor called pradhani. Some of the prominent rajyas were the Hoysala rajya, Araga, Barakur (Mangalur), and Muluvay. As and when new conquests were made they were put under new rajyas. By 1400, there were five rajyas in the Tamil area: Chandragiri, Padaividu, Valudalampattu, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruvarur. The pradhaniwas either a royal member or a military officer not related to the royal family. The pradhani had his own revenue accountants and military to assist in his administration. Within each rajya, there were smaller administrative divisions like nadu, sima, sthala, kampana, etc. The lowest unit was of course the village. The rajyas lost their administrative and revenue status under the Tuluva dynasty due to the development of the Nayak system under Krishadevaraya.
The term Nayak is used from thirteenth century onwards in Telugu and Kannada areas in the sense of a military leader or simply soldier. Assigning the revenue of a particular locality to the Nayak for their military service is found in the Kakatiya kingdom during the thirteenth century. This is similar to the iqta system practiced by the Delhi Sultanate at that time. But in the Vijayanagar kingdom the regular assignment of revenue yielding territory in return for military service is clearly found only from about 1500 or a little earlier. Inscriptions refer to this revenue assignment as nayakkattanam in Tamil, Nayaktanam in Kannada, and nayankaramu in Telugu. The practice became established during the reign of Krishnadevaraya and Achyuta Devaraya. This is supported by the evidence of inscriptions and by the accounts of Nuniz and Paes. Nuniz says that the Vijayanagar kingdom at that time was divided between more than two hundred captains (his translation for Nayak) and they were compelled in turn to keep certain number of military forces (horses and foot soldiers) to serve the king in times of need: they were also required to pay certain amount of the revenue to the king in particular times of a year, like during the nine-day Mahanavami festival. Nuniz’ statement is also supported by Telugu work Rayavachakamu, which refers to the practice during the time of Krishnadevaraya. Later-day vamsavalis (family history) of the Palayagars, who were mostly successors of the old Nayak families, support the fact that the Nayak system was perfected during the time of Krishnadevaraya. Most of these Nayak were the Kannadiga and Telugu warriors besides some local chiefs. They belonged to different castes, Brahmana as well as non-Brahmana. The non-Brahmana Nayak again had different social backgrounds: traditional warrior groups, pastoral and forest clans (Yadava, Billama), peasant families (Reddi), merchants (Balija) and so on. Some of the prominent Nayak, like Chellappa under Krishnadevaraya, were brahmanas.
This system worked smoothly as long as there were strong kings like Krishnadevaraya. These chiefs controlled production within their Nayaktanam territories by creating commercial centres (pettai) and markets, by encouraging settlement of cultivators and artisans with tax concessions, by creating and maintaining irrigation facilities, etc. Many of them started as high officials (commander, governor,accountant, etc.) and served as the king’s agents. After the Talikota battle, the Nayak chiefs became more or less independent of the Vijayanagar king. Some of them, like those of Madurai, Tanjavur, Ikkeri, etc. established powerful states controlling many smaller chiefs under them. The seventeenth century was the century of these bigger Nayak kingdoms.
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