The Tuluva dynasty was founded by Vira Narasimha. The greatest of the Vijayanagar rulers, Krishna Deva Raya belonged to the Tuluva dynasty. He possessed great military ability. His imposing personality was accompanied by high intellectual quality. His first task was to check the invading Bahmani forces. By that time the Bahmani kingdom was replaced by Deccan Sultanates. The Muslim armies were decisively defeated in the battle of Diwani by Krishna Deva Raya. Then he invaded Raichur Doab which had resulted in the confrontation with the Sultan of Bijapur, Ismail Adil Shah. But, Krishna Deva Raya defeated him and captured the city of Raichur in 1520. From there he marched on Bidar and captured it.
Krishna Deva Raya's Orissa campaign was also successful. He defeated the Gajapathi ruler Prataparudra and conquered the whole of Telungana. He maintained friendly relations with the Portuguese. Albuquerque sent his ambassadors to Krishna Deva Raya.
Though a Vaishnavaite, he respected all religions. He was a great patron of literature and art and he was known as Andhra Bhoja. Eight eminent scholars known as Ashtadiggajas were at his royal court. Allasani Peddanna was the greatest and he was called Andhrakavita Pitamaga. His important works include Manucharitam and Harikathasaram. Pingali Suranna and Tenali Ramakrishna were other important scholars. Krishna Deva Raya himself authored a Telugu work, Amukthamalyadha and Sanskrit works,Jambavati Kalyanam and Ushaparinayam.
He repaired most of the temples of south India. He also built the famous Vittalaswamy and Hazara Ramaswamy temples at Vijayanagar. He also built a new city called Nagalapuram in memory of his queen Nagaladevi. Besides, he built a large number of Rayagopurams.
After his death, Achutadeva and Venkata succeeded the throne. During the reign of Rama Raya, the combined forces of Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Golkonda and Bidar defeated him at the Battle of Talaikotta in 1565. This battle is also known as Raksasa Thangadi. Rama Raya was imprisoned and executed. The city of Vijayanagar was destroyed. This battle was generally considered to mark the end of the Vijayanagar Empire. However, the Vijayanagar kingdom existed under the Aravidu dynasty for about another century. Thirumala, Sri Ranga and Venkata II were the important rulers of this dynasty. The last ruler of Vijayanagar kingdom was Sri Ranga III.
The administration under the Vijayanagar Empire was well organized. The king enjoyed absolute authority in executive, judicial and legislative matters. He was the highest court of appeal. The succession to the throne was on the principle of hereditary. Sometimes usurpation to the throne took place as Saluva Narasimha came to power by ending the Sangama dynasty. The king was assisted by a council of ministers in his day to day administration.
The Empire was divided into different administrative units called Mandalams, Nadus, sthalas and finally into gramas. The governor of Mandalam was called Mandaleswara or Nayak. Vijayanagar rulers gave full powers to the local authorities in the administration.
Besides land revenue, tributes and gifts from vassals and feudal chiefs, customs collected at the ports, taxes on various professions were other sources of income to the government. Land revenue was fixed generally one sixth of the produce. The expenditure of the government includes personal expenses of king and the charities given by him and military expenditure. In the matter of justice, harsh punishments such as mutilation and throwing to elephants were followed.
The Vijayanagar army was well-organized and efficient. It consisted of the cavalry, infantry, artillery and elephants. High-breed horses were procured from foreign traders. The top-grade officers of the army were known as Nayaks or Poligars. They were granted land in lieu of their services. These lands were called amaram. Soldiers were usually paid in cash.
Allasani Peddanna in his Manucharitam refers the existence of four castes - Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras - in the Vijayanagar society. Foreign travelers left vivid accounts on the splendour of buildings and luxurious social life in the city of Vijayanagar. Silk and cotton clothes were mainly used for dress. Perfumes, flowers and ornaments were used by the people. Paes mentions of the beautiful houses of the rich and the large number of their household servants. Nicolo Conti refers to the prevalence of slavery. Dancing, music, wrestling, gambling and cock-fighting were some of the amusements.
The Sangama rulers were chiefly Saivaites and Virupaksha was their family deity. But other dynasties were Vaishnavites. Srivaishnavism of Ramanuja was very popular. But all kings were tolerant towards other religions. Borbosa referred to the religious freedom enjoyed by everyone. Muslims were employed in the administration and they were freely allowed to build mosques and worship. A large number of temples were built during this period and numerous festivals were celebrated. The Epics and the Puranas were popular among the masses.
The position of women had not improved. However, some of them were learned. Gangadevi, wife of Kumarakampana authored the famous work Maduravijayam. Hannamma and Thirumalamma were famous poets of this period. According to Nuniz, a large number of women were employed in royal palaces as dancers, domestic servants and palanquin bearers. The attachment of dancing girls to temples was in practice. Paes refers to the flourishing devadasi system. Polygamy was prevalent among the royal families. Sati was honoured and Nuniz gives a description of it.
According to the accounts of the foreign travelers, the Vijayanagar Empire was one of the wealthiest parts of the world at that time. Agriculture continued to be the chief occupation of the people. The Vijayanagar rulers provided a stimulus to its further growth by providing irrigation facilities. New tanks were built and dams were constructed across the rivers like Tunghabadra. Nuniz refers to the excavation of canals.
There were numerous industries and they were organized into guilds. Metal workers and other craftsmen flourished during this period. Diamond mines were located in Kurnool and Anantapur district. Vijayanagar was also a great centre of trade. The chief gold coin was the varaha but weights and measures varied from place to place. Inland, coastal and overseas trade led to the general prosperity. There were a number of seaports on the Malabar coast, the chief being Cannanore. Commercial contacts with Arabia, Persia, South Africa and Portugal on the west and with Burma, Malay peninsula and China on the east flourished. The chief items of exports were cotton and silk clothes, spices, rice, iron, saltpeter and sugar. The imports consisted of horses, pearls, copper, coral, mercury, China silk and velvet clothes. The art of shipbuilding had developed.
The temple building activity further gained momentum during the Vijayanagar rule. The chief characteristics of the Vijayanagara architecture were the construction of tall Raya Gopurams or gateways and the Kalyanamandapam with carved pillars in the temple premises. The sculptures on the pillars were carved with distinctive features. The horse was the most common animal found in these pillars. Large mandapams contain one hundred pillars as well as one thousand pillars in some big temples. These mandapams were used for seating the deity on festival occasions. Also, many Amman shrines were added to the already existing temples during this period.
The most important temples of the Vijayanagar style were found in the Hampi ruins or the city of Vijayanagar. Vittalaswamy and Hazara Ramaswamy temples were the best examples of this style. The Varadharaja and Ekamparanatha temples at Kanchipuram stand as examples for the magnificence of the Vijayanagara style of temple architecture. The Raya Gopurams at Thiruvannamalai and Chidambaram speak the glorious epoch of Vijayanagar. They were continued by the Nayak rulers in the later period. The metal images of Krishna Deva Raya and his queens at Tirupati are examples for casting of metal images. Music Elephant Chariot - Hampi Ruins and dancing were also patronized by the rulers of Vijayanagar.
Different languages such as Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil flourished in the regions. There was a great development in Sanskrit and Telugu literature. The peak of literary achievement was reached during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya. He himself was a scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu. His famous court poet Allasani Peddanna was distinguished in Telugu literature. Thus the cultural contributions of the Vijayanagar rulers were many-sided and remarkable.