Society and Economy
Continuous warfare and the resultant widespread sufferings were common features of all early and medieval societies. Bahmani and Vijayanagar period is no exception to this. Perhaps the scale looks larger due to the availability of many eye-witness accounts. The other consequences which were enduring over the centuries were the displacement and migration of people. During the three centuries of this chapter, we find such migrations everywhere. The conflicts in the Bahmani courts were much due to the migration of Turks, Afghans and Persians into the Deccan. As far the Vijayanagar area is concerned there took place migrations of Kannada and Telugu warriors and their followers into Tamil areas and elsewhere. Many of the Nayaka chiefs belong to these language groups. Peasants, artisans and other toiling groups were also part of this migration. The other consequence was the widening gap between the ruling class and the ruled. All the foreign visitors refer to the enormous riches and affluence enjoyed by the rulers, the officials and the upper echelons in the capital cities like Vijayanagar, Bijapur, and the like, in contrast to widespread poverty among the masses. They also refer to the prevalence of slavery.
The state had to derive their revenue only by taxing the people. It is found that during the Sangama dynasty when the Vijayanagar rule was extended to new areas, their officers were harsh in tax collection, which provoked the toiling people to rise in revolt. One such revolt took place in 1430 in central parts of Tamil Nadu. This was the revolt in which all the basic producers joined forgetting their caste differences. The revolt took place due to the unjust and arbitrary tax demands of the government including the pradhani (governor), his military bodies, and the landlords. It is said the Vijayanagar Prince intervened and pacified the revolting people by allowing tax reduction. During the sixteenth century, under the Nayak system, the local Nayakas tried to encourage craft production, like weaving, by giving tax concessions now and then.
The kingdom of Ramnad was inaugurated by the Madurai Nayak Muthu Krishnappa in the early years of the seventeenth century. The inhabitants with martial tradition had served as soldiers under Pandyan, Chola and Vijayanagar kings, and were spread into Tirunelveli and other southern parts of Tamil country. They also served in the armies of Nayak rulers and were traditional Kavalkarars, whose responsibility was to give protection to village, temple and other administrative bodies. The temple at Rameswaram was under the protection of a kaval chief who also assumed the title of Udaiyan Sethupati (meaning the Chief who was lord of bridge or causeway, as he controlled the passage between Rameswaram and Ceylon).
Pudukottai was a small principality situated between the Nayak kingdoms of Thanjavur and Madurai. It constituted a buffer between the Chola kingdom and the Pandyas. Like the inhabitants of Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai also had inhabitants belonging to martial tradition. Hence their region could attain the status of “little kingdom” under Tondaimans. The Tondaimans served great royal households of Raja Sethupathi and Nayak kings of Madurai and Thanjavur.
The Vijayanagar period witnessed striking development in the field of non-agrarian crafts. Until the thirteenth century the economy was mainly agrarian. From the fourteenth onwards the economy became more commercial.
With the beginning of the era of money economy, circulation and use of coined money increased manifold. Artisans like weavers, smiths, and masons became more prominent in the society. These non-agrarian groups were generally called the pattadaior (workshop people) and kasaya-vargam -that is- the group that pays taxes in cash. Large number of commercial and weaving centres came up in northern Tamil Nadu, Rayalasima and coastal Andhra. Naturally the textiles formed an important commodity exported from south Indian ports. Textiles became main commercial attractions for the Portuguese and other European traders who started coming from the early sixteenth century.