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Social and Cultural Life of the Vijayanagar Empire

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  • Last Updated : 08 Jul, 2022

Most crucial information on the social and cultural life of the Vijayanagar empire came from the writings of foreign visitors i.e. Ibn Battuta, Domingo Paes, Fernao Nuniz, Niccolo Dei Conti, Abdur Razzaq, etc., and many local literary records. This empire existed in South India, established by Bukka Raya I and his brother Harihara I in 1336.

The Social Life of the Vijayanagar Empire:

A. Social Condition: Accounts of foreign travellers provide significant sources of information on the social life of the Vijayanagar Empire. From their writings, it was found that people were living prosperous life. A Portuguese foreign traveler named Domingo Paes wrote about advanced irrigation technology, cities with high buildings, and busy seaports in his records.
Although from the description of another foreign traveler Nicolo Dei Conti, the slavery system was common, and men could marry as many wives as they wanted.
People enjoy Dancing, Music, Wrestling, and Gambling as a source of their entertainment.

B. Condition of Women: The custom of Sati or self-immolation was widely prevalent in Vijayanagar society. In this system, Hindu widows burn themselves on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands. Polygamy, the Dowry system, and Devadasis customs were common. Paes recorded devadasi system was flourishing under the Vijayanagar empire, and evidence of dancing girls attached to the temples was also found.

According to Nuniz, a large number of women acquired positions in royal palaces as dancers, domestic servants, and palanquin bearers. Records are found that mention women wrestler. 

The socio-religious movements of the previous centuries, such as Lingayitism, provided momentum for flexible social norms that helped women to come forward in society. By that time South Indian women had crossed most barriers, participating in activities that were earlier considered the monopoly of men, such as administration, business, and trade, along with fine arts. Though some women were learned scholars and gave notable contributions to art and literature. Gangadevi, wife of Kampana wrote the famous Maduravijayam.

C. Caste system: The Hindu Caste System was dominant and the caste was divided into four varnas – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisyas, and Shudras. A strict caste system was followed, from lowest to highest with each having a community representative. Brahmins were at the top of the caste system and held a respectable position in society, most of them were scholars and writers of literature.

D. Religion: Duarte Barbosa, another Portuguese traveler referred that religious freedom is enjoyed by everyone. Srivaishnavism of Ramanuja was very popular through the Sangam rulers were chiefly Saivaites and worship Lord Virupaksha. The kings were tolerant of all religions and sects. Muslim communities were allowed to be represented and employed in administration.

E. Livelihood: People were mainly dependent on agriculture. Corn (Jowar), cotton, and pulse legumes grew in semi-arid regions, while sugarcane, rice, and wheat in rainy areas. Principal cash crops were Betel leaves, areca (for chewing), and coconut, and largescale cotton production supplied the weaving centers of the empire’s vibrant textile industry. Spices like turmeric, pepper, cardamom, and ginger grew in the remote Malnad hill region and were transported to the city for trade. The capital city grew splendidly as a business center. Prolific temple-building provided employment to thousands of masons, sculptors, and other skilled artisans.

The Cultural Life of Vijayanagar Empire:

A. Architecture: A large number of temples were built during the Vijayanagar empire, mostly built in the Dravidian style. Distinctive features include carved pillars on which the most common animals found was Horse, mandapam, or open pavilion where the deity sat on special occasions. Generally, it is the Garbhagriha- the sanctum cell where the deity was placed. The most famous temples of the Vijayanagar style are Vitthalaswamy and the Hazara Ramaswamy temples at Hampi. The metal image of Raja Krishna Dev Raya and his queen is a magnificent example of casting a metal image. Another distinguishing feature was Monolithic carvings and statues such as Gomateshwara(Bahubali ) monoliths in Kerala and Venur, the Nandi bull in Lepakshi. The Vijayanagar ruler were also great patrons of music and dancing.

B. Literature: The era of the Vijayanagar empire was known as a golden age of literature growth that produced marvelous works in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Sanskrit languages. Literature flourished during the Krishna Deva Raya reign. He was great a scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu. He wrote the famous Amuktamalyada. These literary works provide insightful information on lifestyle and various professions practiced by people of that period. Exemplary writings include not only genres like romance and fiction, but subjects like astronomy, astrology, and grammar were also written in that era. Some prominent authors and their works are Gadugina Bharata written by Kumara Vyasa, a translation of the Mahabharata. Chamarasa had been a famous Virashaiva scholar in the Kannada Language of that time. 

C. Paintings: During the Vijayanagar empire ceilings were adorned with mural paintings, themes were mostly a scene from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas. The red color is generally used in the background of the paintings. Paintings styles were so simple and vibrant with linear representation and the prime focus was given to the facial expression and costumes. The ceiling of the Virupaksha temple mandapa has a painting that depicts Vidyaranya in a palanquin, he was a guru of Harihara and Bukka, the founder of the Vijayanagar empire.


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