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Social and Cultural Life of Vijayanagar Empire

Last Updated : 08 Mar, 2024
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The Vijayanagar Empire was a patron of literature and arts. Sanskrit and Telugu literature flourished during this period, and the empire contributed to the development of Carnatic music. This empire existed in South India, established by Bukka Raya I and his brother Harihara I in 1336.

In this article, we are going to learn the history of the Vijayanagar Empire along with its Social and Cultural Life.

Vijayanagar Empire

The Vijayanagara Empire was a powerful South Indian empire that existed from 1336 to 1646. It was also known as also known as the Vijayanagara Sultanate. The empire was founded by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I in 1336. They were supported by Vidyaranya, who played a very important role in the establishment of the kingdom.

The capital of the Vijayanagara Empire was initially in Hampi, which later became one of the most celebrated medieval Hindu cities. Vijayanagara Empire played a major role in resisting the expansion of the Deccan Sultanates, which were Muslim states in the Deccan region. The empire faced a major defeat in the Battle of Talikota in 1565 against the combined forces of the Deccan Sultanates. This event led to the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Vijayanagar Empire Map

The Vijayanagara Empire was situated in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent, primarily in the Deccan region. Its capital, Hampi was located in present-day Karnataka. The empire extended its influence across parts of present-day Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.

Map of Vijayanagar Empire

Social Life of Vijayanagara Empire

The Vijayanagara Empire had a mixed social life, deeply rooted in Hindu customs. People were divided into castes, but the empire was open to different religions and groups. Big festivals and religious events were important.

Social Condition

  • Foreign travelers’ accounts are key sources for understanding the Vijayanagara Empire’s social life.
  • Domingo Paes, a Portuguese traveler, noted the empire’s prosperity, advanced irrigation, tall buildings, and bustling seaports.
  • Nicolo Dei Conti, another traveler, mentioned the prevalence of slavery and polygamy.
  • Entertainment included dancing, music, wrestling, and gambling.

Condition of Women

  • Sati or self-immolation was a common practice among Hindu widows in Vijayanagara society.
  • Polygamy, dowry, and the Devadasi system were prevalent customs.
  • Domingo Paes observed the flourishing Devadasi system and noted the presence of temple dancing girls.
  • According to Nuniz, many women worked in royal palaces as dancers, servants, and palanquin bearers, with some even being wrestlers.
  • Lingayatism and other socio-religious movements encouraged more flexible social norms, allowing women greater participation in society.
  • Women in South India engaged in administration, business, trade, and the fine arts, breaking traditional gender barriers.
  • Some women were scholars and made significant contributions to art and literature, like Gangadevi, who wrote “Madhura Vijayam.”

Caste System

  • The Hindu caste system was dominant, dividing society into four varnas: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.
  • A strict hierarchy was observed, with each varna having a community representative.
  • Brahmins occupied the highest position, respected as scholars and literature writers.


  • Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese traveler, noted that everyone enjoyed religious freedom.
  • Srivaishnavism, founded by Ramanuja, was popular, although the Sangam rulers primarily followed Shaivism and worshiped Lord Virupaksha.
  • The kings tolerated all religions and sects, allowing Muslim communities representation and employment in administration.


  • People mainly relied on farming for their livelihood.
  • In semi-arid areas, they grew corn (jowar), cotton, and pulses, while sugarcane, rice, and wheat thrived in rainy regions.
  • Betel leaves, areca nuts, and coconuts were the main cash crops, supporting the empire’s textile industry with large cotton production.
  • Spices like turmeric, pepper, cardamom, and ginger were cultivated in the Malnad hills and brought to the city for trade.
  • The capital city became a major business hub, with temple construction providing jobs for many masons, sculptors, and artisans.

Cultural Life of Vijayanagara Empire

The Vijayanagara Empire was known for its rich culture. It was famous for beautiful art, unique buildings, and great books. People enjoyed different kinds of dance, music, and festivals.

Art and Architecture

  • During the Vijayanagara Empire, many temples were built, mainly in the Dravidian architectural style.
  • Key features of these temples include intricately carved pillars often featuring horses, and mandapams (open pavilions) for deities during special occasions.
  • The Garbhagriha, or sanctum, is where the deity was typically placed.
  • Famous examples of Vijayanagara architecture include the Vitthalaswamy and Hazara Ramaswamy temples in Hampi.
  • A notable metal casting is the image of Raja Krishna Deva Raya and his queen.
  • Unique to this era were monolithic carvings and statues, like the Gomateshwara (Bahubali) in Kerala and Venur, and the Nandi bull in Lepakshi.
  • The Vijayanagara rulers were also significant patrons of music and dance.


  • The Vijayanagara Empire is celebrated as a golden age for literature, with significant contributions in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Sanskrit.
  • Literature especially thrived under Krishna Deva Raya, a scholar of Sanskrit and Telugu, who authored the renowned “Amuktamalyada.”
  • These literary works offer a glimpse into the lifestyle and professions of the era.
  • The period was marked by a diversity of genres, including romance, fiction, and also scholarly texts on astronomy, astrology, and grammar.
  • Notable works include “Gadugina Bharata” by Kumara Vyasa, a Kannada translation of the Mahabharata, and writings by Chamarasa, a prominent Virashaiva scholar in Kannada.


  • Ceiling adornments in the Vijayanagara empire featured mural paintings.
  • Themes primarily revolved around scenes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas.
  • Red color was commonly used for the background of the paintings.
  • Painting styles were characterized by simplicity and vibrancy, with linear representation.
  • Emphasis was placed on facial expressions and costumes.
  • The ceiling of the Virupaksha temple mandapa showcases a painting depicting Vidyaranya in a palanquin.
  • Vidyaranya was the guru of Harihara and Bukka, the founders of the Vijayanagara empire.

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FAQs on Social and Cultural Life of Vijayanagar Empire

Who Founded Vijayanagar Empire?

The Vijayanagar Empire was founded in 1336 by Harihara I and Bukka Raya I. They were brothers and initially served as treasury officers in the Kakatiya kingdom.

What was Capital of Vijayanagar Empire?

The capital of the Vijayanagara Empire was Hampi.

What was the Time Period of Vijayanagar Empire?

The Vijayanagar Empire lasted from 1336 to 1646 AD.

What were the Social Classes in Vijayanagar Empire?

The social classes in the Vijayanagar Empire were primarily divided into four varnas: Brahmins (priests and scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (traders and agriculturists), and Shudras (servants and laborers), reflecting the traditional Hindu social system.

What are Main Characteristics of Vijayanagar Architecture?

The Vijayanagara style of architecture is characterized by monumental structures, intricate carvings, and extensive use of locally available granite. Prominent examples include the Virupaksha Temple and the Vittala Temple complex.

Describe the Caste System under Vijayanagar Empire.

The caste system under the Vijayanagara Empire was organized, with Brahmins holding significant influence, followed by other varnas (castes) like Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.

What was the Social Life of Vijayanagar Empire?

The social life of the Vijayanagara Empire was marked by cultural vibrancy, with patronage of literature, arts, and music. The empire was known for its religious tolerance, allowing the coexistence of various faiths.

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