History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2013: Q.6 (b)

Q.6 (b) On the basis   of   contemporary   sources   evaluate   the   system   of   agriculture   and irrigation of the Vijayanagar kingdom. 

Ans :

All the kings of the Vijayanagar exerted great importance on developing agriculture and irrigation facilities. However, the efforts of Krishna Deva Raya in this regard were cut above the rest and he received wholesome praise from Portuguese visitor Domingo Paes for this. In addition to it, temples also played a pivotal role in irrigation management and agricultural development.

System of agriculture

Rice was the staple crop. Both black and white variety of rice was produced from Coromandel to Pulicat. Besides, cereals like gram and pulses were also cultivated. Spices (specially black pepper), coconut and betel-nuts were other important items of production. Portuguese influence brought the growth of onion, tobacco and ground nut into practice.

Land-revenue was the major source of state’s income. Rate of revenue demand varied in different parts of the empire and in the same locality itself according to the fertility and regional location of the land. It was generally 1/16th of the produce, but in some cases it was even more ranging up to 1/14th. But on Brahmans and temples it was 1/20th to 1/30th respectively. It was payable both in cash and kind.

The system of revenue farming was also in operation in Vijayanagara. Vijayanagara state gave the right to collect taxes to the highest bidder who then collected the estate taxes and made payment to the state keeping a part of the tax revenue for his own use.

System of Irrigation

Irrigation was very well developed during the Vijayanagara empire which has been evidenced from various archaeological investigations, inscriptions, accounts of foreign travelers like Domingo Paes and as seen from the ancient irrigation systems in operation even now, though with improvements.

The various type of irrigation systems built during the Vijayanagara empire are mainly classified as:

  1. River anicuts and canals
  2. Tanks
  3. Wells & Lifts

River anicuts and Canals

A large number of anicuts and canals were constructed across Tungabhadra river.

Turtha anicut is one such small dam or anicut as it is called, built in 1399 AD across Tungabhadra river close to the present Virupaksha temple in Hampi towards north side. The right bank canal from this anicut is called as Turtha canal, which is in service even now, with appropriate modifications carried out to suit the present day needs. This canal is still in use for agricultural purposes.

Another anicut constructed is at a distance of about thirty kilometres west of Hampi, constructed in the year 1521 AD. The anicut has two parts, one on either side of the island in the middle of river. The right bank canal is called as Basavanna canal and the left bank canal is called as Korragal canal.

Next along the river is Hosakote anicut. This anicut also makes use of the island in the middle of the river. The right bank canal is called as Raya canal.

Bella anicut near Hosur village is another example of ingenuity and skill of the builders.

Another anicut, the Ramasagara anicut across Tungabhadra river was built making use of the river islands near village Bukkasagara. A noteworthy feature is the use of stone aqueducts for crossing the canals. The anicut downstream of Ramasagara anicut is Kampli anicut, which is similar in construction features.

The tail ends of the Ramasagara and Kampli anicuts feed a small tank which has a canal called as Bellagodihalli canal. The other anicuts across Tungabhadra river are Siraguppa anicut, Desanuru anicut, Vallabhapur anicut, Hulagi anicut, Sivapur anicut, Sanapur anicut etc which were built making use of rocky river islands advantageously.

The anicuts also served the tanks which were not filled up regularly as they were rain dependent which was erratic. Among numerous tanks fed by anicut canals some of them are; Kamalapur tank near Hampi fed by Raya canal taking off from Hosakote anicut and Bhimasamudra tank in Chitradurga district fed from anicut across a stream called Jannigehalla.

Hiriya canal was one of the most prominent waterworks. This canal drew water from a dam built across Tungabhadra and irrigated the cultivated fields that separated the sacred centre from the urban core. This canal was built by kings of the Sangama dynasty.


Building tanks was an activity encouraged and extensively practiced by the Vijayanagara rulers for agricultural benefits as well as to meet drinking water needs of the people and cattle. This was also necessary as harnessing the rivers by river anicuts was limited to areas in the vicinity of the rivers.

Since Vijayanagara was one of the most arid zones of the peninsula, perfect arrangements were made to store rainwater to be used in the city. Kamatapuram tank is the best example for such a tank built in early 15th century. Water from this tank was used not only for irrigating fields but was also conducted through a channel to the “royal centre”.

The tanks were constructed in series, wherever geographically feasible with surplus of one tank feeding the lower tank on the same stream. This was a common practice of tank construction, which ensured safety of the tanks and optimum utilization of available rain water for agriculture use.

Wells and lifts

Open wells and spring wells were constructed, mostly by individuals, in rest of the areas not covered by anicut canals and tanks. The groundwater was used for irrigation and other needs by lifting the water by mechanical means. The lifting was carried out mainly by engaging labour or bullocks. Instances of employing water wheels have been mentioned in the inscriptions. These kinds of lifts were widely in use in the Vijayanagara empire and they served small area for irrigation.

Maintenance and Repair works

Importance was also given during the Vijayanagara era for maintenance and repair of the irrigation works. The maintenance works included removal of silt and vegetation from canals and tanks; preventing leakages, repairs of breaches, repairs of sluices and waster weir in case of tanks, watch and ward of structures etc. To carry out maintenance, local committees were formed who would oversee the maintenance of the irrigation works.

An extensive network of river anicuts, canals, tanks, wells and lifts were built in the entire Vijayanagara empire to meet the agricultural and drinking water needs of the people which is indeed commendable.


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