History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2010: Q.5 (b)

Q.5 (b) Discuss the social dynamics in the Vijayanagara Empire.


The social life under the Vijayanagar Empire was well developed. Foreign travelers like Nuniz, Paes, Nicolo Conti and Barbosa left vivid accounts on the splendour of buildings and luxurious social life in the city of Vijayanagar.

1. Royal Court:

The king and his courtiers led an extravagant and luxurious life which was in contrast to the modest living standard of the common man. The common people had to bear the burden of the taxation. The palace always had a large number of establishments attached to it. In the establishment there were large number of women, especially chosen for their youth and beauty. Some were brought from abroad while others were captured in war and enslaved. Many were courtesans, skilled in the art of music and dance while others were the concubines of princes, nobles and courtiers.

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.

2. Caste System:

The institution of caste with all its social and economic implications was a universally accepted social organization. The great poet Allasani Peddana, in his famous work, Manucharitramu mentions the four castes that existed in the Vijayanagar society. They were Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisya and Sudras.

3. Position of different castes in the society:

In civil life the Brahmins occupied highly respected position. With the exception of a few who entered the state service, they generally devoted themselves to religious and literary pursuits. Nuniz describes the Brahmins as “honest men, given to merchandise, very acute and of much talent, very good at accounts, lean men and well formed but little fitted for hard work”. According to the Domingo Paes the Brahmins were vegetarians and their womenfolk were known for their beauty and seclusion.

The Kshatriyas were generally associated with the ruling dynasties, assisting them in matters of state and warfare. Most of the nobles and men of rank belonged to this caste.

The Vaisyas were the same as the merchants who carried on trade and commercial activities.

These upper castes appeared to have enjoyed the privileges attached to their status in the society. Economically they were well placed, commanded royal favours and were fortunate to be educated.

Sudras were considered inferior in their status. They rendered manual services to earn their livelihood. Both in towns and villages the castes tended to live in separate quarters of their own and followed their own peculiar customs and habits.

The outcastes who tilled the land and did menial work lived in hamlets at a distance from the village.

4. Position of Women in the Society:

Women played an important role in social life of the Vijayanagar Empire. Though the position of women had not improved, some of them were highly learned. They received opportunities of training not only in literary and fine arts such as music but also in wrestling. They were also employed as astrologers, keepers of accounts and even as judges. Princesses of the royal family generally received a good education in literature and fine arts. Gangadevi, the wife of Kampana, was the author of the famous work Maduravijayam. Triumalamma was a distinguished poetess in Sanskrit during the time of Achyutaraya.

According to Nuniz large number of women was employed in palaces as dancers, domestic servants and palki bearers. The custom of devadasis was in vogue as referred by Paes. They were dancing girls attached to the temples. They were also summoned for festivities held in the royal palace. Polygamy was recognized and was practiced by the wealthy people. Child marriage was also common. According to Nuniz the practice of sati was in vogue. Polygamy was prevalent among the royal families.

5. Amusements:

The people of Vijyanagar used to relax from serious work through hunting, gambling, playing a game like polo and by witnessing theatrical performances and cock fighting.

Paes states that every morning before daylight Krishnadevaraya drank gingelly-oil and exercised with earthenware weights and a sword. He then wrestled with one of his wrestler and later went riding before his morning bath.

There were areas inside royal palace in Vijayanagar for the amusement of the monarch and his court. Fights between animals and wrestling matches were arranged. There were also women wrestlers.

Festival and fairs offered means of amusement for the people.

6. Dress and Food Habits:

Silk and cotton clothes were mainly used for dress. Perfumes, flowers and ornaments were used by the people.

The kings and the general public were meat-eaters. They ate meat of all kinds of animals except the flesh of oxen or cow. Animal sacrifices were common. Some sections of the population such as Brahmins, Jains and Saivas were strict vegetarians.

7. Religion:

The early rulers of Vijayanagar (Sangama dynasty) were chiefly Saivaites and Virupaksha was their family deity. Later Vijayanagar dynasties came under the influence of Vaishnava saints. Srivaishnavism of Ramanuja was very popular. The Vaishnava work Prapannamritam gives the legendary account of the conversion of the Vijayanagar king, Virupaksha to Vaishnavism. Krishnadevaraya was devoted to Vishnu and Siva. Sadasivaraya followed liberal policy and worshipped Siva, Vishnu and Ganesha. A large number of temples were built and numerous festivals were celebrated.

All kings were tolerant towards other religions. Besides Vedic religion there were also other religious sects like the Jains who enjoyed protection and patronage of the Vijayanagar kings. Muslims were employed in the administration and they were freely allowed to build mosques and worship. Barbosa, who visited Krishnadevaraya’s court observes, “The king allows such freedom that every man may come and go and live according to his own creed without suffering any annoyance and without enquiries whether he is a Christian, Jew, Moor or Hindu”.

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