Economy in Vijayanagara Empire

Economy in Vijayanagara Empire

Land and income rights:

  • Rice was the staple crop. Both black and white variety of rice, gram and pulses, spices (specially black pepper) coconut and betel-nuts were important items of production.
  • 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 1/6th of the produce, but in some cases it was even more ranging up to 1/4th.
      • But on Brahmans and temples it was 1/20th to 1/30th respectively.
    • According to an inscription, the rates of taxes were as follows:
      • One-third of the produce of kuruvai (a type of rice) during winter.
      • One-fourth of seasame, ragi, horsegram, etc.
      • One-sixth of millet and other crops cultivated on dry land.
    • Thus, the rate varied according to the type of crops, soil, method of irrigation, etc.
    • It was payable both in cash and kind.
  • We find references to three major categories of land tenure which indicate the way in which the village income was distributed.
    • Bhandaravada:
      • The bhandarvada was a crown village comprising the smallest category.
      • A part of its income was utilised to maintain the Vijaynagar forts.
    • Manya.
      • Income from the manya (tax-free) villages was used to maintain the Brahmans, temples, and mathas.
      • The manya rights underwent a transformation during this period.
      • Land tenures continued to be given by the state to individual (ekabhogan) Brahmans and groups of Brahmans as well as to mathas including the non- Brahman Saiva Siddhanta and Vaishnava gurus.
      • But there was a great increase in devadana grants (conferred on temples) made by the state as compared to other grants.
    • Amara:
      • The largest category was of the amara villages given by the Vijaynagar rulers to the amaranayakas.
      • Their holders did not possess proprietary rights in land but enjoyed -privileges over its income only.
      • The amara tenure was primarily residual in the sense that its income was distributed after deductions had been made for support of the Brahmans and forts.
      • Three-quarters of all the villages came under this category.
      • The term amaramakni is considered by most historians as referring to an ‘estate’ or a ‘fief, but it literally means one-sixteenth share (makani). Thus, it points to the fact that the amaranayakas could claim only a limited share of village income.
  • Other taxes:
    • Besides land-tax, many professional taxes also were imposed. These were on shopkeepers, farm-servants, shepherds, washermen, potters, shoemakers, musicians etc.
    • There was also tax on property, grazing and house taxes were also imposed.
    • Villagers were also supposed to pay for the maintenance of the village officers.
    • Sthala dayam, mara dayam and manula dayam were three major transit dues.
    • Other taxes:
      • tax on sale of produce,
      • military contribution (in times of distress),
      • tax on marriage, etc.
  • Another category of land right through which income was derived was a result of investment in irrigation. It was called dasavanda in Tamil country; and Kathu-Kodage in Andhra and Karnataka.
    • As village self-rule declined, there was the growth of a class of locally powerful people who used their position for developing agriculture by providing additional irrigation facilities for which an extra charge was made.
      • Many temples, which enjoyed rent-free villages, also used their resources for this purpose.
    • Usually undertaken in semi-dry areas where hydrographic and topographic features were conducive for carrying out developmental projects.
    • The dasavanda or Kattu-Kodage was a share in the increased productivity of the land earned by the person who undertake such developmental work.
    • A portion of income accruing from the increased productivity also went to the cultivators of the village where the developmental work was undertaken.
    • This right to income was personal and transferable.

Economic role of temples:

  • During the Vijaynagar period, temples emerged as important landholders.
    • Hundreds of villages were granted to the deities which were worshipped in the temples.
    • Temple officers managed the devadana villages.
    • The income from devadana villages provided:
      • sustenance to the ritual functionaries,
      • to provide food offerings or to purchase goods (mostly aromatic substances ‘and cloth) essential for carrying out the ritual rites.
    • Cash endowments were also made by the state to the temples for providing ritual service.
  • Temples took up irrigational work also:
    • Large temples holding devadana lands had under them irrigation department for properly channelising money grants made to the temples. e.g:  Cash endowments made by the state to the Tirupati temple were ploughed back in irrigation.
    • The income thus attained was used to carry out and maintain ritual services.
    • Those who gave cash grants to temples also received a share of the food offering (prasadam) derived from the increased productivity.
  • Temples in South India were important centres of economic activity:
    • carried on banking activities. :
      • gave loans to individuals and village assemblies for economic purposes.
        • e.g.: At Srirangam Temple, cash grants were used to advance commercial loans to business firms in Trichnopoly.
      • The loan were given against lands whose income went to the temples.
    • They employed a number of persons.
      • Mahalingam refers to an inscription which mentions a temple which employed 370 servants.
    • Temples purchased local goods for performance of ritual services.
    • Temples had their trusts which utilised its funds for various purposes.
    • The temples were very large and needed supply of food stuff and commodities for distribution of prasadam to the pilgrims, service of God, the priests, etc. The temples were rich and also took active part in trade, both internal and overseas.
    • Thus, the temples functioned almost as an independent economic system encompassing persons and institutions that were bound together by economic links.

Foreign trade: 

  • We get information about foreign trade from the Amuktamalyada of Krishnadeva Raya, Domingo Paes and Nuniz.
    • They give vivid description of horse trade.
    • The role of the Indians in the overseas carrying trade was minimal.
  • Barbosa mentions that Indian overseas trade was completely controlled by Muslim merchants. They used to get special treatment from the rulers.
    • on returning from the Red Sea the king assigned them a nayar bodyguard, a Chetti accountant and a broker for help in local transactions.
    • at Kayal (Tamil Nadu), even royal monopoly of pearl-fisheries was given to a Muslim merchant.
  • Horse trade:
    • The Arabs and later the Portuguese controlled horse trade.
    • Horses were Brought from Arabia, Syria and Turkey to the west-coast ports. Goa supplied horses to Vijaynagar as well as the Deccani Sultanates.
    • Importation of horses was of great military importance for the southern states as good horses were not bred in India. Besides, Vijaynagar’s conflict with the northern Deccan Muslim states restricted the supply of horses from north India that were imported from Central Asia.
  • Other imports:
    • Ivory, pearls, spices, precious stones, coconuts, palm-sugar, salt, etc.
    • Pearls were brought from the Persian Gulf and Ceylon and precious stones from Pegu.
    • Velvet was imported from Mecca and satin, silk, damask and brocade from China.
  • Exports:
    • White rice, Sugarcane (other than palm-sugarcane) and iron were the major exports.
    • Diamonds were exported from Vijaynagar.
      • Nuniz states that its diamond mines were the richest in the world. The principal mines were on the banks of the Krishna river and in Kurnool and Anantapur.
      • This led to the development of a great industry for cutting and polishing precious stones like diamonds, sapphires and rubies in Vijayanagar and Malabar.

Internal trade and urban life:

  • The contemporary foreign accounts show that local and long distance trade increased.
  • Roads and roadside-facilities for travellers between towns were excellent.
    • For transport Carts (for short distance), riverine shipping,  Pack-animals (long distance) were in use.
    • In some places armed guards for long distance transport were employed.
  • Local magnates gave encouragement to town based trade and auxiliary trade in regular and periodic fairs.
    • Regular and periodic fairs took place along the main roads leading to big temples during festival times.
    • These fairs were conducted by trade associations of a nearby town and under the supervision of the leader of trade association called Pattanaswami.
    • Fairs which gave impetus to urban trade were also held at the orders of the local magnates, e.g. gauda or chief of a nadu.
    • The literary and inscriptional evidences of the 14th to 16th centuries reveal the existence of 80 major trade centres.
  • Some towns were religious; others were commercial and administrative centres.
    • Inside these towns were many bazars where business was carried on by merchants.
    • Merchants paid rents to the towns.
    • There were separate markets for particular commodities. Markets for agricultural and non-agricultural products were separate in accordance with the left and right hand caste affiliations.
    • Trade in consecrated food for pilgrims and the sale of the right of ritual functions and offices were important aspects of temple-related urban commerce.
    • In these towns, the transit duties, shop and house-rents provided income to the towns.
  • The Vijaynagar state possessed an urban quality which is not witnessed in any other South Indian state of the time.
    • The capital city integrated within its precincts markets, palaces, temples, mosques, etc.
    • Many of the towns grew around temples.
  • Thus, despite continuous wars, there was growth of trade and urbanisation in south India between 14th and 16th centuries. Agriculture also developed. This was reflected in the cultural growth during the period.

Mention the salient features of the polity of Vijayanagara Empire under Krishnadevaraya. 


Central Administration

The king was at the apex of the entire system. His authority was unlimited; he looked after civil administration, directed the military affairs of the kingdom and acted as the final court of justice.

Krishnadevaraya talks about the prevailing concept of kingship in his Amuktamalyada, where the king was assisted by a council of ministers in daily administration.

The kingdom was divided into a number of provinces called rajyas. Within these provincial regions, there were other big and small principalities, which exercised varying degrees of power.

The central government maintained only a small contingent as they were provided military help from the troops stationed at the provinces.

This administrative arrangement came to be known as the Nayankara system, in which outstanding military chieftains received local grants and privileged status as nayakas from the state. The territory under these military chiefs was called amaram.

The nayakas did not give any fixed revenue to the state; they merely rendered military service in return for the land and privileges granted to them.

Local Administartion

The provinces were further sub-divided into kottams which were again divided into towns and groups of villages.

The self-sufficient villages was the basic unit of administration , where local affairs were managed by the village assembly through hereditary officials called ayagars. The ayagars were village functionaries who constituted group of families.

Autonomy of villages had diminished if compared with Chola period.

System of Justice

There was no regular judiciary system in the Vijayanagar kingdom. the king was the supreme court of justice, and his ruling was considered final in all important cases.

At the grassroots level, the village panchayat acted as a local tribunal while big towns saw the local governor acting as magistrate and judge. Judged by the modern standards, the code of punishments for criminal offences seem to have been very severe and barbarous.

Thus newer institutional apparatus in the form of the nayankara and ayagar systems at the central and provincial levels constitute the significant features of the Vijayanagara Polity. ©


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