The Vijayanagra Empire: Part II

The Vijayanagra Empire: Part II

  • In building their system of administration, the Vijayanagar rulers not only used the Tamil traditions of Chola rule, but also Telugu and Kannada traditions of the Kakatiyas and the Hoysalas. Thus, they were not mere provincial leaders, but represented the entire south.

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.
    • In his book on polity (Amuktamalayada), Krishna Deva Raya advises the king that “with great care and according to your power you should attend to the work of protecting the good and punishing the wicked without neglecting anything that you can see or hear.”
      • He also enjoined upon the king to “levy-taxes from his people moderately.”
  • The king was assisted by a council of ministers in daily administration which consisted of the great nobles of the kingdom.
  • The kingdom was divided into a number of provinces called rajyas or mandalam.
    • Within these provincial regions, there were other big and small principalities, which exercised varying degrees of power.
    • Below rajyas were nadu (district), sthala (sub-district) and grama (village).
  • 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.

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.

Local Administration

  • 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.
    • The growth of hereditary nayakships tended to curb their freedom and initiative.

Nayankara and Ayagar System

  • During the Vijaynagar period, the nayaka and ayagar systems came into prominence but local institutions of the earlier period (sabha, nadu and ur) institutions did not completely disappear.

The Nayankara System:

  • The nayankara system was an important characteristic of the Vijaynagar political organisation.
  • The military chiefs or warriors held the title of nayaka or amaranayaka. It is difficult to classify these warriors on the basis of definite office, ethnic identity, set of duties or rights and privileges.
  • Inscriptional descriptions :
    • Epigraphical records speak of different kinds of nayakas such as:
      • dannayakas (military official),
      • durga- dannayakas (military official in charge of fort),
      • amaranayakas.
    • It seems there was some hierarchical relation among them.
    • Landholding allocated to nayakas was called nayakattam.
    • Karashima and Subbarayalu have studied the Tamil epigraphical sources of the Vijayanagara period and they have presented description of nayakas and the institution of nayakattam.
      • More than three hundred nayakas in the northern part of Tamil region which consisted of five rajyas. This number is attributed to post 1485 period.
    • All these Nayakas were in possession of nayakattanam.
      • They controlled production in their nayakattanam territories by encouraging settlers including cultivators, artisans and other groups who on their part enjoyed some tax concession.
    • They were obliged to be present in the royal headquarters and therefore they looked after their territory through their agents or Karyakarta.
    • In return to the territory received from the king the nayaks had to maintain troops ready to be sent the battle field and also the sent a portion of the revenue from their territory to their superior.
    • Krishnaswami:
      • Based on the study of inscription of the Vijayanagar period upto 1530 he concluded that there were large number of nayakas in the Tamil country.
      • These inscriptions belong to category of gifts to temples, refer to building of tanks etc. collection of taxes from temples.
      • Krishnaswami considers the nayaka system as feudal.
        • But Venkataramanayya feels that important features of European feudalism such as fealty, homage and sub-infeudation were absent in the nayaka system.
    • D.C. Sircar:
      • On the basis of his study of inscriptions analyses the amaram tenure.
      • Refutes the feudal theory; instead he explains it as a kind of landlordism, a variant of feudalism in which land was allouted to the amaranayakas for military services rendered by them to the king.
      • The Vijaynagar inscriptions and the later Mackenzie manuscripts refer to the nayakas as territorial magnates with political aspirations which at times conflicted with the aim of the rulers.
        • To guard against such dangers, the Vijaynagar kings tried to establish greater control over coastal markets dealing in horse trade.
        • They attempted to monopolise the purchase of horses of good quality by paying a high price for them.
        • They also built strong garrisons fortified with trustworthy soldiers.
        • Thus, on the one hand, the Telugu nayaks were a source of strength for the Vijaynagar empire and, on the other, they became its rivals.
  • D. C. Sircar, and T.V. Mahalingam consider the nayakas as warriors holding an office (kara) bestowed on them by the central government on condition of rendering military service.
    • Amaranayankan was a designation conferred on a military officer or chief (nayaka) who had under his control a specified number of troops. These nayakas possessed revenue rights over land or territory called amaram (amaramakara or amaramahali).
    • In the Tamil country and also in the Vijaynagar empire, the area of land thus alienated under this tenure was about 3/4th.
    • The obligations and activities of the nayakas were among others, giving gifts to temples, repair and building of tanks, reclamation of wasteland and collection of dues from temples.
    • The Tamil inscription, however, do not refer to dues given to the king or his officials by the nayakas.
  • K. Sastri:
    • He drew a distinction between the nayakas before 1565 and those after 1565.
    • The former were totally dependent upon the rulers while the latter were semi-independent.
    • However, later he modified his views by pointing out that the nayakas before 1565 were military leader holding military fiefs.
    • In a more recent work, he views the Vijaynagar empire as a military confederacy of many chieftains co-operating under the leadership of the biggest among them.
    • He emphasized that the growing threat from Islam led the Vijaynagar rulers to adopt a military and religious stance.
  • Accounts of European travelers:
    • The institution of nayaka was studied in detail by two Portuguese-Fernao Nuniz and Domingo Paes, who visited India during the reigns of Krishnadeva Raya and Achyut Raya of Tuluva dynasty during the sixteenth century.
    • They regard the nayakas simply as agents of Rayas (central government).
      • Domingo Paes has stated that:
        • These nayakas always maintained troops ready for duty as it can be called out by the king. And each of these nayakas labours to turn out the best troops he can get because he pays them their salary.
        • Beside maintaining these troops each nayakas had to make his annual payments to the king and the king has his own salaried troops to whom he gives payments.
    • The evidence of Nuniz for the payments made by the nayakas to the Rayas brings up the question of feudal obligations. His chronicles states that:
      • There were two hundred nayakas in the vijayanagara empire.
      • “All the land belongs to the kings and from his hand the captains held it, they make it over the husbandmen who pays nine tenths to their lord; and they have no land of their own for the kingdom belong entirely to the king.”

The Ayagar System:

  • The term ayagar is only rarely found in Kannada inscription as noted by subbarayalu and it is not found in Tamil inscriptions.
    • Inscriptional evidence has not been found to support the view that this ‘system’ was introduced during vijayanagara period.
  • During the Vijaynagar period, autonomous local institutions, especially in the Tamil country, suffered a set-back.
    • In pre-Vijaynagar days in Karnataka and Andhra local institutions possessed lesser autonomy as compared to Tamil country.
  • It spread from Karnataka to the Tamil country and became widely prevalent during 15-16th century as a result of the declining power of nadu and nattar.
  • The ayagars were village servants or functionaries and constituted of groups of families. These were headmen (reddi or gauda, maniyam), accountant (karnam senabhova) and watchmen (talaiyari).
    • They were given a portion of or plot in a village. Sometimes they had to pay a fixed rent, but generally these plots were manya or tax-free as no regular customary tax was imposed on their agricultural income.
    • In exceptional cases, direct payments in kind were made for services performed by village functionaries.
    • Other village servants who performed essential services and skills for the village community were also paid by assigning plots of land (like washerman and priest).
    • The village servants who provided ordinary goods and services were leather workers whose products included leather bag used in lift-irrigation devices (kiapila or mohte), potter, blacksmith, carpenter, waterman (niranikkar: who looked after the maintenance of irrigation channels and supervised bankers and money-lenders).
  • The distinguishing feature of the ayagar system is that special allocation of income from land and specific cash payments were for the first time provided to village servants holding a particular office.

Was Vijayanagar a war state?

  • Some considered Vijayanagaraas nearest to a war state.
    • The income of the state should be divided into parts,
      • one part for various works,
      • two, i.e. half for warfare, and
      • the remainder saved for an emergency.
    • Amaram system whereby its holder, the nayak, who was granted a piece of territory had, in return, to maintain a number of troops, horses and elephants for the service of the ruler, and swear loyalty to him.
  • Vijayanagar was a war state only in the sense that all medieval states had to be constantly ready for war.
    • The success of the rulers of Vijayanagar in meeting their Muslim opponents was largely based on the fact that:
      • They copied their mode of cavalry warfare,
      • They inducted a large number of mounted Muslim archers in their army.
    • The rulers of Vijayanagar also maintained a large standing army which was paid in cash.

Was Vijayanagara a centralised state?

  • There is a difference of opinion whether the Vijayanagar state was a loose association of semiautonomous military and territorial leaders, the nayaks, or was a centralised state on the model of the Delhi sultanat.
    • Amaram cannot be equated to the Turkish iqta system.
      • The nayaks were not former slaves or subordinates of the ruler in whose service they rose, with the ruler having the power to transfer them at will or even to remove them.
      • The nayaks were hereditary territorial lords in their own right.
      • While they promised service and loyalty to the ruler whose grant legitimized their position, they ran their own administration, and paid a part of their income to the ruler.
    • There were said to be 200 nayaks in the Vijayanagar kingdom. The rulers tried to control them, but could not remove them.
      • Also, in some of the outlying areas in the south and the west, local rulers who had accepted the Vijayanagar suzereignty continued to rule.
      • Thus, the area administered directly by the Vijayanagar rulers must have been much smaller than the size of the empire.
  • For the purpose of direct administration, apart from the usual council of ministers headed by a Pradhani or chief, there was a secretariat in which a large number of scribes (kayasthas) were employed.
  • According to Abdur Razzak, near the ruler’s palace was the diwan-khana which is extremely large and presents the appearance of a chihalsitun, or a forty-pillared hall where the records are kept and the scribes seated.” However, we know little about the method of administration, or the size of the area under direct administration.

Was Vijayanagar a citadel of Hindu orthodoxy and conservatism?

  • It is argued, the rulers spent a lot of time and attention in building and repairing temples and maths, and prided themselves on bearing the titles of “protectors of the Vedas, and the Vedic path“.
  • They also gave great favours to the brahmans, who were not only given grants of revenue-free lands, but were appointed commanders of armies and forts.
    • The military assignment given to the brahmans, and their important political role was, however, motivated not by religious sentiments but by a desire to use the brahmans as a balancing factor against the powerful Kannad nayaks.
  • In matters of religion, the Vijayanagar rulers were not narrow. Although Saivities to begin with, they did not discriminate against the other sects among the Hindus.
    • They also give patronage to Jainism.
    • The Christian missionaries who had settled down in south India were allowed to do missionary work, and make conversions among the Hindus.
    • The Muslim soldiers employed in the army were given freedom for offering namaz, and in general there were good relations among the Hindus and the Muslims.
  • The rare case of intolerance can be cited when in 1469, the Vijayanagar ruler, Mallikarjuna Raya, in a fit of anger hearing that the Muslim traders of Bhatkhal had sold horses to the Bahmani ruler, ordered the extirpation of all Muslims in the city.
    • Many Muslims were massacred, and the survivors fled to Goa.
    • This folly and crime led to retaliation from the Bahmani ruler, and the loss of Belgaum and the surrounding region to the Bahmani ruler.

Was Vijayanagara a Segmentary State?

What is Segmentary State?

  • The concept of ‘Segmentary State’ model was first developed by an anthropologist Aidan W. Southall to describe the political organization of certain section of African society.
  • ‘Segmentary State’ is a form of political structure of a state, which is opposed to idea of centralised state with fixed territories, centralised administration and coercive power.
  • Segmentary State lacks well defined territory and are characterised by numerous centres and domains.
    • Each of these many centres has autonomous administrative authority, and some degree of political power.
    • Each is also largely autonomous economically and though resources do flow between hierarchical levels of segmentary structure in the form of tax and tribute, such flows are often limited.
  • Rather than political or economic, what moulds these segments together into a single state is an acknowledgement of a sovereign authority, particularly a sacred authority, of a single ritual centre and legitimate king.
  • Instead of subjugation by a despotic ruler, it is the widely shared concept of Lordship or a quasi-sacred monarch that links the disparate and often competing political units into a polity of chiefdom.
  • The relationship between the segments and the centre are pyramidally arranged and the distance between the segments and the centre decided the nature of relationship between the two.
  • As a structural model, Segmentary State lacks dynamism for structural change.

Vijayanagara as a Segmentary State:

  • The concept of Segmentary State was first applied to Medieval Indian states of Chola and Vijayanagara by historian Burton Stein.
  • In contrast to traditional territorial segments of the Cholas, the foci of Vijayanagara’s political and economic segments were military leaders (Nayakas) who were ceded territory in exchange for the service to the crown, and coastal chiefs who benefited from long distance trade.
  • Stein did acknowledge various attempts made by Vijayanagara rulers for greater centralisation.
    • But despite these attempts, persistence of the variety of communal entitlements among diverse regional groups (religious communities, caste communities, artisan community etc.) inhibited Vijayanagara to exert effective centralised control over its territories.
    • Hence, segmentary structure was highly durable in the Vijayanagara political structure.
  • The segmentary model for the Vijayanagara can be justified from the account of foreign travellers like Nuniz and Peas, who claimed that Nayakas around the Empire were almost ruling independently and paying the tribute and visiting the central authority once in a while.

Criticism of Segmentary State model applied to Vijayanagara:

  • Historians like Nilkant Shastri considered Vijayanagara as centralised and bureaucratized the Vijayanagar empire had a large standing army.
    • The king exercised controlled over a large area much of which was divided into provinces under the control of military leaders, Nayakas.
    • The Nayakas were responsible to administer and to collect revenue.
    • Though Nayaka ruled with autonomy, the accountability and uncertainity of their office tenure acted as restrained to their powers. Also , the king was the owner of soil.
  • Even Stein had agreed that Vijayanagara was progressing from segmentary to more centralised form of state organisation.
  • Disagreeing with the view of Burton Stein, R.S. Sharma, D.N. Jha and R. Champakalakshmi put the Vijayanagara state in the model of a feudal polity and society.
    • They argued that the extent of the empire and the absence of adequate means of transport and communication made it necessary for the rulers to delegate power to these feudal segments and to depend on them.
  • Some historians argue that in extensive imperial states, a highly centralised organisation is always non-existent and political structures entails diffused authority.
    • This is norm in every case and not the exception for Chola and Vijayanagara.
    • Hence, it cannot be fixed into any particular models of segmentary, feudal or centralised state. ©

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