The “Fall” of Vijayanagara Reconsidered: Political Destruction and Historical Construction in South Indian History

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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Abstract

The eponymous capital of Vijayanagara was largely abandoned following the defeat of the imperial army at Talikota in 1565. The city was burned and looted and its monumental temple complexes, gateways, and images left in ruins. Despite large-scale damage to architecture in the city, however, the level and focus of destruction was strikingly variable. In this paper, we draw on the material record of late Vijayanagara temple complexes and other archaeological evidence to examine patterns of differentially distributed political violence. We suggest that these patterns may be understood, in part, in terms of the contemporary politics of sovereignty, incorporation, and reconstitution of elite authority. Drawing on these observations, we discuss the role of commemorative destruction as well as post-1565 temple rededications and abandonments in the afterlife of Vijayanagara as a social space. In particular, we examine the potential of monumental violence to act as a symbol or to index social memory through a creative and fluid process of instituting claims about the past, heritage, authenticity, and the nature of the present.

The “Fall” of Vijayanagara Reconsidered: Political Destruction and Historical Construction in South Indian History

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

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Figures

  • View in gallery
    City of Vijayanagara, showing major areas mentioned in text. Modified from map provided courtesy the Vijayanagara Research Project.
  • View in gallery
    The Royal Center. Located in the southwestern part of the Urban Core, this area is divided into numerous walled enclosures. Map courtesy the Vijayanagara Research project.
  • View in gallery
    Upper: number of inscriptional records of temple donations by year, sixteenth century, city of Vijayanagara. Lower: number of inscriptional records of temple donations by ruler, Tuluva period, city of Vijayanagara. (database from Morrison 1995; Morrison and Lycett 1994, 1997)
  • View in gallery
    Fire-damaged column at the Vitthala temple. This column is located along the main axis of the central shrine. Now under active reconstruction, the column is supported by masonry pillars built by the ASI in the early 20th century. Note the less-damaged column to the left. Photograph by Mark Lycett.
  • View in gallery
    Overview map showing areas of intensive burning in the Royal Center. 1=Ramachandra temple; 2=the ‘100-pillared hall;’ 3=Mahanavami or ‘great’ platform; 7=palaces; 9=Prasanna Virupaksha temple. Modified from map provided courtesy the Vijayanagara Research Project.
  • View in gallery
    Photograph of the Mahamandapa of the Vitthala temple taken by Henry Hardy Cole, 1885. © British Library Board. Photo 1003/(2207). Item number: 10032207.
  • View in gallery
    Upper: plan view of the Vitthala temple, showing the location of axial damage. Modified from plan provided courtesy the Vijayanagara Research Project. Lower: overview of the Vitthala temple, showing pattern of damage in relation to intact subsidiary shrines. Photograph by Edmund David Lyon, 1868. © British Library Board. Photo 212/7(18). Item number: 212718.
  • View in gallery
    Interior detail of damage, Vitthala temple main shrine. Photograph by Henry Hardy Cole, 1885. © British Library Board. Photo 1003/ (2202). Item number: 10032202.
  • View in gallery
    Photograph showing pattern of axial damage to the main shrine of the Tiruvengalanatha temple, taken by Henry Hardy Cole, 1885. © British Library Board.
  • View in gallery
    Left: heavily damaged monolithic Narasimha image. Right: undamaged Ganesh image, in worship. Both photographs by Thomas Biggs, 1885. © British Library Board. Left: Photo 208/(5). Item number: 2086. Right: Photo 208/(6). Item number: 2085.

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