I grew up with the stories of Tenali Ramakrishna and Sri Krishnadeva Raya. To me, Allasani Peddanna was the famous father like figure in the court, Tenali Ramakrishna was the wittiest man the world ever saw, Timmarusu was the greatest strategist of his age, and Andhra Bhoja Sri Krishna Deva Raya was one of the Greatest Kings of India. In my eyes, Vijayanagara Empire was the “Swarna Yuga” for the South Indians. Most of these stories revolved around RamaKrishna’s wit and Sri Krishna Deva Raya’s largesse and I enjoyed them. I always wanted to know more about the history of this empire and the lives and times of the great kings of Vijayanagara.
I was aghast when I saw that my class 7 History textbook gave only one page to the Vijayanagara Empire. Sri Krishna Deva Raya gets mentioned alongside Harihara and Bukka Raya in that. Like many others, I too did not know much about this empire beyond its founders (HariHara and Bukka Raya) and the man who took the empire to its zenith, Sri Krishna Deva Raya. My curiosity to know more about the empire and my love Sri Krishna Deva Raya were the primary reasons for me to pick the book “City of Victory: The Rise and Fall of Vijayanagara”. Here is the synopsis of the book.
In the year 1336 AD, two brothers Harihara and Bukka Raya, founded a kingdom on the banks of the Tungabhadra River at a place called Hampi. Over the next 3 centuries, it would grow to become one of the mightiest empires in the world, the Vijayanagara Empire. An empire dazzling in it’s achievements, in it’s riches, in it’s arts. From it’s founding, to it’s fall after the Battle of Tallikota to the heights it achieved under Sri Krishna Deva Raya, City of Victory aims to recreate the splendor and glory of one of the most magnificent empires ever.
The book starts by giving us the backdrop of medival India. It starts with the accounts of the Ghori and Ghazni and the defeat of PrithviRaj Chouhan. From there we get to see the slave dynasty, the Khiljis and the plunders of Malik Kafur. Malik Kafur’s exploits down south would mean that Kakatiyas, Hoyasalas, the Cheras and other south Indian Hindu Kingdoms lose ground. The author illustrates as to how people in the south saw the power vacuum getting created and yearned for a kingdom to protect them.
Then we see the way in which Sage Sri Vidyaranya guides Harihara and Bukka Raya in creating the Hindu Kingdom of the south. From here, the author takes us through various Kings and Dynasties that ruled Vijayanagara and made it one of the greatest Kingdoms ever. He describes the administrative policies of the kings, the way they fostered fine arts, the way they pioneered in building impregnable castles and then takes us to Tallikota where the hammer of time grinds the wheels of the Empire to a screeching halt.
What did I like?
1. The research of the author. Many people do not know that three dynasties ruled Vijayanagara. A Telugu man would not know the amount of Kannada literature that came out from Vijayanagara and Vice Versa. The author lists the books that were written by Telugu Poets, Kannada Poets, Tamil Poets and then he again categorizes them by discipline. Books on Advaita Philosophy, Dwaitha Philosophy, Visishtadwaitha Philosophy, Jainism, Veerasaivam, Music, Dance, Astronomy, Science, Mathematics and folklore all get a mention. Kudos to Ratnakar Garu for the research he has done.
2. The book describes the administrative policies of the Vijayanagara Kings very well. This section is a real value add.
3. Usually, books of this sort concentrate on the Empire they describe and its heroes. Here the author presents a good amount of research on the primary opponents to the empire too, The Bahamani Sultans.
4. I loved the unbiased approach of the author. He calls a spade a spade and gives the credit where it is due. He does not make heroes of villains out of the Vijayanagara Kings or for that matter the Bahamani Sultans based on his prejudices. He applauds the Vijayanagara Kings when needed and chides them when they err. He does the same with the Bahamanis too. That’s the USP of the book for me.
5. The Author spoke about the reasons why the empire lost in the battle of Tallikota. He shows us that the signs of decay were there for the people to see. The palace coups, the involvement of sultans in palace politics, nepotism of Aliya Rama Raya and some other grave errors of Vijayanagara Kings were well portrayed. I loved the inferences and insights the author provided.
6. For many people, 16th-century battle of Tallikota was the end of Vijayanagara, loved the fact that Ratnakar Garu traced it till the last ruler, who happened to come in the 17th century.
What did not like?
Tough to tell when I am reading a history book, but I shall try to make a point or two.
1. I read the Kindle version of the book, the pictures that were given were not up to the mark. Most of them are not legible. The Kindle version of the book needs a facelift.
2. We read till Sri Krishna Deva Raya and then read about administration, patronage to arts, etc. Till then, it was mostly about Kings and conquests. In my opinion, it would have been great to have a king, his conquests, policies, and patronage to arts in the same or say succeeding chapters. That would have been a chronological way of putting things.
One word: Must Read.
It is a great job by Ratankar garu, this sort of research and unbiased writing is hard to find. This is the 120th book review on this blog and I have reviewed very few books that are as good and as unbiased as this one. It does not matter whether you are a History buff or not this is a book that you must read. For, as a wise man said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
You can buy the book here.
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