Ravi Valluri

Bahubali, the talismanic film captured the imagination of cinemagoers across India and the globe for its sheer grandeur, majestic sets, scintillating music and riveting storyline.

Meanwhile, one hears the news that the epic, Mahabharata, embellished with some of the finest troupers of the Indian film firmament is being currently filmed and is slated for a 2020 release.

The geometry and the architecture of Bahubali and the epic Mahabharata-in-the- making force my mind to delve into the planning and construction of Vijayanagara republic. The domain, span and politics of the period is merely one aspect of the empire, but what is noteworthy and even more spectacular is the administrative policies and contribution to art, architecture, literature and in particular poetry.

The state was bifurcated into several provinces to facilitate administration. There were apparently 200 in number and superintended by viceroys called Nayaks. At the bottom of the pyramid was the village administrative units called agraharas.

While working on Guntakal Division of South Central Railway, I would tear away to the Tungabhadra Dam and also to Hampi, where some of the most resplendent and transcendental temples have been constructed from single cut rock pieces. I was transfixed, in absolute awe as my travel guide used his dexterous fingers to generate the notes of classical Indian music from stone pillars. Anyone would be transported to an ethereal world, listening to the seven swaras (notes) – Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa- emanating from the pillars of the temple. The figurative drama was embellished in stone. I was in tranquillity as I embraced a few moments of symphony in my cacophonous mind.

The Vijayanagara Empire was an offspring of the latitude and ideology of the resurgent populace of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka regions, who usurped power from the decadent Sultanate confederation. There were waves of uprisings and mutinies triggered and fashioned by the King of Kampili across present day Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in circa 1327. The year 1334 was momentous. It was a triumphant victory when the Sultanate was overthrown by two brothers, Harihara and Bukka.

The progenitors of Sangama of the Hoysala dynasty, the brothers were deployed by Mohammed bin Tughlaq to vanquish the Sultanate. It is believed they briefly turned apostates and were converted to Islam and subsequently were proselytised to Hinduism. The high noon of the kingdom was maritime connectivity with Europe.

The republic of Vijayanagara was endowed with several rulers, but singular in expanding the frontiers and stamping its authority across the Tungabhadra basin and peninsular India was the talismanic sovereign, Krishnadevaraya.

Krishnadevaraya was a precocious poet who wrote in Telugu and Sanskrit. It is a travesty that only two of his works (Amuktama in Telugu and Jamvati Kalyanam, a Sanskrit drama) are extant. Tragically, the remaining works have been lost in sands of time. Nevertheless historians akin the period to the Augustan age of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Sanskrit literature. Vijayanagara art, despite its Dravidian roots had a distinctive characteristic. It was a period of renaissance where ceremonial observances were pronounced by anthropomorphic attributes of the presiding deity.

The opulent classes were known to live a life of reverie and indulgence. Polygamy was practised widely. However, there were prominent women such as Ganga Devi and Tirumalamba Devi who authored Madhura Vijayam and Varadambika Parinayam in Telugu.

Reams can be written about this fascinating chapter of medieval South Indian history. Without doubt it was a dramatic phase in the history of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Youngsters today should not only watch Bahubali, but pore over this glorious chapter to enhance their vista.