G S P Rao: Krishnadeva Raya - the Great Poet-Emperor of Vijayanagara
Hyderabad: Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, 2004. xiv +156. Rs 120.
“An endearing scholastic endeavour”
Krishnadeva Raya’s name is irrevocably associated with glorious literary accomplishments; exceptional, triumphant military expeditions; and an ardent desire to preserve and perpetuate Hindu culture in South India. His greatness lies ‘not so much in the extent of territory he controlled as in the quality of his governance, the pinnacle to which he carried Vijayanagara,’ rightly observes the author G S P Rao.
This eminently enjoyable book was published by Potti Sreramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad, in 2004 with the fond hope that it ‘will trigger a strong interest among people about the life and times of Krishnadeva Raya, and his enormous contributions to the culture of Telugu speaking people,’ as the 500th anniversary of Krishnadeva Raya’s coming to power (in 1509) was fast approaching.
Laying bare his intentions and plan to script the biography of this illustrious son of India, Rao, in the preface, provides impressive data available so far, and discloses his methodology in compiling information culled from diverse sources. This engrossing book is an eloquent testimony to the dedicated approach of the author, who extensively traveled to collect vast data in the form of inscriptions, photos, maps and texts. He honestly confesses ‘in presenting the life and times of Krishnadeva Raya. I have been guided more by the overall impact of his achievements felt even 500 years after him, than specifics of individual events.’
The author adopts conversational tone, rather than a historian’s approach, to narrate the history of Vijayanagara empire and throw light on the life of Krishnadeva Raya. Krishnadeva Raya ascended the throne more than 170 years after its foundations were laid. The empire was established in 1336 A.D and had been inextricably involved in prolonged wars with Bahamanis on the north and Kalinga on the north east. Hinduism survived the incessant onslaught of Muslim rulers and “the lamp of brahmanical Hinduism was kept burning only in the Hindu principalities – particularly the tiny state of Mithila in the north and kingdom of Vijayanagara in the south,” as the eminent historian R.C.Mazumdar records.
First Chapter traces the founding of Vijayanagara empire and its growth. It had around thirty rulers over a period of three hundred years and spread over 140,000 sq miles (around 360,000 sq kilometers ) of territory, covering entire Indian peninsula to the south of river Krishna and extended to Kalinga as well. From Sangama dynasty it passed on to Saluvas and then to Tuluvas. A graphic picture of South India before Krishnadeva Raya prepares the reader to understand the glorious contribution of the emperor.
Subsequent chapters detail various aspects of Krishnadeva Raya’s versatile personality. A devout person, a fitness freak, a popular and cultured ruler, he subjugated Karnataka rebels, captured Udayagiri, Kondaveedu, Kondapalli and conquered Kalinga. Unlike the alien rulers who destroyed and looted cities of conquest, Krishnadeva Raya made peace with Gajapti, ruler of Kalinga, by marrying his daughter Tuka. It highlights the astute military strategies employed by him.
Rao records various conquests of the emperor in an interesting and inspiring manner. Unfolding the social, cultural and literary accomplishments of Krishnadeva Raya, the reader is enabled to appreciate his administrative acumen too. The grandeur of Hampi is excellently presented in this tastefully produced book. Cultural glory, financial soundness and political stability during his reign rendered the state opulent, a veritable traveler’s delight and a pilgrim centre. Every foreign visitor was stupefied by the sheer range of wealth on display.
It also heralded a golden era of Telugu literature. ‘Krishnadeva Raya’s court named Bhuvana Vijaya (also called Palace of Victory) has become legendary for extra–ordinary literary talent that he had assembled there and for the scholarly discourses that regularly took place. The emperor was quick in recognizing and honouring merit. He himself was a poet of eminence and proficient in Sanskrit and all South Indian languages. Those who are familiar with the literary works of Ashta-diggajahs will be pleasantly surprised to find the portraits of these poets lovingly included in this book by the author. He elucidates the contribution of Krishnadeva Raya that culminated in ‘cultural efflorescence.’ Music, dance and sculpture flourished with unprecedented splendour.
Rao devotes a whole chapter to pay glowing tribute to the poetic competence of Krishnadeva Raya. Amukta Malyada, his magnum opus, is discussed in detail.
Magnificent colour photographs carefully collected and appropriately appended in the text throw ample light on the inconceivable sculptural extravaganza witnessed during the period. Like all good things that come to an end, the victorious Vijayanagara empire too fell on bad days and the decline started after the demise of Krishnadeva Raya in the closing months of 1529 / early 1530 A.D. ‘Thus passed away into history one of the great emperors of India leaving behind his indelible stamp on it.’
While Krishnadeva Raya firmly consolidated the empire, and stabilized and protected Hindu Dharma and culture in South India, momentous developments were taking place in North India. A stage was being set for the establishment of the great Mughal Empire. The disastrous Talikota war in 1565 A.D dealt a body blow to Hindu culture and Vijayanagara Empire. Epilogue sums up the over all achievements of Krishnadeva Raya , encompassing various inspiring aspects of his amazing personality.
G S P Rao deserves encomiums for collecting the data and organizing the narrative in this tribute to one of the worthiest sons of India. End notes enables the reader to realize and appreciate the painstaking research undertaken by the author. In addition, Annexure-I captures Krishnadeva Raya’s life at a glance; Annexture –II offers genealogy of Vijayanagara emperors- Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva, and Araveedu dynasties; and Annexture-III carrying inscription at the temple in Tirupati focuses on the life of Krishnadeva Raya immortalizing his rule and service. An impressive bibliography signs off an endearing scholastic endeavour by the author in perpetuating the life and memory of Krishnadeva Raya.
First published in museindia.com July-August 2009, issue 26