South Indian Dynasties and Their Founders

The inability of the sultans to maintain a solid grip on the Deccan and South India led to the creation of two rival kingdoms in the south: the Muslim Bahmani Sultanate (1347-1527) and the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire (1336-1565). In the year 1347, Zafar Khan, who had previously served as a regional governor under the Tughluqs, rose out in rebellion against his Turkic master and declared himself sultan, assuming the title Ala-ud-Din Bahman Shah. The Bahmani Sultanate, which was situated in the northern Deccan, existed for over two centuries until it was eventually divided into five lesser kingdoms in the year 1527. The Bahmani Sultanate adopted the patterns established by the Delhi overlords in tax collection and administration, but its downfall was caused in large measure by the competition and hatred between deccani (domiciled Muslim immigrants and local converts) and paradesi. The Bahmani Sultanate adopted the patterns established by the Delhi overlords in tax collection and administration (foreigners or officials in temporary service). In Hyderabad, where cultural blooming is still manifested in powerful schools of Deccani architecture and art, the Bahmani Sultanate is credited with initiating a process of cultural fusion that can be seen today.

The empire of Vijayanagar, which was established in 1336 and named after its capital city, which is located in what is now the state of Karnataka and is known as Vijayanagar, “City of Victory,” expanded rapidly toward Madurai in the south and Goa in the west, and it intermittently exercised control over the east coast and the extreme southwest. The examples set by the Chola dynasty were adhered to very faithfully by the kings of Vijayanagar, particularly with regard to the collection of taxes from agriculture and commerce, the encouragement given to commercial guilds, and the honouring of temples with generous donations. Through the imposition of a variety of taxes on various commercial companies, professions, and industries, the government was able to acquire the additional funds necessary to wage war against the Bahmani sultans. Dominance of the Krishna-Tunghabadhra river basin was at the centre of political competition between the Bahmani and the Vijayanagar monarchs. This control often changed hands depending on whose state’s military was in a stronger position at any given time. The ability of the rulers of Vijayanagar to achieve victory over their foes was dependent on securing a steady supply of horses (originally through Arab merchants, but subsequently via the Portuguese), as well as maintaining internal roadways and communication networks. The strength of landowners and Brahmans in court politics may be balanced out by the influence of merchant guilds, who benefited from having a broad area of activity. Over time, foreigners came to control a significant portion of the country’s commercial and maritime activities, prompting the monarch to provide these individuals access to privileged facilities as well as favourable tax treatment. Arabs and Portuguese engaged in a competition for influence and control of the ports on the western coast of Africa. In 1510, Goa was conquered by the Portuguese.

Within the city of Vijayanagar itself were a plethora of temples, many of which had elaborate decoration, particularly on the entrances, as well as a number of shrines dedicated to various deities. The temple that was devoted to Virupaksha, a manifestation of Shiva, which was the patron-deity of the Vijayanagar emperors, was the most notable of the religious buildings. Temples continued to serve as the focal points of a wide range of intellectual and cultural pursuits, but the activities themselves were more rooted in history than in the political realities of the modern day. (However, Harihara I, the first monarch of the Vijayanagar Empire, was born a Hindu but later converted to Islam for political reasons, after which he later returned to his Hindu faith.) Because Muslims were considered to be “impure” in general and were thus barred from visiting temples, there was no intellectual interchange that was sponsored by the temples with theologians from Islamic faiths. At the Battle of Talikot in 1565, the five kings of what was once known as the Bahmani Sultanate gathered their armies and launched an assault on Vijayanagar, which led to the collapse of the empire.

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