While the art and architecture of Vijayanagara is justly celebrated, the literature of the period is relatively unknown outside southern India, due to the lack of adequate translations from Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. This work brings together for the first time in English a selection from literary sources in medieval Kannada language. The texts date from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries and the written both at the Vijayanagara capital and various provincial outposts of the empire by the most accomplished authors and poets of the day. The texts selected for this volume conform to the literary conventions and imagery of their era and should not be considered historical chronicles like those of the foreign visitors to the capital. Even so, these translated extracts from medieval Kannada shed valuable light on the ways in which contemporary authors thought about life at the Vijayanagara capital. Among the topics that are described here are the layout of the city, its palace and markets and streets, the everyday routines of the king, his courtiers and family members, and a number of religious ceremonies, weddings, feasts and festivals. To facilitate the reader, the translated extracts have been arranged according to topic, rather than by date or author An appendix gives background information on the texts and their authors, as well as an index to all the extracts from a particular literary source. An extensive Kannada-English glossary is also provided.
C.T.M. Kotraiah has worked both as an archaeologist and museum director with the Archaeological Survey of India in Karnataka. He has now retired to Mysore. Among his many publications on the Vijayanagara period is the acclaimed Irrigation Systems Under Vijayanagara Empire (Directorate of Archaeology & Museums, Mysore, 1995). He maintains an interest in Kannada literature of the Vijayanagara era and the extracts assembled here have been specially translated by him for this volume.
Anna L. Dallapiccola, formerly Professor of Indian Art History at the University of Heidelberg, is now Honorary Professor at Edinburgh University and Visiting Professor at PRASADA, Department of Architecture at De Montfort University, Leicester. Among her recent publications are Sculpture at Vijayanagara: Iconography and Style, together with Anila Verghese (Manohar, New Delhi, 1998) and Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (Thames and Hudson, London, 2002). A member of the Vijayanagara Research Project since 1983, she takes a particular interest in the art and culture of the Vijayanagara era.
From the beginning, this Anthology has concentrated on “non-religious” texts that have as their chief subject the king and court, as well as the people, arte facts and habitats that surrounded them. Though many of these works recount stories about the great people of the realm to convey the religious doctrines propounded by the authors, vivid accounts do emerge of courtly life, such as intrigue, romance, marriage, council and war. In this way, we can fashion a surprisingly complete picture of the lives of kings, queens, attendant women, princes, commanders, guards, gatekeepers, messengers and foreign visitors. That we are less informed about the points of view of servants, agriculturalists, merchants, soldiers and even priests is hardly surprising given the bias of the authors and the social environment in which they wrote.
It would be naïve for us to expect any precise correspondence between the locations and even Is described in these texts and the actual places and events of the Vijayanagara period. Some of the authors lived in the capital and others may have visited it. Very few of the works that C.T.M. Kotraiah has consulted purport to describe the Vijayanagara capital, an exception being the Pampasthana Varnanam; most deal with mythical courts and cities that already had been described by countless storytellers in earlier times.
Created in a cultural tradition that extended back many centuries, these Kannada texts should be understood first and foremost as literary arte facts. It is probable that the roles of conventional forms and representation, versification and audience were as significant in determining the organization and content of texts as the personal observations of the poets or the events to which they refer. No doubt, courtly gossip and witty remarks in Devaraya’s Pansupari bazaar at Vijayanagara, for example, were expressed according to quite different literary conventions that had a closer relationship to the daily life of the capital. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to assume that the content of these texts had some relationship to the life experience of the Vijayanagara poets and their courtly patrons. We believe that these texts convey a good deal about the idiom according to which members of the Vijayanagara literati understood their world. This language included elaborate and lengthy enumerations of the objects with which patrons embellished their lives; items of food and drink, jewellery and costumes, weapons and military equipment, plants and animals.
There is also some discussion of the structures and locales in which the authors and their patrons conducted their lives, and which may perhaps be related to the archaeological record of the Vijayanagara site. The texts also indicate the relationships between people and things. For example, they specif5i the kinds of objects that could be used appropriately by a particular person in a particular venue. Furthermore, they testify to the preferred relationships between the different members of the court, especially between kings and their family members, spiritual advisors, ministers and attendant women. At another level, these texts convey a sense of the ideal world to which members of the court aspired. If they do not detail a particular hunt, courtly reception or marriage feast, they at least inform on the essential qualities of such events, “as they were wished to be.” Such works are embedded in “historical reality,” even if they convey this reality in a quite different manner from historiographic traditions from other parts of the world. (There is even one source, the Shri Krishnadevarayana Dinachari, which purports to narrate events that are known from other historical sources, including Krishnadevaraya’s war against the Gajapatis.)
How then are we who are concerned with the material form of the Vijayanagara capital to understand these literary sources? If they do not describe “historical things”, can they still help us to shed light on the documented remains of the Vijayanagara capital? Some passages refer to things that already have been observed archaeologically. For example, the Jivandhra Charite mentions the presence of boulders outside a fortification wall that would impede access by attacking forces (see Section 2.4). Such boulder fields were noted by Portuguese visitors to Vijayanagara (Sewell 1980) and have been observed at the pre Vijayanagara site of Kummata (Patil 1991), as well as at Vijayanagara itself (Sinopoli and Morrison at press). Other passages suggest features that might be observed through scientific excavation of ruined buildings; thus, for instance, the Ramanatha Charitestates that the walls of houses within a fort were painted with pictures and decorated with mirrors (Section 2.7). While painted bands and some small figures have been observed on the surviving basements of Vijayanagara palace structures, no figurative painting on the walls has been recorded. If such paintings existed, they were either so damaged by the destruction of these buildings as to leave almost no record, and/or recovery techniques were inadequate to observe them. Traces of small mirrors have been found during excavation of one palace in the so-called Noblemen’s Quarter (Balasubrahmanya, personal communication), and cautious uncovery of other such structures might indicate further instances. Other equally ephemeral features are also not likely to be preserved, and we must exercise caution in postulating the presence of hanging textiles, jewelled inlays and metallic pinnacles, even though such elements are common enough in the literature.
At an architectural scale, the texts also suggest different types of structures and rooms to be found in a palace complex: according to one text, a gymnasium, stables, a garden, pleasure tank, pavilion with painted murals, court hall, store house, treasury and queens’ apartments (Section 3.2). Another source describes the constituent elements of a king’s palace: the stables, an armory, theater, painting gallery, council chamber, study and pleasure pavilion, as well as a front hall, audience hall and outer court (Section 3.3). It would surely be a mistake for us to assume that a particular palace complex at Vijayanagara would have contained any of these elements, let alone the elements mentioned in other texts. But we can propose the use of different spaces and structures and scientifically test these propositions based on the form and associated artifacts of each functional type (Fritz 1972).
The same investigative method can be followed at an urban scale. Some specific elements referred to in the literary sources are easily identified at the Vijayanagara site: gateways, fort walls, roads, temples and elite residences. However, their disposition may not be according to a particular text (Section 4.1). Other urban elements might yet be identified through careful documentation of surface remains and future excavation: shops, bazaars and non-elite houses. The city as described in the texts consists of many different neighbourhoods, each defined by the kinds of people who live there. The Ramanatha Charite lists more than three dozen occupational groups that may have been spatially segregated (Section 4.5). The Shivatattva Chintamani suggests the spatial relation of some groups when it refers to a street in which wealthy people lived in mansions and jewellers worked in nearby shops, while a street of concubines was not far away (Section 4.3). Scientific archaeology carried out on a large scale might one day discover neighbourhoods and identify the groups who lived there. At Vijayanagara, one such neighbourhood has already been excavated—the Noblemen’s Quarter (Devaraj and Patil 1996)—but the artefacts that might contribute to the identification of the people who lived in these different areas have yet to be consistently collected and analysed.
Looking beyond the instrumental use of these texts to name, identify and explain the material record of the Vijayanagara site, we can appreciate the richly expressive view of the Vijayanagara world as the poets and their patrons might have understood it. In the ideal world a king was learned in the arts and devout, respectful of the advice of learned and holy men, expert in strategy and astute—even wily—in his dealings with his advisors, family, friends and adversaries. He exercised self- control in all things, was generous to his kin, servants, and supplicants and upheld traditional law. He was ready to act heroically and to go to war. But he was not taken over by the pursuit of sensual pleasures, intolerance or unwarranted anger. At the same time he was expected to be wealthy and display his riches and power through his largesse to charity and religion, the strength of his army and fortresses and the splendour of his household. The scale and opulence of his palace, the beauty of his jewels and clothing, his rare perfumes, and the magnificence of his state rituals all contributed to the king’s glory. His household included his family members, numerous beautiful and sensuous women and even his state elephants and horses. This magnificence he supported through taxes that were not burdensome to his subjects. He also encouraged agriculture and commerce. In contrast, Shulman (1985) has suggested that such a prescriptive model can be burdensome even to the point of tragedy.
In conclusion, we may read these Kannada texts of the Vijayanagara period on several levels: as literary formulas, as indications of components of the material world of the elite, as evocations of an ideal world in which the elite wished to see themselves or as elements of cultural patterns through which elites coped with the tensions between an ideal, poetical world and the untidy and threatening world of the everyday (Shulman 1985). Those readers who are not concerned with the ambiguities of the material record of Vijayanagara, however, are invited to share the enjoyable experience of entering into this richly poetical world; part reality, part convention, part creative exposition.
As an archaeologist and architectural historian involved for many years in documenting and interpreting the material record of Vijayanagara, we have felt keenly our lack of capability with respect to south Indian languages. This shortcoming is not unique; indeed it is shared with several other foreign scholars and even with some of our colleagues from north India. As our research at Vijayanagara progressed over the years, we became increasingly aware of a rich body of contemporary prose and poetical sources in Kannada and Telugu that lay beyond our reach, in the absence of English translations. It was with this desire to understand the relevant indigenous literary background to Vijayanagara that we approached Sri C.T.M. Kotraiah, a highly respected Kannadiga archaeologist with a long-standing interest in the Vijayanagara site and the Vijayanagara period in general. This scholar confirmed that a host of Kannada literary sources did indeed exist, but none of these were available in English. Fortunately for us, we were able to persuade Kotraiah to trawl through the various published Kannada language texts of the 9javanagara period and advise us about their contents. When he revealed that these prose and poetic works contained a wealth of detail on topics such as royal architecture and town planning, courtly life and ceremonies, entertainments and festivals, the practice of war and hunting and even the costumes and earing habits of the period, we immediately recognized the relevance of these subjects to our attempts to interpret the material evidence If the Vijayanagara site and the activities of its elite population.
Thus it came about that we commissioned Kotraiah to translate into English a set of passages covering these and ether related subjects to be found in the various literary works of the period that might be pertinent to our archaeological and art historical investigations. While Kotraiah makes no claim at being a scholar of Kannada literature, his experience as an archaeologist has made him particularly sensitive to the types of data that would help us understand the material dimensions of the Vijayanagara site. To this end, we devised a numerical outline listing an elaborate set of categories on king, court and capital that might potentially be found in the selected texts. Kotraiah carefully excerpted data for each of our categories, arranging the materials according to our numerical outline. These excerpts varied from complete translations to summaries or simple abstracts of the information that was to be found in these sources.
Over the next three years, Kotraiah presented us with an impressive and ever growing stack of materials. As we went through this rapidly increasing mass of typescript, it soon became apparent that we would require the services of an expert editor and compiler. Again, fortunately for us, Prof. Anna L. Dallapiccola, with whom we have collaborated over many years, was prepared to take on this arduous task. As a scholar specializing in the visual expressions of Vijayanagara culture, she was fascinated to read through the translations, which presented a literary portrait of the period as imagined by contemporary authors and poets. It is thanks to Dallapiccola that Kotraiah’s texts came to be organized in the perceptive and instructive manner that we have in this volume, thereby greatly aiding the general reader. In her overall role as compiler and editor, Dallapiccola was expertly helped by Janet McAlpin, who acted as a consultant editor, giving an inspired final polish to the format and language of the various chapters. Without the fruitful interaction of these three experts, this publication would have never reached this final form.
Of course, no academic publication such as this is possible without financial support. Funds to sustain Kotraiah derived from grants to the Vijayanagara Research Project given by the Special Currency Programme of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, as administered through the American Institute of Indian Studies in New Delhi. In this regard, we are once more indebted to Ms. Francine C. Berkowitz, Director, Office of International Relations of the Smithsonian, and Dr. Pradeep R. Mehendiratta, Director General, American Institute.
Other funds covering production and publication expenses of the volume have been raised by generous contributions from a number of personal friends, most of whom have visited the site and witnessed our team in action. They include Main Adam, E. Alkazi, Norman Braden and George Copland, George and Louise Browning, Cathy Curran, Elizabeth Chatwin, John Eskenazi, Phillip and Helen Jessup, Peter and Elbrun Kimmelman, Sue Kirby and John Goldring, Tony Korner, Dino and Edmee Leventis, David and Janet Harper, Julia Hodgkin, Eleanor Schwartz, Peter and Margaret Stern, Alex and Jo Wodak, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
As with previous volumes in the Vijayanagara Research Project Monograph Series, Ramesh Jam has acted as a highly responsible publisher, with B.N. Varma as an ever-vigilant production manager. We are grateful to both for maintaining high standards while seeing our ninth monograph through the press. To all of these individuals and institutions, we tend our grateful thanks.
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