Vijayanagar Wars

The Hindu Vijayanagar Empire made many territorial advances through military cleverness, but civil war, internal corruption, and a united Muslim enemy brought the once-great empire to an end at the Battle of Talikota in 1565.

Summary of Event

In 1509, Krishnadevaraya ascended to the throne of the great South Asian Vijayanagar Empire. Around the same time, Portuguese explorers and tradesmen had begun to establish a settlement in Goa Goa , along the west coast of India. Krishnadevaraya took advantage of the unrest caused by the Portuguese to invade most of his neighbors and acquire territory for Vijayanagar. He entered into a contract with the Portuguese for horses for his wars against Yūsuf ՙĀdil Khan (who ruled as Yūsuf ՙĀdil Shah), the sultan of Bijāpur Bijāpur[Bijapur] . The Portuguese agreed to supply Krishnadevaraya with mounts for his cavalry. Colonization;Portugal of India
Vijayanagar Wars (1509-1565)
Rama Raja
Yūsuf ՙĀdil Khan
Ismāՙīl ՙĀdil Shah
Rama Raja
Ibrahim ՙĀdil Shah I

Krishnadevaraya came to realize that the Portuguese could be a valuable supply ally, so, in 1514, Krishnadevaraya offered the governor of Goa, Afonso de Albuquerque, a substantial sum of money for the exclusive rights to trade in horses. The Portuguese were interested not in South Asian politics, but in business, and the governor did not see exclusivity as being very lucrative. The sultan of Bijāpur heard of Krishnadevaraya’s attempts and sent his own envoy to Goa. The governor of Goa wrote to Krishnadevaraya that he would agree to the exclusive supply of horses if he would pay an exorbitant sum of money per year and send his own servants to Goa to fetch the animals. The Portuguese also offered the option of aiding Krishnadevaraya in the war against the sultan if Krishnadevaraya would pay for the troops. The governor made a conflicting agreement with the sultan, but no trouble arose because the governor died soon thereafter.

After defeating a disorganized invasion of Bahmani sultanate forces and capturing the Rāichūr Doab, a region between the Tungabhadra and Kistna Rivers, Krishnadevaraya began his military and diplomatic work. He noticed a quarrel between Bijāpur and the new Bahmani ruler and used it to restore the imprisoned Bahmani sultan to his throne in 1512, earning Krishnadevaraya a staunch ally. Simultaneously, he waged a campaign to subdue the Ummatur to the south and created a new province from the conquest of the Ummatur.

In 1514, Krishnadevaraya marched against Udayagiri, a hill fortress in the domains of the Gajapati king of Orissa Orissa , and again succeeded. Krishnadevaraya captured an aunt of the royal family of Orissa, taking her to Vijayanagar as prisoner. Among the spoils was a statue of Krishna, which he set up at Vijayanagar, commemorating Krishna’s blessing on the battle with a long inscription. Krishnadevaraya built great temples with the wealth acquired from his victories.

After Udayagiri, Krishnadevaraya proceeded to take another hill fortress in the possession of the king of Orissa. The king recognized the seriousness of his opponent and met Krishnadevaraya there. The king’s presence did little, however; Krishnadevaraya defeated the Orissa armies again, capturing the citadel after two months. He then appointed a governor of the conquered provinces and continued northward, triumphing again, this time at Meduru. At Kondapale, the siege took three months, but Krishnadevaraya was ultimately victorious. As at Udayagiri, he captured members of the royal family, taking a wife and son of the imprisoned king. The king of Orissa realized that he was no defensive match for Krishnadevaraya and worked to form a peace, marrying a daughter to Krishnadevaraya to establish their treaty. Krishnadevaraya returned to Orissa some of the territory he had conquered north of the Krishna River.

While Krishnadevaraya was in Orissa, Ismāՙīl ՙĀdil Shah, his Bijāpuri rival, had retaken Rāichūr. Krishnadevaraya called in his Portuguese allies and trounced Ismāՙīl and his troops, recapturing Rāichūr in 1520. This victory alone was not enough, however, because he wanted his victory to be memorable and significant. He captured more forts and acquired territory in 1523 in Bijāpur, destroyed Gulbarga, and, once he recognized that the Bahmani sultanate was again in political trouble, restored the territory to a son of Maḥmūd Shah II. Through these actions, Krishnadevaraya’s military campaigns ensured immense power for Vijayanagar and greater political stability for South India.

A number of factors contributed to Krishnadevaraya’s victories: Well-educated Brahmans served as commanders, Portuguese and Muslim mercenaries made up his garrisons, he recruited foot soldiers from forest tribes, and, to keep his vassals under control, he created subordinate chiefs, or poligars (pālegāgadu).

After Krishnadevaraya’s death in 1529, Vijayanagar began to decline. Politically, the administration was not clever enough to keep its enemies from uniting. Immediately on Krishnadevaraya’s death, Bijāpur, Golconda, and Orissa attacked Vijayanagar. The successor ruler, Achyutaraya, was competent enough to fend off the first wave of attacks, even with the internal difficulties that accompanied a revolt led by the chief minister. The southern chiefs of Ummatur and Tiruvadi also rebelled but were defeated quickly.

Unfortunately, in the later 1530’, Achyutaraya made a fatal mistake. He had entered a power-sharing relationship with his new chief minister, Rama Raja, who in turn decided that sharing was not enough, so he rebelled and then imprisoned Achyutaraya. Some nobles remained loyal, and another revolt by the southern chieftains led to Achyutaraya’s release. This caused a civil war in Vijayanagar. The new ruler of Bijāpur, Ibrahim ՙĀdil Shah I, realized that a civil war in the most powerful state in South India would destabilize his own empire. He agreed to moderate a settlement between Achyutaraya and Rama Raja, in which Achyutaraya relinquished all power to Rama Raja but retaining nominal and ceremonial kingship.

At this point, the external boundaries of Vijayanagar had reverted to what they were in 1529. The civil war and internal revolts, however, weakened the imperial hold over some of the provinces, especially those in the south. Rama Raja rectified this problem in 1542 and 1543, after Achyutaraya’s death. He crowned Achyutaraya’s nephew in 1542 to ensure Vijayanagar would still have a ceremonial king. This king would remain a figurehead, leaving Rama Raja and his brothers to rule Vijayanagar.

Rama Raja subdued the nobles in the east and south and made a treaty with the Portuguese in 1546 to prevent their expansion into India, which would threaten Vijayanagar. When the treaty was broken in 1558, Rama Raja demanded and received compensation from the Portuguese for vandalizing Vijayanagar temples.

The Muslim rivals in Bijāpur realized that Vijayanagar was weakened, so they attacked in 1543, but Rama Raja was still able to defend and repel the attack, surprising the Bijāpur forces. Rama Raja aided Ahmadnagar in a campaign in 1548 but allied with Bijāpur in 1557 against Ahmadnagar and Golconda. The final war led to a collective treaty among the four sultanates—Vijayanagar, Bijāpur, Ahmadnagar, and Golconda—proscribing unjust attacks on one another. If a sultanate was attacked, however, it could call on the other two to stop the aggressor. Ahmadnagar attacked Bijāpur in 1560, and Vijayanagar and Golconda responded, subduing Ahmadnagar. Later, Golconda and Ahmadnagar attacked Bijāpur together but were vanquished by a united Bijāpur and Vijayanagar front, proving that the four partners were not equal.


Regardless of individual strength and a succession of successful battles, though, Rama Raja’s defeat was certain after multiple strong states allied against him. In 1565, Rama Raja led the sultanate into the fateful battle against the ՙĀdil Shah Dynasty at Rakasa-Tangadi, best known as the Battle of Talikota Talikota, Battle of (1565) . The combined forces of the Muslim states managed not only to demolish Rama Raja’s army and destroy the city of Vijayanagar but also to capture and kill him.

Rama Raja’s brother Tirumala made an attempt to establish a new capital at Penukonda to keep the empire intact, but the attempt ultimately was fruitless because most of the provinces had formed into independent sultanates. His Aravidu Dynasty Aravidu Dynasty continued to decline into the early seventeenth century.

Telegu houses and the Muslim states decreased their support and reverence of Vijayanagar, and the sieges on Penukonda were increasingly successful.

The government had to relocate to Chandragiri, and more nobles continued to secede. Further decentralization was prevented, yet control over chieftains and nobles remained tenuous; the empire also was degraded by European imperialism.

Internal rebellions and external machinations caused the Vijayanagar Empire to finally collapse to a mere provincial power around 1614. Krishnadevaraya reigned over an empire that, through successful military campaigns, saw great wealth and brought honor. His administrative skills were emulated by the states that formed after the 1565 battle.

Further Reading

  • Karashima, Noboru. Towards a New Formation: South Indian Society Under Vijayanagar Rule. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Karashima describes the social history of Vijayanagar, including the provinces, exploring the lives of the people who were conquered by the wars.
  • Sastri, K. A. Kilakanta, and N. Venkataramanayya. Further Sources in Vijayanagara History. Madras: University of Madras Press, 1946. This multivolume set affords translations of texts from and relating to Vijayanagar history, especially between 1509 and 1565.
  • Sewell, Robert. Vijayanagar: As Seen by Domingos Paes and Fernao Nuniz (Sixteenth Century Portuguese Chroniclers) and Others. Edited with introduction and notes by Vasundhara Filliozat. New Delhi, India: National Book Trust, 1999. Documents the accounts of Domingo Paes and Fernao Nuniz, Portuguese explorers who visited Vijayanagar during Krishnadevaraya’s reign.
  • Stein, Burton. Vijayanagara. Vol. 1 in The New Cambridge History of India. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. An excellent source for an introduction to Vijayanagar, which considers the empire’s rise and fall and offers an extremely valuable account of the Krishnadevaraya years and Rama Raja’s corruption.

1489: ՙĀdil Shah Dynasty Founded

c. 1490: Fragmentation of the Bahmani Sultanate

1552: Struggle for the Strait of Hormuz