Throughout the annals of medieval Indian history, fact and legend intermingle to give readers a variety of stories about how major empires were born. It is no different in the case of the Vijayanagara Empire, but most historians have settled on an inscrutable theory.
The brothers Bukka and Harihara, who were either in the service of the King or the Muhammadan General of Warangal, retreated to the hill country around Anegundi in the early 1300s. They took ownership of the land and laid the rudimentary foundation for the Vijayanagara Empire.
Harihara I, elder of the two, assumed the title of Chieftain instead of King so as not to anger the Muslim Sultans. Quietly and peacefully, Harihara I acquired large tracts of land as far north as the Kaladgi district, north of the Malprabha River, as well as certain areas of the Konkan and Malabar Coast. His pacification of the Hindu territories was made easier when the Sultan of Madurai killed the last king of the Hoysala Empire, thus opening a vacuum of power that Harihara willingly occupied.
His younger brother, Bukka I, took over after his death and his military exploits helped expand the Vijayanagara Empire and solidify its place in medieval history. By 1360, Bukka I had annexed the Penukonda region, defeated the Reddis of Kondavidu and conquered the Shambuvaraya Kingdom of Arcot. Bukka’s most important military exploits were against the Madurai Sultanate and Bahmani Sultans, laying the foundation for his son’s successful campaigns against the Muslim rulers.
Firishta, the Persian historian, writes of a time towards the end of Bukka’s reign.
“The princes of the house of Bahmanee (Bahmani Sultanate) maintained themselves by superior valour only, for in power, wealth, and extent of country the roles of Beejanuggur (Vijayanagara) were greatly their superiors…The seaport of Goa, the fortress of Malgaon, belonged to the Roy of Beejanuggur, and many districts of Tulghaut were in his possession. His country was well peopled, and his subjects submissive to his authority. The roles of Malabar, Ceylon, and other islands and other countries kept ambassadors at his court, and sent annually rich presents.”
In the early 1300s, Harihara and Bukka had set up their capital at Anegundi. Today, ruins of temples, palaces, and tanks can still be found in this village, an hour’s ride from Hampi. Bukka I was responsible for shifting the capital from Anegundi to Vijayanagara on the southern banks of the Tungabhadra River. This would prove to be a masterstroke. Vijayanagara was geographically well-positioned to repel the constant northern attacks of Muslim armies.
As you explore the ruins of Hampi, and your guide weaves stories of the Vijayanagara Empire’s former glory, know that this southern India bastion was not built in a day. Hampi-Vijayanagara came to be the world’s second largest medieval-era city because of two brothers who envisioned a majestic empire. With extraordinary prescience, Harihara I peacefully integrated the towns and villages that fell under his dominion. Bukka I took over and applied his shrewd military tactics to establish the Vijayanagara Empire as a force to reckon with in South India.
The brothers are referred to as chieftains in ancient manuscripts and inscriptions. Following their death and Vijayanagara’s mercurial rise the rulers adopted the title of Rajadhiraja (King of Kings). Taking nothing away from the achievements of the kings that followed, Harihara and Bukka remain vital to Vijayanagara being the most glorious medieval Indian city.