It is easy to mistake Krishnadeva Raya for a character straight out of a fable—a king whose accomplishments and personality are exaggerated to make a great story. Just, benevolent, generous, a patron of arts and architecture, a poet—how could one man possess all these qualities and still manage to be a successful military commander under whom the empire reached its zenith?
Many travellers from countries far and wide visited Vijayanagara during Krishnadeva Raya’s reign. Fortunately, many of their accounts have survived the test of time to tell us that this extraordinary man was actually real. In fact we even know what he looked like. In his account, the Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes—who wrote a fairly detailed sketch of not just Vijayanagara but the king, his personal life and his daily routine as well—describes the king to be of medium height, fair-complexioned and rather plump with scars of small-pox on his skin. Generally cheerful in nature, the king was sometimes known to suffer from sudden fits of rage making him greatly feared amongst his nobles who never looked him in the eye.
Like all great warriors, Krishnadeva Raya was a good athlete and began his day, before dawn, by practicing sword-fighting after which he indulged in a bout of wrestling, one of his favourite sports. Later, he would mount his favourite horse and gallop across the plains of Hampi till the day finally broke and it was time for his ceremonial bath by a Brahmin priest. He would then head to the Hazara Rama Temple within the royal complex for his daily prayers.
Another traveller, Duarte Barbosa who also visited Vijayanagara during Krishnadeva Raya’s reign describes how the king was attended only by women, all of whom resided within the royal palace. Outside the palace stood scores of horsemen and the king, at all times, maintained an army of 900 elephants, over 20,000 horses and about 100,000 men both on horse and foot.
The king, according to Paes, loved white silk garments embroidered with roses in gold. Around his neck he wore a pateca or a collar encrusted with diamonds and pearls and on his head he wore a conical cap made of brocade.
Thus, clad in the finest of clothes and jewelry Krishnadeva Raya would go to the royal court where he would carry on his kingly duties in the presence of his prime minister, Saluva Timma and other nobles. Paes goes on to describe court etiquette where the nobles would greet the king with namaskars and stand in rows with their heads lowered in complete silence. No one chewed betel leaf in the presence of the king and in fact it was a great honour if the king happened to share a betel leaf with anyone. Krishnadeva Raya was known to treat foreigners with great courtesy. Paes writes about an incident where the king honoured a Portuguese soldier and his musketeers who had helped him during the siege of Raichur:
The king gave him a robe of brocade with a cape of the same fashion as the king wore, and to each one of the Portuguese he gave a cloth embroidered with many beautiful figures and the king gives this because it is customary; he gives it in token of friendship and love.
Like most kings, Krishnadeva Raya too enjoyed a harem of many women. Twelve of these were his lawful wives out of which three were his prime queens. Yet, inscriptions only mention two of them—Tirumale Devi and Chinna Devi. Tirumale was the daughter of his chief vassal from Seringapattanam. However the king’s one true love was a courtesan who he fell in love with before he became a king. Smitten by her beauty, Krishnadeva Raya promised to marry her when he became king and so he did.
Like his predecessors, he was a great patron of arts. Under his aegis, many great works of literature were produced in languages ranging from Kannada and Telugu to Sanskrit. In fact, Krishnadeva Raya himself composed many verses and his only surviving poem, Amukta Malyada has been lauded for its literary qualities.
A brave warrior, a brilliant strategist, a kind ruler and a true lover of art in all forms—Krishnadeva Raya was in all, a complete monarch.