Krishna Deva Raya, king of the Vijaynagar empire at its zenith, stormed the Raichur Fort after a bloodily victorious battle against the forces of Ismail Adil Shah, ruler of the Bijapur Sultanate. The Battle of Raichur (1520), though celebrated widely through the streets of Vijayanagara, signalled the slow-yet-steady downfall of the Vijayanagara Empire.
Ultimately, the Battle of Talikota (1565) brought about the fated decline of a kingdom over two hundred years old. After this decisive battle, the Vijayanagara Empire could never reach the same heights of the past. Before we dive into the battle and subsequent sacking of Vijayanagara, one needs to understand the political scenario of the times.
Aliya Rama Raya was the regent and de facto ruler of the Vijaynagar Empire. His scheming had allowed him to turn the legal heir, Sadasiva Raya, into a puppet emperor. Rama Raya was not a complete despot. He was an able statesman and administrator. At the time, the Deccan Sultanates were in-fighting constantly and Rama Raya acted as an intermediary on multiple occasions. The sheer size and prowess of Vijayanagara’s army made Rama Raya a formidable ally.
In 1549, Rama Raya joined forces with Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar in order to repel the combined armies of Adil Shah of Bijapur and Barid Shah of Bidar. Rama Raya helped the Sultan of Ahmednagar capture the fort of Kalyana. Eight years later, Rama Raya switched sides to team up with Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur and Barid Shah of Bidar, and invaded Ahmednagar at the appeal of the Sultan of Bijapur.
Rama Raya constantly shifted his allegiance depending on his empire’s needs at the time. The Deccan Sultanates eventually realized the only way to vanquish their biggest foe was to come together and form a coalition that could withstand the might of the Vijayanagara Empire. This consolidation was achieved by marriages between the various Sultanate families, and putting aside inner political conflicts.
As the armies clashed at Talikota, the battle was still in favour of Rama Raya’s forces. According to one account, the Vijayanagara army had an infantry numbering 140,000 soldiers compared to the 80,000 of the allied Deccan Sultanates. The turning point arrived when the Gilani brothers, commanders in Rama Raya’s army, switched allegiance during the battle, severely weakening the might of the Vijayanagara forces. This resulted in the capture and instant beheading of Rama Raya, sending his troops into complete disarray.
The decapitation of Rama Raya was followed by wide-scale plundering of Vijayanagara. Considering the prosperity of the capital, the Portuguese chronicler, Diego de Couto’s, description is not much of an exaggeration: “…the plunder was so great that every private man in the allied army became rich in gold, jewels, effects, tents, arms, horses, and slaves, as the sultans left every person in possession of what he had acquired…”
One account describes how a huge fire was lit within the Vitthala Temple complex. Crowbars and axes were used to demolish the exquisite stone buildings and carvings. The royal pavilions were sent crashing to the ground while the inhabitants were slaughtered. It took the allied forces close to five months to completely demolish and plunder the capital.
Caesaro Federici, an Italian merchant and traveller, visited Vijayanagar two years after the Battle of Talikota and its ensuing destruction: “The Citie [city] is not altogether destroyed, yet the houses stand still, but emptie [empty], and there is dwelling in them nothing, but Tygres [tigers] and other wild beasts.”
The Battle of Talikota and the eventual fall of the glorious Vijayanagara Empire was inevitable. The ransacking that followed was simply the manner in which medieval wars usually ended. The ruins of Hampi that stand tall today are resilient relics from a time that knew opulence and devastation in equal measure.