Deepavali in Vijayanagara Empire

Founded by two brothers, Harihara I and Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty in the year 1336, the Vijayanagara Kingdom (also known as the Karnata Empire) was located on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. The Vijayanagara Empire is named after its capital city, Vijayanagara, meaning ‘city of victory’ in Sanskrit. It includes the modern era Group of Monuments at Hampi, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Karnataka. It is an ancient human settlement that is mentioned in Hindu texts, and also has pre-Vijayanagara temples and monuments.

History of the Vijayanagara Empire

Harihara was the first ruler, who was succeeded by his

brother – Bukka Raya I in the year 1336. He ruled till 1337, and by 1337, the Sultanate of Madurai had been annexed. By 1346, the entire Hoysala Kingdom had been passed onto the Vijayanagara rulers. Important information about the history of this empire comes from writings of medieval European travellers such as Niccolò De Conti and Domingo Paes. Many archaeological excavations in this city have revealed the Vijayanagara Empire’s wealth and power.

Apart from Hinduism, Vijayanagara accepted people of other faiths, such as Islam and Jainism. This lead to the birth of many mutual influences and multi-religious monuments. The chronicles left behind by the European and Persian travellers made Vijayanagara a wealthy and prosperous city. In 1500 CE, Hampi-Vijayanagara became India’s richest medieval-era city and attracted traders from Portugal and Persia. It also became the world’s second-largest medieval-era city, the first being Beijing.

The efficient administration and overseas trade brought in new technologies- water management systems for irrigation were one among many. Vijayanagara Empire’s patronage took literature and fine arts to new heights in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Sanskrit. Carnatic music also evolved majorly during this period.

History of Deepavali in Vijayanagara Empire

It is a well-known fact that festivals have a deep spiritual connection and are of high religious significance. Every festival has its unique religious element. Festivals are a way of stirring the depths of the hearts by strengthening the existing faith, awakening more devotion, and spreading love and happiness. Festivals and their festivities that come along with it are celebrations of the triumph of good over evil via divine intervention.

In the Vijayanagara Empire, emperors were mostly interested in celebrating religious festivals with the equal involvement of all their subjects. According to the Hindu thinking and concept, the king represents his people before God and guides the religious life of his subjects. He is hence considered the protector of the religion of the state. The king worships God on behalf of both his subjects and himself and invokes blessings. Deepavali – a Sanskrit word meaning ‘a row of light’ is the festival of lights that’s celebrated in the honour of Goddess Lakshmi.

Several legends are associated with this festival too. The most famous legend is that this festival celebrates the victory of Ram over Raavan of Lanka and the safe return from exile to his capital, Ayodhya. On the day of Deepavali, the palace of Vijayanagara and other buildings of the empire were whitewashed and were decorated with white flags and rows of lights. During the evening, the temples, buildings, riverbanks, gardens, and other places would be decorated with lamps. For entertainment, there would be bullfights, musical concerts, and dancing within the premises of the city.

Niccolò De Conti described Deepavali in the Vijayanagara Empire as, “They fix up within their temples, and on the outside of the roofs, an innumerable number of lamps of oil of Susimanni, which are kept burning day and night. Men and women of all ages, having bathed in the rivers or the sea, clothed themselves in new garments, and spent three entire days in singing, dancing, and feasting.”  

- Zainab