Abstract

When Robert Sewell inaugurated the modern study of the South Indian state of Vijayanagara with his classic A Forgotten Empire (1900), he characterized the state as “a Hindu bulwark against Muhammadan conquests” (Sewell [1900] 1962, 1), thereby formulating one of the enduring axioms of Vijayanagara historiography. From their capital on the banks of the Tungabhadra river, the kings of Vijayanagara ruled over a territory of more than 140,000 square miles, and their state survived three changes of dynasty to endure for a period of nearly three hundred years, from the mid-fourteenth through the mid-seventeenth centuries (Stein 1989, 1–2). According to Sewell, this achievement was to be understood as “the natural result of the persistent efforts made by the Muhammadans to conquer all India” ([1900] 1962, 1). Hindu kingdoms had exercised hegemony over South India for most of the previous millennium, but were divided among themselves when the Muslim forces of Muhammad bin Tughluq swept over the South in the early decades of the fourteenth century: “When these dreaded invaders reached the Krishna River the Hindus to their south, stricken with terror, combined, and gathered in haste to the new standard [of Vijayanagara] which alone seemed to offer some hope of protection. The decayed old states crumbled away into nothingness, and the fighting kings of Vijayanagar became the saviours of the south for two and a half centuries” (Sewell [1900] 1962, 1).

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