Greater India (which includes Pakistan and Bangladesh) is home to well over 1/5th of mankind

23% of the world's population

Yet this landmass does not hog as much attention of the world as it should

It remains an under-discussed, poorly understood region
Now the above tweet may raise two objections

a) Hey...why do you think it is under-discussed? The word "India" gives 7.2B search results on Google

b) "Greater India"? Whatever is that? Isn't that just a Hindu nationalist fantasy?

Let me address b. first. And then move to a.
While "Greater India" is not an acceptable term in modern political discourse, it is not such a strange term if one takes a long view

The landmass bounded by Hindukush, Himalayas and the sea has always been viewed as "India" (NOT South Asia) for much of human history
A landmass that is not just geographically compact, but also culturally coherent

It is barely 7 decades ago that irreversible changes in religious demography at the edges caused a cleavage of this civilizational landmass into 2 and later 3 political units
So having clarified b., Let's move to a.

Why do I think India and its history is under-discussed? Here's a case study
Let us consider two great cities both of which were abandoned at roughly the same time

Macchu Picchu (abandoned in 1570s)
Vijayanagara (abandoned in 1560s)

Let's also consider the two Empires in question -

Inca Empire
Vijayanagara Empire
Now some facts -

Macchu Picchu at its peak (~1500) was home to not more than a few thousand people

Vijayanagara - the capital of the empire bearing the same name, was the second largest city in the world with a population of ~500,000 in 1500
The Inca Empire (of which Macchu Picchu was one of the towns) pre-European conquest comprised of a population of 12MM people

The Vijayanagara Empire in contrast influenced the destinies of at least 3 times that number - (~30 to 40MM) on less than 1/4th of the area
Incas, for all their glory left no written records. Were unaware of the wheel. Had no money. No markets. The empire's impact on later South American life was v limited

It lasted for barely a century from the early 15th to early 16th century
Vijayanagara in contrast, influences Indian life to this day. Its temples live on. Its literature lives on.

So do the numerous philosophies and thought movements that it accommodated for 2+ centuries.
Based on these facts, you would think that Vijayanagara must be much better known than Macchu Picchu, Cuzco or the Inca Empire.

But no.

# Google search results

Vijayanagara : 1.7 MM
Hampi : 6.6 MM
Macchu Picchu : 29.9 MM

Vijayanagara Empire : 703K
Inca Empire : 12.6 MM
Now this is a question that has to rankle most Indians.

This is one of India's greatest ever empires. One of India's greatest ever cities.

A city that was not "short lived" mind you.

Vijayanagara was founded in 1336 and got abandoned in 1565

That's 2+ centuries
A city that was much larger than Delhi for much of its existence. Easily the largest city in India. At its peak at least twice as large as the second largest city in the subcontinent
Yet, awareness of Vijayanagara remains low. Tourism to Hampi for instance is abominably low

Machu Picchu located in the desolate highlands of Peru gets 1.2MM+ tourists each year

Hampi, located in a country of 1.2B people, gets a paltry 500K
Why should Indians and people interested in India learn more about Vijayanagara?

Not for the ruins. Not for the "architecture" scattered around the village of Hampi today but for more vital, important reasons
Here are some

1. Vijayanagara made the present Indian nation possible. The India we live in would look demographically and culturally very different, but for this Empire which halted the march of invasions into the Deccan for over two centuries
2. The Empire's contribution to Hindu intellectual life is second to none. Most living sects of Hinduism in Southern India solidified and developed greatly during that crucial phase from 14th to 16th cen

Be it Sri Vaishnavism, Advaita, Madhwa Sampradaya, name it
3. Vijayanagara was that rare empire which was held together by strong cultural bonds, as opposed to dynastic succession

In contrast to say the Mughal Empire, there is no single Vijayanagara dynasty that held the empire together.
There were three successive dynastic lines - Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva - and the transition was seamless without hurting the empire

This is actually reminiscent of the continuity of English state from 11th cen to date despite numerous dynastic lines.. Eg: Plantagenet, Tudor etc
4.. Much of the religious life of modern Southern India revolves around temples. Though temples long predate Vijayanagara, this temple culture was greatly encouraged by the hectic architectural activity sponsored by the Vijayanagara Empire and its feudatory successors..
5. Vijayanagara was that quintessential cosmopolitan empire, which patronized as many as five languages

Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, and to a lesser extent Tamil, Malayalam
6. Vijayanagara is a reminder of how fragile urban life can be

The civilization it stood for v much outlived it and continues to this day

So it is hardly a "lost culture" like the Inca Empire

But it is a reminder of the consequences of not reining in the barbarians at the gate
Among these six, it is worthwhile to elaborate on each, but particularly 1, 2, 4 and 5.

Let's start with 1.

Why do we believe Vijayanagar is central to the existence of India today?
Those who think this angle is overrated are not quite aware of how the political map of India looked back in 1330s

Here's how the Tughluq empire's geographical extent looked in 1330. Muhammad Bin Tughluq commanded an empire greater than that of even Akbar 16th can.
The South had been ravaged by the Delhi Sultanate since the closing decades of the 13th century.

The capital of Hoysala Ballalas in Dwarasamudra (Halebidu today) fell in 1310 to Alladin Khilji

In 1323 Warangal was taken.

And the panic was real in the 1330s.
This is best described by the historian Robert Sewell in his seminal work on Vijayanagara authored in 1900

“With the accession in 1325 of Muhammad Bin Tughluq of Delhi, things became worse still"

"Marvelous stories of his extraordinary proceedings circulated among the inhabitants of the Peninsula, and there seemed to be no bound to his intolerance, ambition and ferocity”
"Everything ..seemed to be leading up to but one inevitable end - the ruin and devastation of the Hindu provinces, the annihilation of their old royal houses, the destruction of their religion... All that the dwellers in the south held most dear seemed tottering to its fall”
“Suddenly about the year 1344 AD, there was a check to this wave of foreign invasion - a stop - a halt - then a solid wall of opposition, and for 250 years, Southern India was saved”
Then Sewell leaves us in no doubt on what constituted this solid wall of resistance-

“The solid wall consisted of Anegundi principality, grown into the great empire of Vijayanagar. To the kings of this house (Sangama), all the nations of the south submitted”
Sewell also suggests that this submission was voluntary, and it was very much a united front against foreign rule

“The old states appear to have submitted peaceably to the new monarchy. They were perhaps glad to submit if only the dreaded foreigners could be kept out..”
So the principality of Anegundi, a petty state in the 1340s eventually expanded to become a major kingdom and later an empire that recaptured all of the South back to Hindu rule by late 1300s
The fact that this process continued well into late 14th can is evidenced by the great feats of Kumara Kampana - the Vijayanagara Prince who terminated the rule of the very vile Sultans of Madurai in 1378
His great feat is a very critical victory in Indian history - commemorated in his own lifetime by the great Sanskrit poem Madhura Vijayam, written by his wife Ganga Devi
Do we have a “What if” scenario if the Hindu resistance to the expanding Sultanate rule had not materialized in the 1300s?

Yes…it most definitely would have meant pan Indian Muslim rule some 4 centuries prior to Aurangazeb, when it finally became a reality
It certainly would have meant an India demographically very different from what we see today. Imagine a Southern India that is 40-50% Muslim, like Punjab or Bengal in early 1900s…

The boundaries of 1947 would have been very different
Having covered 1, let’s move to 2, 4 and 5 -

Vijayanagara’s patronage of a vibrant Hnidu intellectual life

Vijayanagara’s cultural cosmopolitanism

Vijayanagara’s signal efforts to further Hindu religious practice by its efforts at temple construction
Vijayanagara Empire’s Hindu patronage is every bit as important as its political and military successes.

Its Sangama dynast founders were followers of the great Hindu figure Vidyaranya - one of the most influential Hindus of the past 1000 years
Vidyaranya not only was a kingmaker enjoying political clout, he was also a very serious intellectual with many great works to his credit.

These include -
Panchadasi - a manual on Advaita
Sarvadarshana sangraha - a compendium of all Indian philosophies
Vidyaranya was also the head of the Sringeri Mutt, and the brother of Sayana - the great Vedic scholar and author of Vedartha Prakasha - a commentary on Vedas.
The reason these are not mere tidbits but worth reiterating is because men like Vidyaranya and Sayana lent an intellectual and religious legitimacy to the Vijayanagara crown - lacking which the political legitimacy would likely have been challenged by rival Hindu rulers
It is also important to emphasize the cosmopolitanism of Vijayanagara

Not just its patronage of several languages as previously mentioned, but its religious cosmopolitanism. The Empire never assumed a parochial religious dimension, again crucial to the Hindu unity in this epoch
Its early kings were strong Shaivites, and also patrons of Advaitins like Vidyaranya and Sayana

But the later dynastic lines - Saluva and Tuluva - (which included Krishnadevaraya), had a stronger Vaishnavite orientation - patronizing both the Madhwa and Sri Vaishnava sampradayas
Vijayanagara’s efforts at building and renovating temples was every bit as monumental as that of the Cholas before them

Most of the great temples of the South in our times - be it Srirangam, Madurai, Tirumala - were greatly expanded during the reigns of Vijayanagara kings
Though the Empire is often stereotyped as being “brahminical”, it witnessed considerable democratization of religion, as evidenced by the explosion of devotional literature encompassing all sections of society.

The Dasa Kritis of the Karnata country being a good example
The impact of the developments down South on North Indian religious life cannot be understated

Men like Ramananda and Chaitanya in the 14th and 15th cen were heavily influenced by philosophies of Ramanuja and Madhwa

Chaitanya, for one, had his initiation in the Madhwa tradition
Again these are not trivia, but need emphasis. But for the political strength exuded by Vijayanagaa for two centuries, it is unlikely that these cultural transmissions from the South to the North would have materialized
It is also likely that Islam’s penetration not just in the South, but also up North, would have been greater, but for the Vijayanagara empire
The empire ofcourse had its fatal jolt in 1565, when the capital fell following the defeat in the Battle of Talikota…

But it hardly meant the end of a civilization….The civilization endured, and continues to this day
We are all in Vijayanagara’s debt for changing the course of history. But for the Empire, India would be a very different place today
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