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aurangzebTHE COLLECTIVE APPEAL of the Deccan Sultanates pales in comparison to a legendary regional power that once straddled a large part of the Southern Peninsula up to just a few decades back. This was the Vijayanagar Empire. It had successfully defended itself against attempts by the Delhi Sultanate and made conquests of its own that took its reach to Lanka, Orissa and Burma. This was an Empire that sent embassies to China, imported gold, silver, copper, vermillion and coral from Palestine and horses from Persia. 

Described by a Portugese traveller of the time, “as large as Rome and very beautiful to the sight”, the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire was undoubtedly the jewel in its crown. Of real jewels too there was an abundance that struck all who visited; some were brought from Ceylon and Pegu (in Burma) but for diamonds of the first water the Empire had to look nowhere else but its own famed mines – believed at the time to be the only in the world to produce diamonds. Incidentally, it is a diamond from the mines of Golconda in the Vijayanagar Empire that has been the pride of Mughal Emperors. Like the quest for the Deccan, the Syamantaka Mani (later named Kohinoor) has been passed down the line of Mughal Emperors.


Sacred tank in Hampi, located in the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire (Source: Wikipedia; Author: Dey Sandip)

The capital city of the Empire, the Persian Ambassador to Calicut noted, “is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the world.” Newcomers walking through the markets could not fail to notice the marked presence of roses which are bought and sold as often as items of food. Those visitors fortunate to stay long enough would note that, unlike in other world markets where food stocks became scarce at certain times of the year, in the city of Vijayanagar, there was abundance of all items of food, all through the year.

There was rice, corn, barley, moong dal and a profusion of meats – the most popular types being mutton, pork and poultry, though all types were consumed and the king was known to enjoy venison and sparrows. In the markets of the capital there were limes, sour and sweet oranges, grapes, jackfruit, pomegranate and brinjal. This mirage of unreal riches ultimately dissolved to in-fighting, resulting in compromised defences against the onslaught of the Sultanates to the north. 

Aurangzeb succeeds in gaining Bijapur and then Golconda, but Vijayanagar’s past glory will not be approached. In time, both cities will slip from him and the Peacock Throne will be looted along with the Dynasty’s much loved diamond, once mined in an Empire that surpassed the imaginings of the Mughals.