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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 10, september 1-15, 2009
Remembering Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagara

To mark the 500th year of the ascension of Sri Krishna Devaraya, there were a few exhibitions and talks held in Chennai – coinciding with the Madras Week celebrations – on the coinage of Vijayanagara, particularly that of Sri Krishna Devaraya. But how many persons really know anything about the founder of the Vijayanagara Empire of which Tondaiman­dalam, where Madras and its hinterland developed, was once a part?

Krishna Devaraya started  his military campaigns by invading the sultanate of Bidar and the kingdom of Bidar’s ally, Yusuf Adil Khan. By 1510, most of northern Karnataka was under his rule. Krishna Devaraya had conquered Raichur, Gulburga and Bidar. Having conquered these lands, he built a beautiful city in Seringapatnam.

Sri Krishna Devaraya

By 1516, Vijayanagar’s territory stretched all the way to the Krishna and Godavari rivers. On conquering the Gajapatis of Orissa, he brought with him the most beautiful Bala Krishna sculpture. Though shorn of hands, the enchanting sculpture is a prized possession of the Madras Government Museum. His devotion to Lord Krishna made him use His portrait on all his gold coins (one and a half pagodas).

He utilised his trading skills to obtain Portuguese guns and Arabian horses in order to strengthen his nation.

A traveller to Vijayanagara, Domingo Paes, describes Krishna Devaraya’s Vijayanagara as “the best provided city in the world with a population of not less than a half a million.” In fact, he estimated the size of the city to be around that of Rome. He also described Krishna Devaraya as “the most feared and perfect king that could possibly be, cheerful of disposition and very merry, he is one that seeks to honour foreigners, receives them kindly. He is a great ruler and man of much justice.”

He was also a talented poet and sponsored many great poets, contributing to the golden age of Telugu Literature. He wrote Amuktamalyada, which is a philosophical work using metaphors about the oneness of Man and God. Krishna Devaraya also wrote many works in Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit.

As a king, Krishna Devaraya is known to have built many temples in his kingdom, and re-strengthened Hinduism after its lands had fallen to Muslim sultans. His devotion to Tirumala Venkateswara was unparalleled. He visited the temple seven times and donated priceless ornaments and scores of villages to it.

Krishna Devaraya and subsequent rulers, including the East India Company, who had obtained the rights to mint coins, used the image of Lord Balaji on gold, silver and copper coins. Copper plates and epigraphy in temples record that he donated thousands of gold pagodas to  the Venkateswara temple.

Krishna Devaraya’s two-decade rule (1509-1529) was marked by the creation of mints at Tirupati, Penukonda, Mangalore, Nellore and Madurai.

His coins were known for their accuracy in terms of their weight and measure and the ruler played a key role in controlling any duplication of the coins. The predominant motifs on the Vijayanagara coins were Lakshmi-Narayana, Siva-Parvathi, Balakrishna, Sita-Rama, Brahma-Saraswati, Hanuman, Bull, Garuda, Chakra and Sword. And the denominations were: Gold: Dodda Varaha; Gadyana; Varaha; Pratapa; Katti; Chinna; Pana; Haja and Bele; Silver: Tara; Copper: Dug­gane; Kani; Jittal and Are Kasu.

The typography of the coins on the obverse was the King’s name or title in Nandinagari or Devanagari or Kannada or Telugu script.

The titles that were used are: Sri Nilakanta; Rayagajagandaberunda and Gajavetekara.
The austere, grandiose site of Hampi was the last capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar.

Its fabulously rich princes built Dravidian temples and palaces which won the admiration of travellers between the 14th and 16th Centuries.

Conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy in 1565, the city was pillaged over a period of six months before being abandoned. (Courtesy: Indian Coin News)

Bridging time

Picture Caption: Books, coins, stamps – an exhibition co-ordinated by D.H. Rao at the P.S. Higher Secondary School, Mylapore. (Courtesy: Mylapore Times).

Madras Heritage Lovers presented an exhibition of old maps, photographs, books and coins of Madras to celebrate ­Madras Day 2009. They also had a special cover with cancellation released on the occasion , its theme was Bridges of Prosperity. The bridges you have already seen in these pages. What caught my eye when I saw them at the exhibition was the civil engineering feat of builders, who constructed without losing their aesthetic sense; some of those bridges built for bullock carts carrying hardly a couple of tons’ load, still serve the purpose with heavy lorries using them.

Books, coins, stamps – an exhibition co-ordinated by D.H. Rao at the P.S. Higher Secondary School, Mylapore.
(Courtesy: Mylapore Times).

It is a pity that the powers-that-be are not tending some of these bridges, which are still intact but unused, like the Elphinstone Bridge. There was a suggestion some years ago that this would be made a beautiful walkway for the walkers of South Madras, but nothing seems to have happened!

The postal cover released by the Post Master General, Chennai, bore on the front the St. George’s bridge over the Cooum and eight other pictures of bridges on the reverse. The cancellation is a line sketch most artistically done of Law’s Bridge over the Cooum at Iyyah Mudali Street.

Winston ‘Henry of Prosperous Book Search’, a collector of a rare books, had some eye-catching exhibits. They included The Annie Besant Centenary Book brought out by the Besant Centenary Celebration Committee, Adyar, in 1947. This special edition was edited by James H. Cousin. Another book was the original World War II flight training log book of Capt. E.S. Khan (r.i.a.f.), a meticulously maintained log of his training on various types of aircraft such as the Tiger Moth, Hart, Harvard and Hurricane. The log entries start in 1941 and go on till 1946.

In the collection was also Wake Up, India by Annie Besant, published in 1913. This is a collection of lectures on social reforms delivered by her in Madras. The Guardian Diary of 1912 is a record of a then practising lawyer who kept a track of all happenings in his family and their travels throughout the country either on business or for social engagements. Though there is no mention of the name of the person, some initials are seen here and there! Also catching my attention was a University of Madras publication titled Psychological Tests of Mental Abilities printed in 1924 by Woodburne, Professor of Psychology, ­Madras Christian College.
Another heritage buff who had exhibited was Govindaraju of ‘Rare Books’. He had an illustration of the founders of Madras – Francis Day and Andrew Cogan. This picture is a sketch drawn by a British military art historian of the 19th Century. The visit of Rabindranath Tagore to the Corporation in the early 1930s was perpetuated in a picture here, as was the flower show held by the Corporation in the 1930s.

An advertisement from a magazine announced the performance of M.S. Subbu­lakshmi; prices of tickets were – and hold your breath: – Rs. 250 downwards – and that was in 1948. Caricatures of many stalwarts of Madras drawn between 1940 and 1960 were on display. So too were the pictures of an accident in 1934 in the Marina where, on the Beach Road, two cars had collided head-on.

Noteworthy was a picture of the swimming pool in QMC in 1931. Advertisements of the 1930s included those of the TVS group, Simpson & Co. and Amurthanjan, as well as for Buick and Willys cars. There were also pictures of the famous Rolls Royce car of the legendary ‘Flying Doctor’, Rangachari. There was much, much more, all contributing to a fascinating exhibition of Madras history.

K.R.A. Narasiah

In this issue

Thank you, Chennai
Foundation stones...
19th & 20th Century...
Historic Residences...
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