A member of the Tuluva dynasty of Vijayanagara, centred in Hampi in present-day Karnataka, Krishnadevaraya (also known as Krishna Raya by his contemporaries and Crisnarao by the Portuguese) succeeded his brother Vira Narasimha Raya to the throne in 1509. Over the course of a twenty-year reign, he established a reputation for successful military expansion coupled with the patronage of art, literature and architecture.
Like other Indian rulers of his time, Krishnadevaraya’s cultural patronage was frequently connected to political goals, consisting primarily of highly visible religious architecture as well as poetry in Telugu, the language of his military aristocracy. The Telugu poets Peddana, Timanna, Dhurjati, and Suranna are known to have worked closely with Krishnadevaraya, composing a number of major works that would become part of the Telugu literary canon in subsequent centuries. His court is also known to have commissioned works in Sanskrit, Tamil, and Kannada.
The emperor is known to have composed works such as the Amuktamalyada, a Telugu poem about the life of Andal, a ninth-century Tamil Vaishnava Bhakti saint. The text, still extant, has been extensively studied both as a work of literature and for its insights into the history and policy of the Vijayanagara state. Krishnadevaraya also composed a Sanskrit drama, Jambavati Kalyanam, believed to have been performed at the Virupaksha Temple complex during the annual Mahanavami festival at Vijayanagara. This shrine was closely associated with the ruling dynasties of Vijayanagara: one of the ruler’s earliest architectural projects had been to enlarge it, adding a long open mandapa in 1510, followed by a gopuram on the eastern side of the complex. Krishnadevaraya also undertook the construction of mandapas and gopurams at the Arunachaleshvara complex, Tiruvannamalai and the Ekambareshvarar Temple, Kanchipuram, both in present-day Tamil Nadu; as well as Kalahasti in present-day Andhra Pradesh. The construction of large monuments in pilgrimage sites served as a visible marker of Vijayanagara power and influence to diverse groups of subjects.
Krishnadevaraya is also known to have commissioned sculptural portraits depicting himself in the act of worship at pilgrimage sites. A stone figure of the ruler, with his hands brought together in prayer, was placed in a niche inside the passageway of the northern gopuram at Chidambaram; copper statues of Krishnadevaraya and his queens Chinna Devamma and Tirumala Devamma were installed in an outer corridor of the Venkateshvara shrine at the Tirumala Venkateshvara Temple. The emperor is depicted wearing a conical cap with two ribbons, perhaps a Persianate kullayi. His upper body is bare, while his consorts wear translucent shawls. The figures’ lower bodies are richly attired in pleated costumes, with cummerbunds and jewelled tassels. This mode of sculptural portraiture would continue to be commissioned by the Nayaka successors of Vijayanagara up to the seventeenth century.
Towards the end of his reign, Krishnadevaraya commissioned a large monolithic sculpture of Lakshmi Narasimha, known today as the Ugra Narasimha statue at Hampi. The sculpture was considered a protecting image for the city of Vijayanagara; its association with the power of the Tuluva Dynasty would lead to it being attacked when the city was sacked in 1565.
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