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Vijayanagar Empire – Administration


  • The king was the ultimate authority in the kingdom.
  • He was also the supreme commander of the army.
  • He was assisted by several high ranking officers.
  • The chief minister was known as the mahapradhani.
  • He led a number of lowerranking officers, like Dalavay (commander), Vassal (guard of the palace), Rayasam (secretary/accountant), Adaippam (personal attendant), and Kariya-karta (executive agents).
  • As Harihara I and his immediate successors consolidated their territorial acquisitions, they tried to organize the territory administrative divisions provinces each under by creating called rajyas or a governor called pradhani.
  • Some of the prominent rajyas were the Hoysala rajya, Araga, Barakur (Mangalur), and Muluvay.
  • As and when new conquests were made they were put under new rajyas.
  • By 1400, there were five rajyas in the Tamil area: Chandragiri, Padaividu, Valudalampattu, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruvarur.
  • The pradhani was either a royal member or a military officer not related to the royal family.
  • The pradhani had his own revenue accountants and military to assist in his administration.
  • Within each rajya, there were smaller administrative divisions like nadu, sima, sthala, kampana, etc.
  • The lowest unit was of course the village.
  • The rajyas lost their administrative and revenue status under the Tuluva dynasty due to the development of the Nayak system under Krishnadevaraya.

Nayak System

  • The term Nayak is used from thirteenth century onwards in Telugu and Kannada areas in the sense of a military leader or simply soldier.
  • Assigning the revenue of a particular locality to the Nayak for their military service is found in the Kakatiya kingdom during the thirteenth century.
  • This is similar to the iqta system practiced by the Delhi Sultanate at that time.
  • But in the Vijayanagar kingdom the regular assignment of revenue yielding territory in return for military service is clearly found only from about 1500 or a little earlier.
  • Inscriptions refer to this revenue assignment as nayakkattanam in Tamil, Nayaktanam in Kannada, and nayankaramu in Telugu.
  • The practice became established during the reign of Krishnadevaraya and Achyuta Devaraya.
  • This is supported by the evidence of inscriptions and by the accounts of Nuniz and Paes.
  • Nuniz says that the Vijayanagar kingdom at that time was divided between more than two hundred captains (his translation for Nayak) and they were compelled in turn to keep certain number of military forces (horses and foot soldiers) to serve the king in times of need: they were also required to pay certain amount of the revenue to the king in particular times of a year, like during the nine-day Mahanavami festival.
  • Nuniz’ statement is also supported by Telugu work Rayavachakamu, which refers to the practice during the time of Krishnadevaraya.
  • Later-day vamsavalis (family history) of the Palayagars, who were mostly successors of the old Nayak families, support the fact that the Nayak system was perfected during the time of Krishnadevaraya.
  • Most of these Nayak were the Kannadiga and Telugu warriors besides some local chiefs.
  • They belonged to different castes, Brahmana as well as non-Brahmana.
  • The non-Brahmana Nayak again had different social backgrounds: traditional warrior groups, pastoral and forest clans (Yadava, Billama), peasant families (Reddi), merchants (Balija) and so on.
  • Some of the prominent Nayak, like Chellappa under Krishnadevaraya, were brahmanas.
  • This system worked smoothly as long as there were strong kings like Krishnadevaraya.
  • These chiefs controlled production within their Nayaktanam territories by creating commercial centres (pettai) and markets, by encouraging settlement of cultivators and artisans with tax concessions, by creating and maintaining irrigation facilities, etc.
  • Many of them started as high officials (commander, governor, accountant, etc.) and served as the king’s agents.
  • After the Talikota battle, most of the Nayak chiefs became independent of the Vijayanagar king.
  • Some of them, like those of Madurai, Tanjavur, Ikkeri, etc. established powerful states controlling many smaller chiefs under them.
  • The seventeenth century was the century of these bigger Nayak kingdoms.

Little Kingdoms in Ramanathapuram and Pudukottai

The kingdom of Ramnad was inaugurated by the Madurai Nayak Muthu Krishnappa in the early years of the seventeenth century. The inhabitants with martial tradition had served as soldiers under Pandyan, Chola and Vijayanagar kings, and were spread into Tirunelveli and other southern parts of Tamil country. They also served in the armies of Nayak rulers and were traditional Kavalkarars, whose responsibility was to give protection to village, temple and other administrative bodies. The temple at Rameswaram was under the protection of a kaval chief who also assumed the title of Udaiyan Sethupati (meaning the Chief who was lord of bridge or causeway, as he controlled the passage between Rameswaram and Ceylon). Pudukottai was a small principality situated between the Nayak kingdoms of Thanjavur and Madurai. It constituted a buffer between the Chola kingdom and the Pandyas. Like the inhabitants of Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai also had inhabitants belonging to martial tradition. Hence their region could attain the status of “little kingdom” under Tondaimans. The Tondaimans served great royal households of Raja Sethupathi and Nayak kings of Madurai and Thanjavur.

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