by Mark 'Ramakrishna' Jenkins
Krishnadevaraya is one of those historical characters of such incredible achievement it’s almost difficult to believe they really existed. One of the greatest kings in the history of India, Krishnadevaraya brought the Vijayanagar empire to its zenith during the 29 years of his rule. He was extremely pious and restored or built anew thousands of temples throughout Southern India, including Tirupati, Kalahasthi, Sri Sailam and Hampi. In the small town of Penukonda alone he built 365 temples. Writings of foreign travelers provide most of the information about his rule we have today. The king was of medium height, cheerful disposition, respectful to foreign visitors, ruthless in maintaining the law and prone to fits of anger. He maintained himself to an extremely high level of physical fitness with a rigorous daily regimen of wrestling, sword play, horseback riding and swimming. From the travelogues it becomes apparent that not only was the king an able administrator, he was also an excellent army general. He led from the front, which is truly remarkable considering number of wars he fought, and even attended to the wounded.
Krishnadevaraya was of the opinion that a King should always rule with an eye towards Dharma, or perfect judgement, and his enlightened approach to ruling for the welfare of the people is amply proved by his extensive annual tours around the empire, during which he studied everything personally and tried to redress the grievances of the people and to punish the evil doers. With regard to the promotion of the economic progress of his people, Krishnadevaraya says, “The extent of the kingdom is the means for the acquisition of wealth. Therefore even if the land is limited in extent, excavate tanks and canals and increase the prosperity of the poor by leasing him the land for low rent, so that you may obtain wealth as well as religious merit.”
The Portuguese Chronicler Domingo Paes praises Krishnadevaraya as, “the most feared and perfect King… a great ruler and a man of much justice”. Though a follower of Vaishnavism he showed respect to all sects, and petty religious prejudices never influenced him, either in granting gifts or in his choice of companions and officers. According to Barbosa, “The King allows such freedom that every man may come and go, live according to his own creed, without suffering any annoyance”.
The rule of Krishnadevaraya was an age of prolific literature in many languages, although it also known as a golden age of Telugu literature. Many Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada and Tamil poets enjoyed his patronage and the emperor himself was fluent in many languages.
His court had the Ashtadiggajas (“eight elephants”), who were considered to be the greatest of poets of that time. Of the five great works of Telugu, called the Pancha Kavyas, three were produced during Krishnadevaraya’s reign — two by Ashtadiggajas Allasani Peddana and Tenali Ramakrishna, and the third written by Krishnadevaraya himself. His famous work is called Amuktamalyada and Sri Krishnadevaraya himself recounts the circumstances of this work's composition.
“Sometime ago, I was determined to conquer the Kalinga territory. On the way, I camped for a few days with my army at Vijayawada. Then I went to visit Andhra Vishnu, who lives in Srikakula. Observing the fast of the Vishnu's Day, in the fourth and last watch of that God's night, Andhra Vishnu came to me in my dream. His body was a radiant black, blacker than the rain cloud. His eyes, wise and sparkling, put the lotus to shame. He was clothed in the best golden silk, finer still than the down on his eagle's wings. The red sunrise is pale compared to ruby on his chest.”
Lord Andhra Viṣhṇu told him the subject of the story and also ordered the emperor to tell the story in Telugu with the following reasoning:
Translation: "If you ask, 'Why Telugu?' It is because this is Telugu country and I am a Telugu king. Telugu is one of a kind. After speaking with all the kings that serve you, didn’t you realize-amongst all the regional languages, Telugu is the best!"