Towards a New Formation: South Indian Society Under Vijayanagar Rule

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Oxford University Press, 1992 - History - 294 pages
The focus of this path-breaking study is the social and economic changes that took place in South India, under the rule of the Vijayanagar kings, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries. A significant feature of the work is the close examination of contemporary inscriptional data, both published and unpublished, relating to social and economic issues as well as to the restructuring of state administration. Earlier studies have relied heavily on the limited and arbitrary evidence offered by the brief English versions of inscriptions published in epigraphical reports; in this study the careful scrutiny of primary sources has both revealed important new evidence on social and economic issues, and led to fresh interpretations of known facts. The first major topic is the changes in administrative structure that took place towards the close of the fifteenth century in the Tamil country under Vijayanagar rule. The oppressive and exploitative regime of state officials (which had led to a major uprising in 1429) was gradually replaced by a highly-decentralized system under which nayakas, former military commanders who were granted large territories by the king, functioned somewhat like the feudal lords of medieval Europe and Japan. This system lasted for over 150 years in South India. The second issue to be examined is the changes taking place in the agrarian sector during this period. Large landowners, many of them non-Brahmanas, became a significant feature of agrarian society from the fourteenth century. Industries such as oil-pressing, sugar manufacturing and weaving became important in the North and South Arcot districts, while overseas trade flourished. While the oppressive rule ofVijayanagar officials had led to an open revolt in 1429 by artisans, cultivators and merchants, it appears that under the more benign nayaka administration these conflicts died down, and a great expansion of manufactures and trade took place, leading to the emergence of a new social structure in South India by the middle of the sixteenth century.

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North and South Arcot districts during the sixteenth century

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