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Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory

Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory: Vyasatirtha, Hindu Sectarianism, and the Sixteenth-Century Vijayanagara Court OPEN ACCESS

Valerie Stoker
Copyright Date: 2016
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    Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory
    Book Description:

    How did the patronage activities of India's Vijayanagara Empire (c. 1346-1565) influence Hindu sectarian identities? Although the empire has been commonly viewed as a Hindu bulwark against Islamic incursion from the north or as a religiously ecumenical state, Valerie Stoker argues that the Vijayanagara court was selective in its patronage of religious institutions. To understand the dynamic interaction between religious and royal institutions in this period, she focuses on the career of the Hindu intellectual and monastic leader Vyasatirtha. An agent of the state and a powerful religious authority, Vyasatirtha played an important role in expanding the empire's economic and social networks. By examining his polemics against rival sects in the context of his work for the empire, Stoker provides a remarkably nuanced picture of the relationship between religious identity and sociopolitical reality under Vijayanagara rule.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96546-1
    Subjects: History
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  1. This book explores the ways in which the patronage activities of a major precolonial South Indian polity, the Vijayanagara Empire (c. 1346–1565), influenced the articulation of Hindu sectarian identities. Named after its capital, “the City of Victory,” as a testament to its rulers’ military prowess, this empire eventually encompassed most of the Indian peninsula south of the Krishna River. However, the empire’s historic significance is not limited to India; for a little over two centuries, the empire sat at the center of an emerging global economy. It attracted foreign merchants, dignitaries, and mercenary soldiers who had arrived in India...

  2. As an institutional leader in charge of a network of sectarian monasteries that was significantly expanded by Emperor Kṛṣṇadevaraya’s patronage, Vyāsatīrtha was more than just a sectarian polemicist; he was an agent of the Vijayanagara state and a powerful regional authority. Not only did Vyāsatīrtha display his intellectual acumen in oral and literary Sanskrit debates, he also forged productive relationships with a variety of social groups and, in doing so, expanded the empire’s economic and social networks. The inscriptional records indicate that Vyāsatīrtha installed icons and covered pavilions (maṇḍapas) at prominent Vai sònò ava shrines, patronized large-scale public works such...

  3. In the previous chapter, we saw thatmaṭhasand their leaders performed various economic, political, and social functions for the royal court. Both as freestanding institutions and through their affiliations with temples,maṭhasirrigated and developed land, redistributed its produce asprasād, engaged in economic transactions with local laborers, and took on courtly emblems and titles. Through such activities,maṭhasand their leaders integrated newly conquered and rebellious territories more firmly into the empire while increasing their own social prominence.

    Butmaṭhaswere also educational and religious facilities, and their leaders cultivated qualities that were valued by their constituents could...

  4. In his polemical works, Vyasatirtha also identifies the Śrīvaiṣṇavas as intellectual rivals. This movement had affiliated with religious institutions in the Tamil country as early as the tenth century and, from the fourteenth century on, enjoyed a growing institutional presence in southern Andhra. Doctrinally, Śrīvaiṣṇavism encompassed both a popular vernacular piety and a more rarified Sanskrit tradition of Vedanta intellectualism. It flourished at the sixteenth-century Vijayanagara court, and this presented both opportunities and challenges to Vyāsatīrtha and the Madhvas.

    Compared with the documentation of Vyāsatīrtha’s relations with the Advaitin Smartas, which consists primarily of his polemics against them, the documentation...

  5. While material exchanges of royally gifted land and collaborative ritual enterprises at prominent temples indicate there was a blossoming alliance between Madhvas and Śrīvaiṣṇavas during Vijayanagara rule, significant doctrinal divisions also persisted between these two groups. Vyāsatīrtha was not only aware of these divisions, he emphasized them in his polemical writings. Despite the fact that Vyasatirtha forged a productive working relationship with the Śrīvaiṣṇavas, he was also the first Madhva intellectual to criticize the doctrines of their quali-fied nondualist (“Viśiṣṭādvaita”) Vedanta in any detail. This indicates that he saw the Śrīvaiṣṇavas not as teammates but as rivals. However, a common...

  6. At the outset of this book, I stated that Vijayanagara patronage of religious institutions was selective and flexible and responded in creative ways to the particular circumstances of specific locations. Nevertheless, our detailed study of Vyasatirtha’s relationship with the court enables us to generalize about how and why Vijayanagara rulers patronized certain religious institutions and about the impact this patronage had, not only on particular sects, but on South Indian society more broadly.

    While Vijayanagara patronage of religious institutions was generally evenhanded, Vijayanagara royals consistently privileged Brahmin sectarian institutions, particularlymaṭhas, with a Vedanta focus. This began with the fourteenth-century...