The year A.D.1336 saw the emergence of a new power, the kingdom of Vijayanagar in the south-western part of Andhra on the banks of the Tungabhadra. It was founded by two Sangama brothers, Harihara and Bukka, with the blessings of a great saint patriot of medieval India, Vidyaranya, and Harihara became its first ruler. It was that great kingdom which, by resisting the onslaughts of Muslims, championed the cause of Hindu civilisation and culture in its polity, its learning and arts.
The two brothers took possession of Kampili from Hoyasala ruler of Karnataka, Ballala III. They later established a new city on the southern bank of Tungabhadra, opposite Anegondi, and gave a name to it as Vijayanagar or Vidyanagar. They expanded their territory by occupying the Udayagiri fort in the Nellore region and Penukonda fort from Hoyasalas. Meanwhile the Bahmani Kingdom came into existence in the Deccan. In the conflicts between the Bahmanis and Vijayanagar, Harihara-I lost some territory. After his death in A.D.1355, his brother Bukkaraya succeeded him. On account of frequent wars with Bahmanis, Bukka could not do anything in the initial period, however, he conquered Madhura and extended his territory to the south up to Rameswaram. Harihara II (A.D.1377–1404), who ascended the throne after Bukkaraya, consolidated and its frontiers further extended. During this time coastal Andhra lying between Nellore and Kalinga was under the Reddis of Kondavidu. Harihara II carried on campaign, for gaining control over the territory, against the Reddis and wrested Addanki and Srisailam areas from the Reddis. This led to clashes with the Velamas of Rachakonda in Telangana. To counter attack, Rachakonda sought help from Bahmanis and this checkmated Harihara II from proceeding further into Telangana. The extension of Vijayanagar territory towards northwest gave it control over the ports of Goa, Chaul, and Dabhol and led to an expansion of commerce and ensuing prosperity.
In the dispute between sons, after the death of Harihara II, Devaraya I (A.D.1406–422) emerged victorious and ascended the throne only to wage wars against the Bahmanis, the Velamas of Telangana and the Reddis of Kondavidu. His reign also saw the commencement of hostilities between the Gajapatis of Kalinga and the Rayas of Vijayanagar. Devaraya I passed away in A.D.1422. His sons, Ramachandraraya and Vijayaraya I, who ruled one after the other, did not do anything significant.
The next ruler, Devaraya II (A.D.1426-1446), son of Vijayaraya, was a great monarch. He effected the conquest of Kondavidu and carried his arms into Kerala, subjugating the ruler of Quilon and other chieftains. The writings of Abdul Razzak, the Persian ambassador, who visited south India during the reign of Devaraya II, bear testimony to the supremacy of the king over many ports of south India. According to him, the dominions of Devaraya II extended from Ceylon to Gulbarga and from Orissa to Malbar. The relations between the Vijayanagar and Bahmani kingdoms continued to be hostile during the reign of Devaraya II also. Devaraya was a great builder and a patron of poets. Extensive commerce and revenues from various sources contributed to the prosperity of the Vijayanagar kingdom under him.
But the kings who succeeded Devaraya II were quite incompetent and allowed the empire to disintegrate. To add to this, there was pressure from Bahmani Sultans. The Portuguese were also rapidly trying to establish themselves on the west coast and in the ports along it.
The Vijayanagar minister, Saluva Narasimha, who usurped the throne in A.D.1485 could successfully counter these forces. Thus the Saluva line of kings came to rule Vijayanagar. However, he had to spend a good deal of his time and energy putting down many rebel chieftains. He died in A.D.1490 leaving his two sons to the care of Narasanayaka of the Tuluva family, a trusted general. Narasanayaka assumed himself the power as a regent in A.D.1492 keeping the real rule under tutelage. Narasanayaka died in A.D.1503 and by that time he had established his authority effectively over the whole of his extensive dominion. His son, Vira Narasimha, succeeded him as the regent and proclaimed himself as a ruler in A.D.1506, thus inaugurating the third dynasty. He died in A.D.1509 and his brother, Krishnadevaraya, succeeded him.
The period of Krishnadevaraya was considered as the golden age of the Vijayanagar history. He was a great warrior, statesman, administrator and a patron of arts. His first task was to repulse the Bahmanis. He occupied Raichur doab, carried the war up to Gulbarga and returned successfully. He extended his dominion in the east and north-east by defeating the Gajapatis of Orissa in A.D.1518.
Krishna Devaraya died in A.D.1529. After his death, Vijayanagar kingdom started declining gradually. There was a tussle for power and the rulers spent their time in struggle against internal revolts. The five Muslim rulers in Deccan kingdom, took this opportunity, united and formed a league and marched towards Vijayanagar with combined forces. In a decisive battle fought on the 23rd January, 1565 on the south bank of the Krishna near the village of Rakkasi Tangadi, Vijayanagar was defeated and Ramaraya, who led the Vijayanagar armies, was killed. Tirumalaraya, the younger brother of Ramaraya, along with his puppet ruler, Sadasivaraya fled to Penukonda in Anantapur district with all the treasure. The victorious armies of Muslims then marched towards Vijayanagar. Uninhibited looting of the city by the Muslim rulers as well as the ruthless robbers went on for days together. Never perhaps in the history of the world has such havoc been brought and wrought on such a splendid city teening with a wealthy and industrious population in prosperity one day and on the next seized, pillaged and reduced to ruins amid scenes of savage measures and horrors beggaring description.
Tirumalaraya after reaching Penukonda ruled for some time and tried his best to rebuild the empire but failed. The last ruler of Vijayanagar dynasty was Sriranga (A.D.1642–1681).The Rayas of Vijayanagar regarded all sects of Hindus alike, built temples to Siva and Vishnu and patronised them by lavish grants. They patronised even Jains and Muslims. The Vijayanagar architecture fused various elements of the Chalukya and Chola art, and produced extremely beautiful gopuras and mantapas. The most typical of them can be found at Tirupati, Tadpatri, Srikalahasti and Penukonda. The Tadpatri and Lepakshi temples are the notable examples of Vijayanagar architecture and sculpture.
Telugu language and literature was given a preferential treatment and Telugu was treated as official language of the empire. Simultaneously, Sanskrit and other languages were encouraged by the Vijayanagar rulers. The renowned Telugu poet Srinatha was honoured with Kanakabhisheka by Proudhadevaraya of the first dynasty of the rulers. Particularly, the reign of Krishnadevaraya marked a new era in the literary history of south India.
He was himself a scholar and authored Amuktamalyada, a celebrated Telugu work. His court known as Bhuvanavijayam, was adorned by such eminent poets like Allasani Peddana, Nandi Timmana, Dhurjati, Tenali Ramakrishna, Mallana, Ramarajabhushana, Pingali Surana and Rudra, known as Ashtadiggajas. The greatest of them was Allasani Peddana whose famous work Manucharitra heralded the eminence of the native genius of Telugus.