Early Vijayanagara style had considerable influence of Chola style of Thanjavur, Tamilnadu. But the scale was much bigger and the Vijayanagara architects developed a scheme of a large temple complex with several concentric walls entered through gopuras leading to multiple shrines, tanks, stores, kitchens and other ancillary structures. The gateways had tall brick towers. The shrines had large mandapas standing on delicately carved granite columns.
The question whether the founders of Vijayanagara Empire were of Telugu or Karnataka origin is much disputed . According to one version, Harihara and Bukka, the two brothers were first in the service of Kakatiya King, Prataprudradeva. After Warangal fell in 1323, they moved away to safer places but were eventually captured by the Tughlaqs and were taken to Delhi as prisoners and were forced to become Muslims. They later gained favour of the Tughlaqs and received ministerial appointments. When the brothers found the political conditions conducive, they declared themselves free and founded the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara. They got reconverted to Hinduism. Andhra Pradesh can therefore rightfully stake a claim to a good part of the glory of the great Vijayanagara Empire ( 1336-1664 ) which with its first capital at Hampi, extended from the present day Karnataka to Orissa including Andhra Pradesh.
The golden period of the Vijayanagara dynasty was the rule of the legendary Krishnadeva Raya (1509-1530). During the reign of Vira Sadashiva Raya (1543-1568), Vijayanagara forces were defeated by a confederacy of four Sultans. Hampi was devastated and abandoned and the court and army fled southwards to Penuconda. Penuconda is a small town with a hill fort located about 70 km south of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. The town is full of ancient Hindu and Jain Temples, mosques, fortifications, towers and palaces. The four sides of the town are presumed to be guarded from evil spirits and diseases by the idols of Lord Hanuman, the largest of them, about eleven feet tall is placed at the Yerramanchi gate, the main entrance to the fort town.
Penuconda was the residence of the Vijayanagara Rajas from as early as 1354. Tirumal Raya moved here after the disastrous battle of Talikota in 1565. Gagan Mahal, the royal palace was built in 1575. Penuconda is an interesting architectural case. The town has Hindu buildings in Islamic style and Muslim Dargahs built in Hindu or to be more precise, Lepakshi style. In the same tradition, Gagan Mahal has a basement in Hindu style but a ground floor of intricate Islamic details with later additions. Continuing the Vijayanagara traditions, the palace is similar to several structures at Hampi, with Islamic style arches, vaults and plaster decoration combined with temple like elements. The upper level is capped with an octagonal pyramidal tower. An adjoining three storeyed square tower with projecting balconies overlooks the approaches from the east. Nearby stands a small, square structure, also with a pyramidal roof. The skyline of Penuconda fort is dominated by the Rama Burj, an observation tower standing in the northwestern corner in Vijayanagara style.
Next to the Gagan Mahal, are two 15th century Hindu temples dedicated to Rama and Shiva. The temples are built of granite in early Vijayanagara style with their towers topped by domical roofs. The walls have stone carvings depicting scenes from Ramayana and other epics.
Penuconda also has a Jain temple; the Parshvanath Temple built in the 15th Century dedicated to the 9th century B.C, 23rd Great Teacher (Tirthankaras) of Jainism. Inside the temple stands a 11thcentury sculpture depicting Parshvanath in standing posture and facing a serpent. Built in the late Chalukyan style, the sculpture is of exceptional merit.Penuconda has an early 17th century mosque built in grey and black granite attributed to one Sher Ali.
A significant artistic achievement of the Vijayanagara rulers, the Virabhadra Temple at Lepakshi, 10 Km west of Hindupur town was built 1600 AD. The temple complex is renowned for its ceiling-paintings and the intricately carved sculpture-columns. Dedicated to Shiva, consort Uma and also Vishnu, the temple complex is surrounded by two rectangular enclosure walls. Besides the Mandapas, Gopuras and subsidiary shrines it contains monolithic large figures of Nandi Bull and Nagalinga. Though the basements and the superstructure are of carved stone, the brick towers over the sanctuaries are pyramidal in shape with domed roofs.
Situated 54 Km north east of Anantapur town, Tadpatri has two sixteenth century Vijayanagara Temples. Located on the banks of Pennar river, the Ramalingeswara Temple dedicated to Rama and Sita, has multistoreyed and pyramidal towers with hemispherical roofs. The Venkataramana Temple located inside the town has Vishnu as the principal deity and is similar to Ramalingeswara Temple in architectural style. Both the temples are extremely rich in sculpture and carvings.
The 14th –16th century Mallikarjuna temple and the 16th century Uma Mahaeswara temple at Srisailam dedicated to Shiva have Vijayanagara style Gopuras on four sides and pyramidal towers rising over the sanctuary and walls with exquisitely carved panels depicting mythological subjects. Srisailam is one of the most important Hindu places of pilgrimage.
Kalahasti has a very large sixteenth century Shiva Temple with granite basement and walls rich in intricately carved pilasters and a tall pyramidal tower nearly 120 feet (36.5m) high. Situated on the banks of Swarnamukhi river, Kalahasti is a very important centre for Hindu pilgrimage and also famous for a popular and traditional technique of painting on cloth known as Kalamkari. Achyutdevaraya, one of the Vijayanagara Kings was crowned at Kalahasthi temple.
Palaces of Chandragiri
The second Vijayanagara capital Penuconda was also under constant threat from Qutb Shahi and Adil Shahi rulers. Therefore the capital was again shifted to Chandragiri (Chittoor) by 1585. Penuconda was thereafter ruled by Vijayanagara Governors. Chandragiri remained capital of the declining Vijayanagara Empire till 1646. Located 11 km north east of Tirumala Hills, Chandragiri has natural defences with a ring of hills surrounding it. It has an upper fort, reputed to date from 1000 AD situated on a 183m (600 ft) rocky hill. At the base of the hill there are defensive walls and gateways, two well preserved palaces, a tank and other civic structures. The palace of the Vijayanagara kings is an early seventeenth century specimen of south Indian architecture combining Hindu and Muslim styles . The palace is 45.7m (150 feet) long with a three storeyed façade of pointed arches and pyramidal towers. It consists of a centrally located Durbar Hall. The hall is surrounded by a two storeyed colonnade, which acts as a clerestorey, allowing light to penetrate the space. The Main palace and the ancillary structures have stucco facades and variations of Vijayanagara style.
It is from the Chandragiri Palace that in 1639 the ‘Vijayanagara Empire’ granted land to Francis Day for the East India Company at Madras.
Situated about 80-km south east of Nandyal town, Ahobilam is one of the most sacred Hindu sites of Andhra Pradesh . The temples here are all dedicated to Narasimha, the mythological lion-god who destroyed demon Hiranyakashipu. The temples owe their origin to the 14th century Reddi Kings but the present architectural form is a result of additions and improvements by the Vijayanagara kings in the 16thand 17th centuries. Both the main temples located in Lower Ahobilam and Upper Ahobilam are therefore in typical early Vijayanagara style.
Tirumala is famous for the temple dedicated to Venkateswara, an aspect of Vishnu and is among the most important Hindu places of pilgrimage in India. The site is situated among a range of seven wooded hills at a height of about 700 meters. Origins of the temple complex can be traced to the 10th century. Due to the proximity of Chandragiri, the late 16th century capital of Vijayanagara kings, the temples at Tirumala received patronage from the powerful dynasty and prospered. Though the carvings and several architectural elements reflect Vijayanagara style, the temple complex has been extensively rebuilt
Tirupati is a large town at the foot of the Tirumala hills and the gateway to Tirumala. The 14th – 17th century Govindaraja temple is in parts built in the Vijayanagara style. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu.