Dasara Celebrations in the Vijayanagar empire: Then and Now

When Shri Krishnadevaraya, eminent king of the Vijayanagara empire, won a battle against Udaygiri, he built the Dasara Mahanavami Dibba to commemorate the victory. It was then the Dasara celebrations began. The king would stand on the grand platform of the Mahanavami Dibba overlooking the festivities on the occasion of Dasara (the army march-past, sword games, bow and arrow competitions, water sports and music performances). The dibba was 12 meters high with three tiers of massive square granite. Each tier had intricate carvings of animals, warriors, hunting games, dancers, musicians and more.  

Today, most of the traditions followed centuries ago are still carried in Anegundi, an integral part of the Vijayanagar empire. CSP spoke to Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya, the present scion of the empire and the 19th descendant of Shri Krishnadevaraya, and his wife Smt Rani Rathnashree Raya.

Anegundi is a small village separated from Hampi by the Tungabhadra river. It has a population size of less than three thousand people and has been inhabited for over a thousand years and played a significant role in the establishment of Vijayanagara empire. Previously, Anegundi was accessible only via a coracle ride from Hampi. Now a bridge has been constructed near Bukka Sagara.

Entrance of the Royal Residence

Smt Rani Rathna told CSP, “Anegundi has been an integral part of the Vijayanagar empire. Spiritually, many gurus have been influential in building the Vijayanagar empire and its grand history. This is a living heritage, and is still very much intact.  We follow what was followed 500 years back.”

Hampi is where Dasara celebrations began. Presently, it is conducted on a very grand scale in Mysore. However, the same traditions,  followed centuries back, are conducted in Anegundi at a smaller scale.

“Right from day one, we have festivities in our home. We have the Ghata Sthapana where Devi Pratishta (installation) happens, and we follow all the rituals followed by our ancestors. On Mahanavami, we celebrate Ayudha pooja and Vijayadashami. We visit the Ranganatha Swamy temple nearby where puja is performed to the Lord and also to the Banni trees (Shami trees). Following the puja, the banni leaves are distributed amongst the villagers,” said Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya.

Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya and his wife Smt Rani Rathna are very intent on following their traditions and upholding the culture and heritage of the empire. When one speaks of Vijayanagara, Hampi crosses everyone's mind. Slowly Anegundi is receiving the importance it deserves.

Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya was residing in the US with his family and returned to India due to his father’s demise in 2008. As the only son, he knew he had to continue to uphold the many traditions that were followed by his ancestors.

We are doing our bit to preserve our heritage and our culture

-Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya

The Royal Residence

He came back in 2008 and began the restoration work of his house in 2011, once he found a good contractor as he wanted things to be done in the most authentic way with lime and mortar. His family has been in this house for more than 200 years and having seen many photographs, he knew how he wanted to restore the house. The ceiling was Madras Terrace, which had collapsed over time and his father had used RCC (Reinforced cement concrete) to cover it.

“I wanted to redo it the old way. The walls, doors, niches, windows are the same. A couple of walls were taken down to make the room bigger. That is the only major change along with an attached washroom in each room. The first floor has changed but I made sure to do it the old way.

I had no idea what I was getting into. The bricks that we use for the Madras Terrace must be 1.5 inches thick, and I could not get the type I wanted. We got bricks from Mangalore, cut them to three, and used it. Brass items on the door were specially made in Ahmedabad. I have visited many different places and procured items for the restoration,” Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya told us. The house contains original brass and copper pots and pans that were used by the King’s great grandmother. These utensils are easily more than 100 years old. Now, the family uses the small ones. 

Anegundi’s rich heritage does not only involve the Vijayanagara empire. It is interesting to note the role the village has played in Ramayana. When one retraces the path taken by Rama from Ayodhya to Lanka, Anegundi is one important stop. This is because Anegundi is also known as Kishkinda. This is where Rama met Hanuman and the Vanara army for the first time. On the Malyavanta hill is the Shri Raghunatha temple. According to Ramayana, Rama and Lakshmana waited until the monsoon ended after which they marched towards Lanka.

Other attractions include the Anjanadri Parvatha, Rishyamukha Parvata, and the Pampa Sarovar. Another noteworthy sight is the ‘Nava Brindavana’ where nine saints have taken Jeeva Samadhi. It is an island right in the middle of Tungabhadhra. On the banks of the river, there is the Chintamani Temple that houses a Shiva Linga. This temple is famous because this is where Rama aimed his arrow to kill Vali. It also houses the cave where Rama and Sugriva plotted Vali’s death.

A heritage store-house is Anegundi. 

Nava brindhavana – Madhwa

Nava Brindavana

Many non-Indians have visited Anegundi and have been struck at the grandeur and history of this village. “We have had a couple of non-Indians visit us, and we saw that they are very interested in learning and understanding our culture and its many traditions. They are more inquisitive than our own. When we talk to them about preserving our heritage, they understand the efforts that go into it. We have a very good friend of ours in the UK, Natalie Tobert who was with my in-laws who lived in Anegundi for three years and extensively studied Anegundi’s art architecture ,irrigation system and more,” Smt Rani Rathna responded.

Her two friends, John and George, concentrated on Hampi and lived in Hampi for twenty-five years. They have authored books on the same.

Speaking of irrigation systems, those days in Hampi, when it would to rain, there were small tanks or pond-like reservoirs that would collect water. If they filled to the brim, the water would fill the next tank. One can observe the keen planning of the city, making sure that there was never any shortage of water. “Now we are wasting. We have to go back to the olden days to our roots and be one with nature,” Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya told us regrettably.

Malyavanta Hill

Today, even though this system does not exist, every house has a well. “Even our house has a well and we also have an RO pump that transports the water to every part of the house,” said Smt Rathna.

There are about 16 canals in Anegundi which are still being used to date. Recently, the government has started to concretise them to cover the canal. “They are destroying the natural landscape. Because in Anegundi, lot of illegal quarrying has to be stopped,” Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya told us strongly.

As mentioned above, when the Vijayanagara empire is discussed, Hampi is on everyone’s mind. People fail to recognise the role of Anegundi.

“History has to be retold, so it has to be written and rewritten. Now, we have many social media platforms to spread the word about Anegundi. It is not just a tourist spot. It must be promoted as a pilgrim centre rather than just a tourist spot. When we returned, it was a conscious decision on our family’s part that we were not just going to restore it, but we would also live here. We live here because we want to show to the people here that Anegundi is such an integral part of their history. Many have lived here without knowing that,” said Smt Rani Rathna.

Ever since the family started living in Anegundi, many of them have started to visit the family and they  open up  about their problems. “They look up to us and want us to be involved in all of the functions that happen in the village,” responded Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya.

Banni Puja conducted today (15.10.2021)

The family wants to start conducting a few festivals and remembrance functions and are currently working on them. In the month of April, Shri Raja Krishna Devaraya takes part in the Rathotsava (chariot festival), on the main day. One week after the Hampi Rathotsava, it is conducted in Anegundi for five days where he attends to it right from day one.

He and his family have taken it upon themselves to uphold. their traditions, and are working hard to do their bit in preserving and creating awareness among people about Anegundi and its grand history and heritage.