Chennai: With the interest in the reign of Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadeva Raya reviving in the context of 2009 being the 500th year of his coronation, a small, beautiful portrait sculpture of Krishnadeva Raya (1509-1529) has come to light in the Varadaraja Swamy temple at Kancheepuram.
This exquisite metal sculpture, a few inches tall, was found on a step leading to the goddess Perundevi shrine.
It was noticed by R. Nagaswamy, former Director of the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department. Next to Krishnadeva Raya is a metal portrait of one of his two queens. There is also a bigger portrait of a ‘Dwarapala.’
The Krishnadeva Raya portrait shows him standing with folded hands, a sword tucked behind his left hand; he has a dagger too. He is wearing a tall, conical crown studded with diamonds and rubies. “These beautiful sculptures are a witness to the achievements in metal art during Krishnadeva Raya’s time,” Dr. Nagaswamy said.
One can see inscriptions written in Telugu and Tamil at the entrance of the main tower of the Ekambaranathar temple at Kancheepuram which mention that the tower was built by the emperor.
In his book The History of South India, From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar, KA Nilakanta Sastri says: “Pre-eminent as a warrior, Krishnadeva Raya was equally great as a statesman, administrator and patron of arts. The grandeur of his court excited the warm admiration of many foreign visitors, and their description of the great wealth of Vijayanagar, its festivals, its military strength and its heroic king make eloquent reading.”
Dr Nagaswamy calls Krishnadeva Raya “an extraordinary ruler” who united almost the entire south India by bringing Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and part of Kerala, and Orissa under his control. A scholar, poet, great builder and connoisseur of music and dance, he built the lofty ‘gopuras’ (towers) in the temples of Kancheepuram, Tiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, Kalahasti and Hampi; he lavished gifts on the Venkateswara temple at Tirumala. “He made an outstanding contribution to the economic, cultural, artistic and literary development of the four southern States. So they should celebrate his 500th year of coronation appropriately,” he says.
There are several inscriptions of Krishnadeva Raya in Telugu and Tamil in the Varadaraja Swamy temple. One of them — on the outer wall of the Perundevi shrine — talks about how he gilded with gold the ‘punyakoti vimana’ of the Varadaraja Swamy shrine and the ‘kalyanakoti vimana’ of the Perundevi shrine, and how one of his gurus, Immadi Tata Ayagar supervised the work.
Another ‘sila libi’ (stone inscription) in the temple gives the date, the day, the year (‘sakha’) and even the ‘lagnam’ when the gilding of the main vimana was completed. Dr. Nagaswamy reckons that it is “one of the finest and authentic inscriptions of Krishnadeva Raya. For based on such records, we can reconstruct the temple’s history.”
Krishnadeva Raya built the loftiest ‘raja gopura’ at the Tiruvannamalai temple, and the majestic southern tower of the Ekambaranathar temple at Kancheepuram. The Ekambaranathar temple tower has inscriptions, saying he built the tower. One of them, in Telugu and Tamil, says: “Sri Krishnadeva Maharaya built this tower as an act of dhammam.”