Vijayanagar Empire – Nayankara System

Vijayanagar Empire – Nayankara System

     Vijayanagar rulers gave due importance to provincial administration.  The administration which existed in the provinces was called as ‘Nayankara system’.  It was similar to that of feudalism in Europe.  According to the system, all the land were owned by the rulers.  He distributed the lands to his generals.  They functioned under his control and acted as feudal lords.  This administrative system flourished during the period of Vijayanagar rulers.  Based on the system most of the lands were distributed among the Nayaks (land lords).  They lived with pomp and show and constructed forts for their protection.  They accepted the supremacy of the Vijayanagar rulers and acted as their protectors.

The Nayaks who received the lands from the ruler, distributed them to the tenants for cultivation.  In turn the Nayaks collected land tax regularly from the tenants.  The amount of tax was very high. Nuniz, in his account mentioned that the Nayaks collected one tenth of the total revenue as land tax.  They collected the tax by arbitrary method.  No sympathy was bestowed on them.  The Nayaks gave half of the revenue to central government.  Rest of the amount was utilised by the Nayaks for administration, military and other charitable works.  Accordingly, the Vijayanagar rulers received seventy lakhs of Varagans from the Nayaks.  Vijayanagar rulers spent the major portions of the revenue for their luxurious life.

According to this system, the maintenance of army was entrusted in the hands of Nayaks.  Nayaks maintained a standing army.  The army consisted of the traditional divisions of infantry, cavalry and Elephantry.  They assisted the Vijayanagar rulers with army at the time of external threat.  Particularly, the success and failure of the Vijayanagar ruler depended on the efficiency of the army sent by the Nayaks.  Utilising the army, the Vijayanagar rulers defeated the Muslims in several battles for example, Vijayanagar ruler Krishnadevaraya invaded Raichur fort with the help of Nayak army.

This system maintained cordial relations between the Rayas and Nayaks.  The Nayaks helped the Vijayanagar rulers when they were in distress.  They presented gold ornaments and costly articles as gift to the ruler at the time of temple festivals and birth-day functions of the members of royal family.  They used to present gold coins worth fifteen lakhs Varagans to the Vijayanagar ruler at an ordinary Deepavali function.  They also provided all required commodities needed for the royal family.

They Nayaks who enjoyed enormous powers maintained law and order in their territories.  They punished the criminals severely.  Separate force was utilised to deal with the criminals.  Adequate attention was paid for the development of agriculture.  Irrigational facilities were improved.  Various eries, kulams and well were constructed all over the kingdom.  They were maintained regularly.  With a view to extend irrigation forests were destroyed.  Generally, the Nayaks rendered meritorious services to get the appreciation of the ruler.  On certain occasions, they were honoured by the rulers.

Though the Nayaks acted independently, there existed political and administrative relations between the centre and the province.  The Nayaks enjoyed the rights to send two representatives to the court of Vijayanagar ruler.  Among them, one person administered the Nayak army stationed at the capital.  The other person involved in the activities related to Nayaks.

As the system functioned effectively, the Vijayanagar ruler extended the Nayankara system throughout the empire.  As a result the number of Nayaks increased considerably, Nuniz, in his account mentioned that there were more than two hundred Nayaks in the Vijayanagar Empire.  The inscriptions and literary evidences proved that the Nayaks system flourished under the Vijayanagar rule.  Particularly, Chinnappa Nayaka of Thiruvannamala, Palayya Nayaka of Pooviruthavally, Mirunthiyachey Nayaka of Ponneric Ariyadeva Nayaka of Thirukovallur, Thimmappa Nayak of Tanjore, Perhappa Nayaka of Trichy, Raghava Nayaka of Pudukottai, Chikkama Nayaka of Ramnad and Vairayya Nayaka of Madurai were prominent among them.

Unlike the governors, the Nayaks functioned independently.  They did various constructive works for the welfare of the people.  Irrigational facilities were increased to promote cultivation.  Law and order was enforced.  Art and architecture were developed.  Numerous attractive temples were constructed.  New cities were founded.  In short, they protected Hindu religion and culture.

The Nayankara system flourished till the decline of Vijayanagar Empire.  Various reasons were attributed for its decline.  Mainly due to internal rivalry and foreign invasion, the Nayankara system withered away.

Local Administration

For the convenience of administration the Vijayanagar Empire was divided into provinces or Rajyas.  The provinces were further subdivided into Valanadu or Kottam.  Kottams were again divided into Nadu or Chimai.  Nadu contained certain traditional villages or Gramams.  Village was known as Isthalam.  Traditional administration flourished in the villages.  The central government did not interfere in the internal administration of the villages.  Nattavar looked after its administration.

The local bodies flourished during the reigns of Kumarakampana, Harihara II and Devaraya II. Among the local bodies “Sabha” occupied an important place.  Sabhas administered Brahmadhana and Devadhana villages donated to Brahmins.  So most of the members of the Sabha were Brahmins.  The local body which looked after the administration of the ordinary villages were Urs.  Another local body was Nadu.  It looked after the general administration Sabha and Ur.  In addition to the above local bodies, there were separate committees.  They looked after the general interest of people in the villages.

The members served in the local bodies were elected by Kudavolai system as existed in the Chola period.  They were elected in a democratic way.  The village was divided into a number of wards or Variyams or Kudambu for the effective implementation of schemes.  Each ward contained a considerable number of houses.  The wards and elected representatives varies from village to village based on the size and population.

According to the Kudavolai system of election, the names of the eligible candidates were written on palm leafs and put in a pot (Kudam) and shuffled.  A small boy was directed to take out the palam leafs.  The persons, whose palm leafs were picked up by the boy were declared elected.  Usually, thirty candidates were elected by this system.  The elected representatives looked after the administration of various Variyams such as Eri Variyam, Thotta Variyam, Pancha Variyam, Ponvariyam and Kezhani Variyam.  The members of the Variyams were called as a Vriyapperumakkal.

These Sabhas met occasionally in the veranda of a village temple, or under the shadow of the tree or on the bank of a tank.  They passed resolutions pertaining to the development of the villages.  These resolutions were recorded on the walls of the temples.  These Sabhas had certain powers and duties.  It regularised the land rights of the tenants, improved irrigational facilities, maintained law and order, protected the people, conducted festivals and collected taxes.  The Sabhas rendered meritorious services to the people at the time of famine and invasion.  It awarded rewards to those who rendered meritorious services.  The members of the Sabhas were not paid for their services.  The village gave due respect to them.

Decline of Local Bodies

The local administration flourished in the Chola period began to decline during the reign of Vijayanagar rulers.  It lost its importance in 16th century.  Various reasons were attributed for its decline.  The introduction of Nayankara System in the province and Ayyangar system in the villages by the Vijayanagar rulers was the fundamental reasons for the decline of local bodies in Tamil Nadu.

Ayyangar System

The Vijayanagar rulers during their administration in the Ayyangar system instead of traditional local administration in the villages.  According to the new system the administration of the village was entrusted in the hand of a committee which consisted of twelve members.  The members of the committee were called Ayyangars.  They were Karnam, headman, Talaiyari, Prohita, goldsmith, near kanchi blacksmith, carpenter, Kuyavan, Vanna, Navithan and Chakilee.  Among them Karnam, headman and Talaiyari were important.  The ruler nominated them.  Karnam looked after the land revenue account.  He maintained a register.  It contained all details pertaining to the village including the pastoral lands, wells, eries, channels, etc.  he maintained close contact with headman.  The headman collected tax from the people and remitted to the government.  Thalaiyari was entrusted with kaval duty.  Tamil people called Talaiyari as Vetti.  The common looked after the duties of the village Sabha.  Lands were donated to them as salaries.  The government took keen interest for the development of Ayyangar system.  Hence, the traditional local bodies weakened.

Looting of Temple Wealth

Tamil rulers and temple authorities preserved gold, precious stones, pearls etc. in the palaces and temples.  Due to frequent Muslim invasions the Tamil rulers were defeated and temples were looted.  They also destroyed temples, palaces and madams.  Hence, they lost their importance.  It was irrecoverable loss to the temples and local bodies.  With their decline, the local bodies such as Sabha, Ur and Nadu lost their economic importance.  At this situation, nobody came forward to protect the interest of the local bodies.

Administrative Changes

In the ancient period, traditional local bodies and temple enjoyed enormous powers.  It donated lands to Brahmins and collected tax from the people.  This system came to an end during the Vijayanagar administration.  They introduced radical changes in local administration.  They appointed Thalayari and village head to look after the work of the local bodies.  Vijayanagar ruler took necessary steps to popularise the new system (Ayyangar System).  Hence, the traditional local bodies such as Sabha, Ur and Nadu lost their importance.

Reference: 1. Devanesan,

  1. K.L.Khurana, Medieval India,

Keywords:Vijayanagar, Thalayari, Nayankara System,  Ayyangar System, Sabha, Ur, Nadu, Karnam, Vriyapperumakkal, Kudavolai system, Brahmadhana, Devadhana,  Krishnadevaraya, Chinnappa Nayaka, Thiruvannamala, Palayya Nayaka, Thimmappa Nayak, Tanjore,feudalism, Vijayanagar administration