Domingo Paes, Vijayanagara: "The best provided city of the world"

Introduction: After the conquest of Goa in 1510 and its rise as capital of the Portuguese Estado da India, several Portuguese travellers and traders visited Vijayanagara and wrote detailed reports about the glory of Bisnaga or Vijayanagara. Most valuable are those of Domingos Paes and Fernão Nuni, z written in c. 1520–22 and 1535–37 respectively. The report of Paes, who visited Vijayanagara during Krishnadeva's reign, is based primarily on careful observation, whereas Nuniz relied often also on hearsay and legends. Paes described in detail the so-called feudal nayankara system of Vijayanagara's military organisation and the annual royal Durga festival and he was fascinated by the greatness of Vijayanagara's fortified urban landscape, its markets, temples and the royal centre. Paes detailed description of the city of Vijayanagara (which is only partly guoted here) is of immense help for identifying and interpreting the still impressive ruins of Vijayanagara, which once was, according to Paes, as large as Rome and "the best provided city of the world." Vijayanagara was sacked by the united armies of the central Indian Sultanates in 1565

(see also AHOI, ch. 4, section Vijayanagara's Glory and Doom)

Returning then to the city of Bisnaga [Vijayanagara], you must know that from it to the new city goes a street as wide as a place of tourney, with both sides lined throughout with rows of houses and shops where they sell everything; and all along this road are many trees that the king commanded to be planted, so as to afford shade to those that pass along. On this road he commanded to be erected a very beautiful temple of stone, and there are other pagodas that the captains and great lords caused to be erected.
Before you arrive at the city gates there is a gate with a wall that encloses all the other enclosures of the city, and this wall is a very strong one and of massive stonework; but at the present time it is injured in some places. They do not fail to have citadels in it. This wall has a moat of water in some places, and in the parts where it was constructed on low ground. [...] From this first circuit until you enter the city there is a great distance, in which are fields in which they sow rice and have many gardens and much water, which water comes from two lakes. The water passes through this first line of wall, and there is much water in the lakes because of springs; and here there are orchards and a little grove of palms, and many houses. [...]
Then going forward you have another gate with another line of wall, and it also encircles the city inside the first, and from here to the king's palace is all streets and rows of houses, very beautiful, and houses of captains and other rich and honourable men; you will see rows of houses with many figures and decorations pleasing to look at. Going along the principal street, you have one of the chief gateways, which issues from a great open space in front of the king's palace[...]

This palace of the king is surrounded by a very strong wall like some of the others, and encloses a greater space than all the castle of Lisbon. Still going forward, passing to the other gate you see two temples connected with it, one on each side, and at the door of one of these they kill every day many sheep[...]

Close to these pagodas is a triumphal car covered with carved work and images, and on one day in each year during a festival they drag this through the city in such streets as it can traverse. It is large and cannot turn corners.

Going forward, you have a broad and beautiful street, full of rows of fine houses and streets of the sort I have described, and it is to be understood that the houses belong to men rich enough to afford such. In this street live many merchants, and there you will find all sorts of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, and pearls, and seed-pearls, and cloths, and every other sort of thing there is on earth and that you may wish to buy. [...]

Then when this gate is passed you have another street where there are many craftsmen, and they sell many things; and in this street there are two small temples. There are temples in every street, for these appertain to institutions like the confraternities you know of in our parts of all the craftsmen and merchants; but the principal and greatest pagodas are outside the city. In this street lodged Christovão de Figueiredo. On every Friday you have a fair there, with many pigs and fowls and dried fish from the sea, and other things the produce of the country, of which I do not know the name; and in like manner a fair is held every day in different parts of the city. At the end of this street is the Moorish quarter, which is at the very end of the city, and of these Moors there are many who are natives of the country and who are paid by the king and belong to his guard. In this city you will find men belonging to every nation and people, because of the great trade which it has, and the many precious stones there, principally diamonds.
The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it; I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes; and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit-trees. Below the Moorish quarter is a little river, and on this side are many orchards and gardens with many fruit-trees, for the most part mangoes and areca-palms and jack-trees, and also many lime and orange trees, growing so closely one to another that it appears like a thick forest; and there are also white grapes. All the water which is in the city comes from the two tanks of which I have spoken, outside the first enclosing wall.
The people in this city are countless in number, so much so that I do not wish to write it down for fear it should be thought fabulous; but I declare that no troops, horse or foot, could break their way through any street or lane, so great are the numbers of the people and elephants. This is the best provided city in the world.[…]
You should know that among these heathen there are days when they celebrate their feasts as with us; and they have their days of fasting, when all day they eat nothing, and eat only at midnight. When the time of the principal festival arrives the king comes from the new city to this city of Bisnaga, since it is the capital of the kingdom and it is the custom there to make their feasts and to assemble. For these feasts are summoned all the dancing-women of the kingdom, in order that they should be present; and also the captains and kings and great lords with all their retinues,—except only those whom the king may have sent to make war, or those who are in other parts, or at the far end of the kingdom on the side where (an attack) is feared, such as the kingdom of Oria and the territories of the Ydallcão [Adilshahi dynasty of Bijapur]; and even if such captains are absent in such places, there appear for them at the feasts those whom I shall hereafter mention.
These feasts begin on the 12th of September, and they last nine days, and take place at the king's palace.

You must know that when it is morning the king comes to this House of Victory, and betakes himself to that room where the idol is with its Brahmans, and he performs his prayers and ceremonies. Outside the house are some of his favourites, and on the square are many dancing-girls dancing. In their verandahs round the square are many captains and chief people who come there in order to see; and on the ground, near the platform of the house, are eleven horses with handsome and well-arranged trappings, and behind them are four beautiful elephants with many adornments. After the king has entered inside he comes out, and with him a Brahman who takes in his hand a basket full of white roses and approaches the king on the platform, and the king, taking three handfuls of these roses, throws them to the horses and after he has thrown them he takes a basket of perfumes and acts towards them as though he would cense them; and when he has finished doing this he reaches towards the elephants and does the same to them.[...]Thence he witnesses the slaughter of twenty-four buffaloes and a hundred and fifty sheep, with which a sacrifice is made to that idol; you must know that they cut off the heads of these buffaloes and sheep at one blow with certain large sickles which are wielded by a man who has charge of this slaughter; they are so sure of hand that no blow misses. When they have finished the slaughter of these cattle the king goes out and goes to the other large buildings, on the platforms of which is a crowd of Brahmans, and as soon as the king ascends to where they stand they throw to the king ten or twelve roses—those (that is) who are nearest to him. Then he passes all along the top of the buildings, [...] and as soon as he is at the end he takes the cap from his head, and after placing it on the ground turns back (to the place) where the idol is; here he lies extended on the ground. When he has arisen he betakes himself to the interior of the building, […] Then he goes back to the place whence he threw the flowers to the horses, and as soon as he is here all the captains and chief people come and make their salaam to him, and some, if they so desire, present some gifts to him; then as they came so they retire, and each one betakes himself to his own dwelling. And the king withdraws to the interior of his palace, the courtesans and bayadères remain dancing in front of the temple and idol for a long time.[...]

In this way are celebrated these festivals of nine days; on the last day there are slaughtered two hundred and fifty buffaloes and four thousand five hundred sheep.

When these days of festival are past, the king holds a review of all his forces, and the review is thus arranged. The king commands to pitch his tent of Mecca velvet a full league from the city, at a place already fixed for that purpose; and in this tent they place the idol in honour of which all these festivals are celebrated. From this tent to the king's palace the captains range themselves with their troops and array, each one in his place according to his rank in the king's household. Thus the soldiers stand in line; but it does not appear to you to be only one line but in some places two or three, one behind the other. Where there was a lake it was surrounded with troops, and where the road was narrow they were drawn up on the plain; and so on the slope of the hills and eminences, in such a way that you could see neither plain nor hill that was not entirely covered with troops. Those on foot stood in front of those on horses, and the elephants behind the horses; in this array was each captain with his troops. [...]

A Contribution to the History of India
London 1900
(quoted from “Narrative of Domingo Paes”, [??004] R. Sewell, [??004]A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagara). A Contribution to the History of India. London 1900, repn Dublin, 1972 pp. 253–275)
(From a Photograph by Col. W. Hooper)


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