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The “Fall” of Vijayanagara Reconsidered: Political Destruction and Historical Construction in South Indian History 1

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Abstract The eponymous capital of Vijayanagara was largely abandoned following the defeat of the imperial army at Talikota in 1565. The city was burned and looted and its monumental temple complexes, gateways, and images left in ruins. Despite large-scale damage to architecture in the city, however, the level and focus of destruction was strikingly variable. In this paper, we draw on the material record of late Vijayanagara temple complexes and other archaeological evidence to examine patterns of differentially distributed political violence. We suggest that these patterns may be understood, in part, in terms of the contemporary politics of sovereignty, incorporation, and reconstitution of elite authority. Drawing on these observations, we discuss the role of commemorative destruction as well as post-1565 temple rededications and abandonments in the afterlife of Vijayanagara as a social space. In particular, we examine the potential of monumental violence to act as a symbol or to index social memory through a creative and fluid process of instituting claims about the past, heritage, authenticity, and the nature of the present.


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