The nature of the Vijayanagar state or polity is a matter of intense debate with different scholars propounding different views. The debate primarily revolves around the characterization of the Vijayanagar state – 1) whether it was a centralised state or segmentary one 2) the role played by the nayakas in rendering the identity to the Vijayanagar state 3) whether it was feudal or not.
IDEOLOGICAL FACTORS – Scholars like Sewell, K.A.N Sastri, Mahalingam and others (?) believed that ideological factors played a very important role in the rise and establishment of the Vijayanagar state. They present it as a Hindu reaction to an expansionist policy of Muslim rule, wherein the Vijayanagar rulers upheld the Hindu dharma. This was an important factor in changing the polity and society of the Vijayanagar Empire.
Different Views – Krishnaswamy Iyenger - Iyengar was the first scholar to emphasise on the Hindu-Muslim conflict as being the principal cause for the rise of the Vijayanagar Empire and to claim that resistance to Islam was the great vindication of Vijayanagar. He describes it as the Great National War of the Hindus. K.A.N.Sastri – Sastri viewed the Vijayanagar state as a kind of mission of upholding the Hindu faith against Islam B.A. Saletore - Saletore believed that the Vijayanagar Empire had been created by the release of ‘the latent energy of the Hindu Dharma in southern India’ by Muslim conquests and humiliation.
The theory has been criticized on the grounds that ideology and religious factors could not have played such an important role in the creation and functioning of the state. The alleged ideological factor of containment of Islam must be questioned. However, there is some reference to the ideological factor in the role it played in the functioning of the Vijayanagar state as the kings tried to present themselves as upholders of dharma. Burton Stein says that the groups, which faced the brunt of the military power of the Vijayanagar state, were the nayakas or local chieftains, and not the Bahamani or Bijapur kingdoms, the symbols of the so-called Muslim threat. The composition of the army reveals Muslim participation in Vijayanagar conquests and that the forces comprised of strategically placed Muslim contingents, thereby negating the notion of hostility or fear of Islam.
CENTRALIZED STATE – Scholars like Vincent Smith, N.K.Sastri, Ishwari Prasad and Mahalingam believe that the Vijayanagar state was a highly centralised bureaucratic set up. The ruler was an autocrat with the king having full control over the nayakas and the provincial governors. The scholars have largely based their views on the writings and accounts of two Portuguese travellers, Paes and Nuniz. They described the nayakas as agents and officials of the Vijayanagar state, indicating a centralized state structure.
This centralised notion of the Vijayanagar state has been questioned and criticised by many scholars who believe that a number of institutional checks, such as by the Council of Ministers and local institutions like …. existed on the power of the rulers preventing them from exercising absolute power. However in later writings, Sastri was also less emphatic about the centralised nature of the Vijayanagar state. The strongest and most important critique came from Burton Stein who applied the Segmentary state model to the Vijayanagar state. He derived this theory to describe the nature of state in Vijayanagar...