Sports and Pastimes in Vijayanagara Times
Jyotsna K Kamat
First Published in: Itihas - II, 2 , 1974
Sports and Pastimes formed an important part of everyday life of the people in Vijayanagara times. It being the age of strength and valor, physical culture was given proper attention not only by the royalty and the nobility but by the commoners as well. The daily exercises of Krishnadevaraya as described by the Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes are well known . Father Du Jarric has left an interesting description of the gymnasium at Chandragiri where noblemen took exercises in boxing, jumping, fencing and wrestling in order to grow strong. "Noblemen" observes he, "take this kind of exercise, almost every day before dinner, in order to be fit and healthy; thus men as old as seventy years look only thirty ". Foreign travelers have left vivid description of different sports and games popular during this age. Literary sources confirm these accounts and refer to several games played by the common men and we get an idea how these sports and games were conducted at state and private levels. Contemporary sculptures also enlighten us regarding the role of various pastimes and amusements in the daily life of the people.
Wrestling seems to have been extremely popular and received state-patronage, as in earlier times. From Paes and Nuniz, we learn that wrestlers from all over the empire received invitation to exhibit their art during the Navaratri festival at the capital . Bharatesa Vaibhava of Ratnakaravarni, a Jaina classic of the 16th century, describes wrestlers getting ready for the fight. They challenged the opponents with grunts and traditional signs of patting the shoulders . A sculpture of Ketappayya Narayana temple of Bhatkal (North Kanara) depict an interesting sequence of wrestling bout (Fig. 1). Paes and later Fernao Nuniz had observed women-wrestlers as well. A pair of women wrestlers are depicted at Bhatkal as well as at Hampi (Fig. 2).
There seems to have been two types in wrestling; one, the game of strength, which has come down to the present day, and the second one which was violent and resembled modern boxing. Paes writes about the latter, "their wrestling does not seem like ours, but there are blows given so severe, as to break teeth, and put out eyes and disfigure faces, so much so that here and there men are carried off from the ring, speechless by their friends; they give one another fine falls too ". Nuniz confirms this statement, by saying, "they strike and wound each other with two circlets with points which they carry in their hands to strike with?".
Fencing and dueling seem to have been popular among nobles. Duarte Barbosa, another Portuguese traveler has left a description of the latter gory game. They are accustomed to challenge one another to duels, and when the challenge has been accepted, and the king gives his permission, the day for the duel is fixed by the persons challenged, the weapons to be used must be according to measure; the King appoints seconds a field for the fight ...........they go there naked, covered only with some cloth wrapped round their waist, with very cheerful faces". He further writes that as they were bare, it was over in a few strokes and this was a common practice . For wrestling and dueling there used to be judges who decided what rewards were to be given to the participants . Hunting is another sport where contemporary literature gives detailed description of the expeditions undertaken by kings and courtiers. Devaraya II held the title of Gajaventekara (elephant-hunter). Varthema noticed that the Capital occupied the most beautiful site with certain very beautiful places for hunting and the same for fowling, so that it appeared to him to be a second paradise . Krishnadevaraya seems to have maintained a large establishment of falcons and hounds. The hounds helped the hunters in tracking the wild animals to their lairs, the falcons pursued the birds . Barbosa writes, that the people of this kingdom were great hunters both of flying game and wild beasts . Bows, arrows, daggers, short swords and spears were used in hunt of the tiger, the elephant, the bear, the wolf, the hyena, the deer, the bison, the boar etc . Contemporary sculptures depict these scenes (Fig.3).
Along with wrestling, cook-fight, ram-fight, buffalo-fight seem to have been popular . Cock-fight is mentioned in Krishnadevaraya's Amuktammalyada  and Bharatesa Vaibhava  and seems to have been arranged on wager. We have several of these popular games and amusements preserved in sculptures (Fig. 4) of the time. In the ram-fight known as Tagarina mota, kavalada tutti (?) and lime juice was smeared on the head (Netti) of the rams and these were then made to fight . There used to be display of feats of Harikaras (runners), Sabaligas (spearmen), and surigekaras (men with shield) .
There is a good description of a ball-game in Nanjunda's Kumara Ramana Sangatya, a work of 16th century. When Kumara Rama tells of his wish to play the game of ball, to his mother, she dissuades him saying that the game of ball is for cowherds and not for princes. Similarly bagari (top) gudugasa (kabadi) lagge (humming the ball) and Hidigavade (game of cowries) were not meant for princes . It is implied thereby that there were all common people's games. Nevertheless, Kumara Rama insists on ball-game and with lagge, halage (plank) and chendu (ball), starts playing the ball-game with his friends divided into two groups .
Poet Kumaravyasa also gives a list of the games played by boys of these times, in the context of games indulged in by Kauravas, and Pandavas. They played alinerike (riding on one another), hidigavade (game of cowries), guriyalu-chendina hanake (aiming and hitting at one another), Chinikolate (the modern gilli-dandu or stick and wooden ball-game), dandeya (dand or samu), Gudugu (Kabaddi), gummana badiva guddu (knocking from behind and hiding), gambhada gadane (game of pillars resembling modern musical chairs), Kannu-muchhata (hide-seek), halleyata (one-leg-play, modern Kuntu-halipe) . Almost all of these games have come down to our times, and made the westerners wonder that Indians have evolved a system of body-building games which are practically inexpensive and superbly systematic.
Acrobatics, puppet show, magic-show and monkey-game were other popular pastimes. Acrobats (dambars) moved from place to place and entertained kings (Fig. 5) and commoners alike. Abdur Razzak graphically describes the feat of elephants which were made to climb thirty feet high and beat time with their trunks to the tune of music . There were acrobats who set up the poles for rope-walking and attracted village-folk by beating the drum. There were jugglers called Vipra-vindodins of these times, who figure in inscriptions by giving various grants from the dues they received from the king and the people . If they were Brahmins, as interpreted, it will be interesting to know when and why they took to this profession which was followed by people of the lower strata. These Vipra-vindins mostly specialised in jugglery of words and mnemonic feats. Like jugglers, The snake-charmer (Fig. 6) was another favorite of the villagers.
Kolata was very popular with girls and sculptures of Hampi and Lepakshi display a good many feats while playing this game (Fig.7). Gaily-decked girls playing this game of sticks were seen by Pietro Della Valle, the Venentian traveler in the streets of Ikkeri. All of them carried sticks which they struck together after a musical measure to the sound of drums and other instruments. One girl sang a tune and at the end, others replied seven or eight times, in the number of their meter with the word cole, cole, cole, which he believed to be a word of joy ; but actually it formed chorus line, when they beat the sticks called Kolu in Kannada.
Music and dance recitals were immensely liked and received state patronage. Abdur Razzak, Paes and Nuniz have left description of dancing girls (Fig. 8) who, like wrestlers, received special invitation for the Navaratri festival. Paes has given details as to how the princesses were trained in this art through sculptures in the interior of the palace . Barbosa writes that the girls were taught graceful movements at a very tender age. There is a good sculptural representation of dance and instrumental music (Fig. 9) of this period.
Fire-works seem to have been part of the festival sports and Paes mentions that they threw up many rockets and different sorts of fire works as also castles that were burnt and many bombs . Bharatesa Vaibhava also corroborates the fact that fire-works were popular.
All the sports and games mentioned above were played in, specially constructed arena and sports-fields, Abdur Razzak had noticed between the nine-storeyed, nicely ornamented edifice and the pavilions. There was an open space beautifully laid out, in which singers and story-tellers exercised their respective arts . Paes describes the specially constructed stadium for the celebration of the Mahanavami festival . Kumara Vyasa gives the details of the huge arena being constructed according to rules of architecture and about galleries and tents erected round about . The gymnasium at Chandragiri had a yard in the centre, the pavement of which was covered with a layer of lime so smooth that it looked like a mirror; there was a walk around it spread over with red sand on which wrestlers rested as on soft bed . During evenings, lights and torches were lit round the arena in such a way that the whole area was bright with illumination as day .
Mention may be made about the rewards and recognition, which the participants in these games and sports received at the hands of the kings and the public. Nuniz had observed that the rewards were given by the king to the wrestlers . Further he says, "the king takes so great a delight therein that any man whom he knows to be a valiant Knight, he orders him to wear a golden chain on his right arm to show, called berid " (Birudu -insignia).
The public also remembered the brave and erected memorials in their names. One inscription mentions a hero who killed the tiger with fists  (Fig. 10). A memorial stone was erected for Made Gavunda who died while fighting with wrestlers . A fragmentary inscription tells about an extra-ordinary lady Hariakka who also met with similar death to avenge the death of her father . A record of early 17th century tells about the tragic death of a female acrobat Yellakka, who while performing some feat on a pole fell and died on the spot and a hero-stone was set up in her memory .
This brief survey has tried to bring out the role of sports and games in the life of the people of Vijayanagara, who loved physical activities and out-door life and specialized in many sports and games. Each sportsman specialized in the game in which he could excel. Pietro Della Valle wrote while describing the fencing with Indian canes, " ...........I shall not omit to state that among the Indians it is the custom for every one to manage and make use of one sort of arms wherein he accustoms himself ".