Many of the forms found in south Indian palace architecture have their precedents in the courtly architecture of Vijayanagara, the 'City of Victory'. [Plate 16]. During the sixteenth century, Vijayanagara was the ceremonial centre of an empire bearing the same name. The archaeological site which we find today still contains the remains of buildings which were part of the city's palace. These fragmentary structures are the earliest extant courtly monuments in the south of India. When they are viewed alongside the seventeenth-century courtly monuments at Madurai, stylistic links between the courtly architecture of the two places can be discerned.
The purpose of this chapter is to look at what we know about the material culture of the Vijayanagara court in order to establish the stylistic and ideological influences which were at play in the courtly monuments of southern Tamil Nadu. By looking at this material culture, the formal and hierarchical continuities which occur in the courtly architecture of the Telugu and Tamil regions will hopefully become apparent. This link does not end with stylistic similarities between buildings. Because Madurai was a sub-state of Vijayanagara, these two sites were connected through their membership in the same segmentary state. Madurai's participation in Vijayanagara's ritual sovereignty was a key part of Madurai's courtly ideology.
Archaeological evidence indicates that Madurai was an important south Indian city long before Vijayanagara was built. From roughly the third century until 1310 Madurai was an important city to the Pandyas. 58 Pandyan courtly epics extol Madurai as a city of extreme beauty, and connect the Pandya royal lineage with Minakshi, the tutelary goddess of Madurai, and her consort, Sundareshvara (a form of Shiva). By the thirteenth century the Pandya Dynasty was weakening. Rivalries over succession were handicapping the rule of areas under Pandya control. Added to this, the breakdown of the Chola Empire in the mid-thirteenth century caused northern Tamil Nadu to fragment into smaller autonomous political areas, resulting in rivalries between political units of equal size. It is said that the Pandya king at Madurai asked the Delhi Sultanate to assist in strengthening the Madurai