|Population: 45 million|
Karnataka's palm-fringed though largely undeveloped coastline stretches for 300 kilometres along the Arabian Sea, from Kerala to Goa. Inland, the forested Western Ghats run parallel to the coastline and from their upper reaches originate the state's three main rivers, the Tungabhadra, the Krishna and the Cauvery. In the south is Karnataka's coffee growing area, known as the Coorg region, and nearby are the state's two wildlife reserves, Nagarhole and Bandipur. In the centre, on the shores of the Tungabhadra River, is the spectacularly rocky site of the ruins of the Vijayanagar capitol of Hampi. Near Mysore, in the south, at Somnathapur, Belur and Halebid, are the exquisite temples built by the Hoysala dynasty, which ruled the southwest part of the state between the 11th to 14th centuries. It is believed that it was to Sravanabelagola, also in this area, that India's first emperor, Chandragupta Maurya, came to fast until death after converting to Jainism and renouncing his throne. Later, towards the end of the tenth centuy, a 17-metre statue of Gometeshvara was erected there, and it remains a major Jain pilgrimage site.
Until the 6th century AD this region was torn by power struggles between various kingdoms, but during the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries Karnataka was almost continuously ruled by the Chalukyas. The eastern part of the state was largely controlled by the Cholas from the late 9th to the 13th centuries and the southwest by the Hoysalas from the 11th to the 14th. In 1327 Halebid, in the southwest, fell to the Muslims, just as the great Hindu Vijayanagar empire was being established. The founders of this dynasty, two brothers Harihara and Bukka, created Hampi, the capitol of their new empire, and they and their successors continued to dominate southern India until a group of Deccan sultans united to defeat them in 1565. From then until Hyder Ali gained dominance in the area in 1761 and moved the centre of power back south to Sriranganapatnam, Bijapur was the most important city in the region.
Hyder Ali's son, Tipu Sultan, allied with the French and with their help was able to extend the area of his control before being finally defeated and killed by the British in 1799.
The British returned to the throne the Wadiyar Rajas who had earlier been rulers in the Mysore area until defeated by Hyder Ali, and there began a period of relatively enlightened rule. Except between 1830 and 1880 when the area was ruled by a Commission, the Wadiyars remained in power through to Independence. At that point the popular currently ruling maharaja was installed as the first governor of the state.
"In 1956 Mysore State and parts of the Madras Presidency were merged to form the modern State of Karnataka, which took its name from the Carnatic Coast of olden days."
Bangalore, its capitol, is a former British cantonment town which has in recent decades developed into major information technology center, attracting a large number of blobal companies. Bangalore's comfortable climate (at 1000 meters above sea level) and its adequate rainfall earned it the name of "Garden City" and until the IT explosion in the 1980s, it was a sleepy retirement center. Poor planning and a complacent administration during the rapid expansion the city went through in the 80s and 90s resulted in considerable deterioration of Bangalore's infrastructure and environment. Rising costs and a crowded housing market have also made Bangalore less attractive as a business destination. This has led to seriously challenges from Hyderabad and Chennai but Bangalore continues to hold a top position and recent administrative changes in the state seem to be proving positive.
Hampi, or Vijayanagar (the 'City of Victory') covers nine square miles on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra River in central Karnataka, though the fortifications and outposts of the city extend over a far larger area. It is set among awesomely rocky terrain, with many huge rock formations standing against the sky in stunning silhouette.
Seat of Vijayanagar power, it reached it's zenith under the rule of Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1530) who was glowingly described by a Portuguese who visited Vijayanagar about 1520: " He was an athlete and kept himself in hard condition by regular bodily exercise, rising early and practising sword-play or riding about the plains round the city before sunrise. He had a noble presence, attractive manners and a strong personal influence over those about him. He led his armies in person and yet was a poet and a patron of literature. Able, brave and statesmanlike he was withal a man of much gentleness and generosity of character."
Krishna Deva Raya's successors provoked the sultans of the region to such an extent that finally the latter overcame their differences and united in a grand effort to defeat the Vijayanagars. When the city finally fell in 1565, in the battle of Talikota, one of the most decisive battles in all South Indian history, only one of the three brothers ruling at that time remained alive and he " hastily returned to Vijayanagar and fled thence with the puppet king Sadasiva to the hill fort of Penukonda in the Anantapur district, taking with him a few followers and a convoy of 550 elephants laden with treasure in gold, diamonds and precious stones valued at more than 100 millions sterling and also the state insignia and the celebrated jewelled throne."
On the third day after the defeat 'the victorious Muhammadans arrived and for five months " with fire and sword, with crowbars and axes... they carried on day after day their work of destruction. Never perhaps in the history of the world has such havoc been wrought, and wrought so suddenly, on so splendid a city; teeming with a wealthy and industrious population in the full plenitude of prosperity one day and on the next seized, pillaged, and reduced to ruins, amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beyond description". (Quoted excerpts from Hampi Ruins, A.H. Longhurst, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi 1982. - an excellent book if you are visiting the ruins.)