Origin of Nayaka Administration
Prior to the sixteenth century, the Nayakas seem to have been the commanders of regiments stationed in certain places working together with, or having under them officers called Adikari for the administration of some larger territory. The Nayakkattanam was a small territory granted to a Nayaka as an estate that he was permitted to manage himself. The establishment of the Nayakkattanam was an important step towards the consolidation of Vijayanagar rule.
Having been granted their own estates, the Nayakas became more interested in controlling local production. There emerged many agents who worked for the Nayakas, dealing with local affairs. In some inscriptions it is recorded that a Nayaka or his agent played a part even in the assignment to priests of the right to conduct Puja. The establishment of Pettai (markets) in certain places and the settlement of Kaikkolas (weavers) in the temple precincts, both of which are rather frequently recorded in the inscriptions, show the Nayakas' eagerness to develop trade and industry in their own territory in order to increase their economic power.
Features of Nayaka Administration
The most prominent feature of Nayaka administration is the Nayaka's close relationship with the king, though this varied in degree. The requests to him for tax remissions or land grants are frequently referred to in the inscriptions, and many of them were agents working under the king at a certain period of their rule. Therefore, the legitimacy of their territorial rule was initially derived from the authority given by the king.
Another important factor shaping the characteristics of Nayakas of this period is the condition of the economy, particularly of trade. The development of trade, which had started probably in the thirteenth century, continued all through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in this region. Nayakas in the sixteenth century responded to this development by drawing artisans and merchants into the framework of their rule, giving encouragement and protection to them, as shown by the tax remission given to Kanmalas, and the Talarikkam collected from the weekly fair. These processes must have been closely linked to the development of foreign trade, as shown by the enforced cultivation of sugar-cane seen in the fifteenth century, and the commission on the pepper trade payable to Kondama Nayaka.
The sixteenth-century Nayakas displayed the characteristics of feudal lords. This feudal relationship was seen not only between the king and Nayakas, but also among the Nayakas themselves, between superiors and inferiors. At the bottom level, this feudal hierarchy embraced the big landholders in a village. There was seen at this time the emergence of new landholders in terms of caste-bound communities. In addition to the former Brahmin and Vellala landholders (Kaniyalar), who were known to have oppressed cultivators and artisans, the new composition included Reddis, Settis, Kaikkolas and others.
The Nayakas accumulated certain rights to land or village, as is shown by the Kani right to land, or the Talaiyarikkam of temple villages. Many Nayakas seem to have been associated with the management of temples also, which enabled them to accumulate such rights. Their relationship with landholders and cultivators, and with artisans and merchants, was therefore not only as tax collectors or administrative agents of the king, but also as landlords who controlled production in the locality, directly or indirectly through the hierarchical network of lord-vassal relations, which reached down to the landholders and occupant cultivators in the villages.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the Nayakas' strength and independence increased further. In the seventeenth century, however, there occurred again in Tamil Nadu a chain of invasions and internal wars which greatly weakened Nayaka rule.