Rediscovering the story of a great king

Krishna Deva Raya's life and times have been captured in a compelling story by Roopa Pai and stunning illustrations by Archana Sreenivasan in Good Earth's recently launched Krishna Deva Raya: King of Kings. In an email interview, Roopa and Archana explain the creative process of recreating the grandeur of the Vijayanagara Empire and the personality of Krishna Deva Raya.

Roopa Pai

Which aspects of Krishna Deva Raya's life have you highlighted in this book?

While I was doing my research for the book, I discovered that while there was adequate information about his political life, there was precious little historically-authenticated information about Krishna Deva Raya's personal life. In folklore and legend as well, I found more stories about Tenali Rama, the great Telugu poet and wit at the court, than about Krishna Deva Raya. However, I did want to write a story that would make children warm up to him as a person while being in awe of him as a great ruler. One way to do that was to tell his story through a narrator who had known both his personal and professional sides well and had no agenda of his / her own – and who more appropriate than his own daughter?

History does not mention that Krishna Deva Raya had a daughter. However, it does not say he did NOT have a daughter either. So I created a daughter for him, and had her tell his story - affectionately, indulgently, and very proudly.

As a foil to her, I brought in Krishna Deva Raya himself as a second narrator of his own story. Some bits of Krishna Deva Raya's story that his daughter (only nine at the time of his death according to my story) could not have known – the countries he traded with, for instance, or his reasons for doing the things he did – are introduced through Krishna Deva Raya the narrator.

Could you tell us about the research for the book? And how did you sift through the texts/material available on him to weave a story around his life?

For research, I read books not just about Krishna Deva Raya but about the Vijayanagara Empire itself, not only because they are inextricably linked but also because I wanted to tell the story of the empire as much as I did the story of its most important ruler. So I read the seminal texts, like Robert Sewell’s A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagara), published in 1924, which includes the first English translations of the accounts left by Portuguese travellers and diarists Domingo Paes and Fernao Nuniz of their sojourns in 16th century Vijayanagara, and Hampi Vijayanagara,a more recent book co-authored by George Michell, one of the foremost authorities on Vijayanagara architecture. I also watched Kannada and Telugu films on Krishna Deva Raya to learn about the folk stories around him. And then, to clues I gathered along the way, I added generous doses of my own deductions to tease out a personality for him – if Krishna Deva Raya had built a city and named it after his chief queen, surely he was a fond husband? If he grieved so much at the death of his young son, an affectionate father? If Domingo Paes records him as having a short temper, having him occasionally rage and rant would be an authentic portrayal? I enjoyed the exercise thoroughly.

What, according to you, is the most challenging part of writing a story around a historical character?

I think the challenge is two-fold – one is not to judge him or her by the standards of morality, ethics, behaviour and attitudes that we consider appropriate for a leader/ man/woman/ husband/father in the 21st century; the other is to neither portray him or her as all good or all bad but to acknowledge that, like all of us, he was a mixed bag. This is especially important in books for children – so that they learn to see the world not just in black and white, but in shades of grey.

Could you tell us about how you collaborated with the illustrator, Archana Sreenivasan?

Archana and I have worked together before and I admire her work hugely. I wanted to work with her on this particular book because she is from Bangalore too, and understands the Kannada ethos very well. I wanted that to come out in the way the characters looked, and how the book ‘felt.’

As it turned out, however, Archana had never been to Hampi before. I had been there several times, in fact, I have made a habit of going with friends who have never been, for the pleasure of watching one of my favourite places in the world work its timeless magic on them. So we made a trip together, in the footsteps of the book’s young protagonist and her grandmother (Krishna Deva Raya's fictional daughter), took a lot of pictures, and had a wonderful time.

We brainstormed a few times through the next few months too, making joint decisions with our editors about things like using Kannada numerals to number the chapters. Archana has succeeded in making the flavour, colours and pageantry of a glorious 500-year-old empire come alive in an almost-tactile way for young 21st-century readers.

Archana Sreenivasan

Could you tell us about the creative process of recreating the splendour of the Vijayanagara Empire?

My starting point for most books is research. I start reading about and exploring the topic of the book. For this book, I looked up online resources, downloaded PDF books about the Vijayanagar Empire and Roopa had some books that she showed me. Roopa and I also made a trip to Hampi together before I started work on the book. All this helped me create a small reference resource for myself for the project – consisting of tons of images along with the reading material.

I fell in love with the Vijayanagara murals and that was my primary influence for the book’s visual style. Mostly the murals in Lepakshi, but also the ones on the ceiling of the Virupaksha temple.

After that, in general, my process was this: Read the text multiple times to select the parts to illustrate. Make character sketches and visual styling trials. I work with the client to plan the page count for the book and decide on the pagination, page size of the book, etc. Make a few rough pencil scribbles while constantly referring to my library of reference images. Make more detailed drawings of selected pencil scribbles, while also planning how the text placement works on the page with the image. Once the client has approved drawings, go on to make final coloured illustrations. Finally, design the cover and other non-story pages like end papers etc.

How did you go about creating a portraiture of Krishna Deva Raya? What aspects of his personality have you brought to life in your illustrations?

His visual appearance is based largely on the very detailed records of Domigo Paes - the 16th-century Portuguese traveller. He describes Krishna Deva Raya as not too tall, quite stout, round-faced, and of cheerful temperament mostly. He also mentions that the King wore any garment only once and that he loved to wear white silks with gold thread-work. So in the book, Krishna Deva Raya is shown wearing mostly white and gold. His headgear – the raised conical cap called the Kulavi has also been described in detail. I’ve also relied on a few sculpted portraits of king Krishna Deva Raya found in some of Hampi’s ruins.

Since the story is told from the point of view of his daughter, we get to know not only the king Krishna Deva Raya but also something about the person that Krishna Deva Raya was.

The book is available in all Good Earth stores and on

Read the full interview online on

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 2:22:05 AM |

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