By Ashok Jainani
The royals and subjects of Vijayanagara and the vaanar sena (of Lord Hanuman) are not there to receive you. But some of their symbols and motifs do stand even today inviting travelers to come, explore and be amazed; the rocks and breeze gesticulate that a lot more fascinating facts may be buried beneath the ground.
Hampi, the capital city of the fourteenth century Vijayanagara empire in Southern India and its Vedic connection with Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom in Ramayana, is charismatic even in its ruined state today. The city of victory, a city in ruins, India’s architectural legacy spread over 25 square kilometers is a world heritage site that every year attracts thousands of visitors from throughout the country and abroad. You need to stay there for a few days to appreciate its majestic glory.
Many of the noted foreign travelers and Indian scholars, for seasons together, have been exploring the form and purpose of the remains of the standing buildings, stone edifices and original appearance of the recently excavated structures for which only the basement blocks survive. One can only speculate for that part of Hampi’s vast, invisible archaeological heritage still buried beneath the ground, which can keep the researchers and scholars occupied for years and perhaps decades to come.
We were greeted by joyous feelings on the warm welcome received by the fresh air, clear sky and friendly ground staff when our fully packed 78-seater aircraft, Bombardier-Q400, touched down at the small airport at Belagavi (Belgaum) at 4.30 on a Thursday evening in the month of August. Hospet-based industrialist and our extremely warm hearted host Shri Narendrakumarji Baldota had sent a chauffeur-driven car for our 270-km onward journey by road to Hospet, buzzing and humming, the gateway town 12 km ahead of Hampi. Hospet is home to many steel and engineering industries. Baldotaji’s business spans mining, gases, shipping and wind energy and he is also a noted philanthropist in town having many charitable projects to his credit. Along with my professional friend Shri SP Jain, I was on a business trip and combined the visit to Hampi.
Luckily, skies were clear the next day as well with pleasant temperature and we started early morning for exploring the vast stretches of boulder-strewn hills that make the backdrop of Hampi unique. “Dotted around the hills and valleys are 500 plus the monuments,” our guide Mr Basavraj told us. It’s like an open air museum in a natural setting. At every turn there is a surprising stone structure. Every monument appeared hiding many stories that people might be eager to hear. Among them are beautiful temples, ruins of royal palaces, remains of aquatic structures, ancient market streets, royal pavilions, fortifying rock walls… the list is practically endless. The entire town has a sort of mythical aura surrounding its environment. You would notice something spooky the moment you set foot on Hampi that used to be an important part of the Vijayanagara city (1343 – 1565), which was later ruined but this beautiful place commonly referred as the temple town still exists.
We started our exploration from the epicenter of Hampi, the Vittala Temple, the most extravagant architectural showpiece of Hampi. One needs to be there, see, feel and contemplate on the spectacle as written and spoken words are bound by limitations of narrator. The temple named after one of Lord Vishnu’s names, is built in the form of a sprawling campus with compound wall and gateway towers. There are many halls, pavilions and temples located inside this campus. “The temple was originally built in the 15th century AD. Many successive kings have enhanced the temple campus during their regimes,” Mr Basavraj informed. You can even see the remains of a township called Vittalapura that existed around this temple complex. The highlight of Vittala temple is its impressive pillared halls and the stone chariot.
On the east of the temple entrance stands a chariot-like stone structure with pairs of wheels on the sides and a small Garuda shrine with exquisite cut-out colonnades above. Two free-standing mandapas are seen near the Garuda shrine. The mandapa was used to display the processional image of the god carried in a chariot that was pulled up and down the street.
This campus houses a hall, perhaps dedicated to music performance in the ancient times. Some of the pillars produce musical instrumental notes when tapped with fingers. Our guide tapped his fingers on one pillar and we could hear “tabla” sound from another pillar. One needs to physically go there and experience this marvel.
Our guide informed that Hampi’s architecture is as stunning as the ambient in which it was built. Richly sculptured hard granite structures that dominate the ruins present a fusion of various types of architectures. For example, the civilian structures made in the Indo-Saranac are pleasant blend of Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture. The large Hindu temples were made in the typical Vijayanagara style with giant carved monolithic pillars.
Hanuman temple atop Anjaneya Hill is located about 4 km away from the heritage site and is considered to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman.
Our guide told us that this Empire had own sophisticated coinage. It is believed that one of the mints of the empire was in Hampi, the capital city. Typically, one side of the coins spot images of gods, birds, animals and inscriptions of who ordered to mint those coins on the reverse side.
The Lotus Mahal, which dominates the zenana enclosure is one of the best-preserved structures in the royal centre. In spite of its fanciful name, this building probably served as a council chamber. Watchtowers, built in a similar manner, are seen in the southeast corner of the zenana enclosure and in the middle of the north wall. These also employ temple-like eaves and towers in combination with sultanate-style pointed arches and interior domes. A third tower at the northeast is now partly ruined. Other features within the enclosure include a deep tank for water storage, the remains of a rectangular granary.
A modest opening in the east wall of the zenana enclosure leads to a spacious plaza, probably used as a parade ground for troops. This is overlooked from the east by the elephant stables, a long line of eleven chambers, each of which could accommodate two elephants.
After the Queens’ bath, the main road passes through a crudely reconstructed gateway that reaches on the outskirts of Kamalapura, mainly of interest for the Archaeological Museum. The Pattabhirama temple, besides the road, is about 600 meters from the museum. A 100-columned hall, now damaged, is built up to the south wall of the spacious enclosure.
Along the road to Talarighat, the monument of interest to be noticed is the Ganagitti Jain temple, one of the largest early edifices at the site. An inscription of 1385 on the lofty dipa-stambha in front records that the temple was built by Irugappa, a general of Harihara II.
The riverside gorge just north of the Kodanda Rama Temple is remarkable for various clusters of ruins. The sought after ones are the array of Shiva Lingas carved on the flat rock surface and the carved Anandashayana Vishnu on the rock cleft. A little exploration of this area, close to the edge of the river, can lead you to a couple of Shiva Lingas arrays carved on the surface of a flat rock. One is an array of 108 Lingas, the other a more fabulous 1008 lingas in a square area.
According to internet statistics, Hampi is the most searched historical place in Karnataka. The historical town of Hampi is a great place for visitors to have a glimpse of the long lost Vijayanagara Empire. Welcome to Hampi !