Free Press Journal

Hampi: Exploring India’s fantastic heritage in Karnataka


Panorama Spire of Virupaksha Temple

Renowned as ancient village of Karnataka, Hampi is one of the India’s fantastic heritage resting quietly in its splendid surrounding, writes Uday k Chakraborty

After reaching Hampi when we found our pre-booked hotel, along with all others, had closed down due to a Supreme Court order, we were not really upset. During recent years these small backpackers type hotels mushroomed smack in the middle of Hampi ruins, just in between the Virupaksha Temple and Hampi Bazaar. World’s best location for Hotels but environmentally most damaging for a UNESCO World Heritage Site! As we wanted to visit Hampi in early hours, we check in one of the few shoddy hotels near the main road paying a rip-off price.

Royal and religious

Next dawn after reaching the complex we were amazed by the very first glimpse of Hampi. The ruins of the royal city is set in an extraordinary landscape of giant granite boulders, lush paddies and banana plantations, while the river Tungabhadra meanders below the low hills. The clock seemed to have stopped here. Gigantic boulders precariously resting against one another, a constellation of religious and royal structures gave Hampi almost an otherworldly eeriness.

Morning sun provided a soft yellowish glow that burnished the stone structures and the relative calm due to fewer tourists provided a hush, giving a dramatic effect to the proceedings, almost transporting us to another bygone time. Then we heard the sounds of bells from Virupaksha Temple and decided to enter the grand edifice. Lord Virupasksha was the patron deity of the Vijayanagara rulers, who built this Royal complex between 14th and 16th century.

The historical touch

Hampi is probably world’s most fascinating ensemble of historical ruins of a complete royal town with its structures in various states of preservation and disintegration. This consists of remnants of Royal Courts and living facilities, impressive temples complexes, monolithic stone idols, ceremonial gates, bazaars and various other structures like its water supply system. Built over 200 years, its evolving architectural and town planning concepts are part of study tours of architecture courses of almost all good Indian Universities and Institutions. Though the area boasts of more than one hundred attractions, a part of them should never be missed.

Straight ahead of the ornate 165 feet tall gate of Virupaksha temple is Hampi Bazaar, with kilometers long neat rows of stone-built shops (many two storied) on either side of the road. This once bustling market is where the fabulous riches of India (gems, spices and textiles) were sold by Indians to foreign merchants. The bazaar street ends at Matunga Hill, at the base of which sits a massive monolithic Bull. From the top of this hill the view is truly breathtaking, covering the entire complex and the beautiful surroundings.

Where gods reside

Chariot at Vijaya Vitthala Temple

Further East is the most compelling Vijaya Vitthala Temple complex, with some of the best temple architecture and sculptures of Hampi. The Stone Chariot, in the centre of the main courtyard, however, attracts most interests from everyone.  Both the temples and the Chariot are replete with stone carvings depicting mythological figures and events, Indian musical and dance icons as well as hunters, soldiers, dancers, Portuguese, Arab and Persian traders who were regulars in those times.

Kadalekhu Ganesha Temple

Next morning, we began to cover Hampi in a planned sequence. So, first came the temple of Saasivikaalu (or Mustered) Ganesha, a beautifully carved 8-feet tall monolithic idol, located on the southern foothill of Hemkunta Hill. A little ahead was the Krishna Temple, another huge and ornate complex, replete with religious statuaries. In addition to meticulously executed religious carvings, the pillars also depict events from the King Krishnadevroy’s life. Just in front is another huge bazaar complex. It was followed the temple of Kadalekhu Ganesha, another even bigger monolithic Ganesha idol, housed in a temple that is a perfect example if Vijayanagara style of architecture.

Reversing our path we crossed the main entrance Gate and faced the fantastic looking stone idol of Ugra Narashima, which at 22 feet is biggest in Hampi. Though located in a roof-less temple, it has survived vagaries of nature well, but not the Islamic invasions that resulted in its damage. Next to it is the Badavi (meaning poor’s) Shiva Linga, once commissioned by a peasant woman. Most miraculously, the foot pedestal of this Linga is still watered naturally by the water from Tungavadra.

Bewitching architecture

From here, a detour takes us to the Royal Centre, which has Mahanavami Dibba as its centerpiece. The 22 meter high 80 square meter platform was a seating area for the king to observe martial art competitions and festive celebrations. There are ruined remains of many buildings, and an almost intact stepped-well with elaborate stone made water distribution channels.

Elephant Stable

Indeed, the extensive merchentile interactions with foreigners brought new ideas on architecture that found expressions in many later stage buildings. Such influence is quite obvious in Queens Bath and Elephant Stable, both of which have signs of indo-Islamic styles of architecture. Everyone is specially impressed by the relatively compact but exquisite Lotus Mahal. This multistoried structure has beautiful curved pillars and fluent arches. While it must have been used for the queens’ recreations, it also hosted dancing and other cultural events, which the King viewed from the large low pedestal slightly away from it. Beautiful gardens and water channels helped to cool it during the summer.

Lotus Mahal

Such galaxies of attraction kept us busy for half a week. Hampi, at the end, is such a place that brings in unmitigated pride in every Indians. We thank our luck that such great sites still exists, reminding us about our fantastic heritage.

Uday K Chakraborty