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Glimpses of a bygone era

Rashmi Gopal Rao, DH News Service, Sep 5 2017, 0:04 IST
Open-Air Display: A view of the Kamalapura Archaeological Museum near Hampi. Photo by Author.

Open-Air Display: A view of the Kamalapura Archaeological Museum near Hampi. Photo by Author.

A first time visit to Hampi, one of the world’s largest open-air museums, can be a bit overwhelming for anyone. The scale and grandeur of the evocative ruins of Vijayanagar empire at Hampi is mind-boggling to say the least. With more than 100 sites to visit, the town is filled with resplendent ruins of erstwhile palaces, market places, platforms, royal enclosures and pavilions. While much has been said and written about the ways to explore this mammoth UNESCO world heritage site, an ideal place to start would definitely be the Hampi Archaeological Museum.

Magnificent collection

Located at the southeast end of the Hampi ruins is the quaint town of Kamalapura where the Archaeological Museum is situated. Founded in 1972, it is in fact the first museum established by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The small yet insightful museum has a magnificent collection of sculptures that were first collected by the British and housed in the elephant stables in Hampi. The displays were subsequently moved to the present building in Kamalapura and have been organised in four galleries. The rich collection of the museum includes sculptures, tools, relics, coins, copper plates and artillery pertaining to the Vijayanagar era.

The exhibits capture the spirit of the town in the yesteryears giving visitors a chance to step back in time and relive the golden era of the great ruler Krishnadevaraya. The entrance to the museum has some classic replicas of the bronze statues that were made during that time. One such replica is the opulent statue of King Krishnadevaraya and his queens at the entrance of the museum welcoming the visitors. The originals of these are present in the Balaji temple at Tirupati.

The museum is famous for its detailed model that meticulously depicts the landmarks and ruins of the town. It presents a complete picture of the sprawling remains of the Vijayanagar empire and provides a good insight for visitors touring this heritage sight. It acts as a ready reckoner for tourists as well as locals that aids in planning and covering the monuments methodically.

Elegant display

The first gallery of the museum has displays related to Shaiva doctrine. There are statues of Lord Veerabhadra, Bhairava and Shakti Ganesha. There is an interesting replica of a temple replete with Lord Shiva in the form of a linga, the holy bull or Nandi and also a royal couple at the entrance in a welcoming posture.

The second gallery of the museum is dedicated to the sculptures of gods and saints. There are magnificent idols of Lord Narasimha, Yoga Narasimha, Ranganatha and Varaha. There are elaborate sculptures of Sita in Ashokavana, scenes from Bhagavad Gita and those of Hanuman and Garuda. There are also sculptures of alwars who were saints belonging to the Vaishnava community.

The third gallery is a treasure house of miscellaneous antiques and includes coins, arms and artillery. The coins are aplenty and are of multiple denominations and in various metals like gold, silver, copper etc. In addition, there are brass plates, objects used for religious ceremonies and other utility exhibits. All these were used during the days of the Vijayanagar empire and are an important source of information for historians and researchers.

The fourth gallery is steeped in history and has displays from the prehistoric period. Archaeologically significant, the exhibits here include ancient sculptures of Lord Ganesha, Nagini and a number of medieval hero plaques. There are several remains of excavations like pieces of porcelain, iron objects and several such objects that are of historical significance.

All in all, the museum is informative and useful for all those who are not only interested in the monuments and ruins but would also like to research further into the historical aspects of the same. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm and is closed on Fridays.

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