One with history

One with history

If you want to get away for the weekend, why not head to Hampi, Karnataka’s cradle of history and architecture?

If you are an archaeology buff, you can spend days just soaking in the atmosphere of the scattered ruins in Hampi. But for a tourist, a two-day cursory visit is sufficient to track through the archaeological wonders in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the structures and ruins are located in two areas, which are generally known as the Royal Centre and the Sacred Centre. I began my Hampi sojourn from Kamalapura, with a visit to the Queen’s Bath, a water pavilion with graceful arched corridors. I could imagine the lotus-shaped fountains spouting perfumed water while the musicians played music from the projecting balconies, and the ladies of the court watched the fun and frolic of the queen bathing.

Regal take

In the Royal Centre, I find palaces, baths, pavilions, royal stables and temples for ceremonial use. From there, I moved on to the King’s Palace, which is the largest enclosure. It includes two major platform structures, an underground chamber, which must have served as a treasury or private audience hall, several other platforms, double fortification walls, and other elements. I clambered up the magnificent Mahanavami Dibba platform and visualised the times when the kings sat on a gem-studded golden throne and watched the pomp and pageantry of the Dussehra processions passing by. The sculptural decorations on its sides presenting various aspects of courtly life are spellbinding. Another interesting structure in the palace complex is the pushkarni or the stepped tank used by the king for a ritual bath on special occasions like birthday, coronation and spring festival. The tank is a sight to behold with a tiered structure made with rectangular pieces of granite, each piece numbered indicating its exact position in the construction.

From the palace enclosure, it is just a hop, skip and jump to Hazara Rama Temple, once a royal temple, meant for private worship by the Vijayanagar kings. I gazed in wonder at the lively scenes from the epics carved on the pillars and walls with friezes depicting processions of horses, elephants, dancing girls and soldiers attired in their splendid weaponry.

From here, I proceeded to the zenana area which contains the base of the palaces of two queens, the remains of several lofty watchtowers and the elegant two-storied Lotus Mahal with beautiful cusped arches arranged in geometric regularity, like the petals of a flower opening out to the sun. I relaxed here like the ladies of the palace and felt the breeze caressing my cheeks. To the east of the zenana area are the Elephant’s Stables with domed ceilings and arches connecting doorways, eaves and chambers. Skirting it is the Guard’s Enclosure.

Stone wonders

No trip to Hampi is complete without a visit to the Sacred Centre that contains four gigantic stone-carved icons of the gods. One is the Badavilinga that stands in a ruined shrine. Part of this monolithic structure is in running water, supplied by the great canal. The other is the awesome Ugranarasimha, with great bulging eyes, seated on a seven-hooded snake in a walled enclosure. The journey to Hemakuta Hill, adjacent to the Virupaksha Temple, begins with a visit to the two monolithic statues of Ganesha located in the southern part of this hill. They are the Sasivekalu Ganesha and Kadalekalu Ganesha.

I headed to Virupaksha Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort Pampa Devi, which enshrines a shivalinga. It is the only temple in active worship in Hampi. I was entranced by the lofty gateway and 11 towers of the temple with 38 intricate sculptured pillars, with symmetrical arrangements, glistening in the golden light of the early dawn. As I ambled around, the smell of incense wafted in the air and I could hear temple bells pealing. But the most striking part of this structure is the rangamantapa built by Krishnadevaraya to commemorate his coronation.

After a darshan at the temple, I strolled down Hampi Bazaar, which has been extolled by Arab and Persian travellers. It has a towering ‘jyothi stambha’, and at the far end of the street, a pavilion containing a monolithic image of Nandi, Shiva’s bull. I could conjure visions of the heydays when it was bustling with activity with the pillared galleries flanking the streets ablaze with flowers and precious gems traded here. And courtesans, bejewelled with golden girdles and anklets of gold and seed pearls, glided by in ornate palanquins.

I culminated my monument-hopping at the Vijay Vittala Temple, which is the most splendid monument in Hampi. The open, pillared halls with carved columns, towered gateways, and an elaborate small stone ratha (temple chariot) will take one’s breath away. This temple has a large rangamantapa with 56 pillars, each carved out of a single piece of rock. The delightful features are the floridly elaborate musical pillars, designed to produce musical notes when tapped. A beautiful Stone Chariot stands proudly in the temple courtyard. Delicately carved in varied styles from seven pieces of rock, it boasts of superb engineering as the wheels could rotate once upon a time.