The home of iconic ruins

The home of iconic ruins

The legacy of the mighty Vijayanagara kingdom, Hampi echoes with voices from the past in the form of forts, palaces and temples, writes Md Masarrath Ali Khan

The sunset viewpoint at Hemakuta Hill

Hampi is one place which has never failed to fascinate us and revealed new secrets in every visit. It was still dark when we boarded a Hampibound bus from Hosapete. A cool breeze welcomed us into the temple town. We sipped tea at the entrance of Hampi Bazar Street while the occasional cawing of crows, flying around at the crack of dawn, disturbed the silence. A white bulb on the summit of Virupaksha Temple’s gopura was glowing like a star and casting a dazzling radiance, while monkeys ran around on the lower stories of the gopura. Every ray of the rising sun painted the temple with new hues and changed its look.

Stunning architecture

Hampi is a city carved in stone. It was the capital of Vijayanagara kingdom from AD 1343 to 1565, is known as Pampa Kshetra and Kishkindha Kshetra. Its monuments, internationally known for their historical richness, were built during the period AD 1336-1565 from the times of Harihara I to Sadasiva Raya. Under the patronage of Krishnadeva Raya, Hampi became a centre of sculptural excellence and some of the best and loftiest specimens of Dravidian temples were produced in this period. Nature conspired with brilliant builders and sculptors to creatively produce temples, palaces, pavilions, mantapas, gateways, baths, tanks and ancient bazaars. Hampi lapsed into desolation after the battle of Talikota in AD 1565.

We hopped into an auto-rickshaw to do some sightseeing. The first point on our itinerary was Queen’s Bath, a beautiful large square building with a plain exterior and an ornate interior. It has a deep pond surrounded by decorated corridors and projecting balconies. Hazara Rama Temple is a veritable art gallery and a connoisseur’s delight. Its outer walls are richly carved in bold bas relief and depict scenes from the Ramayana. Incidents like the birth of Rama, his exile into the forest, the abduction of Sita, the fight between Rama and Ravana are richly carved in its stone panels.

Virupaksha Temple
Virupaksha Temple

Inside the plain walled zenana enclosure, we found the two-storeyed Lotus Palace (Chitrangini Mahal) in a garden. Its pillars, arches and windows are Islamic in character, while the spires show Hindu style. Further ahead was Elephant Stables that have 11 large stone chambers with beautiful arched entrances.

On the return journey, we paid a visit to Krishna Temple, built by Krishnadeva Raya in AD 1513 to commemorate his victory over Prataparudra Gajapati, the ruler of Orissa. During this battle, Krishnadeva Raya seized an image of infant Krishna, brought it as a war trophy to Hampi, and enshrined it in the Krishna Temple in AD 1515. The image is now placed in the Government Museum in Chennai.

Our driver Krishna dropped us at our room after our tour. A sumptuous lunch thali in a local restaurant awaited us. After a brief nap in our room, we climbed the sacred Hemakuta Hill, dotted with many shrines and mantapas. We finally made it to the ‘sunset point’. If the morning was magical, the evening was a rich mélange of colours. We got a panoramic view of the greenery far away, coconut trees and banana plantations swaying in the winds. The setting sun painted the rocky terrain and the huge boulders all around us crimson pink. Finally, the orange ball dipped behind the horizon, the hills turned grey and Hampi changed its look. The evening wrapped a loving arm around the shoulders of a hot day, and an eerie silence took over. The courtyard of Virupaksha Temple was awash in golden light and the temple elephant Lakshmi was blessing the pilgrims. We called it a day.

Life revolves around Virupaksha Temple, the largest and the oldest temple complex in Hampi which houses many temples. Its lofty eastern entrance, Bistappa Tower, is 165 feet tall, 150 feet wide and 120 feet long. The temple’s ranga mantapa has a magnificent series of paintings showing a large procession with Sage Vidyaranya in a palanquin, preceded and followed by a large retinue, and Arjuna shooting the matsya-yantra to win the hand of Draupadi, among others.

River sojourn

While we were busy photographing the sculpture, the temple elephant Lakshmi was taken out for a bath in the Tungabhadra river. After relishing a delicious breakfast served by a street vendor outside the temple, we walked through the chariot street and followed the ancient walkway of Kampa Bhupa Marg. The Tungabhadra meandered through a rugged terrain flanked by hillocks formed of huge granite boulders; its cool cobalt blue waters caressed our feet while many ancient ruins, temples and mantapas made a magical appearance.

The walk culminated at the internationally famous Vijaya Vithala Temple, the most extravagant architectural masterpiece and the crowning glory of Hampi. Its construction was begun in the year AD 1513, but many successive kings enhanced the temple complex during their rule. The temple has a kalyana mantapa, an amman shrine, a thousand-pillared hall, a colonnaded verandah, among others. Its ranga mantapa has 56 musical pillars. Here, the main pillars are designed in the manner of musical instruments. The minor pillars wrapped around the main pillar emit the saptha swaras of Carnatic music when gently tapped. The temple also houses a stone chariot, the icon of Karnataka Tourism.

Just two days in Hampi and we had not seen even half of it. We saved the remaining monuments for the next visit and left Hampi that night, carrying with us fond memories of the pleasant time spent there.