HAMPI: OF MAGNIFICENT MONUMENTS AND REDOLENT RUINS
WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO
“How can you leave Hampi without visiting the Elephant’s Stables?” asked Zameer in a tone that exuded nothing but genuine concern and conviction.
Zameer was my super enthusiastic yet earnest ‘guide’/cab driver whom I was so glad to meet on my maiden two-day visit to Hampi. He ensured that I visited the striking domed enclosures that once housed the royal elephants before I left, and I realised my error in judgement and planning – Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, cannot be ‘done with’ in just a couple of days.
Located along the banks of the Tungabhadra in Karnataka, this unique town is set amidst rocky stones and boulders with hillocks that provide stunning views of the sunrise, sunset, and surrounding landscape peppered with banana plantations and swaying palms. Hampi was the erstwhile capital of the powerful Vijayanagar empire and reached its zenith during the 16th Century under the reign of ruler Krishnadevaraya. The town is filled with magnificent temples, monoliths, royal enclosures, marketplaces, and monuments that are evocative of the rich culture of a glorious past.
Hampi is best explored by foot, and an ideal way to jumpstart your journey would be to visit the ancient Virupaksha Temple. Dating back to the 9th Century, the temple is dedicated to Lord Virupaksha (a form of Lord Shiva) and Goddess Pampa. The Chalukya and Hoysala rulers renovated the elaborate temple structure several times over the centuries, its highlight being the nine-tiered, 50-metre-high tower at the eastern gateway. With intricate pillars, sub-sanctums, and courtyards, the temple is an active place of worship even today and attracts large crowds during the festival months of December and February.
Located opposite the east end of the Virupaksha Temple is a series of pavilions (some two-storeyed) for a stretch of about one kilometre. These are the remnants of the bustling Hampi Bazaar that was a flourishing marketplace of the past. An important site where precious stones, silk, and domestic animals like cows and horses exchanged hands, the area today is more like a flea market where you can pick up colourful bags, jewellery, and miniature stone sculptures as souvenirs. A large statue of the Holy bull aka Nandi lies at the end of the bazaar, which serves as the location for the renowned annual Hampi utsava.
Sasivekalu Ganesha & Lakshmi Narasimha Statue
Ornate stone sculptures jostle for space with scattered shrines, mandaps, and pyramidal towers at Hampi. Do not miss the gigantic monolithic Ganesha statue called the Sasivekalu Ganesha. At about 8ft high, it is one of the town’s most stunning landmarks, along with the imposing Lakshmi Narasimha Statue, also referred to as Yoga Narasimha because the Lord is positioned on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake in a cross-legged yoga position. Both monuments date to the early 15th Century and are intrinsically associated with the landscape of the town.
The Royal Enclosure served as the ancient homes of the kings and queens and is sure to provide you with a sneak peek into the times and lives of the Vijayanagar rulers. The 8-metre-high Mahanavami Dibba is a multi-tiered enclosure with detailed carvings of animals and celestial dancers at every tier. It was used by the kings for ceremonies and for celebrations during the Navratri festival. The stepped tank, discovered as late as 1985, is another engineering marvel that was an integral part of the town's irrigation system. The enclosure also houses the Hazara Rama Temple that is replete with multiple relics, including panels and ornately decorated columns depicting scenes from the Ramayana. Located at the entrance of the Royal Enclosure is the private bathing chamber of the kings and queens built in the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. Known as Queen’s Bath, it is a rectangular structure adorned with arched corridors coupled with windows and balconies all around. The complex has a massive bath in the centre.
Arguably the most spectacular of all monuments in Hampi is the grand Vittala Temple that represents the zenith of Vijayanagar architecture. Known for its unparalleled design elements and exceptional craftsmanship, the iconic temple is widely recognised for its stone chariot and musical pillars. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and built in the Dravidian style of architecture with several halls, including the Sabha Mantapa, Ranga Mantapa, and Kalyana Mantapa. With a fantastic level of detail, the façade of the temple are embellished with carvings and sculptures of Gods, Goddesses, and leaping yalis (mythical leonine beasts). The stone chariot at the entrance is one of Hampi’s most photographed monuments and is often used as a symbol of Hampi itself. Dedicated to Garuda, the carrier of Lord Vishnu, it is one of the three most famous stone chariots in India (the others being in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu and Konark in Odisha).
Hampi is also home to the archaeological museum located in Kamalapuram. The small yet insightful museum makes for an engaging visit with several artefacts, isolated ruins, statues, and antiques on display. The scaled model of the town is a highlight of the museum.