History, architecture and legend come together to make Hampi one of India’s most haunting ruins. Nandhini Aiyer brings the magic of the ancient city alive through five of its most majestic structures
During its glory days, Hampi was said to be so rich that the streets were paved with gold and adorned with gemstones. Today the ruins of this once majestic kingdom stands forlorn, yet every bit as intimidatingand intricate. Every bit as spiritual as it is historic. This temple town on the southern banks of the Tungabhadra river in Karnataka still strikes awe in the hearts of those who look upon it, displaying the grandeur that defined the Vijayanagara empire of southern India from 1336-1646.
Military might apart, the empire had another major advantage – the river. The Tungabhadra, the confluence of the two rivers Tunga and Bhadra before joining the Krishna river, played a significant role in the longevity of this once-undefeated kingdom. The capital was shifted from the northern banks of the river, Anegondi, to Vijayanagara, on the southern bank, for the natural fortification its hilly terrain provided. This was especially important in the face of the Deccan Sultanate, with which the empire was constantly at war.
Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I, who founded the kingdom, made it one of the greatest to rule the Deccan peninsula, if not the whole country. It was a time when art, literature, architecture and economy flourished, where women held great power in society and the Hindu religion grew in strength, especially with the numerous temples constructed, which today bear testimony to Vijayanagara’s superior architecture. From soapstone to granite, and from Hoysalas and the Pandyas to the Cholas and the Chalukyas, Hampi drew inspiration from every corner of the country. It’s not for nothing that Hampi is a Unesco World Heritage Site today. Here are Hampi’s five most precious offerings to Indian architectural heritage:
The Virupaksha temple predates even theVijayanagara empire and is believed to have come into existence in the 7th century. Once a humble temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, under the Vijayanagara rule it grew to take on epic proportions. The temple now consists of the sanctum sanctorum, pillared halls – the most elaborate one consisting of 100 pillars making way for a wedding hall – ante chambers, elaborate gopurams and a number of smaller shrines, along with a temple kitchen and administrative offices. The main gateway is an elaborate nine tiers and the smaller gateway gives access to the temple’s inner courtyard. The main nine-storeyed gateway has two horn-like projections and is a distinct landmark in Hampi, as are the stucco figures around the temple exterior.
The Shiva linga here is worshipped as Lord Virupaksha, and around the sanctum are shrines to his consorts and other deities. The three-headed Nandi statue is a major tourist draw. But visit in December – when the presiding deity Virupaksha marries his consort Pampa – to see just how popular it is. Another popular time to visit the temple is February, when the annual chariot festival is celebrated.
The iconic stone chariot and the musical pillars are this temple’s top draws. The Vittala temple is one of the most resplendent displays of architecture andis presided over by Lord Vishnu, or Lord Vittala, the main deity of cow herds. The temple was built in the 15th century and has seen various contributions from successive dynasties. A massive tower is the entrance to the temple, leading to a series of platforms along the main compound. At the end is the famous stone chariot, which is a shrine originally dedicated to Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. History has it that so fascinated were the British by its musical pillars that they tore a few down to investigate what caused the music. However, the secret still lies buried in the ruins.
Hazara Rama temple
The royal Hazara Rama temple had a separate access to the palace and displays 1,000 carvings from the Ramayana.
Lakshmi Narasimha statue
This is the largest statue in Hampi, standing 6.7 m tall, and has Lord Vishnu in the form of Narasimha sitting on the coiled snake Sesha. The original statue also included Vishnu’s consort, Goddess Lakshmi, on his lap but numerous raids over the years have destroyed this. All that remains is part of her hand seen resting on the back of the Narasimha statue.
The 3-m-tall monolithic linga was said to have been commissioned by a poor woman, hence the name badva (poor) linga. It sits in water, representing the Ganges that Lord Shiva brought down to Earth and bore the brunt of.
Despite centuries of raids, conquests and erosion, Hampi is awe-inspiring in the richness of its architecture and the majesty of its history. Every brick and building has a story to tell to whoever has the will to listen. Do you?