The city of Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was recently declared as the best tourism village as well, houses the ruins of the glorious Vijayanagara Empire, which at its zenith stretched from Odisha to Sri Lanka.
Hampi, which lies in central Karnataka, had, for long, been on my bucket list of places to see. Although I travelled by car from Bengaluru (took me seven hours), Hampi can also be accessed by rail, with Hospet being the nearest railway station (at a distance of around 15 km). It takes two-and-a-half hours to reach Hampi from the Hubli airport.
TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
- October to February is a good time to visit. Ideally, plan your stay for two days.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- To reach Hampi, drive down, take a train for Hospet junction or board a flight to Hubli airport.
- Hiring a government/ASI certified guide will cost Rs 500 to Rs 1,000, but it’s worth it.
- Get to the top of Hemakuta hill and watch the Virupaksha temple below during sunset.
- If interested in shopping, buy artefacts made of stone, leather, banana fibre, and musical instruments.
- Good hotel options are available.
Hampi today strikes a poignant note of what it was some five centuries back. Even though the city is in ruins, was looted, pillaged and left to burn by the combined forces of the Deccan Sultans after the Battle of Talikota in 1565, it was anything but that when the kings of Vijayanagara were expanding their kingdom. While doing so, they were attracting foreign visitors, traders and skilled artisans from far and wide. Trade was brisk, and from all accounts, the city was flush with money. The brothers Hari Hara and Bukka, who founded the kingdom of Vijayanagara in the first half of the 14th century, I suspect, were also influenced by the belief that this was the site of Kishkinda, the abode of Hanuman and Sugriva. It was here that Rama, Lakshmana and Sita supposedly met Hanuman and Sugriva.
During more than two centuries of its existence, the Vijayanagara Empire was amenable and receptive to absorbing architectural trends from different parts of the globe, as is borne by the Indo-Persian and Indo-Islamic buildings located in the city. The empire was served efficiently by some very capable kings and their wise ashtadiggajas (eight poet courtiers). The hugely popular Tenali Raman was one of the ashtadiggajas in the court of Krishna Deva Raya, arguably the most famous of the Vijayanagara kings. Stories relating to him are as popular as those of Akbar and Birbal.
Also, let us not forget that when the Vijayanagara Empire was at its apogee, the Mughal rule was yet to strike root in North India! The fact that the Vijayanagara Empire had relative peace and calm for a little over two centuries gave it the much-needed stability to consolidate and prosper.
What stands out in the temples and structures of Hampi is the attention to detail. Beautiful frescoes adorn the ceilings of the Virupaksha (another form of Shiva) temple. Natural herbal colours have been used to make these. The paintings that adorn the walls tell the stories of Hindu mythology, including the ‘Dashavatara’. The inverted image of the gopuram on a wall of the Virupaksha temple, captured from about 300 feet through a ray of light, streaming along a tiny aperture, shows the skills of the architects of those times.
And yes, how can one forget the bazaars lined up on both sides. These must have been the centre of this magnificent city. There are engravings depicting traders from Mongolia, Arabia and Portugal coming to the bazaar to sell horses. There are also sculptures of prospective buyers examining and evaluating the age of the horses by counting their teeth.
The temple walls display images which appear different from various angles, giving them a 3D, and even 5D, effect. The royal enclosure retains a well dating back to the ancient times. Close to the entrance of the enclosure is the Queen’s Bath, a bathing chamber used by the king and his wives. The inverted pyramid-like stepwell, known as Pushkarni, made of black granite, received its waters from the nearby Tungabhadra river through a system of canals and aqueducts. Temple rituals were carried out here. It is evident that considerable planning had gone into laying and providing for aqueducts and water drainage, with one of the canals surviving even to this day. There were guest quarters, which, among others, housed diplomats and VIPs from foreign countries. Interestingly, some kind of allowance was made available to them for meeting daily expenses.
There was a separate royal elephant enclosure. Housing was also provided for the mahouts and trainers in the same complex. In a separate quarter for workers, there were thaali-like stone plates (with compartments for different dishes) bearing testimony to the elaborate feasts and community meals for them.
The musical columns in the Vijaya Vittala temple show an advanced knowledge of physics and acoustics. When tapped, these columns reproduce the seven classical notes of ‘sa’, ‘re’, ‘ga’, ‘ma’, ‘pa’, etc. Here also lies the stately chariot modelled on the Konark or Sun Temple of Odisha, a magnificent work of art. The image of this stone chariot proudly adorns the Rs 50 note.
There is so much to see and admire in this ‘city of victory’, which is what Vijayanagara is all about, that very often one finds oneself short of time. A key reason is that usually visitors to Hampi also combine it with trips to the Chalukyan cave temples of Badami, the rock-cut temples of Pattadikkal and Aihole, besides the magnificent Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebeedu.
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