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Hampi - Ruins That Live

As history unfolds itself, there is a resurgence of respect for that eternal force-time. Hampi hidden in central Karnataka, guarded by river and granite ridges, I living testimony to the greatness of a bygone era.

My recent visit to Hampi in Karnataka was a memorable experience. Instead of first viewing the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire from ground level, I climbed up the Matanga Hill, the highest pointing the area, for birds eye view, a little before sunrise. Encased in Nature’s amphitheatre, the view, a little before sunrise. Encased in Nature’s amphitheatre, the view was really breathtaking. The mellow rays of the morning sun revealed the vastness and architectural grandeur of Hampi’s extensive ruins and imposing temples. The symmetrical plan and elevation of the Thiruvengalanatha temple that lay at the bottom of the hill on which I stood, the imposing spires of Virupaksha shrine as hey caught the olden rays of the sun, the river Tungabhadra meandering through rocky terrain with its banks donning the emerald green of rice fields fleshy bananas, coconut and sugarcane plantations-all combine to live life an a throbbing liveliness to the ruins. The surrounding hills and rock outcrops gave to this city a sense of impregnability which is why this sit was chosen by the kings for the capital. His landscape, so tough and defiant to hostile forces spreads out o the horizon. If only hey could speak? Yes, they would most poignanly describe a whole way of life and polity.

Even in its ruins, Hampi overwhelms one with is epic dimensions. The opulence and grandeur of this great city during its prime becomes very obvious despite the centuries.

He Persian ambassador, Abul Razzak who visited Hampi in the 15th century had this to say in his chronicles: The city is such that the eye has not seen and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the whole world.

Hampi, founded in the 14th century as the capital o the Vijaynagar Empire, lies in the Deccan heartland in the state of Karnataka and can be reached in seven hours by car from Bangalore. Enthusiastically describe as a testament to a global wonder, its ruins spread over an area of about 26 square kilometers protected by the river Tungbhadra in the north and by rocky granite ridges on the three other sides. Its very location as a capital is testimony to the military shrewdness of its founders. With its countless herds of monkeys which wander freely in this region, many believe that it was once the legendary kingdom of Kishkinda, celebrated in the epic story of Ramayana.

According to historians, the Sagamas were the first ruling dynasty of the Vijayanagara kingdom which was vastly extended by the Telugu Princes Harihara and Bukka in the 14th century. It reached its zenith of glory a hundred years later under Krishandeva Raya during whose time, Hampi, the city of Victory, flourished. For 230 yea the kingdom witnessed glorious times as a mighty empire, famed for its opulence and culture, until 1565 when it was destroyed by the combined forces of the Deccan Sultanates.

Hampi is now included in eh UNESCO’s list of palaces of global significance and needs a master plan for its conservation. The Karnataka Government, together with the Archeological Survey of India and assistance from UNESCO, the Smithsonian Institution and several other countries has undertaken the gigantic work of excavation in he city’s 26 sq kms area. Mapping of the principal remains is being done and many areas have been dug up to expose to view remains of temples, places, tanks and other structures that lay buried for centuries. Without interfering with their original shape or motifs, a number of structural remains and scriptures are being restored, in addition to partial rebuilding and replacement of building elements.

An extraordinary achievement of excavation work so far is the exposure of a magnificent ritual bat in the place enclosure. Constructed with chlorite, a gray green stone not available anywhere in his region, it is a stepped tank, three metres deep. Water was fed into it by a series of channels.

Hampi is so vast and varied in its attractions that it would take at least a week for one to see them all at leisure. But, to one in a hurry, the Hampi panorama must begin with a visit to the Virupaksha temple, the tutelary deity of the Vijayanagara kings. It rises majestically at the end of the 700 metre long chariot street, once the site of a celebrated bazaar. Then there are the ruins of the palaces of the noblemen which were probably occupied by the Vijayanagara aristocracy. Though badly mutilated, the huge free-standing monolithic sculpture of Narasimha 6.7 metres high, and sculpted in A.D. 1528 on the order of Krishnadeva Raya, is a remarkable piece.

The most impressive of temples at Hampi is the one dedicated to Vithala. Its exquisitely carved pillars and images are a tribute to the skill of Vijayanagara craftsmen who seem to have handled granite as thought it was clay. The main pavilion with its 56 pillars, each carved out of a single granite block, is a structural unit. Hen struck, some of these give out musical notes as though from different percussion instruments. In the courtyard of this temple is the magnificent stone chariot minus its superstructure. It houses the mythical eagle Garuda. The elaborately carved chariot has huge stone wheels that can be rotated, testifying to the skill of the ancient craftsmen.

Probably the most photogenic building at Hampi is the Lotus Mahal-a graceful two-storied pavilion, a synthesis of the Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture. Not far from this place are the Elephant Stables-a row of eleven chambers which once housed the magnificent beasts. Closely is a watch tower one of several at Hampi.

The Vijayanagara rulers celebrated the Dussehra festival with much gaiety when the king sat on his bejeweled throne in the center of Mahanavami Dibba, a decorated platform, and watched a colourful procession pass by. His place is worth a visit as the sides of the platform still retain the beautiful sculptures depicting many soldiers, dancers and an array on animals. Water tanks and channels abound in Hampi. The most ornate of them all is the Queen’s bath located in the citadel area, south of the Ramachandran temple. The temple itself is in the royal enclosure of the capital. It was perhaps the king’s private shrine and contains some exceptional carvings and murals both within and on the outer walls. The outer friezes shown horses, elephants, dancing girls and infantry in procession, while the inner panels depict individual deities or scenes from the Ramayana.

The imperial city of Hampi is a town planner’s dream. The south bank of the Tungabhadra was the sacred center with many temples along the bank. To the south of this one can see the fortified urban or royal area in which are located the remains of palaces, noblemen’s quarters, watch towers and some more shrines.

The courtly royal buildings and temples are so close to each other in Hampi that one begins to wonder why it is so. The answer lies in the fact that in India royalty and divinity have always existed in close kinship. Temporal affairs were not delinked from religion and the people who were loyal to their faith were also loyal to the king. So, temples were built in the closest proximity to the palace. The skill and devotion which craftsmen poured into their work adorned the palaces as well s the shrines.