From the south bank of the free flowing river Tungabhadra spills a tiny village, Hampi, the ruined remains of Vijayanagar city, celebrated in history as “the City of Victory”. Hampi, on the outside, is Hindu holy personified, a surreal landscape of golden-brown granite boulders and leafy banana fields, and steeped in history, legend and ancient arts.
The epic Ramayana traces its beginning to the days of Kishkinda, ruled by the monkey kings Bali and Sugriva and their ambassador, Hanuman. The weird rocks, balanced perilous arches, and lying in a heap of colossal, hill-sized piles, are believed to have been flung down by their armies in a show of strength, and hide a story of their own.
Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, Hampi was the most powerful Hindu capital in the Deccan, powered by its markets full of silk and precious gems, beautiful, bejewelled courtesans, ornate palaces and joyous festivities. The story takes a tragic twist in the second half of the sixteenth century, when this dazzling city was devastated by a six-month Muslim siege. Only stone, brick and stucco structures survived the ensuing sack – monolithic deities, crumbling houses and abandoned temples dominated by towering gopuras – as well as the sophisticated irrigation system that channelled water to huge tanks and temples.
Perched on a land of ruins, Hampi though revels in its serene riverine setting and air of magic that lingers over the site, sacred for centuries before a city was founded here, and making it one of India’s most extraordinary locations.
The Virupaksha temple draws a steady stream of devotees and is open to all. For the princely sum of a rupee, you can receive a blessing from the temple elephant, Lakshmi. Rare Vijayanagar-era paintings on the mandapa ceiling include aspects of Shiva, a procession with the sage Vidyaranya, the ten incarnations of Vishnu, and scenes from the Mahabharata.Mystical, Magical & Miraculous Hampi:
Virupaksha Temple: When light passes from the east through a hole near the sanctum sanctorum, a miniature shadow of the temple tower is reflected upside down on the wall.
A giant ruin near the temple, of Ugra Narasimha in a 6.7 m tall monolith, was “hewn from a single boulder in 1528 during the reign of Krishnadevaraya”.
The ruins of the Vithala temple complex with its 56 musical pillars are an architectural wonder that surpasses even the wildest fantasy of a modern-day scientist.
The stone chariot to the east of the hall has wheels that actually revolve. In front of the shrine stands the great ‘mandapa.’ Resting on a richly sculpted basement, its roof is supported by huge pillars of granite, about 15 feet in height, each consisting of a central pillar surrounded by detached shafts, all cut from one single block of stone.
Hampi also has its share of quaint festivals. For culture freaks, a must-see is the three day Hampi Festival (also known as the Vijaya Utsav), when dance, drama, music, fireworks, and puppet shows all take place against the ruins of Hampi.
An incredible energy can be felt at Hampi. The sunrise and sunset over the village, viewed from atop the central Matanga Hill, are truly magical and are not to be missed. The best way to explore the Hampi ruins is by night. The night tour is an adventurous mix of walking and buggy rides, with delicious tucks along the way to whet your gastronomic appetite over a spectacle of dance performances by local folk artists at Gejjala Mandap.
While wandering among the ruins one gets to see a giant idol of Lord Ganesha entering through an arch. It is a 9-feet tall single stone statue. It is a symbol of the concept, ‘smaller than the smallest and greater than the greatest” – a quality attributed to the Supreme.
On the way back, one gets the feeling that Hampi is definitely not for the weak-hearted….