A river constitutes the blood and veins of a country. Most of the ancient civilizations formed and developed on the banks of rivers and so was the history of Vijayanagara empire. Once you dig deep into the history of this place, it turns to folklore and refers back to mythology as well.
The river Pampa was the lifeline of a great civilization that existed in the southern state of Karnataka in India. Traces of early settlements could be found on the Northern side of river (Anegundi) that points to the epic Ramayana and the monkey kingdom Kishkindha. Read about Anegundi here >>
Southern banks of the river witnessed a series of battles and events that date back to the period of Emperor Ashoka (3rd century BC). Kannada word Hampe was derived from Pampa and in turn called Hampi due to British influence.
River Pampa is known as Tungabhadra now, which still flows silently between the ruins of Vijayanagara empire. That arouses the curiosity of every traveler. What would have led to the decline of such a great empire ?
Tunga & Bhadra rivers originate from Western Ghats, pass through the plains of Karnataka until they merge together 150 Kms down east, and continues its journey for another 530 Kms before it joins Krishna River in Andhra Pradesh. A dam in Tungabhadra river at Hospet near Hampi generates electricity and irrigates the adjoining villages.
The current day Hampi belongs to Bellary district in Karnataka, situated near to the industrial city, Hospet . Hampi has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site. All kinds of accommodations are available in Hospet, Kamalapur or Hampi . There are some decent restaurants around the Virupaksha temple.
- THE HISTORY OF HAMPI
Vijayanagara Kingdom was under the constant threat from Mughal invaders from the North, but its strategic location between the mighty river and the hills had its own advantage.
In the early days, Hampi was occupied by the Kampli rulers until the Mughal ruler Muhammed bin Tughluq conquered it in 1327 AD. Two brave local chieftains, Hakka (Harihara) & Bukka turned rebels and re-captured the Kingdom from the Mughals and established their local capital on the southern banks of Pampa river . They named the new empire Vijayanagara or ‘the city of victory’ and became the founders of this great Kingdom at Hampi. (There is also a version that says the city was named Vidyanagara in memory of their guru Vidyaranya). Over the next 200 plus years (1336 AD – 1565 AD) it passed through the hands of Kakatiyas, Hoysalas, Yadavas and Pandyas until it came under the rule of Vijayanagara. Four dynasties ruled over Vijayanagara viz., Sangama Dynasty (1336-1490), Saluva Dynasty (1490-1509), Tuluva Dynasty (1503-1570) and Aravidu Dynasty (1565-1646). King Krishna Deva Raya of Tuluva Dynasty ruled from 1509 to 1530, which is believed to be the Golden Period of Vijayanagara empire. He had to wage over a dozen wars and won every one of them.
A Portuguese traveller & horse trader named Domingos Paes had visited Vijayanagara Empire sometime back in 1520, during Krishnadevaraya’s reign. He climbed on top of the tallest hill (probably Mathanga hill) in the region to have a glimpse of the entire Kingdom and compared it with Rome in his travelogues. His detailed descriptions give an insight into the fortified city, thriving art, cultural events, magnificent temples, busy markets and the royal enclaves.
Krishnadevaraya was not only an ideal ruler, but an accomplished scholar and poet as well. His works still find a place in current day literature. He was the mastermind behind most of the architectural wonders that remain even today. Vijayanagara rulers even sent their ambassadors to countries like China to promote export and import of goods. The glory and grandeur of Vijaynagar was known across Asian subcontinent, parts of Europe and Middle East as well. During his period there were magnificent bazaars where people used to sell pearls, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds lavishly on the street. Those bazaar streets remain deserted in Hampi with only a few street vendors selling fruits, and a few cows & monkeys sneak around to snatch those.
It is interesting to notice the connection of Hampi with Ramayana. Several places in an around Hampi still carry those names mentioned in Ramayana. The landscape around Hampi looks bizarre, filled with miles and miles of boulders. Yes, heaps of them covering the hills and valleys; sometimes stacked one above the other and balanced perfectly and it arouses the curiosity of every spectator. Geologists say that this phenomenon could be an effect of millions and millions of years of exposure to natural forces. Continuous heating and cooling by sun, wind & rains could have made the rocks to crumble down. And years of erosion could have wiped away the sand particles between them. Somehow the precisely balanced rocks still remains a mystery.
Mythology has another explanation for this though. It is believed that the area surrounding Hampi and Anegundi belonged to the so called Monkey Kingdom (Kishkindha) mentioned in Hindu holy scripture Ramayana. Rishimukh hill, Anjaneya hill, Mathanga hill etc. were the dwelling places of monkey kings Vali (Bali), Sugreeva, Hanuman and others. The rock formations are believed to be the work of monkey fighters testing their strength. Local people will be happy to show you the place where Hanuman met Rama & Lakshmana during their search for Sita and the place where Vali & Sugriva fought their final battle. The significance of Ramayana is evident from a large number of motifs and temples seen around the area.
During the rule of Rama Raya, Vijayanagara empire was in constant conflict with the Muslim rulers. In 1565, the famous battle of Talikota was fought between Rama Raya’s army and the alliance troop of four Deccan Sultans . At the end of a fierce battle, Rama Raya was beheaded, the Muslim army ransacked the entire city, looted the Hindu temples, damaged the idols & massacred the people. An account of the events pointed out that the robbery continued for over six months to empty the wealth of that mighty empire. The magnificent empire was plundered and never recovered its ancient splendour.
Now, let’s go for a stroll around Hampi. The entire area is spread across 26 square kilometers and it cannot be covered within a day or two. Be prepared for a long trek, carry enough water and snacks. You can also rent a moped or bicycle to go around the ruins. By the way, beware of those mischievous monkeys; they are experts in stealing your food and belongings.
Hampi is the dream land of every photographer. Be it the ruins, temples, landscapes or street life, Hampi has everything. The pictures displayed here were captured during multiple visits and different seasons. Capturing that perfect image in your mind involves a lot of dedication, hard work and patience too.
I often come across hundreds of tourists affected by selfie-mania, who are fond of getting their ‘selfies’ clicked in front of that half-broken idol or while clinging onto the temple-ruins.
I do respect and support an individual’s interest to certain extend, but please keep in mind that Hampi is a pilgrimage place too. Kindly give respect to art and religious sentiments of the people.
Watching sunrise from the top of Mathanga hill is an unforgettable experience. I got up early and reached the Hampi Bazaar street by 5:30 AM. It was still dark when I crossed the street, walked past the Nandi bull statue and continued on the unpaved path towards Achyutharaya temple. The sky was very colourful and the moon was smiling at me from far above.
I reached the foothills of Mathanga in 15-20 minutes and located the narrow trail leading to the top with the help of my torch. It was indeed a treacherous route, the steps were damaged in many places and the stray rock clusters started hurting my feet. Please watch your step .
I soon realized that the sandals I wore did not have enough grip and I should have brought a trekking shoe instead. There is no proper safety standards maintained anywhere and you are at your own risk.
Somehow, I reached the top of the peak in 20 minutes and the sun was just rising behind the rocky horizon.
It was indeed a spectacular scene and I started capturing the sights in all the directions. Mathanga is the tallest point on the Southern side of Tungabhadra river. From the top, you could see Achyutharaya temple, Courtesan’s street, Virupaksha temple and the river. These views are breathtakingly beautiful.
On my way back from Mathanga Hills, I thought of exploring Achyutharaya temple and the Courtesan’s street. The temple was in a completely ruined state. I came to know that most of the large towers (gopura) in front of these temples were destroyed by cannon firing by Mughal invaders searching for precious stones.
The street that starts from Achyutharaya temple en-route to Vittala temple is known as courtesan’s street which is around 50 meters wide and half a kilometre long . Both sides of the street are filled with heaps of finely carved pillars which were parts of huge pavilions. During the golden period of the empire, these were magnificent bazaars where people used to sell pearls, rubies, emeralds, diamonds and ivory.
On one side of the street, the ancient pond called Pushkarni is located. I sat there for a few minutes, thinking about that glorious past and captured that magnificent view. It was surprising to know that this ancient pond never gets dry even in peak summer. My other page about Anegundi (click here) describes how waterways were designed to quench the thirst of this mighty kingdom. It is interesting to note that their far reaching vision planned rain water harvesting system to collect and route water from the adjacent high lands to replenish the land below.
My next destination was the Lakshmi Narasimha temple. This Narasimha idol is one of the biggest and the most damaged one during the Mughal invasion.
The original statue made by Krishnadeva Raya in 1528 AD had Goddess Lakshmi sitting on the lap of Narasimha avatar, which was destroyed by the invaders. The remains of the monolithic statue is about 6.7m tall with the seven hooded naga above its head.
Right next to the Lakshmi Narasimha temple, there is a massive monolithic Shiva Linga (Badavi linga) half-submerged in flowing water. Legend has it that the linga was built by a poor woman (badava) and hence it got the name. It is believed that the linga was so powerful that it had to be kept cooled by water. It is still being worshipped in the sanctum chamber filled with 2-3 feet of water.
Sasvekalu and Kadalekalu Ganesha statues are famous ones in Hampi and walkable distance from Badavi Linga . After visiting these monolithic idols, I was on my way to Virupaksha temple.
The most important and the only functioning temple in Hampi is the Virupaksha temple . This temple has been kept open since 14th century and it was left unharmed by the Islamic intruders. The strange fact is that the flag of Tuluva dynasty contained the picture of a pig and it was forbidden to the Mughals . There was an entry fee for you and the camera. Carry some bananas for the temple elephant and make sure the monkeys don’t snatch it on the way.
Virupaksha Bazaar street starts in front of the temple and leads all the way to the Monolithic bull statue near Mathanga hill. The street is around 12 meters wide and 730 meters long with double-storied stone structures on either sides. The street stays as a symbol of the glorious past of Vijayanagara kingdom.
As I continue my journey, I get more addicted to every nook and corner of this majestic city. The more I go deep into the life in Hampi , I get more fascinated by the mystery than its history. Another destination on my way was the underground Shiva Temple. A totally abandoned temple much below ground level and half submerged in water. Spent a few minutes there, clicked some snaps and headed back.
I came across a massive platform with the shape of a pyramid called Mahanavami-dibba . The massive 12m high platform had highly decorated side walls depicting the festivals, elephants, horse-training etc. The platform was used for performing religious ceremonies .
The stepped tank next to the royal citadel was an architectural wonder. This still stands as the proof for the engineering skills attained by the people of that period. Ancient aqueducts ensured continuous water supply to this pond.
Queen’s bath is a large square building with highly ornate interiors. The building houses a large bath of 15 square metre area and a depth of 1.8m. It has decorated corridors on all the four sides. It was built for the noble women of royal families .
Later in the afternoon, I decided to explore the mysterious rock formations at Hampi. I learned that the ancient artisans used a special technique to split the rocks precisely. First step is to make a series of holes (couple of inches deep) in a line where you want to cut the stone. Secondly, bamboo sticks are driven into these holes and water is poured on top. Once the bamboo pieces get socked in water, they begin to expand and break the stone. Most of the stone pieces will have these marks on the edges.
Another scene that caught my attention was a full grown banyan tree on top of a massive rock. It felt as if the strong roots of the tree were strangulating the rock and it was gasping for breath.
Hampi is very vast area and it cannot be covered in one or two days. Most of the important tourist spots are accessible by motor car. There is a village road from Kamalapur, leading to the Vittala Temple. But I thought it would be be more interesting to take the short-cut by foot.
In the evening, I headed to Vittala Temple. The unpaved narrow passage by the side of Tungabhadra river takes more than half an hour to reach the temple. On the way , I came across the Kings Balance. A usual custom being followed in Hindu temples even today. The one here was used to weigh the Kings against Gold or other precious materials to be donated to poor people as an offering.
I was amused by the sight of a banyan tree decorated with pieces of cloth hanging all around it. Some sort of religious custom, I believe.
Vittala ( A form of Lord Vishnu) Temple is the most exquisite & magnificent temples in Hampi. The temple complex is an architectural marvel that consist of large courtyard, shrines, pavilions and halls. The highlight of this temple is its elegant halls decorated with carved pillars and an incredibly beautiful chariot made of stone.
The stone chariot is the major attraction and this has become the mascot of tourism in Hampi. Though the chariot was originally crafted with horses, these were destroyed during the invasions and a pair of elephant statues adorn their place now. The chariot is complete with axis shafts and the wheels are designed to rotate. A stone ladder in front of the chariot was probably used by the priest to climb inside its sanctum for worship. The chariot was once coated with natural dyes which has completely faded out. The body of the chariot is decorated with incredibly fine carvings. An architectural masterpiece indeed.
The mandaps inside the temple complex have intricately carved pillars that depict scenes from epics like Ramayana. The most exquisite work of art must be the so-called music pillars which is typical to many of the Indian temples. A group of precisely cut stone pillars produce musical notes by percussion. The lonely tree in the courtyard seemed very old but it had some sort of hidden beauty in it. In front of the temple, the remains of an old market is still visible. It was once a famous centre for horse-trading and other business activities. The carvings on the wall depict Persian and Chinese traders with horses, which throw some light into the history .
While returning back from Vittala temple along the narrow stretch, I noticed a pavilion half-submerged under the river which was built at the place where famous composer and Carnatic singer Purandara Dasa used to practice. Purandara Dasa (1484-1564), known as the father of Carnatic music, traveled across Vijayanagara empire, entertaining people and spent his final phase of life at Hampi.
I was in front of Krishna Temple, built by Krishnadevaraya. The interior of this temple was extremely beautiful with intricate carvings. The dwarapalika motif ( gatekeeper) by the front door was typical to the Vijayanagara and Hoysala temples.
I got deeply immersed in the beauty of that piece of art. A loud voice of a real gate keeper lady sitting near the temple door woke me up. She had no objection and was really happy to get her picture taken.
My next point of interest was the Hazararama Temple. This temple was located a bit far from Krishna Temple, near to the Royal enclosures and baths.
Hazararama Temple is famous for its story-telling figures all around the compound. These carvings mostly narrate stories from Hindu holy books Ramayana and Bhagavata .
Some of those carvings on the side walls were highly artistic as well as very complex to be carved manually. The bangle-like works were obviously done by very skillful hands and I wondered how could they do it without damaging even a small bead. A few pictures from Hazararama Temple attached below.
I bumped into those massive stone doors lying abandoned in front of the royal courtyard. Not sure from where these were dismantled . An evening at the riverside was soothing. I watched the people waiting for their turns to cross the river in coracles. There are few places in Hampi where ferry services are operational throughout the day. Some people commuting daily carry along their motor bikes on the ferry. A coracle is a cheaper alternative, but a bit dangerous too. A coracle ride could take you some hidden temples too, some of those were demolished and abandoned due to the fury of the river . Kotilinga (thousand Shiva lingas) is an interesting place that once used to get submerged under water.
Anegundi was the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, before it was shifted to Hampi. A stone bridge existed across Tungabhadra river, connecting the old and new capitals. Though this bridge got destroyed long ago, the remains of the same can be found here. The government tried to build another hanging bridge near this place. Before it could be completed, the bridge got destroyed in 2009 due to natural calamities and the workers too got drowned. The project was abandoned since the people believed that it was a bad omen . Perhaps the Gods were not in favour of a bridge in this location. UNESCO also suggested that a bridge in this location could adversely affect the ruins. A new bridge (named Bukkasagar bridge) has been commissioned further downstream in 2017 which is fully operational now.
Perhaps the most important part of Hampi trip is watching the sunrise/sunset from Hemakuta hills. It is indeed a breath-taking scene and no one wants to miss it. You will be able to see people climbing up the hill by the side of Virupaksha temple, much before the sun goes down. Lot of old temples are ruins lay scattered on top of this hill. According to mythology, it rained gold when Lord Shiva did penance on top of this hill. Hema means Gold in Sanskrit language. The original location (moola sthan) of Virupaksha temple can be found here with a small temple and a pond in front of it. Another small shrine dedicated to Anjaneya (Hanuman) with a lonely tree standing in front of it is every photographer’s favourite location.
Malyavanta Raghunathaswamy is located 3 km down the road from Kamalapur. This is a temple dedicated to Lord Sri Ram. It is believed that Rama & Lakshmana had visited this place while searching for Sita. Aerial view of the valley from up the hill behind this temple is amazing.
I would like to categorize Hampi as one of the ‘must-see’ places before you die. Its alluring beauty could be addictive too. Now, what is there on the other side of the river ? Go though my next blog here >>
How to Reach Hampi :
- Bangalore-Hiriyur-Challakere-Rampura-Hampi – 364Km
- Bangalore -Tumkur -Hiriyur – Chitradurga – Hospet – Hampi – 341 Km
- Nearest Town: Hospet (13 km), Bellary (84 km)
- Nearest Railway Station: Hospet (13 km)
- Best Time to Visit: October to February