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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Poetry on Stones: Hampi, the Forgotten Empire

Written by Navneet Sidhu
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Poetry on Stones – Hampi, the Forgotten Empire, Hampi ruins, Royal Enclosures, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Badavilinga Shiva temple, Vithala Temple, Anjanaye Hills, Navneet SidhuHampi, the former capital of the Vijayanagar Empire (1336-1565 AD) in India, is a city set in the bygone era of medieval history. Positioned on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, the village of Hampi is as captivating as it is old. Each boulder of the ruins has a story to tell. Some represent the beauty of the architectural creations. Others show the brutality of destruction at the hands of the Deccan Kings. My trip to this ancient city would soon open my eyes to both sides of this historical landmark.

My stay was spent at the Hotel Mayura Bhuvaneswari at Kamalapur, run by the State government’s tourism oriented organization, KSTDC. Although the amenities were modest, the hotel was only three kilometres away from the World Heritage Site. These organizations exist for the sole purpose of cataloguing, naming and conserving sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance – the perfect establishment for the Hampi ruins.

Poetry on Stones – Hampi, the Forgotten Empire, Hampi ruins, Royal Enclosures, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Badavilinga Shiva temple, Vithala Temple, Anjanaye Hills, Navneet SidhuItching to see the sights, I decided to trek out and explore the area around my hotel. It didn’t take long before I came across the first astounding Hampi structure of many on my trip. I stared up in awe at the 6.7 meter tall statue of “Ugra Narasimha.” Carved from a single stone, this popular Hindu deity was represented as half man/half lion. Its overpowering presence beside the “Badavilinga Shiva” temple set the pace for sighting other monolith sculptural marvels dotting the Hampi landscape.

My next stop was to the Krishna temple. This building was a typical example showcasing the classical designs of all the religious structures built by the Vijayanagar Rayas. The stone pillars of the temples were decorated with intricate carvings of celestial figures while the monumental tower, or Gopuram, was made of brick and lime. Nearby, my eyes were drawn to a mammoth, 4.6 meter “Kadalekalu Ganesha” statue. Unfortunately this ‘seated god’ had fallen prey to the destructive onslaught -- the huge belly of the beloved deity had been broken and scarred. Despite this, another carved god called “Sasivekalu Ganesha”, remained intact. In Hindu mythology, Ganesha is notorious for his eating habits. One story goes that he once ate so much that his tummy almost burst open. To counteract this, Ganesha caught a snake and tied it around his stomach as a belt to save it from bursting. The tales may be true because on this statue you can see the intricate snake carved around the statue’s massive belly.

Behind the compound area were several temples scattered on the Matunga Hill. These temples were built by various nobles and royal family members. This place also provided a view of the majestic “Virupaksha Temple” built in the seventh century on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. This temple was dedicated to a supreme God, Lord Shiva, and his consorts, the Goddesses Pampa and Bhuvaneswari. Over the years it has routinely been worshipped throughout the troubled times. Here, the resident elephant named Lakshmi blesses all devotees and makes for yet another perfect photo opportunity. Of course no words can express the experience of seeing and bathing these magnificent elephants in the river every day. For city-dwellers like me it was an unbelievable moment to be recounted over and over again at evening tête-à-têtes.


After taking in these awe inspiring monuments and temples, I was in for a surprise with a few Royal Enclosures known as the “Lotus Mahal” and “Elephant Stables”. These structures had a distinct blend of Islamic and Hindu sensibilities. The “Lotus Mahal,” a palace for the queen, was a two-storied pavilion with delicate lattice carvings. Set amidst bright green, manicured lawns, the construction was simply breathtaking. The “Elephant Stables” housed the ceremonial elephants of the royal household. This overwhelming structure attests to the pride and respect these animals commanded at the time.

After the elephant stables, I toured a few more Royal Enclosures including the underground royal mint and the bathing well. It was also hard to miss the Mahanavami Dibba, easily the tallest structure in this area. This platform was where the Mighty Krishnadeva Raya watched the sacrifices and processions during the nine-day navani festivity. What I found to be very unusual were the carvings of camels in the panels of the platform. Perhaps this indicated the widespread trading and travelers’ account of the Vijayanagar people.

Poetry on Stones – Hampi, the Forgotten Empire, Hampi ruins, Royal Enclosures, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Badavilinga Shiva temple, Vithala Temple, Anjanaye Hills, Navneet SidhuMy final destination of the day was the “Vithala Temple” with its fifty-six musical pillars. These pillars reverberated when tapped making the structure itself a giant working instrument. The magnificent ornate stone chariot in the temple courtyard was as beautiful as it was large. The sheer creativity, ingenuity and originality of the Hampi people were astounding. It was not surprising that the monument had been declared a world heritage site in 1986 and is presently undergoing restoration for future generations. Sitting on the stairs for a moment I was lost in the scene. The statuette of Garuda commanding the chariot towards the temple. The jingling of the dancing girls’ bells to the music created on stone pillars. The legendary Rayas in their sheer finery and the divine celestial beings descending to gorge on the enchantment created on earth. It was all so beautiful.

After losing myself in the history of Hampi, I decided to pursue the magic of mythology the next day. I drove opposite the Anjanaye Hills, where after a steep 532 step climb, I reached the place where the saint, Hanuman, was born. Poetry on Stones – Hampi, the Forgotten Empire, Hampi ruins, Royal Enclosures, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Badavilinga Shiva temple, Vithala Temple, Anjanaye Hills, Navneet SidhuA young pujari (priest) was more than willing to narrate the heroic tales from the Ramayana (an ancient Sanskrit epic) and point out various sites to visit from the mythological Kishkinda. For me it was a spiritual journey to follow the footsteps of Lord Rama during his stay at Kishkinda.

Driving past the longest dam in Southern India, the Tungabhadra Dam (590 meters long and 49 meters high) I returned to Hampi to tour the colossal stone sculptures “Hazar Rama”, “Pattabhirama” and the “Achuta Raya’s” temples.


Poetry on Stones – Hampi, the Forgotten Empire, Hampi ruins, Royal Enclosures, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Badavilinga Shiva temple, Vithala Temple, Anjanaye Hills, Navneet SidhuIn the evening, I dared to take a coracle ride to the Anegundi village and back. The small round basket boat spun around by a single oar on the roaring Tungabhadra. It was both petrifying and exhilarating - definitely a ‘must do’ for any visitor.

As the sun set over the silhouettes of the ruins at Hampi, an orange hue cast its shadow on the remnants of two Golden eras – the Treta Yug and the Vijayanagar rule. Witnessed by these mute boulders, I left Hampi with a song in my heart and a prayer on my lips to usher in once again a third golden period of splendour, valour and harmony in the days to come.

How to reach Hampi:

By Air: The nearest airport is Bellary (60km/ 37miles), Belgaum (190 km/188 miles) and Bangalore (350 km/ 217 miles).

By Rail: Hampi is well connected by railways to different parts of India. The nearest railway station from Hampi is Hospet, which lies at about 13 km from Hampi.

By Road: Hampi is connected to Bangalore (NH 13 & 4), Mangalore, Bijapur, Hubli, Guntakal, Hyderabad and Goa. The nearest town Hospet, has a bus station with frequent bus services to the above mentioned cities.

Where to stay:

KSTDC’s Hotel Mayura Bhuvaneswari at Kamalpur

Several cheaper options available as Guest House at Hampi Bazaar

Where to eat:

Lots of wayside restaurants at Hampi Bazaar

Special mention of “The Mango Tree” for delicious multi cuisine platter.

Best time to visit:

October to March

Nearby places to visit:

Anegundi village across the river for a taste of rural tourism.

Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary 15 kms from Hampi

© Navneet Sidhu

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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