Hampi/Bellary: Between Hospet and Bellary in Karnataka State, lies a small village of Hampi, one of India’s important heritage sites. Aging monuments, dilapidated structures and temples complimented with big boulders adds on an irresistible appeal to Hampi. This city, now a historical attraction, and often thronged by visitors , was once the thriving capital of Vijayanagar (the city of Victory) of the Deccan empire that covered the entire South India barring the Kerala Coasts. Walking through the Hampi evokes a sense of wonder in visitors in terms of beautiful stone architecture.
Districts of Hospet and Bellary, is best known for extensive iron ore mining and quarrying other than farmlands of bananas, sugarcane plantations and paddy fields.
From mid-fourteenth century to 1565 CE, it served as the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, famous for King Krishnadevrai and his jester and minister Tenalirama. Though the kingdom of Vijayanagara is long gone, the remains etched on these magnificent palaces and ornate temples. Besides Deccan Empire, this village also has a Ramayana connection.
These are the stories which we listened to and learnt in our childhood. So this was exactly a new opportunity for me to reach at a dream place and find the source of these stories. During my currently ongoing solo cycle journey across India, this was another chance of taking a detour towards another beautiful escapade. On having entered into Karnataka state, I decided to venture here to learn more about its history and sensational stories of Indian mythology.
Hampi remained undiscovered until the mid-9th century, when Alexander Greenlaw visited and photographed the site in 1856. These photographs were held in a private collection in the United Kingdom and were not published until 1980.They are the most valuable source of the mid-19th-century state of Hampi monuments to scholars.
Many travellers have talked in detail about Hampi, in Chronicles left behind by the Persian, European and Portuguese travellers. All have describes it as a prosperous, wealthy and grand city near the Tungabhadra River. Memoirs of Niccolò de’ Conti, an Italian merchant and traveller who visited Hampi in 1420 CE, mentions about its fortification in his book. In 1442, Abdul Razzaq, a Persian traveller described it as a city with seven layers of forts.
Richness and prosperity
By 1500 CE, Hampi-Vijayanagara, ranked as the second richest city in the world, standing second to only Beijing. It had many travellers from Persia and Portugal visiting it for business. According to legends, heaps of diamonds and precious stones were traded openly in the markets of Hampi. Several factors worked for the development of the city, right from its geographical location to its rugged terrain. Even today, Hampi, stands charismatic even in its ruins.
Origin of name
River Tungabhadra, which flows through the city, was earlier called Pampa. Hampi is considered to be derived from Pampa. According to folklores, it was in the Hemkunta Hills that Parvati wooed Shiva, who is also known as Pampapati. Thus the river flowing by the hill began to be called Pampa. Over the years, Pampa got distorted to Hampa in Kannada, and thus the area where Parvati pursued Shiva, got named as Hampi.
Vitthala temple and market complex
This temple and market complex spans across three kilometres and is a very famous tourist spot. The temple, itself is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is called ‘Venugopala’ in South India. It is unclear when the temple complex was built, and who built it; most scholars call it 16th century architecture. The inscriptions include male and female names, suggesting that the complex was built by multiple sponsors. The temple was dedicated to Vitthala, an incarnation of Krishna Vithoba. The temple has a stone chariot in the courtyard; similar to the one at Mahabalipuram and the Konark temple, which is the biggest one.
Outside the temple compound, is a colonnaded market street almost a kilometre long, but in ruins now. To the north, there is another market and a south-facing shrine with carvings and drawings of Ramayana scenes, Mahabharata scenes and of Vaishnava saints. The temples have some very intricate designs that are a source of inspiration for the designs seen in the famous Kanchipuram silk sarees.
The Square Water Pavilion, also called the Queen’s Bath, is a pavilion water basin, which uses the method of moving fresh water to remove wash water and overflows. The building’s interior arches have a strong Indo-Islamic influence.
Vijayanagara Empire built an extensive water infrastructure. According to an inscription, the Manmatha tank was upgraded and a Durga shrine was added to it, in 1199 CE. The inclusion of artwork at the tank, such as a warrior fighting a lion, is dated to the 13th century, when Hoysalas frequented Hampi.
Water was harvested during the monsoon season in a great tank, near the village and was channelled through big stoned drainages into the royal centre where it flowed from one enclosure to the next, filling ponds and pools.
Tales from the Ramayana
The village of Hampi has many tales from the Ramayana. Anegundi, is a village located on the right banks of Tungabhadra river which is believed to be the monkey kingdom of Kishkindha mentioned in the Ramayana. It is at a distance of 5 km from the historical site of Hampi. Anjanadri hill, the birthplace of monkey-god Hanuman, and the mountain Rishimuka are the other places near Anegundi are associated with Ramayana. It is said to have one of the oldest plateaus on the planet, estimated to be 3,000 million years old.
Three dynasties of Hampi
From Vijayanagara, three dynasties ruled over: Sangama (1336-1485), Saluva (1485-1505) and Taluva (1505-65), the rulers of which assumed the title of Devraya or King.
Also the present king from the dynasty of Krishnadevrai lives in the village of Anegundi. His name is Ramdevrai. Though he is not the direct descendants of the same lineage but has the indirect connection to the dynasty.
Hampi and its surrounding region are today undergoing profound changes. It’s a UNESCO world Heritage site now. Besides government and Archaeological survey of India, some private enterprises are developing this site by giving conservation techniques to young architects and archaeologists and also promoting educational programmes that will raise awareness among young people. Cleaning of Hampi village is also on the agenda. However, government and private agencies are yet to determine the best strategies for ensuring the preservation of its prestigious history and advertise the site to attract more tourists. Hampi is now part of most southern Indian travel itineraries but according to the local people government of Karnataka lacks the skills of promoting tourism. They are expecting some cultural events like ‘Hampi by nite’ which is not happening for long
Another aspect of worrying is the inappropriate ‘renewing’ or ‘refurbishing’ of the ruins. In consequence, some of Vijayanagara sculptures and monuments have been irreversibly altered, such as the torso and face of the great Narsimha monolith as well as the rebuilding of the Vitthala temple with plaster and new stones.
Traveling to Hampi
Most of the visitors to Hampi arrive at the well connected Hospet Junction railway station, located about 13km from Hampi. Hospet town also has a bus station with long distance and interstate connections. The nearest airport is 60 kms away at Ballary district. Consider a 3 days itinerary for a fulfilling experience.
Thank You note: The author extends his gratitude to his supporters, Innovation Roots from Bangalore and the Round Table India are supporting him to make a documentary on his cycle journey of India.