Hampi is a town like no other city. Well, which other place has the kind of heritage that dates back to the times of the Hoysalas and in spite of largely being in ruins manages to attract attention every time? This is probably why Hampi is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the stone formations, ruins of history and cultural connections makes this town in northern Karnataka a must sought after travel destination. Hampi was believed to be one of the richest and largest cities in the world in its hey days and is located within the ruins of Vijayanagara the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Legend has it that this place is the site of Kishkindha, the empire of monkey king Vaali and Sugreeva and has a strong connection with the Ramayana as well. The Tungabhadra river flows through this place which makes it a haven for birds as well. Hampi has so many sights that you will need to spend at least a week to cover them all in detail. Here are some places that must be on your radar when you visit Hampi.
Vittala Temple Complex
Well known and popular among the ruins of Hampi and in a sense a way of identifying the town is the iconic stone chariot that is also a symbol of Karnataka Tourism within the Vittala Temple Complex. The stone chariot is believed to be a reproduction of the processional wooden chariot and has an image of Vishnu’s vehicle Garuda. Built in 15th century AD the Vijaya Vittala Temple is a testament to the Vijayanagara style of art and architecture and the temple is dedicated to Vittala, a form of Vishnu. This sprawling complex has temples, pavilions and halls and massive pillars in the congregation hall are huge made of single granite blocks. In fact some of the slender pillars here when tapped produce musical notes but today it is banned to touch these pillars. The marriage hall and festival hall as well as the shrines of several Goddesses are part of this temple complex. An experienced guide will come in handy.
If you like history the Archaeological Museum of Hampi will entice you with its collection of sculptures and antiques while giving you a great insight into the mighty Vijaynagara dynasty. The well laid out museum has four galleries and the first gallery has sculptures of Gods and Goddesees. The Central Hall is a replica of a Hampi temple complete with sculptures of Shiva and Nandi. Gallery 2 has a large display of armoury, copper plate grants, religious metal objects, brass plates and gold and copper coins of the Vijaynagara dynasty. Gallery 4 displays antiquities belonging to the prehistoric and protohistoric period, medieval hero stones and sati stones. It also exhibits some other excavated items such as Stucco figurines, iron objects, shards of porcelain, among other things.
Lord Virupaksha is the main deity of the Vijaynagara rulers and this 7th century temple takes centre stage in Hampi. From being a modest structure initially, there have been several additions to the structure during the Chalukya and Hoysala time periods. The nine tiered temple tower faces the famous Hampi Bazaar and intricately carved mandapas and towers are lined across the temple complex.
The Royal Enclosure was once the seat of power of the Vijaynagara rulers is a wide open ground with several small shelters with important relics. This place houses the 100-Pillared king’s audience hall, a stepped tank, an underground chamber and the Mahanavami Dibba and will need you to walk to explore the various sights. So do make sure you choose a time when the sun is not too harsh.
Located in the South-West corner the Queen’s Bath is a rectangular complex encircled by a big water channel that is believed to have been used by the queen to bathe in. All around is a huge circular veranda that faces a large open sky pool in its middle. It is said that times the pool used to be filled with fragrant water and flowers and the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture makes for a compelling structure. There is a small garden outside the Queen’s Bath.
The Hampi Bazaar or the Virupaksha Bazaar is a kilometre long street in front of the Virupaksha Temple flanked on both sides of the street with old pavilions believed to be part of a flourishing market in the past. It is said that this is the place where jewels and precious stones used to be traded in the peak of the Vijayanagara empire. There is a huge Nandi located at the East side of the street with an open platform which is where the annual Hampi festival is held.
Hemakuta Hill Temples
If you would like a bird’s eye view of the ruins of Hampi head to Hemakuta Hill that houses a large number of temples, archways and pavilions within large wide stoned walls. Most temples here are dedicated to Lord Shiva and the hilltop has the Moola Virupaksha Temple, which is believed to be the original Virupaksha temple.
This is a large statue of Lord Ganesha and it names comes from its resemblance to the mustard seed or Sasivekalu in Kannada. This statue is inspired from a Hindu mythology incident when Lord Ganesha had eaten so much food that his stomach almost burst and he tied a snake around his belly to help himself! The monolithic statue is 2.4 metres in height and carved out of a huge boulder. Also check out the Kadalekalu Ganesha Temple located close by when you are here.
Built in 1513 AD this temple has a figure of infant Lord Krishna and the pillars inside the temple are quite unique in their design and architecture especially the Yalis or the mythical lion along with carvings of elephant balustrades. The main tower is intricate with detailed carvings including the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Apart from the historical significance, the place shares a strong connection to the epic Ramayana.
This story appeared in the Sep-17 issue of Rail Bandhu magazine here: Hampi