Hampi: Capital of the Vijayanagar Empire

Near Chakratirtha, a sacred space for bathing

Near Chakratirtha, a sacred space for bathing

The speed with which we process and post our photos is embarrassingly slow, so I will simply say that at some point in the past, we took a weekend trip to Hampi, in the Deccan Plateau of northwest Karnataka, and then skip quickly to the question of what is Hampi.  From the 14th to 16th centuries, Hampi was the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire, the last great Hindu empire of South India.  In its heyday in 1500, Hampi was home to an estimated 300,000 – 500,000 people; if at the higher end, it would have been the second-largest city in the world, after Beijing.  In 1565, the city of Hampi fell to the Deccan Muslim confederacy in the Battle of Talikota, and never regained its former predominance.

Today, the Group of Monuments at Hampi are a UNESCO world heritage site, with over 1600 remaining buildings and ruins sprawling over 10,000 acres.  Hampi is now home to a small community that serves the tourist and pilgrimage trade.  The former are particularly prone to dreadlocks, and I believe solely responsible for the following language in the Karnataka State Police Manual.

8. OVER STAYERS Immigration officers at places of exit have discretion to condone at the time of departure of foreigner, minor irregularities like overstay up to 3 or 4 days. In all other cases, where the foreigner has exceeded the condition of Visa or 30 days landing permit, notice should be taken of the overstayal in order to discourage such instances. Hippies tend to overstay in India and prosecution is called for in such cases. . . .

Hanuman relief

Hanuman relief

Part of Hampi’s charm is gawking at hippies and roaming around on rented mopeds, feeling like you’re in the midst of a low-speed chase scene (not too fast, or you’ll run out of petrol before nightfall).  The majority of the charm, though, lies in the remarkable buildings bearing witness to the height of this empire.  There is very little signage as you wander from site to site in Hampi, and so the entire site feels more mysterious, and the disparate clusters of buildings less connected.  And so you wander around these monuments, in varying states of repair and rebuilding, in a landscape dotted with massive granite boulders.  It feels like giants were a game and, interrupted, stood and departed, leaving behind their dollhouses and balls.[1]

(Photos, below the fold, with apologies for the odd spacing).

 

The buildings in Hampi vary in style, with a few buildings displaying more of an Indo-Islamic influence, and others more typically Dravidian.  The reliefs vary as well, in style and in topic.  There are the expected dancing girls and carvings of the Hindu pantheon, but there are also Persian traders leading Arabian horses to the market, and a hooded monk that would not look out of place with the Lewis chessmen.

Queen's Bath

Queen’s Bath

The Queen’s Bath was made possible by the extensive aqueducts running from the Tungabhadra River.

 

 

 

 

 

Elephant Stables

Elephant Stables

The Elephant Stables still bear the marks of the metal chains used to restrain the elephants.  These stables are adjacent to a complex with many carvings of Naga, the serpent deity.

 

 

 

 

Lotus Mahal, in the zenana

Lotus Mahal, in the zenana

The Lotus Mahal, right, is a beautiful and elaborately carved building believed to be within the zenana, a private enclosure for royal women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View from the top of Anjaneyadri Hill

View from the top of Anjaneyadri Hill

Hanuman's Temple, crowned by a monkey

Hanuman’s Temple, crowned by a monkey

The majority of Hampi is across the river from Anjaneyadri, the reported birthplace of Hanuman.  At the top of Anjaneyadri, following a pilgrimage trail of whitewashed steps, is Hanuman’s temple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Column in the Vittala Temple complex

Column in the Vittala Temple complex

Stone Chariot

Stone Chariot

The mythical creature, left, was a symbol of Vijayanagar Empire.  The Stone Chariot, right, is the iconic symbol of tourism in Karnataka now. The carved column is in the same temple complex as the Stone Chariot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha Temple

Banks of the Tungabhadra River

Banks of the Tungabhadra River

Virupaksha is still a functioning temple, with an elephant in residence, and with pilgrims circumambulating the temple, some bearing lit torches.

Much of the landscape, though, lies in ruins.

 

 

 

[1]  This isn’t, of course, what happened.  Nor was the damage at Hampi total destruction, a predecessor in scope to the Dresden firebombing, though this is Hampi’s reputation in popular cultural.  For more on the topic, see Mark T. Lycett and Kathleen D. Morrison, ‘The “Fall’ of Vijayanagara Reconsidered: Political Destruction and Historical Construction,” in South Indian History Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 56: 433-470.  For a flavor of the hyperbole, this article quotes an account from, I believe, the early 1800s:

During the course of twenty days that they remained at the seat of war, the Sultans took their ease and nursed the wounded and sick. Then they turned toward Vijayanagar where they razed the lofty building and temples to the ground. The work of destruction was carried out with a vengeance. Vijayanagar was an extensive city, flourishing and well-populated. It had never experienced any foreign invasion for ages. The nobility, the wealthy, the soldiery, the peasants and the artisans all drove a roaring trade. During the confusion and disorder following the Muslim invasion, the citizens out of fear lurked in their houses, cellars, wells, and reservoirs. Those that were well- to-do betook themselves to the neighboring mountains and caverns with their family and chattels. . . . The Muslim army remained at Vijayanagar for about six months. To a distance of twenty leagues round the city everything was burnt and reduced to ashes. (Basu 2000:254, translation of the Basatin al-Salatin of Mirza Ibrahim al-Zubairi).

I wouldn’t have known this, though, if it weren’t for two coincidences.  When Soren was an undergraduate, he participated one summer in an archeological dig with Professors Morrison and Lycett in New Mexico.  When we went up to Delhi in late March to attend the celebrations for the opening of the University of Chicago Center in Delhi, we ran into the two, and learned of their work in Hampi.

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