Saturday, November 27, 2010

HAMPI - The lost city

In 2009 I had the good fortune to visit Hampi, one off the perks of being in a job which entails a lot of wandering. It so happened that I was supposed to leave for Raichur on a Sunday morning and my colleague decided that it wouldn’t do to leave without seeing the
ruined city.

Hampi is a city in the Southern state of Karnataka in India . It is about 15 km from Hospet. In the epic, Ramayana, Hampi was traditionally known as Pampa kshetra, Pampa is the ancient name of the river Tungabhadra. The word Hampi or Hampi is generally held to be Kannada derivative of the term Pampa.
The ancient Kishkindha of the Ramayana is believed to have been situated close to present day Hampi. Kishkindha was ruled by the monkey kings, Vali and Sugriva.
After a quarrel, Sugriva, who had been driven out, took refuge on the Matanga Parvata, along with Hanuman. After Sita had been carried away to Lanka by Ravana, Rama and Lakshmana came south in search of Sita and met the refugees, Sugriva and Hanuman. Rama killed Vali, restored to Sugriva his kingdom and then stayed on the Malyavanta Hill nearby awaiting the results of Hanuman's search for Sita in Lanka. Hampi and its environs are considered holy ground and many of its sites and names are connected with the episodes of the Ramayana.
  • The Matanga Hill, on which Sugriva took refuge, is a steep hill on the south bank of the Tungabhadra and to the east of the Hampi village.
  • The Malyavanta Hill, on which Rama stayed, is on the road to Kampili and has a Raghunatha temple with a large image of Rama.
  • A huge mound of ash in the adjacent village of Nimbapuram is believed to be the cremated remains of Vali.
  • A cavern on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra is said to be the cave where Sugriva hid Sita's jewels for safety, while certain marks and streaks on the rock near it are said to be the marks made by Sita's garments.
  • The Anjanagiri and Rishyamukha hills are the sacred tanks of Pampasarovar are on the northern bank of the river Tungabhadra.
  • Shabari’s cave is also said to be in the vicinity.

Ah well, whether the relics mentioned above are in fact what they are claimed to be is for the each individual to process and digest as per their own belief systems. Anyone interested in visiting the place and seeing everything that is on offer would be well advised to allocate at least three days to make the experience worth their while.

Must see
  1. The Virupaksha temple, with its pillared halls and the Stone Chariot. is one of the main attractions of Hampi. The Gopura was built by Krishnadeva Raya in 1509. The musical pillars, as they are popularly known, emit musical tones when tapped gently. The Stone Chariot is actually a temple carved out of stone in the shape of a chariot. It is a truly magnificent piece of architechture and it is said that the wheels of the chariot used to actually rotate until they were cemented to prevent them from being damaged.
  2. The Lakshmi-Narasimha is a monolithic statue and the largest in Hampi, about 6.7 meters in height. Narasimha is seated on the Adishesha (coil of a giant snake). Originally the idol bore a smaller image of Lakshmi on one knee, but it was damaged and vandalized during the invasion of the Vijayanagar Empire.
  3. The Badavi Linga, which is close by, is always surrounded by water, as a canal passes through this temple. According to legend a poor resident of Hampi had vowed to build a Shiva Linga if her luck turned. It did and hence the name, since ‘badava’ means poor.
  4. The Prasanna Virupaksha temple is an underground Shiva temple. A large part of the temple is under water and hence inaccessible.
  5. The sister stones are two boulder-like two similar looking stones. Legend has it that two jealous sisters visiting Hampi had some adverse comments to make about the city. The city goddess heard this and turned them into stones.
  6. On the slope of Hemakuta Hill beyond the Krishna Temple, there are two huge stone images of Ganesha. First one is the Sasivekalu Ganesha about 2.4 metres tall and ironically named as Sasivekalu or mustard seed. The God is seated in a large open mantapa with plain rough square pillars. The right hands hold the ankusa and broken tusk, while the upper left hand holds a looped noose. The lower left hand and the trunk are broken. The belly is tied with a snake. This Ganesha is fashioned out of a single boulder in sitting position.
  7. The King's Audience Hall, which is said to be the loftiest building in the Citadel. It was originally a hall of hundred pillars. There is also a Zenana enclosure.
  8. Located outside the Zenana Enclosure, on the East, is an oblong structure of considerable size, called the Elephant stables, a fine example of the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. The building consists of eleven large rooms with very high ceilings. Large domes crown ten of these. The rooms were used as stables for the ceremonial elephants of the royal household.. The elephants were tied to the chairs hanging from the centre of the ceiling, as can be made out from the iron hooks embedded in some of the ceilings.
I was given to understand that, from the early 14th century onwards, Hampi was developed by its Hindu rulers into a magnificent showpiece of imperial authority, attracting visitors from all over India, as well as from the Middle East and Europe.

Pandit Nehru, in his book, "The Discovery of India" writes:
After Timur's sack of Delhi, North India remained weak and divided up. South India was better off, and the largest and most powerful of the southern kingdoms was Vijayanagar. This state and city attracted many of the Hindu refugees from the north. From contemporary accounts, it appears that the city was rich and very beautiful--The city is such that eye has not seen nor ear heard of any place resembling it upon earth", says Abdur-Razzak from Central Asia. There were arcades and magnificent galleries for the bazaars, and rising above them all was the palace of the king surrounded by "many rivulets and streams flowing through channels of cut stone, polished and even." The whole city was full of gardens, and because of them, as an Italian visitor in 1420, Nicolo Conti, writes, the circumference of the city was sixty miles. A later visitor was Paes, a Portuguese who came in 1522 after having visited the Italian cities of the Renaissance. The city of Vijayanagar, he says, is as "large as Rome and very beautiful to the sight"; it is full of charm and wonder with its innumerable lakes and waterways and fruit gardens. It is "the best-provided city in the world" and "everything abounds." The chambers of the palace were a mass of ivory, with roses and lotuses carved in ivory at the top--"it is so rich and beautiful that you would hardly find anywhere, another such."….. (Sourced from Wikipedia)

However, in 1565 the armies of the sultanate kingdoms of the Deccan, to the north of Hampi, sacked the city. Attempts to reoccupy the capital were unsuccessful, and thereafter it rapidly decayed. The riches of the city were so immense that they say it took the Bahmani rulers more than sick months to sack the city completely!

My legs were aching by the time we covered even half the city, because it is basically spread over such a large area. Again I was struck by the number of rocks and boulders that literally made up the landscape. Amazing sight, to say the least.

One thing was very clear though……the city, as it existed then, must have been a truly magnificent sight. It is easy to se why it constitutes one of the most extensive and spectacular historical sites to be found anywhere in India. Even the ruins compel one’s awe by their sheer grandeur and one begins to understand why loads and loads of foreigners make Hospet their base and visit these ruins at their leisure, over a period of days and even weeks. 

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