History of Vijayanagar Empire | Virupaksha Temple | HazaraRama Temple | Vijayanagar Festival
Hampi - the name evokes visions of poetry in stone. Travel along the rocky landscape with the thunderous Tungabhadra alongside and you will come to Hampi. The seat of the famous Vijayanagar Empire in Central India, Hampi today stands in mute testament of the skills of its craftsmen and artists.
Hampi is a World Heritage Center, preserving for posterity the ruins of glory and beauty. The Annual Vijayanagar Festival or Hampi festival is an extravaganza of music and dance, as a tribute to the grandeur of the bygone empire. Vijayanagar Empire - 'Vijayanagar' literally meaning the 'City of Victory' in its time (from 1316 to 1565 AD) was one of the richest empires in the world. It was the bulwark of Hinduism in its glorious days and fought against the inexorable spread of Moslem rulers.
Brief History of Vijayanagar Empire: This 'forgotten Empire' was established in 1316 AD by the King Harihara I of Sangama dynasty ( some place the time at 1336 AD) under the guidance of the Madavacharya - a Hindu Saint on the banks of the river Tungabhadra. This place had witnessed some cataclysmic earthly event long before - by the looks of the giant sized boulders strewn across this vast rocky land. When the South Indian Hindu empires of Chola and Pandian went extinct by the time Moslem invaders came from the north - most of India came under the Moslem rulers. South India witnessed unprecedented wanton destruction and plundering by the Delhi General Malik Kafur who ransacked the remnants of Hoysala Empire in Belur on his way to Madurai. His army carted away tons of gold and wealth to Delhi.
Sacking of cities, destruction of Hindu Temples and cultural invasion forced the fissiparous Hindu kingdoms to unite under a banner to defend against the marauders. Thus was born the Empire of Vijayanagar - which at its peak - spread across from the east coast to the west coast and all the way till the Rameshwaram. Vijayanagar Kings didn't extend their empire by the use of force. But being the bulwark of Hindu kingdoms resulted in constant bloodshed in the wars against the Bahmani Sultans and the Deccan Sultans. In their 250 years of rule, Vijayanagar witnessed grandeur and unimagined wealth. The bazaars of Hampi traded in diamonds and precious stones.
What we know of this lost Empire comes from the chronicles of the Portuguese travellers - Fernao Nuniz and Domingo Paes. Some accounts of the wanton destruction and large scale killings of the populace by the Invaders come from the Persian envoy Abdur Razzak and Firiteshi in the courts of the Sultanate. The Vijayanagar Kings built many temples with exquisite sculptures hewn out of stones. You can see the grandeur of the lost Empire still in the ruins of Hampi. Some of the kings - especially the King Krishna Deva Raya nurtured arts and were great patrons of traditional temple architecture. Their temples still bear witness to their grand vision.
Eventually a motley group of Deccan Sultans fought the final war against the Vijayanagar empire in 1565 AD and vanquished this empire. Complete destruction and full scale slaughtering of the people of this City completed the aftermath. Vijayanagar finally succumbed to the Moslem invaders. The last bastion of the Hindu Kingdom in the center of India gave way to the Moslem rule.
Spread over a large area, the ruins of Hampi are an indication of the mastery and genius of earlier times. It is sad to see how badly the carved structures were attacked and destroyed. The Virupaksha Temple is a majestic structure with a tall tower on its eastern front. A must see in Hampi is the Vithala Temple Complex, with its 56 musical pillars.
Virupaksha Temple or Pampapati set on the banks of the Tungabhadra river is considered as the most sacred living monument in Hampi as it enshrines the tutelary deity of the Vijayanagar kings. Hampi stands as a silent monument to the rich heritage of the ancient kings. Virupaksha Temple must have been a modest structure at the time it was built in the 7th Century AD. Successive dynasties built upon this temple and probably the temple as we see it now - reached its height of glory during the reign of Devaraya II in 1416-1422 AD and under the reign of KrishnaDevaraya 1509-1528 AD who belonged to the Sangama and Tuluva lineages of the Vijayanagara empire.
Virupaksha Temple Architecture: Virupaksha Temple has a sanctum, vestibule connected pillared hall with porches to the South and North. It has a large meeting hall - Sabha Mantapa and a richly painted hall called as Ranga Mantapa in addition to many shrines dedicated to Mukti Narasimha, Pateleswara, Nava Durga, Surya Narayana, Tarakeshwara, Sarawati, Parvati and Bhuvaneshwari. What strikes you most is the ceiling paintings of the Ranga Mantap which depicts the procession of Vidyaranya, Dikpalakas and the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. It also shows Girija Kalyana, Arjuna as Matsayantra and Shiva as Tirupurari. The outer Praharam contains a kitchen, Kalyana Mantapa (Marriage Hall) and a pavilion for processional deities. The tall entrance towers of the North, South and East contain stucco sculptures. Another notable feature of this temple is - a narrow channel of the river Tungabhadra flows on the terrace of this temple, descends to the temple kitchen and finally emerges through the outer court.
Hampi is famous for the Stone chariot, with stone wheels that revolve. You will also find a protected monument - The Purandara Dasara Mantapa. Check out the elaborate carvings on the plinths of the House of Victory. This magnificent monument was built to commemorate one of the victories of King Krishnadevaraya.
HazaraRama Temple: This temple is the only temple in the core of the Royal zone - between the residential and ceremonial enclosures. This temple is dedicated to Rama and has a Sanctum, pillared Dance Hall with the usual entrance porch to the north and South directions while the eastern porch extends to a richly decorated pavilion with pillars. The temple bears a compact Dravidian Style Vimana at its summit.
This temple has 3 tiers around the main shrine with sculpted friezes taken from Ramayana. It has narrative sculptures of the Lava Kusha story on the Devi Shrine. With all these scupltures depicting Rama - is the reason why this temple is known as Hazara Rama (Thousand Raman) temple. The highly polished pillared Maha Mantapa - the main hall is perhaps silent now - but in its heydays must have witnessed numerous Royal events.
The private temple of the royal family is rich with scenes of the Ramayana carved on the inside walls. Another example of architectural marvel at Hampi is the Lotus Mahal - an elaborate summer palace for the queen, with natural air conditioning. Nearby is the Mahanavami Dibba a pyramid structure with 3 tiers with a height of 8 meters (26 feet). The top flat platform was for the exclusive use of the Royal family for special occasions like Mahanavami.
Hampi also boasts of a large 9 feet statue of Lord Ganesha carved out of a single stone located on the southeastern slopes of the Hemakuta hillock overlooking the river. This Ganesha is addressed as Sasivekalu meaning mustard seed and the mantapa bears inscription to the effect that this Vinayak mantap was built in the year 1506 AD in the memory of Narasimha II (1491 to 1505 AD) of the Saluva dynasty. Ganesha sits in half lotus yoga posture - Ardha Padmasana - a rare form of depiction.
The arched corridors of the Queen's Bath and Elephant Stables are worth visiting too. You will find a huge monolith of Lakshmi Narasimha - the damaged status of this magnificent monolithic stone sculpture with arms damaged might be mistaken for Ugra Narasimha a fiery avatar of Krishna. This was consecreted in the year 1528 AD by Krishna Deva Raya King through a priest - Krishna Bhatta. Nearby is the temple dedicated to Badaviling which houses 3 meter tall Shiva Linga in a bed of water. Again carved out of a monolithic stone has a large circular pedestal - Yoni Pitha drawing into a Pranala - outlet. The central median (Somasutra) has the 3 Eye mark signifying the Hindu God Shiva. The Badaviling ( Big Linga) temple though didn't survive the onslaught of the invaders or of the time. Most of the brick structures in any of the temples in Hampi fell in ruins leaving only the stone structures to tell the tale after so many centuries.
The Government of Karnataka hosts an annual Hampi Festival in November-December. It is an extravaganza of dance and music, fireworks and drama. The other festivals held here are the Virupaksha Car Festival in January-February and the Aradhana Music Festival.
Hampi is about 350 kms from Bangalore. You can find regular bus services from Bangalore, Hospet, Hubli and Guntakal. Plan a visit to Hampi during the winter months. You can visit the Daroji Bear Sanctuary while on your visit to Hampi. Check out the Indian Sloth Bears.