Hampi, the former capital of the Vijayanagar Empire (1336-1565 AD) in India, is a city set in the bygone era of medieval history. Positioned on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, the village of Hampi is as captivating as it is old. Each boulder of the ruins has a story to tell. Some represent the beauty of the architectural creations. Others show the brutality of destruction at the hands of the Deccan Kings. My trip to this ancient city would soon open my eyes to both sides of this historical landmark.
My stay was spent at the Hotel Mayura Bhuvaneswari at Kamalapur, run by the State government’s tourism oriented organization, KSTDC. Although the amenities were modest, the hotel was only three kilometres away from the World Heritage Site. These organizations exist for the sole purpose of cataloguing, naming and conserving sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance – the perfect establishment for the Hampi ruins.
Itching to see the sights, I decided to trek out and explore the area around my hotel. It didn’t take long before I came across the first astounding Hampi structure of many on my trip. I stared up in awe at the 6.7 meter tall statue of “Ugra Narasimha.” Carved from a single stone, this popular Hindu deity was represented as half man/half lion. Its overpowering presence beside the “Badavilinga Shiva” temple set the pace for sighting other monolith sculptural marvels dotting the Hampi landscape.
My next stop was to the Krishna temple. This building was a typical example showcasing the classical designs of all the religious structures built by the Vijayanagar Rayas. The stone pillars of the temples were decorated with intricate carvings of celestial figures while the monumental tower, or Gopuram, was made of brick and lime. Nearby, my eyes were drawn to a mammoth, 4.6 meter “Kadalekalu Ganesha” statue. Unfortunately this ‘seated god’ had fallen prey to the destructive onslaught -- the huge belly of the beloved deity had been broken and scarred. Despite this, another carved god called “Sasivekalu Ganesha”, remained intact. In Hindu mythology, Ganesha is notorious for his eating habits. One story goes that he once ate so much that his tummy almost burst open. To counteract this, Ganesha caught a snake and tied it around his stomach as a belt to save it from bursting. The tales may be true because on this statue you can see the intricate snake carved around the statue’s massive belly.
Behind the compound area were several temples scattered on the Matunga Hill. These temples were built by various nobles and royal family members. This place also provided a view of the majestic “Virupaksha Temple” built in the seventh century on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. This temple was dedicated to a supreme God, Lord Shiva, and his consorts, the Goddesses Pampa and Bhuvaneswari. Over the years it has routinely been worshipped throughout the troubled times. Here, the resident elephant named Lakshmi blesses all devotees and makes for yet another perfect photo opportunity. Of course no words can express the experience of seeing and bathing these magnificent elephants in the river every day. For city-dwellers like me it was an unbelievable moment to be recounted over and over again at evening tête-à-têtes.