Divine India

The Vijayaragat: Hampi
  |  Gorp.com

For miles around the riverside length of the bazaar, temples and the slightly inland citadel and palace complexes, impressive piles of seemingly carved and stacked, or artistically randomly piled granite boulders force the road and walkers on a circuitous path. All around topping the hilltops, marking the lowest points of the mire, bordering the canal, dominating the plain are the solitary remains of a single house or temple or stone frame stall. You can't look anywhere without spotting a reminder of the 16th-century glory of this Hindu empire.

Vijayanagar, meaning (meaning"City of Victory" in Sanskrit), now Hampi, was once the capital of the last of the great southern (and perhaps the largest ever) Hindu empires. Founded in 1336 by five princes, Vijayanagar united the Deccan, restored Hinduism to its early glory as the primary religious force, and remained a force until the early 17th century. At its height, it may have had a population of 500,000 people over and above a million-man mercenary army. Today, the site of the city, on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, is an arid, 33-square-mile spread of majestic ruins, also partly occupied by the scrappy modern village of Hampi towered over by its ornate 15th-century Virupaksha Temple.

Vijayanagar financial and political strength stemmed from its control of spice and cotton production and trade. Great international markets existed within its frontiers and intellectual exchange was encouraged. As a result, literature and the arts flourished, and peace and prosperity spread throughout the realm as it never had before. Contact even with the northern Muslims was common and expected, bringing with it new thought and creative productivity. Despite this stability, petty squabbles and shifting alliances led to a fatal battle in 1565 at which the forces of Vijayanagar were defeated by an alliance of lesser kingdoms. Vijayanagar was destroyed and despite moving the capital to another city, by 1614 the empire had collapsed.

The Ruins

A quick visit to Hampi today can be accomplished in one day. That said, it is worth it to spend more time and enjoy the tranquility of the extended and extensive ruins at a more leisurely pace. The new village is the center from which transport is possible and where lodging can be had. Walking or biking from Hampi village to the infrequently visited stone remains of a great past brings you in contact with it like in few other places. Bring food and water with you.

Most visitors to Hampi content themselves with a visit to the star attractions: the Vittala Temple, the Soolai Bazaar, the buildings in the Zanana Enclosure, the Elephant Stables, and the Royal Enclosure (the Citadel). In addition to these structures, there are countless temples littering the rolling hills. Each of these has a story and is worth a pause, thus the value in spending more than a couple of days.

The Vittala Temple is the most splendid building that has survived from ancient Vijayanagar. Although unfinished and unconsecrated, this temple is still covered with elegant 16th-century inscriptions. The temple stands in a high-walled, stone-paved enclosure. With decorations at every level the stand, the cluster pillars, the walls and ceilings this shrine is unparalleled. Of equal beauty and exceptional artistry is the stone cart in the yard. The wheels actually turn!

The Soolai Bazaar, standing just beyond the edge of the modern Hampi Bazaar, is a broad street. Although the flanking monolithic houses are in ruins and the thoroughfare is overgrown, it is easy to see how handsome this highway once was. Achayuta Raya's Temple, similar in design to the Vittala Temple, stands at one distant end.

The Zanana Enclosure is an early form of high-walled the"gated community" wherein privacy was more essential than protection. It is believed that the queen and other of the king's consort lived here. Of the four important structures within the Enclosure, the largest is the ruined basement of what was probably the Queen's Palace. To the north and southeast of this are two buildings known as the Watch Towers. They may have been used for this purpose, but their architectural style suggests that they were probably used by the ladies in residence for viewing events occurring beyond the walls without having to be seen themselves. Finally, the Lotus Mahal stands practically intact as the finest building in the Enclosure and a perfect example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. This pavilion is open on all sides and uses massive pillars and arches to support a second story.

The Elephant Stables are located just outside of the Zanana Enclosure and is, with few exceptions, Islamic in its architecture. A long oblong building containing eleven roomy dome-roofed stalls, it is dignified and spare. Local legend has it that it was used as a stable for the royal elephants, although there is nothing to suggest that this might actually be the case.

Finally, the Royal Enclosure (also known as the Citadel) is a large area of rubble that once represented the monarchic heart of this empire. Although very little remains, the scope and dimension of this once splendid complex are more than apparent. The most striking of the structures is a vast raised dais, known today as the Throne Platform or the House of the Viceroy, a surface that once apparently supported several-storied buildings belonging to the king. A stroll along the terraced walk reveals a lengthy bas-relief. The other memorable structure is the Hazara Rama Temple, believed to have been the private place of worship of the kings. It is ornately carved and one of the most perfect specimens of Hindu architecture from the 16th-century Vijayanagar period.


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