Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hampi memories 1 - Virupaksha Temple, Bazaar, Hemakuta Hill and two Monolithic Ganeshas

The Vijayanagar Empire covered almost all of Southern India except for a few pockets along the coast, for most of the period from the 14th Century to the 16th Century. The power of the Empire declined rapidly after losing a major war in 1565. The attacking Deccan Sultanate armies plundered and burnt Hampi, virtually every building was ravaged, leaving most of it in the state that we see it in today.

For some years now, one of the places on my to-do-list has included Hampi. This post, and the few that follow, describe our jaw dropping discoveries in and around Hampi. It was a rather short trip. I was not entirely positive that our teenage son would adapt to Hampi, known for its history that was not studied until recently, and for its oppressive weather even during December. In fact, Junior did remark before the trip, "What's in a few rocks and broken temples?". So off we went, along with our graphic designer nephew.

Glad to say, Junior converted quite rapidly. Many of the pictures are (C) Junior.

A handful of images have emerged over the years out of the general haze of our ignorance about Hampi. One of the images is that of the Virupaksha Temple, dedicated to an avatar of Lord Shiva. According to Wikipedia, the temple has existed since the 7th Century, though most of the 150 feet tower that we admire today was constructed during the early part of 16th century. There are sub-shrines, courtyards and other buildings within the temple complex.

The walls are adorned with exquisite carvings that relate mythological stories.

Stone carvings show a great degree of detail.

The temple is an extremely busy one. It is one of the most auspicious temples and reputed to be one of the oldest continuously functioning temples in India. Marriage ceremonies of the Gods (Virupaksha and Pampa) and that of  mortals are celebrated within the many courtyards and halls with sculpted pillars. The temple elephant is quite well known, though we did not get to see the gentle giant. We did get to see several monkeys, though. I do not believe they are temple monkeys. However, wherever you have people, you have food, and wherever you have food, you are highly likely to find monkeys silently waiting for the careless visitor to loosen their grip on food, or a bag or a water bottle.

During the days of wealth and grandeur between the 14th to the 16th centuries, there used to be a vibrant Bazaar right opposite the Virupaksha Temple. According to historians, traders from several countries used to trade with traders of the Vijayanagar Empire. The Bazaar consisted of two rows of shops and houses, stretching over half a kilometer. 

The shops were built out of granite slabs. The shell can be seen today.

Parts of the structure are double storied, which could have been a combination of shops and homes of the traders.

Junior was starting to get converted, slowly. After a few photos at the Virupaksha Temple, of sculptures and monkeys perched high up, he really began enjoying himself, searching for appropriate camera angles.

Fast forward from 1500 to 2010. The 21st century Hampi Bazaar has turned out to be an uncontrollable spread of chaos, pollution, noise and dust. Souvenirs made of stone and other materials are sold by the truck loads. Nobody knows for sure where the trucks come from. From China, I suspect.

Note: There are reports on the Internet about the 21st century Hampi bazaar having been demolished sometime in 2011. While that action may be good for the environment and for the Heritage structures, hoping that there were not damaged or destroyed, it has been reported that the demolition happened as a result of a court ruling, without a word of warning, and without a rehabilitation plan for the small traders who have been conducting business in the area for years.

Well, excuse me, but it is highly recommended that while you are in Hampi, you do need to take a break every now and then to fortify yourself against the ill effects of the intense heat and dry weather all year round.

That was the story, very briefly, about the Virupaksha Temple, the most well known and perhaps the oldest, continuously functioning temple in India, and an abandoned Bazaar. A clamber up the slope leading to the Hemakuta Hill adjoining the Virupaksha Temple gives you a good panoramic view of the surrounding area. On one side you get to see the tower of the Virupaksha Temple, over the boulders, which is typical Hampi scenery.

One of  the temples you come across as you climb up from the bus stop area is that of the Kadalekalu Ganesha, a 4.5 metre tall statue, chiselled out of a single piece of rock.

The statue is immense, hard to fit in the camera frame, given that you don't get much distance to play with. Wonder what happened to the tusks of the Elephant God?

The attention to detail is immense. Here is a view of the monolithic Ganesha's toes.

The pillars around the central structure are carved with pretty figures on all sides, from ceiling to floor. This was a very tiny and quick introduction of what was to follow.

Several shrines dot the area around the Hemakuta Hill. These shrines go back a few centuries before the heights of the Vijaynagar Empire.

December being the holiday period for school children, we found several kids at some of the temple sites. They did not need an invitation, but spontaneously joined us for a photo shoot.

Some of them even demonstrated fairly good acrobatic skills. Maybe they are on the way to becoming athletes, or stuntmen in the film industry, perhaps?

A second monilith is the Sasivekalu Ganesha, about 2.4 metres high, far easier to capture within a frame. The pillars are simple structures. There is a serpent coiled around Gnesha's belly. The story goes that the serpent was tied to prevent the belly from bursting (after a happy meal?).

You can, if you wish to, trek further up the hill, past boulders, rocks and desert type plants. The area leads to several ruins from the pre-Vijaynagar era.

There are single-story and double-story structures on top of the Hill.

The carvings are,in typical style, exquisitely detailed, though slightly weathered after centuries of exposure.

The Hill provides a good view of the rocky, dry surroundings, and several temple sites on the Hill dating back to the pre-Vijayanagar era.

The top of the famous Achuta Raya Temple can be seen from the Hemakuta Hill.

You may have wondered how the engineer-artisans dealt with large boulders and rocks. One way was to chisel or drill holes, fill the holes with water and let the water expand and crack the huge rocks. Hmmm... easier said than done, right?

A quick look around, after which it is time to head out to another abandoned Temple site, and another once flourishing, now abandoned Bazaar.



  1. Very interesting and nice report. I appreciate it.
    I am also planning to visit Hampi, Pattadkal, Aihole and Badami in Jan 14. The info would be very handy for me.

  2. Amazing pictures and blog ! Not much seems to have changed in the past 4 yrs at Hampi. The bazaar is still there, but they are in litigation with the govt to allow the existing guest houses and shops to remain, while the govt is looking to raze everything on this side of the river. They want all stay and shops beyond the river.


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