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Hampi Visit - VI. Finale: I. Allegro
HampiWhile sorting my old stamp collection, I came across a stamp depicting the Hampi Chariot and that reminded me of the pending final installment of my Hampi travelogues. Better late than never. I’ll go back a few pages in my Journal to the page marked 23rd Jan, 6:30 AM and try to piece together an account with aid from my already fading memory.

But first a quick lesson in History, Hindu mythology and a few definitions.

The present day Hampi was the once prosperous Hindu kingdom of Vijaynagar that stymied the Moghul onslaught of Delhi Sultanate1 into Southern India for over three centuries (though the Moghul conquest by the Sultanate in areas surrounding the kingdom continued in different degrees). The oldest ruins at Hampi date back to the fourteenth century.

Hindus highly regard the trinity of three Gods – Brahma – The Creator, Vishnu – The Preserver and Shiva – The Destroyer. Most temples at Hampi are dedicated to these Gods and their several incarnations. Ganesha in Hindu Mythology is the son of lord Shiva and is depicted as having the head of an Elephant and torso of a man.

A Gopurum is a pyramidal entrance tower or portal of a temple and is usually ornately carved.

Given the volume of material I need to cover, I will have to split my account into at least two parts. Here is the first of the two:

Our breakfast at the guesthouse was delayed by about 30 minutes. Remarkably, the people with me were on time – despite it being a laid back holiday tour for many; it was the guest house canteen staff that had not gotten the food ready on time. By the time we started it was almost 9:00 and the sun looked like it would be at its merciless worst.

As the bus drove to our first stop, the sheer expanse of the archeological ruins at Hampi became clearer to me. Amidst the confused rubble of stones and hills, I would spot a temple (or dilapidated remains thereof) every now and then. Suddenly, as if by magic, a green patch of dense banana plantations would emerge among the boulders looking like an enchanted oasis in the stony desert. We halted first at the Kadlekalu Temple - the larger of the two Ganesha temples (the second one being Sasivekalu). The temple portico was supported by several beautifully carved stone pillars. The sanctum houses a large – and now severely damaged – monolithic idol of the deity. The callousness, with which Ganesha’s trunk and belly had been destroyed, left on me an impression that still haunts me. Just a few hours later, I was to be confronted with such macabre specimens of destruction, that the idol at Kadlekalu would seem like a minor act of casual vandalism.

To my right was Matanga hill, which as legend has it, gets its name from the sage who lived here in austerity. Sugriva is fabled to have taken refuge here from Bali, who due to an old curse by the sage, would not venture near the hills. The hill overlooks the crowded Hampi Bazaar. From our temple I could see a colorful mélange of tourist buses parked in the open ground in front of the Bazaar.

Also visible from here was the stunning light-yellow gopurum of the Virupaksha temple which looked somewhat out of place among the rusty/grey stone ruins. A little later I learned that the temple is one of the few ones at Hampi which survived destruction and marauding for at least three different reasons. The real reason is perhaps a conjugate of all three of them. Some say that the topmost section of the gopuram resembles the holy shrine at Kaaba and hence the temple was spared the wrath of Muslim invaders. Others owe the temple’s intactness to population of wild bores – considered inauspicious by the invaders – in the vicinity of the temple. The third and the most practical of the reasons is the relative frugalness of the temple. Virupaksha is an incarnation of lord Shiva, and like most Shiva temples, this one - owing to the ascetical nature usually associated with the deity – had little to plunder. Prayers and other religious ceremonies are conducted here to date. We descended down the Kadlekalu temple and soon found ourselves at the portal of the Virupaksha temple. A closer inspection of the gopuram revealed that it was every bit from the same kernel (and time period) as the rest of the structures – the light yellow color was but result of zealous application of whitewash. The entry to the temple is not free and photography is only allowed after purchase of an additional Rs. 50 ticket.

The large courtyard of the temple was without a roof and was flanked on either side by covered, stone-pillar supported galleries. There were several monkeys playing in the courtyard, and one of them seeing my small hand-bag clung to my Nehru jacket in anticipation of food. As much as I love monkeys, I also expect them to maintain a respectful distance. This degree of extreme proximity, which I’ve never experienced before (at least not to a monkey at any rate), reduced me to a confused bundle of bones and flesh. The good people, assembled in the courtyard, seeing what at that time must’ve looked like a queer expression of terror, anxiety and excitement, shooed the creature away (or perhaps it is me that they tried to shoo – one never knows – monkeys are considered sacred in a lot of temples, I know of none where I am). The walls enclosing the temple were richly engraved with mythological stories and mythical creatures. Another monkey was perched atop one such wall and was enjoying a coconut that it had probably pilfered from the temple. It drew considerable attention from tourists around me which it handled with candor of a newsreader reading his thousandth news bulletin. Inside one of the dark inner chamber of the temple, was, what would now attract the appellation of, Pinhole Camera that allowed you to view the inverted reflection of the main gopurum.

We came out from the temple about 30 minutes later into the Hampi Bazaar from where we drove to the near by Krishna temple. The idols here are said to have been brought from Orissa. Outside the temple was the Krishna Bazaar where once upon a time diamonds are said to have been traded.

From there we moved to another imposing monolith – that of Narsimha, the lion-faced reincarnation of Vishnu, seated cross-legged on his serpent Adisesha. The statue has been restored extensively. A belt of stone that joins the two knees of the statue was apparently added recently for the statue’s structural stability. The painted iron gate tacked to the enclosure around the statue is unmistakably a 20th century addition.

Just a few yards away from here, was the Veerbhadra temple, which again was spared desecration owing to the deity’s resemblance to a warrior. Photography was prohibited here. Opposite this temple was a temple of lord Vishnu which had met the same fate as most other temples at Hampi.

Our next stop was the zenana enclosures that are said to have housed the women of royal lineage. There were tall watchtowers in the compound with somewhat elaborate balconies that probably allowed the women a glimpse of the outside world. In one corner of the zenana was the intricate two story open pink structure called the Lotus Mahal. There were elaborately carved portals on each side of the structure that had something very Moghul Saracenic about them. It is not known what Lotus Mahal was used for – though for some unfounded reasons I could visualize a classical dance performance in the Mahal’s verandah on a late summer evening centuries ago. I fancy sitting here alone with a book on a rainy monsoon day.

1The earliest escapades of Delhi Sultanate in Deccan came from the Khiljis. The Moghuls (Mughals) come into the picture much much later (16th century). They ruled with such vehemence (besides expanding their sultanate to an extent not witnessed before) that the Medieval Indian period, to a layman, is almost synonymous with the Moghuls (Mughals)
posted: 31.3.05


*nods, smiles*


By Blogger sajith, at 31.3.05  

I'd been to Hampi (second time in my life) recently. Very moving place.

By Blogger ash, at 1.4.05  

smiles back :-)

Hi Ash, this was my first visit but I am sure I'll be revisiting - one day just wasn't enough!

By Blogger Deepak, at 3.4.05  

i need not visit Hampi anytime in near future bczo u did awonderful job of describing the place.....


By Blogger KJ, at 4.4.05  

Thanks KJ, but don't take my word for it - words can scarcely describe what that place is!

By Blogger Deepak, at 4.4.05  

We had taken a guide and it became quite obvious to us that this option was good only for a brief introduction to the ruins.

The ruins themselves are spread over a HUGE area. I was really inspired when I saw foreign teenagers who had were referring to detailed books on the ruins and were actually discovering it by cycling around Hampi for "several days". Now that is something I wish to do someday!

By Blogger ash, at 5.4.05  

I agree!

You definitely need at least a week to cover a decent area - even longer if you have a tendency to sit back, marvel and procrastinate :-). I think the KSTDC tour I took was a great way of getting introduced to Hampi - its like randomly flipping through the pages of a book before you buy a copy for yourself.

By Blogger Deepak, at 5.4.05  

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