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Hampi Visit - VI. Finale: II. Presto
From Lotus Mahal, we moved on to the near by elephant stables – a row of domed, cavernous cells constructed back to back. The time we live in, it is easier for me to visualize a hanger hangar than an elephant stable. Quite naturally, I stood inside one and marveled at its high ceiling and cool dark interiors. In hindsight, it feels a little foolish to have expended so much time at what must have been an elephant’s slovenly quarters.

The sun had greatly wearied me by this time. Under a tree in the lawns of the elephant stables, coconut water was being sold and was in much demand. The coconut-peddler demonstrated speed and accuracy of a well-trained sniper in hacking at the coconuts with his sickle. The force of his assault would occasionally cause a few drops of coconut water to spill on the customers standing nearby; though no one seemed to mind that welcome spray. Two helpings of coconut water bolstered me for our next stop – the Hazara Rama temple.

Each rock that is part of the Hazara Rama temple is engraved with a scene from Ramayana; which gives the temple its name (Hazara = 1,000). No matter which nook or corner I looked at, I would find something that would astound me with its details. A few minutes here and one begins to wonder if the rocks would come to life and start talking. Ironically it was here that I saw some of the most shocking examples of brutal, senseless destruction that the attackers had unleashed centuries ago. It would be impossible for me to forget that row of delicately sculptured supplicant human figurines, decorating one of the entrance gates; their heads knocked off grotesquely by pickaxe of a nonchalant vandal.

What I saw next was easily the most humbling of sights at Hampi. As I stood on a raised floor, the only tangible remains of what was once either an assembly hall, or a court, or according our guide, the King’s palace, I couldn’t help but ponder on future of our modern glass concrete structures. There were evenly placed square cavities in the floor, that must have once held beams (according to the version prevalent – they were sandalwood beams) that supported, what must’ve been, an enormous roof. There was a small underground cellar attached to the ‘palace’ and is considered to be a secret meeting room for the king. Two elephants, carved out of black stone, were placed one either side of a small staircase that led us to another such platform (remains of a house or palace) in the vicinity. Tapping them gently with my knuckles produced a surprisingly metallic sound. Others used stones instead of their knuckles to the same (if amplified) effect – I couldn’t get myself to do it.

Nearby was one of the most well known sights from Hampi (next only to the stone chariot perhaps) – the Communal Bath. Pyramids of schist steps on all four sides lead you down into a progressively narrower area. Descending into this structure is like descending into an open inverted pyramid. I am not sure if the bath was assembled piecemeal or carved out of one big rock – it is an immaterial detail that wouldn’t make the structure any less interesting. Ironically again – the structure had lain buried under soil and stones for many years. Had you visited Hampi just three decades ago, a stone aqueduct ending abruptly into flat ground is all you would have seen.

In the same general area was the high podium called Mahanavami Dibba and from here, the king presided over the annual Dushera celebrations. The base of the Dibba is tastefully engraved and I saw at least one paneling that looked as if it was done in ivory – owing to its cream color (everything else around it was black). I climbed the roofless podium. From this height, for the first time, Hampi felt like an archeological site (remarkably like those underexposed, black and white pictures of Harappan excavations we saw in our history textbooks as kids). Except for the communal bath, everything here was in total disarray. I could see floors, basements and collapsed walls but nothing that would count as anything remotely habitable. Till now Hampi, thanks to the relative ‘completeness’ of the structures here, had given impression of a small medieval Indian town abandoned en masse in a hurry. The structures, despite the assault of nature’s cruel devices (and that of invaders) had looked strong and livable – not once did they appear so vulnerable.

My camera’s battery suddenly went dead thereby rendering it as useful as stones scattered all around me (one can perhaps invent cleverer uses for the stones as those fine specimens from stone-age would rightly prove. In fact we owe the discovery of fire and therefore furthering of the human race to these stones. Not to mention their glorious contributions to the English language in wonderful adjectives such as “stoned”, “stone-dead”, “stone-deaf” etc. I shall stop my discourse and come to the point for I risk turning this travelogue into an ode to stones). We were due for lunch at the guesthouse, and the sudden prospect of being able to charge my battery there, had a multiplicative effect on my appetite. Alas, we were first herded to Queen’s Bath - whose purpose is quite amply explained by its name and of its construction there is little that I remember. It wasn’t of-course anything as dramatic as the Communal Bath, though absence of my camera contributed greatly to my general lack of interest in the structure (and the subsequent selective amnesia that now shrouds my Hampi memories).

Lunch was an hour long affair. Thanks to the power failure at the guesthouse my camera’s battery could obtain its electron rich diet from the mains for only forty minutes. (It had to be placed on a molded plastic chair near the door of the guesthouse canteen. I was sitting almost at the other end of the room and managed a meal while keeping an unblinking eye on the unblinking red indicator of the battery charger).

We started quite late into the afternoon towards the Vittala Temple. This temple complex houses some of the most popular monuments at Hampi. There is the large riveting chariot in the temple’s courtyard whose wheels are carved out in such a way that they turn on their stone axles and thus attract adults and children alike.

Several parties were touring the complex at that time; each had a guide who wore a whistle around his neck and blew it loudly to catch his respective party’s attention - like a football referee all ready to issue a red card to an unruly player. Each guide required his groups’ attention so often and in such tandem with the other that you couldn’t tell who was calling for whom.

Other big attraction in the Vittala complex is the pillars of the temples here. They emit musical notes on being struck, and though officially one is not supposed to strike them (for it wears them) - the decree had little impact on most visitors. The pillars bear a dark, worn look at their centers from repeated beatings. I suspect a lot of “non-musical” pillars, thanks to their prodigious musical neighbors, are routinely tapped too - in hope of coercing a stray note of the octave from them. The temples here are probably illuminated at night – it would be hard for me to explain the electric wires and lights that I saw on the temple floor otherwise.

A group of excited school children from the near by village sat on the temple staircase posing for a group photograph. Their bright, colorful dresses stood out in awkward contrast to the stolid backdrop. A gnarled, leafless tree to their right, presented an appearance so consistent with the ruins that I wondered if it was a result of years of attempted camouflage.

The temple had now started getting crowded and noisy so I broke off from our group and strayed out of the temple complex. Outside the temple is a seemingly endless row of primitive, squat, open structures. This was another of the erstwhile popular bazaars that now lie in complete ruins.

Our Hampi trip concluded with a perfunctory visit to the Hampi Museum. A Museum? At Hampi? Isn’t the entire site one colossal museum? These were my sentiments too though I later realized that a museum does have its place there. It houses historically important articles such as utensils, weapons, coinage and idols recovered during excavation. You can also study a brief photographic history of the archeological work at Hampi (for instance, you can see what the site of present day communal bath looked like before its discovery). Sadly photography was prohibited inside the museum and the time allotted to our museum visit was hardly conducive to note-taking.

We left Hampi at 4:15 in the evening. I cannot think of another place that had left a profounder impression on me. I might be done with my account of Hampi, but I am scarcely done with Hampi itself. The ruins of the Vijaynagar Kingdom call me back – a call I hope to answer very soon.
posted: 4.4.05



By Blogger Geetanjali, at 4.4.05  

hope that u get to visit Hampi again.:)

i will definitely try to visit hampi, the next time i am in India. Meanwhile keep posting....

have a nice day

By Blogger KJ, at 4.4.05  

My feelings echoed the same when I saw Hampi. Standing on a hill near Hampi, looking at the ruins down and around for a full 360 degrees, an image of the thriving city stood up in my mind. Felt sad to see it in such destroyed ruins today. I don't think anyone can come back from Hampi without having felt some sadness for its destruction and pillaging.

By Blogger ash, at 5.4.05  

Thanks Geetanjali!

Thanks KJ!

Very true Ash!

By Blogger Deepak, at 5.4.05  

Great post (of course), and I love the bit about the tree's "years of attempted camouflage".

By Blogger Deirdre, at 19.4.05  

:-), thanks Deirdre!

By Blogger Deepak, at 20.4.05  

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