Hampi, set on the banks of river Tungbhadra is world renowned for the ruins of the glorious capital of the Vijayanagar empire. It was described by the Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes as ‘being as large as Rome’ and best provided city in the world. The famous capital was founded by the two brother Hukka (Harihara) and Bukka in 1336. It was ruled by 23 kings from four dynasties, over a period of 300 years. Under Krishnadevaraya and Achyutaraya, Hampi attained glorious heights. In 1564, they were finally defeated by the Muslim rulers of North India in the disastrous Battle of Talikota. Subsequently, the flourishing capital witnessed mass-sale pillaging. The magnificent city finally lapsed into decline and abandonment. Its ruins still reflect the glory of the bygone era and features on the list of the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO. Today, the ruins of Hampi are spread over an area of 27 sq km and are a veritable open air museum.
The surreal, boulder-strewn landscape of Karnataka’s hinterland is the backdrop to the largest complex of ruins in India. Hampi, capital of one of India’s most formidable empires, the powerful Vijayanagara—whose rule stretched from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean—was home to a population of half a million, and protected by more than a million soldiers. Set in a vast valley sprawling from the banks of the Tungabhadra River, the splendid “City of Victory”—where even the king’s horses were adorned in jewels—is now a ghost city with numerous temples, fortification ramparts, stables, royal apartments, and palaces, popular with determined sightseers and trance and rave party disciples. Long popular with Bollywood as a shooting location, Hampi is also where scenes from the 2005 Jackie Chan thriller The Myth were shot. Hampi may be a little difficult to get to, but this remoteness is to a large extent its charm. You can easily enjoy 2 or 3 days in this serene atmosphere, particularly if you’ve booked at Hampi’s Boulders (see “Where to Stay,” below), a comfortable resort within striking distance of the ruins.
Vijayanagar founded in 1336 monopolized the cotton and the spice trade until its defeat in 1565 at spice trade until its defeat in 1565 at the hands of the Deccan Sultans. Set amidst an awesome boulder strewn landscape most of the important structures and ruins are located mainly in tow areas, which are generally referred to as the Royal Centre and the Sacred Centre. The largest enclosure, the King's Palace includes two platform structures, and underground chamber, besides other interesting architectural elements. The Royal Centre in the southwest part of the site contains Hazara Rama Temple embellished with bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Ramyana. Its walls and pillars having rows of friezes show processions of elephants, horses, dancing girls, and finely attired soldiers. The two storeyed Lotus Mahal highlights the fusion of Hindu and Muslim styles of architecture and of particular interest is the geometrically cusped archways that resemble the petals of lotus opening to the sun. The Elephant Stables with arched entrances and domes once housed the state elephants. The massive Mahanavami Dibba is where the kings once sat on gem studded golden thrones during the 9-nights of Navaratri festivities to watch pageants and tournaments. The structure is also embellished with carved bands of horses, soldiers and scenes of daily life. The interior of the Queen's Bath are stunningly ornate with lotus shaped fountains that once spouted scented water for the royal women. Pushkarni is the stepped water tank crafted from rectangular pieces of granite.
The sacred Centre is situated on the northern edge of the city along the river Tungabhadra. The Virupaksha Temple still used for worship is dedicated to Shiva and his consort Pampadevi. Built during the reign of Vijayanagar the ceiling of the Ranga Mandapa is beautifully painted with scenes from epics and ancient texts. At the eastern extreme is the Archaeological Museum at the base of Matangi Hill. A few metres from the museum are the steps that lead to the Achyutaraya Temple. Overlooking the Virupaksha Temple, the Hemakuta Hill has a scattering of some smaller temples and two large Ganesha monolithic sculptures (Sasivekalu and Kadalekalu) on its slopes. From the eastern end of the Hampi Bazaar, walk along the river bank about 1.5km to the famous Vithala Temple, Hampi's crowning glory, with the legendary stone chariot and 56 musical chimes when struck. Another interesting site is 6.7m high monolith, Lakshminarasimha, depicting 4 armed man-lion form of God Vishnu sheltered under a seven headed serpent and next to it is a 3 m high Badavilinga statue standing Permanently in water that flows through an ancient channel.
Hampi s easily accessible from Bangalore by road and rail. Bangalore 365km, Hospet in Bellary district 13km. Just 15km from Hampi is the ancient citadel of Anegundi, dotted with old temples and fortifications.
Hampi is about 13km from the town of Hospet. Hampi is a vast site of monuments and ruins, a mute witness to an era of glories, triumphs and tragedies of the great Vijayanagar Empire. These monuments are set among massive boulders in the barren and rocky landscape.
Hampi was once the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire and a great centre of Hindu rule for nearly two centuries since its foundation by Hukka (also called Harihara) and Bukka in 1336. It was at its zenith during the reign of Krishnadevaraya between 1509. The city was admired for the pomp and wealth of its rulers, the splendid architecture of the monuments and the temples. It is said that the jewel s, pearls and precious stones were traded openly in a market place. The empire held a monopoly of trade in spice and cotton. It was very well fortified and palaces were plated with gold.
The sudden end to the empire in 1565 resulted from the defeat at Talikota at the hands of a confederacy of Deccan Sultanate. The city was razed and largely destroyed and has not been occupied since. Most of the sites today date from the early 16-century reign of Krishnadevaraya. The ruins scattered over an area of 7km are divided into two main areas, the Royal centre and the Sacred Centre. The Hampi Bazaar and the small village of Kamalapuram are the main two entry points to the site. During the first week of November, Hampi is the site of the popular Hampi Utsav.
Bangalore and Dharwad are the two airports providing access to Hampi. The nearest railhead at Hospet is about 13km away linked to Bangalore, Hubli and Guntakal. There are KSRTC and private buses from Bangalore, Hubli, Bijapur and Goa to Hospet. Local buses leave at regular intervals to Hampi from Hospet. Taxis and auto rickshaws are available for sightseeing from Hampi's main street Hampi Bazaar and Kamalapuram. They drop you closest to the major ruins. Motorbikes and bicycles can be hired to visit the sites. KSTDC office located at Station Road also conducts a guided tour.
Places to stay in Hampi are basic lodges off the main Hampi Bazaar or the guesthouses at Virupapur Gaddi, approachable by a coracle from the ghats north of the Virupaksha Temple. Hospet, 13km from Hampi offers better accommodation, good dining options and better connectivity.
Anegundi is about 20km from Hampi. Anegundi was the ancient capital before the advent of the Vijayanagar Empire. A coracle that you catch from near the Virupaksha Temple to cross the Tungabhadra reaches it. Anegundi lies in the mystical Kishkinda kingdom of Sugriva of the epic Ramayana fame. Anjanadri Hill near Anegundi is believed to the birthplace of Hanuman. There are numerous small temples worth a visit, including the Hanuman Temple, which is at the top of a rocky hill with steps leading up; the Lakshmi Temple; Sacred Pampa Sarovar and the Nava Brindavana.
Kanakagiri is about 38km northwest of Hampi. The 600-year-old town of Kanakagiri at the confluence of three rivers is known for the temple complex of Kanakachalapati. It has a four headed idol of Brahma along with Parameshwara statue of Lord Shiva.
This magnificent temple complex is undoubtedly the best example of Vijayanagar are and architecture. Its construction was started in 1513, by Krishnadevaraya, but was not completed even after the shifting of the capital to Penukonda in 1565. The impressive Kalyana mantapa and the exquisitely carved stone chariot in the courtyard are the main attractions. The technical conception is so ingenious that the stone wheel of the chariot actually rotates. Equally impressive are the 56 musical pillars in the large Ranga Mantapa.
Lord Virupaksha Temple
The temple complex is dedicated to Virupaksha, an aspect of Lord Shiva and the guardian deity of the Vijayanagar kings. Its exquisitely carved 50m high gateway was renovated in 1510, by krishnadeva Raya. Within the temple courtyard are many small shrines and pillared halls.
The graceful structure built in the women’s enclosure resembles to the petals of a flower opening to the sun. Nearby are relics of a watch tower, which was once guarded by eunuchs. Royal ladies also watched the festivities from here.
The 6.7 m high splendid sculpture of Ugra narasimha is seated under a canopy of seven hooded snake, carved out of a single stone. To the left of the statue is a huge linga (Badavi linga) set under running water.
Mahanavami Dibba or the ‘House of Victory’
It was built by Krishnadevaraya after his victorious expedition to Orissa. The spaces between the rows of the plinth mouldings are ornately carved.
The square bath was surrounded by arched corridors, gallery verandahs and projecting filigreed balconies. Lotus headed fountains once sprouted perfumed water in a minor waterfall into the pool. Some other attractions are the Elephant Stables and Hazara Rama Temple etc.
EXPLORING THE RUINED CITY OF VIJAYANAGARA
For anyone with dreams of Indiana Jones–style adventuring, the Hampi ruins provide the perfect setting—an ancient city with isolated ruins scattered among impossibly balanced wind-smoothed boulders and immense stretches of verdant landscape. Various excavations have uncovered evidence to suggest that Vijayanagara was occupied as long ago as the 3rd-century-B.C. Mauryan era. During early medieval times, armies were regularly dispatched to the Deccan by the Delhi Sultanate as part of its campaign to establish an empire that would encompass the whole of India. During one such campaign in the early 14th century, the invading forces captured Harihara and Bukka, two princes of Warangal, and took them to Delhi, where they fell in with the Sultanate. This allegiance eventually saw Harihara being crowned king of the region that is today known as Hampi. In celebration, Harihara lay the foundations of Vijayanagara, his new capital, on the southern banks of the Tungabhadra. His brother, Bukka, succeeded him 20 years later and ensured widespread support by issuing an edict that granted all religions equal protection. The monarchs who followed extended patronage to all manner of artists, poets, philosophers, and academics, effectively making Vijayanagara a center of learning that, in its grandeur, captivated visitors from as far away as Arabia, Portugal, and Italy. The kingdom reached its zenith during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya (1509–29), when international trade flourished under progressive commercial practices and foreign trade agreements. Early accounts of the city tell of its massive fortifications, broad boulevards, grand gateways, efficient irrigation systems, and splendid civic amenities. The kingdom of Vijayanagara fell in 1565 when five allied Deccan sultans laid siege to the city, which they then apparently ransacked—their soldiers looting, killing, and destroying at will. While some of the individual ruins can only be visited upon purchase of a ticket, most of Hampi is a veritable free-for-all, with tame security in the form of a handful of guards at the major monuments. This means that you can mix and match your itinerary as you see fit, moving between the different locations in a taxi or—if you’re up for it—on a bicycle. Pick up information or engage the services of an official guide from the government tourist office in Hampi. You can see Hampi’s highlights in a morning if you set out early enough. However, it’s spread over a vast area, and exploring can be quite exhausting, particularly in the midday heat—don’t overdo it, or even the most impressive monuments begin to look like more of the same. Hampi Bazaar is a broad, dusty boulevard lined with stalls and restaurants. It leads to the entrance of Virupaksha Temple , which predates the Vijayanagara kingdom yet remains a center of living Hindu faith (even though Hindu idols have been removed from the surrounding temples). Virupaksha’s towering goparum is lavishly sculpted and rises several stories; within its courtyards, monkeys and children careen around ancient pillars, while a sad-faced temple elephant takes tips for much-rehearsed blessings granted with her trunk. In the far right corner of the complex, tucked within a chamber, look for the shadow of the main goparum, which falls—miraculously, it would seem—as an inverted image on the temple wall, created by light passing through a small window. South of Virupaksha Temple is a temple housing a massive Shiva lingam (phallic symbol) standing in a pool of water. Carved from a single rock, the lingam is adjacent to a fantastic monolithic statue of Narasimha , the man-lion avatar of Vishnu. Although partially damaged, the one-piece carving dating to the first half of the 16th century is one of the finest sculptures at Hampi. Some distance from the bazaar, on a high elevation, is spectacular Vitthala Temple , dedicated to an incarnation of Vishnu, and one of the most fabulous and famous of Hampi’s monuments. One of Hinduism’s most enduring images, an ornate stone chariot , is found here. With solid stone wheels that can turn on their axles, the chariot faces a shaded dance hall where ancient musical dramas were once played out and from where you can now enjoy panoramic views of Vijayanagara. The pillars of the temple are commonly referred to as “musical pillars,” each one producing a different note when tapped. Nearby, the King’s Balance was once a scale-like instrument used to measure out grain or even gold against the weight of the king. The weighed item was then given to the priests (or to the poor, depending on your guide’s story). The royal enclosure incorporates the ruined palaces where the Vijayanagara kings would have lived and held court. Not much survives, but you can still visit Hazara Rama Temple, where the royals went to worship, a small stepped tank, and Mahanavami Dibba, a platform where performances and entertainments were held. On the outskirts of the royal complex, you need to buy a ticket to see the zenana enclosure, where the two-story Indo-Saracenic pavilion known as Kamala (Lotus) Mahal features massive pillars, delicately punctuated arches, and fine stucco ornamentation; its unusual design blends elements of Muslim and Hindu architecture. Within the same enclosure are quarters believed to have been used by Hampi’s Amazonian female guards, described by several Portuguese travelers. Just outside the enclosure are the superb Elephant Stables .