Hampi is a village situated on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra River in Hospet taluka of Bellary District in Karnataka. It was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire whose hold spanned the two coasts of peninsular India and reached from the north of the Deccan to the southern regions of Tamilnadu during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Today the ruins of this empire remain in poignant eloquence.
Hampi is in a valley surrounded in the distance by a blue haze of hills. Closer and in concentric layer after layer are outcrops of huge boulders dramatic in their formation, shape and balance. Through this brown and grey the river Tungabhadra makes a cresented flow rippled on the surface by the strength of the currents beneath. And fed by its waters amid the boulder outcrops are sugarcane and banana plantations startlingly green. Were you to be looking from Matunga Hill scattered in this land are ruins of what once was called the forgotten empire – each piece distinct in structure and purpose.
Hampi (a.k.a Humpi or Hampe) was the capital of the Hindu empire, Vijayanagara (literally meaning the “City of Victory”, who ruled South India during 14th to 16th century AD. Spread over an area more than 25 square kilometers (10 square miles), Hampi ruins are packed with giant temples, palaces, market streets, aquatic structures , fortifications and an abundance of other ancient monuments. Amidst the giant boulder hills and the Tungabhadra river that flows in between, lies Hampi, in a very unusual landscape for a flourishing kingdom and capital.
Its name is derived from Pampa, which is the old name of the Tungabhadra River on whose banks the city is built. Therefore, it is also known as ‘Pampa Kshetra’, Pampa being the local name of Parvati who performed penance here to appease Shiva. Over the years, it has also been referred to as Vijayanagara and Virupakshapura (from Virupaksha, the patron deity of the Vijayanagara rulers).
The stone-age man has lived here and has left his cave paintings for us. The first settlement in Hampi dates back to 1st century AD and a number of Buddhist sites belonging to that time have been found nearby.
Historically this place has been the abode of many religions, Buddhism, Jainism, Virashivism, Vaishnavism, Islam and many popular religious cults like Huligemma cult, Galemma cult, Mylaralinga cult, Balabasava cult which exist even today.
Hampi has been an important place for many kingdoms like Hoysalas, Sindhas and Kapilas. Hampi was the capital of the mighty Vijayanagara Empire. Vijayanagara was one of the largest Hindu empires in India. Two brothers, Harihar and Bukka founded it in 1336. Krishnadevaraya (1509-1529) was the greatest ruler and controlled almost all of peninsular India south of Tungabhadra River.
Vijayanagara Kingdom has also been the icon of Kannada identity and has inspired Karnataka unification movement symbolically representing the unified Karnataka. Hampi has also been the abode of many well-known Kannada poets like Harihara, Raghavanka, Kumaravyasa and Purandaradasa.
Hampi in 14th century had a population of half a million people. Seven concentric lines of fortifications protected the city. It maintained a huge army to protect it from other kingdoms. Vijayanagara Empire flourished as it controlled both cotton and spice trade routes of southern India. Medieval historians refer to Hampi as an important center of trade. However, the glory of Vijayanagara was short lived. With the death of Krishnadevaraya, the combined armies of the five Muslim kingdoms-Bidar, Bijapur, Golconda, Ahmednagar and Berar, destroyed this mighty empire in 1565.
Hampi is famous for its ruins belonging to the erstwhile medieval Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara and is declared a World Heritage site. The temples of Hampi, its monolithic sculptures and monuments, attract the traveler because of their excellent workmanship. The Hindu style of architecture found at Hampi reflects the splendor of the Vijayanagara Empire. The rugged landscape adds to the historic ambience of this site.
Hampi is located in the central part of the state of Karnataka, in the southern part of India. It is 353 km from Bangalore, and 13 km from Hospet. It is located on top of a rugged terrain and is 467 m above sea level. The Tungabhadra River flows through Hampi. It has a tropical climate with hot summers (April-June), and cool winters (October-February). It experiences the southwestern monsoon rains from June to August.
The nearest airport to Hampi is Bellary (60km/ 37miles). Other airports are Belgaum (190 km/188 miles) and Bangalore (350 km/ 217 miles). Flight connectivity varies depends on the destinations.
Hampi is famous for its Purandar Festival. This annual festival is held in January-February in the Vittal Temple to celebrate the birth anniversary of the medieval poet-composer Purandar.
Important attractions in Hampi
The 15th-century Virupaksha Temple is located in the Hampi Bazaar area. It is one of the oldest monuments of the town. The top of the temple rises about 50 m from the ground and the main shrine is dedicated to Virupaksha, a form of Lord Shiva. Hemakuta Hill, south of the Virupaksha temple, contains early ruins, Jain temples and a monolithic sculpture of Lord Narasimha, a form of Lord Vishnu.
While the construction belongs to the later Vijayanagara period, there are many shrines inside the temple that are much older. At the eastern end, there is the large Nandi in stone; on the southern side is the larger-than-life Ganesha. Large single stone carvings seem to have been the fashion of the day in Hampi, for there is a large image of Narasimha (6.7 m high), the half-lion half-man incarnation of God, as well as a huge linga. This phallic symbol now has its base in water.
Hampi Bazaar Street
The most famous attraction of Hampi, it was also known as Virupaksha Bazaar. It stretches for a kilometer and begins in front of the Virupaksha temple and ends at the foothill of the Matanga Hill .
Both sides of the street are lined with a series of old pavilions, some of them are two storied. These structures were once part of a thriving market and residence of the nobles. Towards the west end (towards Virupaksha temple) the pavilions are now encroached and made into shops, restaurants and the likes making the street narrower. Poor villagers have made the eastern section into their homes. Ironically, the rich merchants’ houses in the Empire are now being occupied by some of the poorest people in the World Heritage Site. The street, however, now stands demolished and awaits Court hearing.
Two kilometres east of Hampi Bazaar, the traveler can see the Vittal Temple, built in the 16th century, and now a World Heritage monument. The carvings on this temple give an insight into the architectural splendor achieved by the artisans of Vijayanagara Empire. In the Vittal Temple, the columns are so balanced that they have a musical quality.
The Queen’s Bath
The Queen’s Bath looks rather block-like from the outside. Inside, however, gallery-verandas, with overhanging Rajasthani balconies, encircle a 15-metre square bath. Once, cool, perfumed water poured in a minor waterfall at one side and flowed out through an underground drain. The bath, though carefully shielded on all sides, was open to the sky. It was a celebration of the good life, which, in many ways, was the leitmotif of Hampi.
Hazara Rama Temple
The Hazara Rama Temple was perhaps the king’s private shrine and contains some exceptional carvings and murals both within and on the outer walls. The outer friezes show horses, elephants, dancing girls and infantry in procession, while the inner panels depict individual deities or scenes from the Ramayana. There is a garuda (hawk-like bird) with multiple wings, which is the most striking of them all.
Near the Hazara Ram Temple, in the walled area of zenana (women’s quarters), there is an exquisite pavilion called the Lotus Palace. It is believed that the women of the royal family who lived in the nearby Queens’ Palace disported themselves in the water pavilion within their protected enclosure and met in the Lotus Palace. Its inflicted arches are particularly intriguing. This palace is a blend of Indo-Islamic architecture and gets its name from the lotus bud carved on its domed and vaulted ceiling. The Mughal monuments in Agra, built a century later, show modified variations of such features.
The Elephant quarters is adjacent to the zenana enclosure. It is a domed building, which housed the royal elephants.
Underground Virupaksha Temple
The Underground Virupaksha temple, built in 1442, is another important place to visit within the royal centre. It is one of the earliest structures in the city. The temple is devoted to Lord Virupaksha, a form of Shiva.
The Archaeological Museum at Kamalapuram (a small village adjoining Hampi) has a good collection of sculptures belonging to the Vijayanagar Empire. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed on Fridays. There is no entry ticket.