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Hampi was the magnificent capital of the mighty Vijayanagar Dynasty that ruled the entire Deccan and South India including the former territories of the Chalukya and Chola Dynasty rulers. It is situated in a picturesque landscape on the banks of the Tungabhadra River with large boulders strewn across its span. This former capital city is located in the northern Karnataka state. Vijayanagar Dynasty were the most powerful rulers in the southern part of India until the middle of 16th century. With the advent of Islamic invaders their might gradually dwindled after 16th century. The first Islamic dynasty in southern India was that of Bahmani rulers. They were followed by others. In the early 18th century finally the Vijayanagar Empire was completely wiped out. In the two hundred years before early 18th century the Vijayanagar Rulers were in incessant warfare with Islamic Sultanates. Despite this prolonged period of war, the Vijayanagar Rulers were very tolerant of Islamic religion and traditions. Deva Raya II of Vijayanagar had thousands of Muslim soldiers in his army. He held high respect for the Quran and Islamic traditions. He even donated money for the construction of mosques in the empire.
The well established rule of Vijayanagar rulers for many centuries created ideal conditions for the arts, culture and international trade to flourish. Hampi is one of the most celebrated metropolises of medieval India, with few equals during its days of glory. In the two centuries from the 14th to the 16th it was one of the most prosperous cities in the world. Traders from Arabian countries and Europe rubbed shoulders with natives in its marketplaces. Portuguese merchants brought the best horses from Arabia, diamonds were imported from Golconda. Textiles and spices were exported all over the world. Under the enlightened rule of Krishnadeva Raya in the 16th century the empire was at the peak of its glory and travelers around the world were wonderstruck by its prosperity and cultural excellence. The Portuguese traveler, Barbosa, mentioned in his memoirs: The king allows such freedom that every man may come and go and live according to his own creed, without suffering any annoyance and without enquiring whether he is a Christian, Jew, Moor or Heathen. Great equity and justice is observed to all, not only by the ruler but by the people, to one another. A Persian visitor of the 15th century, Abdur Razzak, was equally awed by the pomp of Hampi: the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything equal to it in the world. Portuguese visitors in the 16th century found Hampi to be a second paradise, with no equal in the world they knew.
The unique architectural sites of Vijayanagara that was also known as Vidyanagara in honor of the sage named Vidyaranya were built between 1326 and 1570 from the reign of Harihara-I and Sadasiva Raya. The most prominent ruler of this dynasty was Krishnadeva Raya who ruled from 1509 to 1530. This period is known historically for the resurgance of Hindu religion, art and architecture on a grand scale. The entire complex is spread over an area of about 26 square kilometers and is believed to be originally enclosed by seven different lines of fortifications.
The Vijayanagar rulers rebuilt the ancient Virupaksha temple in the early 15th century at a site that had been venerated from times immemorial. The Gopura or main gate of the temple is about 170 feet or 51 meters. It is the largest Gopura built in Vijayanagar Empire and is a fine example of the late South Indian, or Dravidian temple architecture. The chariot street in front of the temple was also known as a bazaar and is believed to have been one of the busiest in the world in its time.
In the palace complex is a massive stone basement, which is all that remains of a large structure called the Mahanavami Dibba. The Portuguese traveler, Domingo Paes, who lived in Vijayanagar between 1520 and 1522, records that it was erected to mark the victorious military campaign of Krishnadeva Raya in Orissa. Originally, there would have been a gorgeously decorated, pillared hall or a many-storied pavilion on this platform. It was here that the king celebrated the nine days of the Mahanavami festival, which marks the victory of Durga over Mahishasura: the conquest of knowledge over the confusion of ignorance. This was the occasion when kings used to review their armies and check their preparedness for battle. The spectacular celebrations and parades left a deep impression upon foreign visitors, who described them in great detail. There are sculptures on the side of the Dibba that depict the great processions that took place. The armies of Vijayanagar, hunters and dancers are some of the motifs in this sculpture. Portuguese merchants are shown displaying the well-bred horses that they brought from Arabia for the royal family members. The coats, trousers, hats, beards and upward-turned moustaches of the foreigners were keenly observed and represented by the artists. The different body postures and movements of Europeans have also been effectively portrayed. A marvelous depiction of festivities as well as the daily life of local people in the contemporary period is very well shown in the stone engravings. Local costumes and musical instruments were among the secular motifs. The subject of most ancient sculptures and friezes was the Divine; at this time it is royal themes that occupy the artist. In the early relief works at Vijayanagar, the sculptor used a simple style without foreshortening or perspective. As in earlier memorial stones, men and women were made with robust bodies, and quite often they are seen gesticulating. Physical power and an expressive quality are typical of early Vijayanagar art.
This period is characterized by long bands of narratives made in shallow relief. The effect is pictorial rather than sculptural and is reminiscent of the format that paintings were beginning to take in this period. Granite, which was quarried at the site itself, is the medium out of which these were carved. However, they were covered with a fine plaster and painted. The plaster that remains on the parapets and gateways displays the quality of the original workmanship. This is the first time in India that royal pavilions were made with basements of stone. Previously, all palaces were made of ephemeral materials. The permanence of stone was reserved for structures dedicated to that which was eternal and beyond the illusory and passing personalities of the material world. At this time in Hampi significant changes occurred in style and tradition of temple and secular architecture. A large number of remains of palace structures and pleasure pavilions survive at Hampi.
The Ramachandra temple was most probably constructed towards in the final years of the 15th century and additions to it were executed in the 16th century. The enclosure wall of the temple continues the themes seen in the friezes of the Mahanavami Dibba. The carvings here are meticulously finished and have a more controlled and formal presentation than the earlier ones. The liveliness of the Dibba carvings is not found in the courtly style. The lowest panel shows elephants, the second has horses with grooms and the third has parading soldiers. Above these are dancers and musicians and festivities of the Vasantotsava or festival of spring decorate the top panel that transports one to a world of celebration and the joy of life. All the figures move in a clockwise direction towards the eastern gateway of the temple. In the lower four panels rows of men, women and animals are carved in front of a seated royal figure. These panels display the power of the ruler, his wealth, his military forces and his queens. On the inner side of the enclosure wall and on the walls of the Rangamandapa of the Ramachandra temple are depictions of episodes from the Ramayana. These friezes have the vitality that can be seen in the Mahanavami Dibba carvings.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the robust style of the Vijayanagar carvings was replaced by a somewhat elongated, yet elegant, figural type. This style can be seen in the basement of the Mahamandapaof the Vitthala temple and in the Gopuras of this and later temples. These more refined and nimble forms were developed further by the Nayaka Rulers in the 17th century.
On the southern bank of the Tungabhadra river is a great Vaishnava complex, which can be approached through a bazaar and chariot street. On one side of the complex is the temple pond. Boat festivals of the deities were once held in it. The hub of this complex is the Vitthala temple, made within a large, walled enclosure. This 16th century temple is one of the finest made anywhere in India in that period.
A stone Ratha or chariot, modeled on the wooden processional carts of the temples, is placed in front the Mandapa. It had a superstructure that had survived until the 19th century. It is not a monolithic structure but is made of carved stones. The four solid wheels can move on their axles, imparting a sense of movement to the structure. There is a fine relief of Portuguese travelers with their horses on the plinth of the main Mandapa of the temple. The focus of attention had shifted from plinth relief works to the many pillars within the halls. Complex pillars with central shafts and clusters of subsidiary ones were made, often with three-dimensional animals carved on them. These celestial animals with riders, emerging from pillars, became the hallmark of Vijayanagar art and a source of inspiration for the Nayaka period to follow. The Vijayanagar pillars are carved with a rich variety of forms drawn from mythology and from daily life. Many of these are very clever compositions. The squatting lion, seen from the front, is a common pillar motif. The Tiruvengalanatha temple is typical of late Vijayanagar structures. Its original grandeur can be discerned from the ornate pillars that are still standing. The chariot street before it is even broader than that of the Virupaksha temple and speaks of its former glory.
The monolithic Lakshminarasimha sculpture symbolizes the spirit and power of the Vijayanagar Empire and depicts Lord Vishnu in his part-human and part-lion form. The magnificent depiction is over 22 feet or 6.6 meters high and inspires awe in the viewer. It was established by Krishnadeva Raya in 1529. This was one of his last great acts of patronage before he retired from active life as a ruler. Another impressive monolithic sculpture of the Vijayanagar period is the massive Nandi to the north-eastern part of the Virabhadra temple at Lepakshi. In the medieval period, clouds of war spread across the subcontinent. The powerful Vijayanagar kingdom and its valiant kings drew a line across the Deccan beyond which northern armies could not penetrate. The great armies of Vijayanagar remained most important in the psyche of common people and this special focus of attention is constantly visible in the art.
Hampi celebrates a period of prosperity and the meeting of cultures. The permanency of stone is for the first time accorded to the basements of palace structures and to pleasure pavilions. Though the divine themes of the earlier sculptures are continued, it is the attention to life in the world, to the present, that characterizes the art of this exuberant period. It expresses the prosperity and military power of the kingdom as much as the glory of the Divine. The ancient themes are presented in the art but without the sublime grace of the earlier periods.
The monuments of Hampi are UNESCO World Heritage site. They are open from sunrise to sunset on all days of the week throughout the year. The entrance fee for Zenana enclosure and Vitthala Temple for foreigners is Rs. 250 or US$ 5 per person. For children up to 15 years of age the entrance to these areas of the Hampi group of monuments is free.
Hotels in Hampi:
Hampi Boulders - 12 luxury cottages (some are AC)
Shanthi Guest House - 24 rooms
Gopi Guest House - Rooms & Cottages
Hotels in Hospet
Royal Orchid Central Kireeti - 100 rooms
Vijayshree Heritage Village - 43 cottages & rooms (ecohotel)
Hotel Malligi – 106 air-conditioned rooms and 14 non-air-conditioned rooms
Krishna Palace Hotel - 72 rooms & suites
Shanbhag Tower Hotel – 62 air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned rooms
How to reach Hampi:
Hampi Express Train with 1st. class air-conditioned compartments is a night train that commutes daily between Bangalore and Hospet. The train distance is 314 kilometers or 195 miles. The distance by road is 308 kilometers or 191 miles.