Memos from Asia

Hampi, the Capital and Architectural Marvel of Vijayanagar Empire of Medieval India

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For the monument hunters across the world, Hampi, a medieval Indian city in southern India, is really a gold mine.

Hampi was the splendid capital of the medieval Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar or Vijayanagara Empire (1335-1646 AD), which ruled India’s southern part for over 200 years. The ancient city, which is in ruins now after Muslim invasion and destruction in 1565 AD, is situated on the banks of Tungabhadra River in the present Bellari district of Karnataka.

Hampi, Karnataka, India

Hampi, which is spread in about 650 sq km area and sits on a rocky terrain filled with boulders all around, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site now and attracts travellers from across the world because of its ancient architectural extravaganza.

History of Vijayangar Empire

The region comprising the ancient Vijayangar Empire was part of the Maurya Empire during the 3rd century BC, according to the edicts of Emperor Ashoka’s Rock in Nittur and Udegolan near Hampi.

Religious and educational activities had flourished in Hampi, which was earlier known as Pampapura during the rule of the Hindu kings Kalyana Chalukyas in by the 10th century AD. As per the inscriptions, the kings belonging to the Chalukya dynasty allotted land for the Virupaksha temple.

Virupaksha Temple in Hampi, Karnataka, India.

Later, Hindu kings of the Hoysala Empire in the Southern part of India constructed temples of Durga, Hampadevi and Shiva between the 12th and 14th centuries, says an inscription dated back to 1199 AD. Thus Hampi became the second royal residence and as per American historian Burton Stein, the Hoysala-period inscriptions call Hampi by alternate names such as Virupakshapattana, Vijaya Virupakshapura in honour of Virupaksha (Shiva) temple there.

The army of Delhi’s Muslim ruler Alauddin Khalji invaded and destroyed Hoysala Empire and its capital Dvarasamudra in southern Karnataka in the early 14th century. Again in 1326 CE, the army of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, another Muslim ruler of Delhi, inflicted serious damage on the Hoysala Empire.

After the decline of Hoysala Empire, another Hindu kingdom, the Kampili kingdom, existed in north-central Karnataka for a brief period. An invasion by the armies of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, a Delhi ruler, destroyed the Kampili kingdom as well. It followed the rise of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1336 AD and two brothers, Hakka and Bukka, are said to be its founders. They were the sons of Sangama. Hakka, who adopted the name Harihara, was the first king of the empire (1336-1356 AD) and Bukka succeeded him.

Market group monuments at Hampi was the centre of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire in Karnataka state in India

Accordingly, the Sangama dynasty ruled the Vijayanagar Empire from 1336 to 1478 AD and had nine kings.

The Sangama dynasty was followed by Saluva dynasty (1478-1496 AD) which comprised two kings.

Six kings belonging to the Narasinga dynasty ruled the empire from 1496 to 1567. The Rama-Raja or the Karnata was the fourth and last dynasty that ruled the Vijayanagar Empire from 1567 to 1644 AD.

Virupaksha or Lord Shiva was the family god of the Vijayangar rulers and their crest was the Varaha or boar.

Hemakuta Hill Temple, ancient ruins in Hampi, India

After the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire, the army of the Muslim rulers plundered the beautiful city of Hampi and destroyed it. Though the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) tried to renovate the ancient city and restore its past glory, the efforts went in vain. It remains to be a ravaged barren land scattered with ruins as a testimony to the violent past.

The Vijayanagar Empire after its fall was split into small princely states.

The rule of Krishna Deva Raya

The Vijayanagar Empire reached the peak of its glory during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1530 AD).

According to AH Longhurst, a British archaeologist and art historian, Krishna Deva Raya beautified Hampi more than any of his predecessor. His contributions included the Ranga-mandapa, Krishna and Hazara Rama temples and the monolithic statue of Narasimha, one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Krishna Deva Raya commenced the construction of the famous Vitthala temple.

Old inscription on an ancient temple in Hampi, India

Longhurst says in his book, “Hampi Ruins: Described and Illustrated”, that Krishna Deva Raya was an adventurist king who led his armies personally. He was a poet and a patron of art and literature.

He had set up an irrigation system for the empire and introduced tax system. Krishna Deva Raya had maintained a very strong army and it helped him keep the Deccan Muslim rulers away from his empire till the time he ruled the kingdom.

After the death of Krishna Deva Raya in 1530 AD, his half-brother Achyuta became the king of Vijayangar Empire. In fact, the empire’s decline began, though gradually, with the death of Krishna Deva Raya. Except Rama Raja (1542-1565 AD), no other kings of the Vijaya Nagar Empire could effectively check the invasions of the Muslim rulers of neighboring Bijapur state.

Though Rama Raja led several military advancements against his rivals, he was finally defeated by the joint forces of Adilshahi, Nizamshahi, Qutubshahi and Baridshahi in 1565 at Talikota in a fierce battle. The 90-year-old Rama Raja was captured and beheaded.

Stepped tank in Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. India.

The invaders attacked the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire and destroyed it for six months to reduce it to ruins.

Sriranga III (1642 AD-1646 AD) or Sriranga Raya II (1642 AD – 1652 AD) was the last ruler of the empire, who came to power in 1642 following the death of his uncle Venkata III.

Major monuments of Hampi

Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha temple is the most important structure and main pilgrimage centre in Hampi. The temple is the oldest shrine and dedicated to Lord Shiva or Virupaksha. This temple is still operational and rituals are conducted daily. The temple was built by Lakkan Dandesha, a chieftain under the king, Deva Raya II, who is also known as Prauda Deva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Virupaksha Temple, located in the ruins of ancient city Vijayanagar at Hampi, India. Landscape with unique mountain formation, tropical nature on the horizon and old hindu temple.

The temple has two towers on the eastern and western entrances. The main tower or Gopuram facing the east direction has about 160 feet height. Another important feature of this temple is the 750-metre long market with stone structures on both sides of the street. There is a monolithic Nandi shrine at the east end of the temple.

Most of the major temples in Hampi had huge and well-planned market streets leading to the main entrance of the temples.

Krishna Temple

Another monumental wonder at Hampi is the Krishna Temple which is situated on the other side of the Hemakuta hill. It was constructed in 1515 AD and is also known as the Balakrishna temple, about 1 km south of the Virupaksha temple. There is a long market street in front of the temple.

Achyuta Raya Temple

The Achyuta Raya temple or the Tiruvengalanatha temple is believed to have been constructed by king Achyuta Raya in 1534 AD. This temple is situated on the eastern side of Virupakahsa temple and close to the banks of Tungabhadra River. Unlike other temples, this temple faces the north direction.

This temple complex also has a huge market street lying in a ruined situation. Its layout shows that it was a big market area with streets for the convenience of chariot movements. The entrance of the temple displays the emblems of the Vijayanagar Empire, Varaha, a sword, the sun and the moon.

The Vitthala Temple and the Stone Chariot

The Vitthala Temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna and the adjoining market complex.

There is no clear evidence showing as who constructed this beautiful temple. But a section of experts opined that the construction might have started in the 16th century. Another section is of the view that the temple’s construction began during the time of Devaraya II and it continued during the reigns of Krishna Deva Raya, Achyutaraya and Sadasivaraya. The construction could not be completed after the Talikota battle and the subsequent attack and destruction unleashed on the city in 1565.

The Stone Chariot

The iconic stone chariot situated on the premises of the Vittala temple at Hampi was built by Krishna Deva Raya in the 16th century. The plan was to construct a chariot that struck his mind during a battle in the eastern part of India. It is said that Krishna Deva Raya was attracted by the 13th century AD Sun Temple chariot at Konark in the present state of Odisha and decided to construct a similar one in his empire too. The chariot at Vittala Temple in Hampi was dedicated to Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu.

Kallina Ratha – Vittala Complex in Hampi

Dravidian architecture style was adopted for the chariot which displays the artistry of the craftsmen and architects at that time. Interestingly, the chariot was not carved on a single piece of rock, though it looks like one. The beauty is such that the sculptors shaped the chariot using planks of granite and hid the linkages through designs. The chariot sits on a thick slab of granite which depicts mythical battle scenes.

The Hazara Rama Temple

The Hazara Rama temple or the Ramachandra Temple dedicated to Lord Ram, yet another incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was constructed in the early 15th century by Devaraya I. This temple was used as the ceremonial temple for the royal family.

The outer walls of the temple have beautiful engravings depicting the celebrations and processions during the Hindu festivals of Mahanavami (Dasara) and Holi.

Elephant stables

The elephant stables or the Gajashala is situated outside the Zenana Enclosure. It has eleven square chambers and the construction is mostly in the Islamic style.

The Lotus Palace

The Lotus Palace or Lotus Mahal is located in the Zenana Enclosure and is a combination of Indo-Saracenic architecture. It has an upper storey too. Its pillars and arches are Islamic in nature while the base, roof, etc are in Hindu style.

Lotus Mahal in Hampi, Karnataka state, India.

Apart from these temples and monuments, the Pattabhirama Temple, the Guards Quarters, the King’s Audience Hall or the Mahanavami platform, the Kodandarama Temple dedicated to Lord Ram, the Varaha Temple, the King’s Balance and the Anatasayana Temple are also prominent structures that display the architectural craftsmanship of the erstwhile Vijayanagar Empire.

Jain monuments

Apart from Hindu temples, Hampi kings had constructed Jain temples. The major ones include Hemkut Jain temples, Ratnantraykut, Parsvanath Charan and Ganagitti Jain temples.

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