“A land without ruins is a land without memories; a land without memories is a land without history”. Situated on the banks of river Tungabhadra in Karnataka, the ruins of Hampi are a testimony to this statement. Within the wide expanse of these rocky structures we find ample traces of India’s rich historical, religious and mythological heritage. Hampi, tucked between a river on one side, and surrounded by hills on the other three, occupies a strategic position. This also made it a perfect choice to be the capital of the glorious Vijayanagar Empire in 14th century. The city, once a prominent centre though is reduced to ruins now. But it has still not lost its magnificence. The Ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hampi has easy connectivity from Bangalore, Mumbai and Goa. Once you reach here it’s like taking a step back into a past age. For convenience the monuments and ruins can be clubbed under the categories of ‘Religious’ and ‘Royal’ depending on their past purpose.
There are innumerable places, structures and figures within these ruins, each with their own fascinating histories. Some of the more popular sites are Virupaksha temple, Vithala temple, Hampi Bazaar, Monolith Bull (Nandi), the iconic Stone Chariot, Elephant Stables, Matanga hill. But these are by no means the only places worth visiting.
Hampi is a historical and architectural landmark. Besides the enormous structures and the architectural details of the royal or military structures, the carvings and ornamentations of these ruins are also informed richly by traditional mythology. The major sites in Hampi are not restricted to a certain type; both sacred as well as secular structures can be found among these monuments. The best way to explore them is either on foot, or by using bicycles which are easily available for tourists.
Virupaksha temple built in 1442 is among the oldest structures that one comes across in Hampi. The temple is dedicated to Shiva, the god of destruction according to Hindu religion. Another important temple complex is the Vithala temple, dedicated to Vishnu, the protector according to the myths. It also houses the famous stone chariot. Its outer pillars echo when tapped, which is why they are known as the “musical pillars”. These ruins are situated to the east of Hampi Bazaar, which is a wide street, lined with shops and homes and ends near the monolithic figure of Nandi. Vehicles are not allowed in this area, which is why tourists often stroll down these lanes. This also makes Hampi Bazaar a constant hub of activity.
In close proximity to Hampi Bazaar is the Anjenaya Hill. There is a Hanuman temple built atop this hill and it is believed to be the birth place of Hanuman, a Hindu God who figures primarily in Indian epic Ramayana. Other sites include Krishna temple, Bhima’s Gate, further strengthening the presence of the legends from Hindu epic the Mahabharata, in addition to Ramayana.
Zenana enclosure, Queen’s palace, Queen’s bath are some of the structures that stand out among the secular and royal section of the ruins. For instance the beautifully proportioned Elephant stables, as the name suggests, functioned as shelter for royal elephants.
About 100 m from the zenana enclosure is the Tenali Rama Pavilion. Tenali Rama is a renowned personality in Indian folklore, and he was also a celebrated wit and poet of King Krishnadeva Raya’s court.
Lotus Mahal is another site worth mentioning. Its structure, resembling a half opened lotus bud, lends it its name. It was most probably employed as pleasure pavilion by queens. It is more interesting because its structure is clearly and hugely influenced by Islamic architecture, in addition to the Hindu influences.
In the city’s heydays diamonds and precious stones were sold in the main streets which surprisingly enough was called the pan-supaari street. Archaeological Survey of India has excavated this site too within the ruins of Hampi, which are spread over more than 25 square kilometer.
There are points near Virupaksha and Vithal temples where ferry rides are required. Ferries used for this purpose in Hampi are called coracle. Made of bamboo and cane their appearance resembles that of huge baskets. These ferry rides provide a unique experience in themselves.
First week of November witnesses the place hosting Hampi Utsav, a visual and cultural delight, where the monuments are lighted during dusk and dance and music form an integral part of the festival.
The view from the surrounding hills in Hampi is spectacular. Paddy fields, coconut tree plantations and the ruins of Hampi are laid down as far as eyes can see. The sunset and sunrise from these points are also worth witnessing. The rock strewn landscape, massive boulders, snaking river Tungabhadra, typical plantations and the sun amid them, makes it a memorable vista.
The place is a heaven for rock climbers as well. Hemakuta hill and Matanga hill are among the most famous bouldering sites in Hampi. December is the most favored rock climbing season, when the place receives both national as well as foreign climbers.
On the banks of Tungabhadra, among these ruins we witness a harmonic amalgamation of different cultures. From classical Hindu myths, Muslim influences owing to the Sultanates of Deccan areas, to Jainism and its impact on the architecture of the place- Hampi and its ruins tell a rich and captivating story. The superior architecture and the brilliant craftsmanship attest to the advancement of India as far back as 14th century. Hampi and its surrounding areas today demand attention not just from pilgrims, but also tourists, history lovers, those seeking adventures, and those traveling to explore the mingling of nature and history. Hampi and its ruins form an exquisite sight, a place where history resides in every stone and at every rocky turn.