My long cherished dream of visiting Hampi, the seat of the legendary Vijaynagar empire (14th to 16th century CE), was brought to fruition, thanks to my daughter Pramiti and her husband Gautam. Both are based at Bangalore and are avid wanderers. While they have seen almost entire South India, they saved the trip to Hampi for me. Knowing that we, I and my wife Alka, were going to be with them at Bangalore during August and September 2016, they planned the trip. The two youngsters did their homework in detail, made arrangements and booked hotels etc. even before we landed in Bangalore.
After relaxing in Bangalore for some three weeks, we left by car early in the morning on 3rd September reaching Bijapur/Vijaypura, some 600 kilometers away, just in time for a late lunch. After checking in Hotel Pearl and biting a quick lunch, we proceeded on our site-seeing spree.
Ibrahim Rouza (tomb) was the first monument we visited. It was built in 1627 CE by Ibrahim Adil Shah II and contains his queen Taj Sultans’s tombs. It stands on one end of a raised platform, while a mosque stands on the other. Its Persian architect, Malik Sandal, also lies buried in the courtyard. The gardens surrounding the monument are beautifully manicured. Both, the tomb and the mosque, have exquisitely carved patterns on their walls. The mosque also boasts of two pendants hanging from a chain of five rings, both carved out of two solid five feet rocks. It is said the Taj Mahal at Agra was inspired by Ibrahim Rouza.
We next visited Barakaman (twelve arches) built in 1672. The building remains unfinished. It houses the tomb of Ali Adil Shah II. It is said that Ali was killed by his father who feared that, once completed, Barakaman would overshadow the Gol Gumbaz. The gardens around this monument also are well kept and clean, in stark contrast with the rest of the city which is horribly dirty.
After a night’s well deserved rest, we visited the Gol Gumbaz before breakfast the next day. Gol Gumbaz (dome) is situated almost opposite Hotel Pearl and we walked to it. It is the tomb of Mohammad Adil Shah who ruled from 1627 to 1657 CE. Here also, the main structure stands on a square platform with seven-storied minarets rising from each corner. The central dome is the second largest in the world (internal diameter 37.92 meters). The acoustics are such that even the faintest whisper can be heard across. Marvelous!!
We returned to our hotel, had breakfast and proceeded to our next destination, Badami. On way to Badami, some 110 km from Bijapur, is a very old village called Aihole. Aihole may be a village today but evidently, during the Badami Chalukya dynasty, in 5th, 6th and 7th centuries it was a bustling city as is evident from nearly 125 temple ruins here. Most temples are buried within the villagers’ dwellings although some have been reclaimed, excavated and partially restored. Restoration work is going on but serious effort is required to rehabilitate the villagers so all the temples can be reclaimed and restored. Almost all the temples here were dedicated to Shiva. All the temples are adorned with beautiful sculptures.
Pattadakal, another very small village, 17 km from Aihole on way to Badami, is a wonderful centre of Chalukyan art style. It was earlier called Pattada Kisuvolal because the coronation (patta) ceremony of Chalukya rulers was done here. This complex is much smaller than Aihole with only four large and six small temples. But the sculptures here are no less beautiful. That the main deity in Pattadakal is also Shiva goes without saying.
We reached Badami, 22km from Pattadakal, checked in at Hotel Mayura Chalukya before lunch. The hotel is good, in spite of being owned by Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation. It was easy to visit the places of interest as all are conveniently located within the town limit and not far from our hotel. We, therefore, had our lunch and left to see Badami Caves, the monument closest to our hotel. These caves are cut into a huge rock and are adorned with beautiful sculptures. There are four caves, manually excavated about 1500 years ago by cutting into solid rock with nothing more than chisel and hammer. Each cave is on a higher level than the next. The last one is a Jain cave dedicated to Mahavir, while one is dedicated to Vishnu and two to Shiva. Needless to say that they are all wonderful examples of sculpture. The climb up the hill is strenuous but manageable. Agastya lake can be seen at the foot of the hill and Bhootnath Temple at the far shore of the lake. Badami fort is situated on a hill close to Bhootnath temple. After climbing down from the caves, we drove to Bhootnath Temples through narrow and crowded bazaar. The temples are not much architecturally but are calm and tranquil. It was getting dark and we were getting tired and decided to call it a day.
Badami was earlier called Vatapi and Badavi . Chalukya king Pulukeshi I made it his capital in 540 CE and remained the seat of Chalukyas till 753 CE except when the Pallavas occupied it from 642 to 655 CE. During this period, Pallavas, who did not worship Ganesh, carried back a Badami Ganesh idol, thus starting Ganesh worship. Incidentally, there are only three eight-armed Vishnu idols in the world. One of them in Pattadakal second in Kanchi and the third in Cambodia.
Badami fort is situated atop a hill close to Bhootnath Temple. We started before breakfast and reached the fort following a rough trail. Not much remains of the fort except a couple of dilapidated temples and doorways. However, the natural rock formations provided a formidable defence making it almost invincible. We discovered a well laid out stepped path going down and realised that this was the one we should have taken while coming up.
After breakfast we left for Hampi, our final destination, about 150 km away. On the way, we visited another old temple in a place called Sudi. As usual, it is a Shiva temple with the inevitable Nandi. There is a large slab of rock with inscriptions, badly defaced by vandals. The temple, though centuries old, is not protected by ASI. We also wished to see the fort at nearby Gajendragarh but abandoned the idea due to Ganpati processions blocking all approaches. However, we did manage to visit the Kalkaleshwar temple in a mountain cave. The Shivaling here is said to have emerged out of the ground by itself.
We reached Hampi in the afternoon, checked in at the Clarks Inn, ordered some sandwiches and other snacks and relaxed. This being my daughter’s birthday, we had celebratory drinks, dined well and retired for the night.
It was the next day that unraveled the splendour of Vijaynagar empire. During its heyday, the empire covered almost the entire south India. The capital city, Vijaynagar (now called Hampi), had a population of about 500000, second only to Beijing in the world. The empire was the creation of two brothers called Harihara (Hakka) and Bakka between 1336-1342 CE and was at its zenith till its defeat and destruction at the hands of the five deccan sultanets in 1565 CE. Its trade was spread to as far as Europe, Persia, Mongolia, China and South East Asia, as is evident from human figures from these areas sculpted on the walls of various temples. The empire boasted of an army more than a million men. There were seven well laid out markets with very broad roads, each earmarked for specific commodities. Arabian horses and other animal traded in one while diamonds and other gems in another and so on.
We started our tour of Hampi with a visit to the Vitthala Temple and were surprised to see that its gopura was constructed of brick masonry. Later we found that in almost all major structures, while the ground floor was made of stone, the upper floors were made of bricks. Like all other structures in Hampi, the gopura is severely damaged. As you stand facing the gopura you see a tall stone temple on your right. This is the Shiva temple. A longish walk through a very wide pathway flanked by single storied stone structures (shops) led us to the temple. Understandably, its sculpture was damaged but, to our surprise, its ceiling betrayed the signs of arson. Later, our guide told us that the entire city was ransacked, pillaged and burnt by the invading armies of the five deccan sultanets who had jointly waged war against Vijaynagar because they could never defeat the powerful empire individually. The looting and arson went on for months. The invaders were particularly severe on temples in an effort to destroy the symbols of Hindus’ faith and bring a very very powerful and rich empire to its knees.
Entering the temple complex, one comes across a stone rath like the one at Puri but on a much smaller scale. Also the main temple, music hall, kalyan madapa and other temples. Some of the pillars emit sounds of different musical instruments when hit lightly with a stick or hand. All display exquisite sculptures. Other structures in the complex include the King’s balance, Purandara Mandapa, and Kudure Gombe (Toy Horse) Mandapa.
There are many other ruined structures, temples, palaces all around the abondoned city spanning an area of about 22 sq km. There are over 550 monuments in Hampi and only a handful are under protection of UNESCO (Hampi is a world heritage site). Remaining are under protection of ASI. We could visit only Kadale Kalu Ganesh, Eduru Basavanna (Nandi), Narasimha Shrine, Badavi Linga – all monolithic sculptures each carved out of single pieces of rocks, and Hemakuta Hill and temples, Virupaksha Temple, Achyutaraya Temple, Talvarghatta Gate (through which traffic still flows), Krishna Temple, Zanana Enclosure (Queen’s palace) with Lotus Mahal inside and adjoining Elephant Stable and Guards’ House, Ganagitti Jaina Temple, Bhima’s Gate, Hazara Ramchandra Temple, Saraswati Temple, Octagonal Bath, Queens’ Bath – all in varying stages of dilapidation; Rangamahal, Royal Enclosure, Mahanavami Dibba – only the foundations remain. Mahanavami Dibba (dibba in kannada means ‘hill’) is a very high platform adorned with lovely carvings. The King with his consort and retinue would sit on this during Dussehra and watch festivities.
With this treatise, I cannot presume to do justice to Hampi, especially having spent only two days there. Words cannot even begin to describe what it must have been like in its heyday. One has to project oneself five hundred years into the past, close one’s eyes and submit to imagination. All I can say is ‘खंडहर बता रहे हैं इमारत बुलंद थी’. And this is not even close to what it probably was. Hampi must be visited.
The best way to see all these places is to travel by your own vehicle. However, do not get caught without plenty of food supply with you. You might starve.
The next day, we visited a neolithic site and also went up the Matang Parvat which finds mention in the Ramayana. But that is another story to be told later.