The Vijayanagar Empire with its capital at Hampi in the southern Indian state of Karnataka is one such example. The genesis of this place (343 km from Bangalore) dates back to the age of the epic "Ramayana", when it was the site of Kishkinda, the mythical monkey kingdom. Hampi flourished between the 14th to 16th centuries. Inspired by the saint Vidyaranya, two of his disciples Harihara and Bukka established the Vijayanagar kingdom on April 18, 1336 on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. From then on till its destruction by the Islamic invaders from Deccan who defeated its king Ramaraya, on January 23, 1565 at Rakkasatangadi, the Vijayanagar Empire became a byword for Indian culture, Hindu temples, art and architecture. It reached its zenith under emperor Krishnadevaraya between 1509 and 1529. He expanded his kingdom which covered almost the entire present-day States of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. His rule has been extolled by historians as the golden age of Vijayanagar Empire.
A visit to Hampi, the capital of the erstwhile Vijayanagar Empire, will surely transport anyone to the ambience of that golden age. The ruins speak eloquently of their past glory. The beauty and magnitude of its remains lie scattered in nearly 30 sq km. If these ruins attract visitors from all parts of the world even today, one could imagine the greatness of the kingdom in its heydays. It is on record that the inimical invaders went on their destruction spree at Hampi for six months at a stretch before they returned home. The fact that they could not remove some of the structures of Hampi even with their armys brutal power vouchsafes for the strength of its architectural marvels. The enchanting grandeur of the ruins is such that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently adopted it as a World Heritage Centre.
One of the important sites to be visited is the Virupaksha temple that rises majestically at the western end of the famous Hampi bazaar. The temple has a 120-feet tall tower on its eastern entrance. It contains the shrines of Lord Shiva and goddesses Pampa and Bhuvaneswari. Parts of this temple are older than the Vijayanagar kingdom itself. This style dates back to the 11th or 12th century. When light passes from the east through a hole near the sanctum sanctorum, a miniature shadow of the temple tower is reflected upside down on the wall.
Near the temple is another giant ruin in the form of Ugra Narasimha which is a 6.7 m tall monolith. According to an inscription nearby "it is hewn from a single boulder in 1528 during the reign of Krishnadevaraya".
The most splendid monuments of Hampi are undoubtedly the ruins of the Vithala temple complex with its 56 musical pillars. To the east of the hall is the famous stone chariot with wheels that actually revolve. In front of the shrine stands the great mandapa. Resting on a richly sculpted basement, its roof is supported by huge pillars of granite, about 15 feet in height, each consisting of a central pillar surrounded by detached shafts, all cut from one single block of stone. The marauders attacked several of the carved pillars with such a fury that they are hardly more than shapeless blocks of stones. A large portion of the central part, however, has been destroyed completely. Nearby is the Purandara Dasara Mandapa which has also been declared a protected monument.
While wandering among the ruins one gets to see a giant idol of Lord Ganesha entering through an arch. It is a 9-feet tall single stone statue. It is a symbol of the concept, smaller than the smallest and greater than the greatest" a quality attributed to the Supreme. During the excavation Indias archaeological department also came across the Noblemens Palace that was supposed to be the place for the aristocrats and high officials of the era.
One can reach the present ruins of Hampi from Hospet, a taluk headquarters in Karnataka. From there it is only 13 kms away. Hospet is linked by rail with Bangalore, Bijapur, Hubli and Guntukal. One could also drive 350 km from Bangalore to reach this place. Since the place is extremely warm the best time to visit is between October and March. A number of local taxies and buses also ply between Hospet and Hampi. Boarding and lodging facilities are available for visitors at reasonable rates in and around Hampi.
The Hampi Festival starts every year from the 3rd of November. Although its ruins are famous all over the world, the present steps taken by the Indian Government to celebrate the glory of Hampi will definitely inspire more and more tourists to visit this world heritage site.
With inputs from M.K. Santhanam, Information Officer, PIB, Bangalore, India