Monday, June 8, 2009

In the company of fallen monuments

As the car rolls down the approach road to the famed ruins of Hampi in Karnataka, an involuntary gulp of expectation arises. Set in a forbidding backdrop of boulders precariously perched on one another, Hampi is the seat of the 15th century Vijaynagara Empire, capital of the famous King Krishnadevaraya.

The ruins wrought mainly in stone are scattered over 26 kms with the river Tungabhadra as a boundary in its North. Declared a world heritage site in 2002, this medieval city has also been identified as Kishkinda, the monkey kingdom mentioned in the Ramayana.

The first stop in Hampi is always the Virupaksha temple, the only active place of worship in the ruins. The temple has a 120 feet tall tower and houses the shrines of Shiva, Pampa and Bhuvaneshwari. Replete with carvings and ancient vegetable dye paintings, some parts of the temple are supposed to predate the Vijayanagara kingdom.

Moving on, one can see the 9 ft monolithic structure of the Mustard Ganesha and the 6.7 m tall monolith of the Ugra Narasimha, which for many is the symbol of Hampi. These are but two of the many monuments, which fell prey to the swords of the invaders who finally felled the city.

Driving on through the dusty terrain, one reaches the Hazari Rama temple, believed to be one of the finest specimens of South Indian temple architecture. As the name suggests, it boasts of 1000 exquisite stone carvings of scenes from the Ramayana.

A pathway from the temple leads to the striking Mahanavami Dibba seated on which the royal family is said to have viewed the nine-day Dasera festival parades. The structure is a huge nine storied platform with carvings detailing the art of warfare inscribed on its walls.

The next stop is the famed Lotus Mahal, a summer retreat made for the queens in a lotus flower like structure. A fusion of the Indo-Muslim styles, the monument has a unique air cooling system. Within the same grounds are the huge and elaborate Elephants stables which housed the king’s 11 elephants.

Next is the most anticipated stop, the Vittala temple complex, known as one of the most splendid monuments of all times. A magnificent stone chariot with movable wheels in the temple complex is a shining example of Vijayanagara Architecture. Another testimony to the same is the Sangeeta Mandapa made of 56 finely carved stone pillars which emit different musical notes when struck.

As one says farewell to the city there is awe and silent admiration for those ancient builders. Thanks to them, today, more than 500 years after it was silenced, Hampi is still a city with many stories to tell.

Hindustan Times, June, 2005

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