Will you believe me if I tell you about a kingdom where common people can speak in impeccable poetry, or where precious stones like corals and pearls are sold in heaps in open markets, or where the pillars made of stone can bring forth all the sounds of a percussion instruments?
There is one such kingdom. The Vijayanagara Empire in Hampi, Karnataka. Hampi is now in ruins bearing witness to the past glory. It is declared as a World Heritage Site. During its peak, present day Hampi was called Vijayanagara or the city of victory.
This kingdom reached its peak under the reign of Krishnadevaraya in the 14th century. The kings of this kingdom ruled from 1336 AD to 1646 AD, though the last rulers lost almost all control after a war in 1565.
Vijayanagara Empire successfully defeated repeated attempts of Muslim rulers from the north, and sultans from the deccan regions to establish a largely Hindu state.
The most famous king in this dynasty was Krishnadevaraya of the Tuluva dynasty. He was a great patron of all forms of art, literature and culture. He was a poet himself and is credited with writing poetry in Telugu. He had Astadiggajas (8 gems) in his court. These were great poets who have enriched the Telugu literature to great heights. One of the Astadiggajas was Pingali Sooranna, who wrote Raghavapandaveeyam. The greatness of this mahakavya is every shloka here can be interpreted to tell Ramayana and Mahabharata. Amazing right?
One of the most famous among these great poets was Tenali Ramakrishna. He is more famous for his wit now than his poetry. His mastery over poetry too is commendable. There are many stories of his wit that are now in folklore. Let me tell you just one. Once the king wanted to make a monument that could be seen from every corner of the city. Tenali agreed to do it. He was given a month to complete this great structure. Tenali did not do a single thing for a whole month. His detractors were sure that he was going to be disgraced now and were celebrating this victory. On the night before the grand reveal, Tenali went out into the night, climbed on to the largest hill he could find, erected four pillars and a roof and came back. Next day, he showed the king the structure. It was seen from every corner of the city as was required! So, Tenali pocketed the king’s praise as well as the gifts! It can still be seen on a hillock! Clever fellow!
Krishnadevaraya was a very able administrator. He opened up trade routes and there was international trade as well as flourishing domestic trade. Even today, you can find big market places in Hampi. These markets famously sold precious stones in heaps on the streets! Imagine a lady buying pearls by the kilograms, and bargaining for them too. Mind-blowing!
When you know go to Hampi (about 360 kms from Bangalore), you will find it in ruins. After the Deccan sultans defeated the later kings of Vijayanagara, they looted the city of all its wealth for months on end. They destroyed the magnificent buildings, temples and market places and left a ghost city in its place. People too migrated as they could not live in ruins.
But the buildings speak of the past glory. Some of the most famous buildings there are:
- Virupaksha temple: Dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here you can find a working pinhole camera in one of the annexures of the temple. At a particular time, the Sun’s rays pass through a small aperture and on the opposite wall an inverted image of the gopuram can be clearly seen. This has been happening since centuries, everyday. Fantastic, right?
- Vijaya Vittala temple: Dedicated to Vittala, this temple has many pavilions, archways and is in the center of the city. It seems like this temple was the heart of all happenings in the city life. Here you can find the pavilion of 1000 pillars. If you hit the stone pillars with your fingers, they produce a musical note. You can actually have a musical concert if you are an expert in percussion instruments. Another prominent feature of this temple is the stone chariot.
- Lakshmi Narasimha: This is the biggest stone statue in Hampi. It is the figure of Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha avatara. It is in a damaged condition but still the menacing look of the Lord is still intact. Goddess Lakshmi in his lap has been destroyed.
- Sasivekalu Ganapathi and Kadalekalu Ganapathi: These are two temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha.
- Hemakuta hills
- Krishna temple: Built by Krishnadevaraya to commemorate victory over Utkala. This was the private temple of the royal family.
- Hazara rama temple: Here the Ramayana is carved in stone
- Mahanavami Dibba: Here the Navarathri festivities were organised. The nine day festival was the state festival of Vijayanagara
- Queen’s Bath
- Zenana enclosure: The inner chambers of the king and queen.
- The elephants’ quarters
- and so much more
Come to Hampi and soak up the glory and relive the past.
All pics are courtesy Google Images.