Located a little South from the center of the Indian subcontinent and spread over a forty two square kilometer patch, lies one of India’s most iconic and mystical sites.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hampi is a village and a temple town in the state of Karnataka. At the height of the Vijayanagar Empire in the 16th century, Hampi thrived as one of the largest and richest cities in the world.
It was also one of the biggest international trade centers in the 15th century world. Precious stones were sold in the open at Hampi Bazaar, besides textile, spices and everything under the sun. It is said that “rubies and emeralds the size of pigeons’ eggs were retailed like peanuts.”
Today it attracts over six hundred thousand tourists a year, mostly domestic travelers. A mix of art and architectural enthusiasts and backpackers looking for lost culture and remnants of some bohemian flavour.
The historic antiquity of the region can be traced back to the Mauryan period, in 238 BCE, when King Ashoka the great conquered almost the entire Indian sub-continent. Hampi was a holy place for Hindus but was not of great administrative significance until the southern kings came together to thwart Islamic invaders inroads to the south. Their efforts became the Vijayanagara Empire and ushered in the golden era of Hampi (14-16 Century) Dravidian architecture flourished under the Vijayanagara Empire and its ultimate form is characterised by their massive dimensions, cloistered enclosures, and lofty towers over the entrances encased by decorated pillars.
Hampi’s spectacular setting is dominated by the Tungabhadra river, craggy hill ranges and open plains, with widespread physical remains that include forts, riverside features, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, Mandapas, memorial structures, gateways, defence check posts, stables and bathing enclosures. Its not only the ancient ruins that captivate a visitor. Complimenting the entire experience is the amazing boulder strewn landscape stretching out for miles accompanied by plush sun light that bathes over everything.
Some say – “ Watch in silence as the sun’s first rays burnish the granite hills around you in shades of copper and bronze and turn the dark, twisty ribbon of the Tungabhadra into liquid gold. A Hampi sunset calms the most restless mind and fills the heart with gladness.”
Conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy in 1565, at the Battle of Talikota – Hampi was pillaged for half a year and led to a massive destruction of its physical fabric.
The remains unearthed showed advancements in art and architecture with elements of Indo Islamic styles depicting the extent of the economic prosperity and political status that once existed indicating a highly evolved multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. Hampi links to ancient India and holds great importance in the Hindu epic Ramayana. The original name of Hampi was Pampa-Kshetra after Hindu Deity Pampa (Goddess Parvati). To convince Shiva to marry her, Goddess Parvati led the life of a yogini in the Hemkunta hills of Hampi. The river flowing alongside the Hemkunta hill was called the Pampa river and the land – Pampa Khestra. The Pampa river is the life giving Tungabhadra river today.
The Ramayana also recounts Hampi as the birthplace of Hanuman and the monkey kingdom Kiskinda, where Lord Ram met his loyal follower Hanuman. The monkey army later helped Rama build a bridge of stones across the sea to help him reach Lanka. Geologically this region is in the Dharwar Craton. A craton is one of those rare parts of the land that has remained unchanged by volcanic or tectonic movements for hundreds of millions, even billions of years! The rocks of Hampi are posited by geologists to be formed from years of erosion of giant monoliths that existed in prehistoric ages.
Hindu mythology, however, has a different explanation for the same. According to Ramayana, the rocks were apparently scattered all over Hampi after a fierce war ensued between two monkey-brothers who fought for the throne of the Kiskinda kingdom. This is how history, geography, and mythology blend into one mystic experience called Hampi.
Most temples in Hampi are not active. However, centered in Hampi village at the bazaar is the Virupaksha temple. Created in the 7th century and enhanced to its current stature during the Chalukya and Vijayanagara era, it is a marvelous piece of architecture and one of the oldest living Hindu temples in the world.
Content Collaborator: Nikt Wong
Nikt Wong is a self-taught photographer, researcher and writer, with a strong social
documentary background. Some of his clients include – Discovery Channel, Insight Guides,
Berlitz Publishing, UNHCR, ESPN, Khazanah Nasional and a host of international magazines.
Nikt’s photography experience spans documentary and street to editorial, events and
corporate work. His interest revolves around documenting people and travel. He has also
been a speaker at photo workshops for UNHCR and brands like Nikon and Sony. In 2002,
Wong took a break, sold his company, and went backpacking for six months on a grand loop
through India, Nepal, Tibet, China and Indochina.