An Architect’s Delight: Hampi

An Architect’s Delight: Hampi

As we entered the town, the landscape looked like a painting staring back from a bygone era . Hampi, the old Vijayanagara capital had been on my list of places to go to, for a long time . It is after all an architect’s delight!

First built in the middle of the 14th century, this capital city of the Vijayanagara dynasty, reflected the mood of the times – a spectacular revival and celebration of everything Hindu at a time when the north was under the sway of the Muslim rulers and they had already made their way into the Deccan. But there was a twist here and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself

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At the Hemakuta hills that look over the ruins of Hampi on one side, Virupaksha temple on the other. | Ambika Jayakumar

The ruins of Hampi are spread over a large area of about 25 km and divided into 2 broad areas – The Royal Enclosure, where the Vijayanagara Royals lived and conducted the daily business and governance and the Sacred Centre – the distinct temple districts partly defined by fort walls.

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Many routes through Hampi converge at this temple. | Ambika Jayakumar

At the heart of the royal enclosure is the Hazara Rama, or ‘Thousand Ramas’, a temple which served as the state chapel of the Vijayanagara Emperor. It is an example of Tamil inspired temple architecture, with its multitude of ornate sculptures and reliefs depicting episodes from the epic, Ramayana.

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The stone chariot at the Vithala temple complex | Ragini Menon

To the north of the Hazara Rama temple, beyond the sacred centre is the spectacular Vithala temple complex. The broken yet beautiful gopuram of this temple, is the first thing you will see. This temple has a central mandapa that used to display the processional image of the deity carried in the temple’s famous stone chariot.

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The musical pillars at the Vithala temple are an architectural wonder | Ragini Menon

But the most spectacular marvel at this temple, are the musical pillars . An architectural wonder, drum on them and you can hear the echoes of a series of musical notes from different Indian instruments. Science and craftsmanship in symphony! It seems the pillars provided a standing orchestra to the dance recitals held here.

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Inspired by contemporary architecture of the neighbouring Bahmani kingdom, structures like this line of 11 domed chambers that accommodated elephants at the Royal Stables, have a marked Islamic influence – with pointed arches, vaults and domes. This mix of architectural styles is a reflection of how cosmopolitan this city was.

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First look of the Lakshmi Narasimha monolith, at the foothills of the Krishna temple complex | Ambika Jayakumar 

Virupaksha is today the only temple that is still functioning in all its glory and by evening it was as though the entire town had gathered here, pretty much how they would have gathered, hundreds of years ago. The only difference was that with the devotees there were also tourists busy taking selfies!

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Locals are appointed as ASI ground staff to be caretakers of the ruins | Ambika Jayakumar

It was great to see the restoration work being done in some of the monuments. But there are others that desperately need attention like the underground 14th century Shiva temple, in the Royal centre, which we could barely get into!

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Here is a list of places to visit from a local tourist book – essential to make sense of the complex | Ambika Jayakumar

Hampi is an architectural treasure trove. And for me and my friend, it was an eye opener. But sadly it seemed that despite reading all about it and going there we still had more questions than answers.

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Ambika Jayakumar, an architect, at the Hampi Pushkarini: a stepped tank located in the Royal centre .  | Ragini Menon 
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