Hampi - Poetry in Stone

A small village on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra River, Hampi is in the Bellary District of Karnataka. A well-known centre of pilgrimage, it has been linked by some to the Epics. As the seat of the Vijayanagara empire, Hampi was famed for its wealth, and for the promotion of religion and culture.The Hampi ruins are spread over an area of about 26 square kilometers, within which several modern/living villages exist, while the outer lines of the imperial city's fortifications include a still larger area. Their picturesque surroundings amidst striking and beautiful scenery is nature at its wildest and best. In 1986, the Hampi ruins were accorded World Heritage Status.

A recent view of the Hampi ruins

Adi Shesha, foot print (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Early History

A well-known centre of pilgrimage, Hampi has even been linked by some to the Epics, as the Kishkindha-kshetra of the Ramayana. It has been traditionally known as the Pampa-kshetra, Kishkindha-kshetra or Bhaskara-kshetra. Pampa is the ancient term for the Tungabhadra River, and the current name, "Hampe" or "Hampi", is generally held to be its later Kannada form. The region's early history dates back to Neolithic/Xhalcolithic times - handmade pottery has been uncovered in recent excavations near the Vitthala Temple. The recent discovery of Minor Rock-edicts also indicate the region being within the Ashokan empire (3rd Century B.C.E.)

Vitthala temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

The ancient Kishkindha of the Ramayana is believed to have been situated close to Hampi. Kishkindha was ruled by the monkey-chiefs, Vali and Sugriva.

It is said that after a quarrel, Sugriva - who had been driven out - took refuge on the Matanga-parvatam, along with Hanuman. After Sita had been carried away to Lanka by Ravaņa, Rama and Lakshmaņa came south in search of Sita and met the refugees, Sugriva and Hanuman. Rama killed Vali, restored to Sugriva his kingdom and them stayed on the Malyavanta Hill nearby awaiting the results of Hanuman's search for Sita in Lanka.

Hampi and its environs are considered holy ground and many of its sites and names are connected with the episodes of the Ramayana. Thus the Matanga-parvatam, on which Sugriva took refuge, is a steep hili on the south bank of the Tungabhadra and to the east of the Hampi village.

The Malyavanta hill, on which Rama stayed, is on the road to Kampili and has a Raghunatha temple with a large image of Rama. A huge mound of scorious ash in the adjacent village of Nimbapuram is believed to be the cremated remains of Vali.

A cavern on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra is said to be the cave where Sugriva hid Sita’s jewels for safety, while certain marks and streaks on the sheet rock near it are pointed out as the marks made by Sita’s garments.

Prior to the rise of the Vijayanagara dynasty in the mid 14th Century C.E., Hampi and its environs were under the control of various dynasties which ruled over the Karnataka country in succession - the Kadambas, the Chälukyas of Badami, the Rashtrakutas, the Chalukyas of Kalyāni, the Hoysalas, Yādavas and others.

In the first half of the fourteenth century, south India was affected by the inroads of Malik Kafar, the general of Alau'd-Din Khalji, and by the imperial ambitions of Muhammad-bin Tughlaq. The attempt of the southern powers to resist these advances finally culminated in the rise of the Vijayanagara empire and its continuation for nearly four centuries.

The empire soon rose to such heights that it won the admiration of contemporary visitors. Accounts by Abdur Razzaq, the Persian ambassador and Niccolo de Conti, a Venetian merchant and explorer, both of whom visited during the reign of Devaraya II (1422-1446 CE) record the achievements of Vijayanagara's architects and sculptors.

The panorama is from the Vitthala Temple Complex, and pans past the Stone Chariot, an incomparable example of the Vijayanagara Empire's artistic achievements.

Devaraya II's reign ended in 1446 CE. It was followed by several decades of decline and disruption - weak rulers, foreign inroads, political murders and usurpations leading to changes of dynasty.

In 1505, Vira Narasimha became king after the imprisoned boy-king Immadi Narasimha was murdered, and the third or Tuluva dynasty began. He ruled just a few years, and in 1509, he was succeeded by his step-brother Krishnadeva Raya. With this began the reign of one of the greatest Vijayanagara rulers, and the empire passed through a golden age, extending its writ to all of Southern India, and as far north as Orissa. Krishnadeva Raya also maintained friendly diplomatic relations with the Portuguese on the western coast.

Colossal image of Narasimha (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Krishnadeva Raya was an accomplished scholar and poet and composed many Sanskrit and Telugu works. His Telugu poem Amuktamalyada contains a character-sketch of an ideal monarch and the principles of political administration that should be followed.

He was also a liberal patron of the arts and letters, his court graced by a set of poets known as the Ashta-Diggajas, the eight legends.

Krishnadeva Raya significantly embellished the capital city, and is known for adding this huge Narasimha figure.

Duarte Barbosa (cousin of Ferdinand Magellan, the celebrated world-circumnavigator) and the Portuguese chroniclers Paes and Nuniz were amongst the many foreigners who visited Vijayanagara during Krishnadeva Raya's reign.

They have left glowing and graphic accounts of the magnificence of the capital, its court, buildings and festivals.

Krishnadeva Raya's death in 1529 CE was followed by a period of steady decline. He was succeeded by step-brother Achyuta Raya (1529-1542).

The big defeat came during the regency of Rama Raya, at the Battle of Talikota in early 1565. A million soldiers are said to have been involved. Rama Raya was captured and immediately decapitated by the Sultan of Ahmadnagar.

Tirumala, Rama Raya's brother, fled with the puppet-emperor Sadasiva, the 4000-strong royal harem, and is said to have carried the imperial treasures on the backs of 1500 elephants.

The panorama on the left is of the Elephant Stables at Hampi.


Vijayanagara was an imperial capital for over two centuries, and some of the finest specimens of the period - though in a ruinous state - are found in the heart of the city. While a considerable proportion of the buildings was due to the liberal patronage of Krishnadeva Raya, the structures in the city range from the time of the early rulers like Harihara II (1377–1404) to that of Sadasiva (1543–1567). The monuments consist mainly of religious, civil and military buildings.

Group of Jaina temples (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Religious architecture - Pre-Vijayanagara Period

While the bulk of buildings belong to the Vijayanagara period and style, a small proportion may be assigned to previous times. These monuments are found side by side with the later structures, and offer a valuable contrast.

Jaina temple facing river Tungabhadra (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

The so-called Jaina temples on the Hemakuta Hill are a few instances of the monuments assignable to this period.

Neat-looking, they have stepped pyramidal vimanas (the tower above the sanctum sanctorum).

Religious architecture - Vijayanagara Period

The Vijayanagara style occupies a distinct place in the history of south Indian temple architecture. It was more or less coterminous with the history of the dynasty, and despite being fashioned from hard granite, was ornate and exuberant.

The plan of the typical Vijayanagara temple exhibits most of the characteristic features of the temples of the Tamil country. Invariably there is a separate shrine for the goddess slightly to the rear of the main sanctum of the god, and amongst one particular sect, it contains another sub-shrine.

The maha-mandapa - here at the Vitthala Temple complex - is a highly ornate structure with many fine specimens of composite pillars. It is the most profusely embellished part of a Vijayanagara temple, being rivaled only by the kalyana-mandapa. The mandapas often have large elephant-balustrades flanking the entrance steps.

The kalyana-mandapa - featured in this panoramic view - is one of the highlights of the Vijayanagara style. This is usually an open pillared mandapa often with a raised platform in the centre, for seating the deity and his consort during the annual kalyana (marriage) festival of the god.

The sculptor’s skill was fully lavished on these mandapas which contained elaborately carved and symmetrically-spaced compound pillars of various types. The ceilings were also carved. Originally these mandapas appear to have been painted and were often the most ornate of the structures in the temple-complexes.

Civil architecture

Most of the civil buildings at Hampi are concentrated in the citadel areas. Unfortunately they are mostly ruined. There is hardly anything left except a few basements, since the brick and timber superstructures have disappeared, and the gorgeous multi-storeyed painted and guilded palaces and mansions of Vijayanagara extolled by writers of those times are long gone.

Important structures like the royal residences (this panorama features the Palace of Vira Harihara, from the 14th Century CE) and other state buildings were razed to the ground. At present, the civil buildings of Hampi include a number of palace-bases, open pavilions, pillared halls, baths and stables. To this class of monuments may also be added some of the long and broad ancient bazaars of the city.

Military Architecture

The rulers of Vijayanagara used the natural advantages of the region and terrain, and created a vast enclosed area that was almost impregnable.

With its outer line of fortifications Vijayanagara was more than 26 square kilometres in area. The most prominent and interesting features of this type still existing are the massive walls and the strong gateways.

All the entrances and gateways were high enough to enable elephants to pass through.

This panorama features Bhima's Gate. It is more elaborate than a mere entrance, and has sally ports, bastions and inner courts with guard rooms.

An bas-relief of Bhima is visible on the right.

Ruined gateway (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

The gateways were flanked by shrines to respective guardian deities, and sometimes had figures of Bhima or Hanuman or a chieftain, in relief, carved on their walls.

Like others in its class, Bhima's Gate is built of large blocks of dressed stone without any cementing material.

Image of Bhima (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

A photo from 1958.

Vitthala temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Highlights, at the Hampi Group of Monuments

Pampapati temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Virupaksha Temple

Located on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra, it is immediately to the north of the Hemakuta hill.

Pampapati temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

The Virupaksha or Pampapati temple has been considered throughout centuries to be the most sacred of the temples at Hampi.

The latter name is linked to the Tungabhadra River, which is locally known as Pampa-nadi.

This photo, from 1957, is of the terracotta images in its gopuram.

Virupaksha Temple

The various parts of the temple complex are within a long rectangular enclosure divided into two large courts. The eastern gopura (pictured here) gives access to the outer court, while a smaller inner east gopura leads to the inner court containing the main vimana with its numerous subsidiary shrines.

The temple faces east and overlooks the long and broad Hampi bazaar with the dilapidated remains of many ancient mandapas and two-storeyed stone buildings on either side. The lofty east gopura, the main entrance to the temple, is a well proportioned nine-storeyed structure, 52 metres high, with a two-tiered stone base and a superstructure in brick.

Virupaksha Temple

The small three-storeyed inner east gopura, named after Krishnadeva Rāya forms the entrance to the inner court. It was built by Krishnadeva Rāya about AD 1510.

Domingo Paes, a Portuguese trader visiting the area in 1520 CE - at the height of Krishnadeva Raya’s rule - wrote about the Virupaksha Temple, and from this account, it can be inferred that the temple-complex had assumed its present form by about this time.

The inner court has a pillared cloister along the four sides, with a number of sub-shrines, while the main sanctum of Virupaksha with its axial mandapa is situated in the central part of the court and faces east.

Virupaksha Temple

In the sanctum of the Virupaksha Temple, the sixteen pillars of the central rectangle have rampant yális with chains hanging from their mouths, makaras below their feet, and riders on their backs.

The mandapa is of considerable height with the roof of the central aisle raised up further as a clerestory. On all the four sides, along the beams of the clerestory and above there had been originally friezes with many figures in bas-relief.

Virupaksha Temple

The ceiling of the ranga-mandapa is noted for its numerous panels of Vijayanagara paintings. The figures depicted include sage Vidyaranya going in procession, Arjuna shooting the matsya-yantra to win the hand of Draupadi, the Dasavataras, the Dikpalas, Siva as Kamadahanamurti, Tripurari and Kalyaņasundara.

The panels are in a fair state of preservation and are noteworthy as one of the few remaining original specimens of Vijayanagara painting.

Vitthala Temple

This is the most magnificent of the religious structures at Hampi, and stands on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra, dedicated to Vishnu-as-Vitthala.

The existence of the Vitthala temple may be traced at least to the time of Devaraya II (1422-46 CE), and the general opinion is that the temple was neither finished nor consecrated. It occupies a large rectangular enclosure (164 m × 94.5 m).

The Vitthala temple portrays the high watermark of perfection of the Vijayanagara style, and it can be said that there is no building which can stand in comparison to it.

The three lofty Vijayanagara gopuras on the east, north and south sides are now dilapidated. Of these the south gopura is the most ornate.

The enclosed courtyard contains in the centre the god's sanctum with its axial mandapas and around it the Amman sanctum, the kalyāna-mandapa, an utsava mandapa, a hundred pillared mandapa and a stone ratha (car).

Vitthala Temple
The main temple was dedicated to Vishnu as Vitthala. Facing east, the sanctum of the god along with its axial mandapas forms a long and low structural group, about 7.6 metres in height and 70 metres in length. The group comprises the open maha-mandapa, a closed ardha-mandapa with side-porches and a covered pradakshina-prakara enclosing the antarala andd garbha-griha (sanctum)

Vitthala Temple

The large maha-mandapa has symmetrically recessed sides. It measures 30.5 metres at its greatest length and breadth. The mandapa stands on a highly-ornate adhishthana (1.5 metres high) with sculptured friezes of horses and warriors and hansas.

At intervals along the base, there are ornate miniature vimana-projections with figures of the Dasavataras inside.

The mandapa contains fifty-six pillars, each 3-6 metres high, forty of which are regularly disposed to form an aisle all round the three sides, while the remaining sixteen form a rectangular court in the centre.

Vitthala temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Some of the inner pillars on the east contain figures of women, dancers and drummers.

Vitthala temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Each pillar is a massive composite sculptural unit, measuring as much as 1.5 metres across and may be termed a monolithic sculptural group.

Vitthala temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Vitthala temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Hazara Rama Temple

This temple, though small, is highly ornate, and is a veritable picture gallery. Its walls and pillars represent an immensely artistic attempt to capture in stone the legends of the Ramayana.

It was originally dedicated to Vishnu in the form of Ramachandra; however the sanctum is at present empty and the temple is not in use.

Hazara Rama temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

The outer walls of the ardhamandapa are richly carved with many fine bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the Ramayana.

Hazara Rama temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Its name is popularly taken to mean ‘the temple of the thousand Ramas’, on account of the numerous Ramayana bas-reliefs on its walls.

However, in the Telugu language, hajaramu means audience hall or entrance hall of a palace, which complies with its location at the entrance of the royal palace enclosure.

Hazara Rama temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

Details of a panel

Hazara Rama Temple

One of the highlights at this temple is its ardhamandapa, the space between the exterior and the sanctum sanctorum.

In its centre are four exquisitely-carved and polished blackstone pillars.

Hazara Rama temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India

These heavy cubical pillars contain well-chiselled bas-reliefs of Ganesa, Mahishamardini, Hanuman and many forms of Vishnu, including the Kalki avatara.

The large and ornate central ceiling consists of the usual diagonally alternating square courses with a finely carved lotus motif in the centre.

This panel features Krishna.

Hazara Rama temple (1957)Archaeological Survey of India


Krishna Temple

This temple's features ornate and well-finished bas-reliefs. It also has an inscription of Krishnadeva Raya, dated to 1513 CE, recording that an image of Bala-Krishna, which he had brought from a temple in Udayagiri, was enshrined in this complex.

The Krishna temple is therefore also interesting for the numerous sub-shrines it contains, one of which is dedicated to Subramanya - a rather unique occurrence.

Krishna Temple

Some of the temple's exterior walls contain many fine stucco figures of warriors with shields and spirited gorses and elephants, probably representing a war-scene connected with the Orissan campaign of Krishnadeva Raya.

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