Hampi (300 kilometers east of Goa, and 350 kilometers north-northwest of Bangalore) is a ruined city that was once the center of powerful Vijayanagara kingdom (1336 – 1646) and an auspicious temple town. Situated on the banks of the mighty Tungabhadra river, this 650-year-old city has many interesting temples, monoliths, baths and ruined palaces. Of special interest are the queen's bath, the spectacular Lotus Palace, a royal stable and a a temple, which is said to have been the place where the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati took held. The Group of Monuments at Hampi was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986
Hampi was ranked the second must-visit destination in 2019 by the New York Times. It was the last capital of the Vijayanagara kingdom, one of the most significant in southern India. Its rich kings built exquisite temples and palaces, which won the admiration of travelers between the 14th and 16th centuries. Though plundered later, Hampi still retains more than 1,600 monuments, including palaces, forts, memorial structures, temples, shrines, pillared halls, baths and gateways. The architectural ruins are set against a surreal landscape dotted with heaps of giant boulders perched precariously over kilometers of undulating terrain, attracting rock-climbers and trekkers. The rusty hues of these rocks are offset by jade-green palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields.
According to UNESCO: “The austere, grandiose site of Hampi was the last capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar. Its fabulously rich princes built Dravidian temples and palaces which won the admiration of travelers between the 14th and 16th centuries. Conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy in 1565, the city was pillaged over a period of six months before being abandoned. The property encompasses an area of 4187, 24 hectares, located in the Tungabhadra basin in Central Karnataka, Bellary District. [Source:UNESCO World Heritage Site website]
“Hampi’s spectacular setting is dominated by river Tungabhadra, craggy hill ranges and open plains, with widespread physical remains. The sophistication of the varied urban, royal and sacred systems is evident from the more than 1600 surviving remains that include forts, riverside features, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, Mandapas, memorial structures, gateways, defence check posts, stables, water structures, etc.
The temples of Ramachandra (1513) and Hazara Rama (1520), with their sophisticated structure, where each supporting element is scanned by bundles of pilasters or colonnettes which project from the richly sculpted walls, may be counted among the most extraordinary constructions of India. In one of the interior courtyards of the temple of Vitthala, a small monument of a chariot which two elephants, sculpted in the round, struggle to drag along is one of the unusual creations, the favorite of tourists today as well as travelers of the past. Besides the temples, the impressive complex of civil, princely or public buildings (elephant stables, Queen's Bath, Lotus Mahal, bazaars, markets) are enclosed in the massive fortifications which, however, were unable to repulse the assault of the five sultans of Deccan in 1565.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport from Hampi is Hubli (about 167 kilometers). Other airports are at Belagavi (271 kilometers) and Bengaluru (about 348 kilometers). By Road: Hampi is connected by good roads to major cities in India. By Train: The nearest railway station is Hospet located about 13 kilometers away from Hampi. It connects Hampi to Bengaluru and Hubli.
History of Hampi
Hampi's was the creation of the powerful Vijayanagara empire (1336 – 1646). Some say it predecessor was mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana and reputedly was the location of the monkey kingdom, Kishkindha.
According to UNESCO: The city of Hampi bears exceptional testimony to the vanished civilization of the kingdom of Vijayanagar, which reached its apogee under the reign of Krishna Deva Raya (1509-30). It offers an outstanding example of a type of structure that illustrates a significant historical situation: that of the kingdoms of South India which, menaced by the Muslims, were occasionally allied with the Portuguese of Goa.
“Hampi was the last capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar. Its fabulously rich princes built Dravidian temples and palaces which won the admiration of travelers between the 14th and 16th centuries.As the final capital of the last of the great kingdom of South India, that of the Vijayanagar, Hampi, enriched by the cotton and the spice trade was one of the most beautiful cities of the medieval world. Its palaces and Dravidian temples were much admired by travelers, be they Arab (Abdul Razaak), Portuguese (Domingo Paes) or Italian (Nicolò dei Conti).
“Conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy after the battle of Talikota in 1565, the city was pillaged over a period of six months and then abandoned. The remains unearthed in the site delineate both the extent of the economic prosperity and political status that once existed indicating a highly developed society. Imposing monumental vestiges, partially disengaged and reclaimed, make of Hampi today one of the most striking ruins of the world.”
According to UNESCO: 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. Vijayanagara architecture is known for its adoption of elements of Indo Islamic Architecture in secular buildings like the Queen’s Bath and the Elephant Stables, representing a highly evolved multi-religious and multi-ethnic society.Building activity in Hampi continued over a period of 200 years reflecting the evolution in the religious and political scenario as well as the advancements in art and architecture. The city rose to metropolitan proportions and is immortalized in the words of many foreign travelers as one of the most beautiful cities. The Battle of Talikota (1565) led to a massive destruction of its physical fabric.
“Dravidian architecture survives in the rest of Southern India spread through the patronage of the Vijayanagara rulers. The Raya Gopura, introduced first in the temples attributed to Raja Krishna Deva Raya, is a landmark all over South India.” Hampi is special because: 1) The remarkable integration between the planned and defended city of Hampi with its exemplary temple architecture and its spectacular natural setting represent a unique artistic creation. 2) The city bears exceptional testimony to the vanished civilization of the kingdom of Vijayanagara, which reached its apogee under the reign of Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1530). 3 This capital offers an outstanding example of a type of structure which illustrates a significant historical situation: that of the destruction of the Vijayanagara kingdom at the Battle of Talikota (1565) which left behind an ensemble of living temples, magnificent archaeological remains in the form of elaborate sacred, royal, civil and military structures as well as traces of its rich lifestyle, all integrated within its natural setting.
“The highly developed and extremely sophisticated settlement articulates architectural manifestations, agricultural activities, irrigation systems, formal and informal paths, boulders and rocks, religious and social expressions. The authenticity of the site has been maintained in terms of location and setting, as the original setting comprising of river Tungabhadra and boulders is fully retained. In terms of form and function, the integration of the geographic setting with man-made features in the design and functional layout of the entire capital can still be discerned and the form of the original city planning with suburban pattern is evident. “
Temples and Structures of Hampi
According to UNESCO: Among the main temples and structures at Hampi are “the Krishna temple complex, Narasimha, Ganesa, Hemakuta group of temples, Achyutaraya temple complex, Vitthala temple complex, Pattabhirama temple complex, Lotus Mahal complex, can be highlighted. Suburban townships (puras) surrounded the large Dravidian temple complexes containing subsidiary shrines, bazaars, residential areas and tanks applying the unique hydraulic technologies and skilfully and harmoniously integrating the town and defence architecture with surrounding landscape.
“The Vitthla temple is the most exquisitely ornate structure on the site and represents the culmination of Vijayanagara temple architecture. It is a fully developed temple with associated buildings like Kalyana Mandapa and Utsava Mandapa within a cloistered enclosure pierced with three entrance Gopurams. In addition to the typical spaces present in contemporary temples, it boasts of a Garuda shrine fashioned as a granite ratha and a grand bazaar street. This complex also has a large Pushkarani (stepped tank) with a Vasantotsava mandapa (ceremonial pavilion at the center), wells and a network of water channels.
“Another unique feature of temples at Hampi is the wide Chariot streets flanked by the rows of Pillared Mandapas, introduced when chariot festivals became an integral part of the rituals. The stone chariot in front of the temple is also testimony to its religious ritual. Most of the structures at Hampi are constructed from local granite, burnt bricks and lime mortar. The stone masonry and lantern roofed post and lintel system were the most favored construction technique. The massive fortification walls have irregular cut size stones with paper joints by filling the core with rubble masonry without any binding material. The gopuras over the entrances and the sanctum proper have been constructed with stone and brick. The roofs have been laid with the heavy thick granite slabs covered with a water proof course of brick jelly and lime mortar.
Sights in Hampi
Archaeological Museum at Hampi is small but significant. It exhibits a superb collection of sculptures recovered from the area. It also contains two scaled models of the Hampi topography with monuments. Other than the model, the museum has an entire section dedicated to sculptures and idols recovered from Hampi. These include several incarnations of Lord Shiva, like Lord Veerabhadra, Lord Bhairava and Lord Bhikshatana-murthi. Another section displays an array of tools, coins and other objects that were in use during the Vijayanagara era. An interesting display is of the documents made of brass and bundled with a ring. The museum also has an array of objects from the prehistoric and proto historic periods recovered from Anegundi. You can also admire stucco figurines, pieces of porcelain pottery and a gallery of photographs from the area.
Matanga Hill (at the center of Hampi) is the highest point in the area and offers breathtaking views of the ruins. The north part of the hill slopes down to the Tungabhadra river, just where the Kodanda Rama Temple is located. On its eastern edge stands the Achyutaraya Temple, constructed in 1534. One of the last of the large temples built here, it has a sculpture of Lord Krishna dancing with a snake. The large central hall of the temple has many such beautiful sculptures. On top of the hill is the Veerabhadra Temple, with many winding paths leading up to it. It generally takes about 30 mins to reach the top and the views of sunrise and sunset from here are breathtaking. While a stepped path leads to the top, adventure-seekers can take the tougher and steeper trekker's trail as well. Locals say that the steps to the top were constructed during the Vijayanagara era and it seems like an irony that they survived the vagaries of time, nature and man, while the empire's other icons, are in ruins today. Matanga Hill is also popular for its links with Hindu mythology. According to the epic Ramayana, this is where monkey king Sugriva had hidden with Lord Hanuman, to save himself from the wrath of his brother Bali.
Anegundi is an ancient fortified village that is said to be older than Hampi. Standing on the banks of River Tungabhadra, opposite Hampi, legend says that this is the place where elephants of the Vijayanagara empire's army were kept. Thus it's name Anegundi, which means elephant pit in Kannada. Anegundi is also said to have been a part of Kishkindha, the mythical kingdom of monkey kings Bali and Sugreva, mentioned in the epic Ramayana. Locals say that this settlement is over 3,000 years old, a fact that may be proven by the existence of Maurya Mane (Moremane) and Onake Kindi, two prehistoric era clusters. According to geologists, this place is around four billion years old. At Maurya Mane, one can see evidence of prehistoric human settlements, like cave paintings, while rock paintings can be seen in Onake Kindi. In addition to these archaeological sites, the Anegundi Fort is another popular tourist attraction. With many gates, several tombs and two temples - Ganesha Cave Temple and Durga Temple - this sprawling fort once used to guard the region.
Lotus Mahal is one of the most famous architectural landmarks in Hampi. Its lotus-like structure immediately endears it to visitors and is a must-visit place. This building lies within the Zenana Enclosure, which was a segregated area used by royal women of the Vijayanagara dynasty. Also known as Kamal Mahal or Chitragani Mahal, the exquisite structure of the building boasts a central dome that is carved like a lotus bud. The passages and the balcony are also covered with a dome resembling an open lotus bud. The curves of the palace reflect an Islamic style of architecture while the multi-layered roof design is reminiscent of Indo-style of buildings. The palace is a two-storeyed structure and has been symmetrically designed. Surrounded by a rectangular wall, it has four towers in a pyramidal shape that look like a lotus as well. The walls and pillars both have beautiful carvings of birds and sea creatures on them.
Queen's Bath And Palace is an unassuming rectangular structure from the outside that reveals an ornate sandstone-colored interior. One of the finest examples of exquisite Indo-Islamic architecture in Hampi, it is said to have been constructed for kings and queens. The 1.8-meter-deep central bathing pool is surrounded by projecting balconies that are ornately decorated and arched corridors with pillars that still retain remnants of masterful stucco work. Just adjacent to it is the Queen's Palace with the Lotus Mahal pavilion. It is also known as Kamal Mahal or Chitrangini Mahal. This ornate two-storeyed ochre structure features 24 square pillars with recessed arches and exhibits a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture. The structure used to have an ingenious cooling system of aqueducts that used to keep the interiors pleasant during the hot summer months.
Temples at Hampi
Vittala Temple is one of the most ornate monuments in the area, representing the best of Vijayanagara architecture. Popularly known as Hampi's showstopper and decorated with extravagant carvings, the 16th century temple features a spectacular stone chariot that stands in the courtyard. One of the finest examples of Vijayanagara style of architecture, it is said that the chariot is a shrine of Garuda, a bird-like mythical creature believed to be Hindu god Vishnu's vehicle. Legends say that the wheels of the chariot, decorated with intricate floral patterns, were once capable of being turned. Even now, looking at its spokes, it seems as if they would turn at a divine command. The chariot, the main temple and a few smaller structures are housed within a vast walled courtyard with three imposing gateways.
The main temple is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The mahamantapa (main hall) of the temple is flanked by elephant balustrades and is said to have been used as a venue for cultural performances. It is a fully developed temple with associated buildings like Kalyana Mandapa and Utsava Mandapa. The temple complex also has a large pushkarani (stepped tank) with a Vasantotsava Mandapa (a ceremonial pavilion) and a network of water channels. A unique feature of this temple is its elaborately carved musical pillars, which are said to produce the sounds of 81 different musical instruments when tapped with a wooden stick. Folklore says that the British were so fascinated by the pillars that they tore a few down to investigate how the music was produced.
Krishna Temple is a beautiful temple draws visitors not only for spiritual reasons but also for its architectural sights. Said to have been built by king Krishnadevaraya in 1513 to celebrate his conquest of the eastern kingdom of Udayagiri or Utkala (in present day Odisha), the temple's main deity was a statue of Lord Balakrishna (Lord Krishna as infant). This idol is now housed in Chennai's Government Museum. A slab installed inside the courtyard of the temple tells the tale of the temple and of the victory. The temple's carvings standout from that of other structures in Hampi. With mythical lions on pillars and carvings of elephant balustrades flanking the entrances, the temple is a living work of art. A small pavilion with a rectangular stone container in front of the temple is said to have been used by devotees to offer grains to the gods.
Hemakuta Hill Temple (on the southern side of Hampi) refers to the large number of temples, archways and pavilions on the gentle slopes of Hemakuta Hill. It is said that the hill was once fortified with stone walls, the ruins of which can still be seen. Once you have reached the top (a 15-minute-climb), it flattens out like a small plateau. It is said that this is the place where the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Pampa was finalised. Mythology says, skies rained gold (known as hema in Sanskrit, thus the name of the hill) at that time. There are several temples dedicated to Lord Shiva here, which have mesmerising structures that draw admiration from visitors. They are mostly triple-chambered, with pyramid-like roofs made of granite. They are quite different from the Vijayanagara architectural style prominent in this region and thus have often been confused with Jain temples. Hemakuta Hill is also one of the best places in Hampi to view the entire city and enjoy fantastic views of the sunrise and the sunset.
Monkey Temple (on Anjaneya Hill, a coracle ride away from the main ruins in the city, across Tungabhadra) is dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the monkey god. Folklore says it marks the birthplace of Lord Hanuman. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Hanuman was born to Mata Anjana and thus, was named Anjaneya, with his birthplace being called Anjaneyadri (meaning Anjaneya's hill). Sitting atop the hill, the temple is visible from a distance, with a trail of stairs leading up to it. Keep around 40 minutes in hand to climb up. The temple has an image of Lord Hanuman carved on a rock and a small shrine inside has been made for Lord Rama and Goddess Sita. The view from the top is breathtaking as the temple overlooks green paddy fields, coconut tree plantations and the ruins stretching into the horizon. The entire area is encircled by rugged mountains and a raging river adds to its pristine beauty.
Sasivekalu Ganesha Temple houses a huge statue of Lord Ganesha, carved out of a single block of rock. It is about 8 foot tall and was erected in memory of king Narasimha II, of the Vijayanagara empire, according to the inscription on it. According to Hindu mythology, once Lord Ganesha consumed a lot of food, due to which his stomach was on the verge of bursting. To stop his stomach from bursting open, Ganesha caught hold of a snake and tied it around his stomach. Thus, the explanation behind the snake that encircles Ganesha's stomach here. The statue sits under a large mandapa (covering) and is surrounded by a wall of pillars.
Virupaksha Temple (at Hampi Bazaar) is one of the oldest structures in the area, is. It is said that this temple, believed to have been built in the 7th century, was once a humble structure dedicated to Lord Shiva. Under the Vijayanagara rule, it was constructed upon to achieve epic proportions. Today, the main shrine is dedicated to Lord Virupaksha, an incarnation of Lord Shiva and the 49-meter-high (approximately) tower or gopuram of the temple is said to have been constructed in 1442. Dominating Hampi's skyline, the towering gopuram is a distinct landmark in Hampi, as are the stucco figures around the temple's exterior. Hampi's only continuously functioning temple, it includes a sanctum sanctorum, pillared halls – the most elaborate one consisting of 100 pillars - antechambers, grand gopurams and a number of smaller shrines, along with a temple kitchen and administrative offices. The main gateway boasts elaborate nine tiers and the smaller gateway gives access to the temple’s inner courtyard. The three-headed statue of Lord Shiva's sacred mount, the Nandi bull, is a major tourist draw. In December, when the temple celebrates the marriage of its presiding deity to his consort Goddess Pampa, it draws thousands of devotees. Another popular time to visit the temple is February, when the annual chariot festival is celebrated.
Statues, Stables and Bazaars at Hampi
Hampi Bazaar (facing Virupaksha Temple) is located at the commercial center of medieval Hampi. It houses stalls selling souvenirs and artefacts. Also called the Virupaksha Bazaar, you can shop for musical instruments and leather goods here.
Nandi Statue (at the end of Hampi Bazaar) is a monolithic statue of Nandi, Lord Shiva's mount. Facing the Virupaksha Temple, the statue, with minimal carvings, depicts Nandi in a sitting posture. The statue is surrounded by pillared structures. This is the main location for Vijaya Utsav, the Hampi arts festival.
Zenana Enclosure (within the walled ladies’ quarters) is a structure that was most probably built for the royal women of ancient Hampi. The ruins help draw up the image of a fortified building, with watchtowers around it and an intricately carved interior with idols of Hindu gods and goddesses and a shallow low-lying area, which though not in usable condition, creates a surreal play of light and shadow as the sun reflects in its waters, drawing patterns on the stone pillars and roof. Another attraction is the beautiful Lotus Mahal pavilion, believed to be a recreational mansion for queens.
Elephant Stables (near the Zenana Enclosure) is a grand building that was the stable for royal tuskers. Topped with domes and arched doorways, there are 11 chambers where elephants once resided. Each chamber has a small opening from where the mahouts entered.
Sule Bazaar is a a straight wide road lined on both sides by ruins of pillared structures, Now deserted of course except for tourists, Sule Bazaar is said to have been a bustling marketplace in ancient Hampi, under the Vijayanagara rulers. At the southern end of this area stands the beautiful Achyutaraya Temple.
Lakshmi Narasmiha (on way to the Virupaksha Temple) is a 6.7-meter-high monolithic statue of the bulging-eyed Lakshmi Narasmiha. The statue, one of the largest in Hampi, represents Lord Narasmiha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. While today, we see only Lord Narasmiha sitting in a cross-legged lotus yoga position under the hood of the mythology seven-headed sesha nag (snake), originally there was an idol of Goddess Lakshmi sitting with him. Vandalised after the fall of the Vijayanagara empire, only her hand resting on his back in embracing posture remains today. This form of Lord Narasmiha is also referred to as Ugra Narasimha or in anger, as visible from the idol's facial expressions.
Coracle Riades and Bouldering at Hampi
Around 500 years ago, Domingos Paesa, a Portuguese traveler, who had once visited Hampi, had written about unique round basket-boats that the locals used to cross the Tungabhadra river. "People cross to this place by boats which are round like baskets. Inside they are made of cane, and outside are covered with leather; they are able to carry fifteen or twenty persons, and even horses and oxen can cross in them if necessary... " Nothing much seems to have changed, as these boats or coracles can be spotted even today bobbing up and down the river, moving in circles, yet almost impossibly, reaching the other bank.
A unique experience, a coracle ride across the Tungabhadra river is a must. A coracle is a traditional boat that has been used in this region for centuries to ferry people across the river. The modern version uses plastic sheets and bitumen sheets to make them water-proof and sturdier. On an average, around eight people can fit into a coracle, and sometimes cycles and bikes can come on board as well. At Hampi, there are three places for coracle crossings. The first one is at the ghat (stepped river bank) near the Virupaksha Temple. The second is in front of the Kodandarama Temple and the third and the most popular one is near the Vittala Temple.
With its unique rocky topography with heaps of boulders strewn around, Hampi attracts rock-climbers and trekkers, and is a popular site for bouldering as well. In fact, it is known as the bouldering capital of India. Bouldering, which involves climbing rocks, sometimes with the help of harnesses and sometimes without any equipment, is an extreme adventure sport. Adventure-seekers generally rent bicycles and set out to explore Hampi's temple ruins, stopping en route for rock climbing or bouldering. Some of the most famous bouldering sites in Hampi are the Hemakuta Hill, Matanga Hill and the premises of Tiruvengalantha Temple and Malyavanta Raghunatha Temple. Rock climbers can find the largest free standing boulders at Hemakuta Hill. One can also enjoy camping in the boulder strewn landscape.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020