Hampi, this fateful yet holy expanse of land scattered with riveting historic ruins, temples shrouded with narratives of Hindu mythology and surrounded by surreal gigantic rock formations is a place where both mythology and history have thrived for generations. In the age of mythology, this is the land where two of the most celebrated deities in Hinduism first met, Lord Rama and the monkey God Hanuman. While in the age of reality, when the Vijay-nagar Empire, one of India’s greatest dynasties held sway across much of the southern part of the country, Hampi or Vijaynagar as it was known historically, was a city of much glory with construction of several temples and palaces constructed out of huge granite rocks.
When I first set sight on Hampi, this vast expanse of 15th Century ruins interspersed with large green fields of rice and paddy and mammoth boulders surrounding the borough around, the enormity was hard to take in. Between these canvases in the age of mythology Gods had met. While when modern history was being made Kingdoms flourished.
When Gods walked the earth in times of the Ramayana, it was in Hampi where Lord Rama would meet his most devout follower in quest to rescue Sita, the monkey-God Hanuman. The Hanuman temple on the other side of the Tungabhadra River at the Anjaneya Hill bears testimony to the monkey trail. The locals for centuries have been devout in their devotion to Hanuman. It is apparent by the ample murals in the modern day or from the several sculptures of the mighty God on the pillars and structures of the rock-cut temples of the 15th Century Vijaynagar Kingdom. And if you ask any of the locals how those gigantic pink granite rocks that surround Hampi got there in the first place, they’ll tell you that they were brought here by Hanuman himself.
More of this devotion is seen on the ramparts of today’s Hampi. Devotees and Hindu holy-men who are there seeking blessings at the Hanuman Temple or the Virupaksha Temple share space with backpackers or tourists who come there for Vijaynagar’s ruins. Both tourists and worshippers undertake the 537 step climb upto the Ajneya Hill to pay respects to Hanuman. While the latter worship, tourists pray and are seen taking in the breath-taking sights of the sunset atop the hill.
That feeling of awe and astonishment has lingered for generations amongst the many visitors of Hampi. It was two enterprising brothers Harihara and Bukka, who established the Vijaynagar Empire in 1336 AD, little did they know that their once bantam kingdom would turn out to be one of India’s major tourist draw seven hundred years later. However, it was under Krishna-Devraya’s twenty year reign when Hampi would reach its glorious zenith. At its peak the city was hailed with the same superlatives that would be showered on the Mughal capitals of Agra or Fatehpur Sikri years later. One of the first European visitors to Hampi was the Portugese explorer Domingo Paes. On Hampi Paes said, “It seemed to me as large as Rome and very beautiful.” All the city’s monuments, the bazaars and the ramparts, it temples, palaces, resting quarters have been constructed by carving and sculpting the monumental boulders that surround Hampi.
Today there are 13 major rock-sculpted temples amongst hundreds of other smaller ones that are still standing, including the major crowd pullers of the Vithala Temple and its picturesque stone chariot and the Dancing Hall with 56 pillars or the focal point of Hampi the Virupaksha Temple constructed by the Kings of Vijaynagar to show their devotion to Lord Shiva.
Not surprisingly, this astonishing city near the banks of the Tungabhadra River is a magnet for travelers, backpackers or the history buffs together with worshippersfor the mythological significance of this place along with all sorts of fakirs, gurus and other holy men from India or abroad. While there are plenty of guides for traveling to Hampi, in a future post I shall post an article on covering Hampi in 48-hours and sharing my travel hacks that the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide doesn't cover.