Hampi – My Story by Saptarshi Saha

A beatifully penned story of Hampi by Saptarshi, an IT professional and a traveller who loves to write.

Who discovered me? Who let me into the history books? It was Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821) a Scottish army officer who loved travelling and anything which was orient. He was in the British East India Company and later became the first Surveyor General of India. He was ordered to survey the Mysore region shortly after the British victory over Tipu Sultan in 1799. He produced my first maps along with illustrations of the landscape and notes on archaeological landmarks. However, what the history books do not mention, that it was only by sheer accident that he stumbled upon my many ruinous minarets. It all started on a stormy night when the colonel’s boat on the raging Tundra was thrown against the granite rocks. The colonel and his orderly barely managed to hold on to the timber and save themselves. They managed to swim ashore. Tired and beaten by the rain, both drifted away to sleep. And then… the rain stopped. The birds and the deers came out. The morning with its sun, revealed all my wonderful vistas to the boat wrecked colonel and his orderly. He could hardly take it all in, with his eyes. As the morning sun shone away the rain of yesterday, I presented my ethereal beauty in all its splendour. The liquid gold of the sun, the shine on the minarets made the colonel… my lover for life. 

Hampi – Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Let me not bore you anymore with the colonel. Hampi is my name now, but I was always known as Pampa-kshetra, Kishkindha-kshetra or Bhaskara-kshetra — derived from Pampa, which is the old name of the Tungabhadra River. The name “Hampi” is an anglicized version of the Kannada Hampe (derived from Pampa). Over the years, I have also been referred to as Vijayanagara and Virupakshapura (from Virupaksha, the patron deity of the Vijayanagara rulers). I was chosen because of my strategic location, bounded by the torrential Tungabhadra river on one side and surrounded by granite ridges on the other three sides. My story starts with this popular folklore, which I want you to believe. Two local chieftains, Hakka & Bukka, large in girth and big in courage reports to their guru an unusual sight they saw during a hunting expedition. A hare chased by their hound suddenly turns courageous and start chasing back the hound. Vidyaranya, the guru, tells them that the place is so special and asks them to establish their capital at this place. The seed of my first empire was sown. And over the next 200 plus years (1336 AD – 1565 AD) four dynasties started their rule on me. 

Hampi – Melody in rocks
Photo courtesy New Indian Express

My glory years have been a saga of resistance against the northern Sultanates as well as building of some of my most spectacular monuments. Domingo Paes, a Portuguese horse trader, who visited me during my heydays wrote in a letter, “The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it. I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit-trees…and so on.” Does not matter, I still did not like Domingo as he had many skeletons to hide in his cupboard. The books do not tell you that. But I could see everything and remember. 

 So what, if I am aged! But I am still charismatic enough to attract tens of thousands of visitors through the year, especially during the annual festival held in December. Since my discovery in the new world and after my UNESCO heritage branding in 1986, I have been a delight for backpackers and pilgrims alike. The temples, palaces, aquatic structures, markets and many such ancient remains are the ways I have ingrained myself into your mind and pages of history. The wonderful kings of Vijayanagara dynasty were popular for their encouragement to the fine arts and creation of temples. No wonder that you find parts of temples like that of Virupaksha dating back to the 11th century, a time even before the kingdom was established. In fact, I also feature in the tale of Ramayana as Kishkinda – a fact that is recorded in the carvings at the Ramaswami temple.

Sureal Hampi – Photo courtesy Malayala Manorama

As happy as I always try to be, sometimes I too feely lonely. Just like you, human beings crave for lost time, I too get lost in the years that I have left behind. I am someone to whom time has not been always kind. But there are places scattered across me, given up by man which have still stood their ground. Forsaken and abandoned though I feel during a typical hot May summer day, I quench my thirst by clinging on to my past and draw in newcomers to lose themselves in my beauty, mystery and charm. The Vithala Temple Complex images the true story behind the empire’s encouragement for art and music. This splendid structure, though ruined by the later Mughal invaders, has 56 musical pillars, a stone chariot with revolving stone wheels and several monolith pillars. The House of Victory, built after King Krishnadevaraya won the battle at Orissa, is popular for the elegant carvings on plinth mouldings. The Lotus Mahal with the geometrical accuracy to ensure a perfect climate inside the queens’ quarters all year round, elephant stables, Pushkarini, the Mahanavami Dibba and Nobleman’s Palace are just a few of the hundreds of structures that I adorn history with.

Most of the structures lie along the route between Kamalapura and me. One such place is the Dravidian-styled Malyavanta Raghunathaswamy temple that has marine monsters carved on its outer walls. The 6.7-meter tall monolith of Ugra Narasimha depicts King Krishnadevaraya’s love for architectural splendours. In fact, the Bazaar that been photographed and reproduced in zillion features reflects truly my eclectic mixture of the ancient and the modern. In my heydays, you could actually buy diamonds and rubies as big as your fist in this very place. And on and on I can go talking about all my attractions. Lord Rama and his brother had visited me, while looking for Rama’s wife, Sita. It was Vali and Sugriv, the brave monkey kings who helped him to raise his army. I get all misty eyed to think about such memories. The Hazra Rama Temple complex known for its frescoes from the Hindu religion. It has over a thousand carvings and inscriptions depicting the story of Ramayana. Did you also know that Vijayanagara’s main coin mint was located here? The coinage was astonishing with gold, silver and copper coins with pictures of Gods, animals, birds, etc. The ruins of the mint can be seen inside the walled enclosure at the west of the royal enclosure. These are only a few interesting facts about me. There’s much more and beyond about me and my monuments. And you ought to visit me to learn and see.  

Without sounding vain, I am possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Even if you are cynical and experienced, you will admit as much. Your camera and words will fail. I am surreal beyond the realms of what you can dream. The fields so green and the sky so azure with stones in burnt amber. I will forgive you if you would come back again dumbstruck and cry aloud… ‘Yes, this is where the trinity played lego with the granite stones. This is where the Apsaras had their Disneyland’. I will encourage you to strike a conversation with the locals to know me well! 

I with all my ruins and monuments am spread over an area of 26 square kilometres, and can easily be reached by road, rail and air through Hospet. You can also come by regular buses plying towards me from all nearby towns and cities. Hospet, which is 13 km away, has a railway station and several road transport facilities that can help you reach me easily.