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In my earlier post on Hampi, I had mentioned about this erstwhile 14th-century imperial capital which is a great place for visitors to have a glimpse of the long-lost Vijayanagara Empire. The place which is a UNESCO World Heritage site holds great attraction for history buffs as well as for those who are interested in archeology and architecture.

I also mentioned that Hampi is a great place to spend a few days by oneself, wandering around and discovering the rich history amidst the ruined vestiges of a vibrant past.

A key attraction of Hampi is the Hampi Utsav hosted every year during the first week of November. It is a visual delight and an absolutely wonderful opportunity for photography enthusiasts when all the monuments and the ruins are lit up at night followed with a cultural extravaganza of dance and music.

One of the most striking features at Hampi are the temples which are characterised by their large dimensions, florid ornamentation, bold and delicate carvings, stately pillars, magnificent pavilions and a great wealth of iconographic and traditional depictions from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as seen in the giant monoliths of Hampi.

The Lakshmi Narasimha statue is sometimes referred to as ‘Ugra Narasimha’ for its terrifying form. This gigantic monolithic statue of the ‘half-man and half-lion’ god is the largest icon in Hampi.

It is really amazing to note that such a huge sculpture (6.7 meters high!) was crafted from a single boulder of granite. (It looks really huge, believe me!) Narasimha, as we all know, happens to be one of the ten incarnations of lord Vishnu and is depicted in a cross-legged position, seated on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake, with the heads of the snake acting as the hood above his head.

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The god sits in a cross-legged Yoga position with a belt supporting the knees. The original statue contained the image of goddess Lakshmi sitting on his lap. Unfortunately, as the statue was badly damaged, today all that is visible of the goddess is her hand resting on his back in an embracing posture.

Surrounding the statue of Sasivekalu Ganesha, there is a large open mandapa or pavilion, from where one can see a giant monolithic statue of Lord Ganesha, eight feet tall, at the foot of the Hemkuta Hill. Lord Ganesha’s love for food is legendary and the story goes that once Ganesha had eaten so much, that his stomach was on the verge of bursting out.

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Finding no other option to save himself, Ganesha caught hold of a snake and tied it around his tummy as a belt to prevent it from bursting. The statue of Sasivekalu Ganesha has a snake tied around the tummy in reference to this mythological incident. The rotund belly of the god is in the shape of a mustard seed and hence the name.

A little further up the hill was the Kadalekalu Ganesha, also carved in stone and further beyond, the Hemkuta temples, believed to have been Jain temples by some. Since we had kept the Virupaksha temple for the last day, our guide suggested that we do the Lotus Mahal and the Elephant stables next.

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Lotus Mahal is a majestic structure and a part of the Zenana Enclosure, which happened to be a secluded area reserved for the royal ladies of the Vijayanagara Empire. It was also used as a pleasure pavilion. The structure today, as it appears, looks very beautiful from a distance, although at close quarters it was all in ruins and we were not allowed to step inside as it was considered precarious and unstable!

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A deviation from the Dravidian style of architecture seen more predominantly, this one shows an Islamic architecture style with the arches, roofs and base, typical of Hindu temples.

Elephant Stables is where we ended Day Two of our tour. This long structure is a series of 11 chambers with dome roofs.

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Each chamber is big enough to accommodate two elephants. One among the few least destroyed structures in Hampi, the Elephant Stable is a major tourist attraction. This long building with a row of domed chambers was used to ‘park’ the royal elephants. Inside the chambers, there are small openings through which the ‘mahouts‘(caretakers)  used to communicate with one another. This ended Day Two of our trip. By the time we returned to our hotel, we were utterly famished and ready to tuck into a sumptuous lunch.

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On the third and final day, the first thing on our itinerary was the Virupaksha Temple. The Virupaksha or the Pampapathi temple is the main center of pilgrimage at Hampi.  This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is believed to be one of the oldest active temples from 7th century AD, with ancient inscriptions that date back to 9th and 10th centuries.

This temple has three towers, the eastern tower rises to a height of 160 feet and is nine-tiered. There is an interesting story about the Virupaksha Temple. It is said that this tower has been built such that an inverted shadow of this huge tower falls on the western wall of the temple through a small hole behind the sanctum. Interestingly, its’ design also allows the river Tungabhadra to flow along its’ terrace, descend to the temple kitchen and pass through the outer court!

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As we arrived at the temple precinct, we noticed that there was a towering Rath (Chariot) just outside the entrance and a swarming crowd making its way into the temple. There was a local festival that day, we were told, which explained the stream of devotees thronging down the undulating road, busy buying roadside fares and items of worship. At the foot of the beautiful, wooden imposing Rath, women were selling brightly-coloured heaps of vermillion and turmeric as part of the festival, along with a variety of toys and jewellery. Soon, the crowd of devotees queued up in a separate line, while we walked through a passage marked for the visitors. Once inside, we noticed devotees worshipping an elephant, which was, apparently, ‘blessing’ everyone by touching everyone with its’ trunk.

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In the inner sanctum of the temple, worshippers were busy with their rituals presided over by the priests, as they made their offerings and kept passing quietly from one end to the other. The carvings on the pillars were intricate and eye-catching as slanting rays of the sun accentuated their surface. The temple resounded with the chantings and the bells and a constant stream of people kept spilling over. Suddenly, everything seemed to come alive inside the crumbling walls of the temple, reminding one of those glorious days of the past when, Vijayanagar was a flourishing city.

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With that, our short but beautiful trip came to an end. As we made our way back to the hotel, I felt that in Hampi, every turn took me by surprise. It seemed that every monument hid more than what it revealed. We had become so familiar to the little town within a matter of a few days that the ruins made us wish we could stay on a little longer. despite the soaring mercury levels (an average of 41 degrees!!!) The best part of traveling to Hampi in summer was to find it less crowded and more manageable. Worth keeping in mind that since Hampi is generally very hot and dry all through the year,  so do keep in mind that sunscreen, hat and parasol are absolute musts, anytime you happen to be there.

The JSW township also had its own charm – with its’ bougainvillea-lined roads and gigantic industrial estates. There was also a man-made lake, where you could feed the ducks, a museum exhibiting relics based on the life and work of the industrialist O.P. Jindal and a massive sculpture in the shape of a matka (a container used to hold water) sliced in half. The pleasant breeze and the quiet charm of the township was a real treat for us every time we ventured out for a stroll in the evenings. In fact, now, when I look back, I can recall that distinctive charm of the quiet tree-lined roads that makes me wish for another visit again, away from the madness of the city that I live in.

And, of course, there was Kaladham – the Art Village, in the vicinity. It is a museum of the Hampi ruins, that showcases an outstanding Photo exhibition and 3D – 360-degree photographs, presented to give viewers an immersive experience of Hampi. After a half-hour show, I picked a souvenir or two from the craft shop nearby, struck by the lovely display of lights, down the corridors and the extended deck area. Thus ended our truly memorable and humbling experience at the ruins of Hampi, of the incredible sculptural work that remains the pinnacle of Vijayanagar art.

Bewitching, forlorn and yet spellbinding, in every sense of the word!

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