Deccan Diaries: Hampi/1

Technically this was my third trip to south India but in a more real sense this was pretty much the first time I got to explore the Deccan history and culture. Not to mention how at peace I was. On my first visit (to Chennai) unfortunately and unknowingly I had ended up in some evil witch's den. It was so painful and traumatic that even after all these years I feel nauseous by the sheer memories.

My first time with the history of the great Vijayanagara Dynasty was back in eleventh standard when I had read Tungabhadrar Teerey by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. The torrid love story between princess of Utkal and a commoner running away from the clutches of mlechha Bahmani invaders in the backdrop of King Krishna Devaraya's reign and his win over the battle with Utkal remains one of my favourite stories till date.

Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire from fourteenth century onwards for two hundred years. And long before that, Hampi was Kishkindha, the empire of vanara king Vaali (later Sugriva). If you travel further back in time and end up in the age of Puranas then Hampi becomes Pampakshetra or where Pampa Devi (the southern version of Parvati) convinced Shiva to marry her. If you are a history/mythology enthusiast, Hampi is the time machine to the land of ultimate party for you. #nerdalert

Scumbag terrorists like Khilji and bin Tughlaq invaded and pillaged Hampi many times along with other Deccan cities. In 1565, the battle of Talikota denotes the fall of Viajayanagara Empire by an unholy alliance formed by a group of MUSLIM SULTANS that would eventually capture and DECAPITATE the last king of Viajayanagara Dynasty, Aliya Rama Raya. Then they went about looting Hampi and in the end set it on fire. Hampi burned for six months...

It wasn't until almost 300 years later the ruins of Hampi caught the attention of some British orientalist and survey work began. The survey work by the ASI that started in 1885 continues till date.

As I mentioned before Hampi felt like time travelling to me. The entire town is a gold mine of historical monuments built by great kings whose names have been systematically wiped out by our previous governments that glorified the clan of the invaders instead.

Our trip started with a visit to the Matanga hill at sunset. Matanga hill was where Sugriva took shelter while being hounded by Vali. Rishi Matanga had once cursed Vali that he would die if he ever set foot there. The hilltop houses ruins of Veerabhadra temple with rows of Nandi and Shivalingam engraved on the stone pavements leading up to the main alter that is basically a natural cave. Hardly anybody was going inside the temple and the priest was more than happy to have me crawling my way to my favourite Man. Cloudy afternoon made visibility so poor that the sunset seemed quite anticlimactic. Sandhya aarti at the Malyavanta Raghunatha temple was a better experience than the sunset. Legend says Lord Ram and Lakshman spent their monsoon at the very place during their search for Sita ma. A group of temple musicians were singing Ram bhajans; their beautiful voice along with the instruments were echoing all the way till the hilltop. It was a magical twilight. If you closed your eyes and took a moment you might still feel the divine serenity that Lord Ram's brief presence had left there.

Next day our expedition started with the famous Vijaya Vitthala temple. The magnificent stone chariot (vandalised by the invaders) remains symbolic to the erstwhile Hindu empire that once rose to such great heights. The temple, however, does not house any deities at present. Whatever has remained of the ornate sculptures and carvings tell tales of the bygone era and its people. My imagination was running wild at every mandap. How pretty was the royal courtesan who would dance here every evening? Was the singer in love with her? How would the people dress up? How grand and glorious it would feel during the festival days? And it was inevitably leading to one thought in the end. How horrific it must have been when Hampi was set on fire by those cruel heinous sub-humans who came to India to do nothing but to pillage, plunder, and convert our people..

Underground Shiva temple felt like a respite after spending so much time in the sun. Hampi was overall pleasant during our stay but the afternoon sun was pretty cruel nonetheless. The cool, dark inner sanctum sanctorum of my favourite God's abode came as blessing to my allergic to light and too much heat, nocturnally inclined existence. Not to mention the temple was built in a fashion where its floors are always under a couple of feet of water.

Ugra Narasimha statue is another symbol of Hampi's lost glory and the vandalism it had gone through in the hands of Muslim invaders. Originally built as Lakshmi Narasimha statue it had Goddess Lakshmi sitting in the lap of Narasimha (the fourth Avatar of Lord Vishnu). The Goddess and parts of Narasimha's limbs were destroyed by the Mughal invaders in 1565AD. Next time when someone tells you false stories of the greatness of the Mughals, show them a picture of the Ugra Narasimha idol.

Next to the Ugra Narasimha sits Badavilinga, the largest monolithic Shiva lingam in Hampi. After all these years of looking at its pictures on social media I felt this immense joy coursing through my body to have been there in person. However, I wasn't lucky enough to meet the great old man K N Krishnbhatt ji who is in charge of doing daily puja there.

Lunch was brief but enjoyable nonetheless. The local thali was wholesome and delicious. Although I couldn't figure out for the love of all the gods what a massive Saint Bernard dog was doing at the restaurant in such crazy hot climate. 

After lunch we headed for the last but definitely not the least point of the day, the one and only Shree Virupaksha Temple. The original temple is said to be older than the Vijayanagara dynasty although it was expanded and flourished under the patronage of the Vijayanagara kings. Lord Virupaksha is another form of Shiva who is also known as the Pampapati. As per tradition, Goddess Pampa Devi sits in a separate temple to the left side of Lord Virupaksha's temple. Lakshmi, the temple elephant awaits to welcome the devotees right after crossing the main gopuram. Don't forget to bring some bananas for her. She is such a beautiful and lovely lady. Although most of our bananas got snatched midway by the persuasive albeit super cute herd of cows outside, and then by some monkeys. Moral of the story? Buy a lot of bananas so not to disappoint any of the living Shiva avatars in the temple premises. Duh. Temple charges extra if you wish to take a tour of the sanctum sanctorum. You may not want to miss that. I definitely did not.

(to be continued)