HAMPI – Part V of VII: Ruins that inspire Awe

Series :

HAMPI – of what remains of the ancient Vijayanagara is hauntingly beautiful.

Part V : Ruins that inspire Awe

Off we went to explore the different historical sites in Hampi in the auto we hired. The driver was sometimes acting as a guide as well. There are just too many sites in Hampi to explore.  For the first timers in Hampi, as we were, it is better to take a local guide or an auto, rather than driving around yourself.

Come join us as we spend our day in the ruins of ancient Vijayanagara Empire.


Lakshmi Narasimha(also known as Ugra Narasimha) 

The magnificent statue of Lakshmi Narasimha, alternately known as Ugra Narasimha (fierce Narasimha) is the largest (height – 6.7 metre) monolithic statue in Hampi. The statue had been largely damaged when the city of Vijayanagara was ransacked by the Sultanate armies, after the battle of Talikota in 1565. The four hands of the Narasimha, an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu were destroyed. Also, the sculpture of Goddess Lakshmi(consort of Vishnu) seated on Narasimha’s lap is missing although the hand of the goddess is found embracing Narasimha at the back side of the statue. The statue, said to be built during the reign of Krishnadevaraya in 1528 AD,  was housed in a temple structure, the roof of which has got completely demolished. The statue remains one of the major attractions in Hampi.

The Giant Monolithic Lakshmi-Narasimha statue


The temple of Badavilingam is situated just next to the Ugra Narasimha. Badavilingam is said to have been commissioned by a poor devotee village woman. The 3 metre tall monolithic Lingam stands in a pool of water brought in by a canal which is made to pass through the temple.



The Sister Rocks

The Sister Rocks was introduced to us as the “Seeta and Geeta” of Hampi by our auto driver. Seeta still stands in solidarity while Geeta has broken into two pieces. A decade back also, the sister rocks inclined on each other, naturally forming an archway to pass through. Now as one of the giant rocks broke into two pieces, the archway has got deformed.

The Sister rocks. A decade back, the sister rocks inclined on each other naturally in a way so as to form an archway to pass through. However, one of the stones cracked and broke into two pieces and the archway was deformed.

The Underground Shiva Temple

The Prasanna Virupaksha Temple or the underground Shiva Temple lies a few metres below the ground level. Constructed in the 14th century AD, it was dug out in the 1980s, after remaining buried for centuries . The main sanctum which has a small Shiva Linga remains submerged in water during monsoon. The water channel built in the temple is connected to the Tungabhadra and inundates the temple as water level rises in the river. It being summer we could enter the main sanctum.  There were insufficient lighting, a damp smell, families of bats inside the temple. The main sanctum was pitch dark. It was only with the help of torch light we could explore inside.  The pillars and walls of the temple are no doubt elegant, but comparatively plain and simple, not as ornately sculpted as other temples in Hampi.  The idol which was once worshiped by the royal families of Vijayanagara, now, seats alone in darkness, without its due share of limelight. The reason for construction of the temple on such low grounds remain unknown.

The Entrance to the Underground Shiva Temple
The underground Shiva Temple also known as the Prasanna Virupaksha Temple is flanked on both sides by beautiful lawns.

Just opposite to the Prasanna Virupaksha Temple site, there lies remains of an ancient ‘Saraikhana’ or hotel  which provided food and accommodation for the travelers who  visited Vijayanagara.

Remnants of a structure which is believed to be a ‘Saraikhana’ or hotel cum resturant of the ancient Vijayanagara


The Zenana Enclosure

The Zenana Enclosure as the name suggests was a secluded area for the Royal Women. The area is surrounded by a high stone wall. The notable structures inside the Zenana Enclosure include a water pavilion, the base of the Queen’s palace, the famous Lotus Mahal, watchtowers to keep guard, the elephant stables, treasury building, all set in lush green, well maintained lawns. The architecture is visibly of Indo-Islamic style. The Lotus Mahal is one of the very few structures left undamaged by the Sultanate invaders. Some archeologists argue that that the Lotus Mahal was actually a council room and the building to the northwest known as the treasury building was actually an armory. Actual uses of these structures still remain unknown.

There is a nominal entry fee for the Zenana Enclosure. The Ticket is valid for entry to Vittala Temple as well.

As we entered the Zenana Enclosure
The Queen’s Palace, only the Basement remains.
The Lotus Mahal. Purpose of this building still remains unknown. The area has 3 watchtowers, one of which is visible in the picture.
The Lotus Mahal
The Elephant’s Stable – for 11 Royal elephants

The Hazara Rama Temple

The Hazara Rama Temple dedicated to Lord Rama, was meant for the private use of the of the royal families. It was a part of the Royal Enclosure, the Seat of the kings. The temple is one of the most beautifully carved temples in Hampi. It was built during the early 15th century AD by Devaraya I. The temple structure was enhanced by the subsequent emperors.

The boundary walls of the temple complex bear carvings of rows of horses, elephants, soldiers, men and women depicting the procession for Mahanabami or Ram Nabami (the birth day of Lord Ram), probably the most important festival for the Vijayanagarians. The name of the temple “Hazara Rama” which literally means “1000 Ramas”,  is attributed to the innumerable panels of bas reliefs on the temple walls, narrating events connected to Lord Ram’s life.

Boundary walls of the Hazara Rama Temple – depicting Mahanabami processions
Carvings at the Entrance, Hazara Rama Temple
Some of the innumerable illustrative bas relief panels depicting incidents from Ramayana, on the walls of the Hazara Rama Temple
The ornate pillars of the Hazara Rama Temple. The main shrine which is empty today, remains closed.


The Royal Enclosure 

This site seems to have almost nothing at the apparent look of it, but there is a lot to explore. The Royal Enclosure or the Seat of the Kings  is the site which is believed to have housed 45 buildings, all for the use of the King and the royal family. Ruins of the double walls surrounding the Royal Enclosure, the palace, durbar hall/ King’s audience hall, victory platform, aqueducts,canals, pools/ pushkarinis , granaries etc are scattered over an an area of 59000 sq meters. This area went through maximum damage and destruction as Vijayanagara was plundered by the Sultanate army after the battle of Talikota in 1565 AD. It is said, that parts of the Royal palace were constructed out of wood, which were completely burnt off when the plunderers set the city on fire. Today, for most of the structures , only the base remains. You can build on the ruins the magnificence that once was, using your imagination.

The most notable structure in the area is the Mahanabami Dibba or the House of Victory Platform. The pyramidal platform has walls marked with carvings of the Mahanabami processions, similar to the carvings found in the boundary walls of the Hazara Rama Temple. Hazara Rama Temple, which was a temple meant mainly for the Vijayanagara royalty, is directly connected to the Royal enclosure, through a path to the north from the Western entrance of the Royal Enclosure.

The Mahanabami Dibba or the House of Victory Platform

Other notable structures include the remains of a 100 pillared ‘durbar’ hall or the King’s Audience Hall, an underground secret chamber supposed to be the meeting room for the King and his most trusted aides or alternatively a treasury, and a beautiful stepped tank. The stepped tank of depth 7 metres built in 5 tiers is one which resembles the stepped wells found in the Rajasthan! There are mason marks on each of the blocks of steps  of the tank. It is said, that the stepped tank was designed and the parts were manufactured and brought in from various manufacturers and assembled later to the present form.This is probably the one of the earliest instances of pre-fabrication and assembly in history of architecture.


There is an impressive network of aqueducts and canals supplying fresh water to all the corners of the royal enclosure including the stepped tank.

The sun was scorching, as it mostly is in Hampi.  In the Royal Enclosure one would not find much shade as all the magnificient structures that once had been there has mostly been destroyed and what remains are the bases of the structures. With the sun so high and no shade, the heat was getting on to us. We could not invest as much time as the place deserves because of the searing heat.

Me resting on one of the sides of a  huge double sided stone door. It is said that elephants were employed to open and close the door, which is humanly impossible to move.


Queen’s Bathing Area

Flanked by manicured lawns, the structure  looks quite humble from outside. The Indo Islamic structure has a moat around it to bring fresh water into and drain water out from the pool inside. The structure houses a pool with a decorative corridor surrounding it.  The pool which is now open to sky earlier had a canopy which has got destroyed. The structure is believed to have served as the bathing area for the queen and royal ladies. However, some archaeologists are of opinion that the structure was originally a pleasure house for the Kings.

The Queen’s Bath, built in Indo Islamic style
The pool, complete with clever engineering of aqueducts to bring in fresh water and drain out water, lies empty and dry today.
Anindya, at a verandah along the corridor surrounding the pool

While going from one site to another in the auto, our auto driver cum guide showed us a number of ruined sites eg. the mint , the famed pan- supari bazaar(the market for diamond and precious stones). The whole of Hampi appears to be an open air museum. Every bend of the road, every pillar of the temples, every block of stone of the ruined building structures has a story to tell. What remains of the ancient Vijayanagara is hauntingly beautiful.

We headed towards our next destination.


Vittala Temple

Our next and final destination was the Vittala Temple. The Vittala Temple, the poster boy for Karnataka Tourism, is an architectural marvel. It is undoubtedly the highlight of all the tourist attractions in Hampi.

From the gateway where you can make tickets for entry, the temple is 1.3 Km walk. There are battery operated vehicles which take tourists up and down the 1.3 Km way for Rs. 20 only. Though the distance is walkable, because of the unbearable sun, we opted for the ride to Vittala Temple. The vehicle takes you through a path that passes through the ruins of Vittalapura, the ancient township surrounding the Vittala temple, with many artifacts, temples, pushkarinis, pavillions, market area etc. on the way.

The Vittala temple, set on the bank of Tungabhadra, is dedicated to Vittala, a form of Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The complex was built in 15th century AD on a sprawling campus by Devaraya II and further developed by Krishna Devaraya. It is complete with compound walls, gateway towers/gopurams, festival hall, marriage hall,  pavillions, and the main temple.

There is a beautifully carved stone chariot which is actually a shrine of Garuda, the bird faced winged being, who serves as transporter of Lord Vishnu . The stone chariot shrine of Garuda is placed facing the main shrine of Vittala, just like Nandi is placed in the temples of Shiva.  The stone chariot is an intricately carved masterpiece which seems monolithic but is actually constructed out of granite blocks, the joints of which are cleverly hidden by the sculptors. The wheels of the chariots were once capable of turning.

The 100 pillar hall, the Kalyan Mandapa(marriage hall), The Utsava Mandapa(festival hall) and the main temple or Mahamantapa are all beautifully adorned by arrays of pillars with ornate carvings. The main temple houses a Sangeet hall of musical pillars which when tapped emits musical notes of different musical instruments. Only around 11 of the 56 pillars remain today. The solid monolithic granite pillars are cut out so as to form sub pillars of various lengths and diameters. These sub pillars when tapped sing musical notes.  The science behind the construction of musical pillars is beyond the grasp of modern day architectural know how. The world remains baffled as to how the Hampi architects achieved such a feat. The musical pillars have been put beyond access of the visitors to prevent further damage.

The Mantapa with musical pillars. Visitors are not allowed to enter the mantapa or touch the pillars to prevent further damage.  The stone chariot is placed infront of the temple with Garuda facing the main shrine of Lord Vittala.
infront of the famed stone chariot enshrining Garuda.
at the Vittala Temple Complex
a maintenance worker rests in the ruined part of the Mahamantapa of the Vittala Temple.
A closer look at one of the musical pillars
The Giant Monolithic pillars depicting mythical warriors riding lions

The temple was originally painted with mineral colors which has mostly been worn away by years of weathering. Faint traces of colors are still visible in nooks and corners where elements of weather found it difficult to wash it all away.

The Vittala temple with its extraordinary architecture and acoustics left us spell bound. We could not help but wonder how exquisite the temple would have looked before it was ruined and before the colors had washed away.

We bow in respect to the Vijaynagara sculptors and architects!


After we came back from the Vittala Temple , our Auto driver took us back to the Hampi Bazaar where we had our car parked. It was 12:30 pm and we were terribly hungry and fully exhausted, thanks to the blazing sun. We drove back to Hospet to our hotel to freshen up and have lunch.

It will be after 3 hours that we will start again towards Hampi with the mission of climbing the Matanga. I will continue the story in the next episode.

Continued in HAMPI – Part VI of VII – Sunset from the Matanga Hill

See previous : HAMPI – Part IV of VII – Morning Tea by the Tungabhadra




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