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iXiGOers Aug 21 2013

What is the history of Hampi?

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Hampi is a historical site scattered with ruins and excavations — a strange landscape suffused by silence and austerity. Hampi is widely known for its heritage tour packages in the field of tourism. As the capital of the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara, which reached its zenith under the rule of Krishnadeva Raya between 1509 and 1529, Hampi was a beautiful and well-organised city in its prime. It was vanquished in a war with five other medieval kingdoms in 1565, when the city was ransacked and destroyed completely. In the vicinity of Hampi one sees massive boulders in the largely rocky landscape, balanced on or against others in seemingly precarious positions. The scale of things here — from the size of the mammoth boulders to the vastness of architectural space, with scarcely any relief in the form of trees or water bodies — only adds to the aura of Hampi. This land is not just empty, it is desolate.


Photo of Virupaksha Temple

This is the only ruined city of any significance to be seen in India. The best way to get into the city is to book a Hubli to Hampi taxi which takes about 2 hours. Hampi's 33-km area is large, and the surviving structures are sufficient to give a feel of what the city would have been like in its prime. More important, however, is the fact that Hampi challenges every notion of beauty you could have held about a place. One can find places of great natural beauty in mountains, seasides, plains and deserts; compared to Hampi these are clichéd. This land is so barren, it is stone. But not your average, run-of-the-mill stone. Here you are surrounded with boulders larger than the largest trees, all balanced on a rocky and undulating terrain. They haven’t been chiselled into brick except for the ruined structures; they just lie around the place pretending to be nothing but themselves — brown and grey and streaked with black. This is a place that easily could have inspired Rabindranath Tagore’s The Hungry Stones and is worthy of a visit simply to experience how a completely different terrain transforms the self.


Photo of Vitthala Temple, Hampi

Born out of a resurgent Hinduism determined to prevent the incursions of the Delhi Sultanate into the Deccan, the Vijayanagara Kingdom took root in Hampi. Though it kept Delhi at bay, it was in constant battle with the Muslim Bahmani Kingdom to its immediate north. A good amount of trade passed through Hampi, as is attested by Portuguese travellers, despite the fact that the really big players were the coastal chieftains, especially those on the West Coast. It is a place that was reputedly even larger than the Rome of its time, and headed an empire that covered most of peninsular India at its peak. The kingdom took root in the environs of Hampi when Harihara and Bukka, two brothers from the Sangama family, established an empire around 1336.

In all, 23 kings from four dynasties ruled the land over a period of 300 years. Krishnadevaraya and his half-brother, Achyutaraya, were its most legendary monarchs. They were finally defeated in the battle of Talikota in 1564, which resulted in mass-scale pillaging of Hampi. Such were her riches, it is said, that it took hundreds of elephants more than six months to carry the loot out of Hampi. To this day, the local guides recall legends that speak of precious stone-embellished temple sculptures. Now, of course, missing. But standing amidst the ruins, it sounds eerily plausible. Pillaging of a different kind over the last century has made UNESCO declare Hampi a ‘World Heritage in Danger’.


Photo of Hampi Town

So much for the reading? Well, its time to pack your bags and head here!


P.S. Thanks to Dhanwanti Nayak, our guest travel writer for the amazing inputs.

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