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The Whispering Boulders of Hampi – Hampi Diairies – Part III

 The boulders lying strewn along either banks of the Tungabhadra River cradling and camouflaging the now desolate, battered and broken monuments are mute witnesses to the glory, the majesty, the grandeur, subsequent ruthless massacre and wanton destruction.

Hampi Diary – Part III

Sunrise at the Malyavanta Raghunatha Swamy Temple

The thing about sunrises is it’s always early in the morning. Uncomfortably so for someone hitting the sack at midnight, to wake up at 4.30 am. It’s a mad rush brushing your teeth, gulping a cup of hot tea (to help in emptying your bladder successfully) change clothes, jump into the car and hurry up as quickly as you can, praying hard that the sun does not beat you in wishing good morning.

Normally people go to the Matanga Hill top or the Hemakuta hills to view the sunrise. We decided to be different. We were told that the Malyavanta hill top has an amazing view of the Hampi topography giving a 360 degree panoramic view. So whether the sun rises or sets in any direction, we were assured of seeing it.

We set off early in the morning on the Hampi Kamlapur road. It is located on the way to Vittala Temple from Kamlapur. It is probably the only hilltop in Hampi where you can drive right top. A narrow paved uphill path led us to the gate of the large temple campus. There were many ruined temple structures and pavilions. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and hence Raghunatha Swamy Temple. A gigantic boulder with a white tower houses a shrine with a Siva Linga.

We quickly moved to the back wall and through a narrow opening climbed up. We ended on top of a cliff where the blowing winds were powerful enough to lift us off and take us to Anjanadri at Anegundi. There were gigantic boulders standing precariously near the edge of the cliff holding their own despite the strong winds blowing here.

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The view from here was awesome. It was as if we were looking at a live map of Hampi with its many hills, the green fields, the valley, the plains, the “U” and “S” shaped trails that passed through the fields and rocky hills and the unknown structures that were scattered around liberally. Slightly away from the main tourist areas, we found very few people here. We waited patiently for the sun to smile upon us but the haze in the horizon played spoilsport.  Notwithstanding, we had a lovely time and the view of the temple campus from the top was beautiful.

We decided to move towards the Royal Enclosure to get an idea of the life of the royals of Vijayanagar.

Frolicking in scented waters– The Queen’s Bath

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On the way just close to the enclosure we encountered a non descript building surrounded by a moat, fronted by a beautiful lawn. Curiosity led us inside. There was a sunken centre with stone steps leading to it from the surrounding corridors. The corridors boasted lovely arches, carved pillars, projecting balconies with windows. The overall settings seemed to suggest that it was a private pleasure house of the king and the queens for frolicking in scented waters. Lascivious scenes moved past our mental screens. We sighed and moved on towards the path to the royal enclosure.

Date amidst the ruins -with the Royals of Vijayanagar

We walked through a broken down structure into what can best be described as an open air museum of enchanting ruins. Eyes teared on seeing only stone platform remains of where once stood palaces, temples, chariots, royal baths, bazaars, courtyards, elephant stables and private quarters of the elites.

  1. The imposing Mahanavami Dibba – a photo gallery in stone
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A tall structure looking like a elevated stepped platform caught our eye. As we closed to it we found that there were steps leading to the top on three sides. This was the celebrated Mahanavami Dibba, the platform used during the “Navami” celebrations. It is a three tier structure. The king used to sit on the top giving audience to his subjects. On closer inspection we found intricate carvings on each of the sides, a live photo gallery showing scenes of life and times of the Vijayanagar Empire. Daily life activities, dancing poses, musicians, musical instruments, hunting, riding, elephants, camels, village belles,  warriors marching, battle scenes, were all there carved all over the place. There were scenes from the Ramayana and other mythological epics. Each carving a labour of love.

2. The Pushkarani or Stepped Tank

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A beautiful square structure with geometrically carved steps in layered symmetrical tiers caught our attention. Moving closer we found it was a pond. Evacuated in 1984-85, this beautiful “Pushkarani” as the locals call it, is a square structure with five steps. Each side has a pyramidal shaped flight of steps to get into the next lower level. The bottom has stone slabs and below that is sand to purify the water.

3. A water supply marvel – The Aqueduct Networks

A large network of stone pipes close by made us saunter there.  This was the kingdom’s water supply lines connected to over a score and twenty ponds and wells. An architectural feat of those times. A section which has been restored does deliver water even today as per information. Bukka’s Aqueduct is the most significant one.

4. Stepping into the dark – secretive Underground Chamber

Located next to the Mahanavami Dibba was what looked like an innocuous square structure. As we neared it, we could see a series of steps leading to the bottom. We climbed down and saw an opening in the side wall. Entering inside, darkness greeted us and led us through a narrow passage to a meeting room. This was the secret chamber for discussion of confidential matters. Maybe in the days of yore, there would have been a building at the top, camouflaging the secret rooms below, which must have been sufficiently lit. We marvelled at the cunning of the king and his resourceful artisans.

4. Seeking audience – at The King’s Palace

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Only some broken pillars, base stone structures a few walls damaged beyond recognition spreads over a large ground remain of what was once the palace, durbar halls and chambers. If only these stones could speak, they would have told us many stories of power, passion, intrigue and deceit that finally led to destruction and savagery beyond compare, of one of the most magnificent kingdoms of ancient India. As Robert Sewell, in his book A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar), puts in poignantly “One day, there was this magnificent empire with gold and diamonds in the hands of its subjects and within 24 hours, the marauding armies had butchered the people and laid bare the desolate streets of the city like some burial ground. In the history of the world, there cannot be another chapter of destruction, that can equal the demolition of Hampi and the massacre of its citizens by an army.”

5. Temple of a thousand Rama – The Hazara Rama Temple

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Further ahead as we continued exploring and moved to the centre of the royal area with beautiful manicured grass we came across a monument with beautiful carvings on its long exterior walls. Given its special position in the midst of the royal enclosure, with all roads from the various monuments leading to it, we presumed that it was something special. We stepped in for a view and were dazed by the beautiful ornamentations and decorations crafted by master artisans. We were informed it was built for exclusive use of the royals of Vijayanagar. The walls around the main shrine was a veritable photo album (albeit in stone) of Ramayana.  The adjacent shrine had similar friezes narrating the story of Rama’s twins Lava and Kusha. It was like reading the Ramayana in pictures frame by frame. There were also sculptures of the Bhagavata Purana too. The outer walls were decorated with multi-tiered horizontal friezes with elephants, horses, attendants, soldiers and dancing women and various mythological stories of gods and sages.

After meeting His Royal Highness of Vijayanagar we moved over to the Zenana Enclosure to seek an audience with the Her Royal Highness, the Queen.

Zenana Enclosure and Lotus Mahal

The Enclosure was once a fortified compound with watch towers and included the Palace, the Lotus Mahal, a Water Pavilion and Treasury House.

The most striking feature of the Zenana Enclosure is the Lotus Mahal. As we neared the monument we realized why it was named so. The balcony and the passages are covered with a dome that looks like an opened lotus bud. This is one structure whose architectural style is a departure from the typical Vijayanagara style. It is one of the few monuments in a good condition. The lawns around, with the trees, were a nice place to lie down and rest our weary legs.

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Walking to the middle of the enclosure we came across a ruined structure with a broad multi-tiered carved base, the only proof that a Queens Palace was in existence here once upon a time. Right on the opposite side was the Water Pavilion. Nothing much was here except a badly ruined structure. Further ahead was a plain looking building without any windows or any distinct features. This was the Royal Treasury.

There are Watch Towers located in three corners of the Zenana Enclosure. Each tower is a two storied structure with steps that lead to the top. The sight from the top is supposed to be beautiful giving a view of the surrounding areas and the Elephant Stables. The ladies of the royal family would stand at the top and watch the royal processions go by unseen by the commoners. All of them are damaged largely. We did not climb up so cannot vouch for the sights.

There is a belief among some archeologists, that the Zenana Enclosure is not exactly what it means.  It is alleged that this is actually a King’s Palace, the Treasury building is an Armoury and the Lotus Mahal a meeting room of the King and his council of ministers. These arguments are based on the fact that the enclosure is very close to the guard quarters and elephant stables. And the Treasury building resembles on closer look like a armoury for keeping weapons of war.

The King’s Prized Elephants and their stately Stables

A brief rest and respite on the lawns of the Lotus Mahal rejuvenated our tired bodies.  We exited the Zenana Enclosure and stumbled into a large lawn with an imposing rectangular building with high ceilings, topped by huge domes, eleven in number on the count.

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The chambers on which the domes were built had ample girth, to support two elephants each. At the back of each chamber, there appeared what must have a circular hole, presumably for the mahouts to come in. A concealed stairway helped you reach the rooftop. We believe that the favourite elephants of the King, used for ceremonial duties, would have been given pride of place here.  The large lawn at the front of the stable structure looked like a parade ground where ceremonies would have been conducted in times gone by.

This is the third part of the Hampi Diaries. Please click on the below link to read the next part.

Hampi Diaries – Part 4 

To read all the parts please click below

Hampi Diaries All Parts 

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