Unlike the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Bada Imambara Masjid in Lucknow, people fail to establish an instant connection with the former grandiose of the civilization of Hampi, lying almost forgotten in a remote corner of Karnataka. Hampi was the last capital of the Hindu Kingdom of Vijaynagar, set apart by the Tungabhadra River almost cutting through the city, and a backdrop consisting of over ten square miles of the boulder-strewn hill. Even in its ruined state, Hampi has its unique charismatic charm with the historic ruins spread over an area of sixteen square miles along the river bank.

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Vegetation is sparse and untouched in and around Hampi with langurs that may be easily spotted sitting in the temple complexes and enjoying the view just like the other tourists. Hampi is at its greenest during the monsoon months, which makes it look as though nature itself kept the centuries-old ruins hidden until the nineteenth century.

“History lies well-hidden under the layers of the forgotten civilization of Hampi.”

monsoon months, which makes it look as though nature itself kept the centuries-old ruins hidden until the nineteenth century.

“History lies well-hidden under the layers of the forgotten civilization of Hampi.”

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The hills and rocky plains are dotted by over 500 monuments and other attractions, built by princes of Vijaynagar. In 1336, King Harihara chose Hampi as the capital which further helped the city grow in wealth and power until it was raided, looted and later, abandoned by the Deccan Sultanates in 1565. But it is believed that the story of Hampi dates back to the epic mythology, Ramayana. Hampi is said to be the present-day Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom as referred to in the mythology. To head here is a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage for several Hindu devotees.

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Nevertheless, Hampi demonstrates over 1600 surviving remains of forts, riverside royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, halls, pillars, mandapas, gateways, check-posts, etc. Among these, few important ones are the Krishna temple complex, Narasimha, Ganesa, Hemakuta group of temples, Achyutaraya temple complex, Vitthala temple complex, Pattabhirama temple complex, and the Lotus Mahal complex. Dravidian architecture flourished under the Vijayanagara Empire and is characterized by their massive structures, cloistered enclosures, and enormous towers over the entrances encased by pillars engraved with folklore and mythologies.

The defense architecture of the city was known to have seven lines of fort walls, at least one complete line of which remains. The secular architecture of Hampi can be seen in several palatial buildings, that are Indo-Saracenic in character combining the Hindu and Muslim features. Religious architecture is seen among the pre-Vijayanagara temples on the Hemakuta hill and to the north of the Virupaksha temple, along with large monolithic sculptures like Narasimha, Ganesha, and Veerabhadra. A considerable number of Muslims also lived in the city. Several tombs, graves, and mosques are seen among the monuments at the site. There are quite a few monuments of varieties in materials, form, and style meant for everyday use domestic and public meant for use by the Royalty, highlighting Hindu civilian architecture. The architecture of the temples in Hampi referred to as the Vijayanagara style of architecture relied on locally available resources. Granite was primarily used other than softer schist rock for carvings, and brickwork and woodwork which have almost vanished over the years.

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The most famous temple at Hampi is the Vittala Temple Complex. Built-in the 16th century, the temple is dominated by 56 ornate monolithic pillars, dubbed the Musical Pillars. The Virupaksha Temple on the western end of the Hampi Bazaar is the oldest temple at Hampi, constructed in the 15th century, and is dominated by its 50-meter tall gopuram. One of the more unusual structures is the so-called King’s Balance. Legend has it that the wealthy kings would be weighed on a giant scale against grain or gold, which was later distributed to the poor.

The city can be seen to its fullest capacity from the top of the biggest hills of Hampi’s, Matanga, and Anjanadri. The boulder-strewn landscape also makes the location perfectly fitted for rock-climbing. A boat ride along the banks of the Tungabhadra river serves as an opportunity for an altogether different perspective of the ‘City of Ruins’, as is Hampi commonly referred to by most tourists. On the bank of the river is ‘Hippie Island’ which has rocks that serve as a cliff-jumping spot.

On the southern side of the river, thrives a village- the only surviving civilization in Hampi. Before the raid of the sultanates, puras (townships) surrounded the Dravidian temple complexes containing bazaars, residential areas, and tanks that applied hydraulic technologies that were used to integrate the town and defense architecture with the surrounding landscape. What was once a prosperous kingdom with diamonds sold on streets, called Pan Supari Street is now a village dependent on farming of cash crops and commercial enterprises solely dependent on tourism.

After it was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 2008, Hampi received a lot of attention from foreign tourists as well. Even though it is not as popular as other archaeological sites of the country, the ruins of the city make it the biggest open-air archaeological museum of the world. The tensions between modern uses and protecting the traditional fabric need to be managed with the utmost sensitivity. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is responsible for the protection and management of the site designated in Hampi. The constitution of a single heritage authority, Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority (HWHAMA) ensures the effective management and protection of the site. It was found to be of utmost importance to acknowledge the diversity and complex relationship among the cultural and economic systems in the region.

Like many other tourist places, Hampi is also facing the pressure of growing tourism, with uncontrolled exploitation of the natural systems of the city. What is currently untouched and unexploited shall soon face the wrath of human activities. The urgent need of the hour is to set forth regulations that do not hamper the surviving ruins of the once-thriving civilization. The bigger question here is if we are not empathetic towards the heritage of Hampi, was Hampi better-off as being undiscovered?

Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Currently pursuing her major in urban planning, she believes that design and literature are two paradigms which can alter the overall outlook of the world when backed by practical data.

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