Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some short notes and pictures from Hampi

This isn't a detailed post - just thought I'd put together some thoughts, descriptions, anecdotes and pictures (do click on the pictures for a better view) from my Hampi trip. Most likely, after some reading, I'll write an elaborate article on the historical context of the place.

I


Just a few days ago, I was in Hampi, a small town on the eastern flank of Karnataka, and once the center of the impressive Vijayanagara Empire of the 14th-16th centuries. The monuments of this empire – large temple complexes with some brilliant sculptures and reliefs, aqueducts, water tanks, fortifications, and markets – were built from large blocks of stone. This doesn’t seem surprising if one looks at the landscape: the region is plentifully endowed with boulders of all sizes. The hills and mounds here are striking, natural agglomerations of such boulders, finely balanced and seemingly precarious.





I became aware of the Vijayanagara Empire only after reading V.S.Naipaul’s interpretation of its historical context in India: A Wounded Civilization. He saw it as the last stand of the “Hindu-Buddhist” tradition that in his view had come to end of its possibilities. He saw it also as a victim of Muslim invasions from the north: the destruction of Hampi in the 16th century was to Naipaul just one example of what had happened elsewhere. But more on that in another post.

II

The region immediately around Hampi is supposed to be the mythological Kishkinda, the Vanara Kingdom mentioned in the Ramayana. At the top of one of the hills (Anjanadri Hill) is a plain white temple with a domed red top and a saffron flag. Its cool interior houses an abstract, bright orange relief of Hanuman on a slab of stone. With my parents I climbed the six hundred steps to the temple. It was breezy at the top, and the wide meandering curve of the Tungabhadra River was clearly visible. On our side of the river was the extensive patchwork of rice, maize, sugarcane fields and orchards of plantain and coconut; on the other, faintly discernible in the bright sun, were the ruins of Hampi.


A single-story house stood in rocky space opposite the temple, and a man was reclined on a ledge of the verandah. Because of his relaxed posture, and the rather secluded location, I thought he might have chosen to stay here to retire from the affairs of the world. But some time later, when we were ready to leave after our darshan and the ritual offering of bananas to the monkeys around, the man, now standing next to the bearded pujari of the temple, broke this news to us. “Kumaraswamy has agreed to resign,” he said in fluent Hindi, evidently pleased at the development. “He has agreed proceed with the power sharing agreement with the BJP.” This was a reference to the still ongoing political crisis in Karnataka (Kumaraswamy is presently the chief minister of the state).

I thought: what an unlikely place to receive such a dispatch! The mention of politics in the idyll of a remote shrine was incongruous – and somehow comical too. (It is quite another matter that news was untrue and was based perhaps only on speculation. For Kumaraswamy, of the JD-S, has not yet resigned and refuses to yield power to the BJP, as had been agreed when the two parties had jointly formed the government. And just today there’s been a call for fresh elections.)

The pujari, as he helped us dispense our bananas, enthusiastically participated in the brief discussion on politics that followed. He, too, like the man who told us of the resignation, wasn’t from around Hampi – the shrine wasn't managed by locals as I'd expected – but from Pandharpur in Maharashtra. Later I found that there were many Ram-bhakts like him, from the northern states, in the other temples and shrines around Hampi. One of them, a short man, dressed in a brown robe and with a cigarette in hand, hitched a ride with us in our auto. And the passages of some temples were full of the gleaming, just-washed stainless steel utensils of these wandering men.

7 comments:

iounit said...

If my recollection of history is correct, Hampi was capital city of Vijayanagar Kingdom. Krishnadeva raya was I think among the most successful Kings.

I visited Hampi almost ten years back. Splendid structures. The kind of work they have done with granite is truely amazing. Makes me think the kind of schools they would have had to teach people such skills. Should have been an excellent blend of engineering and arts.

There is a nice documentary from NG:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5096103596865842301&q=tamil+king&total=148&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0
Gives some interesting information.

It mostly cover Chola Kingdom but towards the end gives information on Vijayanagara Kingdom and how temples served as not only a place of culture but also commerce.

Hari said...

iounit - good to see you here again! Hope you are doing well...

You're quite right about Hampi being the capital, and Krishnadevaraya being one of the successful kings. I am actually searching right now for a more detailed historical perspective. For instance, what was going on elsewhere in the subcontinent when Vijayanagara in the midst of its boom and when it declined? What trade links did it have?

I agree: The granite workings of the time are truly amazing. Thanks also for the video...

iounit said...

Hari,
I am doing fine. Hope all is well at your end.

Yeap, I am interested in that too. Infact did some first cut research(read googling).

Heyday of Vijayanagara empire
(1336 – 1565)
Krishnadevaraya
Reign: 1509 to 1530)
1565: Fall of Vijayanagara empire & Battle of Tallikota.
1525: Invasion by Babur
1498: Vasco-da-Gama reaches India
1510: Portuguese captures Goa

I would be interested in knowing more. Let me know if you get some good resources.

Hari said...

Hey iounit,

I am doing very well!

Good chronology there. Try India: A Wounded Civilization, by VS Naipaul - he analyzes Hampi I think quite early in the book. Also there's an account by Domingo Paes, a Portuguese visitor to Hampi during its heydey. I believe there's one by a Persian visitor to Hampi as well. I think these accounts will be interesting to read because there will be some interesting first-hand perspectives on Hampi. If they are written well, they'll provide some good contrasts between the world views the visitors were used to and what they observed at Hampi.

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peterparker said...

it was the last bastion of HINDUISM which is nothing but BRAHMANISM. Now the HINDU INDIA is no more with the kind of VARNA SANKARA/CROSS BREEDING which is going on will truly make SANATAN DHARMA PERISH, as these mixed progenies despise indian culture. Now there is no hindu india.

Anonymous said...

yeh it is the awesom plase for camping hampi is ,most sexiest place in the universe