Stone Chariot Image courtesy Vijaya Narsimha from Pixabay
At the turn of the 14th century in India, there were several Hindu kingdoms in the Deccan, which had been chronically raided and pillaged by Muslim rulers from northern India. In the opening decades of the 14th century, the upper Deccan kingdoms situated in the modern-day states of Maharashtra and Telangana were all under the suzerainty of the Delhi Sultan, who installed Hindu puppet princes in the defeated kingdoms. In 1336 AD, two of these vassals, Harihara Raya I and Bukka Raya I, who were brothers, declared their independence and gradually brought most of the southern part of the subcontinent under their control. They were aided and encouraged by a local priest called Vidyaranya, who wanted to rid the region of Muslim influence.
Under successive rulers of the Sangama dynasty, the whole of South India came under the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire. Deva Raya II, considered the best Sangama ruler, even invaded Sri Lanka and received tribute from the kings of Burma. Due to continued attacks by the Muslim dynasties from the North, the capital was shifted to Vijayanagara, site of present-day Hampi in the state of Karnataka. It was easier to defend the city from the southern banks of the river Tungabhadra. Wars between succeeding Delhi Sultanates and Vijayanagara continued throughout the 15 century, which expanded military might of the southern empire.
The rulers of the empire retained the well-functioning systems and methods of administration adopted by the kingdoms, which preceded them: the states of Hoysaya, Pandya and Kakatiya. The empire was held together by the king’s authority. Religion and culture united the different factions, who took pride in the Hindu ethos of their nation. The empire reached its peak under Krishna Deva Raya from the Tuluva dynasty, who ruled from 1509 to 1529. His armies were consistently victorious and conquered territory formerly under the Delhi Sultanates. Many of the monuments at Hampi and elsewhere in south India were either commissioned or completed during his reign. By this time, Hampi/Vijayanagara was the second-largest city in the world after Beijing and probably India’s richest. The city had powerful trade links with Arabia and Europe.
Hampi Temple Image courtesy Lisarutis from Pixabay
During the 1540’s, a regent named Aliya Rama Raya usurped power and drafted Muslim generals in his army, which was not a novelty in the empire. In the Battle of Talikota against the northern sultanates in 1565, the Hindus had gained the upper hand when two Muslim generals from Aliya Rama’s army switched sides and beheaded the emperor. As was their custom, they stuffed the severed head with straw and put it on display. This created chaos among the loyal soldiers who were completely routed. The Sultans’ armies plundered the capital over a period of six months and reduced its monuments to the ruinous state in which they lie at Hampi, which remained abandoned for several centuries..
The empire lasted another century though. Tirumala Deva Raya sired the Aravidu dynasty, founded a new capital city and attempted to reunite the far-flung reaches of the empire. His successors inherited the wars with the Muslims and reigned till 1646, after which many principalities of South India declared their independence and founded their own kingdoms in Mysore, Madurai, Tanjore and Chitradurga. These kingdoms were to have significant impact in the region in the following centuries but they had ended the last, great Hindu empire of South India.
Image courtesy Justin Wheeler from Pixabay
Monuments at Hampi
Over more than three centuries, the Vijayanagara emperors built a vast open-air theatre of temples, palaces and other structures in a dazzling combination of styles like the Dravidian, Chalukya, Hoysala and Chola schools of art and architecture. Though the rulers commissioned similar structures and monuments throughout the empire, they remain concentrated at the Hampi archaeological site as towering landmarks of a vanished empire Hampi boasts of more than 1600 structures, many of which pre-date the Vijayanagara Empire.
Hampi came under UNESCO protection in 1986 and is an active excavation site of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The spectacular landscape of Hampi is dominated by craggy hills, open plains and the river Tungabhadra and remains of the old structures, which comprised the royal, sacred and urban cultures of Vijayanagara and whose sophistication is still evident. The structural diversity of the monumental group comprises of forts, royal complexes, shrines, temple complexes, pillared halls, baths, wedding halls, memorials and water structures, gateways and defence posts and fortifications, etc.
Step Well Image courtesy Vijayan Narsimha from Pixabay
Notable Hindu attractions include the Vitthala Temple complex, Krishna Temple complex, Narasimha, Ganesa and Hemakuta group of temple, the Pattabhirama Temple complex and the Lotus Mahal complex among others. There are also Jain temples and a mosque within the Tomb of Akbar Shah. The ruins of the city provide exquisite glimpses to a once powerful civilisation. The excavated remains represent the extent of Vijayanagara’s economic prosperity, political standing. Hampi is testimony to the south Indian, especially Dravidian architecture, which is characterized by structures of massive dimensions, lofty towers, pillared chariot streets, ornate gates, cloistered enclosures and aqua channels.
Though the Vijayanagar Empire was in a constant state of war with Muslim kingdoms, the latter were actually an integral part of Hampi making it a multi-cultural society. The group of monuments include examples of Indo-Islamic architecture in buildings like the Queen’s Bath, Elephant Stables and the tomb complex of Ahmed Shah, a Muslim officer in the army of Krishna Raya Deva II.
The integration and interaction of the urban population with royalty, sacred institutions and administrative and defence infrastructure was nothing new, but at Hampi, it is still there for all to see. Hampi is a ghost town, which illustrates and narrates an important historical event: Of the complete destruction of a thriving metropolis, which was the core of the Vijayanagara Empire at the Battle of Balikota. Hampi constitutes the visible remains of the last great Hindu Empire at the Battle of Talikota.
To get the best experience of Hampi, schedule at least three days to explore it and see the story yourself. There are various residential options including 5-star hotels and resorts in the vicinity of the city. For more information on visiting Hampi, please refer www.hampi.in.