Thursday, February 7, 2008

Vittala Temple

As the epicenter of Hampi's attractions, Vittala Temple is the most extravagant architectural showpiece of Hampi. No amount of words can explain this spectacle. The temple is built in the form of a sprawling campus with compound wall and gateway towers. There are many halls, pavilions and temples located inside this campus.

Vittala, after whom the temple is known, is a form of lord Vishnu. This aspect of Vishnu was worshiped in this part of the country as their cult deity by the cattle herds.

The temple was originally built in the 15th century AD. Many successive kings have enhanced the temple campus during their regimes to the present form. Yon can even see the remains of a township called Vittalapura that existed around this temple complex. The highlight of Vittala temple is its impressive pillared halls and the stone chariot. The halls are carved with an overwhelming array of sculptures on the giant granite pillars. The stone chariot located inside the campus is almost an iconic structure of Hampi.

One typically accesses the campus through the eastern entrance tower, next to which the ticket counter is located. On entering through this massive tower, the first thing draws your attention would be a series of compact platforms along the central axis of the campus. At the end of these platforms stands the Stone Chariot. This is in fact a shrine built in the form of a temple chariot. An image of Garuda (the eagle god) was originally enshrined within its sanctum. Garuda, according to the Hindu mythology, is the vehicle of lord Vishnu. Thus the Garuda shrine facing the temple’s sanctum is symbolic.

Stone Chariot inside Vittala Temple complex
It may appear (and sometimes even referred to) as a monolithic structure. In reality this stone shrine was built with many giant granite blocks. The joints are smartly hidden in the carvings and other decorative features that adorn the Stone Chariot. The chariot is built on a rectangular platform of a feet or so high. All around this base platform is carved with mythical battle scenes. Though the chariot is not resting on it, the four giant wheels attached mimic the real life ones complete with the axis shafts & the brakes. A series of concentric floral motifs decorate the wheels. It appears from the marks on the platform, where the wheels rest, the wheels were free to move around the axis.

Base of the Stone Chariot : Vittala Temple
You can still see the remains of the painting on the carvings of the chariot. Probably because it was relatively protected from the natural wearing elements, the undercarriage of the chariot spots one of the best preserved specimens of this kind of paintings. It is believed the whole of the Vittala Temple’s sculptures were once beautifully painted in similar fashion using the minerals as medium.

In front of the chariot two elephants are positioned as if they are pulling the chariot. In fact these elephants where brought from elsewhere and positioned here at a later stage. Originally two horses were carved in that position. The tails and the rear legs of the horses can be still seen just behind these elephant sculptures. A broken stone ladder once gave access to the sanctum is kept between the elephants. You can still spot the marks on the floor and the doorsill where once the ladder stood.

Narasimha slaying Hiranyakashipu on his lap
On leaving the Stone Chariot you reach the main hall in front of the Vittala temple. This hall though partially damaged is still awe inspiring. Facing the Stone Chariot, a series of steps flanged by elephant balustrades gives access to this elevated open hall called the Maha-Mantapa (the great hall). The balustrades on the east and west porch of this hall is more dramatic with giant lion Yalis fighting the relatively dwarf elephants. The Maha-Mantapa stands on a highly ornate platform. This fluted platform is carved with a series of floral motifs. The lowermost of it is a chain of horses, its trainers and the traders.

The Maha-Mantapa contains four open halls within. The south, north and the east ones are still intact. The central western hall is collapsed, probably due to the arson that followed the fall of the capital.

The main highlight of the Maha-Mantapa is its richly carved giant monolithic pillars. The outermost of the pillars are popularly called the musical pillars. These slender and short pilasters carved out of the giant pillars emit musical tones when tapped. Probably these do not belong to any of the standard musical notes, but the musical tone of the vibes earned it’s the name. Unmindful curiosity of the visitors has damaged many of these pilasters and tapping on it is banned for the sake of preservation.

Vittala Temple:musical pillars
The eastern hall which is called the musicians hall is notable for sculptures of musicians on the pillars. Each of the pillars surrounding this hall is sculptured with musicians, drummers and dancers.

The southern hall is dominated with the rampant mythical creatures called Yalis. The capitals of each of the pillars branches into heavily ornate corbels with terminating with lotus buds.

The northern hall is surrounded with a series of pillars with the Narasimha (the man-lion incarnation of Vishnu) themes. The most notable ones are that of Narasimha slaying Hiranyakashipu on his lap. Prahlada is seen sitting at the base in a praying posture.

The ceilings of the halls too are of interest with the lotus like carving at the centre.

Further west is a closed hall with two porches on either side. Further ahead is the sanctum.

The inner sanctum is devoid of any idol. A narrow and unlit passageway encircles the inner sanctum. A few steps on either sides of the sanctum’s main door give access to this passage. The outer wall of the sanctum that one can only sees from this passageway is richly decorated with the Kumbha-Pankajas (the motifs where lotus flower flows out of a pot)

Hanuman and 10 headed Ravana on pillar carvings
The other attractions include the Goddess’s shrine in the northwest, the 100-pillared hall at the southwest, the Kalayna Mantapa (the ceremonial marriage hall) in the southeast and the pillared cloisters all around the enclosure wall.

Composite pillar inside the main hall
You can reach Vittala temple in two ways. The first is by the road and the second is by a walk along the riverbank from Hampi Bazaar. You can take and auto rickshaw from Hampi bus stand (Rs40) to Vittala temple. Or catch a local bus first from Hampi bus stand to Kamapapura and then from Kamaplapura to Vittala temple (ask any one at the Kamalapura bus stand to spot you the right bus)

Admission fee Rs10 for Indian citizens; USD5 or equivalent for foreign nationals. Preserve this ticket. You can use the ticket for the same day to enter the Zenena Enclosure area in the Royal Centre. Admission is free for children under age of fifteen.

Pay at the ticket counter Rs25 for use of video camera. You can use still camera free of cost. Use of tripods is not permitted inside the temple campus.

The monument opens from 8.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the evening. Try to visit this place soon it opens in the morning. You can practically see & photograph peacefully before the crowd (and noise!) builds up slowly…

Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha temple is the oldest and the principal temple in Hampi.

This temple is located on the south bank of the river Tungabadra, just next to where the local bus drops you. This area in general has been an important pilgrimage centre for the worshipers of lord Shiva. Virupaksha temple is equally sort after by the tourists and pilgrims. The annual festivals attract huge crowds of both the types.

The very origin of Hampi’s history as a sacred place revolves around the myths associated with this temple.

It believed that this temple has been functioning uninterruptedly ever since its inception in the 7th century AD. That makes this one of the oldest functioning temples in India.

Main entrance tower of Virupaksha Temple, view from inside the temple campus
The original worship place was only a few separate humble shrines (believed to be as old as 7th century) housing the image of the god and the goddesses. Over the centuries the temple gradually expanded into a sprawling complex with many sub shrines, pillared halls, flag posts, lamp posts, towered gateways and even a large temple kitchen. You access the temple’s main entrance tower through the chariot street in front now popularly called the Hampi Bazaar.

This east facing giant tower (Gopura) leads you the first courtyard of the temple complex. This pastel painted 9 storied tower with a pair of cow horn like projections on top is the most prominent landmark in Hampi. The lower two tiers of the tower is made of decorated stone work. The progressively diminishing superstructure is made with brick and mortar. All around the exterior of the first tier spots many interesting stucco figures. You may get to some distance from the base of the tower to see all of them. For example, the erotic figures of the amorous couples located at the south side of the tower. Such icons connected with fertility rites are considered auspicious on a philosophical ground. You can view them from the southward going alley (towards the post office) from this entrance to the tower. These stucco figures are located at the bottom row of the stucco figures.

flag post and lamp post inside the temple campus

The main temple is east facing and has two large courtyards, one leading to the other. You directly enter into the first courtyard through the tower mentioned above. This courtyard mainly houses a pillared hall called 100-column hall at the far left corner, Kalyanamantapa at the far right corner, administrative offices, the ticket counter, a police outpost and even an old well. A kitchen complex projects out of the compound overlapping the two courts at the south wall. A narrow passage on the wall of the 100 pillared hall gives access to the kitchen. A water channel system connected to the nearby river is built into the floor of the kitchen complex. You can see the remains of its feeding channels outside the southwest corner of the temple corner.

Triple headed Nandi (bull statue)
Just next to your left immediately after you have entered, you can see the unusual triple headed Nandi (bull statue). Behind this the wall is painted with a large map of Hampi with the main attractions marked.

Towards your right close to the tower is a police outpost. Foreign tourists are requested to register their details here. This is a simple process of entering your names and other details in the register book kept at this office. You many register it at any time and not a pre requisite to enter the temple.

Further forward (east) towards the second tower you would find the ticket counter and the shoe safekeeping (1 rupee per pair) booth and a souvenir stall with a good collection of books & maps on Hampi. The three storied tower built in 1510 AD is known after its patron, Krishadeva Raya, one of the famous kings of the empire. From the ticket counter close to this tower you can buy the entry ticket (Rs5), camera ticket (Rs50) and pay the video camera fee (Rs 500)

The tower gives access to the inner court. On entering this you would meet an important inmate the temple, the little naughty elephant. Give a one-rupee coin (the elephant takes it from you with its trunk) and you can get a smooch on head, treated as blessing.

Temple elephant bleses pilgrims
In the middle of the court along the axis facing the main shrine is a lamp post, the Balipitas(sacred platforms), a flag post and a whitewashed pavilion in which two Nandi(bull)status are positioned.

All around this open area are the pillared cloisters leaving gaps at the north, south and east edges for a series of sub shrines. The facing portion of the cloister is lined with a row of decorated pillars. The lion figure carved on the base of each these pillars seems supporting the slender upper portions. Close looks at each of the pillers reveal interesting figures of animals and other life scenes. Pair of elephant balustrades at the middle of the row gives access to the top of the cloister platform. The western end of the south cloister spots a rectangular opening on the floor. A shrine is located underground. A Nandi is positioned near the opening. Near to it is a huge stone urn with decorations. Towards the end you can see a pair of metal bells and a large leather clad percussion instrument.

The most striking feature of this court is the central pillared hall known as the Ranga Mandapa added to the temple complex in 1510 AD by Krishadeva Raya. Two mythical lion like creatures forms the balustrade for the entrance to this elevated open pavilion. As you enter the pavilion on your right is an inscribed plaque with Nandi image on top probably explains the royal patronage the temple enjoyed. This hall with 5 aisles and 38 pillars is used for temple rituals including the marriage ceremonies. The highlights include rows of pillars shaped with rampant lion like mythical creatures (Yalis) standing on aquatic creatures (Makara or Crocodiles). Warriors seem riding on these ferocious looking creatures.

The mural panel on the central portion of the hall is one of the few remains of this form of Vijayanagara art. Most of it is based on godly themes except the one at the eastern end. Here the founder sage of the empire, Vidaranaya, is portrayed moving in a procession.

Further west, beyond a small inner hall, is the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Virupaksha. Two 4 armed guardian deities, about 8 feet tall, stand on either side of the entrance to the inner hall. The ceiling of this inner hall is decorated with an open lotus motif

The sanctum contains the idol of lord Virupaksha in the form of a Linga (A phallus image). A corridor surrounds the sanctum.

Inside the temple campus.
Jackie Chan movie ‘The Myth’ was shot in Hampi. If you've seen this movie, the episode where Jackie Chan goofs with the Pungi (snake charmer's flute) while trying to trick the policemen is shot inside the Virupaksha Temple campus.
The two narrow porches on either sides of the inner hall can be used to get in and out of the main shrine.

Surrounding this principal shrines are the shrines of Virupaksha’s consort and other deities. The most important of the sub shrines are that of Goddess Pampa and Bhuvaneswari, consorts of lord Shiva, towards the north of the main shrine. These shrines are in fact much older than the rest of the grandiose structures in the compound. The short circular pillars and the doorways and the ceiling are richly carved. A bit east along the cloister, you can spot a flight of leading to an underground chamber. This contains the shrine of Pataleswara, a form of lord Shiva. Further east is the shrine of the planetary deities. Images of the nine planetary deities (Nava Grahas) are arranged on an elevated platform.

Photography is not permitted inside the sanctum area.

Behind the main sanctum a flight of steps leads to the rear exit of the temple complex. Just before the exit on the right side you would find a dark chamber with a slit on the wall. The sunray pass through this slit forms an inverted shadow of the main tower on the wall, a kind of pinhole camera effect created with stonework.

Erotic figures on the temple tower
Further up the stairs you would come out of the temple campus. Near by is a shrine dedicated to the founder sage Vidyaranya. Here also you can see the pin hole inverted shadows in a small shrine chamber. Usually someone ’operating’ the show would demonstrate it for you expecting couple of rupees tip.

Most of this locality is the residential area of the temple priests. If you trace narrow path along the outer wall towards south, you’ll reach a small but interesting pond with pillared halls all around it. The shrines here are not under worship and the area somewhat deserted. You can see a number of crisscrossing aqueduct system mentioned earlier. Thick banana plantations and shrubs surround the location.

Back to the main temple, the giant north tower, called Kangiri Gopura, near the main sanctum leads to the temple’s sacred pond, the Manmantha Tank and a series of shrines.

Altogether you need at least 1 ½ hours to see this temple complex. If you feel so hire a guide who would bump on you as you approach the main entrance tower (pay Rs50).

You can witness the daily temple rituals and ceremonies in the mornings and evenings. Temple opens before the sunrise and closes in the night. Usually the sanctum is closed in the noon. So entry into the campus may not be possible at that point of time.

Hampi - Vijaya Nagara Samrajya

Hampi, as it is popularly known today was the medieval capital of the Hindu empire Vijayanagara (the City of Victory). Hampi in the Karnataka state of India is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Hampi is charismatic even in its ruined state. It attracts thousands of tourists and pilgrims every year. Vast stretches of boulder-strewn hills make the backdrop of Hampi unique.

Dotted around the hills and valleys are 500 plus monuments. Among them are beautiful temples, basement of palaces, remains of aquatic structures, ancient market streets, royal pavilions, bastions, royal platforms, treasury buildings.., the list is practically endless. Hampi is a backpackers’ paradise, the same way the pilgrims’ delight.

In Hampi at every turn there is a surprise. Every monument hides more than what they reveal. As an open museum, Hampi has numerous popular (100 plus!) locations visitors throng.

Please explore this website on the Hampi Ruins. is cobbled with a range of information on Hampi. For example, descriptions & photo album of various monuments; Hampi ruin maps that you can print; travel details; tips for your Hampi trip; hotel locations, itinerary plan and so on...

Alan Quasha