Friday, September 13, 2013

Hampi Pt. 2

The 15 foot tall monolithic Kadalekalu Ganesha statue, in a shrine behind Hemakuta Hill. Carved out of a single granite boulder, this is one of the largest representations of Ganesha in the region. The word Kadalekalu means "Gram" in  the local language, which the statue's belly is thought to resemble. In his hand, Ganesha is holding a rice cake, which he's eating with his trunk. I was surprised that this photo turned out as well as it did, given how little light there was in the shrine.    

The great thing about Hampi is that it offers an almost limitless amount of places to explore. While there are a number of "must see" sites like the Lotus Mahal and the Vittala Temple, there are also a huge number of ruins and natural features in the area which see relatively little traffic.  This post is going to focus on the less visited parts of the ancient capital, along with a few of the major sites that I missed on my first day exploring the ruins of Vijayanagara. As you might expect, here's much more to Hampi than what I've posted here. I think you could spend your whole life studying the area and still not see absolutely everything.

Columns carved with Yalis in a subsidiary, and as far as I can tell recently restored, shrine up a short street that leads to the north of the Vittala Temple. The entire area are the Vittala Temple is covered with the remains of marketplaces and other temples, some of which are still in a totally ruined state. 

Travelling north of the Vittala Temple, along the banks of the Tungabhadra, I came to a small, though easily accessible, cave. Here I found lots and lots of potsherds. After this point, once I knew what to look for, I realised that almost anywhere you look in the Hampi area, the ground will be covered with fragments of pottery. That being said, I have no idea how old these these pieces here are. Pottery of exactly the same design as what was used during Vijayanagara's heyday is still very much employed in the area. These fragments could be 50 years old, or they could be 500 years old. However, there were a few things about the location of these particular potsherds which led me to believe that they had been around for a while. They were embedded in a pile of debris which was the result of rocks shifting around inside the cave and fragmenting. However old the potsherds were, they predated the pile of debris they were embedded in, which did not look recent. Also, the cave was in a fairly remote area, which, as far as I could tell, was not a site of human habitation any time in the past few centuries.  

The top of a pot, of the same design as the potsherds above, in an adjacent chamber. Given that the caves that honeycomb the granite hills in the Hampi area are so much cooler than the outside, I suspect that people who lived in the area used them for storing items that needed to be kept out of the heat. Many of the chambers that I looked into had broken pots in them. My guess is that there is probably still quite a bit of archeology to be done in the caves. For one thing, it wouldn't surprise me if the very first people who settled in the area selected the site because it offered them literally thousands of caves that they could use as natural shelters. Note the white object on the left of the broken pot, and the crescent shaped  thing to the right. Those aren't trash, but rather the segments of the exoskeletons of deceased millipedes.        

Marshlands in the middle of the Tungabhadra, looking south. Here you can just make out the Vittala Temple below the lefthand hill. The ridge in the center of the picture is Matanga Hill. The tiny point on top of the hill is the tower of a temple.

A view of the Kadalekalu Ganesha from the outside, with a person for scale. 

Inside a granary that was built as part of the Krishna Temple Complex. The building looks rather plain from the outside, but the inside consists of a number of  high arched vaults. The construction is entirely Islamic in style, and contrasts markedly with the Hindu structures that it's located right next to. It's interesting how much of the purely functional architecture in Vijayanagara is derived Islamic (and, ultimately, Roman) designs.  While Hindu architecture can be marvelously complex, and is very often exceedingly beautiful, the lack of true arched construction meant that it was not possible for builders in India using indigenous methods to enclose  large spaces.  Thus, for certain buildings, such as this granary, it made more sense to borrow foreign methods.

The dilapidated brick and plaster tower of a smallish Vishnu Temple, beside the road that leads south from Hampi Bazaar. Here much of the plasterwork has been worn away, but you can still get an impression of how the temple might have looked centuries ago. On many of the temple towers in the vicinity, the plasterwork has been removed completely, leaving just the bricks.  The figure in the niche to the right is Vishnu, accompanied by attendants (who are unfortunately now headless).

This photo was taken looking straight up through the brick temple tower, or shikara. In this case, the shikara  appears to be something rather more like a cone than a pyramid.  

A small shrine to Kali, that happened to be in the precincts of the Vishnu temple. 

Chhatra, or feeding house, in the jungle just off the road that leads south from Hampi Bazaar. I've not been able to find out much about this structure, beyond the short paragraph about it in the guidebook Hampi Vijayanagara by John M. Fritz  and George Michell. However, as far as I can tell, it has the largest floor plan of any individual structure in Vijayanagara. Though it's not that far from the road, the building is hidden in fairly thick jungle growth, and is virtually impossible to see unless you're practically right next to it. 

Giant spooky surreal colonnade in the Chhatra.  The structure is interesting in its own right, largely because it's so huge, though it's also entirely functional, without even the slightest trace of decoration. Even the workmanship on the individual pillars is rough and primitive.   

A scarecrow, in the fields behind the Chhatra. It fooled me for a second or two. 

Inside a dank, flooded, Virupaksha temple, now known as the "Underground Temple," as parts of it were once buried. As nearly as I can tell, nobody is quite sure why it was built below ground level. The earliest parts of the structure date from the later half of the 14th century, though much of what one sees now are somewhat later additions.  Rather a creepy place, the temple is now flooded most of the year because of  water that seeps in from nearby fields, the water table having been significantly altered since the time the temple was built. The temple has very little in the way of sculpture, and is architecturally comparatively plain, but the fact that it is set below ground level and partially flooded gives an ambience that is unique among the temples of Vijayanagara.   

A view across the flooded interior of the temple, towards a certain Mumbaikar and his reflection. He and a couple of his friends had been so good as to give me a ride on the back of a motor bike.

Big damn temple crab. The water in the Underground Temple was full of great big crabs like this one. There was something rather eerie about them, which added to overall atmosphere of the place. This fellow was around five or six inches across, and probably would have made pretty good eating. 

Looking into a large, Islamic style structure, east of the the Underground Temple, and west of the Hazara Rama Temple, in an area full of ancient walls and the foundations of old palaces. It is referred to in my guide book simply as a "Nine Domed Hall," and is perhaps the most thoroughly Islamic looking building in the whole of the royal center. As to its precise purpose, I've not been able to dig up any information. It's apparently not a mosque, which is what I first thought it was. It started to rain that day, and I wound up hiding in this building for around an hour, waiting for it to stop.

A two storied, hybrid-style, pavilion,  just next to the nine-domed hall. 

Bad weather over the Royal Center. You can just make out one of the large, Islamic style watchtowers in the center of this photograph. It started pouring on me just after I took this.

Hampi in the driving rain. The hill on the left is Matanga Hill. Shortly after taking this photo, I again wound up hiding from the rain in a historical building, this time a minor Shiva Temple. 

The late 14th century Ganagitti Jain Temple, south of the Royal Center. A relatively early structure by the standards of Vijayanagara, it was built by a Jain commander in the Vijayanagara army by the name of Irugappa.

Bhim's gate, which is just behind the Ganagitti temple. It once served as an entrance to the Urban Center of the city. It would appear to be a fairly early sturcture, given that, unlike in most of the secular architecture in the city, here the builders of the gate did not adopt an Islamic style arch, but instead relied on a simpler, trabeated method. 

As I was leaving Hampi Bazaar one day, I inadvertently found myself adrift on a sea of goats.  

One of Hampi’s ubiquitous  giant millipedes. These creatures seem to thrive in the bouldermounds of central Karnataka. I would say that this specimen is over a foot long. 

Closer on the giant striped millipede. 

Sugriva’s Cave. For some reason it was decided that this seemingly unexceptional pile of boulders were where Sugriva, the king of Kishkinda during the events described in the Ramayana, hid away Sita’s jewels after they had fallen out of Ravana’s flying chariot as it bore Rama’s wife away to Lanka. I’m not sure how it became fixed in tradition that these particular boulders were the ones where the jewels were kept.

The egret seems to be whispering in the pony's ear. 

The King’s Balance, outside of the Vittala temple complex. As I understand it, the function of this structure was, indeed, to provide a means of weighing the kings of Vijayanagara. The ruler would be suspended from a chain, and then weighed against gold. The amount of gold that corresponded to the king’s weight would then be distributed to the city’s priests. 

A motorcycle passing through the Talarighat gate. This was once an entrance into the urban core of Vijayanagara. 

The remains of one of the Islamic quarters of Vijayanagara. This area was one of the more interesting of the barely visited/obscure, parts of the ruined city,  not necessarily for the quality of the monuments, but rather for what it illustrated about life in Vijayanagara. Though the rulers and most of the population of the city were Hindus, the Muslim minority of the city was significant enough that it had its own quarters, complete with mosques and Islamic style tombs. Hence, the Islamic influence on the rulers of Vijayanagara extended further than merely borrowing Muslim architectural methods. There were clearly a fairly large number of Muslims who made Vijayanagara their home, and the rulers of the great city would seem to have been happy to enlist their services. 

A crude tomb in the Islamic quarters. Though it can definitely be said that there was a significant population of Muslims living side by side with Hindus in Vijayanagara, it would be going too far to view this as an indicator that the two populations were living together harmoniously, or that the rulers of Vijayanagara were models of toleration. For one thing, though the Islamic ruins in Vijayanagara are surprisingly extensive, they are mostly fairly crude, and vastly inferior both to the Hindu buildings in the city, and, not surprisingly, to the ruins of the former Sultanate Kingdoms further north. The impression one gets looking at the simple tombs and buildings in the Islamic Quarters is that the area was rather a ghetto. That being said, given that the history of Deccan during this period is often characterized as essentially a struggle between Hindu and  Muslim, that the rulers of Vijayanagara were willing to maintain such a large population of Muslims in their city is significant in itself. 

Ahmad Khan’s Tomb. The largest and most technically adept buildings in the Islamic quarters are associated with an early 15th century military commander by the name of Ahmad Khan.This is the best looking building in the Islamic quarters, even if it is a fairly typical piece of Islamic architecture. It, along with Ahmad Khan’s Mosque, apparently once had outer coatings of plaster which have since disappeared.

Ahmad Khan’s Mosque.  From a distance, the building has none of the characteristics one associates with mosques, (for one thing, the prayer hall is covered). It looks rather more like a very plain temple, and, oddly,  features virtually no Islamic architectural elements. However, if you go inside, you can see that there is a prayer niche. 

A ring of Naga Stones, which appear to have been found elsewhere and then consolidated here. I blundered into these by wandering behind the Islamic quarters. There was a concentration of smallish temples and carvings in this area. However, I’ve not been able to uncover any information at all about these shrines.

A curious and obscure temple behind the Islamic quarters.  I never saw another temple with this arrangement. The actual shrine was in a small chamber under a boulder, while the tower was built on top.  The brick and plaster structure is fairly plain, with virtually no carvings of gods or goddesses, and it seems to be unrestored, though it is in unusually good condition. That green sign is a notice that this is a protected monument. 

This is a mysterious Hanuman Carving that I found just in back of the temple in the last picture. 

The brick and plaster Gopura, or ceremonial gateway, of the Raghunatha temple complex, which is on top of Malyavanta Hill, to the south of the Royal Center. There is a tradition that it was on Malyavanta Hill that Hanuman and Lakshman, Rama’s brother, waited out the monsoon before proceeding to Lanka to deal with Ravana and get Sita back.

Another view on the same building. This Gopura has one of the very best preserved brick and plaster towers in the whole Hampi region. The complex also seems to receive only a fraction of the visitors the other major sites in the area get. 

 A view from the summit of Malyavanta Hill looking north out over the urban core in a rare patch of direct sunlight. If you look carefully, you can see quite a few minor ruins dotting the hillsides.

Low relief carvings of fish on the outside of the Raghunatha temple complex. The entire outside wall of the temple complex is decorated with carvings of sea creatures.  

So, that was Hampi, and this finishes (after nearly a year!) my series of eight posts on my travels through Karnataka. Looking back, after having spent so much time reserching and blogging about the state, Karnataka seems if anything more interesing than it did when I first exploring it. Every destination that I visited exceeded my expectations, and I would be happy to go back.

Not sure what I'll be writing about next. Stay tuned anyway!

The inspirational running rock of Hampi.

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