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Heritage walk to Vittala Temple
Today I went on a heritage walk to the majestic Vittala Temple. Built around the 15th century CE, and expanded several times by succeeding kings of the Vijayanagar empire, it is the epicenter of Hampi’s attractions. This time, I was in Hampi along with a trekking group from Bangalore.
It was another day of missed opportunities. I was awake at 5 am, ready for new experiences in Hampi. We were supposed to observe the sunrise from Anjaneya hill as per schedule but our trek leader himself got up at 6 am and by that time hiking up Anjaneya hill was a lost cause.
I wandered around the open spaces near our lodging. it was pleasant with no vehicular pollution or noises in the serene surroundings.
By the time everyone was ready, it was already 9 am. We drove down to Anegundi, the nearest town where we took our breakfast in one of the local dhabas. The idlis, served by a lovely lady were delicious. Just across the street, a wooden Rath was stationed. These chariot like structures are used during the rath festival in these parts.
From there the bus dropped us off near Talwar Gatta, where a ferry helped us across to the other side. Honestly, I was a bit scared, since they didn’t have any life jackets and one is always hearing about ferries toppling over in India.
History of Hampi
Hampi, the whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is traditionally known by many names, the prominent ones being Pampapura or Pampakshetra. Pampa being the name of river Tungabhadra in ancient times. Archeologists have discovered rock edicts from the time of Emperor Asoka, in Bellary district dating 269-232 BCE suggesting this region was part of the Maurya Empire during the 3rd century BCE.
By the 10th century, Hampi had become a centre of religious and educational activities. Inscriptions at Virupaksha temple are evidence to Chalukya kings making land grants to the temple.
Later between the 12th and 14th centuries CE, kings of the Hoysala Empire built temples to Durga and Shiva. During this time, Hampi became an alternate residence of the Hoysala kings.
With time, it went on to become the epicenter of the Vijayanagar Empire in the 14th century. Chronicles left by Persian and European travelers, particularly the Portuguese, state Hampi was a prosperous, wealthy and grand city near the Tungabhadra River, with numerous temples, farms and trading markets.
By 1500 CE, Hampi was the world’s second-largest medieval-era city attracting traders from Persia and Portugal. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. In 1565, the Vijayanagar Empire was defeated by a coalition of Muslim sultanates; its capital was conquered, pillaged and destroyed by sultanate armies leaving the heritage city in ruins.
History of Vittala Temple, Hampi
After a short walk from the river, I found myself at the parking area for Vittala Temple. From here visitors can either wait for a buggy or simply walk to the temple, which is a bit of a distance away. A queue had already built up, so if you desire a peaceful experience please come early. While others in my trek group waited for the guide, I made my way to the temple.
The Vittala temple was originally built in the 15th century AD, during the reign of King Devaraya II (1422 – 1446 A.D.), one of the rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire. Many successive kings have expanded and enhanced the temple campus during their regimes to the present form.
The road leading to the temple is in a completely ruined state. This road was once the location of a thriving market place. The market was known as the Vittala Bazaar and was famous for horse trading. The ruins of the market can be seen on both sides of the road.
The buggy dropped me off near the entrance tower. One typically accesses the campus through the eastern gate, next to which the ticket counter is located. Behind the ticket counter lies the remains of a township called Vittalapura that existed around this temple complex.
The Vittala temple complex
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. The iconic temple has amazing stone structures such as the incomparable stone chariot and the fascinating musical pillars.
The Vittala Temple is also known as Shri Vijaya Vitthala Temple. It is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. An idol of Vitthala-Vishnu was enshrined in the temple.
Notable among the structures are the shrine of the Goddess (Devi shrine), Maha Mantapa or main hall (Sabha Mantapa or congregation hall), Ranga Mantapa, Kalyana Mantapa (marriage hall), Utsava Mantapa (festival hall), and the famous Stone Chariot.
The main attractions of the Vittala Temple are:
Stone Chariot of Vittala Temple
The first structure I noticed was the sculpted Stone Chariot, which is considered to be the most stunning architecture of the Vijayanagara kingdom. Designed in the shape of an ornamental chariot it is an iconic landmark of Hampi; even used on the new 50 Rupee note.
The Stone Chariot or Ratha stands in the courtyard of complex, dedicated to Garuda. As per Hindu mythology, Garuda is the carrier of Lord Vishnu and its image is enshrined into the sanctum.
Just like the Shore temple of Mahabalipuram, this shrine was also built with blocks of granite. The joints are cleverly hidden in the carvings and other decorative features that adorn the stone chariot. The chariot is built on a rectangular platform. The base platform is adorned with mythical battle scenes chiseled into the granite on all sides.
Though the chariot is not resting on it, the four giant wheels attached mimic the real life ones complete with the axis shafts. A series of concentric floral motifs decorate the wheels. The platform, where the wheels rest, shows clamps were later added to fix it from moving around the axis. The wheels of the stone chariot were once functional and could be rotated by the people. But some years ago the ASI cemented the wheels in order to avoid causing damage to them any further.
In front of the chariot two elephants are positioned as if they are pulling the chariot. However if you look carefully, you will see that these elephants were added at a later stage. Originally two horses were carved in that position. The rear legs of the horses can be still seen just behind these elephant sculptures.
Maha Mandap of Vittala Temple
On leaving the Stone Chariot you reach the main hall in front of the Vittala temple. Unfortunately the entrance to the Maha Mandap was blocked due to undergoing repairs.
The Maha Mandapa or main hall of the Vittala Temple is situated in the inner courtyard of the temple complex just behind the Stone Chariot. It is a structure of immense beauty sitting on a highly ornate base carved with a series of floral motifs.
The base is decorated with carvings of warriors, horses, swans and several other ornamental designs. The lowermost of it is a chain of horses, its trainers and the traders.
Facing the Stone Chariot, a series of steps flanged by elephant balustrades gives access to this elevated open hall called the Maha-Mandap (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.
There are forty pillars lining the facade of the temple. The central part of the Maha Mandap has sixteen intricately decorated pillars having beautiful sculptures of Narasimha and Yali.
These richly carved giant monolithic pillars set of sixteen pillars forms a rectangular court.
The sikhara of the Maha Mandap is very much in ruins, more so because it was created out of mud bricks.
Most of the granite and sandstone towards the base have somewhat survived.
The Musical Pillars of the Ranga Mantapa:
The Ranga Mantapa is other main attraction of the Vittala Temple. The large mandap is renowned for its 56 musical pillars carved out of huge single pieces of resonant stone. This cluster of musical pillars are also known as SAREGAMA pillars, indicating the musical notes emitted by them. The musical notes and emanated when the pillars are tapped gently.
There are a set of main pillars and several sets of minor pillars inside the Mandap. Each main pillar provides support to the ceiling of the Rang Mandap. The main pillars are designed as musical instruments.
Every main pillar is surrounded by 7 minor pillars. These 7 pillars emit 7 different musical notes from the representative musical instruments. The notes emanating from these pillars vary in sound quality depending on whether the instrument is a percussion, string or wind instrument.
The emission of musical notes from stone pillars was a mystery that fascinated many people down the centuries. Tapping the musical pillars to emit musical notes is now prohibited, as tapping over the years have caused some damage to the musical pillars of the Ranga Mantapa.
Some other structures around the temple complex
While walking around the complex, I found this lone tree on the grounds. I am not sure about the functionality of the small mandap along the wall, but it looks beautiful.
A few steps ahead lies the northern gate. Like the other structures, the base is very much as it was centuries back, but the top parts are in ruins.
Making a full circle of the complex, there is a small temple at the back of the complex.
Ruins of Vittala Temple
The Vittala Temple is in a partially ruined state. The sanctum of the temple once contained an idol of Lord Vittala. However, now the sanctum is devoid of any idol. The central western hall of the temple was ruined long ago during the attack of the Mughals that led to the downfall of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1565 CE.
According to historical memoirs left by Portuguese and Persian traders, the city was of metropolitan proportions; they called it “one of the most beautiful cities”. I have written another article on the still standing ruins of Hampi if you would want to read about that.
In 1565, at the Battle of Talikota, a coalition of Muslim sultanates entered into a war with the Vijayanagara Empire. They captured and beheaded the king, followed by a massive destruction of the infrastructure of Hampi. The city was pillaged, looted and burnt for six months after the war, then abandoned as ruins.
Festivals at Vittala Temple
The temple has floodlights installed inside the temple complex. The lights illuminate the Vittala Temple Complex at night and offer a majestic view of the beautiful structure against the dark night sky. But if you want to see it, you should come in winter when the days are small. In summers the place closes up well before sunset.
Hampi Festival (November)
This is the largest festival at Hampi. Generally they are scheduled for 3 days during the first week of November. The celebrations typically packed with shows of music, dance puppet shows fireworks and a pomp procession as the grand finale showcasing the cultural richness of the place.
Purandaradasa Aradhana (January/February)
The annual Purandaradasa festival is held at the temple complex. The festival is held every year to commemorate the birthday of the ancient poet Purandaradasa who lived in Hampi. The 2-3 days long program is scheduled during the months of January or February.
The monument opens from 8.30 am in the morning to 5.30 pm in the evening. However, try to visit this place soon it opens in the morning. That is the only time you can explore peacefully before the crowd builds up.
Admission fee is Rs 30 for Indian citizens and Rs. 500 for foreign nationals. Preserve this ticket. If you are in Hampi for the whole day, you can use the ticket on the same day to also enter the Zenana Enclosure area.
I have been to Hampi twice and yet it feels like I have to come back many a more times to truly capture its essence in full. I was prepared to stay another day, but the living conditions of our lodgings forced me to catch the bus and head back to Bangalore.
Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the mythical birthplace of luv & kush from the epic tale of Ramayana .
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