Heavenly Hampi!

Heavenly Hampi!

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Reiterating the concept of beauty in ruins and permanence in transience, Hampi has truly stood the test of invasions for generations of civilizations.

On 17th September, 37 enthusiastic Chyks from Chennai set off on a road trip to this ancient city that was probably India's richest and the world's second-largest in the medieval era. Despite the sun beating down on our heads, it was our love for sanatana dharma that motivated us to explore this architectural paradise after nearly 15 hours of an overnight bus ride.

For something that was built from scratch in the 13th century, this monumental marvel explained so much about our history and Hindu culture. The architecture in the temples of Hampi made them such crucial centers of education.

Our first stop was at the Vijaya Vittala temple where we divided ourselves into 3 groups with knowledgeable tour guides to show us around. The Vitthala temple and market complex were located northeast of the Tungabhadra River. Artistically, it was the most sophisticated Hindu temple in Hampi and was a sacred part of Vijayanagara. This temple dedicated to Lord Krishna also had a Garuda shrine (which is a pictured symbol of Hampi) in the form of a stone chariot in the courtyard.

We then took a break for lunch in the Saraswathi temple which was followed by an enlightening Satsang with our spiritual mentor - Swami Mitrananda.

Our next stop was at the Square Water Pavilion (also called the Queen's Bath) followed by the beautiful Octagonal bath. We then climbed our way to the Mahanavami platform, also called the "Dasara". Being the largest monument in this complex, it had three ascending square stages leading to a large platform that likely had a wooden mandapa above it. This was burnt down during the destruction of Hampi. It also had a dedicated public Bhojana shala (house of food) where numerous thalis (dishes) were carved on rocks on both sides of a water channel. We then strolled through the Lotus Mahal and the Gajashala, or elephant stables, which consisted of eleven square chambers.

This was followed by a visit to the Hazara Rama temple. The inner walls of the temple left us awestruck as it had friezes containing the most extensive narration of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

The Virupaksha temple added to our euphoria of relishing Hampi's architectural brilliance. Being the oldest shrine, this was the only other active Hindu worship site. This temple was a collection of smaller temples, a 50-meter high gopuram, a Hindu monastery dedicated to Vidyaranya of Advaita Vedanta tradition, a water tank (Manmatha), a community kitchen, and a 750-meter-long ruined stone market with a monolithic Nandi shrine on the east end. The temple aligned the sanctums of the Lord Shiva and Goddess Pampa Devi temples to the sunrise along the large gopuram at its entrance.

Just before nightfall, we climbed atop the Malyavanta Hill to visit the Raghunathaswami temple. It was a surreal experience to hear the Valmiki Ramayana being recited there. According to mythology, it was here that Lord Rama and Lakshmana waited for the monsoon season to get over before marching to Lanka with a clear plan along with Hanuman and the Vanara army.

With a blessed darshan of the Lord, tired feet, and a satisfied soul, we had a spirited session of bhajans (yes!) on our way back in the bus, followed by delicious dinner and hearty conversations before forcing ourselves into getting some rest for the forthcoming day.

Temples in Hampi were known to manifest positive prayers and energy. We got to experience this the next morning when we visited the shrines in the Hemakuta hills. Located south of the Balakrishna temple, the 9.8 ft Badavi Shiva Linga stood in the water in a cubical chamber and had three eyes sketched on its top. South of this was the shrine of a 22 ft high Narasimha Swami who originally had goddess Lakshmi with him. With signs of extensive damage and a carbon-stained floor, it contained evidence of attempts to burn the shrine down. Unfortunately, this and most of the other temples in Hampi are non-functioning. In traditional Hinduism, if an idol of a God/Goddess had been destroyed or semi-destroyed in the course of time, the place cannot be of worship.

After visiting the Balakrishna temple, we stopped for a scrumptious breakfast in its front yard with a stunning view of a long market street, locally known as the bazaar. The Atchyutharaya temple situated close to the Tungabhadra River had an outer gopuram leading into a courtyard with a 100-column hall and an inner gopuram leading to the Vishnu temple.

We then trekked our way up to the Hemakuta hill. In Vijayanagara times, the Virupaksha temple was traditionally approached from the river, first past a ceremonial tank then along the market street with a broad road. That's exactly the route we got to take! The hill hosted a monolithic Ganesha - The Kadalekalu Ganesha named after Ganesha's gram-shaped belly. Every sculpture we came across served as a constant reminder of how we should responsibly take actions to preserve our Dharma in the present and future.

With friends like family bonding over long hours of travel, comfortable accommodation, and delightfully tasty food, trekking our way exploring Hampi was so wholesome and satisfying in every way. With lots of gratitude towards Gurudev, we seekers got to explore the breathtaking ruins of Hampi that not only glorified the Vijayanagara empire but Hinduism itself. We look forward to many more wonderful experiences at CHYK.

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Chinmaya Udghosh