Vijaya Nagara is in Bellary District, northern Karnataka. It is the name of the now-ruined capital city that surrounds modern-day Hampi, of the historic Vijayanagara empire which extended over the southern part of India.
In around 1500 Vijaynagar had 500,000 inhabitants, probably making it the second largest city in the world after Peking-Beijing and more than twice the size of the biggest European city, Paris. The ruins are now a World Heritage Site.
Most of the city lies on the south bank of the Tungabhadra River. The city was built around the original religious centre of the Virupaksha temple at Hampi. Other holy places lie within its environs, including the site of what is said to be Kishkindha where a Hanuman temple, the cave home of Anjana, Kesari and Shabari, a holy pond named the Pampasarovar are located. It also contains the cave home of Sugriva, the monkey king of the Ramayana.
The city at its greatest extent was considerably larger than the area described here; an account is given at the article on the Vijayanagara metropolitan area. The central areas of the city, which include what are now called the Royal Centre and the Sacred Centre, extend over an area of at least 40 km². It includes the modern village of Hampi. Another village, Kamalapura, lies just outside the old walled city, but is also surrounded by ruins and monuments. The nearest town and railway is in Hosapete, about 13 km (8.1 mi) away by road. Hosapete also lies within the original extents of the old city, though most of the items of interest are within walking distance of Hampi and Kamalapura.
The natural setting for the city is a hilly landscape, dotted with numerous granite boulders. The Tungabhadra river runs through it, and provides protection from the north. Beyond the hills, on the south bank on which the city was built, a plain extended further the south. Large walls and fortifications of hewn granite defended the centre of the city.
The name translates as ‘City of Victory’, from vijaya (victory) and nagara (city). As the prosperous capital of the largest and most powerful kingdom of its time in all of India, Vijayanagara attracted people from all around the world. Pandit Nehru, in his book, “The Discovery of India” writes:
After Timur’s sack of Delhi, North India remained weak and divided up. South India was better off, and the largest and most powerful of the southern kingdoms was Vijayanagar. This state and city attracted many of the Hindu refugees from the north. From contemporary accounts, it appears that the city was rich and very beautiful—The city is such that eye has not seen nor ear heard of any place resembling it upon earth”, says Abdur-Razzak from Central Asia. There were arcades and magnificent galleries for the bazaars, and rising above them all was the palace of the king surrounded by “many rivulets and streams flowing through channels of cut stone, polished and even.” The whole city was full of gardens, and because of them, as an Italian visitor in 1420, Nicolo Conti, writes, the circumference of the city was sixty miles. A later visitor was Paes, a Portuguese who came in 1522 after having visited the Italian cities of the Renaissance. The city of Vijayanagar, he says, is as “large as Rome and very beautiful to the sight”; it is full of charm and wonder with its innumerable lakes and waterways and fruit gardens. It is “the best-provided city in the world” and “everything abounds.” The chambers of the palace were a mass of ivory, with roses and lotuses carved in ivory at the top–“it is so rich and beautiful that you would hardly find anywhere, another such.”
The ruined city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known in that context as the Ruins of Hampi. In recent years there have been concerns regarding damage to the site at Hampi from heavy vehicular traffic and the construction of road bridges in the vicinity. Hampi is now listed as a “threatened” World Heritage Site.
The Vijayanagara empire was founded by(Harihara) and Bukka, also called the Sangama brothers. The empire consolidated under Harihara I and began to expand and prosper under Bukka Raya. Some time after its original establishment the capital was established at the more defensible and secure location of Vijayanagara on the south side of the river.
Contemporary descriptions depict a very large and highly-developed metropolitan area: recent commentators say,
“The massive walls, which can still be traced, enclosed an area of more than sixty square miles, much of which was occupied by fields and gardens watered by canals from the river. The population cannot be estimated with precision, but it was certainly very large when judged by the standards of the fifteenth century. The great majority of the houses were naturally small and undistinguished, but among them were scattered palaces, temples, public buildings, wide streets of shops shaded by trees, busy markets, and all the equipment of a great and wealthy city. The principal buildings were constructed in the regular Hindu style, covered with ornamental carving, and the fragments which have survived suffice to give point to the enthusiastic admiration of the men who saw the city in the days of its magnificence.”
The city flourished between the 14th century and 16th century, during the height of the power of the Vijayanagar empire. During this time, the empire was often in conflict with the Muslim kingdoms which had become established in the northern Deccan, and which are often collectively termed the Deccan sultanates. In 1565, the empire’s armies suffered a massive and catastrophic defeat at the hands of an alliance of the sultanates, and the capital was taken. The victorious Muslim armies then proceeded to raze, depopulate, and destroy the city and its Hindu temples and icons over a period of several months. Despite the empire continuing to exist thereafter during a slow decline, the original capital was not reoccupied or rebuilt. It has not been occupied since.
The buildings in the city are mostly built in the original native traditions of southern India, associated with the Hindu religion. Some of them show a certain amount of Islamic influence due the interaction with the Islamic kingdoms.
The Sacred Center
This title has been given by historians to the areas extending from Hampi village to Matanga Hill to its east. It is sometimes extended further northeast to the Vitthala Temple. It consists of a hilly region immediately to the south of the Tungabhadra.
This surviving temple and temple complex is the core of the village of Hampi. Also known as the Pampapati temple, it predated the empire, and was extended between the 13th and 17th centuries. It has two courts with entrance gopurams. The main entrance with a 50 meter gopuram faces east into a ceremonial and colonnaded street, that extends for about 1 km (0.62 mi) to a monolithic statue of Nandi.
The temple is still in use now. It is dedicated to Virupaksha, an aspect of Shiva and his consort Pampa, a local deity.
The hill is situated to the south of Hampi village. It bears several small temples that predate the construction of Vijayanagara as the capital of the empire, some being as early as the 10th century. The hill was fortified when the main city was constructed, and a number of more recent temples, tanks, entrances, and gopurams exist on the hill, some of which were never completed.
This is a ruined temple, south of Hampi and Hemakuta hill. It was built by the emperor Krishnadevaraya after military campaigns in Odisha. The temple is contained in twin enclosures. Parts of the temple and its compound have collapsed, and while some restoration has been carried out, it is generally in poor condition. There is now no image in the inner sanctuary.
Also to the south of Hampi is this massive rock cut idol of Narasimha, the fierce aspect of Vishnu, 6.7 m high. Originally the idol bore a smaller image of Lakshmi on one knee; this had fallen off, probably due to vandalism. The Lakshmi statue is now in the museum at Kamalapuram.
Narasimha is depicted seated on the coils of Shesha. Shesha is shown here in a form with seven heads, the heads arching over Narasimha to form a canopy. The statue has recently been restored. The granite strap binding between his knees is a recent addition to stabilise it.
The donation of this work is ascribed to either Krishnadeva Raya, or to a wealthy merchant during his reign.
This is a natural cave, said to be the original home of the ape king Sugriva, where Rama is said to have met him and Hanuman on his travels. The cave is marked by coloured markings, and the attentions of pilgrims.
This is situated to the east of Hampi, near the end of the colonnaded street that leads out from the Virupaksha temple. It is in the sacred centre of the city, and by a narrow point of the Tungabhadra river. This temple marks the spot where Rama crowned Sugriva. The temple is still in use, and the garbha griha contains statues of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita all carved out a single boulder.
Situated northeast of Hampi, opposite the village of Anegondi, this is one of the principal monuments of the city. It is dedicated to Vittala, an aspect of Vishnu worshipped in the Maratha country. It is believed to date from the 16th century.
In front of the temple is the world famous stone chariot or ratha. This is one of the three famous stone chariots in India, the other two being in Konark and Mahabalipuram. The wheels of the ratha can be rotated but the government cemented them to avoid the damage caused by the visitors.
One of the notable features of the Vittala Temple is the musical pillars. Each of the pillars that support the roof of the main temple is supported by a pillar representing a musical instrument, and is constructed as 7 minor pillars arranged around a main pillar. These 7 pillars, when struck, emanate the 7 notes from the representative instrument, varying in sound quality based on whether it represents a wind, string or percussion instrument.
The British wanted to check the reason behind this wonder and so they had cut two pillars to check anything was there inside the pillars that was producing the sound. They had found nothing but hollow pillars.Even today we can see those pillars cut by the British.
The road leading to the temple was once a market where the horses were traded. Even today we can see the ruins of the market on both the sides of the road. The temple contains the images of foreigners like Persians selling horses.
The temple is the venue of the annual Purandaradasa festival.
The King’s Balance
This structure, the Tulapurushandana, stands to the southwest of the Vittala temple. consists of two carved granite pillars, spanned by a carved horizontal granite transom. This was used on ceremonial days, when scales were hung from the transom, and the Raya (the emperor) was ceremonially weighed against gold or jewels. The treasure was then distributed, to Brahmins or others in the city.
The Royal Centre
This extensive area consists of a small plateau, which starts about 2 km (1.2 mi) to the southeast of Hampi, and extends southeast, almost to the village of Kamalapuram. It is separated from the Sacred Centre by a small valley, now consisting of agricultural fields, and which carries irrigation canals or streams that join the river opposite Anegondi. A granite platform overlooks the Royal Centre. The Royal Centre contains the ruins of palaces, administrative buildings, and some temples directly associated with royalty. Little remains of the palaces except the foundations, as they were largely timber structures, for comfort. The temples and some of the other stone structures survive however, as do many of the surrounding city walls.
An aqueduct runs through much of the Royal Enclosure and into the Great Tank where water was brought for special events. The west end of the tank is overlooked by a platform shrine. The aqueduct also runs into the large stepped tank, lined in green diorite, with a geometric design that has not required restoration.
The temple stands in a rectangular courtyard, with entrances facing to the east. Reliefs showing daily life and festival scenes occur on the outer walls of the courtyard. Scenes from the Ramayana occur on the inner courtyard walls, and on the temple itself. There is a well-relief of baby Krishna on the walls.
The temple may have been exclusively for royal use. It is believed to be constructed at the site of Vaali’s killing in the hands of Rama. It may have been a private shrine for royalty. It is unusual in that it has four black basalt columns in the mantapa (columned hall). The inner sanctuary of the temple is now empty.
This is also known as the Hazara Rama temple (temple of a thousand Ramas), due to the recurrence of images of Rama on the walls. Sometimes it is called the Hajara Rama temple (the Rama temple in the courtyard).
Underground Shiva Temple
The temple has a Garba griha with an antarala and Aradhamantapa and a Mahamantapa. The mahamantapa has pillared corridors that fuse with the pillared Mukhamantapa, making a larger pillared frontal Mantapa which also encloses a Dwajasthamba. The pillars of this temple are plain.
An inscription referring to this temple states that Krishnadevaraya donated Nagalapura and other villages for worship and offerings to the Gods for the merit of his parents Narsa Nayaka and Nagaji Devi.
At times the base of the temple is flooded and may be inaccessible. When it is accessible, masses of small bats may be found in the temple.
A palace for the queen that has, among other things, pipes with running water. A construction of the later Vijayanagara period, this structure shows Islamic influence in its arched gateways and vaulted ceilings; its construction entirely in stone is a clear deviation from conventional Vijayanagara palace and house construction that used wooden structures on stone platforms.
Also called the Stepped Bath, or the Queen’s bath, this is a stepped well designed for bathing. Such sunken wells were created to provide relief from daytime heat. It would have been covered when the city was occupied.
A set of large stables, to house the ceremonial elephants of the royal household. The area in front of them was a parade ground for the elephants, and for troops. This is another structure that shows Islamic influence in its domes and arched gateways. The guards’ barracks are located right next to the elephant stables.
Other monuments and places of interest can be found outside of the above two major centers.
A number of modern populated towns and villages lie within the extents of the original city. These include;
- Anegondi, probably the earliest settlement in the area, on the north side of the Tungabhadra river.
- Hampi, the village lies in the middle of the ruins.
- Hospet, a town and railhead, to the southwest.
- Kamalapura, a small temple town to the southeast of the Royal Centre, also houses an archaeological museum.
All of these are in Bellary district, except Anegondi which is in Koppal district.