travels website in India

Hampi On the Cusp of Time

Back To List

The ruins of Hampi, once the proud capital city of the Yijayanagara Empire in North Karnataka sprawls across the landscape like a broken dream. However, it does not take much effort to imagine how Hampi might have been in its glory days: the bustling marketplace where the wealth of the era – spices, livestock, fresh farm produce, silver, gold, jewellery – was traded; obsequious courtiers asserting the king’s authority; maids of honour fussing over bejewelled queens as they lounged in grand halls of sculpted pillars; musicians entertaining the king by playing on 56 musical pillars that supported the central structure…

Indeed, Hampi was so desirable in every way – she combined elegance and grace with power and riches – that it led to her eventual ruin. For when the combined armies of the four Bahamani sultans defeated the Yijayanagara empire in the battle of Talikota in 1565 AD, they were so overwhelmed by the prize that was Hampi that they set about plundering it, fearful that if they left the city standing, it would only attract other conquering armies. The orgy lasted for six months at the end of which time, Hampi was reduced to ruins; the refuge of outlaws and bandits. Then around the end of the 19th century, a curious British archaeologist and historian – Robert Sewell – started to poke around in the forests that had blanketed the ruins and stumbled on the lost glory of the Yijayanagara Empire. And the rest is history…Today Hampi a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It all started way back in 1336 AD when two local warlords – Harihara and Bukkaraya – decided to build their new capital city at what we now know as Humpi. Over the next 230 years, the Yijayanagara Empire grew and a succession of rulers transformed what was once rocky forest terrain into the capital of a kingdom that rivalled the Mughal dominance in the north of the subcontinent. It was under the rule of the warrior poet Krishnadeva Raya (1509 – 1539 AD) that Hampi entered its golden age. The arts flourished. Architecture found expression in myriad palaces, temples and monuments. Aqueducts and irrigation canals crisscrossed the settlement. Hampi became a buzzing commercial hub where traders from around the country and the known world, Europe and Arabia included, came to do business. It was an era when Hampi redefined the art of gracious living. The Queen’s Bath comprised a swimming pool of perfumed water contained within a grand monument of filigreed arches. Mahanavami Dibba or House of Victory was built to commemorate Krishnadeva Raya’s victory over the King of Orissa and the royal family would sit here and preside over the nine-day Dassara festival. The city housed over 500 temples including an underground Shiva shrine. Though most are in disuse a few like the Viruprakash complex adjacent to Hampi’s main marketplace (now overrun with stalls selling souvenirs and local fast food) still throb with the tolling of bells and the chanting of pundits.

Narasimha statue, an imposing 6.7 m monolith sculpture of the fearsome half-man-half-lion avatar of Lord Vishnu and the Vittala Temple are iconic reminders of the past glory of what was once a great empire. Indeed, a stroll through the ghost city is like sitting through a dramatic tragedy.

Fact File Hampi (315 km from Bangalore and 300 km from Goa’s Dambolin airport) is located in the central part of the state of Karnataka in southern India. Hospet (13 km) is the closest station. Buses and taxis are available from all three cities to Hampi.

There aren’t too many tourist-friendly choices in terms of accommodation in Hampi. In fact, as a protected World Heritage Site, hotels are discouraged here. Most visitors use the town of Hospet, where there are a number of hotels including one run by Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC), as a base to explore Hampi.