In this several-part series, we relive a few moments from our recent trip to Hampi and surrounding areas. The pictures and the accompanying words weave a story of this magnificent city which continues to hold a prominent place in the Indian collective memory since ancient times. The place associated with Shiva and Parvati, Rama and Hanuman, Hanuman and Sugriva, Sri Vidyaranya and brothers Hukka-Bukka, and many many more.
Our time at Hampi brought so many moments of awe, wonder, reflection, silence and more silence. As one walks through the Vijayanagara of history, the Kishkindha of Itihasa, one experiences the grandeur of the Indian architecture, the richness of the sculpture details, the vibrant energy of the temple premises, and the silence as one keeps going inside. And not to forget, the moments of anguish that come upon one’s heart as one recalls the bloody history of how the mighty city of Vijayanagara was destroyed and the carnage that happened there at the hands of brutal Islamic invaders. But as the line goes —
कुछ बात है कि हस्ती मिटती नहीं हमारी
सदियों रहा है दुश्मन दौर-ए-ज़माँ हमारा
Kuch baat hai ki hasti mitati nahi hamaari
Sadiyon raha hai dushman daur-e-zamana hamaara
Hampi, the Capital of the Vijayanagara Empire
“[India’s] political genius….was strong to survive and await every opportunity of revival, made a bid for empire under Rana Sanga, created the great kingdom of Vijayanagara, held its own for centuries against Islam in the hills of Rajputana, and in its worst days still built and maintained against the whole power of the ablest of the Moguls the kingdom of Shivaji, formed the Mahratta confederacy and the Sikh Khalsa, undermined the great Mogul structure and again made a last attempt at empire.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 20: 442)
Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in east-central Karnataka, about 350 km from Bengaluru. It was the capital of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century.
The story goes that brothers Hakka and Bukka Raya were commanders in the army of the King of Warangal. After their king was defeated by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the brothers were taken prisoners and sent to Delhi and were forced to convert to Islam. Later they escaped and became Hindus and returned to Anegundi (the Kishkindha of ancient times).
While wandering in the area, the brothers witnessed an unusual sight. A hare which was being pursued by the wild dogs, suddenly turned around and started giving the dogs a chase instead. Perplexed by this, they consulted their guru Sri Vidyaranya. The guru told them that this was an indication that the place seemed to emanate some special spirit which brought out the courage in people. This was perhaps because of the ancient association of this place with the spirit of tapasya and heroism.
It was felt that this was the right place to establish a mighty Hindu empire which would prove to a strong deterrent against the invading Islamic conquerors in southern India. Geographically also, the high and mighty rocky boulders that made the terrain of Anegundi formed a natural line of defense against invaders.
Nicholas Gier in his book, The Origins of Religious Violence: An Asian Perspective (2014) writes:
“There are many magnificent archaeological sites in India, but the ruins of Vijayanagar at Hampi are some of the most extensive and impressive. In its peak of glory ca. 1500, with a population of about 500,000 and sixty square miles in area, Vijayanagar was the second largest city in the world behind Beijing. It was the capital of a great Hindu empire, 140,000 square miles at its apex that ruled a large part of southern India from 1336–1646. European travelers stood in awe of this great city and described in great detail its lush gardens and extensive water works. Even after its destruction by Muslim armies in 1556, a twenty-foot stone statue of Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation of Viṣṇu, a full scale stone chariot with moving wheels, and many other marvels are still standing.”
The Ancient History
Hampi predates Vijayanagara Empire, and was traditionally known as Pampa-kshetra, Kishkindha-kshetra or Bhaskara-kshetra. It is believed that Pampa (which is another name for goddess Parvati) did intense sadhana and tapasya on Hemakuta Hill in the area with an aim to become the consort of Lord Shiva who was leading an ascetic life. Shiva thus became Pampapati, the Lord of Pampa.
In time the Sanskrit word Pampa morphed into the Kannada word Hampa. And the specific place where Pampa or Parvati did her tapasya to win over Shiva came to be known as Hampe or Hampi. The river near the Hemakuta Hill came to be known as Pampa river.
“…the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, typified in its original idea the union of Purusha and Prakriti, the supreme Soul and dynamic Nature by which the world is created; but this type of divine legend was used esoterically to typify also the Nature-Soul’s search for and attainment of God and something of this conception pierces through the description of Parvati’s seeking after Shiva… (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 1: 166).
The Ramayana Connection
Hampi also finds reference in the Ramayana as Kishkindha, the birthplace of Hanuman. An entire section in Ramayana, known as Kishkindha Kāṇḍa is devoted to the events around this place such as Rama’s meeting with Hanuman and Sugriva, killing of Bali, coronation of Sugriva and planning for the impending battle with Ravana.
“…when one speaks of Hanuman, this represents the evolutionary man, and Rama is the involutionary being, the one who comes from above…The evolutionary being is the one that’s the continuation of the animals, and the other is a being from higher worlds who, when the earth was formed, materialised itself upon earth—it does not come from below, it has come from above. But in the evolutionary being there is that central light which is the origin of the psychic being, which will develop into the psychic being, and when the psychic being is fully formed, there is a moment when it can unite with a being from above which can incarnate in it. So this being from above which descends into a psychic being is an involutionary being…” (The Mother, CWM 5: 323-324).
“Hanuman stands for Bhakti….Hanuman is a symbol of Shakti and devotion.” ( Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 30: 157)