Hampi Continues to Live – Part 10

Continued from Part 9

Royal Enclosure

(Photos by Suhas Mehra, text by Suhas and Beloo Mehra)

If you were a visitor to Hampi during the times of the mighty Vijayanagara emperors, wanting to see where the kings and queens, princes and princesses lived and from where they ruled the great empire, you would go to the part of the town which is today known as The Royal Enclosure.  

At the pinnacle of the Vijayanagara empire this royal enclosure must have been both majestic and grand. According to some estimates, it spread over 59,000 square metres and had approximately 45 buildings.

The area was heavily fortified by two granite stone walls with passage between the walls. Presently these walls are mostly in ruins, only in a few places some restoration work has been done.

Stone walls for fortification

There were three entrances to the enclosure, two on the northern side and one on the western side. The entrance gates were made out of monolithic granite slabs with exquisitely carvings. We were informed by our guide that these doors were too heavy to be manned by soldiers, therefore elephants were used to open and close these doors.

Remnants of the monolithic granite doors
Exquisitely carved monolith granite door with segment of the double boundary wall

The brutal attacks by the Deccan Sultans which resulted in mass killings, including that of the kings and royal families, were followed by large-scale looting and arson of the magnificent city of Hampi. It is believed that Hampi burned for almost six months.  What remains now are the ruins reminding us of the once glorious and magnificent royal enclosure.

Based on archaeological findings as well as contemporary accounts of the archivists, historians, and travellers, experts today surmise that the ruins found in the enclosure include foundations of the palaces, water tanks, temple, ornate platform, aqueducts and canals, exquisitely carved doorways and many other structures.

Right at the entrance of the royal enclosure, one can’t miss the colossal ruin of Mahanavami Dibba. This was a three-storied massive structure, which now appears to be like a truncated pyramid-like structure. It had three sets of stairs, on the eastern, western and southern sides.

The massive stone platform used to have intricately carved wooden pillars and a roof, probably made of sandal wood. Some of the carvings seen on the steps of the Dibba and on the platform are also seen at the royal temple, the famous Hazara Rama temple.

Built by Krishnadeva Raya, the platform was used by the King to watch march-pasts, war games and exercises. Most importantly, and justifying its name, Mahanavami Dibba was used during the Mahanavami celebrations.

Mahanavami Dibba
Each tier of the platform features intricately sculpted mouldings depicting the lives of people from various walks of life, with special focus on warriors, noblemen and courtesans . The stairs used by the King had the most ornate carvings.

Mahanavami was one of the grandest and most spectacular festivals celebrated by the kings of Vijayanagara. The day marked the occasion when Sri Rama propitiated Ma Durga on the eve of the climactic battle with Ravana. Like Rama, the Vijayanagara kings also worshipped Ma Durga and asked the Mother to bless them with force to govern their empire and overcome their enemies. Only after the Mahanavami celebrations were completed the kings would go on military expeditions. The festival also gained political significance because all the subordinate chiefs were invited on this occasion so that they could declare their allegiance to the Vijayanagara emperor by paying tribute and pledging troops and animals.

A massive parade, entertainment, feasts and fireworks marked the grand celebrations. The exquisitely caparisoned elephants and horses, troops, battle animals, royal attendants, musicians, drummers, acrobats, and others walked through in a procession. The gala parade also included young women attendants and courtesans proudly exhibiting the elegant and expensive necklaces and other jewellery taken from the royal treasury. All this display of power and wealth of the emperor was intended to overwhelm the visitors with the imperial magnificence of the Vijayanagara.


Durbar Hall, located in the northwest side of the enclosure, was the King’s audience hall. What remains of this now is the platform having 100 sockets for pillars which supported the structure; hence this hall was also known as the 100-pillared hall. It was here that the emperor listened to the concerns of his subjects.

Remnants of a stone staircase suggest that this might have been a two-storied structure. It is believed to have been made of wood and destroyed in a fire in 1565 CE.

Darbar Hall (on the right top quarter) the stairs indicating that it was multiple story building.
Another view of the Darbar Hall: notice the sockets for 100 pillars, which supported the structure.

Archaeological Survey of India and the Karnataka State Department of Archaeology and Museums have been conducting excavations at Hampi. They have discovered several interesting structures and antiquities. One such discovery is the beautiful and well-preserved stepped tank (pushkarini) presumed to be built around 15th century. The symmetry of the pyramidal shaped steps at each tier of the tank makes the structure unique and extremely elegant. The water in this tank was primarily used for various religious rituals, celebrations and events. 

Step-well for water harvesting and storage

This tank, fashioned out of chloritic schist blocks, was built in the shape of a square and had five sets of steps. The base of the tank had stone slabs; a layer of sand beneath these slabs purified the water. One is awed at discovering that the tank had a system of innovative channels which brought a regular supply of fresh water to the tank.

The aqueduct which brought water to this step well

There are 36 steps in each of the five set of stairs. Every stone used for the construction has numerals, symbols and Kannada letters inscribed on it. For example, letters u, da, tu and pa represent north (uttara), south (dakshina), east (turpu), and west (paschima) directions. Symbols were also used to represent the measurement mark for the water level.

Thus, the stepped tank in addition to being beautiful and elegant also gives us a good idea of several technical aspects adopted by the architects and engineers of that period.

Notice in the background the running aqueduct system used to bring in water for the step well and other structures
Swimming pool; the source of water to this was also the aqueduct.

The royal enclosure also had an extensive rose garden, with a large variety of roses in various colours and shades. The water from swimming pools was recycled for the rose garden. It is said that the town of Hampi had more roses than the number of people living there; and the visitors who came to see the glory of Hampi were awed by the variety of ways people used roses to adorn themselves.

As part of the restoration work an attempt has been made by the Archaeology department to recreate one small part of the rose garden.

Another interesting and amazing structure is the underground secret chamber. This is between the durbar hall and the stepped well. Ceiling at some portions of the chamber has collapsed but general public can walk in through the narrow corridor. This chamber might have been used by the emperor for secret meetings or by the treasury.

Underground chamber
Another building having an underground chamber

One can spend a lot of time at the royal enclosure walking lazily through the ruins and imagining what this place must have been like in all its glory and splendour. One can visualise the grand Mahanavami procession, or the queens and princesses strolling through the rose garden with their attendants in tow.

Ruins at royal enclosure

The splendid City of Victory, Vijayanagara, founded by the mighty and fearless brothers Hukka and Bukka now stands in ruins.

But these ruins continue to speak many stories in their silence – stories that we must listen to, if we want to experience the eternal life-force that still vibrates there. This is the force of courage, nobility and truth, which reminds all who care to pay attention that victory shall once again be ours, because we are the sons and daughters of immortality!

We conclude this 10-part photo feature series on Hampi by adding a few more pictures of the views from the Royal Enclosure.


SEE EARLIER PARTS: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


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