The Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic composed in Sanskrit by the sage Valmiki sometime in the 5th century BCE. While the basic story is about palace politics and battles with demon tribes, the narrative is interspersed with philosophy, ethics, and notes on duty. It’s a beautiful story and well worth the read!
Having read the Hindu epic Ramayana, we were taken by the character Hanuman, a monkey god and faithful, divine companion of the Hindu god Rama. In this truly epic story, Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita, is kidnapped by the demon Ravana, a multi-headed rakshasa king of the island of Lanka. Ravana intends for Sita to forsake Rama and marry him. She, of course, refuses.
After a long search, Hanuman finds her by becoming gigantic and leaping across the sea to what is now Sri Lanka. She refuses to be brought back because Rama should be the one to rescue her. This very brief synopsis really doesn’t do the story justice. It is a wonderfully epic tale that you really must experience. I did find a YouTube animated video of the story from 1993, which you can watch HERE.
Getting to Hampi
Hampi, or rather the nearby Anjeneri Anjanadri (Near Hampi), boasts of being the birthplace of Hanuman, so we decided that this would be a worthy venture. We looked up the details in our travel guide and booked the tickets, first to Karwar, where we met the busking children before arriving in Gokarna for the first time. They weren’t there this time. Still, the entertainer that I am, I fell into doing some simple magic tricks for the locals and travelers while waiting for the next bus.
People began to crowd around us to see the tricks. It was about this time that the man next to me said, “Stop. Please stop. We are about to be crushed.” I looked around and realized he was right! There were hundreds of curious people crushing inward to see what was going on. I stopped and held up my hands, saying, “Finished! Nothing to see!” The man thanked me.
The bus ride was another very long seven-hour journey that carried us some 330 kilometers into the heart of the south Indian state of Karnataka. Upon arriving, we found that we needed to cross the river to find lodging. The way to do that was by a precarious little boat that was shaped like a wok. Round and shallow.
Finding a Room
We were told the price, which was not too expensive, and that we should put our packs in the bowl-like boat and get in. The water came mere inches away from the lip of the boat. We were trepidatious about this whole affair. The boatman assured us that he does this with tourists all the time, “No problem,” he said as his head bobbed side to side as Indians tend to do. (Photo by Donna Howley)
We did land safely on the other side, where music was blaring from the bars and cafes full of travelers. The general party was in full swing. We began our search for accommodations. “Hello! Do you have any rooms available? No? Well, do you know where we might find one? No? Thank you anyway.” Then off to the next place. We asked repeatedly, only to find that every place was fully booked.
Someone told us of a guesthouse that might have a room, so we checked it out. It was away from the throng of partygoers, and the music was only a dull rumble in the distance. We knocked on the door.
The lady of the large old house opened the door and said, “Hello?”
“Hello! Do you have any rooms available?”
“The town is really full right now. I only have a place you can sleep in until a room becomes available, the pantry floor,” she said. It would be better than nothing. We took it. We put our things away in the pantry and went out to find some food.
We found a quiet little eatery and asked for a menu. It seems there was only one thing to eat in India: thali. Donna wasn’t so fond of it as she doesn’t eat spicy. I was okay with it but was ready to have something different. Nonetheless, it was what was available. We ate. Tired again after the long ride, we decided to call it a day. Returning to the house, we sat under the tree and listened to the distant music while watching the stars and planning our next days.
As it became later in the evening, we made our way to the pantry. The lady had left us a straw mat to lay on. We laid out a lungie as a bottom sheet and wished for a pillow. Sleep came pretty easily.
At some point in the middle of the night, I felt something touching, no, nibbling at my fingers. I yelled, launching myself up off my back to flip over and land on all fours! The rat scurried away into the shelves. I probably scared it as much as it scared me! I also startled Donna with this maneuver. Sleep didn’t come as easily the rest of the night.
The following morning, over breakfast, we further planned our course for the day. The Virupaksha Temple was nearby, while the Shree Vijaya Vitthala Temple was a two-kilometer walk. The Shree Vijaya Vitthala Temple is also known for its musical structure. This seemed like a good destination, and we prepared for the walk on the stoney path near the banks of the Tungabhadra River.
A Beautiful Creature
Scattered around the landscape were enormous boulders, some in piles that formed large hills. Walking by one such hill, we saw a small shrine near the top. This looked interesting. Up we climbed, following the steep path that wound between the boulders until we were near the opening that would reveal the shrine.
As I looked over the last boulder, I froze in my tracks for a huge king cobra raised up before me. Its cowl spread out to reveal a most extraordinary combination of colors. ‘You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen!’ came to mind. Within the exact millisecond, I thought, ‘We really should not be here!’ I immediately turn to go back the way we came. Donna, who was right behind me, was pushing forward, saying, “I wanna see!”
“Nope! Sorry. Not safe. Go.” I hurriedly blurted out.
Reluctantly, she turned back down the hill with me tight behind her. I told her of the cobra and its magnificence but was sure it was not a place to hang out. Although disappointed, she understood and we continued on our way to the temple.
Shree Vijaya Vitthala Temple
Built during the 15th century in the Dravidian style of architecture, the Shree Vijaya Vitthala Temple complex is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, who was believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The temple exemplifies the immense creativity and architectural excellence of the sculptors and artisans and is regarded as the most ornate of the Vijayanagara temples. It is said that Lord Vitthala had found the temple to be too grand for his use and had returned to live in his own humble home. (photo by random tourist)
As I stated before, the Shree Vijaya Vitthala Temple is musical. This is what drew me to it. The main pillars are styled in the shape of musical instruments. Each of the 56 pillars that supports the ceiling is tuned to Sa Re Ga Ma, the first four notes of a scale. By ‘tapping’ the pillar, as you might a drum, the tone of that pillar rings out, reverberating through the temple.
We spent quite a bit of time tapping the different pillars to hear the various tones. I could imagine that any number of people in coordinated effort playing particular pillars could produce lovely ragas. I wished I could have heard how it must have sounded in its day.
The Temple Complex
The Maha Mantapa is the main hall of the Shree Vijaya Vitthala Temple complex and is comprised of four smaller halls. Forty pillars, each ten feet in height, line the temple’s facade. The steps on the eastern side of the Maha Mantapa are decorated with elephant balustrades. Its highly ornate base is decorated with carvings of warriors, horses, swans, and other ornaments.
The central part of the Maha Mantapa has sixteen intricately decorated pillars with beautiful sculptures of Narasimha and Yali. This set of sixteen pillars forms a rectangular court. The ceiling of the Maha Mantapa is a richly designed structure. The beautifully sculpted ornate pillars of the Maha Mantapa exemplify the splendor of this magnificent temple.
The Stone Chariot
Dedicated to Garuda, a vast ornamental chariot of stone is outside the temple. Enshrined inside the sanctum is an image of Garuda. As per Hindu mythology, Garuda is the carrier of Lord Vishnu. Once functional, people could rotate the wheels of the chariot. But some years ago, the government cemented the wheels to avoid causing any further damage to them.
We seemingly explored every inch of the sprawling complex with its high compound walls and three towering gateways. There are many halls, shrines, and pavilions located inside it. Made of stone, each structure is a beauty unto itself.
The Royal Elephant Stables
One of the most unique structures in Hampi is said to be The Royal Elephant Stables, where the queen had once housed her elephants. Dating back to the 15th century, this Indo-Islamic structure consists of eleven rows of ‘cells’ with the central hall featuring five domes on either side of it. Each cell also has an arched doorway, large enough for a human being to pass through, to pass from one cell into another without stepping out.
Beyond the elephant stables, at right angles to it, are the quarters of the mahouts. A mahout is an elephant rider, trainer, or keeper. Usually, a mahout starts as a boy in the family profession when he is assigned an elephant early in the elephant’s life. They remain deeply bonded to each other throughout their lives.
Back Into Town
We are those people that you pass in the museum who read every piece of information and study the details of each brushstroke. Many a museum guard has had to tell us, “We are closing now. It’s time to leave.” Whereas the temple duration of the visit is rated about three hours, we probably took six. After inspecting every minute detail of the Shree Vijaya Vitthala Temple complex, we walked back into town.
The afternoon sun was plenty hot, and as we “reached civilization,” it was time for a rest at a cafe. Still a bit afraid of the unbottled water, we shared a Coke. Coca-Cola really is everywhere in the world. We decompressed before moving on to our next site, Yantrodharaka Hanuman Temple.
Yantrodharaka Hanuman Temple
Yantrodharaka Hanuman Temple was the first of more than 700 Hanuman temples built in an empire, hence making it fascinating & unique in more ways than one. Inside a cave on top of the hill is the unique temple of Yantrodharaka Hanuman, which is approximately 500 years old.
According to legend, this was also the place where Lord Rama and Lord Hanuman met for the very first time. The idol here is said to have been installed by Sri Vyasaraja, who was the Rajaguru of the Vijayanagara kingdom and one of the Dwaita philosophers. Most depictions of Lord Hanuman show him standing with one hand raised and the other on his hip. It is only in this temple that Hanuman appears in a prayer position.
According to legends, Sri Vyasaraja painted the picture of Lord Hanuman every day on the rock before offering prayers and seeking blessings from him. Once he was done with the rituals, the pictures used to disappear. It kept happening for 12 days in a row. (Photo by Donna Howley)
The next day, Sri Vyasaraja requested Lord Hanuman to appear and explain everything. To his surprise, Lord Hanuman came and blessed him. He asked Sri Vyasaraja to paint him with a six-sided amulet and then install it at the same place. This is how the Hanuman Temple came to be.
This region was part of the Maurya Empire during the 3rd century BCE. A Brahmi inscription and a terracotta seal dating to about the 2nd century CE have been found during site excavations. By 1500 CE, Hampi-Vijayanagara was the world’s second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing and probably India’s most affluent. As the capital of the vast Hindu empire in southern India, Hampi flourished from the middle of the fourteenth century until 1565. It was then sacked and destroyed by the armies of the Deccan sultanate kingdoms, never to recover to its previous glory completely.
The Virupaksha Temple
The city is a citadel, complete with massive walls, gateways, and watchtowers. Within the fortifications are palaces, courtly pavilions, ceremonial platforms, stables, and stores that were once supplied by a sophisticated water system. There are innumerable temples and shrines dedicated to different Hindu cults and some to Jain saviors. The sculptures and paintings that adorn these buildings illustrate a wide range of mythological and royal themes. Mosques and tombs testify to a resident Muslim community.
The Virupaksha temple, which remains an active Hindu worship site, is the oldest shrine and the principal destination for pilgrims and tourists. Believed to have been built in the 7th century, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, known here as Virupaksha. Aligning the sanctums of the Shiva and Pampa Devi temples to the sunrise, the temple faces eastwards. Pampa Devi, the presiding deity of the sacred Tungabhadra river, is Lord Virupaksha’s consort.
One of the most exciting features of the Virupaksha temple is the usage of mathematical concepts in its construction and decoration. The repeated patterns in the construction depict the concept of fractals. The temple is a collection of smaller temples, a regularly repainted, 50-meter (160 ft) high gopuram, a Hindu monastery dedicated to Vidyaranya of Advaita Vedanta tradition, a water tank (Manmatha), a community kitchen, other monuments, and a 750 meters (2,460 ft)-long ruined stone market with a monolithic Nandi shrine on the east end. (Photo by Donna Howley)
Admittedly, it’s all a lot to take in! After a long day of walking and exploration, we returned to the guesthouse. We had hoped that a room would become available, but one did not. It was back to the pantry for us. We did get a shower and went out to dinner again. As you might imagine, it was thali… again. We returned to the guesthouse and sat under the stars, discussing our next moves. Should we stick around for a few more days? “We’ll see. Let’s talk about it tomorrow. I’m tired!”