Route 1 : Exploring the sacred Center at Hampi around Virupaksha temple
Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Hospet in Karnataka, India (about 350 kms from Bangalore). It dates back to the Ramayana with the mythical monkey kingdom Kishkinda and to the famed Vijayanagar empire. The stark boulder strewn hills make for a lovely backdrop and fetchingly contrasts with the green banana and rice plantations. Even though it is in ruins, it did not fail to charm me and I could only imagine the charisma in its hey days. With 500+ monuments, it has been accurately compared to an open museum. In Hampi, at every turn, in every nook, there is a treasure to be explored. 4 years after it made it to my bucket list, I finally tick it off. Let me share with you my experiences in this five series blog
We had driven down to Hampi and had hired a guide with permit from the Karnataka Tourism department. He accompanied us in the car and we were able to cover a lot of ground, quite fast. Our Sacred Center trip started with Badavilinga Temple and Lakshmi Narasimha temple, which are in a narrow pathway leading away from the main road
1) Badavilinga Temple
This almost 10 feet tall Shivalinga, carved out of a single rock, is the largest Linga in Hampi.
As per the legend, this was commissioned by a peasant woman for the poor (Badva in local language) to have an opportunity to pray to the Lord. A closer look will reveal a depiction of three eyes of Shiva carved on it. The sanctum of the temple is always filled with water and we had the opportunity to catch a priest in the temple – submerged waist deep.
2) Lakshmi Narasimha Temple
Adjacent to the Badavilinga Temple, this is the largest statue in Hampi at 22 feet height.
Narasimha (meaning half-man and half-lion) is one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. You can see Narasimha sitting cross-legged on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake. The entire statue is carved out of a single rock. The protruding eyes and facial expression seems to indicate that it is Narasimha in its terrifying form (Ugra) but a closer look at the statue’s back (if you can enter the enclosure) shows his consort, Goddess Lakshmi’s hand in embracing posture. This statue was damaged (during the raid on Hampi by the Deccan Sultans in the 16th century) and the statue of the Goddess carved on his lap is missing.
3) Kadalekalu Ganesha
This giant statue of Ganesha, carved out of a huge boulder on the slope of the Hemakuta hill.
It derives its name from Bengal gram (Kadalekalu) as the belly resembles one. The pillared hall before the sanctum is quite ornate and provides a vantage view of the Hampi Bazaar and Virupaksha temple structure.
4) Virupaksha Temple
This 7th century temple is the oldest temple in Hampi and is said to be functioning uninterruptedly ever since its inception. And get this – it is one of the oldest functioning temple in India ! That is really something and I was awed by the ancientness of the monument.
We approached the temple’s iconic 9 storeyed main entrance tower through the chariot street aka the Hampi Bazaar.
The courtyard it opens into has the ticket counter, souvenir stalls and shoe safekeeping booth. We found an interesting 3 headed Nandi statue, which was quite unique.
As we entered the inner courtyard, I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the pillared corridor. The lion and other animal figures on the pillar and the pair of elephant balustrades to get on the corridor were fascinating.
In the middle of the court is a whitewashed pavilion in which two Nandi status are positioned.
I was even more fascinated with the pillared hall known as the Ranga Mandapa. Apparently this was added in the 16th century by Krishadeva Raya and his wife, Chinnadevi, used to perform on this platform. The rows of pillars have mythical creatures carved on it. The mural panel have used vegetable paints which are still quite striking.
The sanctum contains the idol of lord Virupaksha in the form of a Linga.
Now this is not to be missed and shows the scientific know how even in those days. I was told the best time to see this was early mornings. Behind the sanctum, a flight of steps lead to the rear exit of the complex. Before the exit, to the is a dark chamber with a slit on the wall. The sun’s ray passes through this slit and forms an inverted shadow of the main tower on the wall. A cool pinhole camera effect on stone !
5) Krishna Temple
This 16th century temple’s main idol was Balakrishna (Lord Krishna as infant). The idol is now safe in the state museum at Chennai.
The main road runs between this temple (which is under renovation) and the Krishna Bazaar, where grains were sold during Hampi days. The temple has some spectacular carvings of Yalis (the mythical lion) on the pillars and the entrances to the temple hall has impressive carved elephant balustrades.
Well, since we are talking of Krishna – a little naughtiness goes with the territory, doesn’t it ?
6) Sasivekalu Ganesha
This 8 feet tall statue of Lord Ganesha is carved out of a single boulder in early 16th century and housed in an open pavilion of pillars. The name is an irony, as locally, Sasivekalu means mustard seeds ! He is seen holding a broken tusk in the right hand and a looped noose on the left.
As per Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha is a big foodie. So one day, as a result of a sumptuous meal, his stomach threatened to burst open. He picked up a snake and used it as a belt to hold his tummy and its content in ! Quite innovative, don’t you agree ? Can you spot the make-belief belt on his tummy?
As you walk around the statue, do not miss exploring the statue from behind. The beauty of the sculpture shows Gowri, Ganesha’s mother, as if holding him!
Located on the foothill of the Hemakuta Hill, this is worth visiting on the climb up to the hill for sunset.
7) Hemakuta Hill
This hilltop, considered a gentler climb compared to Matanga Hill, is one the best places to watch sunrise / sunset from. Sunset / sunrise in Hampi is a delight as you follow the big ball of fire across its trajectory.
The hill provides a great view of the ruins site.
As legend goes, on top of this hill Lord Shiva performed penance before marrying a local girl Pampa. Apparently it rained gold on this hill and hence the name Hema- meaning gold. Given the association with Shiva, most of the temples here are dedicated to him, the oldest being the Virupaksha Temple.
8) Lunch at Mango tree
Well technically it is not a monument or a ruin. My sacred route could not complete without visiting this. A nice leisurely, sumptuous lunch in Mango Tree was just what we needed to take on the rest of the Hampi world !
Our guide told us that the plantation where Mango Tree set its roots was much better and more scenic. I could also see the camaraderie among the local people here. After finishing lunch, our guide was helping the restaurant team with seating and general management until we got done !
Link to other Hampi article in the series (in case you missed these)
Route 2 – Exploring the riverside at Hampi
Route 3 – Exploring the Royal Center
Things you may want to know before the travel (Travel tips)
- Getting here
- By road : Hampi is about 350 kms from Bangalore, a drive that can take about 7 hours. Road conditions are good. Tourist buses are also an option
- By rail : There is Hampi Express between Bangalore / Mysore and Hampi, which is an overnight journey
- By air : Nearest domestic airport is at Bellary, 60 kms from Hampi. Bangalore being the nearest international airport
- Admission is free in all monuments on this route except the Virupaksha temple
- Virupaksha temple – Entry ticket (Rs5), camera ticket (Rs50) and video camera fee (Rs 500)
- Temple opens before the sunrise and closes in the night. Usually the sanctum is closed in the noon
- Photography in the sanctum is not allowed in any functioning temple in India
- Photography is allowed and is free in all monuments on this route
- It is highly advisable to hire a tourism department certified guides. The local transport (auto) drivers also double up as guides but have limited knowledge
- Visit Hemakuta early in the morning or just before the sunset. You would not have experienced anything like this before
- If you are exploring Hampi on foot or rented 2 wheeler, you can use the 1-day or 3-day itinerary mentioned here
- I would suggest staying at Clarke’s Inn Hampi in Kamalapur for closer proximity to the monuments. This is directly opposite the archaeological museum. There are many stay options in Hospet as well. Hospet is about 15 kms away from Hampi.
- Carry enough water, sunscreen, sun hats and wear comfortable walking shoes. The sun can get really harsh amidst all those boulders
- Break for lunch around noon and if you are near Hampi bazaar, do not miss the amazing ambience and food at Mango Tree