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Sunday 16 April 2017

Hampi - Remnants and ruins of glorious Vijayanagara - Part 5

Part 5 – Vitthala temple, Stone Chariot, and other surrounding monuments at Hampi, a World Heritage site in Karnataka.

This part includes our visit to the spectacular Vittala temple, featuring the famous Stone Chariot of Hampi and other monuments; along with handy maps and tips.

Hampi stone chariot
The famed stone chariot of Hampi

The Vitthala temple (also spelt as Vittala temple, Vithala temple etc.) showcases the finest sculptural grandeur and excellence of Vijayanagara sculptors. The Vithala temple is heralded as a masterpiece of temple architecture at Vijayanagara and acclaimed as the greatest accomplishment of Vijayanagara style of art and architecture. It was one of the major temples and sacred centres of the great city of Vijayanagara, and today it majestically stands at the World Heritage site of Hampi, even though bearing signs of such damage and destruction.

Our Hampi Trip: Part 5

Here is the fifth part of our trip to Hampi, the famous world heritage site housing monuments and ruins of the glorious historical capital "city of victory" - Vijayanagara, (or Vijayanagar).

Continuing from Part 4, after a nice meal and a bit of rest, we headed towards Vitthala temple. It was 3:30 pm which gave us about three hours to wrap it up for that day.

Vitthala Temple Bazaar Street

Taking tickets for the ride to Vittala temple, we waited for the little electric vehicle at the booth near the parking lot where the road to Vithala temple begins, through the Vithala bazaar street. Now I wish we’d rather have walked viewing the two beautiful pavilions and a pushkarni along the way. But to save time we took the vehicle, as the road to the temple, which is the Vitthala temple bazaar street, is almost a kilometre long!

On the way to the temple, along the wide street that once had a bustling Vitthala bazaar, there are a couple of ornate mandapas (A mandapa is an open hall or pavilion). The first one you will see on the north side of the road, is Gejjala mandapa, a small pavilion with surviving brick and plaster parapets and a shikhara (an ornate peak-like superstructure you typically see above temple sanctums). The pillars feature ornate carvings, which resemble the pillar styles of later 15th or early 16th century Vijayanagara.

This Gejjala mandapa, which originally marked the beginning of the Vitthala temple bazaar street, used to hold the utsava murthy, a processional image of the deity on the occasions of rathotsava (a "car festival")[1]. During this annual festival, an image or idol of the deity was taken in a wooden chariot or ratha (a "temple car") in a grandiose procession through the "car street". This kilometer long Vitthala bazaar street was in fact the "car street" used for such festivities during the glorious days of Vijayanagara.

The Vitthala temple is abandoned since the fall of Vijayanagara, but in Virupaksha temple of Hampi, the annual car festival still takes place on a designated day each year.

It’s a quite long road with rocky hills on both sides, which at places retain ruined granite pavilions on them. These hills are made of huge boulders that gives an impression as if they were placed one over the other. These curious natural rocky formations mark the signature landscape of Hampi. Granite columns of the bazaar stand alongside the road, some of which were re-erected during restoration works.

To the left, or south side of the road lies another beautiful mandapa, called the Kudure Gombe mandapa (meaning Horse idol pavilion). It obviously got its name from the front pillars which have finely carved rearing horses with riders on them. You can see rearing yalis (a mythological beast) with or without riders on them carved in a similar manner across many temples in Hampi, like the Virupaksha temple, the Krishna temple, and also in Vitthala temple. In this mandapa, horses are clearly and beautifully depicted. The two other outer pillars probably depict tigers or lions; or perhaps they are yalis depicted without a trunk.

Further down the road, to the right, or north side lies the Vithala temple pond or pushkarni, a sacred water tank, which is similar to the one outside the Krishna temple. Two pillars with rearing horse and rider sculptures adorn the entrance to this stepped pond. It probably once had a superstructure like the deteriorating one we saw at Krishna Temple pond. At the centre, this pond also has a small shrine probably used to hold the Utsava Murthy (festival idol).

Vitthala temple courtyard

Main east Gopura of Vitthala temple courtyard, Hampi, Karnataka
Main (east) Gopura of Vitthala temple courtyard

This ride ends before the ruined main eastern gopura (towered entrance) to the Vitthala temple courtyard. As you can see, the top portion of this large brick and plaster tower has collapsed. When compared with it's inner side view (below picture), it has deteriorated a bit more than when it was first photographed by Alexander Greenlaw in 1856.[2]

The lower granite gateway portion has deep cracks running through it, with the deteriorated brick and mortar tower above it, whose plaster stucco figures still survive to an extent. Thanks to the restoration efforts, this gopura was preserved along with other structures, as we see today. The iron gates in its gateway are a modern addition. Typically, gopuras had large wooden doors as gateways which would have either been destroyed during the plunder by fire or they might have decayed over centuries.

The ruined lamp column that now unfortunately lies broken on the ground before this gopura, is seen standing majestically inside the temple courtyard, between the main east gopura and the stone chariot in some of Greenlaw’s 1856 photographs.[2][3] We don’t know how or when this unfortunate incident occurred.

Just as you step in through this east gopura, you’ll see the Vitthala temple standing amidst a wide, completely paved courtyard, with the famed stone chariot standing before it. To the left, or South, there is an ornate free standing mandapa (an open pillared pavilion or hall), featuring beautifully sculpted pillars and carvings. To the right, or North, there is another free standing ornate mandapa.

As it began to drizzle, we took shelter for some time in this north mandapa.

The famed Stone Chariot

Just before the temple, the famous stone chariot of Hampi stands gloriously. This is one of the three stone chariots that exist today in India, apart from the ones at the spectacular Sun temple of Konark (Orissa) and the beautiful Chintala Venkatramana Swamy temple of Tadipatri (Andhra Pradesh).

The stone chariot here is in fact a Garuda shrine, which is intricately sculpted from granite to look just like a chariot. This was so delicately made, that the chariot wheels could turn on their axes shafts. But they no longer turn, as authorities had them fixed firmly to the base to prevent further damage to the monument from visitors trying to turn them. Anyways, it's a good travel etiquette not to touch any parts of the monuments by hand.

Many intricate features like colonettes on the chariot's sides are damaged at places. The granite steps to the chariot are broken and are just placed before it.

The chariot originally had sculptures of horses before it, which were placed in such a way as if they were pulling it. The hind legs and tails of the horses can still be seen before the chariot, just after the elephants. The elephants that are seen now were placed there later, which were taken from scattered ruins elsewhere.

This stone chariot not only gives a spectacular feature for the temple, but has also grown into an iconic significance which is widely recognised and featured to represent the world heritage monuments of Hampi.

A motif of this famed Stone Chariot of Hampi represents India's cultural heritage on the new Rs.50 denomination banknotes. It is featured on the reverse side of the new series of Indian Rupees 50 currency notes. [10]

(Updated: Friday, 18 August 2017)

In case you didn't know, this isn't exactly how it originally looked. This stone chariot once had an ornate brick and plaster shikhara superstructure above it, which you can see clearly in Greenlaw’s 1856 pictures [4] as well as in others’ who photographed it in that century [5].

It is highly unfortunate that this beautiful shikhara superstructure was dismantled. It is said that it was demolished during the British era as it was thought to make the granite structure unstable, as parts of the chariot had developed cracks. It is saddening to look into the old photographs which feature this, and then see it today, deprived of its magnificent superstructure.

From these historical pictures, you can also see that some of the slender colonettes intricately sculpted on the outer sides of this chariot are seen completely broken in recent pictures. As all those colonnettes exist and impressively adorn the chariot in the 1856 photographs, they were obviously the unfortunate victims of neglect and vandalism in later times.

The magnificent Vitthala temple

The temple was originally more modest and existed even before Krishnadevaraya’s times, and saw later additions which is evident from its main sanctum and the older mandapas.

The core of the temple which houses the main sanctum that used to have the image of the deity Lord Vitthala, was in existence from the times of Devaraya II (1422-46 CE). A considerable part of the present structure was later added under the patronage of the great king Krishnadevaraya (1509-29 CE). [6]

If we consider the year (1554 CE) the spectacular mahamandapa at the front was added, it makes this temple in its current form, about 463 years old.

The maha mandapa or large mandapa (“Mandapa” is an open pillared hall or pavilion, also spelled as “mantapa”), which makes the front section of the temple, has the finest sculptures and designs in Vijayanagara, which are spectacularly carved on single granite blocks and they are all put together in a remarkable manner. It is considered as the best example of the evolved architectural and artistic skills of Vijayanagara temple architects and sculptors.

This large imposing mahamantapa in the front of the temple, which is also referred to as “swing pavilion”, was built in 1554 CE under the patronage of a military commander [7] during the reign of Sadashiva, the last official emperor of Vijayanagara before its catastrophic sack. He was however a mere namesake king while the de-facto ruler Ramaraya wielded all the political and military power.

Unfortunately this grandiose mandapa didn't stand in its full glory for more than just over a decade. The great city of Vijayanagara was sacked, pillaged and plundered for six months by the invading Deccan Muslim forces in 1565 CE, just 11 years after this magnificent mandapa was built.

Even though this mandapa lies in dire state, with collapsed ceiling and parapets, with additional (ugly) stone pillars erected in between to prevent further collapse, its intricate beauty will not fail in charming you.

It is sad that this temple which is highly acclaimed for its art and architecture is in such a piteous condition. The only consolation is that it wasn't completely ruined by the destruction of Vijayanagara and centuries of neglect until it was "rediscovered" leading to initiation of conservation efforts during the British era and the following independent Indian era, and that it still stands gracefully as it is.

You can see the mature styles of Vijayanaga architecture with spectacularly designed pillars or columns which are so skillfully carved and sculpted that it has several slender colonettes surrounding a central section. These massive monolithic granite columns support huge monolithic granite beams and ceiling slabs which are also beautifully sculpted. These colonettes are wrongly identified as musical pillars and they weren’t designed to generate different tones, as they are rumoured to. They just give out some sound when tapped slowly, due to their slender design. Tapping on them is not recommended as inconsiderate tapping could cause eventual damage to this architectural marvel.

Unfortunately the entry onto this magnificent mandapa was restricted during the time of our visit due to ongoing repairs and restoration activities. But, thankfully as this is an open hall, we could still see the marvellous carvings from the outside, and take a peek inside from the sides and from the central mandapa.

Deteriorated brick and plaster parapets exist over the mandapa. The curvy eaves aren't in a very good condition all around it. You can see the granite rings on their edges which were used to hang oil lamps on chains. The mandapa is raised to a height on a base covered by ornate bas-relief carvings of beautiful designs and series of horses led by people. In between these, there are small ornate shrine like designs featuring small bas-relief images of deities, which are said to represent the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Damaged elephant balustrades with broken trunks are seen either side of the front (east) steps to the mandapa, while some other balustrades are partly damaged.

The mahamandapa consists of four halls which are spaces in between the surrounding pillars or columns. As we mentioned before, these spectacular columns support massive granite blocks and ceiling slabs above them which make the roofing. The roofing for two halls in the middle which are aligned with the sanctum and east entrance are completely missing and you can see the open sky in the above picture. It might have collapsed due to the wreckage caused by the plunder and also due to cracks developed from heat and rains over the centuries.

The roofs above the north and south halls still exist, supported by the massive columns. These splendid columns are so intricately sculpted that they depict almost full scale three dimensional sculptures, with leaping and rearing beasts with riders, deities, musicians and other figures which magnificently project out of the ornate pillars and seem to come to life.

At the end of 15th century and during 16th century, Vijayanagara sculptors began experimenting with new techniques. Dallapicolla & Verghese in their monograph describe that these clusters of subsidiary colonettes and piers with three dimensional leaping and rearing animals became a hallmark of Vijayanagara architecture and a source of inspiration for the 17th century Nayakas, [8] who built and rebuilt several imposing temples like the Madhurai Meenakshi temple. The striking images of the north hall of this mahamandapa is the first example of this new technique at the site. [8]

We entered inside the temple through the south entrance porch to the central mandapa, as the main hall (mahamantapa) was closed for restoration work. This central hall is closed by walls on all sides. This has four doorways at each side, the east one opens up to the open mahamandapa, the south and north doorways have ornate entrance porches with steps, and the west door leads to the main sanctum area.

This central hall has granite pillars which stylistically resemble those at Krishna Temple. Perhaps this hall was built around the same time, when similar stylistic pillars were used. This could be about the time of Krishnadevaraya’s period.

There is a ~ 6 feet tall relief image carved in granite, to the left or south side of the entranceway into the main sanctum area (above picture). This tall monolithic relief sculpture is mounted on a ~ 2 feet tall ornate granite pedestal. This sculpture could be one of the two “dwarapalas” (guardians of the doorway) to the main sanctum. The dwarapala to the right is missing, but there is a similar ornate granite pedestal with a hole in it which could have held a similar sculpture on it. Taking the missing dwarapala on the right side into consideration, the two sculpted images obviously depict Jaya and Vijaya - the two dwarapalas of Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Vishnu. They are typically seen guarding the doors of temple sanctums where Vishnu or one of his incarnations is a deity, and are typically depicted with four hands and with a gadha (a mace) as a weapon, just like the sculpted image we see here.

Entering the main sanctum area, the sanctum-sanctorum is a small shrine in the middle, which has an inner ambulatory path. The sanctum is empty and it is not known what happened to the original idol of the main deity Lord Vitthala, which was worshipped here during the Vijayanagara period. Vitthala, also known as Vithoba or Panduranga, is a manifestation of Lord Krishna, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu according to the Puranas.

There is a ceiling-less opening at the space between the sanctum and the entranceway to the central hall. If you look up here, you can see the ornate brick and mortar shikhara above the sanctum. We don’t know whether this had any roof which later collapsed, or was it left open for a purpose.

There is a narrow and dark passageway around the sanctum structure, between the walls of the sanctum and the outer walls of the temple structure. The inner sanctum structure which holds the shikhara could have been part of the original temple, and the outer walls were probably added later on, perhaps when the central mandapa was added, or even later, when the mahamandapa was added.

The Ornate South Pavilion

To the front side of the temple and south of the stone chariot, a magnificent open pavilion designed in a four sided symmetrical manner stands freely. This mantapa, with all its features can be described as a spectacular work of skill comparable to the mahamandapa. Apart from the deteriorating brick and mortar parapets above it, the entire pavilion is made of magnificently sculpted granite, just like the temple.

The south pavilion has a partially deteriorated ornate brick and plaster parapets above it, with its stucco figures ruined and missing. It is built beautifully with all the trademark Vijayanagara features like spectacularly carved granite pillars of various designs, leaping and rearing beasts with horsemen or warriors on them, and pillars carved into a group of slender colonettes. These, along with the ceiling and other designs are well known Vijayanagara styles of temple sculptures and architecture.

The pavilion is raised on a base covered with bas-relief sculptures of ornate designs and a series of elephants and people. The central part of the pavilion has a raised platform, surrounded by spectacularly carved columns supporting ornately carved granite blocks and ceiling above them. This raised platform is said to have been used as a kalyana mandapa, meaning a wedding pavilion, during festivities where the devotees and priests perform a wedding ceremony between the deities by placing their idols.

There are a couple of (ugly) plain stone pillars too that were erected during restoration activities for the stability of the monument and to prevent any collapse.

The below pictures of this imposing pavilion speak better than I can put it in words. Have a look.

The magnificent Vithala temple pavilion and stone chariot, Hampi
The beautifully carved rearing yalis of the south pavilion columns looking at the stone chariot.

The free standing North Pavilion which we saw above earlier is also quite ornate. It is closed fully on one side and partially on another side by walls.

Gopuras - Entrance & Exit towers to the temple courtyard

The large courtyard of Vitthala temple is surrounded by high enclosure walls and has three gopuras (entrance/exit towers) as gateways.

The largest is the main one, towards east of the enclosure, which we also saw above. Another gopura opens up towards south, just beside the 100 pillared hall. A smaller gopura opens up towards north.

The eastern and the northern gopuras were built under the patronage of two of Krishnadevaraya’s queens. A third one to the south, which is much ornate, was built under the next king Achyutadevaraya’s patronage. [1][7]

The 100 pillared hall was built under King Krishnadevaraya’s patronage.[1] This hall is built to the southern wall.

There are a couple more of free standing structures in the courtyard. The one in the northwest corner might have been a shrine which has lost it's brick and plaster shikhara. The inner sides of the courtyard walls are considerably surrounded by mandapas or colonnades, but not continuously.

We came out of the temple, after a wonderful time savouring the architectural beauty spectacularly carved out of granite. There are many ruins and small temples around the Vitthala temple complex. Nearby, just outside and opposite to the south gopura is a small Vishnu temple.

Going a bit further down the road which leads towards southwest of Vitthala temple, brings you to the “King’s balance”, an ornately carved granite structure made of two carved columns and a lintel. This was intended to hold a balance in which the king would weigh his body weight against gold or precious stones which would be donated. Just behind the King's balance, there is a small temple with a brick and mortar shikhara and parapets. A two storied gateway also stands behind the King's balance.

These monuments still stand pretty much same today as they were first photographed by Alexander Greenlaw in 1856 [9].

Coming back to the point before the eastern gopura of Vitthala temple, if you follow a road towards North, you'll come across some more ruined and partially ruined structures which were probably temples. At the end of the road, there is a ruined Shiva temple, which is quite big. It is enclosed by high walls with a ruined gopura gateway. You can explore this too in case you’re interested and have more time at hand.

We returned back from here, through the road by Kamalapur lake. We had some nice breezy time on the tank bund of this lake, where some fishermen were selling fresh fish. We didn’t take any fish, but savoured a nice breezy evening on the lake shore.

This brings an end to our five part series of the magnificent World Heritage Site of Hampi. Of course, there are many monuments and ruins scattered all around the vast area that was once the great city of Vijayanagara. We have skipped mentioning, and not included any pictures of some of these, like for example the Talarighat Gate, Bhima’s gate, Tiruvengalanatha temple etc., or places in Anegondi across the river; but we have marked almost all of them on the awesome map below that we made just for you. We're just ending our narration here, and moving on to other destinations. We leave it to you to explore the rest alongside your wonderful excursions in Hampi.

Have you been to this enthralling place yourself? How did you like this five-part Hampi series? Do let us know! Share your experiences and comments below.

Tips for travellers

If you plan on walking all the way back to Hampi, (that will be at least three kilometres plus a couple of monuments and ruins), you can try this:
  • Moving further down the path right to the King’s balance brings you to Sugriva’s cave, which is said to be the same one as mentioned in the religious epic Ramayana.
  • If you’re taking a walk, about a kilometre from here, walking through Achutaraya Bazaar & Courtesan street which is about half a kilometre, you will reach Tiruvengalanatha temple, which is also called Achyutadevaraya’s temple, or Achyutaraya’s temple, as named after its patron king. This temple is partially ruined with a collapsed roof of its mandapa.
  • About 250 metres west from Tiruvengalanatha temple you can reach the beginning of Virupksha temple bazaar street, or Hampi bazaar street, the place with a monolithic Nandi. You can plan to visit Vitthala temple after you visit Virupakhsa temple as well, via Achyutaraya's temple, Sugreeva's cave and King's balance if you are willing to walk.
  • Don't keep any walking activities after dusk, as several places will be dark and isolated after sunset.

Other tips for travellers

  • All monuments open from Dawn to dusk (Sunrise to Sunset).
  • There is an entry fee for Vithala temple. This ticket can be bought either at the counter before Zenana enclosure or at the counter before the parking lot where you board the electrical vehicle to Vithala temple. The ticket includes entry to both Zenana enclosure as well as Vithala temple, so you only need to buy it once, at the first one you visit. The fee is now Rs. 30 per head for citizens of India and visitors from SAARC countries, and Rs. 500 for other foreign nationals (Both in Indian Rupees) (Children up to 15 years are exempted). The ticket for the electric vehicle ride to Vithala temple is separately charged.
  • Beware of the monkeys here, especially on the hills. Avoid them. They are known to snatch away your things and can get quite obnoxious.
  • You can have a quick look around the significant monuments and places in a day. You need at least two days to have a good look at all those worth seeing here. Better plan beforehand how you will go on visiting monuments, as per your convenience. All the places are marked in the awesome map below we made just for your convenience. Have a look!

Getting there and getting around: Transportation

Hospet town, just ~14kms away from Hampi village is well connected with roadways and railways; with buses from all major places in Karnataka and trains that come from Bangalore, Mysore or Hubli. KSRTC provides sleepers and Volvo buses to Hospet from Bangalore. Hubli is the nearest airhead. Once accommodated in Hospet, you can hire a cab to Hampi which you can enquire your hotel if they can arrange one. There are two wheelers available on rental basis at Hampi, but keep in mind this place gets very hot in summer. Once at Hampi, you can go around in your cab or vehicle, but still you can do a bit of walking also if you don't mind the scorching sun.

Best times of Visit

This is known to be a hot place. At summer temperatures rise above 40 degrees C. We were there in June, during the hot and humid times, and we bore the brunt of the intense heat. Its best to visit during winter, October to February.

Location Map - Places to see in and around Hampi

We went there completely unplanned, without a map but you don't have to! We have marked almost all the monuments of significance in the above map for your convenience, including nearby Hospet and Anegondi. With this awesome map, we put the power of navigation in your hands! You can thank us later :-)

Zoom in for more detailed views and zoom out for more places around. Or, View larger map in new window. Let us know if we missed something or if there is a mistake!

Get Directions to Hampi from your place of choice
Note: The directions will open up with Google Maps in a new tab.

A virtual 360 Degrees tour of Vitthala Temple

References and External links for further reading:
[1] "Hampi Vijayanagar" by John M Fritz & George Mitchell, (2015) Jaico publishing house, ISBN 978-81-8495-602-3
[2] Photograph 3784-1910 - Hampi (Vijayanagar) Bellary District: Eastern Gopura and Lamp Column, Vitthala Temple Complex - V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum collections
[2] Photograph 3786-1910 - Hampi (Vijayanagar) Bellary District: Monolithic Lamp Column, Vitthala Temple Complex - V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum collections
[4] Photograph 3783-1910 - Hampi (Vijayanagar) Bellary District: Garuda Temple and Maha Mandapa, Vitthala Temple Complex - V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum collections
[5] Photograph 965/1(66) - Beejanuggur. The temple of Vothoba. Idol car of stone. [Stone temple car in the Vitthala Temple, Vijayanagara.] - The British Library
[6] Vitthala Temple | ASI Hampi Mini Circle
[7] Vitthala Temple : Vijayanagara Research Project
[8] "Sculpture at Vijayanagara,Iconography and Style" - Dallapiccola, AL & Verghese, A, 1998 VRP Monograph 6, Manohar, New Delhi.
[9] Photograph - 3801-1910 - Hampi (Vijayanagar) Bellary District: 'King's Balance' - V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum collections
[10] RBI announces new Rs 50 currency note - The Economic Times

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