From atop the Matanga Hill at daybreak, Hampi is every inch the capital city of a golden empire. Though what lies before are but the bones of an enchantress, who once had the whole world in her sway, Hampi is far from what one would call ruins. Once visited by the Portuguese, Arabs, Persians and Orientals, the capital city of Vijayanagara, has only grown in popularity across the centuries. And no surprise that!
Every bend in the road is punctuated by a 14th century, if not older, temple; perched on nearly every hillock is a four-pillared canopy-like monument and its entire horizon, pixilated by huge gestalt-ish boulders. The regal 9-storey tall gopura of the Virupaksha Temple, where Siva is believed to have married Parvati, watches over the city like a specially-appointed god – its memory of magnificence and grandeur forever etched in stone.
Hampi gives an impression of preserving itself for the past to resume. The wedding ceremony of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year at the Virupaksha Temple, as it has been for centuries. The long bazaar avenues stand in expectant silence, as if waiting for that kind of commerce to resume, where diamonds and precious stones were used as currency. In the evenings, like a zillions dusks before, the dying rays of the sun turn the entire Vijaya Vittala Temple to gold; a sight which is as much a wonder as the temple’s 56 musical pillars that produce the sounds of 56 different musical instruments.
The Royal Enclosure waits in readiness for its sandalwood halls to be returned, the massive elephant stables, the Lotus Mahal – shaped like a lotus blossoming in the sun, the Hazararama Palace temple with intricate stories carved over its every side and the Mahanavmi Dibba or the Victory Platform still majestic and proud await to fall back into routine. The sheer detail of the carvings and the number of sculptures speak of a race of artisans that weren’t quite done in their business of outdoing each other in craftsmanship.
Monolithic structures carved out of a single rock – the imposing Lakshmi Narasimha, the majestic Stone Chariot, the massive Ganesha statues, the Badavilinga are proof of the brilliance that was once envied. Cross the Tungabadra River over to the ancient capital of Anegundi and there are leisurely roads to traverse, myths to chase and boulders to scale and dive off, into the waiting arms of the Sanapur Lake.
Hampi has challenged time, survived the centuries and lived to tell the tale. And, they say, if you listen carefully enough, you might learn a thing or two on how to do the same.