'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hampi - Gallery

This post is a compilation of images of art, gathered from all over the Vijayanagar ruins around Hampi.

The principal sites are - Achyuta temple, Vitthala temple, Virupaksha temple, Palace ruins - especially, the grand mandapa named 'Mahanavami Dibba' - and the Hajara Rama temple. And there are many minor sites scattered all over the place. The sculptures, most of them reliefs and running friezes, number in the thousands and collectively form quite a pageant of divinities, dancers, martial and regal spectacle, everyday life, fauna - and a tiny pinch of erotica.

I don't give the precise location of each image shown below - neither do I attempt to arrange them chronologically. Indeed, some pictures are composites of images gathered from divers locations. My limited intent was a quest for oddities, specifically those with Kerala connections.

I have a strong feeling that historic exchanges between Kerala on the one hand and Vijayanagara in particular and Karnataka in general have not been adequately studied - even by professionals(the give and take between the far north of Kerala and the adjoining Tulunad region of Karnataka is well known and I am referring to something broader here). Nevertheless, instances of this interaction abound: the association of Malayalis from all over Kerala with the Mookambika temple that lies well over a hundred kilometers inside Karnataka goes back centuries. The name Pampa is shared by both Tungabhadra and a major Keralan river - such repeating place names often point to major migrations (consider how so many American places are named after European cities). As was noted here long back, the enthroned Vishnu idol of Tripunithura temple, halfway down Kerala bears an uncanny resemblance to a grand sandstone sculpture at Badami and Hoysala sculptures from Somnathpur. And I recently heard the story of master sculptor Jakkanacharya and noted how patterns therein resurface in Keralan myths - not only those associated with our own Michelangelo, Perunthachan (*). Finally, from the wall of a subway under Majestic, Bangalore, here is a painting of a composite elephant-buffalo figure (the two beasts share one head), possibly copied from some sculpture in a Karnataka temple; curiously, an elegant execution of the same design, in rosewood, can be seen on the ceiling of the several centuries old Pazhoor temple near Cochin(**).

Long enough preamble that, so, here we get on with the main story:

Dancers and Musicians

Observe the percussionist accompanying the dandiya dancers. What does he play, the maddalam or the mridangam? I have always wondered about the connection between these instruments - in childhood, I used to confuse between the two. Webpages say the mridangam evolved from the maddalam, that the primary difference between the two is in the decibel level and so forth (listing the differences between them has been an MA(Music) examination question at the MG University in Kerala). I can't add anything to that but one thing is clear. The Hampi musicians always fix the maddalam/mridangam to their waist (as is done by modern Keralan maddalam players and Manipuri dancer-gymnasts) rather than hang it from the neck. See the chap below for instance. Even in his damaged state, the straps for fixing the drum to his waist are clear:

Some Keralan musicologists have written that the maddalam used to be hung from the player's neck until early 20th century and that the brilliant pioneer Venkichan Swami got the idea of the waist fix(he had to face considerable hostility and even threats of physical violence from the then purists until his innovation carried the day). I just am beginning to doubt them a bit.

Here is a composite image. To the left, a chap with Keralan Nair hairstyle(*) plays an ilathalam (cymbals); to this day, most ilathalam players in Kerala percussion ensembles are from the Nair community. To the right is someone playing an instrument shaped somewhat like the Keralan 'Timila' but with a stick. Despite such abundant evidence, the musical give and take between Kerala and Karnataka in medieval times seems only poorly documented, let alone studied in depth.

Note: I don't recall seeing a single 'chenda' anywhere among the Hampi carvings.

Here is a musician playing Kerala's very own Idakka! Everything, the tension-adjusting mechanism to the stick to even the decorative thread spools, about the modern day Idakka can be seen in this possibly 500 year old sculpture. Note: at a bit of a stretch, even the above 'timila' guy could be taken as playing the idakka.


Note(August 1, 2015): Take a look at this very interesting page on Halebeedu sculptures , that predate Hampi by a good 2 centuries:

There are three pictures of celestial-looking bejeweled figures playing the idakka - to be precise, a drum that looks very like the modern idakka but of slightly smaller size. And to add a further dash of mystery, two of them appear to play the drum with fingers and the third uses a short stick!



Depictions of cavalry, elephant and even camel as well as horse, abound on the running reliefs on several temple plinths and on the walls of the Mahanavami Dibba. Here are three horsemen, including one firing a Parthian shot.

Muslim immigrants in Vijayanagara were intermediaries in the thriving trade in war horses. Here is a sample from the dozens, nay hundreds of such figures in Hampi. Note: Several of the horse traders appear as friendly caricatures.

A hunting scene, as lively as any of the far more famous Mughal paintings on the same theme:

Two wrestlers with vaguely oriental features in quite a tangle:


A sample from the hundreds of episodes from the Ramayana illustrated all over Hampi, and especially at the Hajara Rama temple. Rama takes aim at an adversary riding on an attendant's shoulder:

I have always been quite puzzled that Kerala murals show Rama during his Vanavasa as an armored prince and not in the forest dweller's traditional 'tree bark' garb. Here is he, receiving Sita's message, dressed in royal manner. Needless to say, I am tempted to see connection between Kerala mural paintings and Vijayanagara sculpture; or maybe it was a pan-India convention to show Rama only as a prince, whatever be his material circumstances.

Here is a pensive Siva(?) riding a scorpion!:

A triumphant Bheema returns with the Saugandhika flower:


As was said above, erotic carvings are rare in Hampi. Here is Kama and his consort Rati - quite an amorous couple, perhaps harking back to Hinayana Buddhist cave art:

On the main gopuram of the Virupaksha temple are a few fairly explicit erotic sculptures (they are not very prominent, but I saw some Firangi visitors photographing them with great interest). Let me also mention two very weird pillar carvings: one features a tiger and a human figure and the other shows a male figure wearing nothing other than a Phrygian cap-like headgear(***) and .... well, enough! Quite a shock they gave, when one stumbled upon them among all kinds of proper religious art.

A strange trio of a monkey, a dwarf and the mythical Garuda, united in their dalliance with serpents:

This post concludes with some more specimens. Who says India has no tradition of cartooning?!


(*) Just like Perunthachan, Jakkanachari got involved in some nasty competition with his smarter son. In the climactic episode of their competition, the son gently pokes at an idol the master had claimed as his own magnum opus and it cracks, dirty water issues and a toad jumps out - and the father cuts off his right arm in shame. This story line (the arm cutting apart) is repeated to the T in the Keralan legend of how sage Kapila came in disguise and saved the trustees of the temple at Vennimala from installing a defective Vishnu idol. Of course, Jakkanachari gets back his arm by divine grace and, although it is not clear if he ever made up with his son, the overall story is a happy improvement over Perunthachan decapitating his son in a fit of jealous rage!

(**) Here is the crudely done elephant-buffalo drawing at 'Majestic'.

(***) The diversity in headgear, hairstyle, apparel, ... in Hampi art is a subject worth serious study!


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