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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Hampi - the Setting

Visually,the 300 kilometre plus journey from Bangalore to Hampi begins promisingly with smoothly eroded elephant-like rocky hills near Dobspet. Thereon, pleasantly typical interior Karnataka features come and go - coconut groves around Sira, Chitradurga with rows of windmills perched atop rolling hills, scrub forests at Sivapura, stretches of bright red soil with the occasional clump of pale green vegetation and flecked with flocks of sheep towards Hospet.... But none of it prepares you for the climax as granite grips the landscape - sheer cliffs, massive tors, precariously poised clusters (usually with the largest boulders at the top); and filling the flat interludes in this rugged drama, the glorious emerald of banana plantations alternates with the subtly different hues of sugarcane fields and stands of coconut palms; and then there is the human contribution of a monumental nature - granite blocks neatly fitted without mortar into massive walls, bars and slabs of granite assembled into post and lintel pandals that stand everywhere and especially at the edges of the steepest cliffs, gopurams with crumbling brick masonry superstructures perched atop granite bases, pillared porticos looking uncannily Grecian from afar with distance obscuring the decorative work and emphasizing their elegant stasis ....

Getting down at the little Hampi bus stand, one walks down the ancient, pillar-lined thoroughfare leading to the Virupaksha temple and wanders on to the adjoining Hampi village, a closely built up 200 meter square of dwellings and guest houses and narrow lanes and restaurants serving all sorts of continental dishes to a largely Firangi clientele. To the north is the bathing ghat and ferry station on the turbulent Tungabhadra. Across the river are ranges of pile after pile of more granite boulders.... The sun goes down and one hurries up the Matanga Parvata hill to watch the rock formations go from grey to brown to golden to honey and back to brown and then slowly settle into masses of calm darkness under a sky densely studded with stars. Back at the village, one watches a herd of cattle peacefully settle to chew the cud in front of the temple gopuram. A few dozen pilgrims prepare to spend the night in the open, stone paved temple courtyard. The cool night wraps itself in deep silence, save for the occasional grunt of a lone bull patrolling the desolate lanes...

Following an interesting observation from Ratheesh, I give the above picture the caption 'Eldorado'. The word is said to mean both 'Golden City' and 'Golden Man' in Spanish. Take a closer look among the rocks and you see a golden human figure in a languid pose.


Some more vignettes gathered while tramping around Hampi ...

A 40 foot 'Ganesh' stands guard over the river near the Achyutha temple (Viewers, he faces your left and is of the rare 'valampiri' form), a natural polylithic formation way bigger than the ironically named chickpea (kadale kalu) Ganesha, a magnificent 15 foot man-made monolithic masterpiece.

Note: I doubt if the natural Ganesh above has ever been observed by someone else. Long ago, on a trek from Munnar, I saw another valampiri Ganapathi, hundreds of feet tall, etched on the rocky north face of Mount Anaimudi (and discernible only when the Sun lights it from a certain angle); and to my knowledge, that vision was without precedent.

On the boulder-strewn bank of the river a short way downstream from the village is a stand of tamarind trees. A lovely, life-size, painted face casts a sad gaze on the surroundings. Take a look. Whose is it?

Here and there, pilgrims have left little votive piles of bricks, slabs of slate and granite. Compare them with what Nature has stacked up just beyond....

A big fig tree has several stone piles in its shade and from its branches hang vaguely sinister bundles of cloth...

As I pick my way down the rapidly darkening upper slopes of Matanga hill post sunset, a familiar fragrance spikes the bracing air - a lone jasmine bush silently spreads its gentle sweetness. I recall an old Mal film song about a secret amorous tryst between a mischievous breeze and a wild jasmine....

The environs of Hampi is said to have been a monkey heartland for ages but I did not see too many of them. But there is plenty of fauna: the kilometres-long walls and rocks teem with squirrels and big lizards that we call 'arana' in Malayalam sunbathe upon the boulders. Among birds, the tittiri with its 'did-he-do-it?' call is ubiquitous and the occasional peacock struts his stuff. But nothing compares to the nearly one foot long millipedes patiently working their way up the rocks. A few were spotted feasting silently on a mango peel...

Anegundi village, that lies across Tungabhadra is said to have been the original site of Vijayanagara. A kitschy statue of Krishnadeva Raya welcomes you to the village - in his cumerband is stuck a sword shaped like a hockey stick. Only a few Muslim-style arches(*) and overgrown walls remain of the Aramane (royal palace). The derelict state of the building reminded me of Tripunithura's fallen palace Puthen Bungalow.

In this predominantly Hindu village is a tiny cluster of Muslim homes; among them I saw a quaint little shrine, painted in an interesting blend of green and saffron. I was about to move on taking it to be yet another dargah when its principal object of worship caught the attention.

Thanks to Wiki, I now know the name is Changdev or Raja Vagh Savar (= Tiger Rider), a saint/hero who lived a millennium ago in Yamanuru near Belgaum and is to this day equally venerated by Hindus and Muslims. In Maharashtra, he is said to have competed with and come second best to Jnaneswar (setting out to meet Changdev, who came riding his tiger and cracking a cobra as whip, Jnaneswar is said to have made a brick wall fly, with him riding it). Whatever, all he needs is a shave to turn into Kerala's own Ayyappa (and the cult of Ayyappa has a strong enough Muslim flavour to satisfy devotees of Changdev).

Let me sign off from this post with a remark on the history of Hampi (some more impressionistic details will follow as the next post):

Post the fateful battle of Talikota (1565), the victorious armies of the Bahmani Sultans are said to have camped for months at Vijayanagara and systematically depopulated and destroyed what was one of the biggest and richest cities in the World in a horrendous orgy of violence and loot. But although the sack was an unspeakable horror even by the awful standards of its times, its often emphasized rabidly anti-Hindu, Jihadi angle (several writers, from the very partisan medieval chronicler Ferishta, who exults in the misfortune of the 'infidels', to the 19th century Brit Sewell to Sir Vidiya Naipaul agree on this) appears a big exaggeration, if not an outright invention. Indeed, the major classical temples in Hampi are profusely carved, the number of sculptures on their walls and pillars running easily into thousands and I don't recall seeing a single defaced human figure among them (unlike, say, the sculptural figures with smashed faces on the temple pillars 'reused' in the mosque adjoining Qutub Minar). The monolithic Narasimha might now be arm-less but the damage may well have been due to natural erosion - and his face still retains its original awesome majesty. And Hampi has no mosque or idgah or any other kind of Islamic structure that invaders of North India often built atop demolished temples. Yes, the superstructures of most temple gopurams do show severe damage but that could be due to the lower durability of brick masonry and stucco work as opposed to solid granite - and lack of regular maintenance due to the city getting abandoned. Only foundations - and sometimes less - of the palaces stand but that could again be due to brick having been the primary medium of construction; or maybe the invaders actually demolished them thoroughly in that most secular of causes, the search for hidden gold(**).


(*) To my knowledge, Vijayanagar Hindu architecture always eschewed the proper structural arch formed with wedge-shaped stones. The ruined bridge across a now dried up limb of Tungabhadra (it looks more like an aqueduct now) and the Bhima Gate near Hampi (vaguely reminiscent of the lion gate at Mycenae(?)) have arches but they are corbel arches (also called cantilever arches or even false arches). Picture below. But even in its ruined state, the Aramane has several largely intact proper brick-built arches. Remarkably, the false arch was used by Indian builders from Indus times - it can be seen even in the ruins of Mohanjodaro!

(**)Most temples around Hampi do not have idols any longer. A plausible explanation is that when the Bahmani hordes approached, temple custodians made off with them (even Kerala tradition relates that trustees of the temples at Guruvayur and some other major northern temples had escaped to the south with the idols when Tipu Sultan invaded Malabar). I am biased towards this explanation as opposed to the one which says the invaders smashed the idols, sparing every other bit of sculpture.


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