Hampi is one of the finest historical sites of ancient age in the world. It is located on the banks of Tungabhadra River about 11 km away from Hospet City. Hampi is a small temple city which is totally surrounded by mountains -Anjaneya, Malyavanta and Matanga Hills. This city was one of the richest cities in the world in the ancient times. Belief of Hindus say that Hampi was a kingdom of monkeys before Vijayanagar Empire in pre-ancient age when it was known as Kishkindha. Hampi was served as capital city of Vijayanagar empire and the many rulers that came developed and decorated the city with lots of temples, palaces, markets, and monuments which makes it a world heritage site by UNESCO. The temple city stood with amazing grandiose and was a buzzing market place of traders across seas until it got plundered and destroyed by the Mughals in 1565.
Bukkaraya, also known as Bukka, and his brother Hakka (known as Harihara I) were born in the Kamma clan and were commanders in the army of the King of Warangal. After the King of Warangal was defeated by forces of Malik Kafur sent by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, these two brothers were taken as prisoners, they eventually escaped and decided to establish the Hindu rule in South India. Legend has it that Hakka and Bukka, the founders of the empire happened to discover this empire by accident. During a hunting expedition, they spotted a hare being chased by a hound. The meek hare, on entering this land, became brave and chased the hound. This was something unusual that a meek hare became strong to chase a mighty hound. When the brothers narrated this incident to their guru – Vidyaranya of Sringeri Mutt, he believed that this place had something unusual and special and insisted that the capital of the empire be established here. Thus, with this happened the birth of Vijayanagar empire and Hampi was born and flourished to one marvelous city of flourishing trade and culture.
At one-point Hampi was also one of the biggest trading centres of the world. Vijayanagar brought a lot of wealth, fame, and splendor to Hampi. In those times, most markets in Hampi were always crowded and swarming with buyers and merchants. These merchants were not just Indians, but also people from various parts of the world. Soon, these markets grew tremendously and goods were exchanged for spices and cottons.
Hampi is known for its grand temples and the magnificence of the architecture of these temples, their walls and pillars are intriguing. There are 14 temples standing as a testimony of grand times on this sacred land. It stands with all stony magnificence sculptures of all Hindu deities and the intricate carvings of the pillars, walls and mandapams (assembly halls) talk about the flourishing times of the Hindu religion. The stone chariot of Hampi is a shrine dedicated to Garuda, built inside the Vitthala Temple Complex. The massive sculpture of Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s escort once was seated on the chariot but it is empty today.
The chariot was built by King Krishandevaraya of the Vijayanagar Empire during the 16th century. He was fascinated with the Sun temple of Konark, Odisha. There is an interesting folktale that stems with the chariot and in which the villagers believe that the world would come to a halt when the chariot moves from its place. The chariot is a huge structure which depicts the intricate skill of the craftsmen and architects of those times. It depicts beautiful mythical battle scenes in intricate details. There were sculptures of horses where presently elephants are seated. Visitors can spot the hind legs and tails of the horses behind the elephants. There are also the remnants of the ladder in between the two elephants, using which priests used to climb up to the inner sanctum to offer prayers to the sculpture of Garuda.
The two brothers with a sheer determination to lay a foundation of Hindu dynasty in the southern and Deccan parts of India, found Hampi. The kings of those times gave a tough fight to all the invasions but this temple city succumbed and is now just in ruins, in which it remains. The empire of Vijayanagar stood tall and flourished for almost three centuries. Each ruler made the city more beautiful and stronger. In 1565, a fierce war between the Muslim sultanates and the Vijayanagara Empire ruined the city. It was pillaged, looted, and burnt for six months after the war, then abandoned as ruins, which are now called the Group of Monuments at Hampi. Now, it’s just a ravaged barren area of land scattered with ruins that narrate the story of a violent and turbulent past. But surely Hampi stands as a gift to the culture and a strong icon of heritage of India.