WHILE a debate rages over the location of a bridge in Hampi, important issues relating to the conservation of the remarkable cultural site remain neglected. Encroachment, by human habitations and agricultural plantations, into the core area of the World Heritage Site is a major problem that remains unaddressed.
For example, a new residential colony, Prakash Nagara, was regularised during the tenure of M.P. Prakash as a Minister in the previous Janata Dal government in the State. The colony of largely daily wage earners is right behind the Virupaksha temple. Hotels and other businesses could well develop in the colony, which would then put pressures of various kinds on the monuments in the core area.
Privately owned banana plantations have extended into the spaces between monuments. The broad Chariot Street, which is laid in front of the Krishna temple in what was called Krishnapurapete, a Vaishnava township of the 16th century, provides a lovely vista that ends in the distance among a cluster of boulders. Two rows of stone colonnades flanked the impressive street which is 48 metres wide and 600 m long. Today, only one row of columns can be seen. The parallel row, along with a board erected by the Archaeological Survey of India declaring it to be a protected monument, has been swallowed by a thick banana plantation.
Close to the Krishna temple, behind a smaller temple of Tirumala, lie the 16th century remains of a 700-pillared resting place for travellers. They find mention in historian S. Settar's authoritative book on the Hampi monuments. Next to them was a marketplace, mentioned in Vijaynagar records, which dealt in foodgrains (davasad-angadigal), with a shopkeepers' settlement nearby. Reconstructed, the marketplace would provide the visitor a fascinating view of the spaces of commerce and everyday life in what was a large and busy metropolis. Instead, the columns and beams of the davasad-angadigal lie helter-skelter and neglected under an overgrowth of foliage.
Between the western marker, the Prasanna Virupaksha temple, and the eastern landmark, the Malyavanta mountain, lies the core area of Hampi. It has a large number of enclosures, plinths, partially excavated palaces and some of the most beautiful of the standing monuments of Hampi. While the monuments that have been either fully or partially excavated require conservation, beneath the earth's surface more history waits to be uncovered. Many of the monuments remain unidentified, while some have been identified wrongly. Settar writes that about 33 enclosures, over a hundred sacred spots, many gateways and bastions and water works and road networks remain to be identified from the abundant records of the period. As a measure of protection, recently the ASI built iron fences around the major monuments. But these ugly steels frames detract from the highly aesthetic visual integrity of the medieval township, as they cut up spaces that have been conceived and laid out artistically.
Those who are horrified at the damage that is likely to be inflicted on a partially destroyed medieval gateway by the traffic coming down a modern bridge are probably unaware that a 15th-century Narasimha temple was converted into a circuit house by the British and is now being used as a Public Works Department guest house. Its carved pillars serve as excellent drawing room decor, and its sanctum sanctorum is a convenient storage room.