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Hampi

Hampi: Ruins of splendour

Print edition : Oct 25, 2019 T+T-
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The Stone Chariot temple, dedicated to Garuda, within the Vitthala temple.

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A bird’s-eye view of the Virupaksha temple and the monuments at Hemakuta Hill.

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The Queen’s Bath. It is a pavilion with balconies overlooking a square central pool.

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The stepwell at the Royal Enclosure along with an aqueduct.

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The double-storeyed gateway and King’s Balance near the Vitthala temple.

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Incarnations of Vishnu and the characteristic horse rider sculptures on piers in the kalyana mandapa within the Vitthala temple complex.

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The interior of the Hazara Rama, or Ramachandra, temple, built by Devarya I, with its polished black stone pillars carrying images of Vishnu and scenes from the Ramayana

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Scenes from the Ramayana on the outer wall of the mandapa of the principal shrine at the Hazara Rama temple.

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The Underground Siva temple, which is mostly flooded, lies west of the Hazara Rama temple.

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Two-storeyed Talarigatta Gate, which was built into the fortification wall that enclosed the capital city.

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The Lotus Mahal and a watchtower (on the right) in what is popularly, though erroneously, called the Zenana Enclosure.

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The Elephant Stables, one of the most impressive courtly structures at Hampi.

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The inner and outer entrance gateways of the Virupaksha temple as seen from the inner courtyard.

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The monolithic Lakshmi-Narasimha statue, which Krishnadevaraya commissioned in 1528. It is 6.7 metres high and depicts the man-lion god sitting in a yogic posture on the coils of the cosmic serpent, Sesha Naga.

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The Monolithic Kadalekalu (Bengal gram) Ganesha, so named because the belly looks like unsplit Bengal gram.

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Hampi, with its temple complexes, palaces and fortresses, epitomised the rich historical, architectural-cultural and cosmopolitan legacy of the Vijayanagara Empire, which flourished on the banks of the Tungabhadra for more than 200 years from the mid 14th century. It is second on The New York Times list of 52 places to visit in 2019.

Hampi is a village situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra river in Bellari district of Karnataka. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986, it served as the imperial capital of Vijayanagara, arguably the largest, wealthiest and most powerful kingdom in south India and the greatest Hindu empire in the medieval period. Hampi was known by various names at different points of time: Hosapattana (New City), Vijayanagara (City of Victory), Vidyanagara (City of Learning) or Hampe, Pampa-kshetra and Pampa-pura—after the local goddess Pampa, who was worshipped even before the seventh century C.E.

Before it became part of Vijayanagara, the area around Hampi was ruled by several Hindu dynasties: the Kadambas, the Chalukyas of Badami, the Rashtrakutas, the Chalukyas of Kalyani, the Hoyasalas, the Yadavas and the Kampili chiefs. Most such Hindu kingdoms in the Deccan, constantly fighting amongst themselves, were overrun by the Delhi Sultanate in the early 14th century. The weakening hold of the Sultanate in the region together with the resistance offered by the local chieftains led to the emergence of two kingdoms around the mid 14th century: the Vijayanagara Empire (1336) based around Hampi and the Bahmani Sultanate (1347) centred around Gulbarga and Bidar. Both these kingdoms were continuously at war with one another.

There are several legends and theories about the origin of Vijayanagara. From various accounts, it seems that the two Sangama brothers Harihara I/Hukka (1336-56) and Bukka I (1356-77) had served under the Kampili chiefs. Following Kampili’s defeat by the forces of the Delhi Sultanate (1327), the archaeologists John Fritz and George Michell say, the brothers legitimised their position as leaders by patronising the Virupaksha shrine at Hampi and visiting the celebrated Hindu math at Sringeri. They organised an army, conquered lost and new territories and established a new Hindu kingdom, apparently with the blessings of a guru, Vidyaranya.

Ruled by three dynasties—the Sangama (1336-1485), the Saluva (1485-1505) and the Tuluva (1505-65)—the Vijayanagara Empire lasted for more than 200 years before being destroyed by the combined forces of the Deccan sultanate in 1565. It was ruled by some 60 monarchs, all of whom used the Telugu title of raya instead of the Sanskrit raja.

Harihara I ruled from Anegondi on the north bank of the Tungabhadra. His successor, Bukka I, shifted the capital south of the river to deal with the threat posed by the emergence of the Bahmani kingdom. He built the “City of Victory”, which was secured by a ring of fortification walls by succeeding Sangama rulers. The earliest Hindu and Jain temples at Vijayanagara belong to Harihara II (1377-1404), but as the historian Anila Verghese clarifies, these were not royal structures and were widely scattered across the site. The systematic building of temples as a royal enterprise began under the later Sangamas. Devaraya I (1406-22) built new temples, including the Ramachandra (or Hazara Rama) temple, in the “royal centre”.

Devaraya II (1424-46), Anila Verghese points out, made it a conscious policy to recruit Muslims in his army, especially as cavalrymen and archers, and the “Islamic quarter”, seen between Malyavanta Hill and the north ridge, was already in existence during his time. In 1485, Narasimha Saluva seized power, restored the might and influence of the Vijayanagara Empire and founded the Saluva dynasty. No major constructions are recorded during the Saluva period.

In 1505, Vira Narasimha Tuluva, a provincial governor, captured power from the weak Saluva rulers and brought into place the third dynasty rule. It was under Tuluva rulers such as Krishnadevaraya (1509-29) and Achyutaraya (1529-42) that Vijayanagara reached the climax of its power. Of these, Krishnadevaraya was the most powerful and illustrious ruler. Fritz and Michell point out that he toured extensively to placate the subordinate governors; attacked Bijapur, one of the Deccan sultanates; undertook a military campaign against the Gajapati kings of Odisha; and worshipped conspicuously at important religious centres such as Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh) and Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu).

At the height of its power, the Vijayanagara Empire extended from the Arabian Sea in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east and from the Deccan plateau in the north to the lower tip of peninsular India. Hampi gradually grew, Anila Verghese says, into a mighty metropolis larger than Rome, Paris or Lisbon. It became a rich cosmopolitan centre inhabited by people from a wide variety of linguistic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The city attracted foreign travellers, including Abdur Razzak from Persia, Nicolo Conti and Varthema from Italy and Duarte Barbosa, Domingo Paes and Fernao Nuiz from Portugal, all of whom left detailed accounts of the city and the empire. According to the historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Hampi is estimated to have had a population of around 5,00,000 in the 1520s, which is comparable to contemporary Istanbul. The economically prosperous Vijayanagara Empire, the historian Burton Stein states, was dotted with robust cities and towns, 60 harbours, an equal number of impregnable fortresses and gold, diamond and emerald mines.

For a systematic study of the Hampi ruins, scholars have divided the area into four zones: the sacred zone, the intermediate irrigated valley, the urban core and the suburban centres. Lying to the south of the Tungabhadra river, the sacred zone contains large temple complexes, smaller shrines, sculptures and inscriptions. Fritz and Michell point out that this zone was divided into four independent quarters, or pura s, each dominated by a walled temple complex: Hampi with the Virupaksha temple, Krishnapura with the Krishna temple, Achyutapura with the Tiruvengalanatha temple and Vitthalapura with the Vitthala temple. Each of these nuclear shrines stood in high-walled compounds surrounded by subsidiary shrines, colonnades, mandapa s (columned halls), wells, service buildings and chhatra s (rest houses). They were approached by a colonnaded street (which served as a bazaar during festivals) and had a tank used for bathing and religious ceremonies. The pura s were linked by roads and pathways marked with gates.

South of the sacred zone was the four-kilometre-long irrigated valley, which formed the agricultural area dominated by two parallel ridges running in a south-west–north-east direction. The hills, ridges and valleys south of the agricultural zone formed the urban core, which reveals evidence of residential quarters, wells, tanks, roadways, stairways, pottery and small shrines and large temples. Completely surrounded by fortification walls punctured by well-defined gateways, this oval-shaped zone had the largest concentration of the population. To the south-west of the urban zone was the royal centre (or the palace zone) with its own enclosure wall. The internal space was divided into walled compounds, possibly serving different functions—some for public ceremonies, others for private and residential purposes. At the heart of the royal centre is the Hazara Rama temple surrounded by ceremonial halls and platforms, stables and stores and palaces of the king’s household. Further south and west of the urban zone, as far as Hospet, are the residential suburbs containing the modern villages of Kamalapuram, Kadirampuram, Anantashayanagudi, Malpannagudi, Nagenhalli and parts of Hospet town. The remains around Hampi testify to a large metropolitan region of more than 600 sq km, closely connected with the life of the capital.

The Tungabhadra valley region’s rich geological and architectural landscape has strong mythological connections in addition to prehistoric rock shelters and megalithic burial chambers. Legends relating to the foundation of Vijayanagara point to Hampi as a site under divine protection. This was the place where the weak would become strong and challenge the mighty, where hares would become hounds, as Vidyaranya explained to Hukka and Bukka. Hampi’s sacred geography and mythical association with Siva (in the form of Virupaksha) and Vishnu played an important role in the development of the capital and its sociocultural life. The marriage of Pampa (also known as River Tungabhadra’s or the God Brahma’s daughter) to Virupaksha (who became Pampapati) greatly elevated the status of a small pilgrimage centre. Anila Verghese argues that the marriage of local goddesses to Siva or one of his incarnates was almost a universal method by which the former got absorbed into the Brahmanical pantheon in south India. Virupaksha soon became the patron deity of the kings, the capital and the Vijayanagara Empire, and a large number of temples dedicated to him and other Saiva deities such as Mallikarjuna, Ganesha and the fierce Virabhadra and Bhairava came to be built in the empire.

The Vaishanava cult of Rama was greatly encouraged from the early 15th century soon after Devarya I built the Hazara Rama temple. Anila Verghese says a deliberate homology came to be drawn between Rama, the ideal, universal monarch, and his earthly counterpart, the king reigning from Vijayanagara. This was achieved, she explains, by highlighting Rama’s movements through the sacred landscape in and around Hampi and through its architecture and sculptures. Hampi is popularly believed to be Kishkindha—the mythical monkey kingdom of Vali and Sugriva—of the Ramayana and is dotted with places/events associated with the epic. Sugriva and Hanuman took shelter on Rishyamuka Hill when the former’s brother Vali exiled him; Sugriva’s cave, located on the south bank of the Tungabhadra, is said to be the place where he hid the jewellery thrown by Sita, Rama’s wife, when she was being carried away by Ravana to Lanka after being kidnapped; Rama and his brother Lakshmana took shelter on Mount Malyavanta while waiting to rescue Sita. By the late 15th and 16th centuries, many Vaishanava deities such as Krishna, Vitthala of Pandharpur, Tiruvengalanatha or Venkateshvara of Tirupati and Ranganatha of Srirangam came to be worshipped along with saints of the Shri Vaishnava cult such as the alvar s and acharya s.

Most monuments are primarily built in the locally available granite, grey, ochre or pink. Polished and dressed granite slabs were mostly used for the outer walls and gateways of temples, while the superstructure was made of brick and mortar. Metal clamps rather than mortar were occasionally used as binding material for stones in Hindu and Jaina temples.

In the royal buildings, coarse and rougher granite structures were covered with plaster, stucco and other decorative material. Thick walls were filled with stone rubble, brickwork and mortar. Identifiable elements of Islamic architecture such as arches, domes and stucco decoration, characteristic of the Delhi Sultanate, form an integral part of the royal structures such as the Lotus Mahal, the Elephant Stables and the Queen’s Bath. Anila Verghese argues that the buildings connected with the king, the court and the army exhibit an effective synthesis of different architectural styles: “they are neither Islamic, nor Hindu, but typically Vijayanagara”. Fritz and Michell reiterate that mixed origins and a delightful blending of architectural features reflected the inventiveness of the Vijayanagara courtly style.

No palace structures have been found intact. However, as Anila Verghese elucidates, the basements of the courtly structures excavated indicate that they had a uniform pattern of three or four U-shaped recess platforms set one on top of the other with residential rooms on the top. Other courtly platforms include the King’s Audience Hall and the Mahanavami Platform.

The Vijayanagara kings permitted and even patronised the practice of Jainism and Islam, and some Jaina temples, Muslim tombs, gravestones and mosques have been found. The tombs mostly have domes and arches, but the mosques, Anila Verghese illuminates, were built in the pillar-and-beam style found in Hindu temples.

Temple architecture

The temples at Hampi showcase both the local pre-Vijayanagara Deccan tradition and the later Tamil style. The pre-Vijayanagara temples (mostly on Hemakuta Hill and around the Virupaksha temple complex) up to around the 14th century are made of granite. They, as Anila Verghese illustrates, are characterised by stepped pyramidal stone superstructures, overhanging eaves and a plain outer wall occasionally decorated with geometric or scroll horizontal bands. By the 15th century, the Tamil style started gaining ground as temples became more elaborate and ritualistic. Anila Verghese says that this style was exemplified in the material used (granite with brick and plaster for the superstructure), the general plan and the auxiliary structures, including the gopura (or towered gateway).

According to scholars, a developed temple structure consisted of an axial arrangement of the sanctuary ( garbha-griha ) with a closed circumbulatory passage, an antechamber ( shukanasi ), a second antechamber ( antarala ), an enclosed pillared hall with four doorways ( rangamandapa ), an open mahamandapa in the front, a gopura s and one or more courtyards ( prakara s). Larger temple courtyards would also include auxiliary structures such as the kalyanamandapa (the site of the annual celebration of the marriage between the deity and his consort-goddess), colonnades along the inner side of the walled enclosure, kitchens and storerooms, a hundred-pillar hall used for performances, and shrines of associated gods, goddesses and saints. The several small shrines, on the other hand, would mostly have a sanctuary or a cell and a porch, sometimes with a small mandapa . The temple pillars were ornate. The most characteristic temple columns, Anila Verghese illustrates, had three square blocks separated by eight- or 16-sided blocks with reliefs on each side. In the composite piers, she says, the central shaft had either the mythical monster yali or a horse with or without a rider or a cluster of colonettes.

The Virupaksha, or Pampapati, temple is regarded as the most sacred temple at Hampi. Fritz and Michell point out that the imposing outer gopura (belonging to the early 19th century) with “the characteristic pyramidal tower divided into diminishing pilastered storeys and topped by a barrel-vaulted shala roof with gilded kalasha pinnacles” is typical of the Vijayanagara period but derives from Tamil prototypes of the 11th and 12th centuries. This gopura leads to a large outer rectangular courtyard with a hundred-pillar hall in the south-west corner, a kalyanamandapa in the north-west, and other shrines and mandapa s. A small east gopura , built by Krishnadevaraya on his coronation in 1509-10, gives access to the inner enclosure housing the principal shrine and sub-shrines along with a mandapa he built. Anila Verghese opines that the core of the temple was probably a small shrine built in the 12th century, but it was enveloped by Vijayanagara additions in the 15th-16th century.

To the north-west of the principal shrine are the smaller shrines of the goddesses Pampa and Bhuvaneshwari, the consorts of Virupaksha. The inner enclosure has the north gopura (Kanakagiri gopura ) with a granite base belonging to the 15th century, but the brick-and-plaster superstructure was probably added in the 18th century. The tower was further renovated by F.W. Robinson, the District Collector of Bellary in the 1830s. The Kanakagiri gopura leads to the adjoining Manmatha tank, a bathing space for devotees to the temple. Alongside the tank, there are many small temples belonging to the pre-Vijayanagara period, including a 9th-10th century shrine dedicated to a multi-armed Durga and carved in red sandstone.

The Vitthala temple is dedicated to Vitthala, a form of Vishnu, and is located on the southern banks of the Tungabhadra. Its eastern entrance is approached by a chariot street containing a temple tank. The structure consists of a high-walled rectangular structure punctured by three gateways, one each in the east, north and south. A colonnade underlines the inner wall of the enclosure. The principal shrine stands in the centre surrounded by subsidiary shrines in the north-west and south-west and free-standing mandapa s in the north-east ( utsavamandapa ) and south-east ( kalyanamandapa ). A hundred-pillar hall, commissioned by Krishnadevaraya in 1516, is built into the south colonnade. In front of the principal shrine lies the stone chariot—one of Hampi’s iconic representations—a temple dedicated to Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. The chariot had a brick-and-plaster superstructure that was demolished towards the end of the 19th century. Fritz and Michell point out that the elephants beneath its doorway were also placed around that time.

The temple is surrounded by four streets through which the deity was carried during ceremonial processions. These streets are dotted with a number of shrines, including those believed to be dedicated to the Vaishnava saint Tirumanga Alvar and the preceptor Ramanuja. Near the temple complex and parallel to the Tungabhadra are the double-storeyed gateway and the King’s Balance, where Vijayanagara emperors are believed to have weighed themselves against precious metals and stones.

Lakshmi-Narasimha is a 6.7-metre-high monolithic statue of the man-lion god sitting in a yogic posture on the coils of the cosmic serpent, Sesha Naga. Krishnadevaraya commissioned it in 1528. Immediately above the head of the statue is a multi-hooded cobra surmounted by a yali . There used to be a diminutive figure of a Lakshmi positioned on Narasimha’s lap. Immediately north of the Lakshmi-Narasimha statue is a square shrine containing a polished linga (phallic representation of Siva) around 3 m high. Once fields in the vicinity began to be irrigated, the linga was partially submerged. Now the base of the linga stands in water.

Krishna temple & monolithic Ganesha

The Krishna temple was built in 1515 to house the statue of an infant Krishna brought from Krishnadevaraya’s Udayagiri campaign. It is a large temple with two prakara s, both with by high enclosures. Inscriptions near the principal shrine mention royal gifts and endowments such as gold and silver articles, jewellery and villages towards expenses for regular maintenance and festivals. Most temples and religious leaders were richly endowed with lands, money and taxes.

Near the Krishna temple is the monolithic Ganesh sculpture locally called “Sasivekalu” (mustard seed) Ganesha, and a little further away, there is an open pavilion containing another monolithic image, called “Kadalekalu” (Bengal gram) Ganesha. The Hemakuta Hill has more than 30 structures, mostly Saiva shrines, dating to the pre- and early Vijayanagara period.

A quadrangular-shaped high-walled compound at the royal centre is popularly, though erroneously, called the “Zenana Enclosure”, that is, a private area meant for the women of the royal household. The presence of the Elephant Stables and a “parade ground” within the complex, however, clearly indicates that it was connected with public, courtly life. The enclosure is dotted with a series of structures, including two palace basements in a dilapidated state (one of which is in the centre of a now-empty tank), three watchtowers (one square, one octagonal and the third in a ruined state), a vaulted rectangular structure and the double-storeyed Lotus Mahal.

Fritz and Michell say that the Lotus Mahal, laid out on a square mandala-like plan with projections on the middle of each side, probably served as a council chamber. They explicate that the moulded-stone basement on which the pavilion is elevated, the double-curved eaves sheltering the arches and the cluster of nine pyramidal towers surmounting the structure reflect the influence of temple architecture, while the lobed/finely cusped arches surrounded by pilaster decorations and the interior domes and vaults bear a resemblance to the Delhi Sultanate style.

A doorway on the east wall of the enclosure leads to the Elephant Stables, one of the most impressive courtly structures at Hampi. This is a horizontal structure consisting of 11 chambers, each of which perhaps accommodated two elephants. At the centre of its roof is a raised upper chamber, perhaps meant for drummers and musicians, on either side of which is a series of alternating domes and 12-sided vaults. The vast open space in front of the stables served as a parade ground for troops and animals.

To the north of the parade ground lies what is popularly known as the Guards’ Barracks. It has a gallery with an elevated and covered arcaded verandah in the front and a long narrow open court, surrounded by arcades, at the ground level in the interior. The former may have been used for viewing activities on the parade ground, while the latter perhaps served as a court for martial sports and exercises. To the south of the Zenana Enclosure are two temples: the one dedicated to the local goddess Ellamma forms the only shrine in the royal complex where worship still happens, while the other, a double-shrined Ranga temple, is dedicated to Madhava, a form of Vishnu. A Vishnu temple, a Siva temple and two Jaina shrines are found further east of the Elephant Stables. One of these Jaina shrines, according to the inscriptional evidence, was built by Devaraya II in 1426 to house Tirthankara Parshvanath.

Axially aligned with the Matanga and Malyavanta Hills—both connected with the Ramayana—and located at the convergence of the principal roads of the city is the Hazara Rama temple. Built in the early 15th century by Devaraya I, it served as private shrine for the rulers of Vijayanagara. The temple stands in a walled enclosure, the outer side of which has intricately carved processions of elephants, horses, soldiers, dancers and musicians alongside kings seated in pavilions. The entry to the temple is through doorways/gateways on the east and north side and a smaller door in the south. The inner wall of the complex has episodes from the Ramayana depicted on panels that read left to right and bottom to top. The whole epic, Anila Verghese points out, is carved once again in three tiers on the outer walls of the mandapa of the principal shrine—from the fire sacrifice of king Dasharatha to the coronation of Rama.

Excavations to the west of the temple have revealed a number of enclosures containing a number of structures, including those popularly known as the Mint and the Residence of the Commander-in-Chief ( danaik ), a tank with an unusual bull-headed water spout, a two-storeyed octagonal pavilion and a nine-domed pavilion. In the west is the Underground Siva temple dedicated to Vijayanagara’s main deity, the Virupaksha. Discovered completely buried in the 1980s, it is located below ground level and is mostly flooded. To its immediate north lies a series of elite residential structures known as the Noblemen’s Quarters.

The Queen’s Bath is a pavilion with balconies, carrying intricate plasterwork, overlooking a central square pool. Fritz and Michell opine that though the structure is known as Queen’s Bath, it was possibly intended for the male courtiers and their female companions. In contrast to its plain exterior, the interior is strikingly beautiful; the arcaded gallery around the pool is adorned with ornate vaults of different designs. The tower that once adorned the roof has now collapsed. The structure is surrounded by a water channel, and the remains of an aqueduct can be seen nearby.

The Royal Enclosure has several identifiable structures, including the 100-columned King’s Audience Hall, an underground chamber, a square-stepped tank built in schist and fed by a raised water channel, a number of other tanks, square or rectangular basements separated by small courts and the great multistaged structure popularly known as the Mahanavami Platform. The platform has ascending levels and was built in four stages from the 14th to the 16th century. Its sides are adorned with sculpted slabs depicting a variety of courtly scenes: hunting, performances of music and dance, wrestling matches and processions of soldiers, horses, elephants and even camels. The schist slabs of the fourth phase, on the eastern side, are intricately carved. It is generally presumed that it was from here that the king and his entourage watched the Mahanavami festivities. Others opine that this structure was used for coronation ceremonies or was used as an audience hall.

Besides independent monuments and complexes, a large number of sculptures are also found in Hampi. Some of these can be found in the open—sculptures on boulders, monoliths and slabs—and others on temple walls, railings or ceilings. Temples and palaces were also decorated with paintings on plastered walls, pillars and ceilings.

Another important component of Vijayanagara architecture was the waterworks including tanks, stone channels, drains, aqueducts and wells. The art historian Vidya Dehejia says water was lifted from the Tungabhadra basin and transported through the site by channels cut in rock, several of which are still functional and irrigate the banana and sugarcane crop.

Rethinking the Battle of 1565

After the death of Krishnadaveraya, his son-in-law Ramaraya appointed the heir apparent Sadasivaraya (1542-72) as nominal king and ruled the kingdom as regent until his death in the Battle of 1565. He commanded the forces of the empire and antagonised the Deccan sultanates to such an extent that a unique alliance—consisting of the sultans of Bijapur, Bidar, Ahmednagar and Golconda—was formed against Vijayanagara. The site/name of the battle, the historian Nilanjan Sarkar clarifies, has been variously described as that of Talikota, Banihatti, Raksas-Tangadi, Krishna, Bayapur, Bhogpur, Huker, Mudgal, and so on. Vijayanagara was finally defeated, and Hampi was apparently plundered for several months and its monuments were torched. Recent works by scholars such as Mark T. Lycett, Kathleen Morrison and Michell have started questioning the extent of the destruction carried out immediately after the battle.

There is no doubt, however, that Vijayanagara ceased to exist as an empire after 1565. The later rulers of Vijayanagara shifted their base first to Penukonda and Chandragiri in southern Andhra Pradesh and finally to Velur in Tamil Nadu. The last dynasty of Aravidus, founded by a brother of Ramaraya, ruled over a progressively diminishing kingdom for another 100 years.

Despite Vijayanagara’s rich historical, architectural-cultural and cosmopolitan legacy, the Battle of 1565 unfortunately remains one of the most popular frameworks for understanding the empire. For many people—in academia, in the literary world, tourist guides, in political circles among others—the battle continues to be dominantly seen as one fought primarily on religious lines: between the “Muslim” Deccan sultanates and the “last bastion of Hindu rule” in peninsular India. Some scholars have contested such generalisations. The historian Richard Eaton argues that no side was motivated by religious concerns. He says that in the two centuries preceding the battle there was so much cultural interaction between kingdoms on both sides of the Krishna river that rivalries were mostly over territory and forts and “not over matters of civilisation, Hindu or Islamic”.

Vidya Dehejia contends that Islamic domes, vaults and arches—a recurring feature in the courtly architecture of Vijayanagara—testify to the cultural and artistic exchanges between neighbours. She points out that Hampi accommodated an entire settlement of Muslims, and Ahmad Khan, a high-ranking official, constructed both a tomb and a mosque for himself. Fritz and Michell add that a large number of Muslims, both Indian converts and immigrants from West and Central Asia, were employed by the Vijayanagara rulers, and Devaraya II is known to have had a Quran on which he made them swear their allegiance to him. Further, Persian-style jackets and pointed caps worn by kings, princes and ministers inspired many architectural panels in the Royal Centre. Fritz and Michell further say that Arabian horses, so crucial to the Vijayanagara cavalry and army, were routed through Muslim traders.

Nilanjan Sarkar argues that there is no “clear evidence to suggest that Ramaraya ever fought a battle with his ‘Muslim’ neighbours for the glorification or protection of Hindu religion”. He underscores two pertinent points regarding the immediate context of the battle. First, it was not until the formation of a coalition in 1565 that Islam (or religion) was invoked to bring together the Deccan sultanates. Husain Nizam Shah (the ruler of Ahmednagar) used Islam to nudge Ali Adil Shah (the ruler of Bijapur)—who had long enjoyed the benevolence of Ramaraya—in the direction of the coalition. Second, the abstention of Berar from the battle, the several references to suspicions about Ali Adil Shah’s loyalty to the alliance, and the fact that the Ahmednagar and Bijapur sultanates were back to their warring ways once the battle was over further indicate that the battle was fought on political, not religious, grounds.

So, how did the battle acquire a communal character? Nilanjan Sarkar opines that “religiously codified tropes were used in the reportage of the battle in several texts”. A careful contextual examination of these 16th century texts (by Aftabi, Ferishta and Cesare Federici), he says, shows how historical, regional and identitarian agendas informed such communally phrased narratives. These in turn were “appropriated, amplified and legitimised by colonial and Indian writers [such as Robert Sewell, Nelaturi Venkataramanaiah, S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, K.A. Nilakanta Sastri and B.A. Saletore] on the subject”. As we continue to debate the communal legacy of the battle, Hampi has made its way into The New York Times ’ list of 52 places, across the globe, to visit in 2019. It appears at the second spot, after Puerto Rico, and is the only Indian site on the list.

Dr Shashank Shekhar Sinha taught history in undergraduate colleges at the University of Delhi. He does independent research on tribes, gender, violence, culture and heritage.

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