Vijaynagar, meaning the city of victory, was the capital city of the historic Vijaynagar Empire. As the prosperous capital of the largest and the most powerful kingdom of its time in India, Vijaynagar attracted people from all around the world. The ruined city, known as the ruins of Hampi, is a World Heritage Site. Protected by the turbulent Tungabhadra River in the north and rocky granite ridges on the other three sides, the ruins of Hampi silently unfold the story of the pomp and splendor, grandeur and magnificence and the fabulous wealth of a lost Kingdom.
The Vijaynagar Empire was founded by two brothers, Harihara and Bukka, also known as Sangama Brothers. It is said that, during the reign of Hoysala king Veera Ballala III, Harihara was a Hoysala commander in charge of its northern territories and when Veera Ballala III died in the war against the Sultan of Madurai, Harihara I seems to have gained sovereign powers over the entire Hoysala territory. This was in 1336 and Harihara was made the first king of the great empire. However, there is another popular account which says that, in the 14th century, the Hampi region was actually part of a Kampili Kingdom, while the larger parts of north India was under Muslim rule. Unfortunately, in 1326 AD, Muhammad bin Tugluq defeated and killed the king of Kampili. At that time, the sons of Sangama, Hukka or Harihara I and Bukka (Bukka Raya), were among the prisoners. They were the treasury officers of Kampili. In the process, they were forced to convert to Islam. Some years later the brothers were sent back to govern Kampili. The brothers, in their turn, laid the foundation of an independent kingdom in 1336, defied any subordination to the Tughluqs and became Hindu again. For the rest of the 14th century the city flourished and the empire expanded its borders.
Krishna Devaraya was the greatest emperor of the Vijaynagar Empire, who reigned from 1509 to 1530. During his days, the Vijayanagara kingdom flourished at its peak, as he defeated the Muslim Sultans of Bahmani and the Gajapatis of Odisha. After Krishna Devaraya, Rama Raya became the emperor. During that period the five Muslim rulers of the northern Deccan became more powerful by joining hands together to be collectively known as the Deccan Sultanates. In 1565 AD, the combined force of the Muslim rulers completely defeated Rama Raya in the battle of Talikota and the triumphant army looted and razed the magnificent city, destroyed the temples, raped the women and massacred the entire population of about 10.000 Hindus.
The ruins of Vijaynagar Hampi are broadly divided into two categories – The Secret Centre and the Royal Centre.
The Secret Centre consists of a hilly region, immediately to the south of the Tungabhadra. It mainly includes Virupaksha Temple, Vitthala Temple, Krishna Temple, Kadalekalu Ganesha Temple and the King’s Balance.
Virupaksha temple, also known as Pampapati temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It predated the empire and was extended between 13th and 17th century. It has two courts with gorgeous gopurams (entrance towers). The main entrance with a 50 m tall captivating gopuram faces east into a colonnaded street that extends for about 1 km (0.62 mi) to a monolithic statue of Nandi.
Situated northeast of Hampi and dedicated to Vitthal or Vishnu, Vitthala temple is one of the most important monuments of the city. The compound of the temple is adorned with the famous stone chariot or Ratha. One can find similar type of stone chariot in Konark and Mahabalipuram too. The most notable feature of the temple is its musical pillars, which are known as SAREGAMA pillars. There are a set of main pillars and each main pillar provides support to the ceiling by a pillar representing a musical instrument. Again, every main pillar is surrounded by seven minor pillars. Surprisingly, when tapped, those seven pillars emit seven different musical notes from the representative musical instruments.
The King’s Balance is located southwest of Vittala Temple. It is also called as Tula Bhara or Tula Purushadana and is regarded as one of the unique monuments of Hampi. It looks like an archway and consists of two carved granite pillars, spanned by a carved horizontal granite transom. On ceremonial days scales were hung from the transom, and the Raya (the emperor) was weighed against gold or jewels.
The partly ruined Krishna temple lies to the south of Hampi. It lies abandoned since the fall of Vijaynagar. Also to the south of Hampi is a massive rock cut idol of Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu.
The Kadalekalu Ganesha Temple is situated on the slope of the Hemakuta Hill in Hampi. The towering 4.6 m (15 feet) statue of Ganesha was carved out of a single huge boulder. The hall of the temple was built with slender granite pillars, decorated with mythological themes.
The Royal Centre is separated from the Secret Centre by a small valley. The main structures of Royal Centre consist of Ramchandra temple, Lotus Mahal, Elephant stables and Stepped Bath. It mostly contains the ruins – the ruins of the palaces, administrative buildings and temples, which were associated with the royals. With entrances facing to the east, Ramchandra temple stands in a rectangular courtyard. The outside walls of the courtyard are decorated with reliefs. However, the inner sanctuary of the temple is now empty.
Lotus Mahal is situated in the Zenana Enclosure of the monuments. It is also known as Kamal Mahal or Chitrangini Mahal. The Zenana enclosure covers several other monuments, including the Elephant Stable. Lotus Mahal is a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture. The base of the two storey structure depicts a Hindu foundation of stone, while the upper superstructure is Islamic in architecture with pyramidal towers, giving it a Lotus-like look. Though the structure is damaged at several parts due to dampness, wear and tear, this is one of the very few buildings that have the plaster intact. The entire monument is surrounded by a fortifying wall with watch towers.
The Elephant Stables, the long building with a row of domed chambers, was used to park’ the royal elephants. The building consists of eleven domed tall chambers. Some of the chambers are inter-connected. The center one is specially decorated and is the biggest. The whole building looks symmetric with respect to this central hall. This is another structure that shows the Islamic influence in its domes and arched gateways. The guards’ barracks are located right next to the elephant stables.
Stepped Bath or Queen’s Bath is, actually, a stepped well designed for bathing. The whole building is made with a veranda around, facing a big open pond at the middle. An aqueduct terminates in the pond. The whole pool is open to the sky. These types of sunken wells were created in those days to provide relief from daytime heat.
The vast area covering the ruins of Vijayanagara, Hampi, is the silent witness of its glorious past. Today, it is considered as one of the most significant tourist places of attraction.