Hampi: Undiscovered and Reimagined

Published on: 20/06/2018


Photograph: Nicholas Rixon

In Lord of the Rings, the ring-bearer and his companions enter the Old Forest- where the trees have mysterious powers that allow them to hypnotize, and use their roots to entrap, intruders. These ancient woodlands symbolize nature’s all-encompassing dominion over everything man-made.

The Vijayanagar Empire was utterly destroyed in the mid-1500s. Palaces and temples razed to the ground, deities shattered and monuments demolished. Kingdoms rose and fell around the City of Victory’s ruins that were slowly taken over by the forces of nature.

Creepers slithered and wrapped themselves around the cracked ceilings and lintels. Water tanks were carpeted in moss and silt, disappearing from view. Pillars succumbed to gravity and were covered by plant life. The farmers who remained in the small villages of Hampi and Kamalapuram sowed paddy outside once-magnificent palaces, used debris from the ruins to fortify their huts, and women hung their clothes out to dry on fallen columns

As I took in the quiet grandeur of the restored ruins around Hampi, it was hard not to think that maybe, just this one time, Mother Nature may not have been completely successful in her conquest. The Old Forest reigned supreme in Lord of the Rings, but Hampi’s temples, palaces and water structures have stood their ground over time.

In 2015, the Archaeological Survey of India, while excavating around Virupaksha Temple, found more than 12 feet of the compound wall buried underground. This could mean there exists a number of smaller temples and structures beneath this popular tourist destination. A fact that got me thinking of an underground Hampi that has remained hidden and one day could add to the resplendence of this ancient city.

Hampi Bazaar near Vitthala Temple

Photograph: Nicholas Rixon

At the core of Hampi is the royal palace spread out over 59,000 sq. mts. In 2016, archaeologists found evidence of private bathrooms connected to covered drains confirming that, way back in the 14th century, the architects of Vijayanagar were mindful of sanitary engineering. The second-largest medieval-era city in the world was built on a meticulous blueprint that puts it in the same league as other ancient civilizations.

The comparison to Rome, made by foreign travellers, isn’t an exaggeration. The markets of Hampi sold everything from pearls to horses, and traders arrived with goods from Persia, Russia, Italy and China. The Kannada word ‘marukatte’ (that translates to a platform for selling goods) was used six centuries ago in the bustling bazaars of Hampi. It is said the word market has its origins here, and rightfully so.

The skeletal remains of Hampi’s ancient bazaars leading up to Vitthala Temple offered me a glimpse of a city at its economic peak. As visitors made their way quickly towards the temple, I hung back among the colonnades and imagined traders haggling over prices, musicians playing at every corner and the citizens of Hampi walking home after a good day’s work at the market.

For me, the beauty of Hampi is not limited to the monuments and temples above ground. It’s the feeling of being transported back in time as I walk up the steps and reach the summit of Anjaneya Hill. Palm trees and paddy fields stretch out as far as the eye can see. I could make out the ancient stone pillars rising up from the fields and, once again, I am reminded of how the City of Victory stays true to its name. With ongoing excavations, I’m sure the next time I land up here there will be some new structure discovered, an ancient monument raised from the earth. Hampi is a history lesson in real time and I intend to stick around for the ride.


Nicholas Rixon

Nicholas Rixon's work has appeared in The Indian Quarterly, Scroll, The Statesman, Hindustan Times and The Assam Tribune, among others. He currently lives in New Delhi and is working on his debut collection of short stories.

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