Hidden in Plain Sight

Published on: 21/12/2019


Ahmad Khan’s Mosque – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

The heritage site of Hampi and the surrounding countryside is dotted with historical monuments ranging from defensive walls, temples and tanks, to ceremonial and residential buildings. They include relatively complete buildings to badly damaged structures barely discernable to the untrained eye. And not to mention its vast and yet to be excavated archeological wealth that lies buried in the ground.

Amongst this abundance of archeological gems, hidden in plain sight, are some of the surviving monuments that point to the existence of a cross cultural exchange between the Vijayanagara Empire and the Deccan Sultanates.

If one takes the road from Kamalapura to Talarighat they will pass, unnoticed, a non-descript road – no more than a path- on the left that leads to some agricultural fields and banana plantations. Hidden amongst these fields lies the mosque and tomb of Ahmad Khan. These two structures are the only surviving monuments of one of the segregated quarters that made up the urban core of Hampi.


Inscription on the Mosque wall – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

Built in 1439 by Ahmad Khan, a military officer in the service of Devaraya II, at first glance the mosque looks like a simple and rather rudimentary mandapa not worth a second glance. It appears to be no more than a rectangular pavilion with pillars supporting a flat roof.

However, on closer inspection one notices the total lack of any decorative motifs on the rather squat looking pillars – something rather odd for Hampi. Further investigation reveals the presence of a simple unadorned mihrab or prayer niche in the rear wall. The presence of the mihrab and an inscription on the wall confirms that this is indeed a mosque and the plain pillars now make perfect sense.


The Mihrab or prayer niche – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

Next to the mosque, on the other side of the path lies the tomb of Ahmad Khan. Built in the typical Deccani style of architecture, it is cubical shaped with arched niches and a dome on top. The plaster on the tomb has peeled off, exposing the stone walls. It looks very much like the tomb of a military man, rather stark and lacking any decorative flourishes. One can only imagine what it might have looked like with the fine finish of its plaster. Other minor tombs and a graveyard can be found nearby if one takes the trouble to look around amidst the agricultural fields.


The tomb of Ahmad Khan – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

Hampi is full of such gems that lie hidden in plain sight amongst, by one estimation, more than 1,600 surviving remains. All that is required is the willingness to eschew the beaten track to blaze your own trail and embark on your very own personal journey of discovery.


Vikram Nanjappa

Vikram Nanjappa likes to be described as an interested and well-informed amateur. He draws his inspiration from the band of men called the Orientalists, most of whom were amateurs. By profession, they were soldiers and administrators. However, today, they are remembered as giants of scholarship. Like them, his field of enquiry is ‘Man and Nature : whatever is performed by the one or produced by the other’.

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