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World Heritage Site : The magnificent ruins of Hampi

The ruined city of Hampi by the Tungabhadra in Karnataka, is all that remains of the capital of the Vijayanagara empire, one of the most glorious kingdoms in India’s history. At its peak, it covered practically all of South India. The empire rose at a time when several kingdoms in the south were being defeated or weakened by invasions by the Delhi Sultanate. The Kakatiyas of Warangal, the Pandyas  of Madurai, the Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra – none of them could withstand the onslaught and the Sultanate appeared poised to take over the south.  
 
However, things changed dramatically in the early 14th century. Muhammad bin Tughlaq took over as the ruler of the Sultanate. He was quite the tyrant, and his reign was full of rebellion. One rebel took refuge in a tiny kingdom called Anegundi, a small village near Hampi. Tughlaq’s army hunted him down, killed him and brought down Anegundi. A general stayed back to administer the region, but he soon returned to Delhi, leaving two young men named Harihara and Bukka Raya in charge. Theories abound about the origins of these brothers, but many accounts say they were princes from one of the ruling families in the region. Harihara and Bukka Raya didn’t declare themselves as kings at first. Quietly, but rapidly, they expanded their territories. Other rulers in the region aligned with these men who seemed capable of warding off the invaders from Delhi, and this unified kingdom became the mighty Vijayanagara empire.
 
Around the same time, another kingdom was founded to its immediate north, following another rebellion. Alauddin Hassan Bahman Shah, a commander in Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s army, revolted against the despotic Sultan, declared independence in the Deccan and founded the Bahmani Sultanate. In about 2 centuries, the Bahmani Sultanate broke up into the five Deccan Sultanates of Ahmednagar, Berar, Bijapur, Bidar and Golconda.
 
In the 16th century, the Vijayanagara ruler Aliya Rama Raya got involved in conflicts between these Sultanates repeatedly, sometimes supporting one, and sometimes another. Finally, the Deccan Sultanates got together in an alliance, and waged war on Vijayanagar. This was the iconic Battle of Talikota (a town known as Talikoti now), in which the Sultanates defeated Vijayanagar and killed Aliya Rama Raya. They then  plundered and destroyed Hampi to the ruined state in which it lies to this day. The slain king’s brother survived the battle; he moved to Penukonda in present day Andhra Pradesh, and ruled the now weakened and diminished kingdom from there. The last Vijayanagara king made Chandragiri his capital, which was captured by the Golconda Sultanate, putting an end to the empire.
 
Hampi is magnificent even in its ruin, and one can only imagine what it looked like in its days of splendour. The city has often been compared to Rome, for its size, its riches, its flourishing art, architecture and literature, and also its abrupt destruction. Vijayanagara architecture is essentially Dravidian in its style, and scattered all over Hampi are an assortment of structures in varying degrees of dilapidation including temples, palaces, bazaars, mandapas, gardens and military structures. It is like Disneyland, but for heritage enthusiasts – here are some pictures 🙂 
Ugra Narasimha, Hampi

‘Ugra Narasimha’, a fierce form of Vishnu’s lion-like avatar

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

The imposing Virupaksha Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, said to be Hampi’s oldest temple

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

Inside the Virupaksha Temple

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

This region is believed to be Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom mentioned in the Ramayan

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

The Virupaksha Temple somehow escaped the plunder intact, and is still in worship.

Sasivekalu Ganesha, Hampi

Sasivekalu Ganesha. Sasivekalu means mustard seed. I don’t see the resemblance. You?

This is probably a good place to mention Krishna Deva Raya, the most iconic ruler of the Vijayanagara empire. The kingdom reached its zenith during his reign, and literature in Telugu and Kannada received a huge boost under his patronage. Many important monuments in Hampi were built in his time, like the Krishna and Hazara Rama temples below:
Krishna Temple, Hampi

Krishna Temple, built to commemorate Krishna Deva Raya’s victory over Udayagiri in present day Odisha

Krishna Temple, Hampi

The Krishna Temple is not in worship since the main idol was destroyed.

Hazara Rama Temple Hampi

The Hazara Rama Temple replete with bas reliefs depicting tales from the Ramayan

Underwater Shiva Temple, Hampi

The ‘underwater’ Shiva temple with its sanctum submerged in water

Lotus Mahal, Hampi

The Lotus Mahal in the zenana, or the ladies’ wing of the palace zone

Zenana, Hampi

Ruined structures in the compound wall around the zenana area

Elephant Stables, Hampi

The beautiful elephant stables in the palace area

Hampi's famous step well or Pushkarini

Hampi’s famous step well or Pushkarini

Queen's Bath, Hampi

The Queen’s Bath, believed to date back to the reign of the king Achyuta Raya

Vittala Temple

I saved the best for last – the absolutely stunning Vittala Temple

Vittala Temple, Hampi

The stone chariot in the Vittala Temple that has become Hampi’s most famous icon

The group of monuments in Hampi were included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in the year 1986. It’d probably take months to even skim the surface of Hampi’s treasures,  but I hope you enjoyed the small glimpse into the medieval town from my short stay there.
 
Hopefully useful information
Nearest railway station: Hospet or Hosapete, 13km away. We took a train from Hyderabad.
Transport: Auto rickshaws, cabs, rented bicycles/scooters
Stay: Hotel Malligi, Hospet. My friend Ajay suggested it, and I totally recommend it too.
Memorable meal: Hotel Swati near the Hospet bus stand. We went because yamsivam recommended it on Twitter. Best dosas in the world. Seriously. Do not miss.

Travel, World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Site : Pattadakal

Chalukya architecture had its beginnings in Aihole and was honed in Badami, but it was in the riverside town of Pattadakal that it reached its zenith. Bearing testimony to this, is a cluster of 10 exquisite temples in the Dravidian and Nagara styles of architecture, that the Chalukyas combined to create their own distinctive idiom. Pattadakal, called Pattada Kallu in Kannada, was where the coronations of the Badami Chalukya kings were held from the 7th century onwards. The town was also called Raktapura in the past, probably because of the red (rakta means blood and pura means city) sandstone with which the temples are built.
 
The World Heritage Site of Pattadakal includes 9 Shiva temples built between the 7th and 9th centuries. The 10th is a Jain temple built in the Dravidian style, about half a km away. It was probably built later by the Rashtrakutas, who succeeded the Badami Chalukyas.
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya TemplesPattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
The oldest of the Shiva temples in Pattadakal is the Sangameshwara Temple, built in the Dravidian style, and the last one to be built was probably the Kasi Visveshwara temple, in the Nagara style. One  simple way to tell which style each temple is built in, is to look at the shikharas. Typically, shikharas in Nagara temples are gently convex, while those in Dravidian temples are pyramidal.
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples. The difference between Dravidian style and Nagara style shikharas

Dravidian shikhara (left) Nagara shikhara (right)

The loveliest structure in the complex is definitely the Virupaksha temple. It is also the biggest, and the most elaborate. It was built by Queen Trilokyamahadevi in the first half of the 8th century, to commemorate her husband Vikramaditya II’s victory over the Pallavas. The temple is said to be inspired by the Kailashanatha temple of Kanchipuram, and the design of the Kailash temple in Ellora in turn, is said to be based on this one. The interiors as well as the exteriors of this temple are replete with elaborate carvings from Hindu mythology, and the pillars leading to the sanctum are breathtaking, depicting scenes from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Apparently, these carvings were done after the pillars were built – this meant, there was absolutely no room for even a single mistake! While all the temples have small nandis in front of them, this one has a smooth, shiny and colossal bull in a pavilion of its own (called a nandi-mandapa) in front of the temple. The Virupaksha temple and its nandi-mandapa are the only ones in the complex that are still in active worship.
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples

A pillar in the Virupaksha temple depicting Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows (Mahabharata)

Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples

The Mallikarjuna Temple adjacent to the Virupaksha Temple was built soon after, by Vikramaditya II’s second queen, and it is like a smaller version of the latter. The other structures here are the Galaganatha, Papanatha, Jambulinga, Chandrashekhara, Sangameshwara and Jambulinga temples.

Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
Pattadakal Group of Badami Chalukya Temples
And that brings us to the end of my series of posts about the temples that the Badami Chalukyas built. As I mentioned earlier, the best place to stay in while visiting this circuit is Badami, only 3 hours from Hampi, another World Heritage Site.

 

Here are the earlier posts from the series:
Aihole
Badami
Mahakuta

 

Eid Mubarak, Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year to all of you!
I’ll see you in 2016!
Travel, World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Site : The Great Living Chola Temples

As a kid, I’d go to Kumbakonam from Hyderabad almost every summer to visit my grandparents. But in those days, neither photography nor heritage interested me, so I never realized that three exquisite specimens of Indian architecture were so close by! They are collectively called the Great Living Chola Temples, because they were built by the Chola dynasty. The group is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Brihadeeshwara Temple in Tanjore (or Thanjavur, more correctly), the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavateshwara Temple in Darasuram form the trio. All three are dedicated to Lord Shiva. You can read all about them in this series of four photoessays I did for The News Minute, about the World Heritage Sites of Tamil Nadu.

 

A bit of history
The Cholas were one of the most powerful Tamil dynasties of South India. Raja Raja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I were two of the greatest Chola rulers, and built the temples in Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram respectively. The third temple in Darasuram was built by Rajaraja Chola II, who came about 8 generations later.

 
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Tanjore

This temple is the grandest of the three and was built by King Raja Raja Chola  I in the beginning of the 11th century. It is truly a pinnacle of human achievement. It now has a small museum in it which you shouldn’t miss – the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff will tell you all the things that make this temple unique.

Brihadeeshwara Temple, Tanjore
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Tanjore
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
This temple built in the 11th century is strikingly similar to the one in Tanjore. Not surprising, since they were built by father and son.
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram
Airavateshwara Temple, Darasuram
This temple built by King Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century is quite different from the other two, but every bit as stunning. The front of the temple is shaped like a chariot. I did a small post about it long ago.
Airavateshwara Temple, Darasuram
Airavateshwara Temple, Darasuram
How to visit:
The three temples are almost in a straight line. Darasuram in the middle, is practically in Kumbakonam – it’s just 3 kms away. Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram are on either side, at 40km and 35kms respectively. You can go to Tanjore (310 kms) or Kumbakonam (270 kms) by bus/train/car from Chennai. Both have decent hotels and taxi services.
 
I took an auto rickshaw from Kumbakonam to Darasuram. To the other two temples, I went in a taxi. There’s a bridge on the way to Gangaikonda Cholapuram on which they don’t allow buses (as of Feb 2014).
 
The temples are closed approximately from 12 to 4 in the afternoon. Kumbakonam has many gorgeous temples that are totally worth visiting but pretty much all of them are closed in the afternoon. If you want any other details, feel free to ask in the comments or on twitter 🙂
Travel, World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Site : Darasuram

The temple town of Kumbakonam, about 3 kms from Darasuram, is where my grandparents live, and also where my mom grew up (more on that some other time). My dad and I went there on a 1-day trip, and squeezed in a visit to Darasuram, to see the Airavateshwara temple, built by the Chola king Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century AD. The presiding deity of this temple is Airavateshwara, a form of Lord Shiva.
Travel, World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Site : Fatehpur Sikri

For a long time, Mughal emperor Akbar had no son to succeed him. On hearing that the Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chishti could perform miracles, he went to see him and seek his blessings. And it worked! Soon Akbar was blessed with his first son Salim, who went on to become Emperor Jahangir. As a mark of gratitude and respect, between 1571-73, Akbar had the city of Fatehpur Sikri built around Salim Chishti’s camp, about 40 km from Agra, and shifted his capital there. The city was the Mughal capital only for about 14 years and is a bit of a ghost town now, but it is a fascinating example of Akbar’s secular beliefs, with its mix of Hindu, Persian, Buddhist and Christian architectural elements.
Imperial Palace Complex, Fatehpur Sikri
Imperial Palace Complex, Fatehpur Sikri
Jama Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri
Palace of Jodha Bai, Akbar's Hindu wife, Fatehpur Sikri
Anup Talao, Fatehpur Sikri
A beautiful white marble dargah dedicated to Sheikh Salim Chishti is a part of the palace complex. It is believed that if you tie a thread onto one of the marble jaalis or grills of this dargah and make a wish, it will come true.
Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti, Fatehpur Sikri
Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti, Fatehpur Sikri
Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti, Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri’s most iconic structure is the Buland Darwaza, a gateway built to commemorate Akbar’s victorious conquest of Gujarat. At a height of 176 feet, it is the world’s tallest gateway, probably symbolic of the might of the Mughal empire.
Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri
Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri
Travel, World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Site : Mahabalipuram

The port town of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram near Chennai, was named after king Narasimhavarman I, one of the rulers of the Pallava dynasty of South India, who was known as Maha-malla or the great wrestler.

 

Dating back to the 7th to 9th centuries, these rock-cut monolithic structures are early examples of Dravidian architecture, with heavy Buddhist influences. Originally seven pagodas dotted the shoreline here, but only one, the Shore Temple, remains now:
The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s penance are legends depicted on this huge relief carved on a single rock – they are somewhere in this picture!
The pancha rathas or the five chariots, are monolithic chariot-shaped shrines named after the Pandavas and their wife Draupadi.
There were truckloads of pilgrims dressed in red – A red girl ran into this frame: