The Vitthala Temple and Shiva's Chariot !

Hampi was founded by the Hindu Vijayanagar dynasty in 1336 AD, and quickly became one of, if not THE, most brilliant capital in all India. At its apogee, its population numbered in the hundreds of thousand and it spread over 30 square kilometers!!
When four Muslim sultans of the Deccan, unable to bear any longer the arrogance of the Hindu Raja united to take it, it fell after the battle of Talikota in 1565. The Hindu host is said to have numbered 600,000 foot soldiers, 100,000 horses and nearly 1000 elephants!
All for naught!
The sack of the city lasted for five months, and the heat of the fire is said to have cracked the huge basaltic rock hills scattered all over! Never perhaps in history had such havoc been wrought on so splendid a city, wealthy and prosperous one day, and on the next, seized, pillaged and reduced to ruins, amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beggaring description (Sewell).
Today, all that remains are many perfectly preserved temples dedicated to the myriad gods of the Hindu pantheon, parts of SEVEN huge rings of fortifications, elephant stables for eleven, gorgeous kingly dwellings and a village bazaar.
For three centuries, the city had lain forgotten when an Englishman started restoration works in 1837. But it was after years of work by a French couple in this century that the UNESCO finally classified it in 1987!

At the Hampi bazaar, at the foot of the awesome Pampapati temple, I was accosted by a soft spoken man speaking good english, who asked me if I wanted a private guide for the day. As a wise-ass traveler and a ten-day veteran of India's incessant attempts at selling me something, ANYTHING, I declined his offer, effortlessly blending courtesy with polite disdain.
Unsurprisingly, he insisted, but in a different fashion from his hawking brethren. He calmly and convincingly explained that Hampi is very large, most sites are unmarked and a good distance apart, and that with a knowledgeable guide I wouldn't miss anything.
Furthermore, at 250 rupees for the day, he was cheaper than the other guys (Yeah, right!). Out of weariness, or unconsciously agreeing with his argument, I relented and said yes.
Never have I been so glad of a snap decision to do something I didn't want to do at first! He was knowledgeable indeed, educated, friendly, and westernized in the oddest ways (more on that later).

The great Pampapati temple (aka: Virupaksha Temple)  is the oldest and most sacred in Hampi. Parts of it are older than the founding of the city and kingdom of Vijayanagar, Hampi's original name.
The temple's first gate is topped by a lofty pyramidal tower entirely covered with hundreds of sculptures and carvings of men, women, hunting scenes, and many other representations, all diminishing in size as the tower narrows toward the top. Around all these statues frolic hundreds of monkeys. At least they do in the evening. At midday, I could only spot a handful, as Swami (my guide) explained that they leave for the surrounding fields in the morning, only to return at sunset. Since I had already booked my sleeper berth on the 8:30 Bangalore Express out of Hospet that very night, I missed most of them!
Passing that first gate, you come into a large courtyard with another similar gate, only smaller, at the other end. That second gate opens into another large court with verandahs all around on pillars of stone, a sacred elephant is cared for in a corner and in the center of this court is the house of the Bhuvanesvari shrine. The shrine is lit by hundreds of oil lamps and candles housed in small holes in the wall. Images of various small idols are everywhere, the principal one being a round stone lingam (Shiva's penis), the object of much veneration. There is a larger lingam nearby in the ruined Shiva shrine between the Narasimha statue and the main Krishna temple.
Swami told me it is the second largest in all India. Shiva's wife Parvati must have been a happy woman!

I won't describe the many other temples I saw that day, though a special mention must be made of the extraordinary Vitthala temple and its musical columns.
Carved out of single blocks of granite, the fluted columns each resonate in a different sound when hit, for some unearthly rock music!
The Krishna temple (I prayed to Him for the return of my beloved!!) was grandly dark and inhabited by bats, for a bizarre Transylvanian effect!!
All of them ranged from beautiful to magnificent, and evoked much awe and wonder in this atheist's heart.

For some reason, the subject of smokeable drugs came up (Now, you know me!), and Swami asked me the magical question:
-"Would you like to smoke something?"
-"My man! Let's go", I blissedly blurted out!
So we climbed up a hill overlooking Pampapati temple, in the direction of a group of small Jaina shrines.

In one of them, Swami told me, lived this sadhu saint who had been fasting for the past month, only drinking water and smoking ganja (the word originated in India before passing on to Jamaica and points west. Dreadlocks also come from India, and I saw two Holy Beggars with heavily matted dreads reaching the ground!!).

I knew then I was in for a treat.
The thirty-something sadhu, wearing turban and orange loincloth, reclined in a corner, entranced and smiling at a small boy haltingly reading sacred words from a holy book. Ten or so people lounged or cross-legged about, obviously becharmed by his saintly presence.
Now, unlike its Christian equivalent where contemplative fasting would involve ponderous gloom and mortification of the flesh, the sadhu and his companions smiled happily, cracked jokes, and made me feel welcome and included. The sadhu then ritually offered me germinating beans out of an earthenware urn, a piece of coconut, a glass of water (I passed on that one!) and the first of many shiloms.

Om Shiva!!

A second sadhu came in moments later, beamed a toothless smile at me when Swami told him what he brought me for, and pulled out his own shilom and stash to, obviously, put me closer in touch with the godhead!
The air crackled with vitality!
Now, I would like you to stop and think about this for a moment.
There I was, a Philly Parisian in an ancient temple reeking with transcendence, dedicated to Ganesha (or was it Vishnu or Laxmi, I forget) by the side of a still, emerald-green pond, sitting with friendly locals and two holy men turning me on like there's no tomorrow, while outside, under blue skies and a vibrant sun, overlooking the majestic Pampapati temple, goats and monkeys frolicked, and a soft breeze cooled the fragrant Karnatic air.
And that is why, later, while passing under a sacred marmosa tree, I thanked Virupaksha, Lord of the Nagas, the Red King who ruled over the Western Quarter.

I mentioned earlier that Swami was oddly westernized. He told me how he and his friends organize "acid parties" (what!) in Hampi where they live. (He was the first of several to tell me about acid. Subsequently, I found out it is quite the thing with young Indian hipsters, who get it from Italians (!!), fanning it from Goa into South India).
My Hampi head friends set up a sound system in a temple courtyard (beats the Elk's Lodge or a West Philly squat!), drop, and groove the Deccan night away, floating in millennial reverie as they, no doubt, ponder the ebb and flow of sentient existence.
Nonplussed, I asked him what kind of music they listened to.
-"Acid music of course!", he replied, looking surprised that he should have to state the obvious.
-"Indian acid music?", I asked.
-"No, western!"!!!
At that point, I was so flabbergasted that I neglected to ask him what he meant by that: Dead, Airplane, Jimi, Techno/Ambient/Chill/House....? Next time I see him, I'll ask and let you know!
Another thing I noticed (and not limited to Hampi) was the complete lack of graffiti and vandalism. These sites, albeit abandoned and no longer in devotional use, are sacred, and it wouldn't cross anybody's mind to break anything: bad karma assured otherwise!
There is a large statue of Ganesha whose trunk has been broken off. The rest of the statue is in perfect condition, and I assumed some hooligans broke it off in a drunken stupor. Not so, said Swami. The Muslims did it when they sacked the city in 1565.
Finally, while the Karnataka State Antiquity Dept. must be warmly congratulated for the great job it's doing to salvage and restore all these glorious wonders, I must wish reincarnation as a cockroach upon the bureaucrat who allowed the quasi-ubiquitous electrical lines and poles to be laid out, nearly everywhere.
Cheap-looking and haphazardly laid, they ruined dozens of tremendous photo opportunities.  

Click on pic for larger version. In some cases, I've forgotten what it is. If you know, tell me!!

Clickez sur l'image pour une version plus grande. Dans certains cas, j'ai oublié ce que la photo représente. Si vous savez, dites le moi!!!


Hampi Temple ruins !
Hampi Temple ruins !
Overview, south Hampi !
Shiva's Chariot and Kalyana Mandapa at Vitthala Temple !
Vitthala Temple !
Vitthala Temple !
Vitthala Temple, Shiva's Chariot, Amman Shrine !
Vitthala Temple !
Inside Vitthala Temple !
Shiva's Chariot and Amman Shrine !
Carvings on Vitthala Temple !
Hampi monkey !
Monkeys inside Virupaksha Temple !
Monkey and banana !
Tungabadras River !
Beyond Hampi's fortifications !
Hampi Temple !
Virupaksha Tower
Virupaksha Temple tower !
Sasivikallu Ganesha and the Vahan !
Hampi Temple !
Parade near the Domed Gate !
Above Virupaksha (Pampapati ) Temple from Hemakutam Hill !
Parade at Hampi !
Parade at Hampi !

More photos of Hampi, in B/W, HERE !!!!

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