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
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!
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
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.
some reason, the subject of smokeable drugs came up (Now, you know me!),
and Swami asked me the magical question:
you like to smoke something?"
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.
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!!).
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.
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
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
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.
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