Art & Architecture

By the 16th century most of southern India was ruled by the Vijayanagara Empire with Hampi as its Capital. The characteristic feature of this period was the development of the temple complex: concentric series of rectangular enclosure walls with gopuras (towered gateways) in the middle of each wall, and the most important temple in the middle of the rectangle. Hampi displays a variation from this layout of centralized temple with outlying ancillaries. Religious buildings are scattered about in small units, each with its own importance and function. Perhaps one of the reasons for this change was the terrain of the area, with the plan of the city following the lay of the land. The temple architecture throughout is based on the traditional Hindu style - each temple typically has a sanctum, a passage, an antechamber, and pillared hall and a kalyana mandapa (marriage hall).

Each dynasty that ruled the Vijayanagara Empire left its mark at Hampi. The Vijayanagara style of architecture relied heavily on the availability of natural resources, namely granite, which was the material used primarily by the Sangamas. Other dynasties employed the softer schist rock, suitable for ornate carvings. Many of the palaces have long since disappeared, as the kings used wood and bricks in their construction. Some brickwork is still visible on the gates to the temple courtyards.

The temples of Hampi are famous for their large dimensions, florid ornamentation, both in painting and carving, majestic pillars, magnificent pavilions and a great wealth of religious and mythological depictions, including subjects from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The Hampi Bazaar, a long street 32 metres wide and nearly 728 metres long, runs between Virupaksha Temple and the foot of the Matanga Hill and was once lined with magnificent houses and beautiful mantapas. The Virupaksha Temple rises majestically at the western end of the Hampi Bazaar. It is the oldest temple at Hampi, constructed in the 15th century, and is dominated by its 50 metre tall gopuram. The sculptures atop the tower reflect the local worship of the resident deity, Shiva, and inside, the temple contains the shrines of Shiva, Pampa, and Bhuvaneswari.

The most famous and arguably the most beautiful temple at Hampi is the Vittala Temple Complex. Built in the 16th century, the temple has been declared a World Heritage Monument. The temple is dominated by 56 ornate monolithic pillars, dubbed the Musical Pillars. The pillars are superbly carved and when tapped, the sound reverberates emitting different musical notes. The eastern section of the complex holds the famous Stone Chariot. The sculpture, carved out of stone, depicts an elephant pulling a chariot so perfectly proportioned and carved with such superior engineering technology that the wheels actually rotate.

One of the more unusual structures is the so-called King's Balance. Legend has it that the wealthy kings would be weighed on a giant scale against grain or gold, which was later distributed to the poor.

Structural activities at the site are also varied in nature. These consist of Defence Architecture, Secular Architecture, Religious Architecture and Civilian Architecture.

I. Defence Architecture

Traditionally Hampi is known to have surrounded by seven lines of fort walls. At least one complete line is seen now and some portions of three more lines are seen. These walls are built of thick wedge shaped blocks of granite. Two faces of wall are built of these thick blocks set one over the other without using any mortar. Gap between two faces of wall is filled with earth and rubble. There are several gateways and square bastions in the wall. The gates are of three types: main gates (hebbagilu), gates (bagilu) and subsidiary gates (diddi). Main gates are very large and are guarded by two flanking bastions. These have bent passageway, barbican and temples within the complex. Some gates also have bent passageway. A 'L' shaped wall is built in front of the gates to provide bent entrance and this system does not allow enemy to locate the gates easily.. Such gates look like bastions from distance.

II. Secular Architecture

Important structures under this group are several palatial buildings. Each palace or palace complex is enclosed in a thick, high,tapering enclosure wall. Some enclosures contain a main palatial building, subsidiary buildings like water palace or pleasure pavilion or store, well, water tank, watch towers etc. King's enclosure, Dannaik's enclosure, Mint enclosure and Zenana enclosure are such palace complexes. Public audience hall, throne platform or Mahanavami-platform, elephant stables, guards’ quarters, queens' bath and water pavilions are connected with the royalty. There is another class of buildings occupied by the people of higher rank such as ministers, officers etc. These are enclosed in small enclosure walls. These secular buildings are Indo-Saracenic in character combining the Hindu and Muslim features.

III. Religious Architecture

Both small and large temples are found at the site. Large temples consist of a main shrine, a shrine for the goddess, mantapas for the performance of different ceremonies, all enclosed in a prakara or compound wall with a lofty gopura over the entrance. In front of the gopura is seen a long chariot street running to 500 to 750 m. flanked by mantapas and temple tank. These streets served as markets and mantapas served as shops. The Virupaksha, the Krishna, the Achyutaraya and the Vithala temples form such large temple complexes. The Vijayanagara kings introduce the lofty gopuras over the entrances and they are popularly known as Raya-gopuras. The Garuda shrine in the form of a stone chariot is an excellent piece of art. Large monolithic sculptures like Narasimha, Ganesha and Veerabhadra are also found at the site. Other important temples at the site are Hazara Rama, Underground (Prasanna Virupaksha), Kodandarama, Pattabhirama, ulyavanta Raghunatha and Jaina temples.

There are pre-Vijayanagara temples on the Hemakuta hill and to the north of the Virupaksha temple. A considerable number of Muslims also lived in the city. Several tombs, graves and mosques are seen among the monuments at the site.

IV. Civilian Architecture

Apart from the religious monuments, there are quite a few monuments of varieties in materials, form and style meant for everyday use domestic and public meant for use by the Royalty: Palace complex, Audience hall, pleasure pavilion, Secretariat hall, tanks, water ponds, royal bath. Many Architectural elements of the Indo-Islamic architecture vigorously developed in the neighbouring kingdoms of Bidar and Bijapur Sultanates. Arch with key hollow dome over the central roof, minarets at the roof corners, etc., were harmoniously integrated into the Hindu civilian architecture. This is emphatic in Lotus Mahal, Queen’s bath and octagonal water pavilions etc.