The austere, grandiose site of Hampi was the last capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar. Its fabulously rich princes built Dravidian temples and palaces which won the admiration of travellers between the 14th and 16th centuries.”-UNESCO-WHC

Abdul Razzak the Persian envoy who visited the ‘Vijayanagar Empire’ during 1443 A.D. and described it as ‘ The City of Bidjnagar is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen place like it, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the world’ .

Hampi is in the River basin of the Tungabhadra in the southern Deccan, the elevated plateau that dominates peninsular India. This is a tributary of the Krishna River that originates in the Western Ghats and flows eastward into the Bay of Bengal.

The unique rocky appearance of the granite landscape was not created by earthquake and upheaval, but by countless millions of years of weathering, first underground before it was exposed by gradual uplift, then by the erosive forces of sun, wind and occasional rain. So even is the grain of the granite that the rock was worn away to create spherical shapes; hence the many rounded and detached boulders, some of which are perched precariously, as if about to roll over.

The Tungabhadra river traverses the Hampi landscape. Flowing in a northeasterly direction the river has cut its way through weaker, more fractured rocky terrain, creating a narrow gorge. For some distance, granite hills hem in the river, the highest of which are Matanga hill on the south bank, rising 115 metres above the river, and Anjanadri hill near the north bank, almost 140 metres high.

The Ramayana epic is equally important in the mythological landscape. The Vijayanagara site is believed to be Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom where the episodes of one of the chapters of the Ramayana took place. According to the story, Rama and Lakshmana arrived in Kishkindha in search of Sita, who had been carried off by his flying chariot by Ravana, the king of the demons. As the chariot had flown over Kishkinda, Sita had dropped her ornaments and a garment in the hope that they would show Rama in which direction she was being carried away. Sugriva, a claimant to the Kishkindha throne, who had been deposed by his brother Vali, recovered and hid them in a cave. When they arrived on the bank of Pampa lake, Rama and Lakshmana visited the cave of the female ascetic, Shabari, a disciple of the sage Matanga. Near Rishyamuka hill they met Hanuman, the monkey general, who told them about Sugriva. Rama then met Sugriva and agreed to restore his position. After Vali was killed by an arrow shot by Rama, and Sugriva crowned, the rainy season began and Rama and Lakshmana waited on Malyavanta hill. At the end of the wet season Rama asked the monkeys to help him find Sita. After several adventures Hanuman located Sita on Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka. Hanuman returned with the good news and Rama then planned the campaign to Lanka to win Sita back.

Among other features at Vijayanagara with Ramayana associations is Pampasaras where Rama sought the goddess’s protection and where Shabari sheltered. Matanga hill, one of the highest points of the site is named after a sage who protected Sugriva against Vali and who guided Shabari. Immediately beneath the hill, on the south bank of the Tungabhadra, is a boulder carved with the figures of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and Hanuman. This marks the spot where Lakshmana crowned Sugriva. The boulder is incorporated into the Kodandarama temple. The bathing spot nearby, Chakra tirtha, is the holiest at Vijayanagara. Here, Shiva gave Vishnu one of his most powerful weapons, the Chakra. The tirtha is situated at a point where the Tungabhadra turns northwards, giving an unimpeded view of Anjanadri hill on the opposite bank, about 1 kilometre way. Anjanadri hill is named after the mother of Hanuman, who is supposed to have been born here.

Another Ramayana feature of interest is Sugriva’s cave, a natural cleft in the boulders a short distance downstream from the Kodandarama temple. Here, Sugriva is believed to have hidden the jewels that Sita dropped from Ravana’s aerial chariot. Malyavanta hill in the eastern part of the site is where Rama and Lakshmana waited while Hanuman searched for Sita.