Sacred Center

Laid out along the southern bank of the Tungabhadra river, the Sacred Center of Vijayanagara is made up of distinct temple districts, partly defined by fort walls. Shaivite shrines are located primarily to the west and Vaishnavite shrines are primarily to the east of the Kodandarama temple. Dominating the Shaivite area is temple district known as Hampi, the village that today gives its name to the whole site. Here is situated the Virupaksha temple, the seat of a god celebrated in pre-Vijayanagara times and still in worship today. The temple comprises a double-walled compound, entered through towered gopuras (gateways) on the east and north. At the core of the complex are sanctuaries for Virupaksha and Pampa. The temple is an important pilgrimage destination, attracting large crowds at festival times.

The Virupaksha is surrounded by lesser shrines. To the north of the temple, on the bank of Manmatha tank, is a cluster of small temples, many of them dating back to pre-Vijayanagara times. Other early shrines are seen on the sloping ledge of Hemakuta hill, immediately to the south. Here, too, are monolithic sculptures of Ganesha, one set within a constructed shrine. The great colonnaded street that extends eastwards from the Virupaksha temple serves today as a temple bazaar, as it did in the past. Chariot festivals are still held here.

About 1 kilometre south of Hampi is the district known as Krishnapura, after the 16th century Balakrishna temple complex. A great colonnaded bazaar street with a ceremonial tank also precedes the abandoned temple. Nearby to the south, are monolithic sculptures of a lingam and of Lakshmi-Narasimha, which at almost 7 meters high, is the largest at the site.

So-called Achyutaraya’s temple, about 1 kilometre east of Hampi and a short distance from the Tungabhadra, comprises the focus of Achyutapura, another district of the Sacred Center. The north-facing sixteenth century complex is consecrated to Tiruvengalanatha, a form of Vishnu. Hemmed in by a double set of concentric enclosure walls, the temple is approached along a colonnaded street with a ceremonial tank that leads directly from the Tungabhadra.

On the river below Achyutara’s temple is Chakra tirtha, overlooked by the Kodandarama temple, which dates to the fifteenth century. This is built around a boulder carved with a Ramayana scene. From here the Tungabhadra flows through a rocky gorge lined with carvings on boulders and small shrines that are submerged when the river floods.

Probably the most artistic temple is that dedicated to Vitthala, a form of Krishna. This serves as the nucleus of the temple district known as Vitthalapura, near to the south bank of the Tungabhadra, some 3 kilometres downstream from Hampi. Though damaged and no longer in worship, the sixteenth century Vitthala temple preserves columns with remarkable figural and animal carvings. A unique Garuda shrine, fashioned as a chariot with stone wheels, stands in front of the temple. A large walled compound, with entrance gopuras on three sides, surrounds the temple and subsidiary shrines and pavilions. Colonnaded bazaar streets running east and north from the temple lead to shrines dedicated to Vaishnavite saints, including the largest, dedicated to Ramanuja. The district abounds in minor shrines, service structures, feeding houses, wells and a large tank.

A valley hemmed in by granite ridges running parallel to the Tungabhadra lies immediately south of the Sacred Center. Channels and aqueducts bring water to fields of rice, sugarcane and banana trees, as in Vijayanagara times. They include the Turutha canal that entirely traverses the site, and is still in use. A massive bund once cut across the valley at its narrowest spot, impounding a small lake to the west into which projected the embankment on which the car street the Balakrishna temple was constructed. Three massive granite staircases climb Matanga hill, which rises to the south of the bund above this irrigated valley. Superb views over the entire Vijayanagara site may be had from the roof of the small Virabhadra shrine that crowns its summit.