Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hampi, Kernataka.

(Virupaksha Temple, at the heart of Hampi, seen from down river.)

Have you ever been on a sleeper bus? I didn't even know they existed, and yet, that is how David and I got to Hampi, Kernataka, from Agonda. We left our paradisiacal beach on the evening of Feb. 1. I had not been feeling great: first a feverish day, and then the expectable - a bit of a Delhi Belly! The sickness made the whole trip that much more interesting...our bunk was way at the back of the bus, which meant that each bump got us a couple of inches off the bed :-) But apart from the particularly loud engine (which sounded like it could make the bus fly if needed), the 10 hour overnight journey was not too bad. We got to Hampi early in the morning and found a nice room at Archana's Guesthouse. We moved to a shared bathroom room (300 rupees) on our second night, but this room was our first night luxury dwelling (400 rupees)

(Notice the bed cover, a purchase from Goa that we happily use as our personal bed sheet. In general, it's a good idea to travel around with some clean sheets.)

(The street we are staying on is in the heart of Hampi Bazaar, something like the "historical center" of town. In fact, the only center of town. The village life is one of the most pleasant aspects of staying here. There are tons of little - naked - children running around, as well as people going on about their business. But the town is generally very quiet. It's very special to wake up to the sounds and rhythms of the town.)

(Hot chillies drying in the sun on one of the small streets in the Bazaar.)

Now, you can look up all the various information on Hampi on the wikipedia link, but here are a couple of points that are interesting. Between the 14th and 16th century, the area all around Hampi was known as Vijayanagara, "the City of Victory", capital of the omonimous Vijayanagara Empire. (David and I have inevitably fallen into the trap of calling it Vagina-gara, but are working on getting out of that habit...) During its peak, the V-Empire was one of the most powerful in India, alone in its ability to resist the invasions of the Delhi based Moughals. Hampi is sorrounded by the ruins of this once rich and powerful city, whose strength relied on a large military and excellent relations with different religious institutions. One of our neighbors here in Hampi has compared it to Rome, arguing that it would take 3 months to see the whole complex of ruins. I am not sure the two cities can actually be compared in magnitude, but because Hampi locals live in and on part of the ruins, sometimes it does feel a little bit like being in Rome... a little bit...

(The main street of Hampi, leading to the still active Virupaksha Temple. The road functioned, and still does, as a bazaar. People live and work on the main street.)

(A goat herder's home along the main street.)
Sometimes the main street is turned into a parade ground. A couple of days ago David and I rushed off from dinner in the direction of some loud fireworks to discover the whole city parading a large scultpure of Shiva and Parvati sitting on Nandi (their bull). Although this picture is too dark, it does some justice to the generator operated lighting system that made sure you couldn't miss the sculpture!
The parade was lead by Lakshmi, Hampi's elephant mascot. She's very cleverly trained: if you put a 1 rupee coin in her trunk and bow, she will bless you. David and I couldn't resist: she had a lovely touch. She's called the "white elephant" in town, because of the discoloration on her nose.

(Unfortunately you can't see from this image, but Lakshmi was CONSTANTLY surrounded by people and children, dancing and screaming to the beat of a walking drum circle that accompanied the parade. We could only imagine what could have happened if she had lost her temper...)

In addition to its historical importance, Hampi is remarkable for its landscape. It's surrounded by INCREDIBLE boulders of red/ochra/grey granite. They are precariously placed on top of each other, like the LEGO kit of some giant creature. Surprisingly, we just learned that geologically the area around Hampi is one of the most stable imaginable (i.e. no earthquakes.) The boulders' shapes and precarious positions are merely the result of enviornmental forces such as water and wind, and the natural erosion caused by time. So although it looks totally brittle, it speaks of thousands of years of stability!

Mythologically, the area around Hampi is considered to be the Land of the Monkeys, more specifically the home of Hanuman. In the Ramayana, in his quest to save Sita (his wife), Rama comes to this land and encounters Hanuman, the loyal monkey-servant of a powerful king. It is here that Hanuman, after receiving Rama's help, promises to assist him in retreiving Sita (he does so, naturally, with the help of his monkey army.) Depictions of Hanuman are present all over the ruins and temples around Hampi. Here is a sweet image among many:

Interestingly, Hampi is also prime BANANA Land, yet another connection to the universe of monkeys...? There are so many banana plantations all around us, and the bananas are delicious! (I only got to taste them today for the first time, after a general stomach-soothing fast that has lasted 3 days where my diet consisted of curt (yoghurt) and plain rice with a little bit of salt- a really delicious meal, even though it got a bit repetitive.)

(Banana truck headed to Hospet, the closest city to Hampi.)

(David going local, sitting with the banana pickers.)

David and I have only just begun to explore the ruins around Hampi: we plan on leaving the day after tomorrow. Below I have uploaded images from the Vittala Temple complex, known for some of the most beautiful architecture and carvings among the rest.
(One of the temples within the large rectangular courtyard.)

(The wheels on this chariot used to be able to turn. The chariot stands in the center of the courtyard, facing the main temple.)

The columns of the temples are particularly beautiful:

In order to give you a better sense of the intention of the artist, David has agreed to emphasize the message of one of the columns:

The details on the colums are great too:

(Hanuman, or one of his monkey soldiers.)

(This sensual lady hanging onto a tree appears over and over in the temples...)

(This is one of the best ones! Click on it to look at the details: in it Krishna has climbed on top of a tree with the clothes of the Gopis who were bathin in the river. The naked women are very expressive in their pleas to get their clothes back!)

(There are many images of Krishna in action. This is another situation in which he is mis-behaving and being reprimanded.)
Also, for the first time here in Hampi David and I have encountered these engraved images of men and women doing prostrations in the doorsills of temples. They are figurative reminders for the literate and illiterate alike of what the proper behavior should be during worship. I particularly liked the gendered one:

This entry has taken me forever to write, and probably forever to read! So now I leave you with one last image from Hampi and the promise of more from Mysore, the next stop in our journey.
A presto,

1 comment:

  1. Just came across your lovely blog while looking for an image of Hanuman, and really enjoyed it I lived in South India many years ago and your travels brought back many memories. The "lady hanging onto a tree" that you saw in many temple images is probably this: "The salabhanjika concept stems from ancient symbolism linking a chaste maiden with the sala tree or the asoka tree through the ritual called dohada, or the fertilisation of plants through contact with a young woman." (- Wikipedia)A very ancient tradition. I haven't written about living in India much but here's one post: