The stone chariot of the Vittala Temple and the temple’s musical pillars may be the most recognizable architectural structure in Hampi but they are far from being the only ones. On the banks of the River Tungabhadra, Hampi is home to a number of Jain and Hindu temples, aqueducts and the Royal Enclosure spread over 59000 square meters. This was once upon a time, the home of the Vijayanagara King and his Queens. Today the enclosure lies largely in ruins but still speaks loudly of the life it once contained.
The Story of Hampi
Hampi rose into prominence in the early 14th century when the Kampili Kings rose in power. In 1327, the kingdom was attacked by Muhammad-bin-Tughluq who took two brothers, Bukka and Harihara as prisoners along with thousands of other people. These brothers tricked the Sultan into setting them free and returned to Kampili to set up a kingdom of their own with its capital at Vijayanagara. Thus the Vijayanagara Empire was founded by Harihara I and Bukka I of the Sungama dynasty in 1336. The Sungama dynasty was followed by the Saluvas and the Tuluvas each of whom added to this Vijayanagara’s architectural beauty. A number of prominent temples and architectural features of Hampi were built under the patronage of King Krishnadevaraya in the early 16th century. After his death, the Vijayanagara kingdom began its decline and the city was rediscovered only in the 1800s as Hampi.
The Royal Enclosure and its Architecture
The royal enclosure in Hampi was the Vijayanagara kingdom’s seat of power. In its prime, it housed as many as 45 buildings including the durbar halls, platform, tanks, underground chambers, and temples. There are three entrances to the Royal Enclosure; two in the north and one in the west.
The architectural style of this enclosure is symbolic of the Vijayanagara style of architecture with traces of Mughal influence. As with all the other features constructed by the Vijayanagara kings, the Royal Enclosure makes ample use of granite and soapstone. All the palaces face the east or the north and were built on raised granite platforms. These platforms feature multiple tiers and are decorated with carved details of flowers, geese, demon faces, elephants and human figures. Though the palaces themselves may not stand today, ask recovered from the site suggests that they used wooden beams and rafters. Domed structures were built with a stone rubble and mortar mixture. The watch towers, elephant stables, and Lotus Mahal are examples of the Islamic influence to this style of architecture.
Things You Shouldn’t Miss
The Royal Enclosure of Hampi has often been compared to an open air museum. Apart from giving the visitor a glimpse into what life was like under the Vijayanagara rulers, it also showcases the architectural excellence of the era and the level of destruction the city witnessed after the decline of the Vijayanagara kings. Some of the most impressive structures here are:
The Mahanavami Dibba
This 3 tiered 8 meter high platform is the only structure that still stands as it did centuries ago. It stands in the northeast section of the enclosure and has a flight of stairs leading up on the east, west and southern face. Each tier of the platform features intricately sculpted moldings that depict the everyday life of that time. As the name suggests, the platform was used during the Navami celebrations and remains of pillar bases indicate that a pavilion once stood in the center.
Within the royal enclosure the aqueduct networks of stone ‘pipes’ connect over 20 wells and ponds. A large section of the aqueduct has been restored and some sections deliver water even today. Bukka’s Aqueduct towards the north of the river is the most significant amongst them.
Discovered in 1985, the stepped tank is considered one of the most well-preserved structures in the Royal Enclosure. This is a 5 tiered tank that covers an area of 22 square meters and has a depth of 7 meters. Two other significant bathing pavilions in the Royal Enclosure are the Octagonal Bath and the Queen’s bath.
Hazara Rama Temple
This is the only temple in the Royal Enclosure. As the name suggests, the temple is dedicated to Lord Rama. Bas relics on the walls of the temple depict the Ramayana and are considered the most extensive relics from all over India.
The Underground Chamber
This chamber lies between the Durbar Hall and the Stepped Tank ad features independent entry and exit routes. It is believed that the Vijayanagara rulers held important discussions with their trusted aides in this chamber.
This is also known as the King’s audience hall or the 100 pillared halls. Remnants of a stone staircase suggest that this might have been a two storied structure. It is believed to have been made of wood and destroyed in a fire in 1565 AD.
Present Condition of the Royal Enclosure
Today, only the stone platforms remain to mark where palaces and building once stood. Since many structures were made of wood, this area seems to have been easier to destroy than other parts of Hampi with complete stone structures. Though it may look like an empty area at first glance, a closer look will bring out many interesting relics and details.
How to Reach the Royal Enclosure
One must keep aside plenty of time when visiting the Royal enclosure. Hiring a cycle within the enclosure can save lots of walking time and make the experience more enjoyable. The enclosure is open 7 days of the week from 9am to 5.30 pm. Visitors are recommended to wear comfortable footwear and carry plenty of drinking water.
At a distance of 64km, Ballari is the closest airport to Hampi. From the airport, taxis, buses and hired cars ply regularly to Hampi.
The closest railway station to the Royal enclosure is situated at Hosapete. This is 10 kms for Hampi and can be reached by buses or cars.