Hampi – Trail one leading to Virupaksha Temple

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Karnataka | 118

In my previous posts, I have mentioned Hampi several times and every time, I wonder how I would be able to do justice to this huge treasure trove of heritage. There are just so many places to see in Hampi that one post is not going to do justice to this place. A UNESCO heritage site, this ghost town goes back to the era of the Ramayana, Ashoka the Great and the Vijayanagara kingdom. Hampi has over 500 monuments – some famous by themselves like the Virupaksha temple and the Vittala Temple, some still being excavated, and some still awaiting their glory.

Virupaksha Temple as seen from Hemakuta Hills in Hampi

In a lot of ways, I compare Hampi to Rome. Ruins on the left, ruins on the right and maybe even where you stand. It is a complete treasure trove of history. With this post, I begin a 3 trail series of this UNESCO Heritage Site that takes you through the key attractions of Hampi. My trail one starts near the Hampi bazaar and takes you to the beautiful Virupaksha temple of Hampi and beyond. There are 13 suggested sites along this trail. So, stay with me as we head to one of the icons of Hampi – the Virupaksha temple.

About Hampi

Hindu Legends connect Hampi to the Goddess Pampa, popularly called Parvati. As the story goes, she was in love with Lord Shiva who refused to marry her. In order to win him over, she began to live like a hermit. Over time, she succeeded and got married to the Lord. The place where she lived like a hermit is currently referred to as the Hemakuta temples, right behind the famous Virupaksha temple. That is believed to be the first mention of Hampi in history.

A family sculpture of Shiva - Parvati and family in Virupaksha Temple in Hampi

Later during the age of Ramayana, the place with its hills became Kishkinda – the lair of Sugriva, Hanuman and his band of monkeys. It is believed that Ram and Lakshman took shelter here while heading to Lanka to rescue Sita. Over time, this land near the river Tungabhadra saw many rulers. From the Chalukyas to the Hoysalas and finally the Vijaynagar Empire. Each one of them added their own touch.

Hampi is mentioned in several ancient Persian and Portuguese texts where it is described as one of the most beautiful places. It was second to only Beijing and was extremely prosperous till the Muslim invasion in the 1560s. They plundered and broke the city to ruins. It was never rebuilt and got buried in the sands of time. What you now have is an entire kingdom that is slowly being excavated. Let’s get on with the first trail to discover it all.

Hampi Trail One leading to Virupaksha temple

Sasivekalu Ganesha 

Monolithic Sasivekalu Ganesha - start of the Virupaksha Temple Trail in Hampi              

Sasivekalu” means mustard seeds and as you can guess, from the picture, why the name. This is a gigantic 8 foot tall, monolithic Ganesha, greeting you as you begin your trail. If you notice, there is a snake around the belly. Legend has it that Lord Ganesha was very fond of eating and his belly threatened burst one day. To prevent that, it is said that he tied a snake around his belly and that is what is depicted on this idol. The carving on the Ganesha is very beautifully done, some of it ravaged over time.

The ravaged temple of Sasivekalu Ganesha

Kadalekalu Ganesha

Kadalekalu Ganesha Temple in Hampi

Right next to the Sasivekalu Ganesha is another statue of this God. This time, it is one of the largest statues of Hampi. The Ganesha is a monolithic one, carved in stone. Kadalekalu means Bengal Gram in the local language and the statue is said to resemble just that. The noteworthy thing about this Hampi attraction are the intricately carved pillars around it. The structure is very typical of Vijayanagar architecture.

Hemakuta Temples behind Virupaksha temple

Atop the Hemakuta hills, near Virupaksha temple, Hampi

Moving along the trail towards the famed Virupaksha temple, you have to climb up the boulders. What unfolds is a landscape dotted by multiple temples with a pyramid-like roof. These are the Hemakuta temples. Some say that these are actually Jain temples, while some believe that they are dedicated to Lord Shiva. This is where the Goddess Pampa (Parvati) did her penance. To distract Shiva and aid Parvati, Lord Kama (God of Love) showed a rain of Gold (Hema). Lord Shiva got angry and reduced him to ashes by opening his third eye.

Hemakuta temples - ideal place for a sunset in Hampi

One look at the place and you know there is a possibility that it was covered by a shower of Gold. The temples look really gorgeous at all times of the day. The golden glow of the structures makes it one of the best places to see a sunset in Hampi. I would not say no to a Sunrise too.

Parrots on Hemakuta temples

This place is surrounded by boulders all around and you can spot some beautiful, cool caves to explore. For the birders, it is an additional treat as you can spot many different varieties here. Like these gorgeous Parakeets that are almost followed us around the boulders.

Peeking between those boulders is the lovely Virupaksha temple. This is a lovely place to capture a photo of this iconic monument.

Manmatha Tank Shrine

Virupaksha temple with its temple tank_

Technically, this is something you can visit after you have seen Virupaksha temple. However, I am saving the highlight of this Hampi trail for the last. This is the tank for the ritualistic bath the devotees have before they enter the shrines of the temple. The tank has been dated back to the 8th century and has some shrines around it. Of this, the Durga shrine is still alive and you can still see devotees offering their prayers here. The shrine has the fierce form of Goddess Durga in it – called Mahishasuramardini.

Virupaksha temple 

Virupaksha temple from Hemakuta Hills
Virupaksha temple is the main attraction of this trail. Almost a landmark in Hampi, this is an imposing temple, built along the Tungabhadra river.  Built in the 7th century, the temple grown with different kings adding their own touch. The temple is still functional and is one of the oldest living temples of India. One approach to this temple is through the Hampi bazaar and the other is you descend down the Hemakuta hill.
The peak of the Gopuram of Virupaksha Temple

The temple is made of stone and is so beautiful that it almost has a different color at every time of the day. The entrance is a 9-storied grandiose gateway with beautiful carvings. In fact, the facet of this gateway (gopuram) is almost like a landmark of Hampi. Each tier has a story carved on it and it could take you over a day to decode them all.

Facade of Virupaksha temple, Hampi

The gateway opens up to an entire complex of sanctums, royal corridors, and even a temple kitchen. Each of these is bordered by magnificent pillars. In one corner you have this huge marriage hall called Kalyana Mantappa while right opposite it is another large hall with 100 pillars. A Nandi faces the central sanctum, indicating the presence of Lord Shiva within.

Pillars in Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

The highlight of this place is the “inverted shadow” that is formed on one of the walls of the temple. A flight of stairs leads you to this area and once you enter this spot, you can see an inverted shadow of the highest gopuram (temple pillar) forming on the wall, all through a tiny hole. The guide told us that this is by design – the whole light and camera effect. I would not mind believing that for it adds a bit of mystique to this lovely monument.

Scene of Draupadi's marriage along the ceilings of Virupaksha temple shrine

Every shrine within the Virupaksha temple complex has a story of its own. Sharing that would make a complete post. While I leave that for a different day, let me draw your attention to one last feature. In the Shiva temple,  don’t miss the murals and stucco work on the walls and ceiling. Various scenes of the Mahabharata, including one of Draupadi’s Swayamwar and that of Shiva’s family. The paintings on the wall are made with vegetable ink and hence the same are quite visible

Painting with vegetable ink on the ceilings of Virupaksha temple
Hampi Bazaar
Hampi bazaar as seen from Hemakuta Hills

As you exit the Virupaksha temple, you will see a long line of mantapas, which served as the Hampi bazaar in the olden times. Also, called the Virupaksha bazaar, this seemed to be an important market among all the others that are found in Hampi. They say that the area was full of residences of the nobles. As you walk along the ancient bazaar, you will finally reach a monolithic statue of Nandi. The Nandi faces the Virupaksha temple and this is pretty much expected given that it always faces the shrine of Shiva.

Veerabhadra Temple on Matanga Hill

After the Hampi Bazaar, you can return back to the Sasivekalu Ganesha.  Alternately, you can hike up the hill near the monolithic Nandi to get to the Veerbhadra temple. There are a series of steps that are the easiest to reach this temple and this can be a long climb. Along the way, there are a few carvings and stone sculptures. As you reach on the top, you can get a panoramic view of the entire Hampi – truly a beautiful sight.

Towards Matanga Hill

The Matanga Hill itself is connected to a legend from the epic Ramayana. The king of monkeys – Sugriva was driven out of his kingdom by his elder brother – Vali. To escape him, he hid on this hill as it was out of bounds for Vali owing to a curse. The hiking is pretty easy but can get a little solitary.

Krishna Bazaar and temple

This is a bazaar that was uncovered recently. Since it is attached to a small Krishna temple, it is referred to as Krishna Bazaar. You can spot this bazaar while you are atop Matanga Hill itself.

Krishna Temple in Hampi

The Krishna temple is another important attraction on this Virupaksha Hampi trail. It was built by the famous Vijayanagara ruler – Krishnadevaraya. Before you enter the temple, you can see the lovely temple tank (pushkarni) still erect and standing. The temple itself is a treasure trove of art. One of the prominent carvings on the temple showcases the Dashavatars of Vishnu (10 incarnations of Vishnu).

Saraswati Temple in Hampi

Saraswati temple in Hampi
As you continue the trail from Krishna temple towards the Sasivekalu Ganesha, you will come across a small temple that still looks intact. This is the Saraswati temple – dedicated to the Goddess of knowledge. The intricately carved pillars are the key thing to see here. Try spotting a sculpture of Baby Krishna among the many other masterpieces here.

Badavilinga Temple

Badavilinga in Hampi
Badava means “poor” and Linga refers to “Shiva”.  This is a shrine with a narrow opening and is called so as it was set up by a peasant woman. The Linga is a monolithic one and still is revered by people from far and near. The fascinating thing about the shrine is that it is partially submerged in water. There is only one opening to get into a roofless shrine. It is owing to the absence of the roof, that the whole shrine is always brightly lit by the daylight.

Lakshmi Narasimha Temple in Hampi

Lakshmi Narasimha Temple in Hampi

I actually, covered this magnificent temple in my route three that is centered around the Queen’s zenana. You can, however, see it even on this route. It is one of the largest statues in Hampi. It is the ferocious form of Narasimha – one of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. It is called the Ugrasen Narasimha. What you see now is just half the structure. The rest of it  – a significant bit, was destroyed.

This significant bit was the statue of Goddess Lakshmi who lay on Narasimha’s lap. She is said to be hugging the Lord for all that remains of that statue is her hand on his back.

Chandikesvara Temple – last stop of Virupaksha Temple Trail

This is the last major stop on this Hampi trail before you turn back to the first stop. Alternately, you can continue to Trail Three of Hampi as the Chandikesvara Temple is very close to the Royal enclosures. The most significant thing about the temple is its carved pillars with the temple guardians Yelli. If you care to step in, you will see plenty of other carvings amid the ruins.

There are a lot of other minor excavations and structures along this Hampi trail. Covering these 13 important structures itself can take you half a day, with the most significant time being spent in the highlight of this trail – Virupaksha temple. If this is trail is mindboggling, wait for the other two trails. They will leave you spellbound. So, take a break and ponder about what you just saw. Comment in and let me know your favorite.

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How to get to Hampi?

  • There are overnight trains available from Bangalore to Hospet.  Hampi is just 12 km from Hospet and it is the best to stay at Hospet.
  • Buses from Bangalore and Goa are available on an everyday basis.
  • Travel by road is also, not a bad option as the roads to this place are quite well-developed and well-maintained.
  • Hospet has recently opened an airport with limited flights from Bangalore.

Travel tips:

  •  Best time to visit Hampi is from October to February. Make a note of the Hampi festival in January.
  • Carry lots and lots of water – no matter what season.
  • Flat and comfortable shoes with comfortable cotton clothing will make the sight-seeing more comfortable.
  • There are plenty of good restaurants near the Hampi bazaar that serve some good food and variety of cuisines- including some good Israeli and middle-eastern food. Try out the Mango tree for some yummy food.
  • Hiring a guide would be advisable as Hampi has a lot to offer and sometimes, identifying these monuments and their secrets on your own may not be very feasible. There are very few clear signages and hence, not every site is self-explanatory.
  • While hiring a guide, insist on the ones that have a Permit from the tourism board.
  • Hampi is best explored on foot and cycle. However, cars and autos are also, available. The cycles can be rented at Hampi Bazaar.
  • For Hotels in Hampi, one could opt for the small guest houses in Hampi. However, it is advisable to stay in Hospet, which has better options in terms of homestays and hotels.
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