I hope you are well rested after that beautiful Hampi trail through Virupaksha Temple and its surrounding wonders. With those memorable historic pieces, anyone would need to cool their senses – especially to recover and soak in the details. Assuming that you have done that, it is time to set out to explore the masterpiece of Hampi – the Vijaya Vittala Temple.
If there is one monument that is almost synonymous with the 15th century UNESCO World Heritage site, then it is the Vittala Temple. It is not one single building but a large temple complex – an architectural marvel in South India. My 2nd Hampi trail starts with this monument and takes you back to the Hampi Bazaar near Virupaksha temple. Though there are over 10 monuments along the trail, you will find that the spotlight on this trail is largely on the Vittala temple. Once you have gone through the post, you will know the reason why Vittala Temple is one of the key places to visit in Hampi.
The Masterpiece of Hampi – Vittala Temple
Located next to the River Tungabhadra, the Vittala temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. They say that it was built by Devraya II and was expanded by King Krishnadevaraya later. Given the sheer details that this monument offers you, it is advisable to start your trail here. You can even do this Vittala temple trail in reverse and end it here. Irrespective of when you visit here, you will end up spending 80% of your time here.
For ecological and preservation reasons, one cannot drive up to the temple directly. As you come near this monument, there is a designated area to park your vehicles. From there you need to either walk around a km to the entrance of the monument or take the eco-friendly buggy till the entrance. I recommend a walk for there are plenty of things you might want to see along the way.
The Pushkarni & Vittala Temple Market
The first major stop along the way is the temple tank or the Pushkarni. This was essentially used for a ritualistic bath before the prayers as well as for any religious occasions like washing the idols or Holi or immersing the idols. Opposite this are a few smaller temples. Most of these are missing an idol.
As you continue along the road, you will see a row of several buildings – quite like the Hampi Bazaar. My guess is that these shops might have sold flowers and temple offerings in those days. The line continues right till the grand entrance of the hero of this trail.
The Grand Entrance to Vittala Temple
Though not as huge as the Virupaksha Temple Gopuram, the entrance of Vittala Temple is no less grand. There is something very stunning about the half-fallen structure. Whether it was the contrast against the bright blue skies or the artistic carvings that still stood out – the gateway held my attention for a long time. The little wait at the ticket window beside it allowed me enough time to do it. At the same time, my heart was being tugged by the sight of what lay beyond the gate.
The Stone Chariot at Vittala Temple
A step through the doorway of the Vittala temple complex allowed me to feast my eyes on one of the few chariot temples of India. The Stone Chariot with its intricately carved façade and 4 wheels stood right in the center of this temple complex. Dedicated to Lord Garuda – the celestial vehicle of Lord Vishnu, this structure is exquisite from every angle. The carvings on it are mini stories from mythology.
Read about the other beautiful chariot temples – not one but 5 – Pancharathas of Mahabalipuram. A different sculpture, a different concept by the shore.
The Stone Chariot seems like it is made from a single stone but that is not the case. It is actually made from different blocks of granite that are held together by ingenious joints. You may not be able to see those for they appear as decorative pieces of the chariot. The wheels of the chariot are actually, free to turn. You could actually spin them but owing to the wear and tear, they have now been blocked.
Notice the elephants that seem to draw the chariot. Well, they are not a part of the original ensemble. They were actually found elsewhere in Hampi but kept here in lieu of the missing horses. The original stone horses are said to be destroyed but you can still see some parts of it close to the elephants. If you look carefully at the front of the chariot, you can see a part of the tail as well as the hind legs of these horses.
The Stone Chariot temple was never just for décor. As I discovered, the temple shrine hosted an idol of Garuda that has now got lost. To get to the shrine, an old ladder was used. The stone ladder can be found lying near the elephants of the chariot.
Mahamantapa of Vittala Temple
Facing the chariot is the Maha Mantapa known for its musical pillars. This is the one feature that draws every visitor who comes to Hampi. The many pillared hallway is also, referred to as Ranga Mantapa. The grand hall is actually divided into four parts. The east ern one faces the Chariot and this is where the mystical musical stone pillars.
The carved pillars actually, have one main pillar and several smaller ones around the main one. Each of them has a specific image carved on it. From horses on one to drummers on another. These are not random carvings but representation of the sound that the pillar makes. The one with the horses made the sound of gallops while the drums naturally, produced the drum notes. And how does the musical pillar work? Well! Just by tapping the minor pillars around the main one.
Tapping is no longer allowed as it caused damage to the heritage monument. However, our guide took us to another smaller area to demonstrate this. With our ears close to the pillars and the guide tapping, we did hear some drums!
As the legend goes, in the olden days, the Mahamantapa was the hall where dance and music performances took place. A cloth was said to have been hung around the pillars while they were used by the musicians. The dancers occupied the center stage of the hall. The melodious medley of ghunghroos and the musical notes could be heard miles around the temple.
The British rulers of India were so mystified that they cut two of these musical pillars open. They discovered that these were solid and not hollow. Till date, no one is able to fathom how the music emanates from these pillars.
The Southern hall of the Mahamantapa has several guardian pillars – the stone lions called Yellis. Near the steps leading to the hall, is a miniature temple. As I gathered, this was a possible prototype of how the Vittala temple was to be constructed. Notice the corners around the various platforms of this temple. This is where you need a guide who will demonstrate how each one of them is a “four-in-one” carving. Take this one for instance – can you spot a frog, a baby monkey and mother monkey, a cobra/ sheshnag and a lion?
The Northern hall has carvings of the Dashavatars of Vishnu – specifically Narasimha. The Western hall has been ravaged and very little of it exists. While you are busy admiring these sculptures, remember to look up at the artistic ceilings.
Inner Sanctum of Vittala Temple
The inner sanctum of the temple has been plundered and destroyed. However, it does not mean that you must skip it. Enter it and look by its door to see massive statues of Lord Vishnu and Mohini. Follow the crowd in a clockwise manner and inspect the walls. You are bound to see the pretty lotus flowers on a pot. Don’t miss spotting a single-headed elephant and bull. Its like having dissimilar Siamese twins. However, cover one body with your hand and you will see a complete animal.
Kalyana Mantapa & other halls of Vittala Temple Complex
Facing the Chariot temple in the center, if you turn to your left, you will see a minor hall. The purpose of this is not known but this one too, has acoustic properties. This is actually, where our guide demonstrated the musical pillars. It could be that these were possibly accompaniments for the main event that took place in the Mahamantapa.
On the right of the Stone Chariot is another grand hall called the Kalyana Mantapa – the marriage hall. This was used for various ceremonies like naming ceremonies and royal coronations. Remember to peek behind this hall too. You will see the 100 pillar hall – one of a fascinating part of the Vittala temple complex.
There is so much more to this temple but I will leave it to you to discover more. You might have forgotten but Vittala Temple is just the start of this Hampi trail. There is so much more to see. So, let’s go along.
The musical journey that started with Vittala temple continues as you walk along the River Tungabhadra. You will see an open pavilion almost in the water. This one has a statue of a famous poet – Purandaradasa of Hampi. He is depicted with his tambura and he is not just immortalized by this idol. His compositions are still used in Carnatic Sangeet. Every year, a small music festival is held here in this pavilion as celebration to his greatness.
King’s Balance in Hampi
As you exit and head along the trail 2 towards Hampi Bazaar, you come across this structure, which is actually a weighing balance. The king used to sit on one side of a weighing scale while the other side would be piled with Gold, silver and precious stones. The treasures weighing equal to the King’s weight would be distributed to the poor and the priests on special occasions. Check out the image of the king sculpted on this scale. You can even see the loops through which the balance was hung.
Through a “Two-Storied Gateway”, past a small Narasimha temple, you come across this small hill. Hidden amid them is a small cave that is said to be the abode of the exiled monkey king – Sugriva of Ramayana. It is here that he got back his kingdom and also, helped Ram and Lakshman by picking up the fallen jewels of the abducted Sita. There are some footprints near the cave, which the Hindus believe belong to Ram and Lakshman.
Riverside Ruins in Hampi
It is time to get a little adventurous now. A small gorge is what you will encounter next. A bit of a climb and you will see the most amazing sight – rocks with innumerable lingas. There are actually two such clusters. One with 108 lingas and the other with 1008 lingas. No one knows why they are here and that adds to the mystery of the place.
Walking along the same River Tungabhadra, a little further from the Riverside Ruins is a temple that too, might be submerged partly in water. The temple name means “Crowned Rama” and it houses huge statues of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshman. The Kondandarama temple used to be a place for the pilgrims. It is considered holy as it is believed to be the place where Lord Rama crowned Sugreeva as the King of Kishkinda.
Rangatha Temple of Hampi
The next monument in line on this Vittala Temple Hampi Trail has one of the most elaborate carvings of Lord Vishnu. Within the Rangatha temple, you will see Vishnu reclining on Sheshnag (the cobra) with his consort Lakshmi and Bhudevi by his side. Sprouting from his name is a lotus on which Lord Brahma is seen. The shrine is quite dark and damp and it is best to go in on a bright morning to be able to see this exquisite carving.
Achyuta Raya Temple
Slowly the Tungabhadra is left behind as you turn in towards the Courtesan’s street. This is yet another Vijaynagara bazaar like the Hampi bazaar. However, this was a market of precious stones and jewels. The market leads you to another major attraction on this trail – the Achyuta Rayas Temple. Shielded by the hills, this one is not oft visited. You can cover this either in this trail or the Virupaksha Temple trail after Matanga Hill.
The temple complex is in ruins but has some gorgeous carvings for you to see. The lion-faced Yelli guardians here have a rider on them, controlling them with chains. Within the shrines, you can spot several stories on stone – a lot of them from the life of Lord Krishna. The temple per se, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
After visiting this temple, the trail takes you past two more temples – the Varaha temple and the Yantrodhara Anjaneya Temple to end at a small trekking trail of 2 km. This is referred to as Kampa Bhupa’s path and it leads you back to the Hampi Bazaar near Virupaksha temple.
I am pretty sure that by now you are dazzled by the splendor of various monuments here, especially the Vittala temple. And I guess, you too now agree that this temple complex is the masterpiece of Hampi – don’t you? Tell me what according to you makes it so :D. Take a break, soak it all in and come back later for the last trail of Hampi.
Additional Trails of Hampi