Memories of Hampi continue to captivate me even a year and a half after visiting the place. The pictures etched in my mind are as sharp as the stone carvings in Hampi. It was my first planned trip to a place of historical importance. As a child, my parents took me along to Hampi and many other historical places. I never enjoyed those trips. I tagged behind fussing and complaining about the bat odour in ancient buildings. My way of dealing with these places was to imagine that I lived during the times of these Palaces/Monuments. I used to picture myself in royal stories.The stories happened to be a mixture of my imagination and the real history of the place which I would half-heartedly hear from the guide my parents hired. As I grew up, my parents’ passion for traveling and exploring historical places rubbed on me. I started dreaming and making travel plans as and when I was free. One day, while I was browsing for places,I came across Hampi. Two weeks after that;Bang!I was off to Hampi for a weekend with a couple of my friends. I was in awe of Hampi’s beauty. The skill, handwork and intelligence of the people involved in building the monuments perplexed me. Unlike my childhood trips, I was genuinely interested to know the history and details of the stone-carved buildings and temples. History says “Such was the glory of the Vijayanagara Empire that houses had no doors ; precious gems and pearls were sold on the roads. Trust was the word which existed in the ideal Vijayanagara Empire”. The little girl in me never ceased to exist. I could imagine myself being in the Vijayanagara times strolling in the diamond market; living in the kingdom where houses had no doors. My intention here is to write what I exactly went through in Hampi. So, I decided to put myself in the shoes of one of the citizens of Vijayanagara who died during the Sultanate invasion[Imaginary Story Alert!]. But, was reborn in the Kaliyuga(that is now).This is about how she decides to visit her hometown from her previous birth ; her sentiments when she sees her home, her town, her people. Vijayanagara was destroyed and broken, but not dead. The artistic and architectural wonder stands there still, beautiful and heart warming. So here begins the story!
“Nagalakshmi was my name” exclaims, Siri. “Are you crazy?” says her friend Adya. At least Vandana listens to her silently. But Adya cannot believe Siri’s words. Moreover, she gets worried. Siri claims that she had lived during the reign of the Vijayanagara kings.
Siri always had the habit of talking in her sleep. Vandana and Adya having seen her since hostel days had just brushed it off. But Siri’s dreams were different. She had gradually realized that her dreams were memories of her previous birth. She got similar dreams almost every night. She had been dreaming about them ever since she was a kid. As she grew up, she realized that her dreams weren’t usual dreams. And with every passing year, she could identify with her previous life. She had never confided about this to anyone as she knew that no one would believe her.
Siri knew Adya and Vandana since her Engineering Hostel days and even now they lived with her in Bangalore. Hence, she breaks this news about her dual life to them. After a lot of discussion and introspection, Adya and Vandana come to terms with the fact that Siri was in truth a girl who sold and supplied flowers to the royal family of the Vijayanagara Empire. She was named Nagalakshmi, after the great emperor Krishnadevaraya’s Queen mother Nagala Devi. Nagalakshmi had lived during the reign of Aliya Rama Raya(son in law of King Krishnadevaraya). She died at a tender age of 18 years when the Deccan Sultanate army invaded the Vijayanagara Empire.This invasion also marked the decline of the great Empire. Siri always feared visiting Hampi as she was unsure of how it would affect her. But from the past two years, her longing to visit her hometown had become too much. After a week or two of opening up to her friends, a weekend trip to Hampi is planned. Siri wishes to stay longer but Adya and Vandana cannot afford to take leaves.
The three girls board the Hampi Express from Majestic Railway Station on a Friday night and reach early next day morning. They travel to Hampi by an auto from Hospet Station. Siri’s heart skips a beat when she catches a glimpse of the Virupaksha Temple as they near the Tungabhadra river flowing beside Hampi. She continues to gaze at the temple and the ruins around. Finally, her friends drag her to their accommodation at Shanthi Guest House in Virupapur Gadde.It is also called as Hippie Island as a large number of foreign tourists stay there for months to explore Hampi. This was the place where Nagalakshmi’s neighbor Ramanna worked. He owned a small factory which made crossbows. It was beside the Matanga Hill. This place is on the other side of Hampi i.e across the Tungabhadra river. The girls happily cross the river on the ferry and check in to the Guest House. As they ride back to Hampi, towards the Virupaksha temple,Siri is unable to keep her excitement to herself . As the ferry floats towards their destination, her eyes well up with tears.
Virupaksha Temple as seen by Siri from the ferry
Trying to read the inscriptions
When they go around the temple ,Siri recalls how Nagalakshmi’s day began as a little girl. Nagalakshmi’s parents always told her to first visit the Virupaksha temple in the morning to offer prayers. As a child, after her prayer she skipped around the temple along with her friends. How she enjoyed looking at the inverted reflection of the rajagopuram in the temple tower housing the idol of Lord Virupaksha!! The history of how the Virupaksha Temple was built by King Devaraya II was taught to Nagalakshmi and her siblings in their Pathashala by their great guru Vidwan ShamBhatta. He was a great Sanskrit scholar. The king himself revered him and often sought him in court for advice. Siri still remembers how her father along with other people held the huge stone with the rajamudra i.e Varaha(Pig) to avoid the Deccan Sultanate army from entering the main Sanctorum of the temple. The Vijayanagara people knew that the Muslims condemned pigs. And their efforts did not completely go in vain. At least parts of the temple remained. The girls claw their way up the Hemakuta hill from Virupaksha to have a look at the numerous small monuments there; like the monolithic structures of Kadalekaalu Ganapathi and Saasivekaalu Ganapathi. When Siri wanders around the Hampi bazaar, she realizes that the bazaar lacked the glitter of the old times. Pearls and precious gems of all types were sold in the Hampi Bazaar at throwaway prices during the Vijayanagara reign. Even Nagalakshmi’s family indulged in pearl business along with flowers. The girls visit the hill again after a walk around the Hampi Bazar on the second day ;to explore the structures which they had missed the previous day. The sunset witnessed from there was enchanting.
Inverted Reflection of the Rajagopuram
Sunset from the Hemakuta Hill
Siri suggests that they go to the Purandhara Dasa Mandapa. That was the place where Nagalakshmi sang and played the tamboora. Most of her free evenings were spent in the Mandapa. The coracle ride to the Mandapa is a very beautiful one. The Mandapa has pillars on all edges with a small sculpture of Shri Purandhara Dasa inside. Even in the scorching heat of summer,the local people walked barefoot on the stone floors of the monuments effortlessly.
Coracle ride to the Purandhara Dasa Mantapa
Stone Sculpture of Shri Purandhara Dasa
Vittala complex harbors the renowned stone chariot and musical pillars.The approach to the complex is through stone ruins of a market where Nagalakshmi’s family sold flowers and pearls during festivals. Well known musicians brought out euphonious sounds from the pillars during musical ceremonies that happened in the Mahamandapa of the Vittala complex. Being the flower delivery girl, Nagalakshmi sometimes got a chance to see these miraculous performances. Siri imagines the complex come to life with vibrant colors . She dances in the Kalyana Mandapa with Vandana which brings back all the fond memories of her lost life.She frowns on knowing that most of the musical pillars had lost their magic as many people had tried to make the pillars resonate musical notes by striking them hard. Due to similar reasons ,even the wheels of the stone chariot had become immobile.
Siri and Vandana dancing in the Mantapa
The girls relish a typical North Karnataka meal with the local Jolada Rotti(Cornflour Bread) and Ennegayi(Stuffed Brinjal Curry) at Kamalapur. After a sumptuous lunch,they head to the Queen’s bath. Siri is curious to see this place. This is one of the places about which she has no memory from her past life. Probably, Nagalakshmi wasn’t allowed to enter as it was exclusively for royal women. But she had spent time in the Zenana and Royal enclosures as a part of her job of supplying flowers for Pooja and decorations.
Siri happy to be let inside Queen’s Bath
Beautiful arch of the Queen’s Bath
From generations, Nagalakshmi’s family had been responsible for all kinds of flower arrangements for the royal family. Zenana Enclosure was supposed to be a palace for the royal women. Siri is shattered to see that not much remained of it except for the broad base proving that the palace had indeed been huge. But that wasn’t the case with Lotus Mahal. Luckily a lot of it remained despite the invasion. Vandana and Adya are impressed by the grandeur and glory of the Lotus Mahal. Siri tells them that during those times, the entire palace used to be lit up with diamonds and gems. They were placed on all the window sills and crevices. The intricate designs on the walls,roofs, and windows of the palace were magnificent. It was here that the royal women showed off their jewels and possessions to each other while Nagalakshmi sat in a corner making garlands ; looking at them from the corner of her eye. Sometimes after her work, she would run to the great elephant stables to meet Narasimha on whom she had a crush. He had been working at the stables ever since he was a boy of 5. She wasn’t sure if her father would approve of him. She sneaked a few flowers for him and played with some of his favorite elephants.
Ruins of the Zenana Enclosure
The Elephant Stables
The Royal enclosure used to have approximately 45 buildings ,all used by the royal family. Siri runs to check the secret chamber in the royal enclosure. Nagalakshmi had always been interested in entering this place as this was the place where secret meetings were held. Obviously, she wasn’t even allowed near it. She had been to the king’s residence in the enclosure once with her father. That was the closest she had been to the secret chamber. But she had heard so many stories about it. And now here she was entering it . Finally! The Navami celebrations were held with full pomp at the Mahanavami Dibba of the Royal Enclosure. It was the busiest time of the year for Nagalakshmi’s family. The Mahanavami Dibba was a three tier platform used for religious ceremonies. As Siri sits beside the stepped tank of the royal enclosure getting lost in thoughts, Adya and Vandana click pictures of the marvel.
Stepped tank of the Royal Enclosure
Secret Chamber( Image Source :Google Images)
As Siri enters the Hazara Rama Temple ,her grandmother’s voice echoes to her from every corner. The entire story of the Ramayana is depicted on the walls of the Hazara Rama temple. Not only Ramayana, even scenes from Lord Krishna’s life is narrated here. When Nagalakshmi was little, her grandmother sometimes carried her in her arms to this place while she was on duty to deliver and arrange flowers. The royal family was kind. Even after the work was done, they let the duo stay longer. And her grandmother would use that time to narrate the Ramayana to her granddaughter with visuals from the temple. No Ramanand Sagar show came close to that.
Walls of Hazara Rama Temple( Image Source : Google Images)
During the battle of Talikota, not only Nagalakshmi but a lot many people of the Empire were dispersed and robbed of their homes. One day on her way back from the Pathashala, Nagalakshmi had seen her neighbor Ramanna’s body lying below the Banyan tree.It was a kilometer away from her house. His body was pierced with many arrows. Crossbows were thrown all around him . This was when she had realized that there was danger ahead. Nagalakshmi had run away from the spot . She had continued to do so for days together hiding from the enemies. She had seen her father last carrying the rajamudra with other men to stop the Sultanate men from entering the Virupaksha temple.The royal women had been kind to her and many other people who were on the run. They had allowed them to stay in the Zenana enclosure during these times of crisis. For a while, Nagalakshmi had felt safe as there were watch towers around from where the guards kept an eye on them. But there had been no life left in her after seeing the city burn and die. As expected, the enemies reached there one day and attacked from all sides. The last memory of Nagalakshmi that Siri had was smoke and fire with women and children wailing in the backdrop. As the trip nears its end, Siri and her friends go to see the monolithic statue of Ugra Narasimha. They stand there with their palms held together and eyes closed. They pray for all the people who fought and died for Vijayanagara.
The two days spent in Hampi was exciting and emotional for Siri. On the evening, before they left Hampi, she went atop the Hemakuta hill. From there, she looked down at the panoramic view of her beautiful city which was now in ruins. Vijayanagara Empire did perish, but the story and spirit live on in every stone of Hampi.