Ruins of a forgotten empire


Hampi is a small village in the Indian federal state of Karnataka, lying among the glorious ruins of the former imperial capital Vijayanagara. Between the 14th and 16th centuries this was the centre of a Hindu empire that stretched across the whole of South India. The beginnings of this empire can be traced back to 1336, when brothers Harihara and Bukka Raya founded a state and dynasty south of Tungabhadra River. At this time, all of North India was governed by the Islamic sultanate of Delhi thus Vijayanagara became a religious and cultural centre of Hinduism.


The empire reached its apex in the early 16th Century under the legendary ruler Krishnadevaraya. He was a great military leader and under his command the armies of Vijayanagara had great success against all their enemies, from Islamic Deccan sultanates to Hindu rulers of Orissa and local feudal lords that resisted central authority. His greatest victory was the taking of Raichur Fort that was wrestled from Sultan of Bijapur in 1520. In this battle he used 703.000 infantry soldiers, 32.600 horsemen and 551 elephants.


Krishnadevaraya was not merely a great soldier, but also a connoisseur and champion of literature and other arts, being also extremely tolerant of other religions. Poets, architects, sculptors and other artists were always welcome at his court. After his death in 1529 the empire entered a period of slow decline, until the combined forces of the Deccan Sultanates finally defeated Vijayanagara at the Battle of Talikota in January 1565. The sacked and looted capital remained in that state until present time.


In 1986 the ruins of Vijayanagara were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. This stopped the decline and boosted tourism in the region. Today Hampi is a popular traveler hang-out with a unique atmosphere, conjured up by old, partially restored temples and the fascinating exoticism of rural India. Every year at the beginning of November the village is overrun by visitors from all parts of India. Thousands come to the week-long Vijaya Utsav Festival that offers concerts of traditional and classical music, sporting events, performances of traditional dances and the like. The quaint village turns into a frenzied, overpopulated place, bursting with activity as ancient and modern India step hand in hand into the future.


After the festival ends, life in Hampi returns to normal, the tempo slows down, the crowds disappear and the locals can get back to their daily routine. As you walk all alone among the ruins in the midday sun, you get a feeling of timelessness. The magnificent carved figures on columns and walls come alive in front of your eyes and start whispering their forgotten stories. To be alone in a five hundred year old Hindu temple is a feeling not easily put into words.