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Travel to Peninsular India: Hampi Royal Center

Duarte Barbosa described in the 1530s "...a very great city called Bisnagua, wherein dwell folk without number; it is fenced about with strong ramparts and by a river as well, on the further side of a great chain of mountains. Here always dwells the king of Narsyngua, who is a Heathen and is called Rayen; and here he has great and fair palaces, in which he always lodges, with many enclosed courts and great houses very well built, and within them are wide open spaces, with water-tanks in great numbers, in which is reared abundance of fish...." What's left?

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Peninsular India: Hampi Royal Center picture 1

We can enter at the lower right, where a road cuts through a gap in the city wall. The first buildling on the right is a Shiva temple, noteworthy for an splendid though underrated gopuram. The second building, closer to the road, is the so-called Queen's Bath. The road then winds around to the far side of the Royal Enclosure with a Great Bath hidden behind the sign and, just beyond the bath the smaller but much more remarkable Stepped Tank. The flat-topped platform slightly behind and to the right of the stepped tank is a great ceremonial platform, once roofed. There is a long alley between the royal enclosure and another enclosure to the left. At the far end of that alley is the Hazara Rama or Ramachandra Temple, the private temple of the empire's ruling family. The other large enclosure contains the ruins of presumed palaces. Closer to the hills is the Zenana Enclosure, containing the Lotus Mahal, elephant stables, and a watchtower visible here as a yellow tower at the lower right corner of the enclosure. At the upper right is the Krishna Temple's bazaar.

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The Chandrasekhara Temple.

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The view from inside the enclosure.

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The gopuram, modest in size but with fabulously intact and close-enough-to-see ornament.

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Another angle.

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A close-up.

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The so-called Queen's Bath, certainly housing a pool in a structure seemingly designed to guarantee privacy without attracting attention.

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The interior is fancier, with a hauz or pool 50 feet square and six deep. Once, fountains played. The water is presumed by some authors to have been drawn from wells but by others to have come from the Kamalapuram Tank, a mile to the south and itself fed by canals from the Tungabhadra. (See Dominic J. Davison-Jenkins, The Irrigation and Water Supply Systems of Vijayanagara, 1997.)

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The same supply canal that fed the Queen's Bath also fed this structure, the Great Tank, at the southeast corner of the Royal Enclosure. Davison-Jenkins points that the tank is remarkably shallow (p. 38). He suggests that it was not only a ritual bathing area but a settling pond in which silt could settle and from which clean water could be skimmed. The archaeologicl team that excavated the tank shortly after 1900 reported clearing it of silt and finding under a stone floor slab a chamber containing a skull and other human skeletal remains, interpreted as a human sacrifice.

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The same archaeological team set into place the stone channel conveying water to the Great Tank.

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Just to the north of that tank is the so-called stepped tank, shown here with the same channel or aqueduct. There are many stepped tanks in the neighborhood, but this is the most spectacular.

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This wasn't a place to wash clothes, but its use is unclear. The very existence of the tank was only rediscovered in the 1980s, when archaeologists excavated the buried site. Recent scholars are persuaded that the tank was originally built by the Chalukya kings in the 11th or 12th century at a site near Dharwar, 50 miles to the west. Five hundred years later, in the 16th century, the blocks were numbered, removed, transported, and reassembled here. Apparently the job wasn't executed in its entirety, because the original tank was larger; as reassembled, the tank is lacking two tiers. Davison-Jenkins suggests that the tank was originally fed by a nearby well and perhaps as well by water rising through the stone floor of the tank. The stone water channel, he suggests, was set into place by the archaeologists working after 1900. Longhurst in 1917 has a photogrph of the channel chute sloping to the ground and hinting at but not revealing the presence of the buried tank. (See Philip Wagoner's paper in the collection edited by Verghese and Dallapiccola.)

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Here is an overview of the aqueduct, stepped tank, the Great Rank in the background, and archaeological works.

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the previous picture was taken from the top of this platform, the Mahanavami Dibba, possibly used by the king during the great end-of-monsoon festival variously called Dussehra, Mahanavami or Navaratri. Nothing remains of the structure formerly on top except post holes.

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The work was apparently executed in four phases. Phase I is the base with six granite courses, the bottom one buried. Phase two is comprised of four courses of smaller blocks, perhaps also from the 14th century. Phase III, from the 15th century, rises five meters to the present summit. Phase IV is the superimposed tier of greenish chlorite; it exists only on the west side.

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The imagery on the bottom tier refers to the king's daily life, with military drills, hunting, obeisance, and exotic entertainments with camels and foreigners.

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The carving is crude because the granite resists fine detail. No matter: the carvings were originally covered with plaster, then painted.

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A stairway, with an elephant and mythologized lion.

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The chlorite takes a sharper edge. Scattered, the stones have been reassembled, but some are in the wrong order and others have been lost.

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Not much of a wall? True, but this one, around the Zenana Enclosure, was a privacy screen. That said, it was topped with iron spikes set in cement.

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The best-known building within is the Lotus Mahal, with nine pyramid-shaped roofs. Despite its name, bestowed about 1910 by the Archaeological Survey of India, it was presumably a meeting hall for the king and his ministers; until 1910 it was in fact called the Council Chamber.

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Where precisely they met is perplexing, since the ground level is laid out as a hypostyle hall, with very little clear space. "To judge from the clumsy manner in which the staircase to the upper storey has been built, one would imagine that it had been added as an afterthought. It looks as though the architect forgot the staircase when preparing the design and had to provide one after the building was compelted." The words come from Longhurst a century ago; in those days the English didn't pussyfoot. Anyway, the staircase is locked tight.

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In 1981, the enclosure was not secured or guarded, and graffiti were rife.

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Close by are the reputed elephant stables, originally plastered and painted but lacking any kind of iron rings for restraints. The room at the top, now lacking its probably elaborate roof (like the nine on the Lotus Mahal), was for musicians. The implication is that this was not an ordinary stable but a place for putting caparisoned elephants on grand display.

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A different view. A dripstone once was laid across the projecting brackets.

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Adjacent to the stables is this building, the so-called guardhouse but actually of unknown purpose.

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The tower rising at one corner of the enclosure perhaps allowed women in the royal family to peek over the wall. On this side of the wall there is a temple.

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It's been heavily and heavy-handedly restored.

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A different view, shwoing the temple's most remarkable feature.

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Here, in the Madhava Temple, is a monolithic statue of Hanuman, Rama's helper in the Ramayana. According to tradition, Rama met Hanuman nearby at Kishkindha, the home of the monkey chiefs. Somehow the statue wound up carelessly propped against the temple wall.

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We've left the Zenana Enclosure and come to the Hazara Rama or Ramachandra Temple. In front of it is a presumed lamp tower that also marked the zero-point for roads leading across the empire.

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The outside wall of the temple faces the lamp tower and is covered with imagery of royal parades.

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Elephants, horses, infantry, musicians, dancing girls.

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The temple within, dedicated to Ramachandra, was probably the chapel of the king and his family. Seeking greater legitimacy than Virupaksha alone could provide, the kings adopted Rama, too.

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The temple dates from the 15th century; the lawn is the work of the Archaeological Survey, which seems convinced that lawns make monuments prettier.

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Inside, a pavilion.

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An ornamental roof.

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Flanked by courtiers, Rama is shown with Sita.

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Another angle., showing the projecting dripstone

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Once again, brick and plaster on a stone base.

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And you thought Jean-Pierre Rampal could play the flute.

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Mythological scenes.

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Rama shoots an arrow through seven trees to prove his worthiness.

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The now empty shrine is remarkable for its carved and polished basalt pillars.

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The pillars are decorated with images of the various aspects of Vishnu.

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This one's easy: it Varaha, Vishnu as boar.


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