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  • Writer's pictureAishwarya Lakshmi

A tale of Hampi — the magnificent city of Medieval India

Women & Design // Episode 10

"Every great design begins with an even better story," said Lorinda Mamo. Aishwarya, an architect joins us today to tell us a tale about Hampi; the magnificent city of medieval India.

Picture Credits: Aishwarya Lakshmi
“It is only in an urban landscape, amid straight lines and architecture, that she could situate herself in human time and history. “ - Ruth Ozeki

The story of this fabled metropolis began when the Sangama brothers channeled the power vacuum to establish an empire from the ruins of the ransacked Hoysala kingdom by the Delhi Sultanate. With mythological underpinning, rocky arena, and abundant source of water, the area around Hampi was a landscape charged with natural protection and mythical meaning. With this began the glory of the Mighty Vijayanagar empire that flourished from the Krishna basin in the north to the Indian ocean in the south under able rulers.

Lorinda Mamo rightly quoted that "Every great design begins with an even better story”. Hampi is a standing example of a tale spun around the local legends, religion, trade, mythology, climate, and human intervention.

Picture Credits: Aishwarya Lakshmi

Amidst the hilly, boulder-filled terrain of the Tungabhadra Valley are the remnants of a forgotten empire etched with the vestiges of the epic Ramayana. Hampi, also known as Vijayanagara (City of Victory), is a pristine combination of myth, lore, and legend. The ruined marvel was once the glorious capital of the Vijayanagar Empire and the mythological monkey kingdom of Kishkinda is the most well-preserved Hindu imperial city.

The glimpse of the bygone remnants predating the Vijayanagar era is still visible if you take a stroll around the banks of Tungabhadra. There are Ashokan edicts, Shatavahana Buddhist panels, and inscriptions from Chalukya, Hoysala, and Yadava periods.

As an architect, I strongly believe that these heritage sites serve as breathing elements of our culture tying the past to the present and defining our identity. It is a visceral connection between society and its surroundings. Hampi with layers of history and mythology imbued into the landscape is a perfect example to understand the intimate relationship between myth, mythos, and belief.

View from Virupapura Gadde | Picture Credits: Aishwarya Lakshmi

Establishing a splendid city in the aridest region of Karnataka emphasizes the efficient use of the landscape, the water resources, and local legends. It is fascinating to understand how native sentiments and the mythological relevance of the place played an important role in erecting a monumental spectacle that still mesmerizes those who visit it. The boulders were used as walls for the Citadel that protected the city from invasion. Channels were built at different levels to direct water into the fields for irrigation and civilization was built around to support a vast population.

Hampi, the magnificent city of Medieval India, was a union of architectural excellence. Ranging from Royal palaces to administrative buildings and religious complexes, it showed structural diversity way ahead of its time.

The most striking feature of Vijayanagara was its cosmopolitan culture. People from different religions and regions lived under one roof in harmony. The influence of their mingling is seen in contrasting structures like mosques, Jain temples, and even zenanas.

Unlike the Chola capital Tanjavur or Hoysala capital Halebidu which are mostly temple towns, Hampi displays versatility in structures like the military architecture like the gates, watchtowers, fortified walls, and look-out. There are remains of royal palaces and pleasure pavilions that talk about the courtly architecture and courts and mints mostly for the governance of the state. The magnificent temples built for different Hindu deities highlight the empire’s prosperity.

Picture Credits: Aishwarya Lakshmi

The medieval city was divided into zones and shoved into the landscape. The Urban core formed the center of the city, fortified and supported the major population. At the center of the urban core lay the Royal center where the kings and the nobles lived. Most of the structures today survive as plinths which very less detailing. The Irrigated valley lies outside the urban core where a tributary of Tungabadra runs mostly containing water channels for crop growth and nurture.

The Sacred center lies further north with discrete units called the puras (little) with a major temple and a market street. The original Hampi village over which the empire stands is found here along with the Vijaya Vittala temple, Balakrishna, and Achuthraya temple serving as a nucleus to the hamlet surrounding it Vittalapura, Achutyapura, etc. They are walled temples with a grand entrance or Gopuram and minor shires dedicated to various gods with colonnaded streets where chariot festivals were held.

The captivating beauty of the landscape does not just talk about nature but the history wedged into its rocks and boulders and the association it shares with the great epic. Hampi is an open museum for art, architecture, and culture. Etched against dramatic conflicts of an invasion and catastrophe, the birth and death of this glorious empire are forever engraved into the landscape that surrounds it. The orgy embarked after the defeat of the last king ravished the glory into ruins and the pain of the defeat is still seen as broken and destroyed fragments. While the shreds of this splendor survive in the memory of its dwellers, the stories revolve around it are worth the effort and time.

Author : Aishwarya Lakshmi Edited by : Dhruti Soni

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With 🧡 Team WID.

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