“If dreams were made of stone, it would be Hampi.” The magical temple town greets you with ruins spread across a large expanse of land. Cradled between mountains on one side and the mighty Tungabhadra river on the other, states the strategic motive behind it. As far as your sight can reach you see a very vibrant and unique landscape. Huge stone boulders, pale yellow in colour, of different sizes and shapes stacked randomly contrasting with the greenery around. Slowly the architecture comes into focus as it is so subtly merges with the landscape around. You are reminded of what contextually sound architecture looks like. The scale, proportions and attention to detail leaves you spell bound, from the moment you enter the city gates.
The royal enclosure hosts the royal group of buildings. The scale and the grandeur of buildings in this zone indicate the power and glory of the mighty Vijaynagar Empire. Buildings ranging from the kings balance, queens chamber, residences of the royalties, step wells and baths, royal platform and a number of civil buildings are a part of this enclosure. Each of them has their own functional importance and are strategically zoned as though they belongs there. Every step you take every building you discover you realize how much thought has gone into planning and designing it. Surely the architects and planners of that time were master minds!
The sacred centre hosts many temples big and small. The Virupaksha temple, Achutaraya temple and Vithalla temple are three major temple complexes in sacred center. There is a peculiar style of planning all these temples have; long stretch of markets lined on either side of the stretch leading up to the temple, followed by the enclosure wall with the gateway also called as ‘Gopura’, a few ‘Mantapas’- ceremonial platforms and finally the main shrine for the deity. When you walk this path, it is as though everything comes to life. The buzzing market – which also became a social gathering space and the lofty ‘Gopura’ leave you wondering how the space would’ve been in its full glory. The kid in you has so many questions to ask, one of the most naïve once being, how did these people manage to take these huge boulders all the way high up when each might be weighing tons? Every pillar, wall and step narrates interesting stories from the past which only add to the drama of the space.
Every temple complex is unique in its own way, but the one that grabs your attention is the Achutaraya temple complex. Sitting in a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides, it is secluded and peaceful. When inside the complex you never see the built mass as such. You always see a scenic view and the surrounding landscape. You could call it a non-building. When you look at the ‘Gopura’ from the market side you can see the exact center of the main shrine in perspective. The impeccable geometry and sense of scale and proportion is mind boggling. The space inspires you to paint a picture on the canvas of your mind, as it slowly narrates its story – and all of a sudden, everything comes alive.
Close to sunset you sit on top of the Matanga hill, which is the tallest point in Hampi with a breathtaking view. You look at the city with a sense of awe as you are still digesting the fact that a highly advanced metropolis of this scale once really existed. This city built of roads, buildings, step wells, baths, bazaars, gateways, walls, temples; etc proves that perfection does exist. Hampi is like a world within a world, where one finds it really hard to detach oneself after seeing and experiencing it.
In the end you are left wondering trying to find answers to questions like, why does this ancient city have such a lasting impression on you. Is it because of its strategic and rationally strong principles of planning, or because of its architectural grandeur, intricate carvings and perfection? Is it because of the stories about the mighty empire that you hear, or is it the fact that it stood through time inspite of the ravages by man and nature?
The answer is simple. It is the soulful experience the city offers; an experience which is layered and relevant to each of us in different ways. Inspite of being ruined it still has the capacity to absorb life. Its pertinence can be explained without any drawing or documentation, merely through the experience and the story it narrates. A story of kings, culture, art and architecture and long forgotten marvels!