The Vijayanagar Ruins in the city of Hampi is home to one of the best collections of decaying old temples in Southern India. Once the capital of one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Indian history, the city of Hampi at its height boasted some of the most splendind temples constructed after the Middle Ages. There are dozens of amazing temples here in various states of repair, and while most visitors come to take in the sites collectively, there are two must-see standouts: the Virupaksh Temple, and the Vittala Temple.
Hampi is part of a cluster of cities in southern India that have been around since ancient times, perhaps two thousand years. During the time of the Chalukya Empire it was probably little more than a backwater. It emerged as an important commercial center after the collapse of the Chaluyas in the Middle Ages. By the 14th century Hampi had become the capital of the nascent Vijayanagara Empire.
Under the Vijayanagaras, Hampi became a major metropolis. As is typical, the city became adorned with magnificent temples. Most of these were erected in the 15th century. This was the greatest new collection of major temples to be constructed in Karnataka in nearly eight hundred years. For over two centuries, Hampi was not only the capital of the largest kingdom in south India, it became one of the chief centers of Hindu culture just as north and central India were being overrun by Islam.
By the mid-16th century, it was Hampi’s turn to face its fate. A great Muslim army from the north arrived in the 1560s and ravaged the Vijayanagara Empire. Hampi fell in 1565, and its days as a major commercial center came to an end. Although the city was not completely laid waste, it never again recovered its prominence in Indian affairs.
That said, some of the temples were destroyed or damaged during the Muslim invasion, and others fell into general disrepair in the ensuing centuries. By the time of the British Raj, it was once again something of a backwater. However, many of the city’s historic buildings did manage to survive in whole or in part, and by the time of independence Hampi was one of India’s best preserved semi-ruins. With many of its temples and historic structures now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is quickly becoming a popular destination for tourists.
The Virupaksha Temple is by far Hampi’s best known landmark. It was built for the personal use of the Vijayanagar rulers. It is an enormous enclosed complex larger than a soccer field, flanked by two immense towers. The main shrine stretches over 160 feet into the sky, making it one of the tallest major temples in India. Part of the Tungabhadra River actually flows through the temple precincts. The main shrine is dedicated to Shiva.
The Vittala Temple, which is the most remote of Hampi’s temples, is the second most important and second most popular. Never completed due to the sacking of Hampi in the 16th century, it is perhaps less impressive from the outside than the inside. The temple interior has one of the coolest audio features of any religious shrine anywhere: a series of small column clusters that play musical notes when tapped. In the temple courtyard is an amazing sculpture of a chariot representing the bird Garuda.
The Virupaksha Temple is located in the center of Hampi close to the river, while the Vittala Temple is about a mile to the northeast, approximately 850 miles south of New Delhi. As of this writing no visitor information was available for either site. Web: www.hampionline.com (official tourism website of Hampi).
Hampi is home to dozens of great old temples in various states of disrepair. Just counting the major ones it would take several days to see them all. Probably the best and most popular of the rest are the Hazra Rama Temple and the Krishna Temple.