Hampi - A Treasure Box

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‘The city of Vijayanagara simply has no equal in the world,’ wrote Abdur Razzak Samarqandi, an envoy from the Timurid Empire, which ruled the 15th century Central Asia.

He was no court poet nor was he obligated to write good about the Vijayanagara Empire, but he did. He also adds that he is refraining from describing the city as it may sound too exaggerated. Such was the splendour and wealth of the Vijayanagara Empire and its glory has survived in forms of the magnificent architecture and art forms.

The capital of the empire, Hampe (or Hampi as it is known today) is declared a UNESCO Heritage lies on the banks of the river Tungabhadra in Karnataka, India. After the military campaigns of Allauddin Khilji, a sultan from Delhi, the entire southern peninsula was in a state of political chaos without the presence of any significant power.

Photo Credits - bahadur_subhash

Two brothers, Harihara I and Bukka I, under the guidance of Hindu spiritual teacher Vidyaranya, established a strong city in Hampi in 1336 AD and called it Viajaynagara, which in the native language of Kannada means ‘City of Victory’ and ruled over adjacent territories. The empire reached its peak during the rule of Krishnadevaraya, when it was the counted among the most prosperous and powerful nations in the world.

The Vijayanagara Empire brought about several changes in the society and its functioning but perhaps their biggest impact lies in the field of architecture and arts.

The wonders of Vijayanagara were not just matter of gold, silver and precious stones: the City of Victory was also a major centre of South Indian culture— retaining and developing the best of that which had been salvaged from the wreck of the three greatest Empires of southern history: the Pallavas, the Chalukyas and above all the mighty Cholas of Tanjore. Perhaps the most remarkable and celebrated of the city’s intellectuals, and the principal catalyst for its rich civilisation, was also its greatest ruler.


Vijayanagar era architecture can be broadly classified into religious, courtly, and civic architecture. Its style is a harmonious combination of the Chalukya, Hoysala, Pandya, and Chola styles that evolved in earlier centuries and represents a return to the simplicity and serenity of the past. Preferred for its durability, local hard granite was the building material of choice, as it had been for the Badami Chalukyas; however, soapstone, which was soft and easily carved, was also used for reliefs and sculptures.

Krishnadevaraya who revolutionised the look of his city, transforming it as Augustus had transformed Rome. It was he who created a new Vijayanagaran temple style, first with his magnificent additions—halls, courtyards and gateways—to the city’s central Virupaksha temple, then in his new Vitthala temple, the most delicate and beautiful of them all. He also commissioned several magnificent new megalithic sculptures to adorn his capital. Several have survived intact, including the spectacular carved granite monolith of Vishnu Narasimha, showing the ferocious lion-headed God sitting in state of uncharacteristic peace, resting cross-legged in a yogic position with his legs bound with a yoga-band. Krishnadevaraya also provided a remarkable irrigation system, with water being brought to the city by a network of viaducts.


The Vijayanagar Empire’s patronage enabled its fine arts and literature to rise to new heights. Its legacy of sculpture, painting, and architecture influenced the development of the arts in South India long after the empire came to an end. The mingling of South Indian styles resulted in a richness not seen in earlier centuries, including a focus on reliefs in addition to sculpture that surpassed that seen previously in India.

Painting in the Vijayanagara Empire, which evolved into the Mysore style of painting, is best illustrated in the elaborate wall paintings of temples.

In addition to architecture and sculpture, the Vijayanagara emperors were enthusiastic patrons of painting. The Vijayanagara school of painting was renowned for its frescoes of Hindu mythological themes on temple walls and ceilings. The rulers of Vijayanagara encouraged literature, art, architecture, religious, and philosophical discussions. With the fall of the Vijayanagara empire after the Battle of Talikota in 1565 CE, the artists who were under royal patronage migrated to various other places such as Mysore, Tanjore, and Surpur.