Hampi chronicles: Music, myths & magic🪄 with stone🥁 (Vitthala temple and Stone chariot)

Sekhar says he is well versed with the history of the Vijayanagar empire and even more with the intricacies of the Vitthala temple. He claims to speak nine languages and that’s not even his talent, you’ll see !

It’s close to 4 pm by now, tired, we were at the last quarter in the sacred centre – the Vitthalapura with the Vitthala temple. This site in the holy trail requires a ticket for entry. And its this temple complex that houses the famed stone chariot !

To begin, there was chaos at the ticket kiosk; apparently you have to scan the QR code and make the payment online, but for this people were unable to get connectivity here 📶. And without the tickets you can’t enter. People were frantically walking holding their mobile phones high and low, all around the temple to get connectivity, but keeping close enough to the kiosk so as to scan the QR code!

While this drama was playing out, sitting outside the temple and waiting, we could see once again the bazaar with the ruins of the colonnaded structures stretching out in front of the temple complex. This bazaar is called the Chariot street.

Notice the stone pillar lying on the sand used as a makeshift bench by the men clad in saffron dhoti, it could be a remanent of the stone column used a dipa stambha that once stood in front of the entrance to the Vitthala temple, seen in the old black and white photo below that subsequently fell down and broke into pieces.

The colonnaded structures of the bazaar along the Chariot street at the Vitthala temple
The entrance gopuram of the Vitthala temple from photos of 1856, the column in front fell down and could be the makeshift seating used by the men clad in saffron dhoti in the first photo ! (Source: Hampi Vijayanagara by Fritz and Michell)

The Vitthala temple is dedicated to Vishnu’s avatar Krishna worshiped as Vithoba. This temple complex has undergone huge renovation efforts and is maintained well. An old photograph of the entrance will help contrast the current and the initial state it was in. The first photographs of the ruins of the Vijayanagar were taken by Colonel Alexander Greenlaw in 1856. The bazaar runs east and then near the temple, it turns north leading to a smaller temple. Didn’t have the energy to walk to it to explore !

The colonnaded structures leading to a small temple towards the north, outside the Vitthala temple

Almost half an hour passed waiting (sitting and resting the tired legs) outside the temple and finally we managed to get the tickets ! The temple faces east and the entrance is marked by a tall, huge and ornate gopuram with a gap from damage right in the middle.

The towering gopuram atop the eastern entrance to the Vitthala temple

Once inside the temple complex, the first thing you go for is the stone chariot ! In addition to the chariot there are several other beautiful pillared structures within the compound. Instead of trying to understand things ourselves we decide to get a guide. And by magic Sekhar appears, he introduces himself, working as a guide for the last 20 years. The temple complex has it’s main entrance from the east and two other entrances with smaller gopurams from the north and south.

Sekhar starts of with the four names of the capital city, two we knew Vijayanagar and Kishkinda; it’s also known as Vidyanagara “City of Knowledge” and Pampakshetra, the land through which the river Pampa flows.

Krishna Deva Raya  was the most celebrated king on the Lion throne of the Vijayanagar empire. Though the Vitthala temple was built as a modest temple by his predecessors, it was Krishna Deva Raya who ordered it to be made “the most ornate of the religious edifices of the kingdom”. The work was continued by his successors. 

Krishna Deva Raya had three wives – Tirumaladevi, a Tamil princess was his first wife, Chinnadevi, a dancer, his true love was the second wife and third was Annapurna, the daughter of the Odisha king whom he defeated.

“The first two queens of the king commissioned two of the gopurams facing east and north in 1513” and they are subsequently named after them. The third queen tried to assassinate the king and hence was driven into exile.

The Stone Chariot, Hampi

The Stone chariot has received visibility on account of it’s picture gracing the Rs.50/- note. “There are three places in India where you can see stone chariots” informs Sekhar “Konark in Odisha, Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu and in Hampi, Karnataka” We have seen the stone chariots in Mahabalipuram 👉Magical monuments of Mahabalipuram. They are a set of five monolith temples perceived as rathas or chariots.

The Rs. 50/- note with the picture of the Stone chariot

The Stone Chariot was commissioned to be built to commemorate Krishna Deva Raya’s victory over King Pratapa Rudra Deva of the Gajapati empire (present Odisha), as it was a victory most precious and sweet to the Vijayanagar king. Though it was the Hindu-Muslim wars that are easy to understand; it was the Hindu king Pratapa Rudra Deva who was most scornful of king Krishna Deva Raya and looked down at him with contempt, the reason being caste. “Unlike the royal blooded Pratapa Rudra Deva of the Solar lineage, Krishna Deva Raya was by all accounts a shudra, the unplanned offspring os a low caste general and a dasi (servant woman)…who grafted himself on to the royal Lunar lineage” says Srivinas Reddy in his book Raya.

The war with the Gajapati empire lasted for three years and finally after his victory, Krishna Deva Raya agreed to peace and left the Gajapati lands. In return, the Gajapati king gave his daughter in marriage to Krishna Deva Raya, his thrid wife. And the Stone Chariot is reminiscent of the Sun Temple in Konark, Odisha which is designed as a chariot for the Sun God, Surya.

“The Stone chariot is a small temple, dedicated to Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu and was initially sculpted as drawn by horses.” said Sekhar and pointing out the broken remnants of the tail and hind leg of a horse sculpted near the wheels. “The elephants were subsequent addition.” he adds.

The hind leg and tail of the horse at the Stone chariot, Hampi

He is absolutely right! The black and while photos show no elephants ! Another interesting feature is that there is a brick gopuram seen on top of the Stone chariot in the black and white photo; completely missing from the renovated Stone chariot seen now! The erstwhile gopuram ascertains the fact, that the Stone Chariot is a small temple.

No elephants in the 1856 photo of the Stone chariot ! (Source: Hampi Vijayanagara by Fritz and Michell)

The guide informed us that it is not a monolith as is widely believed. He also pointed out to the fact that one of the stone wheels could be rotated earlier, now it’s cemented. True or false !?

The chariot wheel which our guide said could be rotated earlier !
Stone chariot in Hampi with a pillared mandapa in the background

With the star structure out of the way, we focus on the surrounding. Sekhar points to the distant hilltop. “Hanuman’s birthplace, the distant Anjanadri mountain can be seen from here. There is a white coloured temple on top, accessible by foot.” he says. Named after Anjanadevi, mother of Hanuman. There is the interesting legend of how Hanuman turned the course of river Tungabhadra as his mother was thirsty. 

The Anjanadri mountain with a white coloured temple on top as seen from the Vitthala temple

We enter the main temple from the north side. As you walk to the entrance, the first thing you notice about the temple are the pillars with the cut out colonettes, typical of Vijayanagar architecture. Beautiful !! And here they are more in numbers and the carvings more elaborate. Next you notice the cornice on the roof forming a cyma recta – a convex concave bend decorated with carvings. (These cornice on the roof forming the cyma recta was seen along the colonnaded pavilions in the Virupaksha temple also !) Then you notice the stone rings on the corners ! Then Sekhar asks us to look lower at the carvings on the base of the temple.

The cut out colonettes, the cornice on the roof forming a cyma recta – a convex concave bend decorated with carvings, the stone rings on the corners and the carvings on the base of the temple

The temple complex has a wealth of carvings and sculptures providing glimpses of history. The carvings below seen on the base of the main temple complex shows a Chinese figure and Turks with pointed hats. Horses were prized imports from Persia as the horses won wars. Arabs first controlled the sea trade and brought the horses from Persia via the Arabian Sea to the western coast and supplied both the Vijaynagar and Deccan Sultans. Later, when the Portuguese established in Goa in 1510, they took control of the horse trade.

Chinese figure and Turks with pointed hats
Horses with Portuguese trainers

The main temple is divided into four main areas, the first outer mandapa marked by the pillars with the cut out colonettes on the outside, after which there is an inner open courtyard, then an inner mandapa with the inner sanctum and a circumambulation chamber around the sanctum.

View of the main temple mandapa from the north side – the colonettes, followed by the roofless courtyard and then the inner sanctum

We enter the temple from the inner mandapa and look towards the east where the original entrance was and you see a roofless courtyard in the center; the main eastern temple gopuram can be seen further beyond.

View from inside the main temple to the east. There is a roofless courtyard.

In side the temple, there is the inner sanctum and one happy  sight was a spacious underground circumambulation chamber around the inner sanctum under the temple !! There are holes along the roof of the underground passage to allow sunlight in. There is also a channel for water to flow !! It’s unbelievable ‼️ I have seen people go around temples from the outside in circumambulation, but walking underground and around is an incredible thought !! Take a walk around, it’s maintained very well and is amazing 😘.

Climbing up from the underground circumambulation chamber around the inner sanctum under the Vitthala temple !!
The ornate Kalyana mandapa in the Vitthala temple complex
The ornate pillars of the Kalyana mandapa

The wars were not fought based entirely in the name of religion or ethnicity, it is easy to believe otherwise considering that Vijayanagar was a Hindu empire and the Deccan Sultans in the north were all Muslims. It was based more typical motives of ambition to wield power and possess wealth and adulation – Hindu or Mulsim; though religion always helped in divide and conquer. A shining testimony to the religious tolerance in Vijayanagar is the Yali sculpture below which the rider is a turbaned Muslim warrior.

Yali sculpture below which the rider is a turbaned Muslim warrior

King Devaraya II of Vijayanagar asked his ministers why the Muslims were so successful against the Hindus. The answer was twofold “stronger horses and finer archers.” Immediately the king gave orders ” to enlist Muslims in his service, allotting to them estates and building a mosque for their use in Vjayanagar. He also commanded hat no one should prevent them in the exercise of their religion and moreover, he ordered a Quran to be placed before his throne on a rich desk, so that the faithful may perform the ceremony of obeisance in his presence without sinning agent their laws.” excerpt from Raya by Srinivas Reddy (Where is the mosque here ?)

Scenes from Ramayana – Ram & Lakshman below. Further up has the carving of their meeting with Hanuman.

Sekhar led us into another pillared pavilion and he said that “the pillars made up of colonettes emit musical tones when tapped lightly.” The guide was narrating a story of Chinnadevi dancing while the musicians played on the colonettes. Again true or false, she was the second queen !? But the fact that the colonettes do make music was demonstrated by Sekhar as he went on to play some tunes by tapping on the granite. It was unbelievable !! And even more, each pillar with the colonette was made from a single granite block !! And playing music with stone is a unique talent !! Later Sekhar pointed out 2 in 1 sculptures, 7 in 1 sculptures that seemed like magic. The guide’s rate is Rs 300/- for half an hour.

The colonettes do make music was demonstrated by the guide as he went on to play some tunes by tapping on the granite.

The Vitthala temple is magnificent and a must see. During the hey days, in addition to these intricate carvings, the temples were lavishly adorned with precious stones💎, decorated with floral garlands🏵, gilded with metal and lit up by thousands of lamps🪔. It must have been a glorious sight !!

This completes the holy trail in Hampi and we covered three of the four sacred centres. The Krishna temple was left out.

Till next post, take care 〰️🎵🎶 !!


One Comment Add yours

  1. IndiaNetzone says:

    Hampi in Karanataka, now in ruins, was once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. It brought about a renaissance of art and culture, as it defended the region against the plundering armies. Much of Vijayanagara is now in ruins, as when the rulers were defeated at the hands of the invaders at the battle of Talikota in the 16th century, most of the marvellous structures and edifices were systematically destroyed.


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