Set in the picturesque backdrop of hills made of boulders [yes, huge boulders], Hampi basks in the glory of a dynasty that made up volumes in our cultural literature – The Vijayanagara Empire! I and my partner in crime [and other things] had been planning to travel to Hampi for a very long time, but as it turns out, time is of the essence when taking up a journey like this. Friends and foes alike had visited Hampi and had been mesmerized by its sheer beauty and archaeological worth. Finally, on 15 Feb 2013, we set out on this much awaited trip. Travelers are highly advised to get to know the story and the significance of this ancient seat of culture before undertaking a trip to Hampi.
A TALE OF MANY VICTORIES!
The Vijayanagara Empire was ruled by several dynasties during the 1300s to 1600s; such as the Sangama Dynasty, the Saluva Dynasty, the Tuluva Dynasty and the Aravidu Dynasty. Kings and Emperors rose and fell, some remembered more than the others. At some points in my travel, I happened to fall upon pieces of their history at different monuments and monoliths. This revived my high school history lessons; which I so painfully tried not to remember! It is true when they say, ‘history does repeat’
Much like the other realms in Hindustan had flourished and fallen, the Vijayanagara Empire too faced its tough times from the northern invaders. The reign of the Sultans of Delhi; Alla-ud-din Khilji and Muhammad bin Tughluq; saw the defeat of many Hindu Kingdoms of the Deccan. However with the ascension of King Harihara I [Sangama Dynasty] to the throne, most regions falling south of the Tungabhadra River was taken back. His son Bukka Raya I carried on his father’s unfinished business and took control over more Deccan kingdoms from the invaders. The capital city of the Empire was moved to Hampi at this time; the original capital being located at Anegundi, lying on the other side of River Tungabhadra.
This prowess to assert their freedom in their lands ran through the majestic blood, for Harihaha II, son of Bukka Raya I, went forth to bring about the whole of South India under the Vijayanagara Empire. It would also explain the advanced structural techniques used in their buildings, which emanates intellectual excellence and an innate sense of oneness between the Royals and their Subjects.
Deva Raya I, the next to throne, came out even more successful by annexing the Gajapti Kingdom of Odisha. The most triumphant of the Vijayanagara Kings yet was the next King to ascend to the throne – Deva Raya II [a.k.a Gajabetekara] He was bane to several feudal lords from the South. He even emerged victorious in a Lanka invasion [haven’t we heard that before!] and became overlord to the kings of Pegu [currently Bago in Burma] and Tanasserim [now Tanintharyi Region in Burma]
As happens in most stories, the good times turn bad at some point. For the Vijayanagara Kingdom, this was it, that point of low. The Kingdom fell into decline towards the late 15th century and seeking an opportunity, the feudal lords also came into power in several regions of the realm.
However, these adversities were cut short, to be continued at a later time. It was time now for the champion king of all – Krishna Deva Raya [Tuluva Dynasty]. Under Krishna Deva Raya’s rule, the Vijayanagara Kingdom saw its peak, having secured South India, the Deccan Sultanates and even Kalinga [once home to Ashoka the Great!]. The structural heritage of Hampi was mostly developed in this era of King Krishna Deva Raya [way to go!!].
Krishna Deva Raya ruled for about twenty years and on his demise, his brothers took over the kingdom. Here the story becomes slightly murky. Even though the real Kings were Krishna Deva Raya’s brothers – Achyutha Raya and Sadashiva Raya, it has been contemplated that the real power lay within the hands of Aliya Rama Raya, KD Raya’s son-in-law. His under the table friendship with the Deccan Sultanates has also been conspired. More or less a twisted TV serial plot, Aliya Rama Raya was captured in the Battle of Tallikota  and killed. The Kingdom plunged into disorder and this time, the decline had come to stay.
What better time than this to confirm the downfall of one of the greatest empires India had ever seen. The oppressors of the Kingdom, the Deccan Sultanates, ran the Kingdom over, plundered anything and everything of significance. Thus giving Hampi a complete makeover from Royal Capital City to City of Ruins! The last one standing after this was Tirumala Deva Raya [brother to Aliya Rama Raya] skipped town to Penukonda [AP] with 1500 elephant loads of treasure!
Though trade continued in small measures, the Empire was split and conquered by feudal lords and neighboring kingdoms, even coming under Tipu Sultan, till his death. However, it was brought under the British Raj in 1799, finally becoming part of Independent India on that fateful day in 1947!
Photos by Shrikar Chavan