The medieval kingdom of Vijayanagara around present day Hampi, is tightly intertwined with the Ramayana. Scholars believe that the region was Kishkindha, the kingdom of the Vanaras, or monkeys, referred to in the epic. It follows that these parts around the Tungabhadra river were the setting for many significant events in Lord Ram's journey.
Caption: Stories from the Ramayana carved on the walls of the 15th century Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi
According to the Ramayana, after Ravan abducted Sita, Ramâ€™s frantic search for his beloved wife brought him and Lakshman southwards to Kishkindha. It is here that they met the Monkey God Hanuman, Ramâ€™s greatest devotee. At the time, Kishkindha's rulers, brothers Vali and Sugreeva were embroiled in a bitter feud, with the former determined to kill the latter. Sugreeva took refuge in the hermitage of Sage Matanga on the Matanga Hill, to the top of which visitors now climb, to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the ruins of Hampi. The Sugreeva Cave, also a popular tourist stop, is believed to be where Sugreeva hid the jewels that Sita dropped along the way as she was being taken away by her abductor, hoping that they might lead Ram to her.
Vali and Sugreeva in a duel, Hampi
Across the Tungabhadra, in the town of Anegundi, is the Pampa Sarovar, a lake beside which Ram and Laxman are believed to have met Shabari. Shabari was an ardent devotee of Lord Ram, who had been waiting for 12 years to get a glimpse of him.
Legend has it that she served him berries from the forest only after taking bites from each of them! This would normally be considered very rude, but her devotion to Ram was so strong that she tasted every berry only to make sure it was sweet enough for him. There is a cluster of temples next to the lake, including a shrine with the impressions of Ramâ€™s feet.
Pampa Sarovar, Anegundi
The Anjanadri hill in Anegundi, is believed to be the birthplace of Hanuman. It is also called the Anjanaparvata or the Anjanadribetta. Hanuman was the son of Anjana, the adoptive sister of Vali and Sugreeva. It is said that Anjana prayed on this hill for many, many years for a child, and finally gave birth to Hanuman. A climb of more than 500 steps, with frolicking monkeys along the way, takes one to the top of the hill, with a simple shrine to Hanuman. The hilltop commands spectacular views of the surrounding terrain, covered with boulders that are millions of years old.
The Anjanadri Hill, Anegundi
The shrine at the top of the Anjanadri Hill, Anegundi
The boulders of Kishkindha
The view from the Anjanadri Hill
Admittedly, much of this is speculation, and scholars have differing opinions on the precise location of Kishkindha, with one school of thought even placing it in present day Rajasthan. However, one thing is certain - when you are amidst the surreal boulder-strewn landscape and crumbling ruins of Vijayanagara, you know you are in a very special place.
Photographs by Madhumita Gopalan