Photo Essay: Ravaged by a violent past, the ruined city of Hampi

It would probably take months to even skim the surface of this ruined city’s treasures.
Hampi’s oldest temple, the Virupaksha Temple, escaped the plunder intact and is still in worship
Hampi’s oldest temple, the Virupaksha Temple, escaped the plunder intact and is still in worship

The Vijayanagara empire was one of the most glorious kingdoms in India’s history, with its capital around present day Hampi in Karnataka. However, all that remains of the once magnificent capital today, is a desolate landscape strewn with ruins that tell the story of a violent past. The empire rose at a time when many major as well as minor kingdoms in the south were being defeated or weakened by invasions by the Delhi Sultanate. The Kakatiyas of Warangal, the Pandyas of Madurai, the Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra were some of them. It looked as though the Sultanate would take over the south.  

However, things took a turn in the early 14th century. Muhammad bin Tughlaq ascended the throne in Delhi. He was a draconian ruler, and his reign was marked by internal rebellion. One rebel, who is said have been Tughlaq’s own nephew, took refuge in a tiny kingdom called Anegundi by the Tungabhadra river, near present day Hampi. Tughlaq’s army showed up, defeated Anegundi and killed the rebel. A general stayed back to administer the region, but he soon returned to Delhi, leaving two young men in charge. They were brothers called Harihara and Bukka Raya, and theories abound about their origins. Many accounts say they were princes from one of the ruling families in the region, probably Warangal. Quietly, but rapidly, they expanded their territories. Other rulers in the region placed their faith in these men who seemed capable of warding off the invaders from Delhi, and aligned with them. This unified kingdom became the mighty Vijayanagara empire, which at its peak, covered practically all of South India.

Interestingly, around the time of the kingdom’s inception, another one was founded to its immediate north, following another rebellion. This was the first Muslim kingdom in the Deccan, founded by Alauddin Hassan Bahman Shah, a commander in Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s army. He revolted against Tughlaq, declared independence in the Deccan and founded the Bahmani Sultanate. In about 2 centuries, the Bahmani Sultanate splintered into the five Deccan Sultanates of Ahmednagar, Berar, Bijapur, Bidar and Golconda.

In the 16th century, the Vijayanagara ruler Aliya Rama Raya got involved in conflicts between these Sultanates frequently, sometimes supporting one, and sometimes another. Finally, the Deccan Sultanates got together in an alliance, and waged war on Vijayanagar. This was the iconic Battle of Talikota (a small town in Karnataka now), in which the Sultanates defeated Vijayanagar and killed Aliya Rama Raya. They then plundered and destroyed Hampi to the ruined state in which it lies to this day. The slain king’s brother survived the battle; he moved to Penukonda in present day Andhra Pradesh, and ruled the now weakened and diminished kingdom from there. The last Vijayanagara king made Chandragiri his capital, which was eventually captured by the Golconda Sultanate, putting an end to the empire.

‘Ugra Narasimha’, a fierce form of Lord Vishnu’s lion-like avatar

Hampi is majestic even in its ruin, and one can only imagine what it looked like in its days of glory. The city has often been compared to Rome, for its size, its riches, its flourishing art, architecture and literature, and also its abrupt destruction. Vijayanagara architecture is essentially Dravidian in its style, and scattered all over Hampi are an assortment of structures in varying degrees of dilapidation including temples, palaces, bazaars, mandapas, gardens and military structures. The group of monuments here were included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in the year 1986.

The famous Lotus Mahal in the ladies’ wing of the palace area

The Queen’s Bath, believed to have been built during the reign of king Achyuta Raya

The most iconic ruler of the Vijayanagara empire was Krishna Deva Raya. The kingdom reached its zenith during his reign, and literature in Telugu and Kannada received a huge boost under his patronage. Many important monuments in Hampi were built in his time, like the Krishna and Hazara Rama temples.

The Krishna Temple was built to commemorate Krishna Deva Raya’s victory over Udayagiri in Odisha

The walls of the Hazara Rama Temple are adorned with bas reliefs telling tales from the Ramayana

Hampi’s most famous icon, the stone chariot in the Vittala Temple

It would probably take months to even skim the surface of this ruined city’s treasures. After all, Hampi wasn’t built in a day either.

(The author is a photographer, blogger and history enthusiast who loves photo-documenting travel, culture and architecture. She blogs at

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