THERE is an ancient proverb ‘garland in the hands of the monkey.’ The monkey cannot appreciate it. It tears it to pieces, withering the petals. Well, the ruins of Hampi echo the proverb. The Muslim invaders tore the city down, burning all that was inflammable and breaking all that was brittle. So the grandiose stone structures remain, telling and retelling the glory of the Vijayanagara Empire and the capital Hampi, situated on the banks of the beautiful Tungabhadra.
Travellers who visited the Vijayanagara Empire in its pristine days have written in wonder and awe about the beauty of the city, the town planning, the highly evolved drainage system, the aesthetic and the spiritual appeal of the place, even as it flourished as a trade centre, busy exchanging goods with traders from various corners of the world.
Subhadra Sen Gupta, a writer, walking these arcades five hundred years later can picture the scene as it would have been. “For me the most haunting place in Hampi is the long stretch of abandoned arcades they call Hampi Bazaar. At one end is the boulder strewn slope of the Matanga Hill and at the other the first gopuram of the Virupaksha Temple. Connecting the two is the broad avenue with rows of rooms on both sides, a colonnade that must have housed shops.” Subhadra writes on Indian history and culture, fiction and travel writing.
In a visually very appealing book, she captures the magic of Hampi. Starting with landscape and panorama, moving on to history, profiling Krishnadevaraya, reconstructing the life as must have been, describing the art and architecture, the author takes a pause at the unique temple at Vitthala before signing off at the Royal Enclosure. Photographs by Clare Arni are precise, clear and narrative. Clare specializes in architecture, travel and documentary photography.
The history of Hampi is interesting. The region is connected to the Kishkindha, in Ramayana. The river Tungabadhra had another name Pampa Devi, the daughter of Brahma. It is the term Pampe that got corrupted to Hampe and finally anglicised to Hampi. The area is strewn with landmarks from the scenes in Ramayana like the spot where Rama stayed during monsoon, the cave Hanuman and Sugriva used for safekeeping Sita’s jewels, the ones she dropped while being abducted by Ravana, the place where Bali was killed etc.
With rich text content, the book is more than a coffee table edition. Doubtlessly, the author has fallen in love with Hampi and wants to share the joy with the readers. Hampi has been declared a world heritage site by the UNESCO. It was almost on the verge of calling off the status because the site was not being cared for by the Indian and the state governments. Books like these would go a long way in reviving interest and focus on our heritage. The book also lists festivals, and has maps to guide a visitor. It is a very well produced volume.
(Niyogi Books, D-78, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase I, New Delhi-110 020)