Blessed by an elephant in Hampi

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Bright and early, we set out to explore Hampi–the capital of the Hindu Empire from the 14th to the 16th century AD. The name of the ancient city was Vijayanagara. What is striking about Hampi is its vastness. You can look in any direction and as far as the eyes can see, the ruins of the ancient city continue. 10 square miles of ruins and counting. Archeologists worked to uncover the city in earnest beginning in the early seventies and they are still at it today, unearthing markets, palaces, and buildings of all kinds beneath the mud of banana plantations and present-day buildings. It was a fascinating place to see history uncovered even now.

We started our exploration of Hampi at the Mustard Seed Ganesha, located on the foothills of Hemakuta Hill.

   

The Ganesha above has a snake tied around his belly. He ate too much and the snake is keeping his tummy from busting open from all of the food!  Below, the kids were all smiles as we began our day.

  

It was hot, hot, hot in Hampi. Like almost 100 degrees hot.  Our tour guide (above) had a lot of knowledge about Hampi, but he was not very kid friendly. I ended up listening to his spiel and then giving the kids a 30 second version of whatever I thought they would want to know. You can see their crabbiness even at this first stop! Sigh.  Below, pilgrims visit the many temples scatter about the boulders.

   

The kids were most interested in the little things, like these holes carved into the boulders. They are still used for cooking today when the pilgrims spent the night on the mountain for certain festivals. And right, 500 years ago and more, they split these massive boulders by driving wood into holes and then filling the holes with water. The expanding wood eventually would crack the boulders. Carson thought that was fascinating.

  

We walked up and over the bolders to the Virupaksha temple–the oldest temple in Hampi.   It believed that this temple has been functioning uninterruptedly ever since its inception in the 7th century AD–one of the oldest functioning temples in India!

     

A highlight inside the temple is to receive a blessing from the black elephant, Lakshmi. She is in her mid-twenties and was rescued as a baby after they found her mother dead. She is amazingly well trained. Our tour guide claims that she knows the difference between Indians and foreigners (perhaps by a tap of the stick from her trainer). From locals she will give blessings for a rupee coin. From foreigners, she expects a Rs 10 note. She takes the coin or bill from you, hands it to her owner, and then blesses you on your head. It was great fun.

This crowd was getting a chuckle out of watching the kids and I get our blessings.

  

The temple included some intricate paintings telling famous Hindu stories. To see the paintings better, Carson lay down on the floor of the temple and looked up.

     

Outside of the temple the kids chose hats from a vendor along the street. They were quite pleased with their purchase!

Outside of the temple has historically been the Hampi Bazaar, a street lined with shops, vendors and more. But just six months ago, the government razed the street with plans to dig for more ruins around the temple area. Hampi as a modern town struggles over tensions between the ongoing excavations and the people who have settled and set up their lives in this town. All misplaced businesses and people were supposed to be relocated, but you know how that goes!  I read in a newspaper article, “The government has identified land to settle the displaced families, at a distance of 5 km from the Hampi market. However, since that plot of land has been used as a cemetery, the locals are not willing to move there.” We did find some cold drinks, though. And we got to pretend to be goat herders as we walked down the eerily vacant street.

Next stop: the Vitalla Temple complex. This section of Hampi is perhaps the most famous and the most preserved. The temple was built in the 15th century to honor Vishnu

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Above, right, Portuguese and Tibetan on the temple walls. You can tell by their facial structures and the design of their coats, says our tour guide.  Below, you can see inscriptions on the walls behind Carson’s head. These inscriptions were at the entrance of the temple complex and signified the architects of the temples.

Below, bracelets as temple designs and monkeys on temple walls

   

Below, the most famous building in the temple complex. The pillars sing and they even used to host concerts here based on the different pitches of the pillars. Now you can’t bang at the pillars because they were getting too damaged.

Below, I love this picture of the kids taking a rest in the shade. They had had enough of the tour guide and instead giggled and chatted together while I went around hearing about the site. Of course, within five minutes they were surrounded by Indian tourists wanting to take their picture. As usual!

The part of this temple that they loved was the shapeshifters. Some of the carvings of the temples are actual many animals/images at once depending on how you place your hand.  Carson, below, is making the shape of a lion then moving his hand for it to look like a flying monkey.

   

The Stone Chariot is a the stunning centerpiece of the complex. Considering the best preserved chariot in India, it originally had stone horses leading it. But mogul invaders destroyed the horses and they were replaced by the elephants. A Geruda (half eagle, half man) drives the chariot.

    

To get to and from this set of holy sites, we had to take a golf cart to get up the hill and back down. We were very pleased to get back in the cart and get into the air conditioned van. I told the tour guide–“That’s it!” Take us to a restaurant. We need to a break. We were feeling cranky and dizzy and needed to rest!

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