The name Hampi has a bit complicated story. The famous Hindu epic Ramayana mentions a place called Pampa-kshetra, where Rama and Lakshmana meet Hanuman and his army of monkeys in pursuit of kidnapped Sita and the place resembles the region of Hampi in many ways. A river flowing around local hills made out of big boulders is known as Pampa, which is another name of the Hindu goddess Parvati – once a maiden that decided and succeeded to marry Shiva. Her troublesome journey to achieve the goal started just on one of these hills. The original Sanskrit word Pampa became Hampa in the local Kannada language and the name of the area Hampe or Hampi.
For nearly two hundred years it was the greatest and the richest Indian city of its time and the second world’s second largest after Beijing, attracting traders all the way from Persia and Portugal, who reported of its prosperity and wealth to the Middle East and the West. It was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, which was unfortunately the last great Hindu realm. The first mention of the site comes from the 3rd century BCE and by the 10th century CE it gained a reputation of a famous religious and educational centre. Many predecessor kingdoms of the empire ruled the region facing growing Muslim invasions from the north.
The most historians agree with the history the Vijayanagara Empire starting in 1336 after a defeat of the short-lived Kampili Kingdom. Two brothers Harihara and Bukka, possibly Kampili army commanders who were then converted to Islam in Delhi, came to the present-day location of Hampi and were greeted by Vidyaranya, a high priest from a local monastery who presented them with his vision of a great realm. By a legend, it was during a hunt that didn’t work out quite well as a rabbit, the intended prey, escaped while biting a dog. While narrating this strange incident to Vidyaranya, who later became the first prime minister of the newborn empire, he revealed them that the place was sacred and advised to set up the capital of the new kingdom there.
The empire took control of the all states of Southern India by the beginning of the 15th century using well-functioning administrative methods of its predecessors and strengthening its army by hiring both Hindu and Muslim soldiers and successfully defeating its enemies. Over one million troops were recorded including infantry, elephants, long range artillery often manned by foreigners and a navy.
Niccolò de‘ Conti, an Italian merchant and explorer, who visited the empire before 1420, mentions its great prosperity and labels the King Harihara II as the most powerful ruler of India. During these fruitful times, innovations in architecture and technology took place over the whole kingdom and while visiting many archaeological sites in the south you might find many monuments look alike the ones in Hampi. As the southern regions are mostly arid and water has been essential for men’s survival, many of the structures constructed were huge water tanks and connected distribution systems.
After more than 200 years of its heyday, during which many rulers contributed to a legacy of the Vijayanagara Empire, Aliya Rama Raya seized the throne. Before being appointed a regent and a caretaker of a teenage king, he served a ruler of the nearby Golkonda Sultanate. After the rightful ruler reached the certain age, Aliya got him imprisoned and named himself „Sultan of the World„. Not much later, in 1565, the final battle of the Empire took place.
A coalition Muslim sultanates ruling the northern part of India, who had led wars for unpaid tributes and got defeated many times before, overturned a result of the battle after two Muslim generals from the Vijayanagara army betrayed the emperor and switched sides. The capital of the fallen empire had been pillaged and plundered for a couple of months and then left in ruins. Even though it officially lasted until 1646, the Vijayanagara Empire had never regained its fame and power again. From the ashes of the last great Hindu kingdom, many smaller independent states that formed history of South India in the upcoming centuries were born.
Over 1600 monuments built almost exclusively during the empire’s reign have remained in the area covering over 40 square kilometers till this very day. A multi-religious and multi-ethic face of the city is still evident when observing next to each other standing temples of two different religions, usually Hindu and Jain, or by examining elements of the Indo-Islamic architecture on buildings of public life. Following the fall of Vijayanagara kingdom, the city remnants were almost completely forgotten before rediscovered by Scottish Colonel Colin Mackenzie after the British took control of the region in the 19th century. It drew even bigger attention of western archaeologists in 1856, once 60 photographs of the site were taken and published in the United Kingdom, followed by Robert Sewell‚s scholarly treatise A Forgotten Empire in 1900.
One can easily spend weeks exploring this beautiful place rich of history, ancient religions and, for many, mysticism. It was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986, thanks to its „forts, riverside features, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, mandapas (halls for people to sit), memorial structures, gateways, check posts, stables, water structures, and more“. When visited at the end of the 2019, with an exception of a the most famous ones, most of the monuments and ruins were accessible free of charge.