It’s been almost a month since I came back from my road trip to Hampi. While I already shared a post on the best places to eat in Hampi, I also spoke about the hidden spots near Hampi that you must visit. However, we all know that Hampi is known for its ancient temples, and in the next two blog posts, I’m going to talk about them.
In this blog post, I’ll share the experience of exploring the magnificent Virupaksha temple in Hampi. Amongst the oldest Shiva temples in India, it shouldn’t be mistaken for the Virupaksha Temple in Pattadakal. Though both were built around the same time, both are different.
History of Hampi – The Ruined Temple Town
Located on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, Hampi is about 360 km from Bangalore. It was once ruled by the glorious Vijayanagara kings and also became the capital. Temple towns of Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal aren’t far away from here. And many times, tourists club all these places together and make a 2-3 day itinerary. If you’re interested in an itinerary, let me know.
Going back further in time, as per Hindu scripture, Pampa or Goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva, dances atop the Hemkunta hill to bring Shiva back. The name Pampa over the years transcended into Hampa and then into Hampi, thus giving the temple town its name. Later it became the capital of the Vijayanagar empire in the 14th century and today Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Origins of Virupaksha Temple
Well before what we see today at the Virupaksha temple, it is believed that there was only a small Shiva shrine. It was later built by Chalukyas, Hoysalas, and eventually, the Vijayanagara kings who built the temple complex that we see today. It was during the reign of Deva Raya II, the main temple complex was built.
Hampi was attacked by the kings of the Bahami Sultunate – the same kingdom that ruled Bijapur. Over the years, a lot of the temples were destroyed. However, not the Virupaksha temple. Later the famed king Krishna Devaraya built the famous pillared hall in the complex. The complex also houses a hall where the coronation of Krishna Devaraya took place.
Today Virupaksha Temple is one of the oldest temples where worship continues ever since it was constructed. Though many of the earlier traditions are obsolete today, worship continues. Also, the annual Hampi Rathutsav takes place at this temple to commemorate the culture and heritage of the Vijayanagara Empire. The area around the temple houses the ruins of a bazaar which shows that it was a lively place back in the day.
Virupaksha Temple’s Architecture – A Masterpiece
Built over centuries, the Virupaksha temple has had contributions from various empires. And over the years, the structure has transformed. The temple greets you with a 50m high Gopuram.
Gopuram is an ornate gateway tower that is characteristic of any South Indian temple. It is often carved with idols from mythology and relates to the deity within the temple. It is also believed that the Gopuram separates the physical world and the divine realm. Once you cross and enter the temple, you essentially leave all the physical bindings outside. The gopuram here is no less and has intricate carvings that will leave you in awe.
After you enter, you’ll notice the coronation hall on the right. This is where Krishna Devaraya was crowned. There’s also a pillar with inscriptions that talk about the contributions made by Krishna Devaraya and the Vijayanagara Empire.
On the right, you have the famous 100 pillar hall which was used for functions, and a Kalyanmandapam on the right. There’s an elephant on the left today where you can give it a coin and it will bless you. There’s another smaller gate that leads you to the main courtyard of the temple.
Once you enter, you’ll see a statue of Nandi Bull along with a tall flagpost. Ranga Mandapa which was built in the 1500s by Krishna Devaraya is the striking feature of the temple. It’s built on an elevated platform and a pair of lions lead you inside. There are a total of 38 pillars and each of these pillars has mythical creatures like lions, standing crocodiles, and warriors. These pillars are just breathtaking and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with the architecture. This is the reason why you should visit the Virupaksha Temple.
Things to note while visiting the Virupaksha Temple
As mentioned earlier, people worship in the temple today as well. Hence it’s not one of those typical ancient temples known only for its architecture. Hampi has a group of monuments highlighted as UNESCO world heritage.
So when you visit Virupaksha Temple, here are a few things to note:
- There’s ample parking space outside the temple, however, you need to walk for about 5-10 minutes to reach the temple.
- As it is a worshipped temple, you’ll find a lot of people selling flowers, coconuts, etc. outside the temple. Inside as well you can perform pooja and the rates of these are listed inside.
- There are a lot of monkeys here and hence make sure you take care of your belongings, especially children and food. I’ve seen instances where monkeys have snatched food from people’s hands.
- Guides are available, so you can hire one who will explain the place.
- On the outside, there are a group of temples to the left on a hillock. So you can visit those as well, there’s a huge Ganpati temple there.
- Bang opposite the Virupaksha temple is a monolithic Nandi statue. Though you can see it from far, it’s quite a distance to walk. If you have your vehicle, you can drive to that point.
Something that I want to add here is that I fell in awe of Krishna Devaraya. If you’ve watched the TV show Tenali Raman, you would have seen Manav Goel play the character of Krishna Devaraya. He portrayed the character so well, that today whenever I hear Krishna Devaraya, I imagine him.
Ever since I came back from the trip, I’ve been reading about him, and with every reading session, I admire him even more. He was a multilingual king and ensured that all languages were treated equally. Art and literature flourished under him and in fact, he also has given land grants for the Tirumala Tirupati Temple and Srisailam to name a few.
Experience The Timelessness of Virupaksha Temple
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m not a temple goer. However, I’d like to credit the Vijayanagar Empire for making me fall in love with ancient Hindu temples. Be it the group of temples in Pattadakal or this Virupaksha temple, I’m just in awe of everything they have done. The story of the Virupaksha temple in Hampi just fascinates me. I mean a temple that was built in the 9th century, is worshipped even today!
The highlight of the temple is surely the Ranga Mandapa. The carvings and storytelling is class apart. I’m sure you’ll also fall in love with it when you visit. So that’s pretty much about the Virupaksha Temple in Hampi, stay tuned for my next blog post on the Vittala Temple in Hampi.