India Travel

The History Behind the Ancient City of Hampi, India

Hampi is a small village in Karnataka that attracts thousands of tourists, historians and archaeologists every day. It is as fascinating as its name sounds. Today, it stands in ruins that speak of a powerful and incredible past. In fact, it is also one of the most controversial ancient cities in the world. Read on to know about what makes Hampi so interesting and why you should definitely visit it.

Ruins of Hampi
Ruins of Hampi. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Setting up of the Kingdom

Much of the city’s history is shrouded in mystery, but from what we know and see, it was an incredible land indeed.

Historians have traced that settlements started in Hampi during the 2nd-3rd century itself. They could easily identify this from some ceramic pottery and other objects that they found amidst the ruins. Hampi is mentioned as a prominent place in the epic Ramayana. Therefore, it’s also a religiously significant city.

Mythological paintings on the ceilings of temples
Mythological paintings on the ceilings of temples. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The setting up of a kingdom in Hampi has many stories and legends. The most widely accepted one is that of Guru Vidyaranya. According to traditional folklore, two chieftains were once out on a hunting trip when they reached the land which is Hampi now. They saw something strange and unusual here. Apparently, they saw a hare being chased by its predator, but a second later, the hare started running after its predator instead. This got them confused, and they narrated the incident to their guru. The guru with all of his mystic powers realised that Hampi was no ordinary land. It was destined for greatness. In this manner, their kingdom shifted its capital to Hampi, and thus, a new era of grandeur began.

The City of Victory

Hampi is also famously known as Vijayanagara after one of its rulers. Four dynasties successfully ruled Hampi. This is estimated to be back in the 14th century. All of the kings who ruled the town were lovers of architecture and therefore, they built up a large number of exceptional temples and structures. Many of these remain till date, and it’s fascinating to see all the skilled craftsmanship being displayed from these ruins even today.

But it was none of this that made Hampi one of its kind. Historically speaking, Hampi was believed to be one of the most powerful empires of the world. It was the richest land in the world. This could be because Hampi was the ultimate trade centre of the country. People from all around the world came here to trade in spices and cloth.

Hampi next to the river
Hampi next to the river. Photo by Indi Samarajiva.

Hampi is located right next to the Tungabhadra river. Therefore it was always a fertile land. It is surrounded by high hills on the other side making it difficult for the enemies to attack suddenly. All of these factors were contributors to Hampi’s growing success. Many historical texts mention the glory and splendour of this empire. Many international trade agreements were made during this period, and merchants from far and near came to its bustling markets. It must have been a sight to watch!

Infinite riches were prevalent in Hampi. All the currencies were made of gold and silver. Besides this, some people believe that the Kings had rare gems in their possession that valued for a lot of money.

All this wealth and fame were bound to attract enemies, and that’s exactly what happened. The Mughals cunningly attacked Hampi, and the destruction continued for more than six months. The once successful and legendary city now lost all its glory. The enemies looted everything from the Empire, leaving only ruined architectural structures. Even the once buzzing market was wrecked and pulled down. Hampi had gone through so much that the Empire couldn’t revive back and this was the tragic fate of the beautiful Hampi, ushering the end of a magical and awe-inspiring era.

Hampi Rediscovered

Hampi rocks painted by a British architect in the 19th century
Hampi rocks painted by a British architect in the 19th century. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

No other ruling king could bring back Hampi to its old glory. Time passed, and it remained forgotten until the colonial period. The British discovered and explored each part of the country, and it was then that they stumbled upon the ruins of this ancient city. Even its ruins were so magnificent that it quickly started acquiring some of its fame back.

Today, this small ruined village of Hampi is a great UNESCO World Heritage Site and its also preserved under the Archaeological Survey of India. Explorations still take place here. There’s a myth that there could be treasures buried somewhere in Hampi. After all, the kings must have protected some of their wealth from the enemies during the attack. But nevertheless, only time can tell us that.

The infamous stone chariot in the premises of Vitthala temple
The infamous stone chariot in the premises of Vitthala temple. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Hampi stands as proudly as it did during its Golden Era. It has ruined temples that boast of the most amazing architecture and craft in the world.

This magnificent city that has attracted and baffled so many people from all over the world definitely has a charm to it. It’s a must visit historical site of not only India but of the world as well.

Confused as to what to see in Hampi? Don’t worry. Check out the Must-See Sights in the Ancient City of Hampi.

By Merlin Chacko

Currently studying English Literature at Delhi University. Obsessed with Harry Potter and NOT Shakespeare. I believe that nothing nourishes the soul like books and travelling. Constantly amazed by the Indian culture and its history. Personally feel that the old forts and ruined palaces in India are almost magical.

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