A look at the magnificent architecture and cultural relevance of the famed Virupaksha temple.
The venerable land in the ancient village of Hampi boggles the mind with its historical splendour. Right from the marriage of Shiva and Parvati to Kishkindha kand in Ramayana, the land is dotted with various religious and cultural references. The widespread ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire also sadly speak to you about the greatness which once laid there.
Established in 1336 by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty, the Vijayanagar Empire rose to prominence as it tried to ward off Islamic invasions around the end of the 13th century. Although its power declined after a major military defeat in 1565 by the combined armies of the Deccan sultanates, it eventually lasted until 1646. The empire is named after its capital city, Vijayanagar, the ruins of which are strewn all across Hampi and its surroundings areas, now a well known World Heritage Site.
The 7th century Virupaksha Temple is located on the southern bank of the River Tungabhadra which is dedicated to Lord Virupaksha, a form of Shiva. It is believed that this is the location at which Shiva and Parvati got married. This temple was originally built by the Chalukyas in the 7th century AD. Later additions and beautification was done under Lakkana Dandesha, a chieftain under the ruler Deva Raya II..
As I made my way through the awe inspiring temple, I tried to capture its essence in my photographs though they pale in comparison to the actual experience of being there. The main entrance is through a majestic Gopuram that is 9 stories high. It is called the Raya Gopuram. This is an example of typical Southern architecture having large Gopurams at the entrance.
A unique feature of temple structures of the Vijayanagar era is that the base and pillars are made of stone/granite while the structures above the pillars are made of small red bricks. When one enters the complex, there is a pillared ceremonial hall on the left and a pillared kitchen complex on the right. Both these halls are still fully functional.
The ceremonial hall
A few steps forward and we come across the path to the main worship area where dancing figures welcoming the devotees are etched on the floor.
The view of the main temple hosting the deity is beautiful.
The temple elephant that has been reared for rituals has an area for itself in the complex. The temple elephant gently put a garland over my head and then softly rested its trunk (ensuring no weight on my head) while blessing me. The only thought at that moment was - What a gentle giant!
Outside the main sanctum sanctorum there are carvings depicting some interesting stories.
On the left, one hunter is shown as donating his eyes to Shiv. The carving shows him taking out his eyes with his arrow. Parallel to that image on the extreme right the central image shows the same person when he comes to worship Shiv again. As he has no vision, he uses his feet to locate the Shivling so that he can perform the Pooja. Many other scenes are interesting like Man travelling on a fish, A half human half horse hybrid (concept of Centaurs??) and a snake protecting the Shivling.
Photography at the main sanctum sanctorum is prohibited. But I could capture the minute, intricate carvings in the Devi’s abode. The exquisite carvings and the level of details at this minute scale have to be seen to be believed.
The roof in green stone is also intricately carved.
The pillars that hold this Devi temple is smooth beyond words. It gives an uncanny effect of being machined to get this level of smoothness. This level of dexterity without the use of modern machinery and that too on hard stone, shows the high level of workmanship of that era.
An interesting feature of this structure is a small hole in its wall that faces the main Gopuram. When sunlight passes through this hole, an inverted image of the Gopuram is formed on the wall where the light hits. Much like the effect of a pin-hole camera.
The marriage mandapam was made during the Vijayanagar Empire. It is majestic in form and architecture where every pillar is intricately carved from the base to the top. The roof of this marriage hall is full of frescos made out of natural dyes. A lot of scenes from various texts are shown on these panels on the roof. Despite the passage of centuries, these figures are still as resplendent as ever with the details as a sheer testament to the artistry of a bygone era. It is a pity that there was no system to record anything about these artists and they will remain forever unnamed and unrecognised.
The panel below depicts the divine trinity of Hinduism. It is very rare that the Creator, Protector and Destroyer (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv) are shown together in temple architecture.
Right after the Trimurti Panel, another major event, namely the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is shown in the painting below. The uniqueness of this painting is that it shows Brahma, Vishnu and other smaller Devtas present in the marriage. Generally, Brahma is not shown in temples dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu. In that respect this temple is rare. Just below the Marriage event the ASHT devas (8 gods - Indra, Varun, Vayu, Yama, Agni etc) are shown.
Another panel depicts one of the stories from Indian mythology to this location. The god of love Kamdev was tasked to disrupt the meditation of Shiva so that he could marry Parvati, because it was prophesized that their child will lead the Devas to victory over the Asuras. Kamdev is depicted as riding a chariot pulled by a parrot which is supposed to be his mount. He is aiming an arrow of flowers at the meditating form of Shiva. It is said that Shiva got angry and opened his third eye and Kamdev was incinerated. But Shiva had woken up from his trance and then got married to Parvati at this location. There are many location throughout India with temples depicting the legend of their marraige in various forms.
Yet another panel below shows one of the central aspects of Hinduism’s discourse, the Dasha Avatars (Ten Incarnations of the Divine Vishnu). As per this concept GOD appears in various forms to protect the world and show the correct path to humanity.
It starts with Matsya Avatar (fish) – Start of life in marine form, progresses through to Kurma (Tortoise) - Amphibians, Varaha (Boar) - Mammals and Narasimha - (half man half lion) to depicting full humans through the stages of civilisation; Vaman (dwarf), Parashuram (wanderer), Ram (Establishing rule of Law), Balaram (agriculture) and Krishna (Managing the multifarious activities of a great developed society).
The still to come Kalki Avatar is shown as a horse rider – apparently waiting for the right time to appear and correct the destructive course of man's development. This is eerily similar to the concept of evolution of animal species and the actual development of human society as a civilisation.
This panel above also shows the story of Draupadi Swayamwar from the Epic Mahabharat, where Arjun wins her hand by successfully aiming at the eye of the Fish dangling from the ceiling.
As we stood in the hall admiring its beauty, marriages were being conducted. There were three separate couples getting married under the same roof. What a beautiful and auspicious place to take the marriage vows.
Apart from the frescoes on the roof, there were carvings on the side depicting similar stories. Here the Shiva Parvati marriage is shown. In the central panel, Brahma and Vishnu are shown on the sides of the bride and groom. The other Devas are in different panels while the demigods are depicted on the pillars.
The story of ten incarnations is also beautifully carved in stone below. The sculptures have all the relevant details to identify individual features matching with the unique property of each incarnation.
There are some pillars that depict the miniature structure of the temple architecture. The base, pillars, roof and Gopuram.
There is a rock edict just outside the marriage hall. The inscription is in Kannada/Telugu. It mentions the construction and repairs done by the Vijayanagar rulers.
This location has been considered holy right from time immemorial. It is one of the few places of continuous worship from ancient days and is the only temple in Hampi that has survived the widespread destruction by the Deccan sultanate.