I thought it falsity upon first glance. Surely no place on earth exists with such vigorous beauty, such vibrant materiality, and such august structures! She came into view from across the Tungabhadra, her high gopura set juxtaposed against the aphotic monsoon clouds beyond. She was Virupaksha Temple, the most noteworthy temple in all of Hampi. One blissful ferry ride later, I was at her base, staring skyward. I removed my shoes (an action I was becoming accustomed to), eluded two large monkeys enjoying their bananas, and proceeded to enter.
Pointing my feet firstly towards a dimly lit hypostyle hall, I advanced forward to discover it filled with women cooking and men scrubbing. The men were part of a restoration project, which included scouring off 500 years of dirt and grime from the columns and roof of this great hall. I advanced further remembering the coldness of temple granite beneath my feet. It would be in this hall that I would discern the first great facet of Hampi architecture. The hall was 100 ft long and 50 ft wide, but a third of its southern most was bisected diagonally by a 30-degree change in the floor slab. The columns in this area were adjusted accordingly to account for this incongruous mishap, and a small gutter was carved at the base of this slide to collect and distribute the runoff, which mysteriously congregated there. It left a harmonious melody of trickling water that seemed to manifest the hall making it even more cavelike.
But it was this slant, which commandeered my mind. Why would these great builders choose to leave such an imposing obstruction when surely they had the skill to remove it? I would find this anomaly throughout the structures of Hampi. Temples, walls, towers- all embraced their site, as if it were an adaptive reuse of a garden designed by the maker himself. These anomalies began to take precedent in mind, as they were the most fascinating aspects of illustration.
I have seen other monumental structures of the south, but Hampi is the river in The Scream, the coffered vault in The Last Supper, the luminous clouds in The Creation of Adam; for with any other backdrop, Hampi's texture is forlorn. It is the boulder strung, banana grove, palm tree landscapes which hoist these structures into a class of beauty unfathomable by her urban counterparts, and the course to which one accesses her bounty is equally exhilarating.
The complex of Hampi is too vast for a simple saunter, and as one requires a more convenient mode of transport, the Indian motorbike deems itself most convenient. For the price of about three US dollars, one may rent a motorbike for the day. The road that connects the Hampi Empire is serpentine, but smooth. It climbs stone hills, weaves around temples, descends under gates, and pierces through banana groves. One becomes quite aware of the surroundings- dodging rickshaws, pedestrians, and herds of cows and goats alike. This action, along with the cool morning breeze through my hair, brought a sense of euphoria over me, one that’s been inimitable by any other thus far. If it were not for the temples, perhaps I would have never stopped.
The remnants of ruined palaces, temples, baths and elephant stables are sprung across a vast green plane. It is the brick country house on a grand scale, reaching three to four stories at times (in its ruinous state), while simultaneously descending subterranean. Here, it is the walls, which remain most intact. They dictate your views, your path of travel, and demand your awe. As an urban structure in its heyday it would have been a conscientious and dictatorial walk. One may find collation in the Roman Forum, but I must contend to the volition of my beliefs in the superiority in both, craftsmanship and grandeur to which the Forum conveys.
The day grew short and dark with the coming rainstorm, and I wished to see Vitthala Temple if only for a half-an-hour. The temple lies at the end of a half-mile, column-lined promenade. She was in slight disrepair as her gopura was partially collapsed, but the majority of her insides were intact. A wall, 15 ft high, surrounds her four shrines and directs all attention inward. Although the shrines are all symmetrical in nature, their layout within the walls only hints at it, resulting in no such duplication of courtyard space. Her homogeneity is striking. Everything is stone, massive and weighty, emitting an aura of permanence.
Hampi was a lesson of immeasurable proportion. Figure ground, solid void, datum, site integration, and materiality- all components- tools of the modern architect, competently executed 500 years ago.
Virupaksha Temple from Hemakuta Hill
A 30 degree change in the floor slab
Making best use of the site, the wall of Hemakuta Hill
The temples atop Hemakuta Hill
An Indo Inquisition is a thirteen-week train expedition across India. The journey will document the influences of international modernism and British occupation, as well as compare the effects of wealth accumulation, culture, religion, and poverty with economic growth and their effect on the built environment.