If someone asks me to vote for India’s best known World Heritage site, I would chose Hampi. The reasons are obvious – it has sprawling ruins spread over a vast region of spectacular granite hills, long paddy fields and the mysterious Tungabhadra River that forms the life giving force of the otherwise dry monotonous semi-arid plateau of Southern Deccan.
Hampi is best known for its splendid Vijayanagar ruins, but more than that is its sacred geography rooted in myths of Shiva and the monkey kingdom of Kishkindha.
At the heart of this mysterious landscape lies the Virupaksha Temple with its towering gopura and a sacred pond. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and was built by Lakkana Dandesha, a chieftain under the ruler Deva Raya II of Vijayanagar Empire. However, its antiquity may go to a much earlier time. Here Shiva is represented as Virupaksha, the consort of Pampa, who is associated with Tungabhadra River.
The major draw of this sprawling temple complex is its central pillared hall, which was built through the patronage of Krishnadevaraya, Vijayangar’s most illustrious king. Here you are simply dragged to some of the best of Vijayanagar’s murals depicting Shiva’s myths in a riot of colours.
As you enter the hall, the first glance of Shiva is in the second panel of the first row (the other two panels show Vishnu and Lakshmi and Brahma and Sarasvati all forming the trinity series) depicting Shiva and Parvathi surrounded by Kinnaras, rishis and gandharvas. Shiva is sitting on a throne in vama lalitasana pose. On his lap sits Parvathi. The left hand in the back of the lord is holding a damru and the front hand is shown in abhaya mudra. The first left hand is wrapped around Parvathi. On both sides of the divine couple are Tamburu and Narada.
After the death of Sati Shiva had a severe emotional break down and had gone for deeper austerity renouncing all worldly pleasure. While he was in deep penance at Hemakuta Hill, Sati was reborn as Parvathi.
Meanwhile, the oppressive demon Tarakasura had received a boon from Brahma which granted him death only by the hand of Shiva’s progeny. The Devas had no option but to bring out Shiva from his meditation. So he could marry Parvathi and produce a son to save the Devlok from the destruction of Tarakasura. To do so they appointed Manmath/Kama, the god of love to break Shiva’s penance and induce amorous feelings in him.
Manmath arrived at Hemakuta Hill to the site of Shiva’s penance with his consort Rati and his accomplish Vasantha, the season of spring. He shot passion inducing arms at Shiva. The Lord woke up opening his 3rd eye with blazing fire which would immediately destroy Manmatha into a pile of ashes.
The panel 12 in the ceiling beautifully illustrates the episode of Manmatha Vijaya from Shiva Purana. The panel shows Manmatha shooting his arrow at Shiva. Manmatha and his consort Rati are shown in a beautiful chariot pulled by a parrot.
The episode has the close association with the sacred geography of Hampi. Adjacent to Virupaksha Temple is a tank known as Manmatha Kunda. It is believed that after Shiva reduced Mammatha into a pile of ashes, the ashes flowed into a lowland forming this tank.
In another panel you see the Giriraja Kalyana episode. The scene shows the mountain King Giriraja or Himavanta giving his daughter Girija in marriage to Shiva under an iconic tree. The couple is shown blessed by Brahma and Sarasvati, and Vishnu and Lakshmi along with other devas. The entire scene is a depiction of festivity and celebration against a backdrop of spectacular buildings, hills and foliage, all reminding the cultural landscape of Hampi of yore.
In yet another panel you have the best of Tripurataka episode depiction. Tripurataka is yet another form of Shiva where he is represented destroying three sinful cities.
As per the story, Brahma had granted a boon to three sons of Tarakasura – Tarakaksha, Kamalaksha and Vidyunmali. The boon was – their three impregnable cities (Tripura), which could be destroyed by Shiva on a day when tree cities met. The demons had corrupted their cities with immorality. On an exceptional day when the three cities merged, Shiva destroyed them with an arrow.
The panel shows Shiva standing on a chariot yoked to five horses, four of them representing four Vedas. The chariot is driven by Brahma. The rein of the horses is Sesa, the divine snake. Shiva is aiming his arrow made out of bodies of Agni, Vishnu and Vayu. The three cities are represented as three orbs. His left hand holds the massive bow made of Sumeru Mountain.
The panels do depict other gods and myths, which I would write in another chapter. Till then ‘Om Namah Shivaya! Jai Virupaksha!! Jai Pampavati!!!’