nichair gachatyupari cha dashaa chakranemikramena
(the condition of life goes up and down like the rim of a wheel)
Kalidada’s Megasandesha

This saying, when adapted to a place, could not be more true than of the site of the much-celebrated medieval metropolis called Vijayanagara, situated along the River Tungabhadra in present-day Karnataka, now the ruined site of Hampi. Before it rose to be the mighty capital of the Empire of Vijayanagara C.E., this city was not a desolate area. Tradition associates it with Kishkinda, the monkey-kingdom of Vali and Sugriva, much described in the Ramayana of Valmiki as an extremely picturesque place, teeming with lotus-ponds, herds of elephant, varieties of birds and fish. After the Ramayana time, it is not heard of for many, many centuries.

Much later, it morphed into a small habitation during the time of dynasties of Karnataka like the Kadambas and Chalukyas and Hoysalas. Then, Time decided to favour this place. It was from 1336 C.E, when two valiant young men, Harihara and Bukka aided by their preceptor Svami Vidyaranya, selected this place as their capital, that it grew, by leaps and bounds, in name and fame. Prophetically they named it Vijayanagara (city of victory), for, in the years to come, it was to become the nucleus of an empire that spread over almost the whole of south India and, at one point of time, some parts of Orissa as well. It became one of the citadels of imperial powers in the world.

The central part of Vijayanagara alone was 25 square kilometers and the entire region connected with this metropolis was about 600 square kilometers. It drew all kinds of people, including travellers and envoys, from all over the world. Italian travelers like Nicolo Conti, Ludovico Di Varthema and Cesare Frederici; Abdul Razzaq from the Persian court of Shahrukh in Heart; Duarte Barbosa who came with the first Portuguese fleet to arrive in Goa in 1501; Domingoes Paes and Fernao Nuniz, both horse-traders from Portugal who have both left behind extensive writings on this city. All of them have waxed eloquent about the glory and grandeur of Vijayanagara, with Abdul Razzaq stating, `The city of Bidjnagar (Vijayanagara) is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the world’.

All this glory lasted till 1556 C.E. when a major catastrophe befell this great city. In the fateful battle of Talikota, the Vijayanagar army under Emperor Rama Raya (the son in law of Krishnadeva Raya) faced the allied forces of the Deccani Sultans of Bidar, Bijapur, Ahmadnagar and Golkonda. The former was killed and his enemies entered the city of Vijayanagar and much plunder and pillage ensued for six months. Robert Sewell, in his monumental book The Forgotten Empire says, `Never perhaps in the history of the world has such havoc been wrought and wrought so suddenly on so splendid a city; teeming with a wealthy and industrious population in the full plentitude of prosperity one day and on the next, seized, pillaged, and reduced to ruins amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beggaring description’.

Thus came to an end the world-famous imperial metropolis, after two hundred and twenty nine years of glory. Not many people would have continued to live in this shell of a city, with its ruined palaces, temples, tanks, aqua ducts and fortifications. What the invaders did not destroy, Time did. Plants and trees took root amidst the bricks and stones and slowly, exposed to the elements, the monuments, or what was left of them, crumbled and became heaps of stones. With no one to care, no one to protect, it became home to many a wild animal and many a thorny shrub. And thus this pathetic state continued for many a century. The grand capital Vijayanagara became the ruined archaeological site Hampi.

Once again, there was a turn in the fortunes of this place. And how! The Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.) declared it a protected area and the monuments here were painstakingly restored –stone by stone and brick by brick. Thorny bushes were removed, paths cleared and tarred roads paved for easy accessibility to the monuments. In 1986, the Hampi group of monuments was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites giving it more visibility across the globe. People from all over the world now pour into Hampi and the streets in front of the temples are so crowded in the peak tourist season that one is tempted to think this was how it must have been in the heyday of the Vijayanagara empire.

Hampi has come a full circle! Or has it?