BOOKMARK Delhiite Subhadra Sen Gupta shares with SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY her experience of writing “Hampi”, an impressive account of the grandeur of the Vijayanagar kingdom

O ne of the most impressive heritage sites in India, Hampi, has attracted many historians, archaeologists and tourists over the years. Many have written on this lost city of the Vijayanagar kingdom founded in the 14th Century by the two brothers, Harihar and Bukka. Many have documented this enormous expanse by the river Tungabhadra, which gave Indian history one of its greatest rulers, Krishnadeva Raya, now filled with the leftovers of 300 years of its rule, some of it just mounds of stones in a variety of sizes and shapes. People still live surrounding Hampi, among the ruins of this World Heritage Site, thus crafting an interesting link between the past and the present.

Adding to the bank of knowledge on this fascinating city lost in the creases of time is “Hampi”, a coffee-table book penned by Delhiite Subhadra Sen Gupta some time ago. Bringing all its splendour and significance in the history of southern India, Subhadra has stuffed in the book (Niyogi Books) pages and pages of information paired with some of the most telling pictures clicked by Bangalore-based photographer Clare Arni. In an email-interview, she has compared Hampi with yet another lost city, Fatehpur Sikri, calls it “the finest example of Dravidian architecture in India.” Edited excerpts from the interview:

On drawing comparison between Fatehpur Sikri and Hampi

These are two ghostly cities. Both were built in medieval times and were abandoned in the 16th Century, never occupied again and have become frozen in time. The inspiring spirits were the two greatest kings of the Vijayanagar and Moghul dynasties — Krishnadeva Raya and Jalaluddin Akbar. They both understood the basic fact that in India to create and rule an empire they had to be inclusive and religiously tolerant. This led to the creation of cities with a sophisticated culture of openness where it was a person's ability that led to their success. Akbar married Hindu princesses, had Hindu ministers and generals and got the Mahabharata translated into Persian. Krishnadeva Raya had battalions of Muslim soldiers who were allowed to take their oath of allegiance on the Koran.

Both were cities that flourished through trade. They were visited by travellers from across the world who were dazzled by their magnificence and left memoirs capturing their vivid life. Where Vijayanagar triumphs is in its respect for women. None of the contemporary chroniclers mention purdah in the kingdom. Women were educated, employed in the royal establishment as administrators and accountants. Some even became wrestlers!

On researching for the book

The research and writing of the book took about a year. I worked in libraries after visiting Hampi. The photographs are all new; they were taken exclusively for this book by Claire Arni. She made two trips to Hampi to shoot there.

On the role of Sringeri math in the foundation of Vijayanagar Kingdom

It was the Sringeri math started by Adi Shankaracharya that played a role in the founding of the city. The head of the math in the 14th Century was Swami Vidyaranya who encouraged Harihar and Bukka to build a kingdom. Vidyaranya was the kulaguru , the spiritual preceptor and adviser to them. He convinced the brothers to renounce their allegiance to the Tughlaks and return to the Hindu fold, he personally converted them back to Hinduism. The approval of the math meant they were accepted by the people. In the early years, the city was also known as Vidyanagar in acknowledgement of its patron saint.

On its architecture

It is medieval architecture. What is unique is the quality of the sculpture that is blended into the architecture creating a beautiful group of buildings. It is the finest example of Dravidian architecture in India. The book features the picture of a watchtower that shows architectural influences of the Islamic style. Each important temple had a bazaar attached to it. Some of the ancient waterworks and canals still irrigate the coconut and banana plantations beside the Tiruvengalanatha Temple. Recent excavations have revealed that a pool made with green chlorite in a complex geometric design.

Tips for a first-time visitor to Hampi

It is a whole city, so it needs time to explore. Some knowledge of history and Dravidian architecture will help. The guides are quite good and can give the background. Visit the museum there for an introduction and get ready to walk a lot.