MY VISIT TO HAMPI – SITE OF VIJAYNAGAR EMPIRE

February 1, 2010

My hearty kudos to the State Government of Karnataka and its Chief Minister Shri Yediyurappa for organizing last week, the 500th Anniversary of the coronation of Samrat Krishna Deva Raya at Hampi in a really befitting manner.

Every year a three day utsav is celebrated at Hampi, a colorful procession organized through the city, but not many in the country outside this region are really familiar with the glorious history of this great kingdom, aptly known as Vijaynagar (the city of Victory). Last year I had occasion to visit Hampi for the first time, and participated in this procession.

The procession used to start from the main temple of the town – the Virupakasha temple. When my family visited the temple last year the Head Priest welcomed me and my family and informed us that for Hampi the coming year would be very significant. It would mark the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Shri Krishna Deva Raya, the greatest king of the Vijaya Nagar Empire. I promised to visit again in 2010, and so I did.

This year several lakhs of citizens from all parts of the State flocked to Hampi and participated in the celebrations with great gusto and joy. Pujya Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, Head of the Art of Living Organisation also attended. He addressed the nearly one lakh strong gathering that had assembled at the concluding function where the pièce de résistance was a musical extravaganza depicting Krishna Deva Raya’s coronation. The music programme was created by the leading music maestros of the Kannadda film world. More than six hundred boys and girls participated in this programme. Earlier, during the day, the foundation stone of a theme park was laid where visitors would be enlightened about the glory that was Krishna Deva Raya’s empire.

At the evening function, I was asked to release a beautiful and well researched volume titled “HAMPI : a story in stone” produced by two American scholars, John M. Fritz and George Michell. The two scholars had worked on this Vijaynagar Research Project for twenty years and their brilliant book had been embellished by an outstanding photographer from Mumbai, Noshir Gobhai.

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The founding of Vijaya Nagar Empire some time in the 14th Century was an epoch making event in the history of our country. Shri Krishna Deva Raya was a formidable warrior and a brilliant military strategist. The empire of this great king spread over large parts of India from coast to coast covering the present day Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala as well as Goa and Orissa. These parts of the country were earlier ruled by feuding chieftains, the four prominent among them being the Kakatiyas of Warangal, the Hoysalas of the Central Deccan plateau, the Yadavas of Devagiri and the Pandyas in the deep south. What Shri Krishna Deva Raya achieved puts him in the ranks of mighty emperors like Ashoka, Secundragupta and Harswhavardhan. In the 21 years of his rule (1509-1530) he had to wage 14 major wars and he won all of them. His most notable war was the war against the combined armies of the three Sultans of Bijapur, Ahmednagar and Golkanda.

Historians who have analysed the events of those times say that the outstanding military successes of Krishna Deva Raya were due not only to his ability as a great general, but also because of the reforms he brought about in his administration.

At a time these days when we are witnessing manifestations of pettiness and narrow mindedness in the matter of use of languages, here was a great leader born in the Kannada speaking region whose celebrated literary composition by name Amuktamaalyada was in Telugu. In the administrative reforms which he adopted, he drew heavily from the traditional principles of Hindu polity which were in turn based on the teachings of Kautilya, Shukra, Bhishma, Vidura and others. He himself as king was head of the Government but he was guided by a group of ministers headed by the Prime Minister at that time one Salva Timma. The book by the American scholars which I released at Hampi carries this remarkable passage which bears testimony to the wisdom of this greater ruler :

“ A question often asked by visitors to Hampi today is why such a city, the capital of a great empire, was located in what appears now to be a remote wilderness. Several explanations may be offered. To begin with, the sheer ruggedness of the site offered essential defenses to the first rulers of Vijayanagara. It is still difficult to approach Hampi from the north, the direction in which were located the sultans of the Deccan kingdoms, Vijayanagara’s most persistent enemies. The site served as a natural citadel, requiring only supplementary ramparts where the landscape leveled off towards the south and east. Another advantage of the site was that it was well watered. The Tungabhadra river, the largest in this part of Karnataka, flows directly across the site. As it does so the water loses height, gathering speed and flowing violently in times of flood. This loss of height offered the Vijayanagara rulers a valuable chance to develop a complex hydraulic system that permitted the cultivation of rice and other essential grains and crops. Only in this way could the city be self sufficient in terms of food, supporting a population of several hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Canals were created that ran off the river at an upper level, transporting water across the site, feeding channels that cultivated fields at a lower level. Remnants of this hydraulic system are still in operation today, permitting extensive plantations of sugarcane and bananas. It is surely no coincidence that the Tungabhadra Hydroelectric Dam is situated near to Hampi, for this is where the river flows through a narrow pass between two hills. That such dams were erected in the past is apparent from the remnants of stone-faced earthen walls known as ‘bunds’ built across valleys all over the site. Some of these ancient waterworks are still in operation, collecting water in monsoonal times, as in the tank on the outskirts of Kamalapura.”

L.K. Advani
New Delhi

February 01, 2010

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