Reflections on the meaning of Time – A visit to Humpi



pdf file for more pictures     Humpi

During my recent travel to India I had the opportunity to visit Humpi, a historic place in the northern part of Karnataka state. It was truly a marvelous experience, a journey into the past. Humpi was the capital city during the rule of Krishnadeva Raya. His Vijayanagar Empire was large and his dynasty ruled from 1343 to 1565.  The temples, castles and the stone carvings are exquisite in their detail and marvelous in their engineering and architectural features.

The tour guide told us that the entire city was abandoned as the ruling dynasty lost out in war with the invading Moghuls, who plundered the city and left it in ruins. There were not any rulers here during the entire British rule of India, we were told, since there were no residents here to pay any taxes. The Humpi ruins reportedly have been restored after the democracy in India and funding by the Indian Government in the early 1950s. Now it is a recognized UNESCO world heritage site.

The history of this region dates back to the Ramayana times. The Pampa Sarovar nearby is a picturesque lake on the mountain side. According to mythology Lord Rama met Saint Sabari here. There is also a Vali Cave nearby where the monkey king Vali was supposed to have been hiding for fear of persecution by king Sugreeva.

The Virupaksha Temple in Humpi dedicated to Lord Shiva is still a functioning temple with worship services. The fort, castles and many other historical buildings in different states of ruin have been restored and offer a glimpse of the days of a successful empire. The visit reminds one of the travels in Rome, Ephesus in Turkey or Pompei. But, these are all ruins from the Roman times, at least 1000 years ago. It was hard for me to imagine that the entire living area was vacated only 450 years ago. Also it was never occupied till a few decades ago in a country of large and dense population! These thoughts boggled my mind, until I came across another historic ruin, the village of Kuldhara in the northern state of Rajasthan, near Jaisalmer. I did not visit Kuldhara, but saw a documentary on it during my flight back home, a timely coincidence.

Kuldhara was the name of the largest village in this community consisting of 84 villages. The village was established in 1291 by the Paliwal Brahmins and was a rather prosperous community due to their ability to grow bumper crops in the rather arid desert.  But one night in 1825 all the people in Kuldhara and nearby 83 villages vanished in dark. Why did the villagers decide to leave their settlement after having lived there for more than seven centuries?

For reference, 1825 was only 190 years ago! There are several stories that describe the possible flight of the residents from this village of Kuldhara. One is the story of a local Diwan – local Lord and tax collector during the British rule – wanting to marry a Brahmin girl, aged 12. He promised to return when the girl would come of age suitable for marriage. The family decided to desert the land instead of this marriage out of caste. Another is the story of the invaders who after plundering the wealth polluted the wells used for drinking water. This forced the residents to flee. Third is the story of the ghosts that abound this village. The fourth and possibly more scientific is the drying out of the meager local water supply forcing the locals to flee and never return here again.

Whatever the reason, the ruins of India tell us a lot more about the life not many centuries ago, but also about the recent past. Somehow this thought – that the ruins can be connected with recent history – took me a while to digest and internalize. Time has meaning only in the context in which we assign meaning to it, I suppose.


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4 Responses to Reflections on the meaning of Time – A visit to Humpi

  1. askaranth says:

    Nice compilation of all your research, again quick sharing of your travel findings. Kudos. Marvelous objective of sharing true India culture references to all of us.


  2. sipractce says:

    I have been fortunate to visit both Hampi and Kuldhara. I have heard a line that says that says that Hampi is a ‘sonnet in stone’ and cannot but fully endorse this. But I did only a day trip on a couple occasions. I want to go and spend a few days during my next trip to absorb the ambiance of Hampi. I would say that Hampi is a MUST VISIT for anyone interested in India, particularly our own countrymen to understand and appreciate our historic and cultural legacy. Some more facts that you may like to know about Hampi (perhaps your guide might have also told you … in any case)
    1. This is the place that matches the description of ‘Kishkinda’ kanda in Ramanyana.
    2. The rocks that you see in the neigborhood were a result of the playful pranks of the vanaras throwing the stones
    3. The place from where Sri Rama shot his ‘baana’ at Vali and the location of Vaali and Sugriva’s duel, which is on a small islet in River Tungabahdhra can also be seen — this is a good 2 km — it is not hard to imagine the enormous power of Rama baana to traverse such distance and having been able to kill a valiant hero like Vaali
    4. Saint Purandara dasa lived here – there is a place called Purandara-ghatta in the environs
    5. There is a memorial (mantap) for King Krishnadevaraya – it has 64 pillars – each signifying a mastery in 64 faculties (kala) in which he was acknowledged an expert
    6. There are a number of ‘jeeva brindavanas’ (samaadhi) of Madhwa saints around Hampi – one of the most popular being the ‘Nava Brindavana’ which includes the Brindavana of Sri Vyasa Raja Thirtha, who stood-in as a king of Hampi where kala sarpa dosha was afflicting King Krishna Deva Raya. Incidentally Sri Vyasa Raja is considered the avatara of Sri Raghavendra Thirtha.
    7. The ‘Anjanadhri Hill’ across the river Tungabadra is where Lord Sri Hanuman is considered to have been born. Also there is a hill called “Taara Parvatham” which is dedicated to Vaali’s wife Tara. The locals say that Tara, considered to be a very highly virtuous person, still appears in the form of a ‘jyothi’ on ammavasa nights and she goes round in a pradakshina of the nava brindavana (which is located a couple of miles away)
    8. Some of the above is accessible from a place called ‘Anegondhi’ which is situated across the river from Hampi; this was the earlier capital of Hampi
    9. You will also find a Kothanda Rama temple in Hampi – just behind there is a temple called ‘Yantro dharaka Hanuman’ Temple – the murti in the temple represents Hanuman in yogic posture within a ‘yantra’ – HE was invoked by Sri Vyasa Raja as Hanuman was slipping away causing great disappointment to Sri Vyasaraja, who is considered an ardent devotee of Lord Hanuman.
    10. The best — which stole my breadth away — was the size of the bazaars — beats hollow the size of contemporary malls
    11. What I understand from history is that the Vijayanagar kings were away fighting a war at some other place which made Hampi vulnerable to invasion, loot and destruction. It is believed that it took more than one year for the invaders to loot Hampi – this was after a part of the wealth was taken away by Hampi residents — it makes one believe that it indeed rained ‘gold’, as it is widely believed, following the tapas of “Vidyaranya” considered the Vijayanagara Raja rishi — who was instrumental in starting this new dynasty by Harihara and Bukka. Incidentally, Sri Vidyarnaya is the one who established the Virupaksha temple.

    Somehow I could relate very much to Hampi from various angles – the religious beliefs (Ramanyana), Acharya Parampara of Madhwa lineage, the temple architectures and the living culture (particularly Purandara dasa kritis) that closely aligns with the current day south Indian lifestyle.


  3. sipractce says:

    Yes, what happened until the last second is only a piece of (filtered and hence distorted) data in our memory bank. Time before and time after are only figments of our limited imagination. Only this moment matters.
    But it is hard to remember this concept and get rid of all our emotional baggage and our ill conceived notions of people and events from the past, stop worrying about the future which is not in our control and thus live only in the moment,…

    Easier said than done.



  4. jayanthi says:

    This is big. If a whole village vanishes in a short time, it needs further probe. I have not visited Kuldhara but it is on my list of places to visit now.


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