Five hundred years ago, amid a maze of magnificent temples and palaces, lived and flourished an ancient generation whose lifestyle, culture and prosperity were admired the world over. Five centuries later, when many of history’s priceless relics are being mindlessly razed and even bombarded, Hampi, the world heritage site in Ballari continues to amaze countless generations with its grandeur and greatness of architecture, which many a devastating battle has been unable to bury under a mountain of rubble. But has all of Hampi received the attention it deserves or have conservation efforts been limited to the core area of the ancient capital of the Vijayanagar empire? Has the largest of structures at the Hampi ruins, the Pattabhirama temple, located some distance away from the main tourist trail, at Varadadevi Ammana Pete, been neglected, slowly falling to the pressures of native agricultural practices and encroachments? SHIVAKUMAR G. MALAGI delves into the history of the Hampi empire and Varadadevi Ammana Pete in particular, which, despite its old world charm and exquisite structures, has not received its share of attention or visitors. Or did it happen because of a careless attitude on the part of those in power and their inability to perceive this shrine’s priceless heritage?
Located in the outskirts of the ancient town of Hampi, Pattabhirama temple hardly finds a mention in the accounts of tourist guides and only real lovers of Vijayanagar’s history care to make the effort to travel the distance to see it.
The caretaker of the temple, Sreedhar, employed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) believes that had its deity, Lord Pattabhirama, not been destroyed in the aftermath of the battle of Talikota in 1565, it could have been one of the most famous pilgrimage centres in South India.
The majority of tourists who visit Hampi would pack up after seeing monuments in the Royal Enclosure and the Vittala, Krishna and Virupaksha temples and may altogether miss Varadadevi Ammana Pattana which is at a distance of 6 km from the main Hampi site. Lovers of history would know that Hampi, after it was selected as the capital of the empire, expanded rapidly into a great urban centre. Till its decline in AD 1565, it enjoyed the reputation of being one of the famous cities of medieval India stretching from Anegondi in the north to Hosapete in the south to Kamalapura in the east. There were many extensions of Hampi called Puras and the important Puras were Virupakshapura, Achyutapura, and Vitthalapura, established on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra river. Krishnapura, Kamalapura and Varadadevi Ammana Pattana on the other hand, were developed beyond the river bank.
Varadadevi Ammana Pattana was developed around the temple of Raghunatha, one of the important temples of Vijayanagar. This Pattana was built by King Achyutadevaraya in memory of his principal queen, Varadadevi. In many inscriptions, it is also called ‘Varadadevi-Ammanavara-Pattana’, ‘Varadarajammana Pattana’ and ‘Varadaraji Ammana Pattana.’ The Raghunatha temple was built by Thimmaraja in 1549 and has three gopuras with a large courtyard on the left and a big Kalyana Mantapa with a row of Mantapas on the right. In the sanctum sanctorum, there are pedestals meant for Lord Rama, Lakshmana and Sita but nothing more is known about the idols.
To the east of Raghunatha temple was the Penugonda Gate leading to Penugonda in Andhra Pradesh, the second capital of the Vijayanagar kings. Outside the gateway, there is a Veerabhadra temple and one of the inscriptions dating back to 1534 AD, states that the great king Achyutadevaraya performed a ritual of one lakh oblations in fire in Varadaraja Ammana Pete.
Local residents call Veerabhadra temple the shrine of Sannakki Veerabhadra and the idol inside the temple is still in good condition. To the north of Penugonda Bagilu, there is another domed gateway which appears to have been one of the main entrances to the capital city, while the Penugonde Bagilu was an entrance to the Varadaraja Ammana Pete.
Around this temple is a heap of ruins of Varadaraja Ammana Pete which was a busy market where goods and articles brought from distant places were sold. The Pattanaswami was appointed to take care of the place and was referred to as ‘Setti Pattanaswami’ in epigraphs. He was also in charge of collecting the tax on goods and services in the market where many merchants and Settis lived.
The pattana was a cultural centre too with rows of temples and Mantapas along the street. Most of the temples are of the Vaishnava sect which clearly shows their influence in Hampi in the times of king Achyutadevaraya.
On the left of the bazaar can be seen the remnants of a tank which was used for Teppotsava and other ceremonies of the temple.
THE BLAME GAME
And why was such a structure left to languish and wither away with the authorities taking no measures to protect them? The three agencies-Archeological Survey of India, state Archeology department and Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority blame each other for this negligence towards the scattered ruins with none of them ready to own up responsibility.
Initially, over 41 sq km surrounding Hampi was declared a protected area, but later it was extended to 1,056 sq km, including the core, buffer and peripheral zones. In 2002, the HWHAMA brought 1,600 monuments under the core zone to make sure they were protected. About 900 main monuments fall within 25 sq km and it was the responsibility of the ASI to maintain and protect them.
The ASI has demarcated its protected area by erecting boundary rocks and of late, it has even fenced certain areas for future excavation. But there are several monuments scattered over a large area which have been either encroached upon or abandoned so that miscreants can have a free run. The state archaeology department has done its bit renovating Chikka Hundi and a couple of other monuments, but smaller monuments have turned into heaps of debris over the years.
What’s really painful is that the monuments near the `Penugonda Bagilu’ have turned into safe havens for illicit activities even during daytime. The authorities have not even bothered to deploy a guard for these monuments leaving them at the mercy of treasure hunters.
There are monuments and monuments now spread across agricultural fields, banana plantations and sugarcane fields here! “The irrigation for water-intensive crops poses a threat to heritage structures located in agricultural fields,” says an expert with UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. According to him, crops such as paddy and sugarcane need water-logged fields that may weaken the foundations of The subject is no doubt sensitive as the local economy depends on farming. “A strategy for managing this issue should be devised in close consultation with local stakeholders,” he says. The damage does not stop at this, though Varadadevi Ammana Pattana falls within the core zone of HWHAMA, private agricultural land close to the monuments has been converted for non-agricultural activity with residential layouts, business establishments, resorts and jaggery manufacturing plants None of the agencies have bothered to connect this once buzzing town with the famed Hampi circuit which would have gone a long way in protecting the structures and in promoting tourism.
A hundred years hence when we are gone and forgotten, a future generation may stop at Hampi and ask if we really did enough to preserve a glorious phase of our history before the colonial invaders and their guns proved too strong for us. Did we really try to save these beautiful ruins for posterity so that they could live in the comforting thought that we too were a great race with a lot to be proud of? The Varadadevi Ammana Pete, Pattabhirama Temple and the numerous shrines dotting the Hampi landscape are crying for attention, reminding us of the disturbing thought that those who forget history, are condemned to repeat its follies.