Ballari: Aaron James, a fourth grade student from California in the USA, was wonderstruck while watching a video of the ancient ruins of Hampi, the cradle of the Vijaynagara empire that flourished in the 14th century Deccan plateau, in what is today the district of Ballari in Karnataka.
“This is rock music,” he exclaimed to his parents, fascinated by a man tapping the musical pillars at Hampi’s Sapthaswara Mantapa in the famed Vijaya Vittala temple complex. Like the little boy in far away USA watching the video on his mobile phone, many locals too have not heard the musical pillars live as the wondrous, but fragile complex is currently out of bounds to all visitors.
The musical pillars, that are a testimony to the rich architecture of the Vijayanagar kingdom, are still standing, but with the support of iron pillars, structures and tools put in place by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
While the Hampi Vijaya Vittala temple complex has long been crying out for repairs, the ASI, Hampi Circle has only now decided to renovate it and give the ‘Sapthaswara Mantapa’ with its musical pillars a much needed facelift. The renovation work, which has already begun, will be completed soon, assure its officers.
Over the years, the Sapthaswara Mantapa have been a huge tourist draw, with visitors fascinated by the music that the special stones of its pillars seem to create when tapped. In fact, the entire Vijay Vittala temple complex is itself a marvel and every visitor to Hampi makes it a point to visit it on account of its splendour.
But the influx of tourists has also had its downside. If the Bahamani rulers vandalised most of the sculptures in the Vijay Vittala temple complex after the fall of the Vijayanagar empire in 1565, present day tourists too have done their share of damage to it.
Major portions of the Sapthaswara Mantapa have suffered over the years both due to nature and tourists, so much so that a portion of its roof collapsed in the recent rain. Also, weathering of rocks and manhandling by tourists have caused cracks to appear in its musical pillars.
But since the entire town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, officials have been trying to restore the complex to its days of glory. To begin with, they have banned smoke- emitting vehicles in the area and tourists can now either walk to the temple complex or use battery operated vehicles to reduce the impact of pollution on these ancient monuments.
The ASI, which for long neglected the upkeep of the complex, has also now woken up to its duty to preserve these centuries’ old ruins, and has employed skilled artistes from Tamil Nadu to build look-alike pillars using stones similar to the original in the Sapthaswara Mantapa. Its officers say the carving of the stones for the pillars has been completed and they will be fixed at the right time.
Ask why it took so long for them to carry out the repairs and they claim they were helpless to work on the monuments in the past as the ASI did not get the required permission to reconstruct anything in Hampi and could only preserve what remained of its historical monuments. “But the government has at last given us permission to do the renovation,” they explained.
ASI Hampi Circle deputy superintending archaeologist, P Kalimuthu, says the Sapthaswara Mantapa is one of the most important tourist spots in Hampi. “We have taken up renovation work at the site and have completed its first phase. We had called a tender for the process, but couldn’t find an expert contractor in this field of work and so had to recall the tender. But the work has finally begun and will be completed soon,” he promised....