Thursday, 23 January 2014

Dramatic Hampi!

January 14th - 17th, 2014

Neev crossed a big milestone – our first overnight trip. What better gang of kids to do it with? And what better place?

Hampi  - erstwhile Kishkinda – the mythological birthplace of Hanuman, a setting for much of the epic Ramayana….and as we know for certain, the base of one of the greatest Indian civilisations of the past– the Vijaynagar empire. 

As a model of a past civilisation – for the children and teachers – no greater experience could have happened. And it is unfortunate that everything we saw in Hampi has not been made accessible as texts on other major civilisations elsewhere – Roman, Aztec, Greek, Sumerians, and even the Vikings and many others, some of which the Hampi returnees will now choose to compare & contrast with.

We have all been taught history as a bunch of dates & timelines and names of people. But the few of us today in whom a love of history survives, remember history as narratives of personalities and what they did, what they thought, what they aspired for, what they believed in. This is what Intach brought alive for us. The splendor that existed once, as recorded in narratives of travellers, the societal beliefs and knowledge as recorded in the carvings and monuments, the technology that is visible through town planning and systems – canals, aqueducts, layouts – and the geographical location – next to the Tungabhadra river, and bustling economy – with trade, travellers, gold, iron, etc. – creating wealth which led to a civilisation of significance in the first place.

We saw much:

January 14th

Starting with a sunset at the (relatively) modern Tungabhadra damn – built at the end of the British empire, and completed at the start of independent India. For the kids, it was a example of a multi-use dam – follow on from a unit last year on water, where they researched different uses and hence types of damns – which is used for a reservoir, irrigation (across two states – from 3 canals each of the dam), and generation of electricity.

January 15th

The first day in Hampi revolved around the monumental and oft visited religious sites – Shreekrishna temple (and kalyani – where we saw the grids marked by archaeologists for recent excavations, and also signs of how the massive blocks of stone were cut for the constructions around half a millennium back, besides getting a first visual on the natural advantage Hampi offers for security with the high boulders all around topped by watchtowers), Veerupakhsa temple – one of the only living temples in Hampi replete with its own resident elephant, and the Vithala temple complex with its musical pillars. Enroute – a monolithic Ganesha, many surrounding structures and stories. The day ended with some rock climbing and a walk along the river at the Vitthala temple – within sight of the Anjaneya temple which is supposed to be the place Hanuman was born, and the Purandaradas mandapam on the banks of the river, in memory of the great poet / narrator.

The temples surviving are small today. Like most things the protection of these sites falls between the state and center  - ASI being in charge – but there is evidence of much larger monuments, bridges, stepwells, etc. that once existed around the temples.  

Teachers and kids alike loved the Vithala temple complex and the ruins around it which we explored.

January 16th

The day was spent largely at the royal enclosure, understanding occupations, form of government, traditions, gender equality and other beliefs, economy, etc. as evidenced in the structures, carvings and systems that remain, added to by narratives of records and travellers stories by Intach folks.

Listening to the narratives of the splendor, by European travellers, that had been given access to all parts of palaces, noblemen's houses, government buildings, and the rest of the city – we could start to imagine the wealth that existed, where now only ruins and basements exist – from where 500 elephant loads of treasure were carried away by the kings brother when the Vijayanagar empire was attacked by the Adilshahi empire in the decisive battle of Talikota (1565), which marked the end of the Vijaynagar empire – less than 200 years after it began.

Looking at the aqueducts that carry water from many kilometers away – from the kumara tank – to the step well in the royal enclosure, which itself was carried 100’s of kilometers from dharwad to be installed on site in the royal enclosure, as evidenced by the old writing on each stone for directionality during re-installation – and the other systems for handling water, we could start to understand the technology that existed.

The perfection of the carvings on the walls recorded the aspirations of a society to integrate in a changing world at the peak of the European renaissance – Persian and Arabic animal traders and trainers; European traders, travellers and men of different trades brought a world knowledge  - war craft, weaponry making, book keeping, recording narratives and other occupation – while in parallel traditions of hunting, arts and crafts, schools for Brahmins, and other communities existed – all captured in the carvings tell the story of the times to many generations after.

The hazara-rama temple in the royal enclosure – literally a 1000 Ram’s – was an interesting structure – where the epic Ramayana was depicted in 3 tiers of carvings around the temple forcing people into three circumambulations at least.

The varied materials used over time included granite, brick, lime plaster, schist, and manner other forms of stone that were brought in from other parts of the country.  Techniques of fresco and stucco were strengthened with the renaissance travellers who passed through Hampi – for trading spices, animals, silks, precious elements and knowledge. All of this was brought alive at the royal enclosure.

The queen's bath. Indo-Islamic architecture was evident here. Again with aqueducts feeding the water in the bath tank and the moat outside.  Kids wondered why a queen would need such a big bath – and were amused by the stories of the number of helpers in attendance – inside the bath!

The last monument we visited – was the elephant stable – the name belies its significance, since the complex included a small palace, the foundations of a larger monument – likely the council room, protective fort like walls and an interesting structure with a courtyard inside reminiscent of European palaces.

One of the last questions that came up at the elephant stable -  how was Hampi discovered? The answer – the British in the 1800’s reclaimed the monuments bit by bit from plants, bandits, trash, and burned cinders (which led to the belief that in 1565 the monuments, particularly the royal enclosure were burned to the ground) – giving us a world heritage site.

The day ended with a sunset hike – up Matanga hill - where the story goes: Sugreev escaped from Bali, when the latter returned to reclaim the kingdom accusing his brother of usurping the kingdom – Sugreev then escaped to the only place where Bali was not permitted to enter - from the top of which, today, all of Hampi is visible.

A poem made by words expressing our kids feelings at that last sunset:
Historical, Royal
Assorted, Adventurous
Dazzling, Gorgeous, Stupefying
Tremendous, Mysterious

Adults weren’t asked for their words, but mine would’ve been  - Dramatic.  Hampi!

I am reminded of Ozymandias by PB Shelley - I met a traveller from an antique land; Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies,….`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'

History will be repeated – learn from the past to create a better future.

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