The Virupaksha temple dominates the Hampi skyline (such as it is) – it is one of the first things you spot as you cross the small Ganesha temples and turn the corner down into the steep path that leads to Hampi bazaar at a distance. Walk away from it towards Matanga hill, turn from anywhere on the road, or from the steps that lead towards Achutaraya temple on the other side, and you see the tower on the other end of the road, tall and proud or peeking out from somewhere between pillars. Ditto when you visit the small Ganesha temples. Or when you climb up Hemakuta hill, dotted with fifty odd small temples, the perfect place to spend a peaceful evening. Alternatively, stay in any of the small guest-houses in the bazaar area and find yourself staring at the gopura during breakfast from the mandatory roof-top restaurant of the place, or stare at the glorious silhouette of the temple tower in the evening as the sky turns colors before the sun finally sets for the day.
Virupaksha temple from the Kadelakalu Ganesha temple
In a town where all temples and places built by the Vijayanagar dynasty are now in ruins, the Virupaksha temple stands in amazingly good condition. Our guide Lokesh “full name Lokabhirama but too long to confusing” tells us that the Muslim invaders who destroyed most of Hampi, spared this temple on seeing the symbol of a boar (along with a sword and something else that I cannot remember now) etched on the wall near the entrance of the temple. Think of it – the invaders couldn’t have bee all that clever if all it needed to keep them at bay was a boar in stone – nor for that matter, were the architects and builders very clever – why aren’t there more stone boars in temples, I say?
Now guides will be guides and invaders will be invaders and all that, so I have no idea how true this story is, but whatever the reason, the Virupaksha temple has survived through the centuries. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, or Pampapati (the husband of Pampa, or the goddess Bhuvaneshwari), this temple was built some time in the early 15th century, and further renovated in the sixteenth century by Krishnadevaraya.
Inside the Ranga Mantapa
Lokesh the guide and his temple reflections
While the temple is aesthetically a marvelous example of the architecture of those times, the highlight is a small dark room at the Western end, way behind the main tower. Here, in the mornings, you get to see an inverted image of the main gopura (tower) on a wall, as light falls through a small window. The pinhole camera concept, explains our guide, as he moves his hand in front of the small window, thus altering the size of the inverted shadow on the wall.
Shaky but stunning
And just outside, on your way back to the main gate are monkeys drinking milk straight out of plastic milk covers and the temple elephant, who gobbles up the bananas you offer and imparts his blessings only when money changes hands. There is also the pied-piper of Virupaksha, the old man who blows this long horn and poses for your camera, all for a small fee. You exit the temple straight into Hampi bazaar, with its “recommended in Lonely Planet” restaurants and little hand carts and stalls selling everything from cheap plasticware to the ubiquitous “ethnic” Rajasthani handbags. Alternatively, you can turn left just outside the temple and reach the banks of the Tungabhadra, it a lovely walk by the riverside.
Horn ok please