Temples in Hampi : 5 Vitthala Temple Complex and Stone chariot


If Hampi is the crown of Vijayanagara architecture, the Vitthala Temple in Hampi is the crown jewel. The Vitthala temple is a sprawling complex with intricately carved pillars and grand Mantapas. This  complex also houses the stone chariot, which is considered as the epitome of the Vijayanagara art and sculpture.

The east entrance of the Vitthala temple 
By Aravindreddy.d (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


The main deity of Vitthala Temple in Hampi


Vitthala temple lies around 2.7km north-east of the Virupaksha temple, over the bank of the Tungabhadra river. The temple was dedicated to Vitthala – a form of Vishnu. Vitthala is often depicted as a dark young boy, standing arms akimbo on a brick, sometimes accompanied by his main consort Rakhumai. The cult of Vitthala worship is pre-dominant in the Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh regions.

Vitthala Idol
by Balkrishna Kulkarni. - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Vitthala temple is open from 8:30am till 5:00pm all days, but if you are keen on exploring the unending sculptures and bas-reliefs of the Vitthala temple, it is better to reach the place around 8:00am in the morning.  It would help you enjoy the place in a serene atmosphere and also would give ample photography opportunities.  No private vehicles are now allowed to go near the temple. There is an electric vehicle facility, which covers around a half kilometer and drop you next to the Vitthala temple’s east gate.

History of the Vitthala Temple in Hampi


Even though there is no clear evidence regarding the history of the Vitthala temple in Hampi, scholars believe that it's construction started under the patronage of Devaraya II (1422-46 AD) and later expanded by Krishnadevaraya (1509-1529) and his queens. The east Gopura is the main entrance to the temple. The primary building material of the Gopura was red brick and it was partially burned during the raid of Hampi.

The ruined Gopura of Vitthala temple
Photo by Harish Aluru - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
After the fall of Vijayanagara in the battle of Talikota in 1565, the invaders stayed six months in Hampi, just to destruct the splendorous buildings. What we see today is only a very small percentage of the original, which was left alone by the invaders- probably they would have been exhausted by six months and thankfully given up!

Architecture of the Vitthala Temple in Hampi


As we enter the Vitthala temple, be prepared to be owe struck. What we are about to witness is nothing less than an architectural magic, which would instantly transport you to the ancient times. 

The temple complex as viewed from east
By Archana Ramesh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Unlike the other temples in Hampi, the Vitthala temple has only one enclosure which has entry gates at the east, north and south. Right opposite to the east gate, we can see the stone chariot in the center of the courtyard.

The Icon of Hampi - The Stone Chariot
By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (Flickr: Le temple de Vitthala (Hampi, Inde)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In front of the stone chariot, the “Maha-Mantapa or Sabha Mantapa”(means the great pillared hall/ congregation hall) is situated. “Maha-Mantapa” has four halls with opening towards four directions. Next to the Maha-Mantapa, there are two free standing Mantapa (to the north and south of the stone chariot) and there is another 100 pillared hall known as the “Kalyana Mantap”. These are the main attractions within the Vitthala temple complex. We would go deeper into each of them.


The Stone Chariot in the Vitthala Temple in Hampi


The iconic image of Hampi is the Stone Chariot. It is an exquisite structure which stands on an ornate plinth, which is exquisitely carved with warrior figures and supported by two stone wheels on the either side of it. The stone chariot was originally the shrine of “Garuda” – the eagle which serves as the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. It is quite customary in Hindu temples to have a small shrine for the vehicle of the main deity, facing the main sanctum.The front view of the chariot shows a small niche which is the Garuda sanctum and devoid of any idol now.There is also a broken stone ladder which is used access the sanctum.

The empty sanctum and the stone ladder of the chariot 
By Vinayak Kulkarni (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There is no clear evidence regarding the period in which the stone chariot is built. Some believe that it was  Krishnadevaraya who conceptualized this massive stone chariot, and he was inspired by the great sun temple of Konark in Odisha, which is in the form of a colossal chariot drawn by a team of seven horses depicted in the galloping mode. This belief is logical as, the construction date of the stone chariot is certainly later than Krishnadevaraya’s successful military campaign to Odisha. Even though Krishnadevaraya might have conceptualized the chariot, scholars are of the opinion that the construction might have completed in 1554, along with the other free standing mantapas on north and south side of it.

 In front of the chariot we can see two elephants trying to pull it. However, originally the sculptures of horses were placed in front of the Chariot. The horse sculptures were completely ruined and then the elephants were placed in front of the chariot in 19th century for the sake of completeness. on closer observation one can see the tail and hind legs of the horses those were originally in place.

The piece of the horses that was originally driving the chariot is visible 
Image Courtesy: John and Siv O'Neall at http://sjoneall.net/
The bottom of the chariot has a carved platform and on the sides of the chariot we see the stationary wheels which are intricately carved with circular floral motif.

The floral motifs of the Stone chariot wheels
By Aravindreddy.d (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

On the lower part of the chariot, we can see the reminiscence of the red and white paint. In ancient times, the entire Vitthala temple complex was painted in bright red and white. It would have been such a splendorous sight, just like the fragrance to gold!


The Stone chariot is referred to as a monolithic structure; however it is made of 28 pieces, where the joints are concealed with masterful craft. The top part of the chariot is adorned with intricately carved colonettes ending in a flat roof.  In ancient times, there was a towered roof on top of the chariot, however it was removed during the modern time renovations of the end of 19th century.

2. “Maha-Mantapa or Sabha Mantapa”(means the great pillared hall/ congregation hall)

Right in front of the stone chariot, the Maha-Mantapa stands. As the name suggest, this is the most exquisite construction at Vittala temple. Major portion of the Mantapa was added in 1554, during the renovation of Vittala temple under the supervision of one of Sadashiva’s military commanders. Out of all temples in Hampi, this hall has the most exquisite architectural features.


The Maha-Mantapa
By Nil ratan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Maha-Mantapa forms the part of an enclosure which leads to a relatively simple inner sanctum. The inner sanctum doesn’t contain an idol now. There is a simple brick tower over the inner sanctum and an unlit passage (“Pradikshana-Patha”) around the inner sanctum. Most of these parts have succumbed to destruction during the invasion from Delhi sulthanate. The inner sanctum and the outer enclosures like Maha-Mantapa has been attributed to different time periods and it is evident from the difference in design.


The Mahamantapa stands on an ornate platform, which has the bas reliefs of foreign horse trades. On the sides of this platform we can find the miniature shrines with deities are carved in the stone.

The platform of Mahamantapa depicts the foreign horse traders 
By Nithin bolar k (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Mahamantapa is divided into four halls, which has stairs leading to four different directions. The hall on the east side of the Mahamantapa is known as the “Musicians Hall”. The main attraction of this area is the composite pillars that are surrounded by sleek colonetts cut out of a single granite rock. These pillars are known as Musical pillars, as they emit tones while being gently tapped.


The Musical pillars of Vitthala temple
By Vinayak Kulkarni (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The folklores say that the British were so curious about the sound, that they actually cut one of the pillars to see what was inside. However couldn’t find anything. To prevent damage to the pillars, tapping on them is strictly prohibited now. Nevertheless the visitors can admire the architectural splendor of the pillars. Apart from the musical pillars, other pillars on the east hall are adorned with the bas reliefs of musicians, drummers and dancers.

East hall of the Maha Mantapa
By G41rn8 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The northern hall of the Maha-mantapa is known as the Narasimha Hall, where pillars are adorned with different aspects of Lord Narasimha – a half man, lion form- the 4th Avatar of Lord Vishnu.


The other two halls of the Maha-Mantapa is also grand with mythical yali pillars, unending sculptures of the different Avatars of Vishnu and  different occasions from the life of Krishna. One of the particularly striking bas reliefs is the depiction of Ravana – with his 10 heads and 1000 arms. It is a rare sculpture, which is seldom found within Indian temples.
A rare depiction of Ravana
By G41rn8 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

3. The Mantapas to the south and North of the stone chariot

There are two free standing Mantapas to the South and North of the stone chariot. These structures are contemporary with the stone chariot and were built in 1554. The Mantapa on the south side has a very fine and symmetrical structure. It has intricately carved Yaali pillars with warriors in courtly dress or Muslim costume riding them.

The southern free standing Mantapa 
By Sandeep Singh Rawat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The interior of the south Mantapa has a raised dais and there are four huge Yaali pillars on the four sides of it. The roof of this dias is of particular interest as it is carved with a beautiful lotus motif.

Highly decorated roof of the southern Mantapa
By Dineshkannambadi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The northern Mantapa is not as highly ornate as the southern one. It is situated quite close to the northern wall of the temple complex. In fact, the elevated dais in the northern Mantapa almost adjoins with the northern wall.



4. The 100 pillared hall (Kalyana Mantapa) in Vitthala Temple in Hampi

One can find a Mantapa with a large number of pillars towards the south Gopura of the temple complex. This is known as the 100 pillared hall or the kalyana Mantapaa. Unlike the Southern and Northen free standing mantapas this 100 pillared hall is attributed to an early time period. A trilingual inscription on the external walls of this Mantapa is dated on 1516, according to which Krishnadevaraya built this Kalyana Mantapa.

Kalyana Mantapa
 by Pushpendra Gautam -Own workLicensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The 100 pillared hall has stone carvings of Vishnu and his various Avatars.

The charming pillars of the 100 pillar hall
By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (Flickr: Le temple de Vitthala (Hampi, Inde)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On the south side of the Vittala temple, we can see a hill and a small temple on top of it. It is the Anjanedri Hill at Anegundi village, which is at the opposite bank of the Thungabadra River. The Anjanedri Hill shrine is a famous religious place as it is believed to be the birth place of Hanuman.

Anjanedri Hill
By Daniel Hauptstein (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Grand Bazzar in front of Vittala temple in Hampi


In front of the Vittala temple, once there was a grand bazaar which was 40 meters wide and almost one kilometer long. At the end of this bazaar running east from the Vitthala temple, we can see a small Mantapa with a raised dais and a brick tower running above it. This Mantapa was used for displaying the processional image of the idol of Vitthala temple, which used to be taken out in a chariot during the festival days of the temple.

The Vitthala Bazaar
By Nvamsi76 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On the one side of the bazzar, a portico is set in the colonnades, which gives access to the sacred water tank of the temple. It is locally known as the “Lokapavani”.

Apart from the grand bazaar in the east, there is also another rather small bazaar running in the north direction from the Vitthala temple which leads to another small temple. Even though there is no clear evidence, it is believed that this temple was dedicated to Ramanuja.

There are a lot of ancient ruins like the bazaars with colonnades on both sides, the Mada(matha) or the residential complex of the Brahmins, the “chhattra” – feeding houses around the Vitthala temple. They clearly show that there was a fully-fledged township around the Vitthala temple, which the scholars now named as Vitthalapura.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this information.... really helpful thank u so much

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