A Mukherjee World View


Getting Out and About

Following our map and having got our bearings, we came first to Chandrasekhara's temple. This being virtually our first sight of ruins in Hampi, we didn't know whether to be excited or disappointed, so we decided to play it safe by not taking any photos. It was quite a grand little thing, with a gateway, a courtyard, and a shrine. Both gateway and shrine had the towering gopuras (or stupi), the temple equivalent of a spire, which was so characteristic of the temples in the south. These, being not made of stone, but of brick and plaster, often got greatly effaced over the years.

The shrine, here as in many other temples we came across later, led inwards through successive doorway to smaller and smaller, darker and darker chambers till complete darkness was attained, and there they placed the idol. I think in many of the temples we saw, the idols were now absent, but I never could verify this for myself as the darkness of the chambers and their consequent attractiveness as to the bats, as testified to by the sounds, the occasional fly-past and the omnipresent smell, made entry into the deepest recesses quite prohibitive.

Inside the first chamber, which being well enough lighted we almost invariably entered, the majority of the temples were plain and uninteresting enough to leave us with no regrets about venturing no further. There were exceptions, of course.

The area here was dusty and rocky and there were intriguing bits of ruins strewn casually about. We wandered around and looked at some of these and speculated as to the causes of their origins and their functions. But some were no more than a foot high, leaving lots of scope for speculation and no grounds for it.

Nearby was the Octagonal Bath, a small, partly sunken structure quite charming and mostly complete. Close to this was what seemed to have been a vast enclosure or platform of some kind. It was surrounded by what now seemed like mazy walls with a devious path for entry. We could find no reference to it in any of our books or maps, so we left it and walked a short distance cross-country to another small temple.

We could now clearly identify the Queen's Bath and the Throne Platform (from pictures in our books) so we had our bearings all right, but none of our literature named or even showed this tiny structure. It was a temple on a high plinth, and afforded pleasant views of the Octagonal Bath and the countryside, but not much more. Later, a guide map at the Queen's Bath identified it as the Sarasvati Temple, but since, at the same place, there was a newly painted sign identifying the Queen's Bath as the Lotus Mahal, which it clearly wasn't, I don't know how much trust to put by its identification.

It was hot, so we rested in the shade here awhile, thus disturbing the peace for a boy who had come here armed with books to study.

The Queen's Bath was a short distance away, but surrounded by a new and quite high barbed wire fence which necessitated walking around the enclosure till we reached the entrance, bringing us back to the main road from Kamalapur to Hampi. We were now maybe a km from our hotel (for want of a better word) in Kamalapur, but having zig-zagged around, must have walked a couple of km by now.

The Queen's Bath, on the outside, was a staid sort of affair, white-washed in light pink. Inside, it had an arched (typically Islamic in style) passageway around a rather deep bath. There was a narrow moat around the building and a water channel leading from it to the bath. It was far from ornate, but you could just imagine a whole zenana-full of women with maids in attendance, all trooping down here in their finery and lazing around in the water on a hot summer's day like this.

There was much to see; we didn't linger. We followed the broad, sandy footpath (which was also used by buses and other vehicles) and eventually came to the Throne Platform. This is a rather large (given what its name would lead you to expect) and high plinth, quite pretty and highly carved and sculpted. On this an ornate throne of gold and gems used to be placed on ceremonial occasions (primarily Mahanavami, giving it the alternative sobriquet of Mahanavami Dibba) for the King to survey all the celebrations and rituals observed on the occasion. There is a small chamber, now sealed, where, it is postulated, the Throne used to be kept when not in use. Mahanavami then, according to our guide book, was a grand festival with much pomp and show and an excessive slaughter of animals; nine days of sheer extravaganza.

The Throne Platform was part of a huge enclosure which once included the King's Palace, his Audience Hall, a Bath for the royal family, another which may have been used by his guards and servants, the remains of an Aqueduct supplying water to the baths, the Mint and an Underground Chamber.

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