A Tale of Two Temples: Vittala and Virupaksha

Yali carvings at Vittala temple in Hampi
He might just eat you: yali carvings on pillars of Vittala temple

“So many temples, but no god to pray to!”

My dear mother is a traditional Hindu lady. Architectural splendor, sculptural marvel is all good and fine, but after half a day of admiring stone pillars and elephants and other carvings in the temples, her heart yearned for an idol to bow to, a god to fold her palms before. Unfortunately, that was in short supply in the temples of Hampi, all the gods having been carted off by invaders centuries ago. We had encountered a Shivalinga and a Narasimha (those would have been extremely difficult to cart off), but that was pretty much it.

The Vittala temple is the crown jewel of the Hampi tour, and that is probably why reaching there is like making a pilgrimage. Your auto or car is not allowed within two kilometres of the temple premises, as the vibrations from heavy traffic have damaged the structures. Battery-operated vehicles transport tourists to and fro, or you can also walk there.

There are fours halls in the Maha Mantapa (Great Hall), each with its own theme and unique characteristics. While one is dedicated to the fine arts, with carvings of musicians and dancers, another tends toward the majestic, with gigantic yalis (hippogryphs), yet another paying homage to the many avatars of Lord Vishnu, particularly Narasimha. Each pillar is unique, each carving different from the other.

Stone Chariot in Hampi
Pulling this would definitely earn one a spot in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

Stone Chariot

And of course, there is the stone chariot. Though not as big as Puri’s giant rath, it is nevertheless the central attraction at this temple. I doubt the chariot was ever built to move; it is more of a shrine. After you’ve taken photos sitting between its wheels and at the base of the ladder, take some time to admire the handiwork of the sculptors, the slender corbelled pillars, the floral motifs on the wheels, the dancing figures at the base. Then point at them and talk intelligently about them.

Wheels of Stone Chariot

After lunch, mom decided she had had enough of culture. My suggestion to pray to the carvings didn’t cut any ice with her. So we went to the Virupaksha temple, a “real” temple, with deities and all.

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, known here as Virupaksha, and his consort, Pampa Devi, the river goddess. The huge gopuram (gateway) is in the style of most South Indian temples, with intricate carvings and a horn-shaped structure on top. The three-headed Nandi near the entrance is quite a rarity. Nandi is Lord Shiva’s vehicle and common in Shiva temples, but a three-headed Nandi is a new thing for me.

Three-headed Nandi
Three, or rather, 2.5-headed Nandi.
Gopuram at Virupaksha temple
Gopuram at Virupaksha temple

Most temples have an elephant, and this one was supposed to have one too, but it was not there when we went. No idea if it is a permanent absence or it was taking an afternoon siesta. The inverted gopuram is supposed to be a major thing: you can see an inverted shadow of the gopuram on the wall from a small window in a part of the temple. Nothing magical, just simple laws of physics.

The tale of the two temples concludes here. Mom was happy: she got her gods. I was happy: I got my history and art.

2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Temples: Vittala and Virupaksha”

  1. I spent 4 wonderful months in your incredible country with my husband professor and 11 architecture students.We visited many of those temples….amazing. Check out my blog at talesalongtheway.com Namaste. . .. Anne

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