Hampi : Eastern Gopura and Lamp Column, Vitthala Temple Complex - 1856
This photograph shows the eastern gopura and a monolithic lamp column, Vitthala temple complex, Hampi (Vijayanagara).
Vijayanagara, meaning ‘city of victory’ was the imperial capital of the last great Hindu empire to rule south India. Established in 1336 and named after its capital, the Vijayanagara empire expanded and prospered throughout the next century. In 1565, this impressive city was sacked by armies from the Deccan sultanates and never rebuilt. Now known as the ‘Group of Monuments at Hampi’, the site represents the empire’s finest and highest concentration of architecture. Classified into religious, courtly and military buildings, its pillared audience halls and towering gateways are its stylistic hallmarks. Many secular buildings bear Islamic features, displaying the city’s cosmopolitan inception. Some of its religious complexes remain in use today.
Amateur British colonial photographer, Alexander Greenlaw was the first to extensively photograph the site in 1855-56. The resulting series of waxed paper negatives were made available to the V&A and printed in 1910. These are the earliest known prints.
Vitthalapura beyond the temple complex :
Outside the eastern gopura are two colonnaded streets, one running northward ending at a smaller walled temple dedicated to RAMANUJA, a Vaishnava saint, the other street runs eastward and functioned as a bazaar street and ceremonial route for temple chariots. It continues for almost one kilometre before ending at the utsava mandapa at the extreme eastern boundary of Vitthalapura. This ornate open pillared hall is embellished with plaster images of the Alvar saints on its parapet and carvings on its ceiling. This suggests that images of the saints were also brought here in procession.
Originally there was a lofty lamp column (12.2m high) in front of the eastern gopura but it now lies broken in pieces.
On the north side of the chariot street is found the temple tank, a large rectangular and stepped tank in the middle of which is a small pavilion. The tank is surrounded by its own colonnades and is approached through a gateway with sculpted horse columns, the only examples of this animal motif at Vijayanagara.
The urban district of Vitthalapura functioned as a scholarly monastic centre with an important Vaishnava matha, a residential area, a centre for craft production and active bazaars, a pilgrimage centre and also a centre for Alvar Acharya worship. The Alvars were a group of poet saints associated with the Vaishnava devotional bhakti movement between the late six to ninth centuries. They were instrumental in establishing particular shrines as pilgrimage centres in Vitthalapura. It is likely that when the images from the main sanctuary were taken in procession at festival times, they would have stopped at these temples, probably in a clockwise circumambulatory sequence.
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