he undisputed highlight of the Hampi ruins and the grandest of all the religious monuments in the Sacred Centre, the 15th-century Vittala Temple, now a World Heritage Monument, represents the high point of Vijayanagar art and architecture. Standing among the boulders 2km from Hampi Bazaar, the site is in relatively good condition although a few cement scaffolds have been erected to keep the main structure from collapsing.
Built under the patronage of Deva Raya II (r.1422-46), it was enlarged in the 16th century by two of Vijayanagar’s greatest rulers, Krishnadeva Raya and Achyuta Raya. It was never finished or consecrated, yet the temple’s incredible sculptural work remains the pinnacle of Vijayanagar art.
The striking Vitthala Temple with its elaborate mandapas (columned halls) is dedicated to Vitthala, an incarnation of Vishnu the Preserver, the second god in the Hindu trinity.
It stands in a rectangular courtyard enclosed within high walls. It is one of the oldest and most intricately carved temples, with its gopurams and mandapas. Preceding the main shrine is the great open hall, or mahamandapa, built on a low platform and supported by intricately carved pillars. This was the gift of a military commander in 1554, just 11 years before the city was sacked and abandoned.
One of the notable features of the Dolotsava mandapa is the 56 superbly sculpted slender pillars which can be struck to produce different musical notes. Made out of a single granite block, each of the pillars that support the roof of the main temple is supported by a pillar representing a musical instrument, and is constructed as 7 minor pillars arranged around a main pillar. These 7 pillars, when struck, emanate the 7 notes from the representative instrument, varying in sound quality based on whether it represents a wind, string or percussion instrument. Authorities have placed them out of tourists’ bounds for fear of further damage.
The British wanted to find the reason behind this musical wonder so they cut two pillars to check whether there was anything inside these pillars that caused the musical sound. They found nothing inside these hollow pillars; however, today we can see the two pillars cut by the British.
In addition to the musical columns, the mandapa has elephants on the balustrades and horses at the entrance. Leaping yalis (mythological leonine beasts), many with riders, adorn the outer piers of the temple.
The other two ceremonial mandapas, Kalyana Mandapa (“Marriage Hall”) and Utsava Mandapa (“Festival Hall”) though less finely carved, nonetheless depict some interesting scenes, such as Krishna hiding in a tree from the gopis and a woman using a serpent twisted around a stick to churn a pot of buttermilk.
The temple’s showcase piece is the superb ornate stone chariot or ratha carved out of granite that stands in the temple courtyard, whose wheels were raised off the ground so that they were once capable of turning. However, the government cemented them to avoid further damage caused by the visitors. This is one of the three famous stone chariots in India, the other two being in Konark and Mahabalipuram. It is a reproduction of a processional wooden chariot. It houses an image of Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu.
Entrance into Vittala Temple is part of a composite ticket which can be re-used on the same day for admission into the Zenana Enclosure and Elephant Stables in the Royal Centre, and the archaeological museum in Kamalapuram.
Map of Hampi Ruins
Above is a map showing the locations of major tourist spots including Vittala Temple, as well as places of mythological significance in Hampi.