It is not yet 8 a.m. but it is already burning hot at Hampi. Forty of us have got off the bus at the Virupaksha Bazaar and are now climbing up a rocky pathway.
The scenic Tungabhadra winding by our side more than makes up for the heat and we carry on. We are all on our way to the Yantroddharaka Anjaneya Swami temple. It is also one of the few that is still in active worship in this desecrated capital city of a great empire.
Our route takes us over rough-hewn steps, under rocks that form natural arches overhead, and through sudden bends. Suddenly we are out in the open. Coracles are drying in a rocky outcrop while others are bobbing in the water.
This must have been a sight that has remained unchanged from the time of Vijayanagar. Below, the Tungabhadra has made a sharp turn and is almost forming a circle before moving on. This spot is Chakra Teertha and above us, a short flight of steps away, is our destination. We crowd into the small sanctum. The priest is still preparing the space for morning worship. The Hanuman here is a bas-relief, depicted as a seated, two-armed deity. Surrounding him is a star-shaped boundary, the yantra.
The deity is one of 732 Anjaneyas installed by Vyasaraya, among the great sages of the Madhva order, preceptor to Krishnadeva Raya and the head of the university that was established at Vijayanagar during the empire’s heyday.
The priest begins the worship and one of our group chants an eight-stanza hymn in praise of the deity, composed by Vyasaraya himself. As the camphor is waved, we notice that all around the star are carved several monkeys in relief. It is said that there are 12 of them, signifying the number of times Vyasaraya tried to entice Hanuman to stay within the yantra, only to have him fly out.
My bringing this group to the shrine is a culmination of a dream of two years. During the December Music Season of 2016, I attended a concert of Ramakrishnan Murthy where he sang ‘Swami Mukhya Prana’, a composition of Purandaradasa. It has been tuned in Yadukula Khambodi by RK Shriramkumar. The song states that it is in praise of the Yantroddharaka Anjaneya who is on the banks of the river Pampa, which is the local name for the Tungabhadra.
It is historically significant, for it is one of the few songs of Purandaradasa that can be authoritatively identified with a shrine in Vijayanagar. Worship over, we are all given akshata, coloured a deep red, in true Madhva tradition. Can a song on the deity be sung, we ask the priest rather hesitantly. The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ and we all seat ourselves in the outer courtyard, the priest coming along. Singer Ashwath Narayanan, who is part of the group then begins ‘Swami Mukhya Prana’.
Looking back, it is somewhat of a miracle that the Yantroddharaka Anjaneya temple survived the sack of Vijayanagar. All around it are ruins of bigger and magnificently carved shrines, all desecrated and without the principal idols.
The Thiruvengalatha shrine, better known as the Achyutaraya temple, after the ruler who built it, with the Sule Bazaar fronting it, is close by, and bore the brunt of the invaders fury. Not so the Anjaneya temple and its neighbour, the Kothandarama temple.
Perhaps those who plundered Vijayanagar did not think these two important enough. A day earlier, we had visited the Virupaksha-Pampapathi shrine and climbed up the Hemakuta hill.
The beginner’s Gitam, ‘Kunda Gaura,’ is dedicated to this temple and we all sang it in chorus, at Ashwath Narayanan’s suggestion. The net effect was raucous, but we were all children again, in a music class. What was surprising was the reaction of other tourists — they all happily crowded in, some sang along. Truly music brings peace to a troubled world. I wonder how many children are ever told the historical connect to the small song they learn.
Another connect to the grandsire of Carnatic music is the Purandara Mandapa. Located practically on the river bed, it is a long-pillared hall with a low stone roof. On one of the pillars is a relief of Purandaradasa, though its provenance is unknown. It is said that the composer stayed here. Thanks to a venturi effect, a cool breeze blows through the structure at all times of the day and night. This mandapa too is intact, while its immediate neighbour, the grand Vittala temple, is in ruins.
The river when in spate enters the mandapa and caresses Purandaradasa. Heaven knows how many of his masterpieces he composed here. A peaceful silence pervades the entire area and it moves you to sing.
This article appeared in The Hindu dated Nov 30, 2018 and can be read here.