Visit Hampi to see the splendour of the Vijayanagara Empire, but also discover the areas close link to the story of Ram. Few realise that just outside the grand ancient capital of the Vijayanagara Empire (1336-1646 CE) is an area steeped in legend.. Cross the Tungabhadra River in what is now modern-day Karnataka and head out 3 km and you’re in Anegundi, or as legend knows it as, Kishkinda. Archaeologically speaking, this place is more ancient than Hampi. Numerous iron-age Megaliths exist on the extensive hill ranges at Anegundi. In one of the earliest narration about Vijayanagara empire in the book “The Vijayanagar Empire: Chronicles Paes and Nuniz” written by contemporary Portuguese travellers Domingos Paes and Fernao Nuniz in the 16th century, it is mentioned that “in former times this land belonged all to the monkeys, and that in those days they could speak.”.
They were undoubtedly referring to legend. After all the epic Ramayana tells us that it is here that the exiled Prince of Ayodhya would meet Hanuman, spend time in the fabled kingdom of the monkeys, and form an alliance with the Vanar Sena or monkey army to take on the King of Lanka and rescue his wife Sita.
Everywhere in Anegundi, even today, you see traces of this tale – in Rishyamukh Hill and the Hanuman temple that mark the spot where Ram and Hanuman first met; in the neighbouring Anjaneyadri Hill, said to be the birthplace of Hanuman and also topped by a temple in his name. Hampi itself will take on new meaning, once you’ve taken in Anegundi, because the legends made their way across the river and through the centuries, to be etched in stone on the temples here.
The temples, of course, are only some of the 1,600 surviving structures that make up the group of monuments that are the Hampi UNESCO world heritage site. There are also royal complexes, fortifications, pillared halls, gateways, stables and more.
Hampi formed the heart of the great Vijayanagara Empire from the 14th century to the Battle of Talikota in 1565, when it was brutally sacked. The city of present-day Hampi, was perhaps one of the most impressive cities of its time. But equally significant is the small town that sits just outside, historic yet relatively unknown – Kishkinda.
Did you know that the name ‘Kishkinda’ even inspired one of the chapters or kandas in the oldest version of the Ramayana written by the scholar and sage Valmiki? This version consists of 24,000 verses divided into five kāṇḍas – Ayodhyakāṇḍa, Araṇyakāṇḍa, Kiṣkindakāṇḍa, Sundarākāṇḍa and Laṅkākāṇḍa. The events of Kiṣkindakāṇḍa are set in what is now Anegundi.
For those new to this story, Ram is worshipped as an avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu, and in history is remembered as a king of the Ikshvaku Dynasty. He was sent into exile for 14 years by his father, King Dasaratha, the ruler of Ayodhya. King Dasaratha had his life saved by the second of his three wives, and promised her two wishes as a reward. For her first wish, she asked that the king make their son, Bharat, heir to the throne, rather than his eldest, Ram. For her second, she asked that Ram be exiled. She knew Ram was too popular for her son Bharat to have any chance of ruling if he was still around.
And so Ram went into exile with his wife Sita and his brother, Lakshman, who joined him in solidarity. Dasaratha died broken-hearted. Bharat refused to rule and said he’d rather put Ram’s footwear on the throne than presume to sit on it himself.
Eventually, Ram’s exile ended and he returned home, and though it had been so many years and so much had happened, the people were so happy that they lit every oil lamp they could find, to welcome him back.
And so today, we celebrate Diwali, as a time of new beginnings, of wrongs righted and of the inevitable triumph of good.
But before all that, Ram had battles to fight. While in exile, his wife Sita was abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. Following in pursuit, Ram and Lakshman travelled from the forests around Ayodhya all the way south to Kishkinda, where they met a dethroned monkey king, Sugriva, and his faithful warrior, Hanuman.
Sugriva had been betrayed and dethroned by his brother Vali. Ram helped him regain his throne and in gratitude, he lent Ram his Vanar Sena. Together, they crossed the sea with Hanuman’s aid, defeated Ravana and rescued Sita.
And it all began in Kishkinda. The name likely changed to ‘Anegundi’ during the Vijayanagara Empire. Anegundi means ‘elephant enclosure’ in Kannada and the Vijayanagara rulers had elephant stables here. Across the river in Hampi, Ram is still worshipped in live temples that continue to conduct pujas in his name.
This Diwali, take a look at a significant but largely forgotten setting of one of India’s grandest epics.
Rishyamukh Hill (Anegundi)
Rishyamukh is the small hill beside the Tungabhadra River and opposite the Chakra Tirtha. It is said to have been a mute witness to the first meeting between Ram and Hanuman.
Kodanda Ram Temple is located near Chakra Tirtha, the holiest bathing place in Hampi. The name Chakra Tirtha is rooted in mythology and derived from the legend that at this place Shiva provided Vishnu his Sudarshan Chakra – his most powerful weapon. Opposite the Chakra Tirtha, there is a long, pillared pavilion, where pilgrims can rest. On the eastern side of this pavilion is the whitewashed, pillared Kodanda Ram temple.
Local folklore says this is where Ram crowned Sugriva King after he killed Vali. The temple houses standing figures of Ram, Sita and Lakshman that are about 15 feet tall and carved out of a boulder. There is also a small statue of a monkey engraved here, which is believed by many to be that of Sugriva, not Hanuman. The sanctum and the temple seem to have been built around the deities at a later stage.
Opposite the Chakra Tirtha, on higher ground following a flight of stairs, stands the Yanthrodharaka Anjaneya Prana Devaru temple dedicated to Hanuman. The temple is in front of Rishyamukh Hill. Legend says this is where Hanuman met Ram for the first time. The inner sanctum of the temple contains an image of Hanuman enclosed within a hexagonal amulet carved in stone. The amulet has 12 monkeys carved around it.
The image engraved on the stone is supposed to have been created by a Madhva Brahmin philosopher, Vyāsatīrtha or Vyasaraja (c. 1460 – c. 1539). Legend says he ‘saw’ Hanuman in the form of a monkey, who jumped out of his drawing 12 times, which is why he created the hexagonal amulet around his artwork, which is known as Yantra (a mystical diagram from Tantric traditions). Standing inside the temple brings back the verse Hanuman uttered while meeting the Ayodhya Princes in disguise.
बिप्र रूप धरि कपि तँह गयऊ | माथ नाइ पूछत अस भयऊ ||
को तुम्ह स्यामल गौर सरीरा | छत्री रूप फिरहु बन बीरा ||
(Taking the form of a Brahmana, the monkey (Hanuman) went up to the two brothers, and bowing his head accosted them thus: “Who are you, heroes – one of dark hue, the other fair – that roam the woods disguised as Kshatriyas?”)
Matanga Hill (Anegundi)
The two hills that relate to the Ramayana and the saga of Kishkinda are the Matanga and Malyavanta hills. Located 600 metres from the Kodanda Ram Temple, Matanga Hill is very closely entwined with the story of Kishkinda. This is where the Monkey King Sugriva took refuge after he was chased from his kingdom by his brother Vali. Sugriva came here to escape Vali as the latter had been forbidden by Sage Matanga from venturing into the area. Vali had dumped the corpse of a buffalo demon named Dundhuvi here, and this violated the sanctity of Sage Matanga’s ashram. Matanga cursed Vali and forbade him from returning to this hill.
A tedious climb takes you to the top of the hill, where a Shaivite temple of Veerabhadra stands. Sitting at this fabulous vantage point with other sunset lovers makes you wonder what life must have been like here for Sugriva and his team until Ram came and killed Vali and restored the kingdom to Sugriva.
En route from the Kodanda Ram Temple to the famous Vithhalla Temple, there is a narrow passage between the rocks. It leads to a closed area with an iron door, which is obviously a latter-day addition. This is supposed to be Sugriva’s Cave, his temporary shelter.
It is said that while he was resting here, Sugriva was astonished to see a huge flying chariot carrying a woman crying for help. The charioteer was a ten-headed villain. She probably spotted Sugriva on the ground and dropped some of her jewellery in haste. Later, when Sugriva met Ram, he handed him the jewels in an attempt to identify their owner.
In Valmiki’s Ramayana, Sita wore jewellery during exile, which she dropped from the sky, but in the Ramcharitmanas, it was a scarf that she dropped from the sky. Sugriva says to Ram through the verses of Tulsidas, हमहि देखि दीन्हेउ पट डारि (‘She dropped her scarf when she saw us’).
Although the gate to Vali’s fabled fort, with two huge bastions, looks like it was built in the 15th-16th centuries, during the reign of the Vijayanagara Empire, there is a small sculpture of a monkey with a fish and a snake on either side just above the entrance gate of the fort, which probably birthed this legend.
There is a cave inside the fort and, according to legend, this is where the battle between Vali and Dundhubi’s son Mayavi took place while Sugriva stood guard outside. A month after the battle, blood poured out of the cave. With Vali nowhere in sight, Sugriva feared the worst. He returned and claimed the throne, only to be dislodged by Vali of his belongings and his wife. The interior of the cave is claustrophobic and it couldn’t have been easy to wrestle a demon inside. With a bit of imagination, you can almost hear the war-cry of the monkey Prince.
From Vali’s fort, you get a drone-type view of the famous Pampa Sarovar. The area around the holy water body is peaceful and there is an abundance of monkeys who are always in the lookout for bananas. From talking, warrior monkeys to banana-hunters is quite a leap!
The area surrounding the lake has a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, another dedicated to Lakshmi, and a cave. Pillars have been built around the cave and they have been whitewashed. This was supposed to be the abode of Shabari (a disciple of Sage Matanga and a devotee of Ram) and also where she met her lord. Shabari offered Ram berries that she had tasted earlier, to test their sweetness. Ram accepted the berries as she understood her devotion and simplicity.
Inside the cave is an engraved pair of footprints, supposedly that of Ram. While logic dictates otherwise, armed with faith, it is not difficult to imagine Ram standing there and accepting Shabari’s offerings.
Anjaneyadri Hill looms on the horizon when viewed from almost anywhere in Anegundi. This is the most celebrated site in the region as it is believed to be the birthplace of Hanuman. According to Hindu mythology, Hanuman was born to Anjana and was therefore also known as ‘Anjaneya’. The name ‘Anjaneyadri’ means ‘Anjana’s place’.
The top of the hill can be reached by stairs – over 500 of them. Once you get there, you will see a very modern-looking temple that houses a statue of Hanuman engraved in a rock. There is also a small shrine for Ram and his consort Sita inside the temple. Most importantly, there is a shrine dedicated to Hanuman’s mother, Anjaneya. You also notice a strange-looking piece of rock immersed in water inside a closed glass box. A sign outside the box simply says, ‘The stone was used to build the Ram bridge’.
Perhaps the most celebrated place after Anjaneyadri Hill at Anegundi, relating to the Ramayana, is Chintamani. This place houses a Shiva temple and the cave where Ram supposedly met Sugriva for the first time and handed over Sita’s jewels to him. Here, Ram planned and executed his strategy to kill Vali. There are two pairs of footprints engraved outside the cave.
A local guide will point to the footprints and tell you with such authority that this is exactly where Ram stood and shot Vali, that it is not hard to imagine the Prince of Ayodhya standing there and taking aim with his bow and arrow.
Close to Chintamani on an island is a Nava Vrindavan that can be reached via ferry. This is one of the holiest spots for Madhva Brahmins as it contains the Brindavanas (final resting place of nine Madhva saints including that of Vyasaraja). Local legend says that while in pursuit of Sita, Ram had pointed this island to Lakshman and asked him to show respect as in future it would be a holy place.
Malyavanta Hill & Ragunatha Temple (Hampi)
After Sugriva was established as the king of Kishkinda, the monsoon arrived. According to mythology, it was atop Malyavanta Hill at Vijayanagara that Ram and his brother Lakshman waited for four months during the monsoon before they marched towards Lanka with the monkey army to rescue Sita.
The Ramayana connection here is a Shiva Cave Temple, built under a massive boulder. Legend says that the Princes of Ayodhya stayed here during the monsoon. Near this cave is a fissure on the open ground which is filled with water. There are two rows of Shivalingams and other carvings on the ground, which is separated by this fissure. It is believed that Lakshman created this fissure using his arrow.
The Malyavanta Ragunatha Temple dedicated to Raghunath alias Ram is situated on the top of this hillock, inside a high, walled enclosure. The main temple deities are Ram, Lakshman and Sita, with a kneeling Hanuman carved on a boulder. Their depiction is somewhat similar to the deities of the Kodanda Ram Temple, except that Ram and Lakshman are in a seated posture here. The huge temple complex with exquisite sculptures is built around this boulder in a manner similar to that of the Kodanda Ram Temple.
Located centrally in Hampi, the Hazara Rama Temple is relatively small compared to the other main temples. It was built during the reign of King Deva Raya I (r. 1406-1422). Further additions were made to the temple in the 16th century. The external wall of the temple is adorned with meticulously detailed sculptures showcasing events from the Ramayana and events of the Krishna Lila.
It is quite a sight as there are so many scenes from the epic depicted here. The story moves sequentially along the rows as one moves along the walls, clockwise. The interior of the temple is rather plain, apart from four stone pillars which have exquisite sculptures.
The Pattabhi Ram Temple is at Kamalpura, far from the main cluster of temples at Hampi. The area is a suburb of Vijayanagara and is known as Vardarajammanapattana. The temple was supposed to have been built in 1540 CE, during the reign of Achyutraya, so it post-dates the Hazara Ram temple.
This means the practice of worshipping Ram continued in Vijayanagara with the passage of time. The temple complex is huge and is surrounded by prakara or high walls. The main temple has a garbhagriha (inner sanctum), an antarala (ante-chamber) an ardhamantapa (open pillared pavilion) and a mahamantapa (closed, central pillared pavilion). There are several sculptures of Ram and several forms of Vishnu and Hanuman. The sculptures don’t tell stories as in the Hazara Rama and are mostly single figures.
To truly feel the presence of that famous king of Ayodhya, a trip to Anegundi along with Hampi can be very rewarding.
Recent archaeological excavations, especially those in Keeladi near Madurai, have helped lift the veil on what was a formative phase of Tamil history and culture. We dig deep to piece together this story on early ‘Tamilakam’ in our series ‘2000 years of India’s History’
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