Monthly Archives: June 2016

Myth, Imagination & Intangible Heritage in Hampi Going Beyond Ruins

Tungabhadra - Hampi - 2

Teaser –

A holistic comprehension of Hampi is beyond its ruins and lies in its multiple layers of Myth, imagination and Intangible Heritage…Travel with Dr. Navina Jafa

Hampi is a small village located in North Karnataka south of the Tropic of Cancer in the Deccan Plateau. It is possibly the largest and perhaps best preserved medieval cities in India ruled by Hindu rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire (14th-17thc) and has been enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Innumerable secular and sacred structures punctuate the raw beauty of the landscape, where majestic boulders and ruins are provided relief by the pristine river Tungabhadra. This article argues that neither packaged tourism nor conservation programs should be limited to just accessing the archaeological sites, and the natural environment, one must aspire to connect and relish the entire eco-system within which both the archaeological ruins and natural bounty exists. It is that eco-system made of mythical realities, and an entire index of skills that make Hampi a living site.

Little one connects that for the local people, Hampi and its neighborhood has a parallel mythical reality which precedes the archaeological ruins of the Vijaynagar Empire. Central to both the making of the medieval city, as well its mythical sacred importance is the river Tungabhadra whose ancient name is Pampa, which inspired the name Hampi. Pampa the daughter of the Hindu God of creation Brahma finally through her devotion won Shiva as her husband. On the occasion of their marriage the Gods in heaven showered heaps of gold (Hemakuta) which is why the hill where the event took place is called the Hemakuta hill.

Puppeteers of Hampi

Figure 1Master Shadow pupetteer Narayanappa in Kishkinda Trust

The other folklore is about the landscape which is addressed as the Kishkinda shetra, a subject fundamental to the Ramayana, one of the two mythological texts that dictates the imagination of not only Indians but large number of Asians. Hampi and its neighborhood area is supposed to be the Monkey Kingdom ruled by the Monkey King Sugriva, his brother Vali and the birthplace of the great monkey God Hanuman who was born on the Anjanadri Hill, yet the other is Rishyamukha hill where the folk believe is sacred geography it is here that Lord Rama and Hanuman struck a treaty and it is here that the boulders in front, along the flowing river with coracles is a photographer’s delight. This is a part of the Deccan plateau one of the oldest geological formations on earth, the locals call the nearby village Anegundi, the home of Mother Earth. The two varied mythical histories inspires temples that revolve around both the Shaivite as well as Vaishnavite themes. To highlight the folklore, it is important that as part of responsible tourism that one can introduce the work of shadow leather puppeteers that showcase the stories of Hanuman the Monkey God. This will provide re-positioning these skilled communities and create sustainable livelihood. The Jafa Journeys collaborated with the Sangit Natak Akademi, the apex national body for performing arts and organized the program of the National awardee Narayanappa and his troupe.

tungabhadra - boats- 2

                                        Figure 2coracles or basket boats on Tungabhadra

The natural environment and mythical identity has inspired the content and skills that create the intangible heritage of the ecology of Hampi. One of these skills are the coracles or the round basket boats used to travel in Hampi. The Portuguese traveler Domingos Paes in the 16thc in his detailed account on Vijaynager wrote that people travelled on the river in round basket boats made of bamboo and covered with hide. He wrote, that, not only did these boats transport people, but were used to carry livestock as well. The boats were steered by men holding simple paddles.[1] The basket boats are appreciated for their portability. They are easy to construct are light weight, can carry large amount of weight, and at an average carry 6-8 people. Made by splitting and drying thin bamboo strips are then knitted to form a round shape, which then are coated with resin and finally waterproofing is done. A single person leans over the side and does a puling stroke towards himself.  Most of these boatmen have their rituals, boat songs, and yet they struggle for a living since the tourism season lasts for three to four months.

Yet another intriguing skill of this area are amazing street magicians. Wearing fantastic clothes, for a brief time they take you into a fantasy world where they swallow stones, and produces statues of Gods. This traditional community meditate in graveyards, and roam around temple premises showing their magic tricks.

magicians of hampi

                                         Figure 3Traditional Magician in Hampi

Finally, this article would like to present the remarkable work done by the Kishkinda Trust in the old neighboring village Anegundi. Many long years ago, Shama Pawar dedicated her life for the socio-economic development of the people in and around Hampi. The Kishkinda Trust as a non-state actor has initiated multilayered programs ranging from conserving traditional houses, creating business incubators, has programs on skills such as weaving from banana fibre and creating jewellery from tamarind seeds.

shama pawar                                                                    Shama Pawar


The academic travels called the Jafa Journeys brings to the participant a holistic comprehension of Hampi which otherwise is limited to the landscape and majestic scattered ruins. These journeys are such that people get into a similar dream and one returns enriched to combat the world of today!

Email-  for any query & like Facebook page – Indian Cultural Heritage Research


[1] ,  Paes, Domingos, Robert Sewell , Fernão Nunes: A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar): a contribution to the history of India, S. Sonnenchen & Co Ltd  digitized by Google from the library of Harvard University, first published 1900.