The Legacy of Chitrasutra – Nine –Sri Pampa Virupaksha temple at Hampi

23 Sep

[This is the Eighth article in the series.

This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on the   Art of Painting in Ancient India .

The present article is about the murals painted on the high ceiling of the ranga-mantapa (the hall) at the Sri Pampa Virupaksha temple, Hampi (Karnataka).The 15-16th century art and architecture in Hampi represents the flowering of the Vijayanagara School.

In the next article we shall look at another set of Paintings at Lepakshi (AP), which represent a much advanced stage of the Vijayanagara art.]

Continued from the Legacy of Chitrasutra – Seven – Brihadeeshwara

28. Pampa-Hampe-Hampi


28.1. The temple of Sri Virupaksha at the foot of the Hemakuta hills, along the southern bank of the Tungabhadra, is the oldest shrine in Hampi; and it is still in active worship. It is a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva who is addressed and worshiped here as Pampapathi and Virupaksha. Its  towering Gopura stands tall and alone amidst the ruins of Vijayanagar, the forgotten empire (1336-1565).


hampi aerial view 2

hampi arieal view

Hampi temple

28.2. The earlier name of the river Tungabhadra that meanders through the rocky terrain of the ancient ruined city was the Pampa. And, the lake nearby was Pampa–sarovara; and the area surrounding the river was called Pampa-kshetra (the region of Pampa). The Lord of this kshetra, the sacred space, is Pampapathi. The Pampa is also identified with Parvathi. Thus,   Shiva, in either case, is Pampapathi the Lord of Pampa.

The area around the Pampa, surrounded by amazingly rugged massive boulders and craggy hills of Malyavantha, Matanga and Hemakuta, is identified as the Kishkindha, the capital of the Vanaras, of the Ramayana era. As if to justify its claim to that distinction, the hills are menacingly populated with ferocious long -tailed, dark- faced langur monkeys.


28.3. With the establishment of a Kingdom (c.1336) by the Sangama brothers – Harihara Raya (Hakka) and Bukka Raya (Bukka) – the rocky wilderness came to be known as Vijayanagar or Virupaksha-pura (after its presiding deity Lord Virupaksha, one of the many names of Shiva).

28. 4. Hampa is the archaic Kannada name for the Sanskrit term Pampa; and its later Kannada form is Hampe, which    eventually got anglicized into Hampi. But today, Hampi, in effect, is the Ruins of Hampi, a UNESCO protected world heritage site .

Hampi Ruins

Encased within the amphitheater of tough and defiant rocky landscape, the imposing 160-foot spire of the Sri Pampa-Virupaksha shrine stands tall overlooking the ruins strewn around it; a magnificent -mute-witness to history, glory and the  ruin.

Vijayanagara, earliest example of imperial city

29. Sri Pampa Virupaksha

29.1. The Pampa-Virupaksha shrine predates the foundation of the empire over which it came to preside. It is said; the sanctum per se belongs to about seventh century. The inscriptions of 9th-10th centuries suggest that some additions were made to that structure during the late Chalukya and Hoysala periods. The Sangamas rulers (1336-1485) too effected other improvements to the temple. It was particularly during the reign of Deva Raya II (r. 1425–1446 CE)the greatest of the Sangama dynasty rulers that huge temple was built under the supervision of  the Nayaka or the chieftain Lakkana Dandesha.

It was, however,   during the reign of the Tuluva dynasty (1491 -1570:  a dynasty founded by the Tulu speaking Bunts hailing from coastal region of Karnataka) , the modest sized shrine was greatly extended and transformed into a sprawling major temple complex with many sub shrines, pillared halls, flag posts, lamp posts and towered gateways. A narrow channel of the Tungabhadra River   was diverted to flow along the temple’s terrace and then led into the temple-kitchen; and finally exited through the outer court.

29.2. The major improvements to the temple, such as the 50 m tall towering eastern gateway (Gopura) and the Ranga-mantapa were added around the year 1510, during the reign of Krishna Devaraya (1509-1529) the most celebrated of the Tuluva dynasty and of the entire line of the Vijayanagar rulers. Inscriptions on a stone plaque installed next to the pillared hall (mantapa) record his contributions to the temple.It is recorded that Krishna Devaraya commissioned this hall in 1510 AD to mark his accession. The Mantapa is in the Vijayanagara Style of architecture, with its exterior walls decorated with many bas-reliefs and with multi-petalled lotus motif.

The Kings of Vijayanagar promulgated State orders in the name of Lord Sri Virupaksha ; and , affixed signature to the documents as ‘Sri Virupaksha ‘.

30. Paintings on the high-ceiling

30.1. The high ceiling of the Rang-mantapa as also its supporting beams were, at onetime ( early 16th century)  , decorated with painted panels depicting themes from the epics as also from events of contemporary life. The Vijayanagara style of painting, as it came to be known later, was a combination of the Chalukya, Chola and Pandya styles. The characteristic features of the Vijayanagara art were the simplicity and vigour in their depiction. There was an attempt to capture the sense of movement and energy in the painted figures. They marked the flowering of Deccan art and culture.

30.2. The murals were arranged on the high-ceiling of the Ranga-matapa, within rectangular panels having richly decorated borders.  Sadly much of the painted panels have faded away or were destroyed. Only the panels on the central portion of the Ranga-mantapa are now visible; and they are the only few remains of the Vijayanagara mural art.

30.3. The story of the Vijayanagar Empire and its early kings is intertwined with stories of the Indian epic heroes. Both shared a deep religious belief and an ambition to establish a new and a just world order. The prime impulse for establishing and building Vijaynagara kingdom too was born out of a deep-rooted aspiration to protect and perpetuate the Hindu way of life and its values, the Dharma. The inspiration for that bold initiative was provided by the founders’ preceptor Guru Sage Sri Vidyaranya. He was the 12th Jagadguru who presided over Sri Sharada Peetham at Sringeri (Karnataka) from 1380 to 1386 A.D.

30.4. The glory, the virtues, the valour and the deeds of the gods and the epic heroes, naturally, formed the subject of Vijayanagar art. Those themes were depicted with pride, devotion and great skill in all Vijayanagara sculptures and paintings.

30 .5. The themes depicted in the paintings were mainly from the puranas and the epics. They include several of Shiva’s manifestations (Kamadahana-murti and Tripurari); Girija-kalyana (Girija’s wedding with Shiva); the ten incarnations (Dashavataras) of Vishnu; the figures of the Dikpalas (the protectors of all directions/regions); as also the classic scene of Arjuna shooting the fish device (matsya yantra) to win Draupadi’s hand in marriage.


30.6. Along with the epic themes, there is also a scene depicting Sri Vidyaranya the spiritual founder of Vijayanagar being taken in procession. Some scholars say, the founders of the Vijayanagara submitted the new- kingdom to their Guru, Sri Vidyaranya, of the monastery at Sringeri, as an act of intense devotion and gratitude. Sri Vidyaranya was thus the de-jure king ; and the State, in its early stages, was administered in his name. It is because of that tradition, it is said, the Gurus  of Sringeri are entitled to the royal prerogatives of a throne, sceptre and crown.It is in practice, even to this day.

30.7. The Sri Vidyaranya panel is one among few in traditional Indian art, which depict scenes from contemporary history. The panel extant on the temple ceiling has, sadly, become old and hazy. It depicts the scene of Sri Vidyaranya seated in a palanquin and taken in a procession. The sage is seated in a decorated palanquin with a backrest carried by four bearers ; followed by several men on foot  weaving chowries (fly-whisks) or carrying long knotted staves. The long procession is led and followed by decorated elephants. The tilt of the palanquin hinted movements negotiating the uneven ground-surface.

The portrayal is one of grace and rhythm; and there is an air of calm and respectful silence in reverence to the Guru.

There is another painting (dated around 15th century) which depicts Sri Vidyaranya seated in a palanquin (adda-pallaki) and carried in procession , with the Kings of Vijayanagar attending on their Guru.

 [ Please do visit the website of the “ Vijayanagara and post Vijayanagara Murals: A digital heritage project Centre for Cultural Heritage and Tourism Studies, IIACD; Supported by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India for a collection of the reproduction of the Vijayanagara Murals; and the lucid explanations provided by Ms. Vijayashree  C S ]

31. The Technique

31.1. As regards the technique adopted, it was seeco technique where a surface was prepared with three or four layer of plasters and finally with a crystal soft lime plaster or the paste of the conch shells. Then, sketches were made on the smooth surface of dried plaster. This method of preparation of the surface was much different from the one adopted by the artists of Ajanta, which was more elaborate and spread over a much longer stages of preparation.

31.2. The sketches were made in red ochre; and the colours of the paints used were delicate and sometimes soft and smoky. Only three or four colours were used; and they were mostly earthen and sometimes mixed with glue or any other vegetable binders. The background was usually in red and the figures were in lighter tones are blue.

Please also read The History of Vijayanagar – The Never to be Forgotten Empire by  Bangalore Suryanarain Row ; Addison & Co., Madras – 1905

[ The British Council has since taken up The Vijayanagara Research Project, which  aims to examine both the Visual Arts collection of material (prints, drawings and photographs) related to Hampi , Vijayanagara.

Please click here for the details :  ]

[Please also see ‘ The Paintings of Vijayanagar Empire’ by Dr.Rekha Pande]


We shall look at the paintings at Lepakshi (Andhra Pradesh) which represent a much advanced stage of the Vijayanagara School of art.

References & Sources

Pictures are courtesy of internet


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9 responses to “The Legacy of Chitrasutra – Nine –Sri Pampa Virupaksha temple at Hampi

  1. Ram S

    June 6, 2014 at 4:07 am

    An excellent series of articles and very informative – thank you for these! In an online forum, someone opined that Anna L. Dallapiccola, an expert on art has assigned the Virupaksha Temple murals to the nineteenth century. Depiction of an early nineteenth century rifle being the conclusive proof. I find this difficult to believe. Is this true?

    • sreenivasaraos

      June 6, 2014 at 6:49 am

      Dear Shri Ram , Thank you for the visit ; and , for the appreciation. Please do read the other articles in the series which concludes with art and Music of Kalaacharya Shri S Rajam ,

      Yes; I agree . The Hampi murals cannot be as recent as the 19th century. . During that period the whole of Hampi region was totally deserted and virtually forsaken. Hardly anyone lived or visited Hampi during those dark years. There was , of course , no way any one would have taken the trouble of painting the desolate dilapidated temple ceilings.

      The Murals on the temple ceilings definitely belong to 14-15th century when the kingdom was alive and thriving; and when the temples were in active service. Some of the painting speak for themselves. For instance , take a look at the painting depicting Sage Vidyaranya taken in procession.

      Apart from that ,the Vijayanagar artists developed a robust style of their own which came to be known as Vijayanagar school. The painting were done in a series of panels depicting a theme The mural painting of the later date at Lepakshi , Penugonda and other places followed the Vijayanagar style of narrative depiction.

      Please read the article relating to murals at Lepakshi.

      Please keep conversing.


  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Dear Sreenivasa Rao,
    This excellent material is worth he reading before one intends to proceed to Hampi to see the art and ruins.

    Krishnan Bala

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      Dear Shri Bala, The murals, the less-known of the Hampi splendor, on the high ceiling of the Rang-mantapa of Sri Virupaksha temple are characterized by the simplicity and vigor in their depiction .They mark the flowering of Deccan art .The Vijayanagar mural art is the forerunner of the art that flourished in Lepakshi and other centers. Thank you for the appreciation. Warm Regards

  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 8:12 pm


    I just discovered a treasure here. I will start reading the entire series-

    The Legacy of Chitrasutra.

    Your narrative is fantastic. Your pictures are print quality. If history of India’s glory and legacy of the past is written, it should be this way. Thanks for starting this series.

    Suresh Rao


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