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The Musical Pillars of Hampi

The Musical Pillars of Hampi

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Is there a scientific basis to the musical notes emitted from the pillars at Hampi's Vittala Temple? Are the musical properties just accidental or were they engineered in some way by the master sculptors?

The grand Vittala Temple located at Hampi is known for its exquisite craftsmanship and architecture. This temple is one of the primary reasons Hampi has earned the UNESCO world heritage site tag. There are several interesting aspects to this temple, today we will focus our attention on the 56 pillared Ranga Mantapa, the main hall of the temple. Each of the 56 pillars in this hall are monoliths, meaning they are carved out of single stone. Each pillar in turn have multiple columns and some even have sculptures carved into them. These columns on the pillars when struck with stone or wood are believed to emit sounds, therefore more popularly known as the Musical pillars of Hampi. In this Ranga Mandapa, the temple dancers of Vijayanagara would perform with musical accompaniments as an offering to the presiding deity Vittala. 

Scholars have for long debated if these musical properties are just accidental or did the Shilpis (master stone sculptors) engineer it intentionally. We will look at some of the scientific analysis undertaken so far. We will look at what classical Indian literature has to say about using stone and our ancestors known how of it. Finally we will also look at it from the perspective of an art historian. Hopefully at the end of it all we will have some clarity or direction on the musical pillars of Hampi.

Recommended Tour

Our expert local guides take you on a private tour of Hampi’s world heritage site. The tour is curated by Mr. Arjun Bhat with nearly a decade of experience into researching the history, architecture, culture & folk traditions of Vijayanagara & Hampi.  This tour covers all the important sites at Hampi including the musical pillars of the ranga mantapa at Vittala temple complex. 

Come join us one the number #1 rated heritage tour of Hampi! 

Raw Material for Pillars - The Rocks

One of the first thing one notices as they enter Hampi, is its awe-inspiring landscape filled with uniquely shaped boulders stacked on top of each other. These readily available rocks were used as the primary building material for the Temples in Hampi, as pillars, lintels, roof and so on. 

Hampi is located on the Deccan plateau, which is one of the oldest and most stable geographical formations in the world. Due to magmatic action older gneiss rocks were transformed into granite during the later archean period (3600 to 2500 millions years ago). What started off as large monolithic granite hills transformed into boulders, slabs with interesting shapes due to the weathering by the elements along the natural fractures in the rocks. 

Landscape of Hampi
These rocks in Hampi are known as Pink Porphyritic granite  due to its specific mineral composition. A team from NIAS (National Institute of Advance Sciences) led by Prof. Sharada Srinivasan examined rock samples from Hampi. Rock cross sections magnified under polarised light showed high amount of orthoclase (pink feldspar), which had cleavage plain at right angles with a monoclinic structure. Meaning that the crystalline structures of certain minerals in these rock lend themselves to have naturally resonant properties. 

Natural sound emitting properties of some rocks

A rock gong is usually a natural rock formation opportunistically adapted to produce musical tones. Rock gongs like the one shown in this video have been in use for thousands of years all around the world. They may have been used as part of rituals, to signal other people, or as a form of expression. Although they look like plain boulders, they have a hollow, metallic sound when struck due to the composition of the rock.

The rock gongs of Neolithic and Megalithic periods evolved into Lithophones in later periods. A lithophone is a musical instrument consisting of pieces of rock which are struck to produce musical notes. Notes may be sounded in combination (producing harmony) or in succession (melody). 
 
Here we can see a vietnamese traditional lithophone and how it is used in contemporary music. 

While Hampi is famous for its medieval city of Vijayanagara, human settlements in the area go back to least 4500 to 3000 years from current time. And interestingly enough these early residents around Hampi knew about the resonant properties of these rocks. In several sites there is clear evidence of use of rock gongs. Closest to Hampi are the rock gongs at Vanibhadreshawara temple in Mallapur. At the Megalithic site of Hire-Benakal we find dolmens (burial tombs) with resonant portholes.

Above image is of one such rock gong from Sanganakallu Neolithic site near Bellary (60 kms from Hampi). You can see the depression caused on the rock where it would be struck to produce sounds. 

Vibration Analysis of the pillars

Picture Credit: Dr. Sharada Srinivasan

A vibration analysis study of these musical pillars at Vittala Temple were undertaken by IGCAR (Indira Gandhi Center of Atomic Research) under leadership of Late Babu Rao along with a team from NIAS that included Late Dr. Baldev Raj & Dr. Sharada Srinivasan. Accelerometers were used to measure the frequency and amplitude of the vibrations.

Vibration analysis was undertaken with the model treating the monolithic pillar structure like a bar clamped on both ends undergoing transverse flexural vibrations. 

  1. Vibration analysis revealed the existence of collective vibration models in the columns of a pillar when one of the columns is struck
  2. In particular coupling between near resonant columns was observed
  3. Correlation between the degree of coupling and the sustenance of the long duration vibration is established

According to Dr. Sharada, it is highly unlikely that these pillars demonstrate such properties by accident. However there is scope for a lot more research to be done on this. We hope that researchers can secure required funding to continue this enquiry on musical pillars of Hampi.

Picture Credit: Dr. Sharada Srinivasan

What classical literature tells us

There are a variety of classical Indian literature from different periods that talk about temple building, materials and methods used. These works give us an insight into the technical knowledge of the Shilpis (master sculptors), specifically regarding their know how of rocks. 
 
For Instance, Vayu Purana (350 BCE), Vishwaksena Samhita and Narada Samhita elaborate on how to choose appropriate stones based on desired qualities. Methods to test the strength, sound quality, existence of cracks in rock are specified. Medieval period classical work like Silparathna and Ajithaagama go a step further and discuss specific shapes of pillars and the corresponding sounds they produce. 
 
It looks like Indian stone sculptors knew about the sound emitting properties of rocks, they knew how to pick rocks based on sound quality and they knew how different shapes of pillars effect sound tonality. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that master sculptors of Vijayanagara were capable of building a Ranga Mandapa full of musical pillars that had sonorous properties. 

Art historians perspective on the Ranga Mantapa

Saptaswara Musical Pillars of Hampi

In the Ranga Mandapa of the Vittala Temple there are several interesting musical pillars, let’s take a look at a few remarkable ones. The first set of pillars are  known as “saptaswara” pillars because they are said to emit something akin to seven basic notes of the Indian musical scale. This would lend itself to be described as lithophone. 

Pillar with a sculpture of a Cymbal Player
Another interesting musical pillar is the one with damaged sculpture of cymbal (tala) player. The rhombus shaped pillars at the rear were observed to emit the higher pitched sounds resembling sounds of cymbals or Nattuvangam. Cymbals are specially played during classical bharatanatyam (dance) performances as an aid in timing & as an musical accompaniment.
Damaged Sculpture of Mridangam (Drum) Player on a Pillar
Columns of this musical pillar with a sculpture of a Mridangam player was observed to emit deeper pitch of the damaru or drum. Here you can observe the wear and tear on the columns caused by people. 
Sculpture of a Classical Dancer on a Musical Pillar
Lastly we have this pillar with a sculpture of a classical dancer. This is believed to be a portrait sculpture of  Chinnamma Devi, queen to Krishnadevaraya. Inscriptions at the temple credit her with constructing one of the entrance towers to the temple. She was known to be a patron of arts and a classical dancer of great repute herself. Some say that she is the inspiration behind the stunning Ranga Mandapa and Musical pillars at the Vittala Temple in Hampi. 

Sacking of the city in 1565 after the battle of talikota, led to pillaging of the temple by the Deccan Sultanate soldiers. This was followed by a period of further pillaging by rival Shaivite groups. Because the site was completely abandoned to ruins, the natural elements also contributed to the slow deterioration of the temple. The structural damage and weathering has been arrested to some degree because of the work put in by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). 

Conclusion

Hampi’s landscape is filled with rocks that naturally possess resonant properties. It looks like earliest humans who settled in these parts were aware of these properties and used rock gongs and rock based instruments. The Shilpis of Vijayanagara would also be acutely aware of these properties. Additionally they’d have the benefit of knowledge passed on by other sculptors, on how to pick rocks, how to shape rocks for desired sound quality and how to test quality of rocks. Looking at the the layout of Ranga Mandapa, the different pillars, shapes of columns, the sculptures carved on pillars, it is abundantly clear to me that all of this was intentional. I do not believe that this is just some imaginative tale spun by an enthusiastic local guide, there is certainly more to it.  I hope that in the coming days more exhaustive scientific enquiry is undertaken that would shed some light on the wonderful musical pillars of Hampi. 

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Festivals Heritage

History of Mahanavami in Vijayanagara

Shows the procession route of Dasara at Vijayanagara
Illustration by Dr. Chaluvaraju of Karnataka University Hampi

Dasara / Dussehra / Mahanavami / Navaratri 

Dasara is one of the most popular festivals of India celebrated in diverse ways all across the country. In parts of North India the festival celebrates victory of Lord Rama over 10 headed demon King Ravana. The composite of “Dasha” meaning 10 and “Hara” meaning killing or defeating forms Dasara or Dussehra. As part of the celebration you will see re-enactment of the story of Ramayana on stage as Ram-Leela.  In rest of India it is a celebration of victory of Mother Goddess or Devi over the shapeshifting demon Mahishasura. The goddess takes nine forms on nine days to defeat the demon and on the 10th day we celebrate Vijaya Dashami. Celebrations take different forms in different parts of India. In the southern city of Mysore there is a grand procession with tableaus and elephants.  In the East there is Durga Puja where pandals are setup with decorations, food stalls and variety of rituals on each of the days. In western state of Gujarat there is daily puja and celebration through Dandiya and Garba dances.  This festival truly showcases the diversity of this nation, one festival celebrated in so many different way based on the local ethos and tradition. The core idea behind the festival is to celebrate victory of good over evil

Antiquity and Evolution of Celebrations in South India

The celebration of Navaratri as a Goddess festival pre-dates the Dasara celebration of Ramayana. In southern India Kadamba Dynasty of Banavasi are known to have celebrated the festival starting as early as 5th Century CE. The tradition was carried over by the Chalukyas of Badami in 8th Century CE.  In this era however the celebration was mostly ritualistic and happened indoors within temples and residences.  The festival took a more celebratory form with pomp and show during the reign of Vijayanagara in 15th and 16th centuries. The Vijayanagara Kings used the festival as a social and political tool to display strength to all the noblemen within the Empire and his enemies outside. Feudal lords and Noblemen from across the empire gathered at the capital city of Vijayanagara, with them they brought their finest artisans, dancers, musicians, entertainers, warriors to take part in the King’s Mahanavami procession.  After the fall of the empire in mid 16th century , the epicenter of celebrations shifted to Mysore.  Even to this day the dasara procession in Mysore is held with great pomp and show by the Royal family.   

Hampi Group Walking tour
Mahishasura Mardhini - Bas-Relief sculpture on the riverside in Hampi

Mahanavami celebration in Vijayanagara

The newly born empire started pouring in money and resources in building a grand capital and named it Vijayanagara, the city of victory. In the new capital their victory and domination was celebrated during the Mahanavami festival. It is by no chance or accident that they chose this festival, it was a well thought out political strategy. By making the capital epicenter of Mahanavami celebrations in the world, they proclaimed to be the protectors of all that is good in the world from the the evil. They were divinely ordained for this role. The King displayed his military might with different warrior clans and their best fighters taking part in the procession and games of Archery, Wrestling, Hunting, Javelin throwing. They also wanted to portray the city as a place where diverse art and cultural traditions flourished, on display were dancers, musicians, artisans, entertainers from every corner of the empire. There was spirited competition amongst all the participants, the best of the lot got rewarded with wealth and an audience with the King. 

walls of hazararama temple 2
Relief Sculptures on the outer wall of Hazara Rama Temple - Depicting the Mahanavami Procession

Today if you visit the ruins you will see the living evidence of this celebration in the Mahanavami Dibba and Hazara Rama Temple. These two structures served as the start and end point of the great procession in the capital on the day of Vijaya Dashami. On the outer walls of both these monuments you can see extensive bas-relief work representing sculptures of Wrestlers (Garadi or Kusti), Hunters, Horse traders, Camel traders, gymnasts, street acts jugglers, conjurers and illusionists, dancers, instrumentalists, singers, Kings, Door attendants, army chieftains and the great majesty of the Mahanavami celebrations. The picture on the top of this page represents the route the procession took through the citadel of the capital city. 

As part of our Hampi Heritage Tour we take the participants to Mahanavami Dibba and the Hazara Rama Temple. Here we explain the various festivals celebrated in the capital city and medieval foreign travellers account of their experience. We walk you through the archeological evidence and teach you to interpret relief sculptures depicting Mahanavami celebrations. So if you’d like to learn more about the way this festival was celebrated then signup for our tour! 

Categories
Festivals Heritage

History of Holi Celebrations in Vijayanagara

Holi is a  Hindu spring festival celebrated all over India. It signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. In Hampi we celebrate Holi with much enthusiasm. Travellers both foreign and domestic celebrate along with the locals. Sweets, colour powder, pichkaris all are part of the celebration.

We were curious to find out if Holi was celebrated during the Vijayanagara period and here is what we found.

  1.  Nicoli Conti, an italian merchant who visited Vijayanagara in 1420 -1421 CE talks of 4 important festivals that were celebrated by the entire population of the city back then.  The first when men and women, having bathed “clad themselves in new garments, and spend three entire days in singing, dancing and feasting,” the second when inside and outside the temples “innumerable number of lamps of oil” were fixed, the third “which lasts nine days” and the fourth “during which they sprinkle all passerby, even the King and queen themselves with saffron water … This is received by all with much laughter”.
  2. The sculptures on the outer enclosure wall of the Ramachandra Temple in the Royal Center illustrate a scene similar to what Nicoli Conti describes. On the fifth row (top) of illustrative sculptures there is one notable scene that depicts a man and some women throwing (coloured) water on each other; tubes for squirting are clearly discernible in hands of some the women. Such scenes are found elsewhere, too. On the Mahanavami platform there are reliefs showing figures playing with water. Relief sculptures are also present in the Vishnu temple in Royal Center that depict similar scenes in great detail. Here there are eight panels of reliefs of women, occasionally with a man in the center, engaged in playing with water; a water squirt is shown in the hands of one of the women, while others are taking water out of big containers with small cups or seated in a tub is shown. The presence of a male musician, a female dancer and of a hunchbacked clown holding a water-squirt highlight the lighthearted fun and merriment that marked this festival.  The sculptures mentioned here range from 14th century to 16th century periods, which means this spring festival was celebrated in similar way throughout the reign of Vijayanagara empire.

 

It is clear that the spring festival was celebrated with much gusto in the Vijayanagara era much in the same way as we celebrate Holi today.  Author Anila Verghese suggests that the fourth festival described by Nicoli Conti and represented in above described sculptures is Vasantotsava, that fell on the full moon of Chaitra (March – April) rather than Holi, which is celebrated on the full moon of Phalguna (February – March). The literary and archaeological data available points to the celebration of Vasantotsava. Vasantotsava is associated with the worship of Kama (or Madana or Manmatha), the god of love. Kama is also the demi-god of the spring season, thus also called as Vasantha. In course of time the worship of Kama or Madana died out and the great festivity connected with it was transferred to the spring festival of Holi.

So this year when you celebrate Holi remember that the celebration associated with it has a long history of merriment and fun.

HAPPY HOLI to you all!

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Heritage

Story of Hampi narrated by a yogi – Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Sadhguru is an Indian yogi, mystic, and author and is the founder of the Isha Foundation. It is a non-profit organisation which offers yoga programs around the world including India, USA, UK, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. For its involvement in social and community development, The Foundation has secured special consultative status by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Sadhguru is a man whose passion spills into everything he encounters. His blunt clarity into life made him an unofficial counselor to his problem-ridden college mates in his youth. Always the fearless rebel, his childhood was punctuated with snake-catching, class-cutting, and solitary forays into the jungle for prolonged periods. His love of adventure led him on motorcycle expeditions. Furthermore, his early business endeavors into poultry farming and construction also met with success.

But just when you assume him to be a maverick, he surprises you with a gentle side that can shed tears of compassion and extract laughter from hardened faces. Equally at home with bright-eyed village children, ash-smeared yogis and top-notch executives, Sadhguru defies any narrow description. With a keen mind, balanced by a heart that knows no boundary, his zest for life is truly infectious.

Sadhguru travels extensively and has visited Hampi several times. Listen to him narrate the story of Vijayanagara in this 2 part video series.

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Part 1 : Hampi – One of India’s greatest Historic cities I

[youtube height=”315″ width=”560″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3IKqLLNeoU[/youtube]
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Part 2 : Hampi – One of India’s greatest Historic cities II

[youtube height=”315″ width=”560″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vixelf0Fuc[/youtube]

Explore Hampi is your one stop solution for an authentic and offbeat experience of Hampi. Our Day Tours are carefully designed with activities to suit all ages and travel groups. Alternatively, you can view our Travel Packages that include transportation and accommodation along with the tours. Accompanied by an expert guide, this is an experience you do not want to miss!

 

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Heritage

Rise of the Vijayanagara Empire and its Capital City

In early 14th century, the Delhi Sultanate set out on an ambitious plan to capture vast areas of the Deccan and South India. They conquered most of the Indian subcontinent by 1327 CE under the leadership of Muhammad bin Tughlaq. However, to rule over and defend such a vast territory proved to be challenging and by the 1330s, they had lost control over the Deccan. This along with the wipeout of the old local kingdoms created a power vacuum and paved the way for local chieftains to assert themselves.

One such duo were two brothers named Harihara and Bukka from the Sangam family. Inspired by Guru Vidyaranya of the Sringeri Mutt, they built an army to resist invasion from the Islamic ruler of Delhi. Their cause of protecting faith, culture, and traditions found much favour locally and gave them a strong identity.

They established their capital in Hampi in 1336 CE and renamed the city Vijayanagara (City of Victory). This led to the birth of the Vijayanagara Empire.  Not only did they keep the Sultanate at bay, they even captured large territories in the surrounding region. Consequently, their empire covered most of Southern India within a period of 30 years.

vijayanagara-empire-map

Even before the Vijayanagara Empire, Hampi was already a place of great religious importance.  The Sangam brothers established themselves as protectors of the Hindu faith by making it their capital and won the approval of the vast population.

What also made Hampi a great location for a capital city was its terrain.  The boulder hills on all sides of the region acted as a natural line of defence against invading armies. These hills also provided an inexhaustible supply of granite for building the great city. The river Tunghabadra flowing through Hampi provided water for agriculture, which in turn fed its inhabitants.

 

While the Vijayanagara Empire established itself with a strong Hindu Identity, it has to be noted that the Kings were liberal. They allowed people of all faiths to live in the city and practise their faith. The Empire’s military included Muslim militia and the Kings married princesses from neighbouring Islamic Kingdoms. Jains and Muslims also built their places of worship within the capital city.

The city is believed to have housed half a million residents at its peak. This would make it the second largest city in the world at that time.  Many Persian, European and Chinese travellers have chronicled their experiences in the great city of Vijayanagara. Join us on the next blog article where we cover the social life during the Vijayanagara period.

 

Participate in our Hampi Heritage Tour to hear more such stories about the Vijayanagara Kings and their capital city. On this tour, we explore the rich history of Vijayanagara and renowned architecture styles of Hampi. We will learn about the life in the city, its layout, and functions. We will learn about how trade was conducted around grand temples of the Sacred area. Accompanied by an expert guide, this is an experience you do not want to miss!