Ceiling Murals at Virupaksha Temple, Hampi
Paintings at one of the oldest shrines at Vijayanagara (present-day Hampi), the murals at the Virupaksha temple mostly depict deities and scenes from Hindu mythology. They were painted during the sixteenth century, with additions or refurbishments made in the eighteenth century.
The murals were made on the ceilings of the temple and generally consist of gods or narratives symmetrically arranged around carved sculptural lotuses. The painted figures are enframed by multi-lobed arches, and generally accompanied by panels containing attendants, minor deities such as the dikpalas, and mythical creatures. The visual scheme is typical of the region and period, with compositions divided into sections containing figures arranged around a central panel. The sections are separated by decorative borders.
The scenes portrayed are typically from the Puranas and the epics, including the wedding of Shiva and Parvati, scenes from the Ramayana, and Tripura Samhara (Shiva’s destruction of three asura cities). Other deities depicted include Vishnu and Lakshmi, Brahma and Saraswati, Kama and Rati, Bhairava, Narada, Tumburu, and the Dashavatara. Some murals are more closely linked to the founding legends of Vijayanagara and of the temple, such as the marriage of Shiva as Virupaksha and the local goddess Pampa; the divine couple is accompanied by deities, attendants, and musicians. The sage Vidyaranya, whom the Vijayanagara rulers believed was their preceptor, is also depicted seated in a palanquin. He leads a procession of soldiers, drummers, and men bearing ritual items to worship the Virupaksha linga.
The murals are rendered with an eye for simplicity and movement, and generally use warm tones such as red and ochre as well as shades of white and grey, with clear black outlines.
The Virupaksha temple predates the city of Vijayanagara, with evidence of activity at the site from as early as the eighth century. A fourteenth-century shrine established there was significantly expanded over the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by a number of Vijayanagara rulers. Most of the murals were probably made around this time. However, some depictions of costume, headdresses, and weapons appear similar to those in the ceiling paintings of the Narasimha Temple at Sibi, built during the reign of Tipu Sultan towards the end of the eighteenth century. It is a matter of some debate whether these were later additions or a refurbishment of existing paintings.
Michell, George. The New Cambridge History of India: Architecture and art of Southern India. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Stein, Burton. The New Cambridge History of India: Vijayanagara. Cambridge University Press, 2018.