Sculpture at Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi
A fifteenth century temple dedicated to the god Vishnu’s incarnation as Rama, the Hazara Rama is situated in the royal centre of Vijayanagara (present-day Hampi, Karnataka). Also known as the Ramachandra temple, the structure is built in the Dravida style, sharing affinity with many early Chola and Pandya temples. It was used as a private chapel by the royal families of Vijayanagara.
According to inscriptions found inside the temple, it was built by Devaraya I of the Sangama Dynasty in the fifteenth century. The temple complex includes the Hazara Rama temple as well as two subsidiary shrines; a compound wall surrounding the complex features reliefs depicting scenes from the Ramayana on its inner face, while the outer walls bear reliefs depicting courtly activities such as military and religious processions.
The outside walls of the temple proper are decorated with pilastered niches, with sculptures within. The open mandapa was a sixteenth century addition, and leads up to the entrance porch. The temple’s interior is largely unadorned, with the exception of four ornately sculpted columns in its middle. Three empty pedestals stand within the garbhagriha: they may have originally held images of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita, now lost.
The temple’s compound walls strongly support an association with royal ritual. Reliefs portray contingents of infantry and cavalry, processions of elephants, horses and attendants, and dancing women. These images bear a close resemblance to the annual Mahanavami festivities at Vijayanagara, as described in the writings of many foreign visitors. Mahanavami was a state rite that celebrated the victories and the power of the king, exemplified through the figure of Rama, a symbol of ideal kingship, as well as the worship of martial goddesses. The Hazara Rama Temple, the nearby Great Platform and the hundred-columned hall are believed to have been the main sites for the Mahanavami festival, though this view has been questioned by some scholars.
The narrative reliefs of the Ramayana on the inner face of the temple walls are arranged in a clockwise order, in keeping with the rite of circumambulation. The processional scenes on the outer face also follow this direction. It has been suggested that this concentric radial pattern balances the two connotations of the temple: while the compound wall honours the king, the inner temple complex evokes the worship of Rama and ultimately conjoins them in articulating a heroic, divinely ordained notion of kingship.
The sculptures and their spatial articulation also invoke the militaristic character of kingship at Vijayanagara. The military contingents and dancing women on the walls are depicted proceeding towards royal figures seated in temple-like pavilions. Athletic displays such as wrestlers grappling, dancers in motion, and acrobatic performances are also depicted. Scholars have argued that these communicate the combative strength and skill of those in the service of the king, further emphasising the reliefs’ depiction of imperial power.
A long, paved road leads up to the temple compound, described in a sixteenth century inscription that this road was known as the “big bazaar street.” The shrine was thus not only associated with royal processions and festivities but also with civic and urban functions like those of a marketplace.
As of writing, the Hazara Rama temple remains a major attraction at Hampi.
“Hazara Rama Temple.” Vijayanagara Research Project, accessed December 14, 2021. https://www.penn.museum/sites/VRP/html/Ramachandra.html
Fritz, John M. “Vijayanagara: Authority and Meaning of a South Indian Imperial Capital.” American Anthropologist 88, no.1 (1986): 44–55. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1525/aa.1986.88.1.02a00030
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.