Hampi Festival: celebrating a great Hindu empire

This month, the centuries-old temples of Hampi, in southern India, are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Vijayanagara empire with a traditional festival of folk culture and elephants, brimming with life and colour.

Every year, between the 3rd and 5th of November, the Hampi Utsav festival is celebrated. This year, though, the Hampi Festival has been postponed until January 2010, so that it will coincide with the 500th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Sri Krishna Deva Raya, the most important ruler of the Vijayanagar kingdom. Between 1336 and 1565, this great empire spread across the whole of Southern India.

Hampi, a small village, now, in the southern state of Karnataka, was the epicenter of this powerful alliance of Hindu villages whose combined military efficiency stopped the advance of the Muslims, then masters of most of the north of the subcontinent. Literature and the arts flourished in the Vijayanagara empire, which became immensely rich through trade in textiles, gemstones, spices and all the variety of merchandise the princes and regents had brought from the Indian seaports and as far afield as China.

Evidence of this vast wealth is to be found in the ruins of hundreds of temples that are scattered in a 15 kilometre radius of the village of Hampi. Some 20 years ago, UNESCO granted the area the status of World Heritage Site.

It is here, in some of the best-preserved shrines, that the annual festival takes place, attracting thousands of visitors and pilgrims each year from across the southern half of the subcontinent.

This year, though, the main festive days will be the 27th, 28th and 29th of January, with exhibitions of dance, theatre, music, puppet shows, fireworks and crafts, as well as horse soldiers in their imperial uniforms and processions of decorated elephants. All these will conspire to recreate the grandeur of the Vijayanagara empire in an extravagant setting that brims with life and bustle in this dusty little village on the banks of the river Tungabadra.

So many visitors come to the festivities each year that local guest-houses cannot keep pace with the crowds, and, for a few days, thousands of families literally camp out at night inside the main temples. And so the amazing performances provided by renowned artists during the day is complemented by this additional nightly spectacle.

Tips & suggestions
Hampi is situated about 350 kilometres from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state, in southern India and is a relatively easy destination to combine with the far better known beaches of Goa.

During the festival it's advisable to book in advance at one of the many guest-houses offering accommodation to visitors to the area, or one of Hampi's high class hotels, such as Hampi Boulders Resort.

Further information:
Indian Tourist Board

Karnataka State Tourist Office
Hampi Tourist Office

Festivals of India