Queen’s Bath, in Hampi

Queen’s bath is the next destination. George Michell, the famous architect-academician, divided Hampi into three distinct quarters, based on the kind of life that thrived there – the sacred zone, the agriculture centre and the urban or the royal center. I am putting this zoning of Hampi across as it helps in visiting and understanding Hampi in greater detail.

Queen’s Bath, Hampi

The sacred zone is the oldest among the three zones. It is formed of four villages or the puras. These villages developed around four revered temples during the reign of Vijayanagar Kings. The oldest among these puras is the Virupakshapura with Virupaksha temple at its core. Shiva is worshipped in this temple as Virupaksha (the one with oblique eye), atleast from the ninth century onwards. This temple is still an active religious center. The Krishnapura had the Krishna Temple and the Achyutapura had Achyutaraya temple at its centre. The fourth pura was the Vitthalapura that had intricately carved Vitthala temple at its heart.

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

All the four main temples stand in high-walled enclosures and were once guarded like forts. These temples have broad approach roads, marked by large entrance gates, most of which are still in good shape. The approach roads had colonnaded markets on its either side. These markets once buzzed with bustling trade activities.

Hampi was not a natural trading centre as it was neither a port nor situated along any major trade route. It was an artificial emporium that got huge boost in trade due to the patronage of a rich empire, the kings and its prosperous citizens. The kings were away from the city most of the time, still the market thrived as the Kings considered the Hampi their home and the families including the queens and the young princes were always left behind during any expedition.

The Vijayanagar kings mastered the market dynamics and defined the policies that helped them to attract traders from all across the world. A famous Telugu didactic poem, Amuktamalyada, believed to be composed by the famous Vijayanagar king Krishnadevaraya, also conveys the guiding principles of the Vijayanagar kings in promoting the trade in their empire. According to it, “A king should improve the harbours of his country and encourage the commerce so that horses, elephants, precious gems, sandalwood, pearls, and other articles are freely imported. He should arrange that the foreign sailors who land in his country on account of storms, illness and exhaustion are looked after in a manner suitable to their nationalities. The merchants of different countries who import elephants, and good horses should be treated well by providing them daily audience, presents and by allowing them decent profits, so that they feel attached to yourself. According to the book, when these merchants are treated well and they feel safe and happy, the articles they trade into would never go to your enemy.

All the foreign visitors who came to Hampi during its heydays invariably talked about its markets, where every sort of thing one would like to buy was available; these markets came alive in the evenings and presented a lively atmosphere. These bazaars were extremely long and broad and above each bazaar was a lofty arcade with magnificent gallery. Roses were sold everywhere and the foreign visitors were amazed that roses were considered as necessary as food items. All class of men belonging to different professions have their shops contiguous to each other.

One of such ruined market place in front of the Krishna Temple, Hampi

The shops selling diamonds, all kind of rubies, emeralds and pearls dazzled these visitors. The citizen of the city had fine taste in clothing and cutlery. All kind of Indian clothes were available along with silks, brocades and velvets imported from Turkey, Persia and China. In the urban centre of the city, fragments of imported Chinese porcelain dishes and bowls in blue-white color typical of the Ming dynasty of China of sixteenth century, are found in abundance, speaking in volume about the popularity of the fine cutlery among its citizens.

People throng these markets in big numbers to stock their daily needs of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and the firewood too. In these markets mutton, pork, partridge, hares, doves, quails and all kinds of birds were sold; even sparrows, rats and cats and the lizards were sold. These animals were sold live as it was considered buyers right to see the animal whose meat they would be consuming. It may also be due to the idea that if you kill an animal for a buyer, the karmic burden of its killing would be on the buyer and not on the seller. The meat of oxen and cows was not sold as they were worshiped in the empire.

At the end of these market streets, on the north-east corner of the plot on which temples were constructed, lied Kalyanis or the Pushkarnis or the temple tanks. In these tanks people bathed and cleaned themselves before entering the temples. During festivals and other religious celebrations the water of these temple tanks sparkled with floating diyas.

Kalyani of Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

Inside the walled enclosures along with the main shrines, accessory shrines were constructed and these temple enclosures invariably had Nrityamandap – the dancing hall, the Bhogamandap – the hall for religious celebrations, and other service structures like kitchen, wells, and everything else too that were important to make these religious places self-sustainable. The Brahmins managing these shrines were awarded several villages to maintain the shrines, pay an army of workers for its upkeep, and to sustain themselves and their families. Some of the head-priests become so powerful with time that they started to maintain a small band of army and acted as satraps of the Vijayanagar kings.

Agriculture Zone, Hampi

The agriculture zone was the buffer that spatially separated urban core from the sacred center. The overall absence of any structural remain, even the pottery segments, in this zone confirms that it was exclusively used for agriculture purpose only. This zone probably lies on an ancient course of the river to which it is open even now on both its end.

The urban zone was the area where most of Hampi’s population lived in the ancient times. This area was developed and made habitable during the times of Vijayanagar empire only; none of the buildings in the area predates the foundation of the Vijayanagar empire. The zone is classified as urban centre, still the ruins of around sixty temples are found even in this zone.

We are walking towards Hampi from Kamalapura and from this side Queen’s bath is the first significant monument of this zone. It lies outside the walled enclosure of the urban center, towards its southeast corner.

First Look, Queen’s bath, Hampi

The surroundings of the queen’s bath is well-maintained with green-grass in the open grounds. Its exterior is plain with small arched window openings at regular interval. As we enter inside, a cool gush of air welcomes us. This structure is build around a 1.8 meter deep pool that covers an area of around 15 sq m. In contrast to its plain exterior, the interior has graciously carved arched corridor. The Kings of the Vijayanagar empire were in constant conflict with their neighbouring Sultanates but the interiors of this building shows how the assimilation of the Indo-Islamic architectures started to take place in the secular structures of the time.

Queen’s bath interior, Effect of the Indo-Islamic architecture, Hampi

Its corridor is roofed with ornate walls of variegated designs; traces of elaborate stucco work is still visible on its ceilings. Once a tower adorned, one side of the pool, with delicate balconies rising above the parapet; but it is completely lost now. The pool facing balconies of this structure with arched windows and delicate plasterworks tells how beautiful this place might have been once.

elaborate Stucco work on the ceiling, Queen’s bath Hampi

This building was constructed by Achyutaraya(1529-1542) (the younger brother of Krishnadevaraya who succeeded him) who was fond of spending his leisure time playing in water with his male courtiers and his female companions. We are here in December morning, still it has started to become hot outside the building; I can understand the King’s fondness for water and water sports. This structure though is known as Queen’s bath but it is more of a representative name owning to its vicinity to the royal centre. The probability that this pool was used by queen and the noble women is very low. The way the women quarters were guarded it is difficult to imagine that the queens were given permission to come and bath here. The restrictions were so stringent that they were not seen by any man except by some old man of high rank by favour of the king. It makes me wonder, then why this structure named as Queen’s bath and not King’s bath. May be to romanticize it!

Another elaborate structure on the ceiling of Queen’s bath, stone chain is also seen carved, Hampi

The women who accompanied the king here, were different from the royal women; even these women wore elegant and expensive dresses and most of them are believed to be beautiful, elegant and talented as well. The women of the palace on the other hand lived in well-guarded zenana portion of the palace that had strict rules of entry and exit.

Achyutraya is believed to have around five hundred to six hundred wives. The queens lived in palace complex in cloisters like in monasteries. All these queens invariably had separate officials attached to them to take care of them. The furniture and cutlery inside every queen’s room was of gold and silver. The king’s bed used to be even more opulent, it was gold-plated and had golden legs, expensive pearls were embedded in its rounded bolsters. The mattresses were of silk. The women of the palace had all material comforts and the one thing most of them longed for was the king’s attention. The king was adorned as Kamadeva;

Designs on the ceilings of Queen’s bath, yali can also be seen, Hampi

According to an account that talks about the zenana of Krishnadevaraya’s time, “The king lives by himself in his Palace and when he wishes to have with him one of his wives, he orders a eunuch to go and call her. The eunuch tells it to the woman guard of that wife that there is a message from the king. The message was then conveyed to the queen who either goes where the king is or the king comes to her and they passes time without other wife being aware of it and thus not generating any ill feelings”. According to some other accounts when the king used to visit the zenana, the queens used to stand at the door of their rooms requesting him to visit them. During the wars and any expedition outside the city, the queens and the young princes were left behind in well-guarded Palace complexes. However, around twenty-five to thirty courtesans accompanied the king in palanquins during all his expeditions including wars.

I wonder, who were better off, the courtesans who got his constant company and so wielded more influence on him or the queens who hardly got his time and attention. The children of the queens got better care and upbringing and possibly occupied the throne after the king was the solace of being a queen.

The lotus shaped fountain in the middle of the queen’s bath once sprouted the perfumed water spreading the fragrance of romance in the air. In one side of the pool we see the remains of a collapsed aqueduct that fed water into the pool. This aqueduct was part of an extensive network of water supply system in Hampi. Water as always was important factor for any civilization to be founded and for it to survive and thrive.

Arched balconies, Queen’s bath, Hampi

Hampi had a unique advantage of the river Tungabhadra flowing through its ridges and hills. The engineering genius of the Vijayanagar empire diverted Tungabhadra into a mishmash of meandering canals. They created anicuts and fed the fields, stepwells, and numerous watertanks for religious and entertainment purposes.

The rainwater was also harvested. While coming to Kamalapura from Hosapet, we noticed a huge water body. This water body was the primary source of water in the royal center. This tank also has gory tale associated with it. The tank burst two or three times and Krishnadevaraya consulted the Brahmans. They reasoned that the deity is asking for blood of men and, horses and buffaloes. The king commanded sixty men to be beheaded along with horses and buffaloes. His orders were immediately executed. These men were prisoners of war, still killing of human beings looks so much avoidable today.

Queen’s bath, Hampi

The broad bunds of this tank keep it filled long after the rains. The water from this tank was brought to the royal center through elevated masonry aqueducts and terracotta pipes. The main aqueduct that brought water to the middle of the royal center branched into a network of sub-channels feeding around twenty-three big and small tanks within the enclosure. The points where main aqueducts was connected with the diverging channels, wells were dug that supplied water during emergencies.

The engineering feat of effective storage, drainage and channeling of water helped Hampi to flourish as a huge metropolis that could sustain the need of its several thousand inhabitants, a number that saw enormous surge during festivals and wars. The extensive waterworks also helped in converting arid landscape of Hampi into richly irrigated fields of rice, pulses, coconuts and other staple crops.

In 1950, Tungabhadra dam was constructed near Hampi. The newly constructed dam brought water back into the ancient canals and led to the repopulating of the region. Though some heritage experts believe that it also caused harm by cutting and drowning some of the ancient structures.

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