Vithala Temple is situated on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra River.
The most magnificent of the religious edifices at
Hampi, it can be reached
from the west by walking on from Hampi Bazaar along the riverbank, or from
the east through the Talarigattu Gateway. Its reputation is well deserved
both in the variety of styles that characterize the shrines within the
temple courtyard and in the fineness of the carvings that embellish them.
The temple stands in a large rectangular enclosure. The three lofty Vijayanagara gopurams on the east, north and south sides are now dilapidated. Of these the south 'gopuram' is the most ornate. Along the interior of the enclosing wall ran a pillared colonnade. The enclosed courtyard contains in the centre the god's sanctum with its axial 'mandapa' and around it the 'Amman' sanctum, the 'kalyana mandapa', an 'utsava mandapa', a hundred-pillared 'mandapa' and a stone 'ratha' (car). Originally there was a lofty 'kipa-stambha' (12.2 m high) in front of the east 'gopuram', but now it lies on the ground, broken in pieces.
The main temple was dedicated to Vishnu as Vithala. Facing east, the sanctum of the god along with its axial 'mandapa' forms a long and low structural group, about 7.6 metres in height and 70 metres in length. The group comprises the open 'maha mandapa', a closed 'ardha-mandapa' with side-porches and a covered 'pradakshina-prakara' enclosing the 'antarala' and 'garbha griha'.
The existence of the temple may be traced at least to the time of Devaraya II (AD 1422-46). Though the general opinion is that the temple was neither finished nor consecrated, epigraphic and literary evidences show that it remained in worship at least till the time of the battle of 'Rakshasi tangdi'. The Vithala temple portrays the high watermark of perfection of the Vijayanagara style, and one may well say that there is no other building, which could stand comparison with it in florid magnificence.
Style of Architecture
Hard granite has been persuaded to sway, to flow, to rise up in columns so that the texture of the stone itself seems to have changed and become elastic. The main pavilion contains 56 pillars, each of which has been carved out of a single granite block in a rich structural unit with a cluster of slender colonettes raised on crouching animals. When struck, some of them produce musical notes as though from different percussion instruments.
The large 'maha-mandapa' has symmetrically recessed sides. It measures 30.5 metres at its greatest length and breadth. The 'mandapa' stands on a highly ornate 'adhishthana' (1.5 metres high) with sculptured friezes of horses and warriors and 'hamsa'. At intervals along the base, there are ornate miniature 'vimana' projections with figures of the 'Dasavataras' inside. The standing figure of 'Kalki' is depicted with a horse's head. The steps to the 'mandapa' have an elephant-balustrade on the east but those on the north and south have 'surul yalis'.
A prominent feature of the 'mandapa' is the huge and deep cyma-recta cornice with a continuous frieze of bas-reliefs of deities and other figures. Thick stone rings are at the corners for holding stone chains, which are no longer there. Fragments of the original decorative parapet of brick and mortar with niches, niche-figures and 'karna-kutas', are to be seen here and there.
The 'mandapa' contains fifty-six pillars, each 3.6 metres high, forty of which are regularly disposed to form an aisle all round the three sides, while the remaining sixteen form a rectangular court in the centre. Each pillar is a massive composite sculptural unit measuring as much as 1.5 metres across and may be termed a monolithic sculptural group. The types of pillars vary according to their position in the 'mandapa'. Thus most of the pillars along the outer edges are composite ones with a large number of slender columnettes forming part of the main pillar. The two pillars at the centre of each side are of the yali type.
In the interior, most of the pillars on the south side are of the yali type, while those on the north contain various forms of Narasimha. Some of the inner pillars on the east contain figures of women, dancers and drummers. The pillars have heavy 'pushpa-podigai' corbels. The ceiling of the 'mandapa' is divided into sections and carved beautifully with lotus-motifs. Many sections have flat multi-petalled lotus carvings. Those on the north and south are shaped like shallow domes with lotus-petals and bud.
A large rectangular ceiling on the east front has a high dome with a pendant lotus built in the middle with sculptured parrots pecking at it. The central court is now roofless. One of its huge roof-slabs, with part of its lotus motif, stands in site, while another lies broken on the ground. Remnants of painted work are seen here and there in the ceiling on the south side of the 'mandapa'. The five-aisled 'ardha-mandapa' is dilapidated and open to the skies. In one corner of the 'mandapa' is a large but broken granite figure of a 'dvarapala', nearly 2.7 metres high. It is a fine specimen of Vijayanagara sculpture.
The 'ardha mandapa' leads to a covered 'pradakshina-prakara' running round the 'garbha-griha' and the 'antarala'. The 'tritala vimana' of the sanctum is well finished in an ornate style. The wall of the shrine has ornate 'deva-koshthas', large and well-proportioned 'kumbha panjaras' in bold relief and early curved cornice with fine Vijayanagara kudus along with some earlier type kudus also. A frieze of 'bhuta ganas' is above the 'deva-koshthas'. The brick superstructure of the 'vimana' with its domical 'sikhara' is now much dilapidated. The 'garbha-griha' is now empty except for two 'pithas'.
The Amman sanctum has an 'antarala', a closed 'ardha-mandapa' and 'maha-mandapa'. The 'ardha-mandapa' has a sub shrine on the north, facing south. The 'garbha-griha' has no superstructure extant. Its exterior is rather plain.
The 'kalyana-mandapa' of the temple to the south east of the courtyard, is particularly find and almost surpasses the 'maha-mandapa'. It is also an open-pillared 'mandapa', symmetrically planned with deeply recessed sides and is in many ways similar to the 'maha-mandapa'. It has the usual arrangement of various types of composite pillars, balustrades, etc. and beautifully carved and highly ornate ceilings. This 'mandapa' contains vestiges of original Vijayanagara paintings.
The 'utsava-mandapa' to the north-east of the courtyard is similar to the 'kalyana-mandapa' in its general style. Abutting the southern wall of the courtyard is a hundred- pillared 'mandapa' with three inscriptions in three different languages stating that it was built by Krishnadeva Raya in AD 1516. The 'mandapa' is rather plain.
The Vithala Temple also contains a magnificent stone chariot, which seldom fails to attract the attention of the visitor. The carving is delicate and the engineering so superb that the stone wheels can even revolve. Taking the place of the Garuda-shrine, which is normally seen in Vaishnava temples, it houses an image of Garuda. The brick superstructure of the 'ratha', shaped like a 'vimana', no longer exists.