Hampi – Karnataka’s priceless heritage

Resurrecting Hampi, pricelss heritage of Karnataka, (India)

As an archaeological site, Hampi possibly leaves all other Indian heritages far behind. Steeped in history, its sprawling complex and breath-taking beauty leaves a visitor flabbergasted. Caring for such a precious heritage by scientific conservation, protecting it from the onslaught of creeping urbanization, and ensuring that its attraction for tourists does not fade with time are daunting tasks. The Archaeology department at the centre, and the state government of Karnataka have, so far, dragged their feet over sanction of conservation proposals.

The Unesco World Heritage Committee has expressed its serious misgivings about the lack of any urgency on the part of the authorities to save this priceless heritage from the ravages of time and nature.

This historic monument was built between the14th and 16th centuries by the Vijayanagara kings as their capital. It was built as a very majestic city, perhaps to project the power and grandeur of the kings.

In 1982, the Unesco Heritages Selection Committee, while selecting the place as a Unesco heritage site, had insisted that many more monuments over and above the important 56 ones must be conserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. It meant a much larger area had to be taken over for protection. The Unesco listing as World Heritage Site came in 1986.

A serious visitor to the place will quickly realize that Hampi is not just a cluster of prominent monuments, but a vast swathe of land which has some 1500 historical structures standing amid large number of living villages, farm lands and water-bodies. In reality, Hampi is a very large landscape with layers and layers of history embedded in it. Conserving Hampi will mean ensuring that the surrounding human settlements do not besmirch the heritage as they modernize and grow bigger with time.

Public clamour for Hampi’s conservation and its listing as an endangered heritage site in 1999 forced the government authorities to act. In 2003, the Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority (HWAMA) was formed. It was mandated to liase with the Archeological Society of India and other agencies to optimize and expedite conservation efforts. The HWAMA has declared an area of 210 square kilometers around the present site as the area that would receive focused attention for conservation. Sadly, this action has not been followed up by other necessary actions relating to mobility issues, environmental concerns, monument protection and community interests.

The state government of Karnataka has prepared a Master Plan for action. But such master plans really can not address the many complex conservation issues for a site like Hampi.


About two years back, the government evicted hundreds of families living in the dense market area in front of the Virupaksha temple. This is the only ‘living’ temple where worshipping rituals are still being carried out.


John Michell and John Fritz, the two distinguished experts, who have for years studied Hampi’s problems, have opined that forcible clearance of bazzar areas, or, alternatively, allowing settlements to grow unrestrictedly in the heritage area are two extreme solutions that are doomed to fail. Demolishing the existing congested settlements and building swanky hotels in their place to accommodate affluent tourists may look attractive in the short run, but will prove to be of dubious value in the years to come. What is needed is a policy through which the heritage and its surrounding settlements merge seamlessly and present an organic picture of the site to the visitors.

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