The Hazara Rama Temple literally means the temple with thousand Ramas. This name appears apt, as once you enter the main temple complex, you will be surrounded by the bas relief depictions and carvings of Ram and other characters and incidents from the epic Ramayan. Ram is the main deity of this temple.
This moderate sized temple is located within the remains of the Royal enclave of the Vijayanagar capital at Hampi. This was built in the 15th Century by the then King of Vijayanagar, Devaraya II. It was the private temple of the kings and royal family of Vijayanagar.
When one ventures into the remains of the Royal enclave, this temple stands whole and proud, having withstood the ravages of invasions and time. The outer surrounding walls are unique as it has five layers of bas relief depictions of processions taking part in the dussehra celebrations during those times. It is a magnificent story etched in stone for posterity, showing the involvement of various sections of society in the celebration of Dussehra festivities. There are 5 layers of procession shown, starting with the parade of Elephants on the bottom row followed by a procession of horses in next row. Next three rows show fighting skills of the army, Dancing troupes and merry making by general public. The carvings on the wall runs around the entire temple complex.

On entering the main entrance doorway we come across the main temple entrance portico. But do not enter the temple sanctum sanctorum area before taking a parikrama (circumambulation) of the main temple walls.

The inner side of the outer boundary wall is etched with multi-layer carvings depicting incidents from the Ramayan. As soon as one enters the inner complex and takes a left turn, one comes across numerous miniature depictions of famed characters preceding the birth of Ram. Similarly the walls of the main temple are also full of carvings depicting various scenes from the Ramayana. The story moves along the rows as one moves along the walls clockwise. There are hundreds of sequential panels with the story carved on the stone. It is really an awe inspiring site. This was an attempt to give a permanent body to the fabled story and the artists’ mastery is evident in each and every panel.
The heart wrenching story of Shravan Kumar wherein Shravan is shown carrying his blind parents in baskets across his shoulder while he was taking them for pilgrimage is shown below. Raja Dashrath (father of Ram) was hunting in the same forest and he was an expert in aiming arrows on the source of sound (Shabd-bedhi Baan). While Shravan was drinking water, Dashrath heard the sound and thought that a deer is drinking from the stream. He shot at the source of the sound and hit Shravan Kumar resulting in his death. It is said that Shravan’s parents cursed Dashrath that he will also die pining for his son.

An associated story is of the Sage (Rishi) Rishyashringa, who was kept in the hermitage by his father, Vibhandak Rishi so that he was not exposed to the realities of the world and could stay on the path of ascetism. There was a famine in the kingdom of Anga (in the eastern part of present day Bihar). The king of Anga was told that only with the arrival of the sage Rishyashringa, the rain God will be happy. The panel below shows the detail about how a troupe of girls went to the forest and enticed the innocent sage to their kingdom.

The Sage Rishyashringa shown with the face of an animal (horn on the head)

As a result of arrival of this Rishi, the famine was averted and the king married his daughter Shanta to Rishyashringa. When Dashrath was desperate to have children, he was told that a Yagna done by the same sage Rishyashringa was the only way to get this desire fulfilled. The yagna was duly performed by the rishi and the panel below depicts this scene. The Prasad is taken by Dashrath and given to his 3 queens and in time, 4 sons are born.

Once the Princes had grown up, Rishi Vishwamitra came to Dashrath and asked for his help in fighting the Rakshasas who were troubling him during his daily Vedic rituals. Although Dashrath personally did not want to send Ram for this perilous undertaking, he was advised to agree to the Rishi’s demand. In the lower row in the panel below, Rishi Vishwamitra is shown along with the princes Ram and Laxman. They were taught the higher form of fighting skills (Bal and Atibal) and killed the rakshasa led by the indomitable Taraka.

When Ram and Lakshman were travelling with the Rishi Vishwamitra through the forest, they came upon the abandoned Ashram of Sage Gautam. Vishwamitra explained the story of Gautam and Ahalya to them. Ahalya was the very beautiful wife of Rishi Gautam. She was very pious and devoted to her husband. Lured by her beauty, Indra, the king of devtas, once took the form of Gautam and took advantage of her. Gautam was very angry and cursed her to be turned to stone. He said that only the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of Ram will be able to redeem her. This scene of Ahalya emerging out of the stone after meeting Ram is depicetd beautifully in the panel below.

Another area of the wall shows depictions from the van vaas (exile into the forest) period of Ram, Lakshman and Sita. The rakshasa Mareech (uncle of Ravan), came to their hut in the form of a golden dear. Sita was very impressed with the shiny coat and asked Ram to get the golden deerskin for her. Ram went after the deer to hunt it and bring the deerskin for Sita. This scene is shown in the central row in the panel below.

When Ram hit the Deer with his arrow, the rakshasa came into his real form and shouted “Oh Lakshman, Oh Sita”. Sita thought that her husband Ram is in danger and sent Laxman after him. This resulted in her being alone and helped Ravan to kidnap her. In a sense this is the pivoting moment of the Ramayan story and it is depicted in the central row in panel below.

Ravan kidnapped Sita and took her to his kingdom, Lanka. He had used the Pushpak Viman, the flying vehicle for this purpose. The vulture called Jatayu saw this and tried to prevent the kidnapping. He was defeated by Ravan and was severely injured in the fight. Before breathing his last, Jatayu told about the kidnapping to Ram and Laxman. These events are depicted in the central row in the panel below.

In the lower row of the above panel, the earlier event of the famed Sita Swayamvar is shown. Ram is seen breaking the Mighty Bow of Shiv. Thus he won the hand of Sita in the marriage Swayamvar. All 4 brothers were married to 4 sisters and returned back to Ayodhya. Swayamwar was the ancient tradition in India, (literal meaning – selection done by self), where the women herself selected a groom from the potential suitors. It appears that in even in those ancient days, women had a choice as to whom to marry.
Another panel shows Ram and Laxman searching for Sita, when they met Hanuman near Kishkindha. Incidentally the Kishkindha area is exactly the same area where this Hazar Rama temple is situated. All around the area the exact locations associated with various events in Ramayana are etched in the collective memory of the local population. Hanuman took them to Sugriva who was the exiled brother of the powerful vanar king Vali. Sugriva promised to help Ram in search of Sita if he helped him to defeat Vali. But Sugriva wanted to know whether they had the capability of defeating Vali, who was supposed to be almost invincible. Ram displayed his prowess by piercing seven trees standing in a row with a single arrow shot from his mighty bow. This is carved beautifully in the central row in the picture below.

Bali and Sugriva were brothers who fought for the kingdom. This fight is depicted as a carving on one of the outer pillars of the main temple area.

There is a smaller shrine on the side dedicated to Sita. This is smaller but no less intricately adorned with stone carvings. This Temple depicts scenes from the story after Sita was exiled to the forests by Ram. On one of the corners, we find the depiction of Lakshman handing over Sita to Valmiki’s care.

Sita was taken care of in the Rishi Valmiki’s Ashram and she gave birth to the twins, Luv and Kush. Luv and Kush grew up in the ashram. The twins were given education and were taught the art of weaponry and warfare by Valmiki himself. The twins were oblivious of their lineage.
During this time Raja Ram was consolidating his empire and bringing the concept of primacy of Dharma in administration (concept of the Ram Rajya). This was the first truly pan Indian empire covering most of the area of the Indian Subcontinent. In order to proclaim sovereignty over all other kingdoms, Raja Ram performed the Ashvamedha Yagya. The Horse was let loose in his empire. Stopping the horse meant a challenge to the ruler. It so happened that Luv and Kush stopped the Horse and brought it to Valmiki’s Ashram. The twins defeated every contingent of soldiers that were sent to recapture the horse, including Hanuman and Lakshman. It was then that Raja Ram had to come himself. This is how he met his sons.
This poignant story is depicted on the walls of Sita’s shrine. There are panels depicting the stories associated with Luv and Kush. Laxman dropping Sita in forest, Valmiki teaching the kids, The Ashvamedha yagna done by Ram, capturing the horse by Luv and Kush and the fight with Laxman to get the horse released are all carved beautifully.

Capturing of the horse

Luv and Kush defeating Laxman

Apart from the depiction of story of Ramayana, the other avatars of Vishnu are also shown at a few places in the temple. Buddha and Krishna are depicted on the wall of main temple. Buddha is in the standard meditative pose and Krishna is in his ever present playful shepherd mode with flute. The kalki avatar, which is still to appear as per standard Hindu mythology, is shown on a horse. This carving is inside the temple where there are 4 pillars of black granite. These pillars have exquisite carvings of multiple deities on the polished surface. The beauty of these carvings has to be seen to be believed.

Krishna plays the flute while herding the cows

Kalki shown riding the horse

The carvings on these granite pillars depict Vishnu in various forms, Ganesh, Ram, Lakshman and many other figures from the Indian mythology. Even such artistry and beauty in stone could not hinder the dastardly acts of the invaders intent on destruction. Among the carvings there are many cases of defaced images and in almost all cases the effort of destruction is evident.
One of the exquisite pillars is shown below. It depicts Vishnu along with Sridevi and Bhudevi on the top, Ram and Laxman are shown in the bottom panel.

Inside the temple, the doors of the sanctum sanctorum are kept closed as the idols were desecrated by the Deccan Sultanate invaders. This closed door is a poignant symbol of the large scale destruction evident in every corner of the Hampi area.
Permanently closed sanctum sanctorum

The destruction is not confined only on these stone figures at the ground level. The upper structure of this temple was made of burnt bricks in line with the architectural style of the Vijayanagar Empire. These were full of intricate figures of gods and goddesses. Most of them have been totally defaced. As one comes out of the temple and looks back trying to recapture the mesmerising beauty of the poetry in stone, there is a feeling of joy and pride tinged with sadness. Having witnessed such mastery of stone craft gives pride and joy whereas the destruction brought about by the historical forces creates the sadness. What grand spectacle it would have been at its peak?

Destroyed statues on the superstructure

This Temple cannot be missed when one visits Hampi. The carvings are such that even a person who does not have full familiarity with the Ramayan can still trace the story by following the carvings clockwise in sequence. I have seen stanzas from the Ramayan etched on the walls of the Manas Mandir in Kasi (Varanasi) but had never seen the story actually carved in three dimensional form on the hard rock. It is worth spending at least half a day in this temple where the epic is chiselled on stone.
Hampi is in the state of Karnataka, India.
15.33* North 76.46*East

This article of mine was first published in Pragyata.