12 December 2022
Hampi: Photography and Archaeology of southern India
Currently on display at the British Library is the display Hampi: Photography and Archaeology in southern India. This exhibition features some of the earliest photographs of the site taken by W. H. Pigou in the 1850, modern photographs of the site by South Asian pre-eminent photographer Raghu Rai, alongside architectural drawings produced by the Vijayanagara Research Project under the guidance of John Fritz and George Michell between 1980-2001.
The Hindu kingdom Vijayanagara (meaning ‘City of Victory’) established its capital at Hampi in southern India in about 1336. Located along the banks of the Tungabhadra River, temple complexes, palaces and administrative buildings were built amongst the rugged landscape of granite boulders. After flourishing for over 200 years, in 1565, Vijayanagara fell to a rival kingdom and Hampi was abandoned. Hampi’s ongoing religious significance and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 mean it continues to attract worshipers and tourists to this day. These photographs, taken between 1857 and 1970, capture the archaeological site of Hampi. The British Library’s archives provide a lens on the archaeological legacy and the research activities that have played a role in preserving the city’s cultural heritage.
The exhibition features a select number of photographs, that documents the extensive complex's architectural heritage.
William H. Pigou (1818-56) was an amateur photographer appointed as the Government Photographer for the Bombay Presidency from 1856 to 1857. He was one of the earliest photographers to visit Vijayanagara and document the Virupaksha temple that is situated on the banks of the river.
With the arrival of photography by early the 1850s, Pigou relied on calotypes, a new printing process, to make multiple prints from a single waxed paper negative. He photographed the Virupaksha temple from various angles to document the entrance tower (gopura) and the high exterior walls. None of his photographs captured the entire length of the rectangular temple complex.
One of the more complicated sculptures to photograph at the site is that of Narasimha, the man-lion avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu This colossal sculpture was commissioned in 1528, by King Krishnadevaraya (ruled 1510-29). Carved out of a single granite boulder, it measures 6.7 metres in height. Historic photographs including those by Pigou document the damage sustained to the sculpture when the kingdom fell in 1556. In the 1980s, the Archaeological Survey of India restored the figure by rebuilding Narasimha’s legs in the meditative lotus position.
The exhibition also features photographs by other early photographers to the site including Edmund David Lyon and Andrew Neill. The site, which is over 25 square kilometers, consists of countless temples, shrines, pavilions and administrative buildings that was used and built by the Vijayanagara kings. The Lotus Mahal, a two storied pavilion, is part of the royal centre of Vijayanagara and is one of the best preserved buildings to date. The Lotus Mahal is a two-storied pavilion with large cusped archways; the architectural design allows air to flow and to regulate temperature. Vijayanara's royal centre also includes elephant stables, granaries and temples for the use of the royal family. Andrew Neill was a photographer and part of the Royal Artillery. He visited the site in 1856.
In the exhibition, historic 19th century photographs are featured alongside the modern works by Raghu Rai from the 1970s. Raghu (which are in copyright and can be viewed here). These include his iconic views of The way to Virupaksha temple through the Hampi bazaar, Badavalinga - a monolithic linga, and Excavations and conservation being done by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Additionally, the exhibition draws from the Library's extensive archive of the Vijayanagara Research Project. Two architectural drawings supplement the photographic records, as these pen-and-ink drawings document the extensive research and dedicated work of architectural historians to systematically document every building or sculptural fragment. One example is this pen-and-ink drawing after the original pencil drawing by Helen Wilson, one of the many students working on the site during the 1980s. This work features the sculptural mouldings at the Raghunatha temple complex. This temple is associated with the Sanskrit epic Ramayana and features sculptural reliefs throughout showing Rama and Sita. The temple complex is located on Malyavanta Hill. The drawing demonstrates how architectural historians were in situ and illustrated the sculptural mouldings on the lower plinth of the south entrance gopura (tower gateway). Visible is an image of Rama holding a bow carved into a pillar.
For more on the exhibition and opening times, please consult: Hampi: Photography and Archaeology in southern India - The British Library (bl.uk)