There is a Pancha Pandava feel to the legend-invoking festival, going by the number of sites that host a plethora of cultural programmes. Of the five venues at the Hampi Festival that host music shows, dance recitals, literary soirees and rural sports, four are relatively smaller compared to the main one. The major locale close to the famed Viru­paksha temple of this historic north Karnataka city is a rather sprawling expa­nse — with its open-air feature further lit up by replicas of tastefully moulded exhibits that typify the aesthetics of the good old Vijayanagara Empire.
For the record, this is the 500th year of the coronation of Krishna Deva Raya who ruled his kingdom with a reputed zest for the promotion of the arts and literature. And, to be fair to the organisers, the pomp and pageantry at the three-day fete that ended on January 29 did lend colour to the significance of the occasion. Top performing artistes — both classical and popular, and some of them from abroad — did add vivacity to the proceedings. Only that they could regale the evening audience after the political leaders and senior bureaucrats vacated the stage, ending a long series of speeches.
And this happened on all the three days. The confluence of politicians at this place in Bellary district not only came as a suffocating surprise for the common visitors at the prestigious fest, but even the passerby on the road struggled, what with traffic snarls that any VVIP’s presence would painfully entail.
For instance, the Reddy brothers were said to be virtually helming the fest — which was first organised in 1995 as Hampi Utsav. Corporate sponsorship isn’t really uncommon in arts festivals, but there’s at least one thing — as one academician noted — that is common between the mining magnates (known for their proximity to influential ministers in the state government) and Krishna Deva Raya: the Reddys are originally from Andhra Pradesh and the Vijayanagara king had been a patron of Telugu arts and literature.
That brings another crucial matter into deep focus. About whether the Vija­yanagara king was, in fact, a connoisseur and promoter of Kannada culture. Present-day Karnataka has quite a few researchers and historians who claim that Krishna Deva Raya wasn’t too enth­usiastic about Kannada culture and
was partially responsible for the influx of “migrants” into the territory that is now part of Karnataka.
Scholar M M Kalburgi, a former vice chancellor of Hampi University, says Krishna Deva Raya did “nothing” to promote Kannada language. “I would not hesitate to call him anti-Kannadiga. He suppressed our language by patronising Telugu poets in his court.” And, then a rejoinder: “Plus, he encouraged Tamils too. Today if you find large pockets of Tamilians living in Bangalore, it is beca­use of Krishna Deva Raya.”
Historian Paramashiva Murthy has another point. “Why does the government single out Krishna Deva Raya as the ideal ruler of Vijayanagara? Is he the only person responsible for what the mighty Vijayanagara was once?” He observes many other kings contributed to Vijayana­gara’s prosperity between the 13th and 15th century. “In fact, Prouda Deva Raya did more to encourage Kannada.” Then, sliding to the present, he notes that this year’s Hampi Festival, unlike the previous ones, did not in any way showcase the Vijayanagara art and culture.
The 2010 celebrations had a long band of netas besides corporate magnates. Critics say the celebrations resembled more of a political show. Complained a leading artiste who performed at the event: “There are some stage shows that are permanently booked for certain troupes known for their political connections.”
If these are regular factors in almost all such major events, the Hampi Festival this time had a particularly poignant side to it. A chunk of the common people in Bellary are smarting from the floods the district witnessed towards the fag end of the last monsoons. Life hasn’t returned to normal for most of them, as the rehabilitation programmes have yet to be implemented in many villages.
Says K Durugappa, a farmer who res­ides in Suggenahalli village that was hit by the recent floods: “We are still waiting for the government for fulfil its promise of rebuilding our houses and receive the solatium of Rs 10,000.”
But then not even all tourists at the festival sounded happy about, say, facilities like accommodation. Louiz from Israel says he and his partner were made to vacate their hotel rooms in order to accommodate the government officials who had turned up in large numbers.
Chimes in Murlidhar Joshi, a tourist from Delhi: “We were promised of a grand Deccani cultural feast, but it looked a party rally more often than not.”
Rise and fall
The Vijayanagara kingdom rose to prominence as a culmination of
attempts by the southern powers against Islamic invasions by the end of the 13th century. Between 1336-1342, the Sangama brothers, Hariahara and Bukka, carved a kingdom of their own and founded Vijayanagara with Hampi as the capital. The kingdom witnessed its zenith of glory by the early 16th century, and the collapse was complete by the mid-17th century. Today, the ruins of Hampi are spread across an area of approximately 40 sq km, located mostly on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra. The Archaeological Survey of India protects and preserves as many as 58 major monuments for their rich cultural heritage and historical value. In 1987, UNESCO declared them World Heritage Monuments.
Hampi has for long now been a favoured destination for the hippie community. Villages around the historical city like Virupapura Gaddi have a number of hotels and homestays that offer cheap accommodation. Like other hippie colonies across the country, drugs thrive here too. And it has not gone down well with many historians, who have been urging the government to impose a dress code and to ensure that narcotics are totally banned in the belt. Says D Prasad, a local hotelier and resident of Virupapura Gaddi, which is also known as Hippie Island: “The use of drugs happens here in a big way. A couple of years ago, when a UNESCO team visited here to inspect the sites, a peddler mistook them for foreign tourists and offered them his sales stock of smack.”