The stunning ruins of Hampi should have been the best preserved of our extant heritage spaces, because of the way it offers us an architectural vision of how we once were, and how far we have shed that aesthetics. Also because it is one of Karnataka’s—and India’s—biggest tourist draws. This exquisite ensemble of monuments—temples and mandapas spread over 16 sq miles on the banks of Tungabhadra—is now getting ready for the annual Hampi Utsav, which 3.5 lakh-plus tourists from all over the world are expected to attend.
But heartbreakingly, the news that comes out is only of broken infrastructure, encroachment and slipshod renovation. It is tragic that, for a nation which speaks incessantly of its old moorings, we fail to take ownership of our heritage—a UNESCO World Heritage site at that. A task that needs care and diligence is met with sheer uncaring, while we build rash politics around a shallow historicism.
The floods have ravaged Hampi. And the other day, we had reports that a family from the boondocks of UP had made one of the temple sites their home, setting up a temple of their own inside a heritage structure! And threatening ASI officials with dire consequences if they are removed. Or take the destruction of a pillar structure by a group of youth whose idea of having fun was pulling things down! Such cavalier disregard would not be countenanced in any world structure that brings in tourism—which at its best is a gesture of love, wonder and memory.
Our human politics, sadly, leaves no time for us to immerse ourselves in a deeper way with the enriched knowledge that historical sites offer. Merely harping on India’s past glory becomes a cheap pastime—indeed, a criminal one—if we cannot preserve living testimonies to it for our future generations.