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Researching Historical Fiction: a Novella that Grew from a Short Story
Darkness in Hampi
Hampi - once known as Vijayanagar - 'City of Victory' was India's richest empire and lasted just 200 years before destroying itself through greed. Although the Moslem hordes ransacked it for its unparalleled treasures (precious gems were sold like vegetables in the markets!), Vijayanagar destroyed itself because of differences in the ruling family itself.
To complete my research for my novella 'City of Victory' published by chillifreeze.com, and take some photographs for the book (each chapter begins with a photograph), I visited Hampi for the third time in 2007. I began my exploration of Hampi with the place where the city took root - the Virupaksha Temple. I wanted to find the tomb of the great sage Virendra Swamy/Mahadesha who started it all. Without him, the Vijayanagar empire would not exist.
When we arrived in Hampi, it was evening and darkness soon set in especially since the power cuts were long and frequent. Hampi is the most romantic place I have encountered. Everything happens by candlelight because of the power cuts.
The Virupaksha Temple
Since the Virupaksha Temple was the closest monument to the lodge where we checked in, we headed for the temple in the dark. We were made to take off our shoes. We could see the flames of oil lamps flickering in the light breeze. Some foreign tourists hovered about with torches. I saw a woman with a very young little daughter, blonde and sweet. I was to see her all over Hampi after that. It was a touching sight - this young woman on her own with her daughter who seemed to be the mother's entire world.
Inside, I walked down a little corridor flanked with oil lamps. Beneath my feet, the stones were sticky with oil. We were just in time. The 'Puja' was about to commence in the inner shrine where in the flame-lit darkness shone the silver mask of the god Narasimha. Many priests milled about, preparing the offerings of flowers, fruit and delicious rice dishes that they would distribute afterwards. It is in this temple that my novella 'City of Victory' begins.
It is night. In the doorway of the Virupaksha Temple in what is to become Vijayanagar, City of Victory sits an oldish, wiry man. He sits as if waiting, holding a staff. Out of the darkness emerge two soldiers, pointing their sabres at him. He stands, quick as a mongoose, and with a single sweep of his staff, they are disarmed.
Musical Pillars in the Virupaksha Temple
The 18-year-old elephant, Lakshmi, lurked about in the shadows, with a 'mahout' by her side. A bit of chanting and ringing of little bells by the priests, and a small group of musicians with drums and something like a trumpet rolled out a short burst of melody. As though cued by the music, the elephant, instructed by the mahout, moved forward and knelt. Raising her trunk, the animal saluted Narasimha. The little girl laughed delightedly.
The Temple Elephant's Blessing
Before the close of the ceremony, the elephant knelt in homage again to the music and accepted with her trunk the 'prasad' of sweet rice from the priest. It was a lovely little meal really - dinner for me. I offered the elephant coins which she took with her trunk. Handing them to the mahout, she then blessed me with her trunk on my head. I was a little nervous at first, but that feeling soon vanished, for she was gentle.
The Tomb had to wait for another day.
The Sage Who Helped Found Hampi
Next day at the Virupaksha Temple, we asked a local man about the tomb of the sage Mahadeva. The sage had ordered the princes Hakka and Bukka to begin building Vijayanagar where the temple now stands. The man showed us to a tiny room along the side corridor of the Temple. Inside there was a little black statue of the sage draped in cloth. Beneath the stone floor, he said, lay the tomb itself.
Next, join me on my quest for the burial place of the empire's greatest ruler, King Krishnadeva Raya. My novella, 'City of Victory' ends with the death of the king, and I wanted to know whether the funeral and the ensuing sati took place on top of a hill as many believe.