Hampi - Boulders and Beliefs

1 Jan 2022

Copyright © 1993- Ganesh H. Shankar

Boulders and Beliefs

Photographing Hampi was on my list for many years. Recently I visited Hampi and I was there for two weeks. What a rewarding experience it has been! I did visit Hampi a couple of times many years earlier too when I was photographing sloth bears at a nearby Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary. I was then fascinated by the bewitchingly beautiful landscape of the Hampi and surrounding areas. I wanted to do a dedicated trip to Hampi to photograph the boulders and landscape. Now that I have more gray hairs (whatever left) and other philosophical interests I see Hampi in a slightly different perspective.

My interest in Hampi is not historical or archeological. It is not about kings and queens, wars, richness or ruins. It is about how the boulders of Hampi merge with religious beliefs of the people. It is about how a boulder morphs into God at the other side of it. I think together it is a more beautiful and a compelling subject. Hampi appears to be a very beautiful landscape of boulders with a fine religious coating over them.

Thoughts behind these images

While my current religions standings lean more towards pantheism, a little bit of philosophical readings during the past few years made me remain very respectable to those having theistic beliefs. While I consider not taking a vaccine to a known disease caused by a virus due to religious beliefs a superstition, a person praying to God and tying a stone wrapped in a cloth to "Kalpa Vriksha" (Wish Tree) at Hampi is not a superstition. The act of tying a stone to a "wish tree" and praying is not very different from the act of folding hands and praying. Science has proved beyond doubt the disease is caused by the virus. Science has not proved the non-existence of God (whatever God means). Being able to explain a natural phenomena which earlier was thought to be a miracle proving God does not automatically entitle an atheist to conclude (by mathematical induction) that everything in nature can be explained by science and hence there is no need for God. I think an atheist can't stand on the pedestal and look down upon the "religious" people. This is because he may see Immanuel Kant, Albert Einstein and a villager of Hampi (I mean many of us) together in the audience below. Kant was worried about the insufficiency of our reasoning abilities due to sensory limitations.

Einstein remained humble when he said in his book, "The World As I See it",

"A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature."

Einstein made it very clear that he does not believe in physical/personal God, but he seems to think he has very little power to understand the larger beauty of nature. His religious feelings appear to stem from "unknowns" in nature which he failed to reason about. However, for our villager "unknowns" are tomorrow's bread and butter and he submits himself to God for these "unknowns". I see conceptual helplessness in Einstein and physical helplessness in our villager. It is these helpless "unknowns" that makes our villager religious and kept Einstein religious too (what he calls cosmic religion).

Whether God exists (in a traditional sense, not in the sense of Einstein) is an unanswered and uninteresting debate. However it is very interesting that signatures of the deep beliefs manifest in different forms and shapes in our natural world today. At the outset these images below portray physical juxtapositions of boulders and beliefs but at the heart I tried to wonder about the beliefs that lead to such expressions in physical forms and shapes. In that sense these images are tiny windows to peep through our own minds, the lesser mortals of this natural world.

An important note - in some images you will find people. People in many of these images may not be people (in the sense of travel/people/street photography)! They are personifications of the belief in the landscape of boulders. I hope you will recognize such images in this series which may need some cultural acquaintance.

Images are fairly large, 1500 pixels on longer side in landscape oriented images. You may want to see them in largest possible browser window to see them in its native resolution, when possible. With all the respect to people that are in some of the images below and their religious beliefs, here are a few images made with this theme, boulders and beliefs, in my mind.

Belief - tall and comforting

Boulder-belief scape

Kamadhenu/cow in a cave - protected by boulders of belief

A lyric on boulder and belief

Belief Scape. Kant reminds - reason has its limits.

Beliefs and Boulders

Beliefs on Boulders


Layers - Temple and Monkeys

Nested World

"Kalpa Vriksha" (Wish Tree)

Wishes and Homes

A believer's home

Conserved by boulders and beliefs

Belief and Aesthetics

Smiling leaves and roots - a pantheist's perspective

Belief Scape

Boulder - Carved by Belief

Imagination of a believer

Worshipped together

And the journey of life continues with the essential baggage of belief, the one which gives strength and meaning.
How fascinating it indeed is!

Well, that is the last image in this series of boulders and beliefs.

ಒಗಟೆಯೇನೀ ಸೃಷ್ಠಿ? ಬಾಳಿನಥರ್ವದೇನು? ಬಗೆದು ಬಿಡಿಸುವರಾರು ಸೋಜಿಗವನಿದನು?|| - Dr. DVG

My poor translation of the above in Kannada which is devoid of the beauty of its original expression by the poet, Dr DVG:

"Is our universe a puzzle?
What does the life mean?
Who can explain this marvel?"
- Dr DVG.

Part of it appears to be very similar to what Einstein said in "The World As I See it"

"What an extraordinary situation is that of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he feels it."

Thats all! This is boulders and beliefs for you..

If you have a view please feel free to share here below.


I would like to sincerely thank following people who made my time far more productive and meaningful at Hampi.

Vijay Malemath and Pompayya Malemath (Ph: +91 94491 36252, +91 82777 48600, https://www.facebook.com/pompayya.malemath.5)

I stayed for two weeks at Pompayya's farm house at a very beautiful and secluded place. It is not a hotel but a second home. Pompayya himself is a knowledgable nature photographer and birder. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and food at Pompayya's place. In particular I cherish the time I spent chewing sugar canes every other day!! I also thank Vijay a lot for helping me during my photography.

Shivashankar Banagar (Ph: +91 94482 34764, https://www.facebook.com/shivashankar.banagar.5)

Shivashankar Banagar, a reputed resident photographer, has been photographing Hampi twice a day for last 10+ years! He knows every boulder in Hampi and where the shadows of it falls anytime in any day of the year. One day he told me to go to a certain point to catch the rising sun right behind a distant prominent monument. He has a fine sense of compositional aesthetics. Hampi is a very vast place and may need months to do any serious work. If you are a photographer and you plan to visit Hampi for less than a week or two then you may sign up with Shivashankar Banagar to cover all the places of photographic interest and learn from decades of his valuable experience of photographing Hampi.

Ashok Mansur (https://www.facebook.com/ashok.mansur)

My dedicated photographer friend for couple of decades, we went around Hampi, to many places and enjoyed the time together. Of course, the special peda he brought was mouth watering!! Thank you, Ashok. Looking forward to another trip together.

Shankar Pattar

I met photographer Shankar Pattar first time during my visit. He showed me a few places which otherwise I would have missed. The cow in a cave image above is thanks to him! Thanks, Shankar.


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