The Musical Pillars of Vijaya Vittala Temple

The temple, known as the Vijaya Vittala Temple, has 56 pillars in total. These are collectively known as the SaRiGaMa pillars, named after the notes of the classic Indian music. (Image: Push203  via  wikimedia  CC BY 3.0)
The temple, known as the Vijaya Vittala Temple, has 56 pillars in total. These are collectively known as the SaRiGaMa pillars, named after the notes of the classic Indian music. (Image: Push203 via wikimedia CC BY 3.0)

Can music be played from rocks? It turns out that ancient Indian architects were so obsessed by the idea that they ended by creating a stone temple whose columns produce musical sounds when tapped! What’s even more astonishing is that almost every pillar of the temple resonates a different sound.

The temple, known as the Vijaya Vittala Temple, has 56 pillars in total. These are collectively known as the SaRiGaMa pillars, named after the notes of the classic Indian music – Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, etc. A few of the pillars are surrounded by seven minor pillars. And it is these minor pillars that emit the musical sound.

The pillars have astonished archaeologists, scientists, and curious visitors for decades. When they are struck with a thumb, every single pillar produces a unique, pleasant sound that almost sounds as if multiple bells are ringing all at once. Some of the pillars actually sound like some of the Indian musical instruments.

An analysis of the pillars concluded that they contain a mixture of silica and metallic ore. The ingenuity and knowledge required to build these pillars has given rise to many conspiracy theories. The most popular theory assumes that the ancient Indians knew rock melting technology and that it is their expertise in this field that enabled them to create the pillars.

The pillars have astonished archaeologists, scientists, and curious visitors for decades. (Image: Arian Zwegers via wikimedia CC BY 2.0 )

Destruction by invaders

The temple has been the subject of targeted destruction throughout the centuries. After conquering the region, the Mughals tried to burn down the temple. When it turned out futile, they tried to char the pillars as much as possible, carrying on the process for months. While the temple survived this carnage, all the constant burning had resulted in a huge negative effect – the pillars lost their decibels. As such, the sounds that the pillars produce now are believed to be more muffled, milder ones than were produced prior to the Mughal onslaught.

After the Mughals, the country fell prey to the British. They too tried to damage the temple every way they could. In fact, two pillars were cut off by the British, who were surprised by the musical notes of the pillars and wanted to examine them in more detail. However, when they found out that the pillars had nothing inside them, they just threw the pillars inside the temple complex. These two pillars can be seen inside the complex even today.

When they found out that the pillars had nothing inside them, they just threw the pillars inside the temple complex. These two pillars can be seen inside the complex even today. (Image: Balraj D via flickr CC BY-SA 4.0)

When they found out that the pillars had nothing inside them, they just threw the pillars inside the temple complex. These two pillars can be seen inside the complex even today. (Image: Balraj D via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

A world heritage site

The Vijaya Vittala Temple is located at Hampi in the state of Karnataka and is believed to have been built in about the 15th century A.D. by the Vijayanagara Empire. It is one of the best examples of Dravidian-style architecture in the region, with the entire temple adorned with beautifully detailed carvings. The temple has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO and is therefore under the protection of the government of India. The temple is nearly 350 km from the state capital Bengaluru and about 65 km from Bellary.

Visitors are allowed from 8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. daily. No entry fee is charged. The best time to visit the place would be from November to February. So if by chance you are planning a trip to India, a visit to this temple is highly recommended. The government has installed floodlights that give a magnificent view of the temple, even at night.

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