The elephant stables are an imposing structure in an immense open space at Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. True to its identity, every single fragment of the structure is colossal, like the Jumbo elephant itself.
Like many of the buildings in Hampi, the elephant stables show evidence of Indo-Islamic motifs while cut plaster decorations and arches are in the Deccani Islamic style.
At the side of the Lotus Mahal is a row of eight high domes of the elephant stables that shows early Indo-Islamic architectural influences, and gives you an idea of the importance accorded both to ceremonial as well as battle elephants.
Impressive Domes of the Hampi Elephant Stables
Essentially, the elephant stables structure is an oblong construction running to 85 meters from south to north and its depth is 9 meters. There are eleven compartments or rooms, five on each side with one in the center. All the cells are of identical measurement, each side measuring 6 meters. The middle cell has a stairway leading to the rooftop of the building, which has ten domes of different shapes; the middle cell has a double storied pillared pavilion, which is partially destroyed. The impressive domes display Islamic architectural types and add a distinguished and colossal look to the structure. There is a variation in these domes. Some are rounded; some have twelve angles, while yet others have sixty-two flutings.
The cells have tall arched openings to the west whereas there are small accesses at the east. Some of these cells are interconnected also. The cells have thick and strong walls. At the roof level, wood was implanted which perhaps contained iron rings or hooks so that the elephants could be shackled. The arched entrances and flat domes are of Bahamani style and it is hard to explain why the Vijayanagara kings used Islamic architectural features for this building.
Even though the native belief connects this building with elephants, some scholars question its exact suggestion. But historical contexts do not subsist in themselves; they must be defined, and in that sense constructed, by the historian afore the explanatory work of engendering explanation, and of interpreting the past. Vijayanagara army had several elephants but this building is meant to accommodate only eleven elephants. Perhaps these were imperial elephants. King Deva Raya II was a great lover of elephants. It is possible that these stables were built during his period.
Elephant Stables and Vijayanagara King Deva Raya II
Vijayanagara empire’s historians have long grappled with the undertaking of construing chronicles that, even though written in the past tense, are nevertheless demanding, if not unfeasible to resolve with each other or indeed, the modern historical sense of there having been a singular past. Reigned over by four consecutive dynasties of kings, the Vijayanagara institution transformed itself from a small regional kingdom to the foremost political and military power in southern India within the period of about two hundred years. The power and grandeur of the Vijayanagara Empire reached during the sovereignty of Deva Raya II (1422–46) reached its pinnacle under the able and powerful tenure of Krishnadeva Raya (1505–29). There was a resurgence of art and architecture on an unprecedented scale during his reign. Vijayanagara was undoubtedly a name to conjure within the lands south of the mighty Tungabhadra river.
Many contemporaneous foreign essayists of the period have given eloquent testament to the elephants of the Vijayanagara period. Abdul Razzak (the prominent Persian ambassador who visited in 1443 and wrote about the extraordinary wealth of Vijayanagara) states that Deva Raya II had more than one thousand elephants grand as hills and colossal as demons. Deva Raya II took on many designations associated with elephants and even circulated gold coins with elephant on the obverse.
From all these specifics, it can be construed that elephants played a major role during the Vijayanagara period not only in military conflicts but also in festivals and religious pageants of royals in the same way as Dasara in Mysore. These stables signify the military might of the Vijayanagara Empire.