Lepakshi is a treasure trove of Temples, Paintings and other cultural works of the famed Vijayanagara Empire. Located at about 120 Kms north of Bangalore, Lepakshi is renowned for 3 shrines of Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra. The Veerabhadra temple which is built on a low hill called Kurma Sailam due to its tortoise shape, is a great exhibition of the architecture of Vijaynagara Empire. In fact Lepakshi has been cited in 'Skandapurana', the ancient India script, as one of the hundred and eight important 'Shaiva Kshetras' or Shrines of Lord Shiva. To me Lepakshi was a delightful synthesis of architecture, sculpture and painting.
Lepakshi can be reached by taking west at Kodikonda check post on the Bangalore- Hyderabad Highway NH-7. The nearest railway station is 15 Kms away at Hindupur from where one can engage a Taxi or take a Bus. For a guided tour from Bangalore to Lepakshi on a Royal Enfield motorcycle or private car, visit 5 Senses Tours.
Hotels in Hindupur are the best place to stay. Tourist Lodge is located on Penukonda Road and is just 0.5 Kms from the Hindupur Bus Stand.
October to February is the best time to visit Lepakshi. The weather is cool and pleasant during this period. Summer months of March, April and May can be very hot with maximum temperature of 42 deg C. Heavy monsoons lash Lepakshi from June to September. December is the coolest month of the year with a minimum of 15 deg C.
Veerabhadra temple is a masterpiece and a grand specimen of the Vijaynagara style of architecture. It was built in the mid-16th century by two brothers Virupanna and Viranna, treasury officers of the Penukonda Fort of the Vijaya Nagar Empire. The temple is made up of three sections Mukha Mandapa for dance and other cultural activities, Artha Mandapa for worship and the Garbha Griha housing the deity. There is also a 'Kalyana Mandapa', or Wedding Hall made from grey sandstone with 38 carved monolithic pillars. Legend says Shiva and Parvati got married at this Kalyana Madapam!
The Mukha Mandapa and Kalyana Mandapa or wedding hall are fully embellished with sculptures and murals depicting episodes from ancient works like Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as carvings of Ananthasayana, Dattatreya, and Chaturmukha Bramha. Lord Brahma playing drums, dancing Rambha, the celestial nymph and Lord Shiva engaged in 'Ananda Tandava' are the other interesting sculptures. The roof of Mukha Mandapa depicts the legend of the compassionate Chola King Manuneethi Cholan who dispensed justice even to animals. The 38 pillars of the wedding hall have images of Lord Shiva and Parvati along with sculptures of many sages, deities, and guardians. Without a roof, the wedding hall looks like an unfinished saga on stone.
The paintings of Lepakshi follow a unique style with elegant line-work set against an orange-red background. Most of the paintings highlight rich textile patterns, detailed hairstyles of people and exquisite jewelry. The most spectacular painting is the depiction of the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Some of the elements of the painting that stand out are the costumes and jewelry worn by the guests attending the wedding.
India’s largest Nandi Bull statue is located here. Made from a single granite chunk, Nandi stands 15 feet tall and 27 feet long.
Another monolith statue is that of Nagalinga, a Shiva Linga with a multi hooded Naga serpent over it. Legend has it that this sculpture was created by workers while they were waiting for their lunch to be served!
The temple festival is held in February for 10 days, when this quaint town becomes the hub of pilgrims!
Another temple worth visiting is the Parsavanatha temple of 11th century located north of Lepakshi. This Chalukya Style Temple has a sculpture of Parsavanatha in front of an undulating serpent. You can also visit the two granite Hindu temples nearby, dedicated to Rama and Siva dating back to the early Vijayanagar period.
There is an interesting legend regarding nomenclature of Lepakshi. It says Lepakshi is from the Ramayana and it specifically refers to the spot where the bird Jatayu, was wounded while trying to rescue Sita from Ravana. Lord Rama upon discovering the plight of Jatayau, says with compassion “Le Pakshi”, which in Telugu means “Get up, bird”.
The Case of Blinded Eyes
The Veerabhadra temple was built by the Vijay Nagar Empire’s treasurer Virupana while the King was away. Virupanna used the treasury during the King’s absence to fund the construction. Upon return, the King was furious and ordered Virupana’s eyes be taken out. Virupanna didnot wait for the King’s order to be carried out and plucked out his eyes himself. In fact one can see two dark stains upon the wall near the 'Kalyana Mandapa' which are supposed to be the marks of Virupanna’s eyes.
The Murals of Lepakshi with their natural pigments, have actually spun off a new style of Textiles called Lepakshi Motif. The flora and fauna depicted in the murals now find a way to block printed textiles and rugs today! The Andhra Pradesh Government Handicraft Corporation under the brand name of Lepakshi, is today marketing the produce of over 2 lakh artisans through its network across India.
For a guided tour to Lepakshi from Bangalore on a Royal Enfield motorcycle or private car, visit 5 Senses Tours..
For a travelogue on an even more majestic ruined city of magnificent temples and sculptures, check Hampi.