If you live in Bengaluru and are looking for an off-the-beaten-track day outing, head to Lepakshi, located in Anantapur district in southern Andhra Pradesh.
Lepakshi makes for an ideal weekend destination from Bengaluru being only about 120 km away. The main focus here is a 16th century temple dating back to the times of the Vijayanagar empire and the sights and sounds of an era gone by is a fun way to spend a day. There are also a few interesting legends associated with this temple. It is believed that this temple has been built on the spot where Jatayu fell after being injured by Ravana who was kidnapping Sita. When Rama reached the spot, he saw Jatayu and remarked, ‘Le Pakshi’ which translates to ‘rise, bird’ in Telugu from which this town gets its name! There is a belief that the original temple has been constructed by Saint Agastya himself and has been developed by the Vijayanagar Kings.
As you approach the town, the first thing you see is a colossally large spectacular Nandi, 27 feet in length and 15 feet in height, amongst the biggest monolithic Nandi in the country. The smooth structure and finely-carved ornaments make this a must stop by as well. The sculpture is designed in a manner that it faces the shivalinga inside the temple. As you enter the outer enclosure of the temple there is a huge Ganesha in stone, leaning against a rock as well as a massive Naga with three coils and seven hoods. The temple is divided into three parts, the ‘Mukha Mandapa’, the ‘Artha Mandapa’ & ‘Garbha Griha’ and the ‘Kalyana Mandapa’ with 38 carved monolithic pillars. Legend also has it that Lord Shiva and Parvati were married on the spot where the Kalyana Mandapa now stands. The temple is surrounded by an outer enclosure and a second inner enclosure has the main temple. The temple’s main deity is Veerabhadra, created by Shiva and there are other manifestations of Shiva like the Kankala Murthi, Dakshinamurthi (Guru of Gurus), Tripurasurasamhara (vanquisher of demon Tripura) and the Ardhanareeshwara (the half-female, half-male form of Shiva and Parvati) seen here.
With the help of a guide you will be able to understand the nuances of this architectural marvel. The famed Hanging Column or Pillar requires specific mention, as it is actually a pillar which does not rest fully on the ground! And your guide will actually do a ‘newspaper test’ and pass the newspaper from one end of the base to the other! The temple has over 70 pillars each of which are carved with intricate designs and patterns that make it today amongst the most photographed elements here. There are two red stain marks on the western wall of the inner enclosure which is believed to be of Virupanna, the royal treasurer, who was accused of using money without the king’s permission from the state treasury to build these shrines. He is supposed to have blinded himself and these spots are believed to be the marks left by his bleeding eyes.
What makes the Lepakshi temple stand apart are the fine specimens of mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings. In fact, the 24 ft by 14 ft fresco of Veerabhadra on the ceiling, before the main sanctum sanctorum, is said to be the largest in India. All the frescoes are beautiful and the attention to detail is amazing. Even the colours used, orange-red background, green, white, black, ochre-gold and brown make for a stunning visual spectacle. While a lot of these are now fading and need restoration, it is said that they were originally done using natural pigments and are representations from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
While you are here, it is worthwhile to check out the Veerapuram Bird Sanctuary, home to the migratory painted storks which have chosen this village as their breeding centre! You cannot miss a large statue of painted storks right on the road towards Lepakshi. A left turn at this junction will take you to the Veerapuram village. Also check out the famed silk sarees of Hindupur which is at a distance of 15 km from here.
Written by Bindu Gopal Rao