Lepakshi Temple – Of Hanging Pillar, Mural Paintings, Giant Nandi and day full of fun!!
Our trip to Lepakshi was an impromptu one on a fine Saturday morning. My parents were visiting Bangalore and they were interested in exploring a religious site. I had heard about Lepakshi as an offbeat place where travellers can spend a relaxing weekend. About 120 kms away, it is a perfect day-trip destination with family for Bangaloreans. We were not sure whether we will be able to hire a car on short notice. But thanks to Ola Outstation, we were off to Lepakshi at 10 am. And this was within an hour of conceiving the idea. We reached Lepakshi at ~1 pm with a stop-over at Nandi Upachar for breakfast.
Origins of Lepakshi
Lepakshi is a small village tucked in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. It has one of South India’s finest yet unexplored Vijaynagar-era architecture. It has some fascinating facets and stories attached to it – the most interesting one behind its name. The legend has it that during the exile of Lord Rama (Ramayana), this was the place the bird Jatayu fell. Jatayu wounded itself after a futile battle against Ravana who was carrying away Sita. When Lord Rama reached the spot, he saw the bird and said compassionately, “Le Pakshi” — ‘rise, bird’ in Telugu.
Wonders of Lepakshi – Veerbhadra temple
At the center of the village is the Veerbhadra temple. It is popularly known as Lepakshi Temple. Based on archaeological documentation, the temple was built in 1583 A.D. by brothers Virupanna and Veeranna, who served the Vijayangar kings. However, ancient lore has it that sage Agastya built the temple.
Dedicated to Lord Veerbhadra (fiery form of Lord Shiva), the sanctum also has idols of Ganesha, Nandi, Bhadrakali, Vishnu and Lakshmi. The temple is built on a rocky hill called Kurmasailam — which translates to tortoise hill in Telugu due to its shape.
We had read little about temple origins and its architecture. Hence, we decided to hire a local guide who provided useful and interesting information about the temple. We first offered our prayers to the temple’s main deity Veerabhadra. It is a fiery avatar of Shiva in rage after the Daksha Yagna (Yagna or sacrifice organized by king Daksha) and the immolation of Sati (Daksha’s daughter & Shiva’s wife). There are several forms of Shiva here — a majestic Kankala Murthi (with the skeleton), Dakshinamurthi (Guru of Gurus), Tripurasurasamhara (vanquisher of demon Tripura); Ardhanareeshwara (the half-female, half-male form), etc. Another shrine has the fiery goddess Bhadrakali, though bearing an uncharacteristically serene expression.
The temple’s outer enclosure has Ganesha — hewn in stone. Perpendicular to it is a massive Naga with three coils and seven hoods. It forms a sheltering canopy over a black granite Shivalingam. It is the largest Nagalinga in India.
Mural paintings of Lepakshi
The Lepakshi temple also has the finest mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings. The guide informed us that fresco at the Veerabhadra temple ceiling is the largest in India. All frescoes especially the one depicting Shiva-Parvathi kalyanam (wedding) are beautiful and show an strikingly contrasting color palette. However, these frescoes are peeling off in many places and need better maintenance and expert restoration.
After the ache in the neck from gazing upwards at the temple frescoes, we sat down for a while, in the splendid Natya Mandapam or dance hall with its superbly sculpted pillars. Then we explored the artistic beauty of sprawling Kalyana Mandapam.
Hanging Column of Lepakshi
The temple houses about 70 stone pillars built in Vijayanagar style. Amongst those, the Hanging Column holds the repute as the best known miracle of medieval Indian engineering. The column does not rest completely on the ground but is still firm. In fact, one can pass a thin piece paper underneath the column.
Nandi of Lepakshi
We visited the giant Nandi – Lord Shiva’s bull which is just outside the temple. It is a single stone sculpture and the largest monolithic structure of India. Approximately 5 mts high and 8 mtrs long, very exquisitely carved and majestic. There is a small park surrounding Nandi which has good tree-cover. We sat there enjoying good weather and reminiscing about the wonders of Lepakshi we experienced in this short day trip.
We reached Bangalore at about 5 pm after a very enriching yet relaxing experience at Lepakshi.