Lepakshi – Poetry cast in stone
It was an impromptu decision for a day visit to Lepakshi in January. Husband was keen to take the car for a spin and I was keen to explore the 16th century treasures of Lepakshi. Saturday morning saw us heading towards this historical hamlet in Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh.
The road to Lepakshi (130 km north of Bangalore) is on Bangalore – Hyderabad highway (NH7) and is a pleasure to drive on. Driving past Bangalore International Airport, Chikballapur and Bagehalli, you reach Andhra Pradesh border and a toll booth . As you cross the toll booth, there are signs on the left pointing to Lepakshi (16 kms from there). The road leading to the village are narrow but asphalted.
Built during the Vijayanagar kings’ period (1336–1646), it is a walk into the bylane of history. A legend has it that this town was where the wounded bird Jatayu fell after a battle against Ravana who was carrying Sita away. On reaching the spot Lord Rama lovingly addressed the bird with, “Le Pakshi” — ‘rise, bird’ in Telugu. Co-relation to this incident gives this town significant importance in the Ramayana.
Few things that mesmerized me during this day trip
1) Lepakshi Nandi
You are greeted by this monolithic sculpture of Nandi, Hindu God Lord Shiva’s bull as you park on the village road.
The structure is 15 feet high and 27 feet long. It is the largest Nandi in India, making for selfie ops for visiting tourists! The sculpture is positioned to face the shivalinga (symbol of Lord Shiva) which is shielded by a Naga (Cobra) with three coils and seven hoods inside the temple. Ganda-Berunda, which is the state emblem of Karnataka, is carved on the neck of this Nandi monolith.
2) Veerabhadra temple
The Veerabhadra temple of Lepakshi is a 16th century marvel, built by brothers Viranna and Virupanna, in service to the Vijayanagar kings. The temple is dedicated to Veerabhadra, a fearsome form of Lord Shiva who was created by the wrath of Shiva after Daksha’s daughter and Shiva’s consort Sati self-immolated in the sacrificial fire (Yagna). The temple has several other forms of Shiva.
- The mural paintings on the ceiling of the temple are impressive in their base red-orange hues, along with other white, black and yellow-golden shades. These are made with natural pigments on lime treated surfaces. They depict stories of Shiva-Parvati and from Mahabharatha and Ramayana. You cannot stop thinking of the grandeur of these murals in their hey day. They are still eye-catching, despite being in dire need of restoration.
- A major attraction in this temple is the hanging pillar. There are about 70 pillars in this temple of stone, but this one is the showcase of engineering marvel and genius of medieval India’s temple builders. It is said that it is a bit dislodged from its original position since a British engineer, during the British era, attempted to move it to unravel the secret of its support. A guide showed off this marvel proudly by passing paper through the base and was rewarded with audible gasps from his audience !
- Sculptures within the Kalyan Mandapa (wedding ceremony hall) and Nritya Mandapa (dance hall)
- Nagalinga : Legend has it that the Naga of the Nagalinga was carved out of a single stone by sculptors while they waited for their mothers to prepare lunch ! Child’s play huh ! It’s considered to be the largest Naga-Linga in India.
- Sculptures with the temple premises – The detailing on the pillars and structures here makes for great background for camera happy tourists. You can capture great pictures and much credit goes to the photogenic subjects. The kids get some rest too 🙂
- Open air pavilion – One can sit and ponder the reason why the open-air pavilion was never completed. It will remain an untold story in history, perhaps.
The street leading to the temple is lined with small shops selling nick-knacks.
Travel tips from my experience
- It is advised to be equipped with water and food as there aren’t many places to eat within / near Lepakshi.
- For the Monolithic Bull and Veerabhadra Temple, parking is on the road or nearby lanes.
- There are lot of monkeys around, so be careful about your sunglasses, handbags and avoid carrying eatables in plain sight.
- The best mode of transportation to reach Lepakshi is road.
- It can become exceedingly hot during a sunny day, so visit in the morning would be ideal.
- A guide is recommended and you can pay as per service.
- Lepakshi is fairly close to Puttaparthi, the holy town of Sai Baba. One can find accommodation there, if needed.
- Lepakshi is famous for silk sarees and depiction of stories of stone in silk. The carvings on the walls of the temples inspire designs on these famous sarees! Go, check them out 🙂