Lepakshi is a small village in Andhra Pradesh approximately 120 Km north of Bangalore. Lepakshi is culturally and archaeologically significant as it is the location of shrines dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra which were built during the Vijayanagara Kings’ period. The temples are the location of mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings and Kannada inscriptions.
The Veerabhadra temple of Lepakshi, which was built by the brothers Viranna and Virupanna, is dedicated to Veerabhadra. It is an example of the Vijayanagar architectural style. Points of interest in the temple include a rock chain, Vastu Purush, the Padmini race lady, the hanging pillar, Durga Paadam, the eyes of Viroopaakshanna and Lepakshi saree designs. The paintings on the roof are made with natural pigments.
Shiva’s bull Nandi is a granite monolithic sculpture on the main road of Lepashki approximately 200m from the temple. It is one of the largest nandi in India. The sculpture has been positioned so that it faces the shivalinga which is shielded by a large serpent inside the temple. The nandi wears a kaasu malai, a bell chain, earrings and other jewellery. 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.
A legend gives the town a significant place in the Ramayana — this was where the bird Jatayu fell, wounded after a futile battle against Ravana who was carrying away Sita. When Sri Rama reached the spot, he saw the bird and said compassionately, “Le Pakshi” or ‘rise, bird’ in Telugu.
There are two red blotches on the western wall of the inner enclosure, explained by a gory story. Virupanna, the royal treasurer, was accused of drawing funds without the king’s permission from the state treasury to build these shrines. However, he forestalled the enraged king’s punishment by blinding himself, and those maroon spots are said to be the marks left by his bleeding eyes!
The temple’s main deity is Veerabhadra, the fiery god created by Shiva in his rage after the Daksha Yagna and the immolation of Parvathi. There are several forms of Shiva here, a majestic Kankala Murthi, Dakshinamurthi (Guru of Gurus), Tripuranthaka or Tripurasurasamhara (vanquisher of demon Tripura); Ardhanareeshwara (the half-female, half-male form, where Shiva and Parvati are equally represented in one body), etc. Another shrine has the fiery goddess Bhadrakali, though bearing an uncharacteristically serene expression.
The Lepakshi temple also has the finest specimens of mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings. We were informed that the 24 by 14 ft fresco of Veerabhadra on the ceiling before the main sanctum sanctorum is the largest in India of any single figure. The rest of the frescoes are also beautiful and show an impressive attention to detail with colours strikingly contrasted — black limework against an orange-red background with some green, white, black, and shades of ochre-gold and brown mostly applied to a stucco surface specially treated with lime. The Shiva-Parvathi kalyanam — an enduringly popular subject with traditional Indian artists — finds expression here. However, these frescoes are peeling off in many places and in need of better maintenance and expert restoration.
This weekend, plan a trip to Lepakshi and revel in India’s History!