I was scouting for a short trip out of Bangalore when Lepakshi caught my attention. I always associated it with the Andhra Pradesh Handicrafts emporium but never realized it was a 2.5 hour ride away from Bangalore. Lepakshi derives its name from a famous Ramayana anecdote; Jatayu the mythical bird was found in an injured condition here after a failed attempt to save Sita from Ravana’s clutches. Lord Rama saw him and addressed “Le Pakshi” which means “Rise Bird” in Telugu.
Life in Lepakshi revolves around the temple, the architecture very similar to that of the ones in Hampi. During the glorious days of the Vijayanagar Kingdom under Krishna Deva Raya, his younger brother Achyuta Raya ruled this area. The Veerabhadra Temple in Lepakshi was built in 1538AD by Virupanna the minister in charge of the area with the approval of Achyuta Raya. The temple designed by Vishwakarma Brahmin Sthapatis stands on a tortoise shaped hill (Kurma Saila) and has beautiful carvings and sculptures. . The Bahamani’s came here too, but could not inflict as much destruction as they did in Hampi. The beautiful ceiling paintings have been destroyed but what can be now seen is equally mesmerising.
The temple has phenomenal natural lighting. When I walked into the main hall, we could see the sun light creeping in. The Pillars reminded of Hampi and have strong resemblance to the ones in Vithala Temple. Most of the carvings are related to Shiva, Parvathy and Lord Rama. One of the pillars had the depiction of Rambha- queen of Apsaras in Devaloka. The carving is exquisitely intricate, the patterns on her skirt, her jewelry, her makeup, arched eyebrows et al. Most of the depiction of Tolly and Kollywood heroines can be traced to these depictions. It did remind me of the Sridevi and Jaya Prada movies in 80’s prancing with the aging Jeetendra.
The lotus architecture on the ceiling is partly destroyed bearing silent testimony to brainless destruction, without any respect for art and beauty. Like the Virupaksha Temple in Hampi, this temple is also functional and Vishnu and Shiva are given equal status. The temple priest, wears a mark on his forehead that is a combination of both “Shaivaite” and “Vaishanavite” marks to testify the same. The offerings are made to the main deities Lord Veerabhadra, Lord Anantha and Durga Devi daily. There are Depiction of Lord Dattatreya-3 heads representing (Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara) and the damru in his hand.
There is a pillar in the hall which is not touching the ground. A handkerchief can easily pass through from one end to the other. In early 1900, a British Civil engineer came in here to inspect this architectural marvel. The pillar got damaged while it was pushed and also disbalanced the architectural carvings on the top as well as the other pillars surrounding the same. It was then established that this pillar is indeed the one which is the main base of the entire temple and is holding the weight of the entire structure.
Walking around the temple, could see some exquisite sculptures. The 7 hooded Naga shelters a black-polished lingam cradled in its ribbed coils. There are 5 lingams in this temple and it is advised that the devotee visits all of them. The Sapta Matrika Panel below the 7 hooded Naga Lingam represents Chamundi, Vaishnavi, Koumari,Brahmani, Indrani, Maheshwari and Varahi. The Ganesha idol carving here also has a belt akin to the Sasivekalu Ganesha in Hampi.
The pillars in the unfinished Kalyana Mandapam have beautiful designs, in some cases, different sides have different designs and the best part is they are not repeated in the entire temple. These are the source of the famous Lepakshi designs for sarees, fabrics, jewellery.
Observe the 2 red marks on this wall. These are blood stains and even archaeologists have confirmed the same after several tests. Virupanna, chose to inflict punishment on himself by gorging his eyes out, before Achutaraya could announce the punishment. He rubbed his hand against this wall while taking a last look at the temple and most importantly the unfinished Kalyana Mandapam.
As I wandered around the temple complex, some other sculptures caught my attention. The 3 headed cow -One grazing, one looking ahead and the other feeding the calf lovingly; the Footmark, which continuously oozes water from the side of the thumb, the source of which cannot be traced. Legend has it that, when Jatayu was fighting Ravana, Sita devi touched the ground momentarily and this is her imprint. My logical brain said too large to be that of a woman, but I chose to be with mythology. The Anjaneya Swami statue is placed in a cradle like structure and the stone replica of the platter served during temple feasts.
Just outside the temple, there is a single stone sculpture of a Nandi which is approximately 5 mts high and 8 mtrs long, very exquisitely carved and majestic. Unfortunately, I reached too late and could not get too close to it and hence missed taking pictures. From a distance, it resembled the Nandi statues that I have seen in the Chola temples.
Travel Tip: Located about 125 kms from Bangalore. Start from Bangalore at 6.30 am in the morning with a short breakfast stop on the way. Reach the temple by 9.30 am. Takes about 2 hours to go around. Have lunch in Lepakshi (not too many options) and then head back to Bangalore. On the way stop by at Bhoganandishwara Temple at the base of Nandi Hills, make a quick trip up the hill for sunset to end your trip.