Lepakshi Temple – Poetry in Stone

posted in: Heritage, Andhra Pradesh, Asia, India | 38
First Published on January 15, 2019

Tucked away in a small village near Anantapur of Andhra Pradesh, is this little village called Lepakshi. The village is known for its amazing 16th-century treasures – especially the Lepakshi Temple. Though in Andhra Pradesh, the village is closer to Bangalore. The distance from Bangalore to Lepakshi is around 140 km. This makes it a lovely one day trip from Bangalore. Such is the beauty that one visit was just not enough for me. I had to take a small diversion on my way back from Gandikota. I visited Lepakshi again.

Open Air Kalyana Mantappa of Lepakshi

The little village has three major sites for its visitors. The first being one of the largest Nandi statues, the 2nd being the beautiful Veerabhadra Swamy Temple and the last being the hillock with a statue of Jatayu on it. What you find in each of these is what makes Lepakshi – a must-visit attraction around Bangalore.

History of Lepakshi

The name Lepakshi refers to a phrase in Telugu  – “Le Pakshi”. The words literally, mean “Rise Bird’ and as the legend goes, were uttered by Lord Rama. As the story goes in Ramayana, when Sita was being abducted by Ravana, a vulture called Jatayu tried to stop the demon. Unfortunately, he was wounded and fell down in this village. When Lord Rama followed the trail of abduction, he saw the wounded Jatayu and said “Le Pakshi (Rise Bird)“. And thus, the name of the place.

16th century Veerabhadra Temple of Lepakshi

The village might be older than the structures that you find here. The temple complex and the structures around it date back to the 16th century. The architectural style can be easily identified as the Vijayanagara Style. A visit here is like a preview to the gorgeous ghost city of Hampi. Time to discover it all with a glimpse of the key things to see in Lepakshi.

Monolithic Nandi at Lepakshi

Panorama of Monolithic Nandi, Lepakshi

As you enter the village, you encounter the 4.5 m high statue of Nandi. It is around 8.2 m long. Carved out of a single rock granite, this faces the Lepakshi temple and is believed to the 2nd largest monolithic Nandi in India. The place is fairly well maintained and one can walk through the gardens to the Nandi for a closer look. A warning though, you might feel like a dwarf as you pose against it 😉

Veerabhadra Temple of Lepakshi

A short walk away from the Lepakshi Nandi is the Veerabhadra Temple. The temple was built during the rule of King Achutaraya of Vijayanagar Kingdom. The story behind the temple is centered around 2 brothers – Veeranna and Virupanna. They were governors in the court of King Achyutaraya. They are said to have used the funds from the court to build this temple. Virupanna, in particular, was found guilty and as a punishment, was blinded. Some say that he punished himself and left the mark of his bleeding eyes on the walls of this very temple.

Entrance to the Kalyana Mandapa of Lepakshi Temple

As you go along with me on a tour of this Lepakshi Veerabhadra temple, you will come across the open-air Kalyana Mandapa. A wall opposite to that bears the mark of the bleeding eyes of Virupanna. Legend also, has it that the word Lepakshi might have originated owing to this incident. When splitting it as “Lepa Akshi” – they mean bleeding eyes.

This is just one of the several Lepakshi temple mysteries. There are more of these stories that surround the other interesting sights of Lepakshi temple. Though largely dedicated to the fierce avatar of Lord Shiva – Veerabhadra, the temple also, has shrines for Lord Ganesha. It has a large Naga idol and some stunning artistry in the form of paintings and carvings. Check them all out,

Gopuram of Lepakshi Temple

Gopuram of Lepakshi Temple

A Vijaynagara temple has to have an impressive Gopuram or Gateway. True to the style, Veerabhadra Temple too welcomed us with an impressive gateway. Every level had a carved figure beckoning you inside. A few of them seem to have got ravaged with time with their faces missing. However, there were a few that had me puzzled. Notice the central figure on the left  – doesn’t he look like a foreigner? 😉

Kannada Inscriptions in Veerabhadra Temple in Lepakshi

Kannada Inscriptions in Lepakshi Temple

As you walk the outer corridor of the Lepakshi temple, you will come across a site that is securely roped. The place might seem a little ordinary to you until you look close upon its surface. The place is full of Kannada text that supposedly describes certain milestones related to the temple. The language choice (Kannada Vs. Telugu) is evident as this was under the Vijayanagara rule. It is only now that Lepakshi falls into another state.

Pillars in the outer corridor of Lepakshi temple
Ancient Lamp

While you are busy deciphering the texts on the rock, spare a glance at the lovely pillars in the outer corridor. Somewhere along those, you will find an ancient lamp. Quite a simple and pretty one, this one was left abandoned for the guides to explain.

Kannada inscriptions on different structures in Lepakshi

The Kannada inscriptions in Veerabhadra temple is not just limited to this one site. You will find them on the walls of the main temple as well as a few other pieces too. All you have to do is watch out for them.

Lepakshi Temple Ganesh

The first time around I entered the main Lepakshi temple and made my way to this Ganesha later. This time though, I followed a guide to enter the temple from the other end and see the Ganesha almost immediately. Visiting something the 2nd time around allows you to see things that you missed the first time.

Ganesha at Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh

A detailed examination of this monolithic Ganesha allowed me to spot a snake tied around its belly. For those of you who have been to Hampi or seen my post on the Virupaksha temple, you should be able to spot the similarity. It is akin to the Sasivekalu Ganesha – only smaller. 😉 Also, don’t miss Lord Ganesha’s divine vehicle – his cute mouse at his feet.

Check out the similarity between this Ganesha and Sasivekalu Ganesha of Hampi through this post on Virupaksha Temple Trail.

Lepakshi Carvings on stone

Another gem that you should look out for while at the Ganesha shrine is a Bas relief behind it. It showcases a prince or a warrior praying to a Shiva Linga. The one next to it shows an elephant. I could not identify the mythological significance here. Perhaps the artist meant to depict a slice of life from those days.

The Naga Shrine of Lepakshi Temple

Some say that this is possibly the largest Naga or the Serpant shrine of India. In the absence of real facts, I am a little skeptical but at the same time in awe of the details. The seven hooded Naga coiled in 3 layers over a Shiva Linga is a sight to behold. I wasn’t the only one who thought that. It was pretty evident from the line that formed of people wanting to take exclusive selfies. 😉

Open Air Kalyana Mandapa

If there is that one thing that I had to pinpoint as the most memorable part of Lepakshi temple, it would be this open air Kalyana Mandapa. This section of the temple was not finished. Work was stopped as the brother Virupanna was found guilty of embezzling.

Exquisite Pillars of Lepakshi Kalyana Mandapa

The incomplete marriage hall or the hall of ceremonies is an open-air art gallery. Each pillar here is a showcase of an unknown artisan. From warriors to dancers and divine nymphs, every pillar is akin to a living creature. It feels as if each of them has just frozen into those stones. The details are just magnificent.

Lepakshi temple footprint

The outer corridor with Sita's Footprints

When the brave Jatayu fought with Ravana, for a brief moment, Sita touched Lepakshi. Her foot got imprinted on the surface. It is believed that the giant footprint that you see in Veerabhadra temple of Lepakshi is that very print. You will always find it wet. Even if you try to wipe the water away, it comes back. Popular belief has it that this is a divine way of paying respects to her.

Sita's footprint, Lepakshi

Around here, you will find unusual marks – almost like paw marks. However, if I had to believe the guide that I had at the Hampi enclosures, then these are placemats for a meal. There were similar marks near the various aqueducts of the Royal enclosures of Hampi. 

70 Carved beauties of Lepakshi

The Temple roof of Veerabhadra temple, Lepakshi

The main Lepakshi temple has three key chambers. The outermost is called the Natya Mandapa or the dance chamber, the next is the Ardha Mandapa or the Antechamber and the last is the Garbha Griha or the inner sanctum. The one thing that will impress you in both the Natya Mandapa and the Ardha Mandapa is the array of over 70 carved pillars. Each pillar of the temple had a unique carving on it and merely going from one pillar to another can itself be a fascinating journey for any art lover.

Bhringi depicted on a pillar

The ones in the Natya Mandapa showcase different avatars of Shiva and other Gods playing music or dancing. Take for instance this nymph called Brinhgi with her three legs. The ascetic was given the third leg after a curse from Shakti – the consort of Shiva. The ascetic wished to circle only Shiva and refused to acknowledge Shakti as the divine half of Shiva. He tried to separate Shakti by going between the two but failed. As a punishment, his feminine side (said to to flesh and blood) was taken away from him. The poor guy tried to stand but could not as he was just a bag of bones. After a penance, he was forgiven and given the third leg as support.

Nymphs carved on the Pillars of Veerabhadra Temple
Corner brackets in Lepakshi Temple

Quite like Bhringi, you will spot the other mythological stories on these pillars. It will take you over a day if you were decipher each one of them and this is where a guide can help you. They not only tell you the key stories but also, point out at the various other facets like this protruding bracket that you might otherwise miss.

The Hanging Pillar of Lepakshi Temple

The one pillar that you must look out for it what they call the Lepakshi Temple hanging pillar. It is to the left if you are facing the inner sanctum of the temple. It might actually seem like one of the least impressive ones  – from a perspective of its carvings. However, this one hangs off the ground and you can see the gap. Not just by bending down but by passing your scarf or newspaper right through its bottom.

The Hanging Pillar of Lepakshi Temple

One might say that it could have been a mistake and since the other pillars are all fine, the temple has not collapsed. So did this British Engineer until he checked it himself. Apparently he tried to dislodge only to realize that the ceilings and the other pillars were dangerously shaking. It was evident then that this was by design. Goes to show the architectural prowess of that time.

Murals of Lepakshi

Murals on the ceilings of Lepakshi Temple

The Ardha Mandapa has more than its share of pillars. A glance up at its ceilings will reveal gorgeous paintings. The details in these are still vivid owing to the vegetable colors that were used. These colors have withstood the test of time. What is more, is that this stretch of 7 x 4 m ceiling is said to be the largest fresco of Asia. The paintings showcase various scenes from the life of Lord Shiva. You can spot around 14 of his avatars here.

Inner Sanctum of Lepakshi Temple

The Inner Sanctum has the shrine of the fierce form of Lord Shiva – called Lord Veerabhadra. The deity is adorned with skulls and is equipped with a lot of weapons. Besides this, there are shrines dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Ganesha and Shiv – Parvati. There is also, a beautiful pillar with Goddess Durga on it. The pillar can be seen with a mirror that is kept opposite it. The reason for this mirror is so that all the devotees get to see her.

Stories in stone at Lepakshi

As the story goes, Goddess Durga did not wish to have a shrine of her own. She said that she would be happy with just a pillar. And thus, the arrangement. No photography is allowed in the Inner Sanctum as it is still a living temple. One can go in and see for themselves.

Jatayu on Kurma Sailum Hilltop

Jatayu View Point in Lepakshi

Veerabhadraswamy temple is built on a tortoise shaped hill called Kurma Sailum (the name translates to the shape). Atop one of the peaks here, you can see a large statue of Jatayu. The place is more of a viewpoint of Lepakshi. Atop this, you can see the Veerabhadra temple and the Nandi bull. I frankly, gave this a miss as it had been a long day since we left Gandikota. It was time to go home and well, this being close to home, I hope to get there the next time

Lepakshi is a perfect day-outing from Bangalore with just enough to see. I highly recommend it for its unusual things to see – the hanging pillars, open-air Kalyana Mantapa, the largest ceiling fresco, the Naga Shrine….and well, the rest of the list as above. So, are you game?

How to visit Lepakshi?

– The closest airport to Lepakshi is Bangalore Airport. In fact, from the airport, it is just 135 km by road.
– You can hire a cab from Bangalore or hop into one of the many buses that go to Lepakshi from Bangalore.

Where to stay in Lepakshi?

– There is only one APTDC Hotel in Lepakshi – Hotel Harita. This will need to be booked in advance if you wish to stay here.
– It is best to drive back to Bengaluru and opt for one of the hotels in Bengaluru. You can pick one from the many around, based on your location and budget.

What is the best time to visit Lepakshi Temple?

Any time of the year is good to visit Lepakshi and its famous Veerabhadra temple. The weather is generally pleasant throughout the year. Monsoons however, tend to cause a lot of water accumulation in the open areas of the temple. Since you have to walk barefoot, that might not be a pleasant experience.

The opening time for Lepakshi temple is 5 am. The temple closes at 8 pm every day. Early morning and early evening is a good time to get here. Again, the reason for this is that it is a little more comfortable to walk barefoot during these times of the day. Else, the ground gets scorching hot.

Travel Tips

  • Carry your own food and water as there are no restaurants or hotels around the village.
  • Lepakshi is known for its weaving and one might want to spend a little time browsing around Dharmavaram and Hindupur – around 1 hour away from this village. The Lepakshi Sarees are quite famous for their designs – all inspired by the carvings of Veerabhadra temple
Inspiration of Lepakshi Silk Sarees
  • There are no entrance fees to the Veerabhadra temple or the monolithic bull.
  • You can hire a guide near the temple. It is advisable to do so as there are quite a few things to see within the Veerabhadra Temple.
  • Remember to note the various Hindu rituals when visiting the temple – especially the way you dress. You can read through this guide to know them all.
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