Tucked away in a small village near Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh, Lepakshi is a hamlet with interesting 16th century treasures. A day-trip from Bangalore, the village is around 120 kms from the city, it is at a perfect distance for a family picnic or a refreshing bike ride.
The legendary Lepakshi is famous for its 430-year-old Veerabhadra Swamy temple complex with Vijayanagar styled sculptures, a 100-pillared dance hall, intricate carvings and paintings on the ceilings, the hanging pillar that barely touches the ground, the monolithic Nagalinga, the monolithic Nandi and the unfinished wedding hall besides Lepakshi saree designs and more.
Built on a low, rocky hill called Kurma sailam (meaning tortoise hill in Telugu), Lepakshi is of historical and archaeological significance, dating around 1583 CE and was built by the brothers, Virupanna and Veeranna, who were initially in the service of the Vijayanagar kings. The temple complex seems to be almost completely built on a single rock on the hill.
Dedicated to Veerabhadreshwara, the Lepakshi temple also has sanctums for Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha. Each pillar of the temple has a unique carving on it, and merely going from one pillar to another can itself be a fascinating journey for an art lover. As one enters the Veerabhadra Swamy temple, they will be mesmerized by the intricately carved pillars with dancers and musicians with various musical instruments in the main “mukha mandapa” (also called ‘Nritya Mandapa’ or ‘Ranga Mandapa’), which is known as the 100-pillared dance hall.
The temple is a perfect example of engineering marvel and one should not miss the hanging pillar. One can try out the “newspaper” test to discover gap between the pillar and the floor of the temple. The newspaper will slide through the base to the other side. Behind the main temple is a monolithic Naga linga, approximately 12 foot high.
The entire temple and the structures within represent the typical Vijayanagar style of architecture. With intricately and beautifully carved granite sculptures and structures, with “shikharas”, meaning peaks (some of them shaped like a dome) made of brick adorning the top of these structures. These brick domes are now restored with concrete, but the restoration seems incomplete as the damaged pieces of sculpture are yet to be restored. A visit to Lepakshi reminds the visitor of the great ruins at Hampi, in Karnataka.
Inspite of the beautiful architecture, something seems to be amiss in Lepakshi. This is because the work there never got completed and a legend explains it thus.
Virupanna, the royal treasurer, who planned and executed the construction of the temple was accused of drawing funds from the state treasury without the king’s permission. When the king came to know of this, he ordered that Virupanna be blinded for his felony. On knowing this, Virupanna inflicted the punishment upon himself by plucking his own eyes. The two reddish spots on the western wall of the inner enclosure are said to be the blood stains from his bleeding eyes when he threw the eyeballs against the wall. The work at the temple came to a standstill after this. The unfinished “Kalyana Mandapa”, or marriage hall, behind the main temple in the complex, and other unfinished structures here and there stand still even today.
Virupanna did not survive for long, and the village is called “Lepa-akshi” or, “Lepakshi”, i.e., a village of the blinded eye.
That’s not all. As the legend goes, the temple at Lepaksi was built on the spot where the bird fell after it was injured by Ravana during the kidnapping of Sita. As another legend goes, Lord Rama exclaimed, “Le, Pakshi”, meaning, Rise, Bird, in Telugu, seeing the fallen Jatayu, and hence leading to the name of the place.
While you are busy looking at the sculpted pillars and the idols, don’t forget to look up at the ceiling of the main temple where you can spot the beautiful and captivating Vijaynagar murals.
• Hiring a vehicle, if you don’t have one, is a good option. APSRTC and KSRTC also run services from Bangalore to Hindupur and from Hindupur there are regular bus services to Lepakshi.
• 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.