Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lovely Lepakshi - Splendor in Stone

Lepakshi about 100 km from Bengaluru city is home to one of the most spectacular Vijayanagara era temples. Located in the State of Andhra Pradesh Lepakshi is easily accessible from Karnataka, i.e. Bengaluru.

I paid a quick visit to this wonderfully sculpted temple back in 2005 and ever since I have been smitten by the memories of the place. Lepakshi in my opinion is a place for those willing to get away from the routine multiple-destination tourist circuits and want a quiet weekend amidst ancient monuments and rugged scenery.

With its fine temple architecture and historically interesting monuments, Lepakshi is an ideal getaway for history enthusiasts, heritage lovers and monument fanatics. Sited in Anantapur District of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Lepakshi is a small village about 100 km from Bangalore.

Lepakshi is perhaps one of the most important locations close to Bangalore from a historical perspective. A trip to Lepakshi will prove revitalising for those who love in heritage sites, who marvel at the art created by our ancestors. Lepakshi, renowned as the repository of the best mural paintings of the Vijayanagar empire, hosts three shrines dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra. On a hillock known as ‘Kurma Saila’ (tortoise shaped hill), is located the large temple complex dedicated to Veerabhadra which also houses sub-shrines of Papanatheswara, Raghunatha, Srirama and Durga.

According to Skandapurana – a holy book of Hindus -- Lepakshi is one of the 108 Shaiva Kshetras or important pilgrim centres for worshippers of Lord Shiva. An inscription (in HaleKannada or old Kannada) on the outer wall of the temple records that one Virupanna, the treasury officer of the Penukonda Fort of the Vijaynagar empire, constructed the temple during the 16th century.

As with most ancient Hindu temples, Lepakshi also has several legends associated with it. But the most accepted legend is that Virupanna discovered the idol of Veerabhadra and decided to build a temple in the lord’s honour. Since the king was absent, he used money from the royal treasury without the former’s knowledge and started constructing the temple. When the temple construction was nearing completion the king returned to find the treasury empty. Enraged at Virupanna’s act of spending all the money without his consent, the king ordered that Virupanna should be blinded. Being a loyal person Virupanna carried out the punishment on the spot with his own bands and dashed his eyes into the temple’s stone wall. To this day one can see two dark stains upon the wall near the Kalyana Mandapa, which are said to be the blood stains made by Virupanna’s bleeding eye balls when he dashed them against the wall. Thus blinded and ailing Virupanna did not survive for long, and soon the village came to be called ‘Lepa-akshi’ i.e. the village of the blinded eye.

The Veerabhadra temple divided into three parts -- the Mukha Mandapa, (also called Natya Mandapa), the Artha Mandapa and Garbha Griha. The Kalyana Mandapa, with its 38 attractively carved monolithic grey sandstone pillars is yet unfinished. These three form a triangle with a common Mandapam or roof. To the south of the main shrine is a magnificently carved larger-than-life monolithic statue of a Shiva Linga sheltered by a massive seven-headed cobra known as the Nagalingam.

The temple is surrounded on all sides by a spacious outer courtyard or prakara supported by large and attractively sculpted stone pillars replete with relief figures of dancers, musicians, animals and birds. The finest parts of the temple however are Natya (Dancing) and Ardha (worship) Mandapas which perhaps host the best specimens of Vijayanagar style of sculpture and mural paintings. The former is adorned with intricately sculptured pillars on which are carved life-size representations of musicians and dancers in various poses of performance. The unfinished Kalyana Mandapam is a standing proof of the detailing in sculptural art of that period. The sculptures adorning the pillars and walls of the temple depict puranic episodes like those of Ananthasayana, Dattatreya, Chaturmukha Bramha, Tumburu, Narada and Rambha.

The beautiful sculptures on the outer prakara (courtyard) are bound to awe the visitor. Notable among the sculptures are the 14 forms of Siva, such as Dakshinamurthi, Ardhanareeswara, Tripurantaka etc. The unfinished Kalyana Mantapa in which the pillars are decorated with attractive patterned sculptures has provided perennial inspiration to textile designers across the world.

Another must-see monument in the town is the massive monolithic Nandi statue located a mere 500 meters from the Veerabhadra temple. The idol measuring about 30 ft long and 16 ft high, located towards North-East of the Veerabhadra temple is perhaps the largest monolithic Nandi in India.

Getting there.
Road. If you are travelling on your own vehicle, start off on the Bellary road (NH 7) to reach Lepakshi via Hindupur. Both APSRTC and KSRTC Buses ply frequently from Bangalore.
Train. Nearest railway station is at Puttaparthi aka Sri Sathya Sai Prashanti Nilayam Railway Station. Ph: (08555) 287355
Air. Puttaparthi is the nearest airport. Flights connect Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore. The Airport is closed during summer season (April to June). Ph: (0091) 08555-87346.

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