Given India’s rich cultural history and diverse religious beliefs, temples have always been an integral part of our ethos and culture. Exquisite temples that are an epitome of grandeur have been built by Indian rulers since time immemorial. A travel to any nook and corner of the country is sure to reveal architectural gems in the form of ancient temples. The Veerabhadra temple located in Lepakshi near Bangalore is one such hidden treasure.
Legends of the holy town
Situated just about 120 km from the bustling IT city of Bengaluru is the quaint town of Lepakshi located in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. There are several myths associated with this temple town. According to one legend, the town is intrinsically linked with the Ramayana. When Sita was being abducted by Ravana, the vulture demi God Jatayu tried to protect the queen. However, it faced defeat at the hands of Ravana and fell to the ground. On arriving there, Rama helped the bird attain ‘moksha’ or salvation by uttering the words “Le pakshi” or “Rise bird”.
The temple at Lepakshi was built by Virupanna who served as the treasurer of the Vijayanagara King Aliiya Rama Raya. According to another legend, he was accused of misappropriation of funds and in order to escape the punishment of the king, he removed his eyes and placed it on the walls of the temple. Hence the village was known as “Lape-Akshi” which means the village of the blinded. The eerie part is that there are two maroon marks on the wall at the entrance of the temple which is believed till date to be the bleeding eyes of Virupanna.
As you enter Lepakshi, you are greeted by the statue of a gigantic bull in a couchant position that has been cut out of a single granite rock. The monolithic bull at a whopping 10 meters in length and 6 meters in width is one of the largest Nandi bulls in the country. Carvings in the form of an elaborate necklace add beauty to this west facing monument.
A unique feature of the bull is that the position of its head is at a slightly higher level than the conventional Nandi but nonetheless, it is a piece of outstanding architecture and bears testimony to the brilliant craftsmanship of our ancestors.
Shining example of the Vijayanagar school of architecture
Believed to have been built in the 15th century, the main temple has two enclosures. The main entrance to the first enclosure faces the North with an elaborate tower or Gopura surmounting the entrance. The second enclosure consists of the Garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum, Antarala, Mukha Mandapa and a pillared corridor. The temple has the shrines of Lord Shiva, Parvati Vishnu and Veerabhadra. Hanging pillars, intricately carved pillars, the monolithic Nagalinga and exquisite fresco paintings are just some of the several unique features of the temple.
The Mukha mandapa or the 100-pillared hall displays a stunning collection of ornate pillars that are carved to perfection with figures of dancing ladies, musical instruments etc.
Apart from this, there are symbols of Gods, goddess, Yalis and other mythical figures that adorn these pillars. The ornately carved ceilings, corridors and porches of the temple are noteworthy.
The temple’s outer enclosure has a large well carved statue of the elephant headed God or Lord Ganesha.
Close to this is the massive Nagalinga that is essentially a three coiled serpent with seven hoods that is seen sheltering a majestic black granite Linga.
A key differentiating feature of the temple are its mural paintings that date to the Vijayanagar period. Depicting themes that are predominantly mythological, the level of detailing in these frescoes that have been created using vegetable and organic dyes, is just awe inspiring.
In fact, the mural of Lord Veerabhadra near the Garbha griha is said to be one of the largest in India. The paintings do need some restoration and maintenance as many of them are in poor condition and are peeling off.
This article originally appeared in the Tribune here.