Lepakshi is a small village located in the Anantapur District, bordering Karnataka. It is 15 km east of Hindupur and about 120 km north of Bangalore. From Bangalore, it can be reached by going west at Kodikonda checkpost on Hyderabad highway NH 7. Alternatively, one could take a bus or a train to Hindupur and then travel to Lepakshi. Lepakshi is very important historically and archaeologically. There are three shrines dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Virabhadra.
The shrine is located on a small hillock, appropriately called Kurmashila or the Tortoise hill, as it is said to resemble a tortoise a rest. The temple is dedicated to Sri Veerabhadra, a wrathful aspect of Shiva, thought there are two other main shrines dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu as well.
Virupanna, a Nayak chieftain under the Vijayanagar monarchs, built the present temple in the 16th century, improving upon a modest Shiva shrine dedicated to Sri Krishnadeva Raya (1509-29). In an earlier Yuga, Lord Rama is said to have visited Lepakshi during his period of exile. The story goes that Viruppanna had embezzled state funds to finance his pet project. A distressed Virupanna, anticipating punishment, plucked out his own eyes, it is said, and crushed them against the temple walls. Two red spots on the western walls are said to be proof of this tragic episode. It is further sad that, after the gory incident, Virupanna would wander round the temple, weeping and lamenting that he could no longer see the monument he had created.
The temple is irregular in design, perhaps, because of the circumstances of its birth. There is an artha mandapa, a mukha mandapa, and an additional structure, the incomplete Kalyana mandapa, all three replete with sculpture and paintings. There are eight shrines, including the one for Sri Veerabhadra . The sixteen main pillars depict images of various gods and goddesses, including one of Sri Mahishasuramardhini. The mukha mandapa is an oblong structure, with painting adorning the ceiling. The kalyana mandapam has 38 sculptured columns. The western part is known as the Hall of Creepers, so called because they contain 42 pillars, with the flower, stalk and other geometrical designs. Textile designers have created Lepakshi motifs based on these patterns.
In the nearby prakara are three boulders, which have been converted into sculptures. The first is a 2.3 metre image of Ganesha on a pedestal, while the second is a huge Lingam, sheltered by a 5.5 metre tall monolith, a seven hooded cobra, said to the tallest of its kind in India. The third narrates the story of Saint Kannappa, better associated with the famous Shiva temple in Srikalahasti.
The temple abounds in murals, eight rectangular paintings, each of which tells a tale. There is one narrating the story of the legendary Manu Nidhi Chola, who rendered justice to a cow by punishing his son whose chariot had run over a calf. Another depicts Arjuna, the Pandava, winning over the hand of Draupadi in the famous bow and arrow contest. Yet another shows the marriage of Shiva with Parvati, while a fourth displays Arjuna being grabted Shiva’s celestial weapons, so skillfully narrated in the Seventh century Sanskrit poem “Kirtharijunyam.” Then there is the episode concerning Ravana, who is deprived of the divine Atma Linga, outwitted by the child Vinayaka. By far, the largest painting, said to be Asia’s largest too, is the 7.6 * 4.3 metre mural depicting Sri Veerabhadra, in the ceiling near the sanctum, at the bottom of which is Virupanna, along with his family, offering obeisance to the deity. The paintings, however, need to be better preserved, if posterity is to enjoy this visual delight.
No less attractive is the huge Nandi, the bull vehicle of Lord Shiva, some distance away from the shrine. Said to be Asia’s second largest monolith Gomateswara’s statue at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka occupying the top slot, it compares favourably with the other huge Nandis in Thanjavur (Sri Brihdeeswara temple), Mysore (Sri Chamundeeswari temple) and Bangalore (Basavangudi Bull temple). It is massive, but artistically done.
How to reach Lepakshi
Lepakshi is a village, about 12 km from Hindupur town. It is 96km from Bangalore, the nearest airport, and a three hour drive by bus. Hindupur is one the Bangalore-Gooty train route. Express and passenger trains halt there.