Sonia Sumitra Thakar
A small village in the Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh is home to an architectural delight known as the Lepakshi Temple. Though the legend that surrounds this temple dates back to the days of the Ramayana, this temple is dedicated, surprisingly, not to Rama, but to Veerabhadra, the fiery form of Lord Shiva.
This ancient, unfinished yet magnificent temple is built on a low rocky hill in the unique shape of a tortoise’s back and surprisingly, centuries later still stands tall with no foundation!
The legends that give Lepakshi its name
There are two stories that suggest how the village was named Lepakshi.
It is believed that Lepakshi is the spot at which Jatayu fell while battling Ravana, who had abducted Sita and flying her forcefully towards Lanka in the Pushpak vimana (flying vehicle). After fighting for several days, Ravana slashed Jatayu’s wings and he fell to the ground. Rama and Lakshmana, who were looking for Sita, found the bird who gave his life to try to save her. Rama, in gratitude and compassion, said to him ‘Le Pakshi’ (meaning ‘rise bird’) and granted him moksha.
The second story goes like this: In the 16th century, two brothers Virupanna and Veeranna were building a temple complex during the reign of Vijayanagara king, Achyuta Devaraya. Virupanna believed that building a temple dedicated to Lord Veerabhadra would restore his blind son’s eyesight. Without the knowledge of the king, he started siphoning off money from the royal treasury. His misdeed was discovered, but, before the King could punish him, he gouged out his own eyes and threw them against one of the walls of the unfinished temple. The blood stains can be seen till today on one of the temple’s walls and some say this gives the village its name—Lepa-Akshi meaning blinded eyes.
An architectural wonder
As you approach the temple complex you are greeted by a huge stone sculpture of Nandi. This colossal structure is the largest monolithic Nandi in India at a height of 15 feet length of 27 feet. With its intricately carved detailing, this sculpture is a magnificent example of the famed Vijayanagara workmanship.
The entire temple has beautifully carved pillars, amazing sculptures, and beautiful paintings made with organic dyes. Frescos depicting the 14 avatars of Lord Shiva can be found on the walls just outside the inner chamber. The sanctum sanctorum houses a 6-feet tall idol of Lord Veerbhadra, carved out of black granite.
The Natya Mandir is a 100-pillared dance hall, which has intricately carved sculptures of gods and goddesses dancing and playing various musical instruments. The ceiling features beautiful murals from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
A huge statue of Lord Ganesha and a perfectly proportioned Naga Linga (seven headed snake) chiseled out of a single stone and protecting the Shiva Linga can be found outside the main temple building. Interestingly, history has it that the Naga Linga was carved out of a single stone by workers in record speed while they were waiting for their lunch to be prepared!
One fascinating attraction of the Lepakshi Temple is the hanging pillar. One of the 70 pillars in the wedding hall hangs from the ceiling, not quite touching the ground. One can even pass a piece of paper under the pillar to check it out. It is an amazing triumph of the skill of Vijayanagara architects and how it remains suspended in the air is a mystery even today.
Another attraction of this place is the Durga Padam, a huge footprint believed to be that of Sita. It is believed that Sita and Ravana rested at this spot on their way back to Lanka after their encounter with Jatayu. Sita left behind a footprint, which she blessed to be a perennial source of water for the dying bird who tried to save her from Ravana. Even today, water replenishes in the footprint which is imprinted in rock by itself. How? That’s another unexplained mystery of this charming place!
For the spiritually inclined, a visit to this quaint village of Lepakshi and the Veerabhadra temple is definitely a must. It’s a place seeped in divine vibes, mythology and ancient history, a place where ancient art and architecture stand testament to the rich cultural heritage of our beautiful Bharat.