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Friday, 20 September 2013

Lepakshi Veerabhadra Swamy Temple

And other Vijayanagar style architectural marvels at Lepakshi, in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh

The legendary Lepakshi is famous for its above 490 years old Shri Veerabhadra Swamy temple of the glorious Vijayanagara period, its spectacular features and monolithic sculptures, and as the legend goes, this is the place where injured bird Jatayu fell while trying to rescue Sita who was being kidnapped by Ravana.

The unfinished hall of Lepakshi, in the premises of Shri Veerabhadraswamy temple
The unfinished hall of Lepakshi, in the premises of Shri Veerabhadraswamy temple.

In and around Lepakshi's marvellous Veerabhadra Swamy temple, you will find the spectacular dance hall or assembly hall intricately sculpted with beautiful carvings and figures, centuries old paintings on the ceilings, the famed hanging pillar that doesn't touch the floor, the monolithic Nagalinga, the monolithic Nandi, the unfinished wedding hall, beautiful designs that inspired saree and fabric designs, and more.

Almost 20 feet high monolithic Nandi at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
19 to 20 feet high and 30 to 32 feet long monolithic Nandi at Lepakshi.


Being in Anantapur district, in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, Lepakshi is just about 120 kilometers from Bengaluru city's centre (formerly Bangalore) in Karnataka, and can be a nice place for a weekend getaway or a day trip from Bengaluru. It is one of the must-visit places worth visiting around Bengaluru.

About Lepakshi

The main temple at Lepakshi, the Veerabhadra Swamy temple is functional, and pujas and other sacred rituals are practiced every day. Inside, there are shrines of Veerabhadra swamy (a fiery form of Lord Shiva), Shiva, Vishnu, Parvathi and other Hindu gods. The architecture, sculptures and paintings of Lepakshi are said to be the finest artistic achievements in southern India during the first half of the sixteenth century.

According to renowned specialists in architecture, painting and textile design[1], unlike many other religious monuments of the Vijayanagara period that have either suffered disfiguring additions or have lost their original carvings and ceiling paintings, the ones at Lepkashi are miraculously intact.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, near Andhra - Karnataka border, India
A side-view of the entrance into the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple and its inner courtyard through its main sabha mandapa, from the outer courtyard within the temple complex's walled enclosure.

Lepakshi is a small village in Anantapur district, in Andhra Pradesh. It lies near the Andhra-Karnataka border. Built on a low, rocky hill called “Kurma Saila” or “Kurma Sailam”[2] (meaning tortoise hill in telugu), Lepakshi is of historical and archaeological significance, dating around 1540 CE and was built by the brothers, Virupanna and Veeranna, who were the governors of Penukonda in the service of Vijayangara king Achyutadevaraya.[3] The temple complex seems to be almost completely built on a single rock on the hill. The Papanasesvara temple within this temple complex is much older, whic is even mentioned in Skanda Purana[2].

The Temple Architecture

12 feet high monolithic nagalinga in Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A view of the 12 or more feet high monolithic nagalinga in the temple complex. Two peaks (gopuras) above the temple sanctum are visible in the background. Also a small Nandi sculpture is visible over the parapets.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, near Andhra - Karnataka border, India
A view of the spectacular Veerabhadra Swamy Temple of Lepkashi. You can see a part of the massive granite hill on which this whole temple complex is built, if you look at the floor. A large rock stands adjacent to the temple complex. The main open front hall of the temple called sabha mandapa, ranga mandapa, or mukha mandapa, is seen with its pillars, elephant balustrades and steps. A newly painted brick and plaster peak (shikhara) above one of the shrines and santums inside this temple is seen in the background, above the rock and the open front hall.

Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, in Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A spectacularly sculpted pillar of "Ranga Mandapa" or "Sabha Mandapa", the front hall inside the temple.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi
Carved figures on a granite blocks to which the bottom of granite pillars are fixed into.

The entire temple and the structures within are of typical Vijayanagar-style of architecture, with skillfully sculpted granite sculptures and structures, with “shikhara” or “vimana”, meaning peaks (some of them shaped like a dome in the top) made of bricks and plaster, adorning the top of these structures.

These brick and plaster or mortar domes now appear to be restored by concrete, but the restoration seems incomplete in some places as the damaged images without hands or heads remain as it is, even after restoration. However, as it now has concrete, the bricks will fare better in rough weather. On visiting Lepakshi, one will surely remember the great ruins of Vijavanagara at Hampi, in Karnataka, if one has seen it before. (At the ruins of Hampi, one can still see the deteriorating reddish brick domes on the top.)

A beautifully carved Yali pillar, carved from granite
A spectacularly sculpted Yali pillar, carved from granite.

History & Legacy of Lepakshi

The unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The unfinished Kalyana Mandapa at Lepakshi.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A view from behind the unfinished marriage hall

Panorama around the unfinished marriage hall at Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A panorama around the unfinished marriage hall

A legend that relates to the ancient Indian epic Ramayana goes, the temple at Lepaksi was built on the spot where Jatayu fell after being injured by Ravana during the kidnapping of Sita.

According to that legend, Lord Rama exclaimed, "Le, Pakshi", meaning, "Rise, Bird", in Telugu, seeing the fallen Jatayu, and hence leading to the name of the place.

Despite the spectacular architecture, something may seem amiss to you in Lepakshi, and if you notice closely, some things here may appear incomplete. This is because the work there never got completed. It is attributed to a tragic reason by this other legend about this place.

As the other legend goes, Virupanna, who was the royal treasurer and officer during the reign of Achyutaraya (1530-1542) (a.k.a. Achyuta Devaraya) of the great kingdom of Vijayanagara, who planned and executed the construction of this temple, was accused of drawing funds without the king’s permission from the state treasury to build the shrines. When the king came to know of this, he ordered that Virupanna must be blinded for his felony.

On knowing this, Virupanna inflicted the punishment upon himself by removing his own eyes. The two reddish spots on the western wall of the inner enclosure are told to be the blood stains from his bleeding eyes when he threw them against the wall after plucking them. 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 even to this day, reminding us of that fateful day.

Virupanna did not survive for long, and the village is called "Lepa-akshi" or, "Lepakshi", i.e., a village of the blinded eye, accoording to this legend.

However, although the official record of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) confirms that this temple was indeed built by Virupanna who was an officer and treasurer under Achyutaraya and also mentions that Virupanna could not finish the kalyana mandapa hall that stands unfinished today, it does not mention anything about the reason as to why it is unfinished.

As per the puranas, the temple existed much before Virupanna's time. An important donatory record belonging to the reign of Saluva Immadi Narasimha (1490-1506 A.D) confirms the statement of Skanda Purana that Papanasesvara temple existed 50 years earlier to Virupanna [2]. This means that there was indeed a temple of Papanasheshwara (another name or form of Lord Shiva) already existed here and Virupanna was further developing the existing temple here.

Apart from Papanasesvara, this temple complex has Veerabhadra and Raghunatha (Chenna Kesava) shrines with garbhagriha (a sanctum sanctorum, the innermost sanctuary) and antarala (a small antechamber or foyer between the garbhagriha and the mandapa. A mandapa is a pillared hall or pavilion for public), and other subsidary shrines for Parvati, Ramalinga, and Hanumalinga.[2]

Intricate Sculptures at Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Intricate Sculptures at the main doorway of Veerabhadra Swamy Temple, at Lepakshi
Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh
Intricately sculpted pillars in the Ranga Mandapa inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple

Our trip to the marvellous Lepakshi

We started off on a rainy weekend morning from Bangalore. Thanks to Nataraj, for finding out this marvelous place which was unknown to me. For our luck, the rain subsided as we neared Chickballapur, and there wasn’t any trace of rain, but only some dark clouds hovering above across the border, in Andhra Pradesh (which made some of the pictures we took look mediocre :-( ).

Okay, enough boring you with the weather report. Getting to the point, Lepakshi is a perfect weekend getaway from Bangalore, or a perfect day trip if you happen to be in Bangalore. If you are a road trip enthusiast, it is the perfect one, even for the bikers. In fact, we came across some bikers on that day!

The massive monolithic Nandi

20 feet high monolithic Nandi at Lepakshi at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Almost 20 feet high and 30 feet long massive monolithic Nandi at Lepakshi.

A huge monolithic Nandi - nearly 20 feet high and 30 feet long (it stands about 6 metres high and 10 metres in length according to ASI), which is carved out of a single rock, welcomed us as we entered Lepakshi from the NH7 side (renumberd as NH44). Nandi is Lord Shiva’s bull. This massive Nandi monolith is a free-standing one and is about 200 meters from the main temple and faces west.

This massive monolithic Nandi is a spectacular three-dimesional monolithic sculpture which is sculpted with great skill and finesse. It's truly a great work of sculptural art dedicated to Nandi, the guardian deity of Kailasa (also spelled Kailash), the abode of Lord Shiva. It's undoubtedly one of the splendid masterpieces of the native Indian culture and heritage.

Almost 20 feet high monolithic Nandi at Lepakshi at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A closer front-view of the Lepakshi Nandi monolith

A closer rear side view of the Lepakshi Nandi monolith
A closer rear-side view of the Lepakshi Nandi monolith.

Shri Veerabhadra Swamy Temple of Lepakshi

Main Doorway to Lepakshi Veerabhadra Swamy Temple in Andhra Pradesh, India Main entrance of wooden doors to Lepakshi Veerabhadra Swamy Temple Complex in Andhra Pradesh, India
Main (North) Doorway to Lepakshi Veerabhadra Swamy Temple Complex enclosure. Interestingly this main doorway, or entrance is not aligned with the main entrance to the temple (right or bottom picture)

Lepakshi is a small village, but it has a Vijayanagar era architectural marvel, the Veerabhadra Swamy temple complex.

The temple complex, built on a massive low and rocky hill called "Kurma Sailam" or "Kurma Saila" (meaning tortoise-shaped hill), may not seem that special from outside its outer enclosure walls, but you begin appreciating it once you enter in through its doorway. The temple complex is fully surrounded by two high walled enclosures. The outer enclosure wall has a main entrance way or doorway facing north. Apart from this main entrance, there is another exit for the outer enclosure towards west leading to a pushkarni or a stepped tank just below the rocky hill.

Just coming inside the outer enclosure, you also see the huge ~ 12 to 14 feet high entrance to the main temple and inner enclosure, wonderfully carved out of stone. Beautiful carvings and designs adorn this doorway. However, this main entrance which leads to the ranga mandapa and the temple is interestingly not aligned with the enclosure entrance (see above picture). Another interesting aspect of this temple is that it is North facing. Hindu temples are typically East facing, while there are some West and South facing temples too, while North facing temples are rare in comparison. Cloistered porches or colonnaded corridors surround the enclosure along the inner sides of the outer enclosure walls.

Main Entrance to inner enclosure and to the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India Fine scuptures and designs on the Main entrance to Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India Main Entrance to inner enclosure and to the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Main Entrance to inner enclosure and to the ranga mandapa or sabha mandapa of Shri Veerabhadra Swamy Temple. Notice the empty stone pedestal which was possibly supposed to hold a small Nandi sculpture.

But as soon as you get there, you begin getting the feeling that something is amiss somewhere, something seems incomplete. Yes it is. That is because parts of this temple complex and some structures within never got completed. There is a stone pedestal which possibly was supposed to hold a small Nandi, as usually a Nandi will be placed opposite to a Shiva temple or shrine, with the Nandi facing towards it; and a small ornate lone pillar which could have been planned to support some roof or covering to the pedestal, right opposite to the main temple entrance.

As mentioned in the History & Legacy section above, Virupanna met with a gory fate, and as the story goes, the construction was stopped as it is. The pillars of the unfinished wedding hall behind the temple still lie out in the open air with no ceiling.

The spectacular Ranga Mandapa or Sabha Mandapa, of the temple

A ranga mandapa (raṅgamaṇḍapa, meaning dancing hall) or sabha mandapa (sabhāmaṇḍapa, meaning assembly hall) is a mandapa (maṇḍapa. means a hall or portico, which is typically an open hall) or mukha mandapa (mukhamaṇḍapa, meaning a front hall) in the temple where devotees can gather or assemble at.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India 100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Ranga Mandapa, meaning "Dance Hall", also a Sabha Mandapa, with spectacularly sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple. Also called Sabha Mandapa which means a gathering hall, a place where devotees can gather.

Granite sculptures adorning the columns of Lepakshi temple Granite sculptures adorning the columns of Lepakshi temple Granite sculptures adorning the columns of Lepakshi temple Granite sculptures adorning the columns of Lepakshi temple
A closer look at those granite sculptures that adorn the columns.

Even though many structures within the complex lie incomplete, Lepakshi will still surely amaze you. The temple complex of Shri Veerabhadra Swamy is the most beautifully crafted.

As you enter inside the Veerabhadra Swamy temple, you will be mesmerised by the intricately carved pillars with dancers, musicians with various musical instruments in the main “mukha mandapa” (also called “Natya Mandapa” or “Ranga Mandapa”), which is famed as the 100-pillared hall.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Beautifuly sculpted columns with three-dimensional and relief figures.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Beautifully carved relief figures and designs on the temple columns.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Beautifully sculpted pillars of Shri Veerabhadra Swamy Temple

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Three dimensional figures of musicians in the Ranga Mandapa, playing the mridangam (also spelled as mrudangam), an ancient Indian percussion instrument which is commonly used in Carnatic music. The figure with five heads and four arms appears like a Hindu deity, probably a form of Lord Shiva himself.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A relief sculpture of a dancer. If you observe the figure's left foot closely, you'll notice that this relief figure represents a feet movement of the dancer.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
While the side of Ranga Mandapa's granite columns which face the central space of the hall feature either a three dimensional figure or a relief figure, the opposite sides of those coulmns feature beautiful designs and small bas-relief figures.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Ranga Mandapa's beautiful columns featuring three dimensional relief figures facing the central space of the hall.

Typical Vijayanagar styled ceiling in 100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A typical Vijayanagar-style ceiling of the Ranga Mandapa.

The granite ceiling is crafted with typical Vijayanagara-style designs. Also, another Vijayanagara-type feature of the ceiling is its fine mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings. There's also a 24 by 14 feet painting of Lord Veerabhadra on the ceiling before the main sanctum. Below are some pictures of these centuries old ceiling paintings or murals.

Mural Paintings on the ceiling of the 100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Centuries old mural paintings on the ceiling of the Ranga Mandapa.

Mural Paintings on the ceiling of the 100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Centuries old mural paintings on the ceiling, which are unfortunately in a deteriorating condition.

Mural Paintings on the cieling of the 100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Deteriorating mural paintings on the ceiling. This scene depicts Shri Veerabhadra Swamy, a form of Lord Shiva, appearing on the Shiva-linga before the devotees.

Deteriorating mural paintings on the ceiling of Lepakshi temple
Deteriorating mural paintings on the ceiling.

These ceiling paintings depict different topics from the puranas like Parvathi kalyana (Parvathi's marriage), Kirātārjunīya (a Sanskrit epic poem by Bhāravi in 6th century or earlier, which describes the battle between Arjuna and Lord Shiva in the guise of a kirāta, or "mountain-dwelling hunter", and Arjuna receiving the divine Pashupatastra weapon from Lord Shiva), different incarnations of God Shiva, and other themes.

These ceiling paintings are the best preserved examples of Vijayanagara pictorial art [1]. But unfortunately, these paintings aren't in a good condition, as they are in a gradually deteriorating condition apparently due to the weather over the centuries and seeping water through the gaps in the granite blocks of the ceiling. They certainly deserve to be better preserved.

Update : According to a news report on The Hindu, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took measures to protect these paintings through chemical treatment in 2017-18 financial year with another coat scheduled in 2020-21.[4]

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A view of the “Ranga Mandapa” or sabha mandapa, with beautifully sculpted pillars of dancers and musicians. In the background is seen the entrance to the inner hall of the temple which houses within it the main shrines or sanctum-sanctorums of the dieties worshipped here.

This ranga mandapa or sabha mandapa leads the way to an inner hall consisting of the “garbha grihas” or the main shrines or sanctum-sanctorums of the temple. In the main shrine, there exists a life-size granite sculpture of Veerabhadra, the fiery form of Lord Shiva.

Lord Veerabhadra's shrine has a circumambulatory passage around it. The shrines of the Gods Veerabhadra, Papanasesvara, and Raghunatha, have doubl-storeyed vimanas (ornate peaks or shikhara above the sanctums, typically constructed in a four-sided pyramidical shape with a pinnacle or kalasha atop of it).

Photography isn’t allowed inside this main hall, we were told, but you can snap pictures elsewhere, in the ranga mandapa and elsewhere in the temple complex. The sanctums of the temple are still functional and puja and rituals keep going on. It is hence important to preserve silence and to keep decency within the temple complex.

Beautiful carvings inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Beautiful bas-relief carvings on the outer side of the hall that leads to the sanctum of Veerabhadra Swamy Temple.

Beautifully carved pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Beautifully carved pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple

Beautifully carved pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A spectacularly crafted three dimensional Yali figure on a column, and other beautiful Vijayanagara type columns. A Yali (Yāḷi) is a powerful mythological beast which is part lion, part elephant, and part horse. They're typically seen on pillars on both sides to the entry steps to a temple's mandapa or hall, typically in classic temples of South India.

100 pillared Ranga Mandapa or Dance Hall, with Intricately sculpted pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A spectacularly carved relief sculpture of a warrior riding a huge lion, supported by another figure below.

A relief elephant balustrade of Lepakshi Veerabhadra Swamy Temple
A balustrade featuring a relief elephant, to the steps to the sabha mandapa.

The famed Hanging Pillar of Lepakshi

We spent a lot of time at this hall in front of the shrine, amazed by the beautifully carved pillars. However, the most famous column of this temple, which is within this spectacular ranga mandapa, is a pillar that barely rests on the ground. It's the well known hanging pillar of Lepakshi. And this marvellous pillar appears to be hanging entirely from the roof!

On first look, it may appear as just another beautifully sculpted pillar of this ranga mandaoa, but you will realise its speciality only when you look closely at its bottom, where it appears to rest on the ground. You may try passing a sheet of paper or a cloth underneath it to confirm it yourself. The exact reason why this pillar was installed, is unknown, but it is certainly a sign of ingenuity of the people who thought of it and built it.

Hanging Pillar in Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The famed Hanging Pillar of Lepakshi Veerabhadra Swamy Temple
Beautifully carved pillar in Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
One of the beautifully sculpted pillars with relief sculptures, in Veerabhadra Swamy Temple's Ranga Mandapa.

This marvellous hanging pillar appears to be a bit shifted from its original position, which is said to be because of a British engineer who tried to move it in an unsuccessful attempt to learn how it was installed.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, near Andhra - Karnataka border, India
A view from the ranga mandapa of what lies outside on one side - A Shikhara over subsidiary shrine in temple courtyard and the pillars of the unfinished hall behind it.

The massive monolithic Naga Linga

From the hanging pillar in the ranga mandapa, we took a walk around the temple and came behind the temple where there is a huge monolithic Naga linga, approximately 12 feet in height. This huge serpent with a seven headed hood, shielding a Shivalinga, is sculpted out of a single huge rock which also features other sculptures on it.

The monolithic Nagalinga sculpture in Lepakshi Veerabhadra Swamy Temple
The massive monolithic Nagalinga sculpture, in comparison to a person's height.

The nearly 12 feet high Naga Linga, or the huge serpent shielding the Shiva Linga inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The nearly 12 feet high Naga-Linga, or the huge serpent shielding the Shiva Linga

The nearly 12 feet high Naga Linga, or the huge serpent shielding the Shiva Linga inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A closer view of the 12 feet high Naga-Linga

As seen from the close-up of the Nagalinga, the Shivalinga may either be a polished dark rock installed in the huge naga or serpent monolith or it may be a part of the monolith itself, but polished and coated with a dark colour. Although most Hindu deities are worshipped in their human form, Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of a Shiva linga. His other forms or incarnations, such as Veerbhadra Swamy in this temple, are worshipped in their human form.

It is not known whether this massive monolithic Nagalinga already existed before Virupanna was in a process of further extending the existing temple here, as aforementioned in the history and legacy section above, Papanasesvara temple (which is mentioned in the Skanda Purana) did exist here before Virupanna.

There is a small structure opposite to this, featuring some fine designs on the pillars. These are said to be some of the famed Saree border designs of Lepakshi. You can find many such designs on pillars and sculptures in the temple complex. There are said to be hundreds of such designs totally on pillars in Lepakshi, which are used on the saree borders.

Designs on Saree borders and other fabrics are told to be inspired by these intricately carved pillars inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Designs on Saree borders and other fabrics are said to be inspired by these intricately carved pillars opposite to the Monolithic Naga Linga.

Sculptures on a rock behind the huge Naga Linga inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Bas-relief sculptures on one side of the rock that features the Naga Linga.

As seen in the above picture of these bas-relief sculptures on one side of the rock that features the massive Nagalinga, a man with a bow and arrows, and an elephant, are depicted offering worship to a Shiva linga each. I'm not sure of what the other figure is, the one that appears to be hovering just above the Shivalinga on the left. The alien-like hovering form at first look appears like some sort of a strange flying fish or a strange flying bird.

Going with the Ramayan legend associated with this place (mentioned in the History & Legacy section above), the man with the bow and arrows obviously has to be none other than Shri Rama himself. Shri Ram was a devotee of Shiva, and this appears to be a depiction of him offering his puja rituals to one of the Shivalinga here in Lepakshi.

And the strange hovering figure could be a depiction of the valiant bird Jatayu who gets martyred while fighting and trying to stop Ravana from abducting Sita. Or, it might have supposed to be a scene of Jatayu fighting Ravana in his flying machine - the Pushpaka Vimana. Even though the ASI calls this figure as a spider[2], I find it odd as I don't recall any spider being in this part of Ramayana. Also, if we take into account of the relative sizes of the figures, it would be a giant spider.

The granite rock just behind it features a relief sculpture of Lord Ganapathi on it. As seen in the below picture, it appears a bit reddish due to a paint which would have been given at an earlier point in time.

The monolithic Ganapathi sculpture inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The monolithic Ganapathi relief sculpture behind the Naga-Linga

In the above picture, note that the pillars on both sides, the ones that are supporting the roof for the Ganapathi or Lord Ganesha's relief sculpture, are not symmetric. The left one is designed more intricately, in comparison to the right one which seems to be almost plain. Also, the top designs of the pillars are different.

It is highly uncommon to make such incoherent asymmetrical structures or designs, especially, when most of the structures and carvings in the complex are symmetrical. This mandapa that covers the Ganapathi relief sculpture, appears to be one of the several incomplete or unfinished structures in Lepakshi. Right next to these structures, and behind the monolithic Naga-linga, you will find the unfinished kalyana mandapa, or marriage hall.

The spectacular unfinished hall

The spectacular unfinished hall of Lepakshi, which is said to be a kalyana mandapa or a marriage hall, features many beautifully sculpted granite pillars standing in an opena area where the hall was supposed to have come up. Even though it is unfinished, it won’t fail in amazing you of the fine craftsmanship of the sculptors.

The unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall of Lepakshi.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi
The unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, with skillfully sculpted granite pillars.

Beautifully sculpted pillars in the unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Beautifully sculpted pillars in the unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, with almost three dimensional relief figures projecting from them.

Beautifully carved pillars in the unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Such relief figures which are almost three dimensional, remind the three dimensional figures in columns of the well-known temples of Hampi.

The unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The ornate brick and plaster superstructure above the Hanuman platform which is just behind this hall, is seen here in the background, behind the columns.

The unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Splendidly sculpted relief figures that three-dimensionally project out from the columns of the unfinished hall. Unfortunately, the hands of the figure on the right-most column seen in the foreground here have been cut off, which appears like a result of either blatant vandalism or downright carelessness.

Beautifully carved pillars in the unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The opposite side of each these columns are skillfully crafted with beautiful designs and bas-relief figures on rectangular sections which are skillfully carved out of a single block of granite. All of these columns, or pillars, are monolithic.

On the rear side of this unfinished hall, a mandapa-like sub-section with a roof on it, features pillars with designs which are said to have inspired saree borders and other fabrics.

Lepakshi Saree Designs on the unfinished marriage hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple Complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, near Andhra - Karnataka border, India
Designs on saree borders and other fabrics are said to have been inspired by these beautiful designs of these pillars.
Beautifully carved pillars in the unfinished Kalyana Mandapa, or Marriage Hall inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Skillfully sculpted pillars that were supposed to support an entranceway to this mandapa.

Right behind this unfinished marriage hall, you'll find a tall structure or a mandapa (a small pavillion or a pedestal with a ceiling, in this context) made of four plain pillars supporting a square-shaped ceiling slab with a typical Vijayanagar-style short domical peak or a short shikhara above it. This small mantapa has a stone slab featuring a relief carving of Lord Hanuman carved on it. The base of the pedestal of this Hanuman pavillion features relief elephant figures walking one behind the other in a line.

Hanuman, carved on stone inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Hanuman, carved on a stone slab, installed in the mandapa right behind the unfinished hall, what we call the Hanuman Mandapa.

Hanuman, carved on stone inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The Hanuman mandapa, just behind the unfinished hall. To the left is seen the ornate entranceway with a shala-shikhara atop, which leads into the inner courtyard of the temple.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
A closer look at the ornate entranceway with a small shala-shikhara on top,

This ornate entranceway, in the above pictures, is an archway that has a small shala-shikhara on top of the "Vijayanagara-courtly-style" arch. This is situated behind the unfinished marriage hall and next to the Hanuman mandapa. This entranceway leads into the inner courtyard of the temple from where one can access the steps to the unfinished hall and also the steps to the ranga mandapa or sabha mandapa of the temple.

The skillfully carved columns of the unfinished hall which feature three-dimensional relief sculptures projecting out, are seen in the background through the opening of this entranceway.

Also behind the unfinished hall, there lies a mandapa which appears as a somewhat unfinished structure, with empty pedestals inside it, which may have been supposed to hold idols of some deities, or perhaps this may have been supposed to be where the food should have been served.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
The ancillary Mandapas or pavillions behind the unfinished marriage hall.

The ancillary Mandapas or pavillions in this outer courtyard behind the unfinished marriage hall and bordering on the outer enclosure wall, are seen in the picture above. One of the ancillary mandapas has a small shala-shikhara above it. The top of the huge rocky hill over which this entire temple complex is built is clearly seen here as the rocky floor outside the mandapas.

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Empty pedestal inside an ancilliary pavillion.

Skillfully sculpted eaves at Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Skillfully sculpted granite eaves with through-holes at some ancilliary pavillions in the outer enclosed courtyard of the temple.
A close-up of skillfully sculpted eaves at Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India A close-up of skillfully sculpted eaves at Veerabhadra Swamy Temple complex at Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh, India
Close-ups of these skillfully sculpted granite eaves with through-holes.

On the way back, we had a good meal for a reasonable price at a Andhra State tourism board run restaurant just in the Kodikonda junction where we took a left for Lepakshi from the National Highway.

To conclude, it was a pleasant trip and it just made our day, sending away all the boring weekend blues.

Tips for Travellers

Getting there:

Just ~120Kms away makes Lepakshi an excellent outing from Bangalore city. There are two ways to get there. You get two options once you get to Yelahanka.

One – (107 Kms in NH7, 16 kms of state road), 123 Kilometers
Keep going in NH7 (renumberd as NH44) , and then take a left at Kodikonda junction, Just after crossing over into Andhra.
NH has tolls. You get two tolls. One at Devanahalli airport road junction, the second at Andhra border. Plus point – Good roads! – This is the one we took.

Two – SH9 (State Highway 9 of Karnataka), 120 Kilometers
Left at Yelahanka, 104 Kms in SH9, and then take a right at Hindupur, 14 kms more to Lepakshi.
Plus point – NO Tolls! Current road condition is unknown to us.

Transportation, Food & Accomodations:

There aren’t any good places for food within Lepakshi, nor any accomodations. Hindupur is the nearest town with decent places of food. The best option is that if you are visiting Bangalore, then better plan for a day trip from there itself. You can leave early morning, and then return back by evening.

Going by a hired vehicle, such as a taxi, if you don’t own one, is a good option as you will save a lot of time, instead of waiting for buses. However, as you have to cross into another state if you are coming from Karnataka, you may have to pay a fee at the border checkposts. White board registrations will not be charged, whereas, the yellow board taxi registrations will be charged.

Alternatively, you can use the APSRTC , KSRTC buses or the Railways from Bangalore to Hindupur. From Hindupur, APSRTC buses are available to Lepakshi (We don’t know their frequency. You have to check that to adjust your timings and convenience).

Also, one can have a good meal at the NH7 junction, at the Andhra State tourism board run restaurant.

Note:
There is no entry fee or ticket to enter the temple, as it is functional as any other normal temple, with ongoing active worship. However, if you park the vehicle in the parking lot in front of the temple; you will have to pay for a parking ticket of Rs. 10. As of now, you’re not charged anything for photography. You can photograph anywhere inside the temple complex, except inside the main hall consisting of the “garbha grihas” (sanctum-sanctorums) with the idols and shrines of the deities.

Please Note: The temple is still functional, and active worship and sacred rituals keep going on. It is hence important to preserve silence and keep decency within the temple complex. There isn’t any footwear stand as of now. If you arrived there in a hired or your own vehicle, better keep it inside. Footwear is not allowed inside the temple complex.

These structures are standing since centuries and have survived various kinds of weather and calamities. They are our National monuments and historically significant places of India. Be respectful and do not litter here and there, and do not disfigure them.

Best times to visit

In winter, September to February, before the summer heat bakes you. If it isn't raining heavily, you can visit in July or August, as we did.


Location Map of Lepakshi

Veerabhadra Swamy Temple Complex, and 20 foot high monolithic Nandi
View Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh 515331 in a larger map
Driving Directions to Lepakshi from Bangalore
Route Options - 1 and 2
View Driving directions to Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh from Bangalore, Karnataka Option 1 and 2 in a larger map
Get Directions to Lepakshi from your place of choice
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Nearby Attractions

Nearby places of attraction worth visiting

There are some other places of interest along NH7 (renumberd as NH44)(Bangalore-Hyderabad highway) which you can cover en route to Lepakshi. These places are also located in the above directions map for your convenience.
  • The historical Devanahalli Fort on the side of NH7 (renumberd as NH44), at Devanalhalli, in Karnataka (near the Bangalore International Airport (now renamed Kempe Gowda Intrernational Airport). The fort was originally built in 1501 by Mallabairegowda, and he birthplace of Tipu Sultan, also known as Tiger of Mysore, located near to the fort. There is a small town inside the walls of the fort, which has many temples. The Venugopalaswamy temple, near the main entrance at NH7 is one of the oldest.
  • Nandi Hills (Anglicised form of Nandidurg), an ancient hill fortress, in Chikkaballapur district, Karnataka. It is ~10 kms from Chickballapur town, and easily accessible from NH7.
  • Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple in Nandi Village (just a couple of kilometers inside from NH7), near Nandi Hills, in Karnataka.
  • Lepakshi is near to Penukonda fort (~52 Kms if gone via NH7, ~45 Kms if gone via Hindupur), another Vijayanagar empire remnant in Andhra Pradesh.


References:

[1] Anna Libera Dallapiccola, Brigitte Khan Majlis, George Michell, John M. Fritz;, Lepakshi: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting. Niyogi Books, 2019. ISBN : 9386906902, 9789386906908.

[2] Monuments in Anantapur - Archaeological Survey of India, Hyderabad Circle. Retrieved : February 12, 2021.

[3] Aruna Chandaraju, “The hanging pillar and other wonders of Lepakshi” – The Hindu. Published: January 27, 2012; Updated: October 18, 2016.

[4] Ramesh Susarla, “Soon Lepakshi mural paintings will narrate their tale” – The Hindu. Published : March 02, 2020; Updated: March 02, 2020.


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