Know about Lepakshi Temple; Its history, lore, legends and myths are all astonishing

The temple is to be placed on the UNESCO tentative list of World Heritage Sites in 2022, with UNESCO calling it a masterpiece of creative endeavor, which is yet another reason to visit. Lepakshi Temple has also been designated a monument of national importance by the Archaeological Survey of India.

This temple is located in the village of the same name in Sri Sathya Sai district of Andhra Pradesh, dedicated to Sri Veerabhadra Swamy, the fierce incarnation of Lord Shiva and also has temples of other deities like Papanasheshwara, Raghunath, Bhadrakali etc. , and the larger, outer Ganesha and Shivalinga. Hence, it is called Veerabhadra Temple, although it is widely and popularly known as Lepakshi Temple.

Historians say that it was constructed in three periods from 1100 AD to 1800 AD. The middle phase between 1350 and 1600 AD is when the Vijayanagara kings introduced some exquisite elements. Many of the inscriptions on the walls are attributed to the reign of Achyutarai Maharaya (16th century AD).

UNESCO summarizes the historical significance stating that “The temple preserves important examples of Vijayanagara sculptures and paintings, and represents a unique example of continuity of the traditions, creative ideas and wisdom of the Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Kakatiyas with local customs. Sets an example.”\

The entire temple is built in the Trikuta style and is situated on a low hill, shaped like a tortoise, called Kurmasaila (kurma means tortoise, and saila means hill).

A prominent feature (at a short distance from the main temple) is a magnificent seated Nandi, a huge monolithic structure made of granite, decorated with ornaments, garlands and bells. It is considered to be one of the largest of its kind in India. Perched high above the landscape, it is a great favorite of visitors who wish to take back a photo-souvenir, hence there is always a crowd around this vehicle of Shiva.

Nandi faces another massive structure, although at some distance: Nagashivalinga. It is a basaltic Shivalinga carved from a single huge boulder, and surrounded by a large, monolithic sculpture of a seven-hooded Naga (snake), as if protecting it.

Rivaling it in size and also in popularity for photo-ops is a huge Ganesha carved on one side of a boulder. This Ganesha, which you see just after the Naga Shivalinga, is a rocky canopy supported by pillars.

The scale and proportions of the three principal elements: Shiva’s ride, Nandi; Ganesh; and Nagashivalinga all testify to the excellent skills of the architects and craftsmen.

The name of the temple is derived from two legends. The most popular one is related to Ramayana. When Sita was being kidnapped by Ravana, the noble Jatayu tried to save her, but was wounded and struck down by the demon king in the same village. Lord Rama, while pursuing Sita, arrived there, saw Jatayu and said lovingly: “Le Pakshi”, which in Telugu means, “Get up, O bird.” The temple also has a huge stone footprint which devotees believe to be that of Sita. Another theory divides the word Lepakshi into Lepa and Akshi which means painted eye.

In Indian temples, history, local lore, legends and myths all combine to create multiple narratives for each structure. The red stains on the wall on the western side hide behind them a bloody and tragic story. It is said that this temple was built by brothers Virupanna and Veeranna (16th century), ministers/governors of Vijayanagara king Achyutaraya. It was later alleged that Virupanna secretly used money from the royal treasury, nearly emptying it.

When the king’s successor came to know about this, Virupanna got scared. He did not want to face the wrath of the new king and be summoned and blinded as punishment. Therefore, to prevent this, he blinded himself in Lepakshi, and offered both his eyes to his lord, Ishtadev Sri Veerbhadra, believing that this was a more noble way. It is said that the red spots were blood from his eyes. Legend has it that sage Agastya was also associated with the temple.

Except for Ganesha and Nagashivalinga, almost every open surface of the temple is covered with frescoes or carvings. All these are proof of the artistic talent of the craftsmen. In fact, a major attraction of the Lepakshi temple complex are the magnificent paintings on the ceilings and walls of the pavilions.

The technique employed is known as fresco-secco or painting in lime-medium on plaster. All the frescoes and sculptures represent various characters and scenes from the Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The frescoes include Shiva-Parvati Kalyanam, Kiratarjuniyam, the much loved Krishna who looks straight at you from whatever direction you look at him.

How to reach: Lepakshi is in Sri Sathya Sai District, Andhra Pradesh. The nearest railway station is Hindupur. Other nearby rail stations are Prashanti Nilayam and Dharmavaram. The nearest airport is Bengaluru, around 110 km away.