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Exquisite repository of artistry

Exquisite repository of artistry
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The Lepakshi temple in Anantapur district is a repository of beautiful sculptures, mural paintings, floral designs and folklore which is an exquisite...

The Lepakshi temple in Anantapur district is a repository of beautiful sculptures, mural paintings, floral designs and folklore which is an exquisite example of the Vijayanagara style of architecture

Aruna Ravikumar
As the stone leapt to life under the expert hands of the sculptor beautiful forms sans signatures were left behind for posterity as veritable treasures to be read, seen, revered and cherished. The Lepakshi temple in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh is one such repository of beautiful sculptures, mural paintings, floral designs and folk lore which is as an exquisite example of the Vijayanagara style of architecture. We drove through the dusty beaten track from Hindupur before reaching the temple standing out in stark contrast to the humble surroundings in the vicinity.
As we walked up the steps into the temple which is said to have been built on a tortoise-shaped hillock known as the “Kurmashila” our local guide informs us that this was mentioned in the Skandapurana as one of the 108 Saiva Kshetras in India. It has also been said that sage Agastya stayed here when he traveled to areas south of the Vindhya mountains. Another legend from Ramayana states that this was the spot where the bird Jatayu fell to the ground with clipped wings while trying to protect Sita from being abducted by Ravana. Rama asking Jatayu to rise, “Le Pakshi (get up, bird) is said to have resulted in the name Lepakshi.
The huge area inside has temples dedicated to Shiva,Vishnu, Veerabhadra and Durga. There are also idols of the Nandi, Ganesha, Bhadrakali and Lakshmi. The temple is said to have been constructed by two brothers Veeranna and Virupanna who served under the Vijayanagara Kings with the actual execution being carried out by the famous Vishwakarama Brahmin Sthapathis (Sculptors) of the Vijayanagara Empire. The famed sculptor Amarashilpi Jakkanna is said to have been part of the team that planned the architecture. Inscriptions state that the famous sculptors Dakoju and Makoju were responsible for the spectacular work.
In the outer precincts is the “hanging pillar” considered an architectural marvel under which the guide specifically puts a newspaper to show us how it stands inches above the ground. This is a secret that none has been able to fathom and a shining example of the genius of the 16th century builders. The exquisite carvings from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata can be seen in the 70 odd pillars, many of which have withstood the ravages of time to narrate tales of a bygone era. Stories carved on stone and the orange- yellow murals on the ceiling took our breath away and we looked at the intricate details in the carvings with unconcealed admiration.
A huge statue of Ganesha called the “Chavithi Vinayaka” leaning against a rock inspires awe and admiration while the seven hooded “Naga linga” with three coils looming above the black stone Shiva Linga leaves you speechless. It is a beautiful work of art and the largest Nagalinga in the country carved out of a single stone. We are told that the carving was completed by the sculptors by the time their mother had prepared their lunch!
The huge Natya mandapam has many pillars engraved with designs of wheels and flowers that can be seen on the borders of sarees from this area, that of women belonging to the Padmini race, animal figurines and superbly carved scenes that look the same when viewed from different angles. So beautiful is the setting that one can actually visualise the grandeur and festivity that would have marked this stage where temple dancers performing dances would have seemed like the sculptures come to life as they performed.
The guide points to the wall of the inner sanctorum visible from the stage where the red coloured blotches are said to be the eyes of Virupanna one of the two builders who was in charge of the royal treasury and had used this money for the temple construction in the absence of the king. Angered the king had ordered that he should be blinded. Before the orders could be implemented Virupanna is supposed to have cut his own eyes and hurled them at the wall where the traces remain.
The massive imprint of a foot known as “Sita Paadam” has a continuous flow of water within it with the water source remaining a mystery. There is no water body close by but tourists cleaning up the water inside the foot were surprised to find a thin stream of water trickling in no sooner than they cleaned it up. Our guide proudly informs us that this is a paadam that has water streaming out throughout the year. After visiting Veerabhadra, the temple’s main deity, said to have been created by Shiva in a rage after the Sati’s immolation preceding the Daksha yagna. There is a mirror in front of the temple of goddess Durga in which she can be seen clearly by devotees even when huge crowds throng the temple on festive days. We move out of the temple viewing the brightly done murals on the high ceiling resplendent as ever hundreds of years after they have been completed.
Our next visit is to the famous monolithic Nandi considered the biggest in India and synonymous with Lepakshi which stands by itself on the main road about 200 metres from the temple. The Nandi is said to have been positioned in a manner where it looks directly at the main temple but only a small portion of the temple is visible because of the various settlements that have come up all around the temple. The Nandi with the kasimala and a chain with a bell around its neck, earrings and other ornaments, is about 4.5m high and 8.23 m long.
A small park which has not been cared for too much around the Nandi has a couple of locals squatting on its lawns. An exquisite piece of work that would get appreciation from all over the world lies in isolation with a board of the ASI being the only mark stating its greatness. The visit to this place is a wonderful experience with the images lingering on long after you leave it. It also leaves you with a tinge of sadness as one sees the utter neglect. Lepakshi needs a lot more sprucing up, events, advertisement and facilities for tourists and it is a real shame that no efforts are seen in this direction. It’s time the government that uses “Lepakshi” to talk about its heritage, culture and handicrafts does something about its maintenance.

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