Lepakshi, a lesser known historic town in Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh dons many hats and never ceases to astonish one with its rich legacy and history. This temple town backtracks its roots to the epic 'Ramayana.' Legend has it that it is this spot where the mythological bird 'Jatayu' fell after being hurt by Ravan during his brave attempt to rescue Sita. Lord Ram on seeing the injured Jatayu on the ground commanded 'Le Pakshi' that translates to 'Rise Bird' and hence the name of the town.
This town which is very famous for its handicrafts and sarees has the temple as well in its list of wonders. This hidden treasure built by two brothers Viranna and Virupanna of the Vijayanagar period, attracts a handful of devotees and history buffs to explore and admire the history, engineering and architectural marvel of the Vijayanagara craftsmen and artisans.
The massive monolithic Nandi welcomes you to the town. Apart from the striking mammoth size, this is the place where the Nandi does not bow down his head in submission to Lord Shiva. There is lot of greenery around and the place is well maintained by Archaeological Survey of India.
Veerabhadra Swamy temple is built on a hill that is similar to the shape of a tortoise and hence is known as "Kurma Saila." The complex houses the main deity 'Veerabhadra Swamy' with excellent ornate mural paintings on the ceiling depicting scenes from Ramayana and different incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the wedding procession of Shiv and Parvati. The mural paintings made from vegetable colors and minerals stand as fine examples of creativity that seem to have withstood the test of time over all these centuries. The mural painting of 'Veerabhadra Swamy' in the inner sanctum is the biggest in Asia measuring 23 feet by 13 feet.
The most fascinating marvel here is the 'Hanging Pillar.' This mysterious pillar does not rest on the temple floor and hangs directly from the ceiling. It stills remains an unsolved mystery as to how this mind-blowing phenomena works. This pillar even today stands tall as a testimony to ingenious architectural engineering feat. Unfortunately, it is a little tilted thanks to the curious British engineer who wanted to unravel the mystery behind it.
Another classy structure is the Kalyana Mandapam. Though only partially finished, the magnificent architecture and craftsmanship casts a long lasting spell on you. The many pillars of the Kalyana Mandapam bear intricately carved sculptures of mythical creatures. The beautiful carvings on the pillars are the inspiration behind the well renowned Dharmavaram saree patterns. People spend months here studying the intricate carvings on the pillars to replicate it on the sarees as beautiful designs.
The unfinished Mandapam adds even more charm to the temple that you cannot help but imagine the beauty of the place during the Vijayanagar period. An era of kings, royalty, where the beauty of the temple is enhanced by the brightness of the moonlight and oil lamps and pillars are decorated with flowers. Truly history was royal and everything made or done was extravagant, unique and flawless. With no undo option, this finesse work required years of dedication and practice to master the skill with no place for a mediocre job.
Also, tucked away in the corner of the temple is a massive monolithic seven headed serpent shielding the Shivling. An interesting snippet about this carving is that it is believed to have been carved out at a lightening speed by the artisans while lunch was being prepared for them. On the other side of this huge rock is a massive sculpture of Lord Ganesha. We stood there awestruck on how a huge boulder was turned into a piece of fine art.
Take a walk around the temple and be spellbound by the carvings, the state of the art ancient drainage system, the rock solid structure and the creativity bringing life to these rocks and pillars. The temple is open throughout the year and daily rituals and pujas are performed. However, the inner sanctum is open from 7 am to 6 pm.
The temple hardly receives any crowd and hence is very calm and serene. It is a perfect place for soul searching. Time stands still here and you can forget all your worries and just live the moment. By sunset, birds of different feathers make the temple premises their home.
It is disheartening to see such an impressive piece of history and fine craftsmanship being neglected by the Government. In its heyday the temple complex is believed to have been spread over a whooping 100 acres but now it has been confined to mere 6 acres. Due to rampant encroachment by businesses, human settlements and government establishments, a great deal of history, artifacts, sculpture etc. are lost forever. The extraordinary mural art on the temple ceiling has not been preserved and has gone beyond a point of restoration.
To boost tourism, the Government has constructed a sparkling new Haritha Resort run by APTDC offering fine and spacious rooms at a reasonable price. Do use their online portal for reservations. The restaurant serves basic but exceptionally good food. This stay option is a steal deal for the money.
Another fine initiative championed by MLA Balakrishna is the water purifier plant for the benefit of the people.
Lepakshi, where life appears to be calm, peaceful and less chaotic. The entire town shuts down by late evening allowing one to soak in the beauty around. With too many rocks and boulders in the vicinity this place is perfect for rock climbing as well. Take the lesser known trail to Lepakshi before it becomes a hotshot tourist destination.
How to reach:
By Air: Bangalore International Airport 100 km from Lepakshi is the nearest airport.
By Rail: Hindupur 14 km from Lepakshi is the nearest railway station.
By Road: Brilliant NH 7 connects Lepakshi and Bangalore/Hyderabad.