Legends of Lepakshi – A trip from Bangalore you must not miss
“Le Pakshi,” said Lord Ram as he summoned Jatayu, the giant bird to rise up. Jatayu was injured as he put up a brave fight to rescue Ram’s wife Sita from the shackles of Raavan, the demon king of Lanka. Lepakshi, named after this very incident is believed to be the exact place where Jatayu fell, as Ravana abducted Sita and took her to his palace in Lanka (modern Sri Lanka). The Indian sub-continent is replete with such legends that form a part of the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Just 115 km away from Bangalore lies this small village Lepakshi which is famous for the wonders of Lepakshi temple. The Veerabhadra temple of Lepakshi is an architectural marvel indeed, but that’s not the only point of interest here. Join us as on this virtual trip from Bangalore to Lepakshi, as we dwell into faith, history, and stories of a different era.
Where is Lepakshi and how to reach there?
Lepakshi is a small village in Ananthpura district of Andhra Pradesh. We are lucky to have visited the place twice – once on a short one day trip from Bangalore and once again on our way back from Hampi. There are three routes from Bangalore to Lepakshi.
- Via Bellary road and NH 44 (123 km) – the best route as it’s mostly on a national highway. It would take the shortest amount of time on an average day and is the safest to drive on even for a newbie. You will pay round-trip toll taxes twice on this route.
- Via SH 9 (112.4 km)-the shortest route but being on a state highway the average speed per vehicle is slower in this route than the former. There is only one toll booth here, so this is a cheaper route.
- Via Neelamangala – Chikkabalpura (133 km) – the longest route with one toll booth on the way. You should take this route if you want to explore some stunning locations in Chikkabalpurs on the same day.
On an average weekend, it takes about 2-2.5 hours to drive from Bangalore to Lepakshi via NH44. If you are traveling from elsewhere, Bangalore is the nearest international airport. The nearest railway station to Lepakshi is Hindpur. Apart from trains operated by the Indian railways, APSRTC and KSRTC run direct bus service from Bangalore to Hindpur. From Hindpur, there are APSRTC buses and private taxis to take you to Lepakshi.
Lepakshi is 551 km from Hyderabad and 380 km from Chennai via Mumbai Highway. Malugur is the railway station you must book your train to if you plan your visit from either of these cities. Malugur station is 10 km away from Lepakshi.
There are three major points of interest at Lepakshi –
The Veerabhadra Temple where you are likely to spend at least 2 hours
The Basavanna Temple, which is a big Nandi statue in a well-maintained park
The Jatayu Park, the newest addition to Lepakshi which does justice to the age-old legend of Lepakshi
Depending on where you are coming from you the Nandi statue or the Jatayu Park would be the first thing you lay your eyes upon. The Veerabhadra temple is hidden from the sight of travelers driving through the Lepakshi road.
Veerabhadra temple, a.k.a the Lepakshi Temple
If we have a list of man-made wonders of India, Lepakshi Temple will certainly find a place in it. It is a living temple, some people visit it to offer prayers while others come here to just marvel at the Vijayanagara architecture. The intricate stone carvings and engineering genius of the Lepakshi temple is comparable to the Vittala temple of Hampi. Each pillar, each wall of the temple compound has a story to tell. A melting point of history and mythology, the beauty of the temple is likely to keep calling you back as it calls me. This does mean a lot since I am not a religious person.
A short history of Veerabhadra Temple
Historic scriptures say that the temple was built in 1583 century by two brothers, Virupanna and Veeranna. Virupanna was the local chieftain and owed allegiance to the great Vijayanagara kingdom, which was then being ruled by Achyutaraya. It is said that the temple was built by cutting a rocky hill Kurmasailam. Unlike other temples of the era which necessitated transport of heavy boulders, this was directly cut out of the hillock there! Is that a fact or an exaggeration? Nobody can say for sure. In fact, the Puranic lore, however, credits the temple to sage Agastya in the ancient age.
The temple is built in honor of Lord Shiva who resides here in the form of Veerabhadra. Veerabhadra is the fierce form that Lord Shiva took when he was painfully enraged by the death of his consort Sati. The temple also houses statues of many other Hindu deities – Ganesh, Bhadrakali, Vishnu and Lakshmi to name a few. The temple is not only known for its unparalleled stone carvings but also for its beautiful murals. The 24 ft X14 ft fresco of Lord Veerabhadra is believed to be the largest fresco of a single figure in India. The whole compound has the main temple which is supported by approximately 70 pillars, an unfinished temple called Kalyan Madappa, a monolithic Nataraja, a Ganesh temple, verandahs supported by numerous pillars and many stunning pieces of history and architecture.
The Hanging Pillar of Lepakshi Temple
Of the numerous ornate pillars that support the roof of the temple, there is one that has puzzled engineers for ages. It’s the hanging pillar, a pillar that supports the roof without touching the ground. If you have heard about it before as I had, let me warn you that it’s not easy to spot. The gap is minimal and can only be tested by passing a piece of paper beneath the pillar. As a matter of fact, many of the pillars look like they are precariously perched on the ground and may not be actually touching it. Local guides claim that the pillars were slightly dislocated when a British engineer tried to move the Hanging pillar to understand the secret of this architecture. The columns are built in such a way that if you try to move one all others would start shaking, which is what happened and made the engineer flee for his life. Well, the saga of folklore has just begun, and it’s not even half as crazy as the others to come.
Confession – I could not pass a paper completely underneath any of the columns I suspected to be the hanging pillar. One of them was indeed the hanging pillar but it now touches the ground on one edge.
The courtyard and prayer rooms
The courtyard outside the main temple is surrounded by a series of pillars. A tour of the temple is incomplete without walking along the perimeter decked by these pillars and peeking into the chambers in between. Some of these are empty chambers for meditation while some of them house many idols that are worshipped daily.
The Shivling and Nagalinga
Since Shiva is the main deity of the temple, He has been honored in His various forms throughout the compound. One of the most striking structures in the verandah of Lepakshi temple is the Nagalinga – a Shiv Linga seated on a seven hooded snake. This impressive masterpiece has an even more jaw-dropping story behind it. It’s said that the artisans were waiting for their meal to be ready when they started working on the Nagalinga to pass their time. By the time the food was prepared, they had already cut the single boulder into this stunning piece of art! How amazing is that?
P.S. I waited for long to take this picture as a man climbed it up and lied down it and kept posing in different avatars. I left frustrated but my friend somehow managed to ask the whole family that had queued up for this photoshoot to step aside for a minute.
The Ganesh Statue
At the center of the verandah is a statue of Lord Ganesha in a cubicle. Notice Ganesh’s pet mouse below the seat?
The Kalyan Mandappa
The Kalyan Mandappa is a product of Virupanna’s vision to recreate the ceremonial hall where Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati. The hall is spectacular as it looks incomplete. Virupanna had overdrawn from Vijayanagara’s treasury to build this structure without permission of the King. Now variations of the folklore claim that either the King popped out Virpanna’s eyes as a punishment, or Virupanna himself did so to avoid a sentence from the king. This is why the hall remained incomplete and is also referred to as “Ardha Mandappa” (the partially complete hall). It’s a gory tale either ways but the maroon eye-shaped mark on the walls is what the guides consider as a testament to this story.
The Giant footprint
There is a large footprint you will come across in the courtyard just outside the temple. It is always filled with water and has several conflicting folklores behind it.
One says that this is the footprint of Sita as she put a foot on the land in an attempt to break from the shackles of Raavan. It is magically filled with some water all year in the honor of Sita. The second one says that it was the foot of Raavan himself. He was basically on his way to Lanka with Sita on his flying Chariot when Jatayu intervened. In the course of his struggle with Jatayu, he was partially dislodged from the chariot and his foot thumped on the ground. If I were to believe one of them it’s definitely the latter. Although the one explanation that I actually believe in is that this was also a man-made structure, a piece of Virupanna’s creative vision that is behind the whole temple.
Other places of interest inside the Verrabhadra temple
The Veerabhadra temple is a photographer’s delight. The stunning sculptures and murals inside the temple are something you can’t afford to miss. There is a tree inside the temple which is believed to be standing there for ages. What I loved about this temple is that even though it’s a living temple, the priests never ask you for a donation when you enter the altar. You are not allowed to photograph at the altar though.
Love legends and folklore? You may also like a trip to Talakadu – the mystic desert of Karnataka.
The Basavanna Temple
Lepakshi has been quite off-the-radar in terms of tourist influx for a long time. That’s the reason why despite being so close to Bangalore and a religious place, it’s not overcrowded on weekends. It’s only recently that I saw promotional banners of “the largest monolithic bull in the world” on the Lepakshi road. Technically it is true, but I don’t think Nandi statues are common outside India. 27 ft long and 15 ft wide, this is certainly one of the largest monolithic statues in India and the largest statue of the Bull. Nandi is the gate guardian of Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva. So it’s befitting for the giant bull statue to be standing outside the Veerabhadra temple. The area near the statue has been developed into a beautifully curated park with a small pool which is often associated with Sita.
It is a great photography point for tourists of Lepakshi.
The latest addition to Lepakshi is the sculpture of Jatayu perched atop a rock overlooking the whole village. For a village that got its name from the bird, it’s a befitting tribute I’d say. It was slightly disappointing that Virupanna didn’t think of it while creating this masterpiece of Veerabadra Temple. The Jatayu park is just a small nature park at the top of the rock. The eagle-like bird sculpture is the highlight of this park. Apart from that, you can see ruins of an ancient temple on the rock. The panoramic views from the top must be beautiful too. The park was closed when we went so I couldn’t climb to the top.
Where to eat and stay in Lepakshi
The only hotel and restaurant nearby is the Haritha hotel run by Andra Pradesh Tourism board. It is a decent accommodation at a cheap rate from what it looks from the outside. You will not get a variety of food here. Just a basic south Indian vegetarian thali is what you can expect here for lunch. Outside the temple, there is a vegetable market where we bought fresh vegetables at a cheap rate. If you start early morning you can have breakfast at Kamat Upachar on your way to Lepakshi. You can have evening snacks at a CCD outlet on your way back.
Travel tips for Lepakshi
I am often underwhelmed by exotic locations because of the crowd and the hype around it. Lepakshi is not one of those locations. This magical, historical place still continues to be relatively less crowded on the weekends. Here are a few travel tips for Lepakshi tour.
- No matter when you visit you can expect the climate to be hot. So try to reach in the morning so that you can complete your temple tour by noon.
- You have to leave your footwear outside when you enter the temple. During the afternoon the stones are quite hot and it will be uncomfortable to walk barefoot. So complete your temple tour before visiting the Nandi and Jatayu Park.
- Carry snacks and a water bottle with you since there won’t be too many options nearby.
- Don’t forget to bring cameras or good camera phones. There is no entry fee and no fees for the camera as well.
- Most importantly, respect the sanctity of the place. I am not a believer but it really irked me to see a family man climb up the Nagalinga and lie down on it posing like Lord Vishnu. It’s a living temple where the priests still perform rituals. Most such temples, churches and other religious places have very strict guidelines for tourists. Lepakshi does not put such restrictions, so as tourists the least we can do is be respectful.
Some itinerary ideas for Lepakshi
- A day trip to Lepakshi can be combined with a trip to the places in Chikkaballapur like the Bhoga Nadishwara temple.
- Alternatively, you can also visit Vidurashwatha. It is famous for an Ashwatha tree ( sacred fig) planted by Vidura, a central character in Mahabharata. The tree fell in 2001 but the trunk has been preserved. Hundreds of Nagadevata idols are placed around the sacred tree. Vidurashwatha also has a small memorial built in the memory of 35 freedom fighters who died in an open firing by the British in this region.
- Lepakshi is an ideal place to cover on a 2-day trip to Gandikota and Belum Caves. If you camp at the Gandikota and return for Bangalore the next morning, you can easily take the Lepakshi road and spend a couple of hours here.
- For history lovers, it is a perfect way to conclude a trip to Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagara kingdom.
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Disclaimer: All the information on the blog is from personal experience and true to my knowledge when I visited. The tolls and routes may vary slightly with time. All pictures are taken by me and my friend Mousumi (credited in the pictures). Do not use any content from the blog without permission from the admin. Contact details can be found in the About me section of the website.