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The snake and the bull

J. Kamath

Lepakshi's claim to fame is a giant-sized granite Nandi, considered to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. J. Kamath on this nondescript South Indian town.


The multi-hooded Naga sculpture at Lepakshi.

Lepakshi is a small nondescript town lying on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border, whose main claim to fame is a giant-sized granite Nandi, claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world. Not many are aware that the Veerabhadra Temple here is reputed to be a great example for the achievements of the Vijaynagar era in the areas of architecture, sculpture and painting.

Located just about 140 km away from Bangalore, it can be covered in the space of a day. There are two routes to reach the area — the first is to drive or take the bus to Hindupur and then to Lepakshi. The second is to take the newly renovated NH-7 towards Hyderabad and a left near the check-post on the border of the two States.

The Veerabhadra Temple is constructed on a low rocky hill, which the locals call as Kurmasaila, since it resembles a tortoise. History has it that the temple was constructed in the middle of 16th century by two brothers Viranna and Virupanna, who were the governors of Penukonda, another 35 km north.

The temple sanctum stands in the middle of two irregular enclosures and the entrance is through a huge hall. The most interesting sculptures and carvings are to be found here. With hammer, chisel, brush and paint, an attempt has been made to fill every vacant space. There is a rich and exuberant world in here.

The north-east columns in the centre of the hall show the figure of Natesha between Brahma and a drummer, while in the adjacent corner a maiden cavorts between another drummer and cymbalist. On the south-west, there is Parvathi, while a three-legged divinity dances all by himself in the north-west corner.

Adjacent to the main hall is a pillar, where you will find lot of locals kneeling on all fours. This is the suspended pillar and the guide informed as that in olden days, it did not touch the floor at all and it was possible to pass a piece of cloth through the gap. Even today, we see a very small contact as a British Engineer — studying the uniqueness of the pillar about a century ago — disturbed the delicate balance.

But it is the ceiling here that is more interesting. The frescos that cover the entire space are reputed to be the most important specimens of Vijaynagar pictorial art. Painstakingly done, these narrate events from the life of the patrons of this temple as well as episodes from the Mahabharatha and Ramayana. In one corner, the brothers Viranna and Virupanna are shown worshipping Shiva and Parvathi in the company of courtiers. These are of great interest, as they provide details of costumes of an era long gone by. Shiva's boar hunt and Arjuna's battles with his foes are amongst the many depicted here. The beauty of line and form, grace and movement delights the viewers.

Such prolific sculptures and painting continue into the temple sanctum also. The main deity is an almost life-size image of Veerabhadra carrying weapons. And in the ceiling is a painting of Veerabhadra with Virupanna dutifully offering obeisance.

Outside the compound is a multi-hooded Naga venomously shielding a granite linga. It is shaped out of a natural boulder and is an awe-inspiring spectacle.

A little ahead is a large unfinished hall with intricate carvings of sages and holy men carved on the columns.

The big granite bull is on the main road, about 200 metres from the temple. Our guide mentioned that it has been positioned such that it faces the huge serpent inside the temple. Other than its sheer size, there is nothing more to it and — if you have visited the temple first with all those intricate carvings — the bull is sure to disappoint you.

Lepakshi is a place, which is well off the beaten track and the solitude in the temple is seductive. It is a laid-back village and if you are looking for a change in pace along with a little bit of history and architecture, then this is the place to visit. On the negative side, transport services are rather infrequent. There is only one restaurant here serving basic snacks and if you happen to be the fussy type, you are advised to come prepared.

Another interesting excursion nearby is to Veerapuram, about seven km away from Lepakshi towards the NH-7. About two-dozen trees provide sanctuary to painted storks, which migrate here during the season.

Picture by the author

Fact file

How to get there

By air: The nearest airport is at Bangalore, 152 km away.

By rail: The nearest railhead is Ananthapur on the Hyderabad-Bangalore broad-gauge line. Nandyal and Kurnool, on the same line, are also convenient railheads.

By road: Ananthapur is well connected by Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation buses with all major cities and towns in the State.

Where to stay: Hindupur Tourism Complex (eight cottages and restaurant) offers excellent accommodation. Abhya Griha rest house at Lepakshi, maintained by the State Tourism Department, the travellers' bungalow at Hindupur, the PWD travellers' bungalow at Demakepalli, five km from Lepakshi, and Andhra Pradesh Tourism's motel at Hindupur are some of the options.

How to get around: Cycle rickshaws are available.

When to visit: The best season is from September to February.

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