Join Sridhar as he steps out of the inner chambers of Lepakshi temple and starts exploring the outer perimeters of the temple. You will begin to plan a visit to Lepakshi sooner than you imagined.
Readers who were with me when I entered the Arthamandapa of the temple of Lepakshi and witnessed the glorious murals, tighten your seat belts for you will be mesmerised by the scale of vision and storytelling capabilities of the builder- Viruppanna. To the new readers who have just joined as my pillion rider, you must read my earlier post on Lepakshi by clicking here.
With a song in my lips, I stepped out of the main temple complex to the outer perimeters. I circumambulated from the left side of the temple, came across a wide verandah where a huge Ganapati idol is housed inside a giant cubicle.
I paid my respects to Him and swung right . I then came to the most famous piece of work of the Lepakshi temple. It is that of a Shiva linga with a colossal seven-hooded serpent holding it in a bear hug, known as Nagalinga! It is a stupendous work of art. There is a stone tablet on which the Saptamatrikas are carved. It is covered in turmeric with a red vermillion on the forehead of each of the matrikas. The matrikas are the seven goddesses who were said to be created by Shiva to help in his battle against an evil demon Andhakasura.
The legend is that the artisans working for Viruppanna had come to the kitchen to have their food. The lady cook informed that they have to wait for some time for the food to get ready. Since they had some time to kill, they just started working on a rock nearby. Lo! within no time Nagalinga was ready! So easy, just like that. The kitchen still exists. The same story is also intertwined to the huge Nandi which lies a kilometre away from the temple. Maybe, the stories have got intermingled over time. But who cares! It still is awesome.
What a beauty! Nagalinga
After I spent considerable amount of time around this superb piece of art, I made my way to another mind boggling piece of imagination. A replica of a marriage hall, if ever it exists, which hosted the marriage of Shiva & Parvati. Who imagines such things! Essentially, Viruppanna tried to recreate the scene of Shiva and Parvati’s marriage which was attended by all the celestial Gods!
There are several pillars, which at first sight, appear chaotically arranged and very ordinary. Somewhere a gnawing thought will tug at your heart. Something seems amiss! Ah…there it is ..a hall with no roof. Then as you gain understanding of the dignitaries etched on the pillars, you will appreciate the artistic brilliance of Viruppanna.
Amongst the dignitaries who were present were the two great sages, Vashista and Vishwamitra. Aptly, their sculpture appears opposite to each other. The exciting part is all the divine gods were present with their respective vehicles. The two-headed Agni, the God of Fire, is with his mode of transport- the Sheep.
Agni the God of Fire and his choice of vehicle- The Sheep
Vayu- Lord of Wind and Deer being his choice of motor
Kubera and to his left Sage Vishwamitra
Extreme left is Shiva entering the hall with Nandi below his feet and on the middle is well decked up Shiva and on his left is the would be Mother in law- Mena with a bouquet on her right hand ready to welcome him
Ultimately, the soon -to be- wedded couple – Shiva is shown bashfully holding the four fingers of Parvati and ushering her into wedlock. The priest is also seen in the panel.
Just as Virupanna was finishing this part of the temple, trouble began to mount for him. The finances to build the temple started to dry up, and there was a change of guard at Penukonda. King Achutaraya passed away, and his successor King Rama Raya refused to part with any funds and instead ordered his guards to blind and imprison Virupanna. No sooner Viruapanna heard this piece of news, he plucked his own eyes and threw at a wall nearby! One can still see two holes on the wall with trail of red dripping from them! The folklore has to be taken with a generous pinch of salt.
The spots where Viruppanna threw his eyes!
Just behind the marriage hall is a footprint which will stump you. Its a huge footprint and it is said that it is of Sita, wife of Lord Rama! Maybe they were giants. Who, in their right mind, will carve out a footprint from rock? Is there more to it or is it that the builder wanted to develop an unsolved puzzle so that future generations can mull over them? One of the legends of Lepakshi is that Jatayu, the eagle who fought Ravana when he was on his way to Lanka after abducting Sita, died on this very piece of land. Hence you will find a huge eagle perched on a rock at the entrance of the town itself.
In total there are 876 pillars in and around the temple. In a particular section of 36 posts, unique and intricate designs are carved, and none of them are similar. Mind you, each of the 36 posts have 4 finely chiselled sides. Thus it totals to 144 unique designs. These designs have made their way to saris which are now called Lepakshi Saris. One can visit the nearby town of Hindapur to buy them.
The rock mound of Lepakshi attracted a lot of attention during ancient times. It is said the Rama, the diminutive sage Agastya & Hanuman visited this place & installed Shiva Lingams to propitiate Shiva. All the lingams are inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, and the lone one outside is that installed by a Chola King Madhavavarma in the 12th Century. As mentioned in my earlier despatch, no photography is allowed inside the Sanctorum. The Chola king also built a massive platform for performing fire rituals ( Yagnakunda) which is still being used.
Shiva Lingam installed by a Chola King- Madhavavarma in the 12th Century
The Dharmashalas for the weary traveller on the right
In case you got tired admiring all the delightful work, then amuse yourself with another masterpiece! Mystery of three men and four legs! There are couple of such other clever works of art in the temple. Search for them!
The Three men with four legs!
Just as you think that you have seen it all, you will come across several disc shaped carvings on the rock floor. Heavens, first look suggests a miniature UFO launch pad! Then you get enlightened by the fact that it is a plate on which food for the workers were served! Hmm lets say they had to be served rather generous portions to fill the round shaped ducts!
My favourite is a small sculpture on a pillar in the Arthamandapa of the temple. I do not know the identity of the figure but I have named him the “Old Man of Lepakshi”!
Old Man of Lepakshi
One kilometer from the temple, you will come across a giant sculpture of Nandi, Shiva’s vehicle. The legend is that it is the largest amongst all the Nandi statues found in India. It is carved out of a single piece of rock, and the detailing of the bull is magnificent. The bells and rope around the neck and the deep cuts of the hooves are magnificent indeed. The monolith measures 10 meters in length and 6 meters in height!
Nandi the Bull, the tallest in the world!
As mentioned in my previous post, by the time I finished my indulgence with Lepakshi, it was almost 4 p.m and almost 7 hours without food!
I decided to stay put at Lepakshi and continued my onward journey the next day. APTDC resort at Lepakshi was decent. Food was edible.
The next stopover proved to be yet another blockbuster !