Lepakshi welcomes visitors with a giant Nandi statue on the main road, a granite monolith 4.5 metres high and 8.2 metres long, with intricate carvings all over. Like the main temple itself, this statue was built during the reign of King Achutaraya in the mid 16th century, and harks back to the majesty of the Vijayanagara empire.
The Lepakshi temple is dedicated to Veerabhadra Swamy, an irate form assumed by Lord Shiva struck with grief and rage after Parvati’s death during Daksha’s sacrifice. Legend has it that he threw a clump of his hair on to earth and the spot where it fell now houses the temple. Indeed, the entire temple abounds with folklore about Shiva and Parvati, their royal wedding and subsequent separation.
There are also several stories floating in the air about another divine couple, Rama and Sita, one of them about the purported origin of the name Lepakshi. It is believed that when Ravana kidnapped Sita, the loyal vulture Jatayu fought against the Lankan king and died in battle on this very spot. As it lay wounded, its wings cut off by Ravana, the god Rama said with compassion, “le pakshi” (rise, o bird!) – and so, Lepakshi.
The natyamantapa (dancing hall) at the temple’s core has the most fascinating stories on its pillars and ceilings. Take a close look at the carvings on the pillars – divine musicians, Parvati dancing, Brahma on the cymbals, Surya on the nadaswaram and finally, Shiva as Nataraja, one leg raised in the classical dance pose. Crane your neck for the fading murals on the ceiling, painted using natural vegetable and flower dyes, and depicting varied stories from Hindu mythology. The garbagruha or sanctum lies just ahead.
And finally, look out for the elegant motifs of flowers, creepers and birds found on the pillars of the latamantapa in the outer courtyard, since immortalised in the borders woven into traditional saris sold by Lepakshi, the official crafts emporium of Andhra Pradesh Tourism.
How to get there: Lepakshi is just a couple of hours drive from Bangalore and best done as a day trip out of the city.
An edited version of this was published in the Jan issue of National Geographic Traveller