Architecture of a bygone era is fascinating – the simplicity of the structure along with the complexity of its sculptures. Minimalism manifests itself in the materials and tools in comparison to modern-day structures; the ability to withstand the elements and invasions to remain a majestic sight, is a marvel in itself.
One such wonder to behold is the Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh. A short drive from Bangalore takes us to this obscure but brilliant piece of architecture steeped in mythology and fantasy. Built solely on rocky terrain, the surface area of the temple is uneven and built without the use of binding elements much less a foundation is sheer genius at work. Another gem in the crown of the Vijayanagara Empire’s architectural expertise and cultural affinity.It has a captivating story woven around it.
The main mantapa, travellers’ quarters and garbagruha complexes are completed with daily poojas and rituals in full swing while the incomplete structure behind the temple complex has an enchanting tale behind it; following shortly. The main mantapa starts with a lobby area where culture flourished – dances, dramas, musical shows and other sermons were conducted which in itself was a sight to gape. Sculptures of dancers and musicians along with a few animal forms of mythological significance adorn the pillars signifying the rich cultural heritage of the empire.
One of the main attractions of the temple is the Hanging Pillar which has an interesting past. History has it that the British invaders, envious of the architectural prowess of our ancestors, wanted to force the hanging pillar to rest on the ground. When manual methods failed, equipment was brought in to force it to touch the ground. But the slightest movement of the pillar resulted in movement and misalignment of the other supporting pillars and the whole structure to some extent and hence were left with no choice but to abort and accept the genius.
The frescoes on the ceiling depict various stories and situations of which no one has a valid explanation for but a deeper search could yield some more astounding wisdom. These were made entirely of natural materials and palettes used for mixing were dug out of the stone surface on the floor, etchings of which are still visible. These frescoes or murals depict the cultural heritage of the period and close observation reveals people of different regions, some with Oriental features and some with different skin shades. India has been of liberal thinking and open culture all the while maintaining its ethics which is evident from the clothing style.
The incomplete mantapa complex behind the temple comes with a dramatic version of the court happenings. Legend has it that the king had entrusted building of the temple to his loyal minister who took up the task diligently and with religious fervor. But the other courtiers, who could not tolerate the attention and free hand the minister had at the treasury, poisoned the king’s mind with dubious stories of embezzlement citing circumstantial evidence. While the minister was in the last stages of constructing a marriage hall akin to the mythological marriage of Shiva in Mt. Kailash, the King ordered the ministers’s eyes to be gorged out. While the top pictures depict the incomplete yet intricate structure, the bottom picture shows the place where his eyes were thrown. Note the red taint on the wall which the guide and locals claim is the blood from the minister’s eye. Disbelievers can scoff at the claim. Modern tests have proved that it is indeed human blood traces, but either way, what it is and how it has remained for centuries is still a mystery.
Note the floor carvings resembling an Indian style plate. This was truly meant for the travelers to eat different types of food in the various compartments when they could not carry the entire cutlery. People traveled from far which took days, so would carry groceries to cook wherever they halted which were temples more often than not. The lion has retained a notable recognition in all sculptures of the Vijayanagara dynasty and can be found in all temples in different forms. The last picture shows a big foot claimed to be that of Sita’s when she stamped on the ground to provide water to Jatayu who lay dying. Though there are many such stories in many places across the subcontinent, the geographical location of Lepakshi instills a doubt if it just could be true.
A fantasy person or a factual one, an architectural buff or a religious soul, Lepakshi is a must visit to appreciate the artistry and aptitude of Incredible India.