AN ENORMOUS monolith of Nandi, Shiva’s bull, stands 1 km (0.6 miles) east of Lepakshi, welcoming visitors to this important pilgrimage town. Lepakshi’s top attraction is the Vrrabhadra Temple, which stands on a rocky outcrop. It was built in the mid- 16th century, under the patronage of two brothers, Virupanna and Viranna, governors of Penukonda under the Vijayanagar empire.

The temple is an important repository of the styles of sculpture and painting that evolved during this period. Dedicated to Vrrabhadra (Shiva in his ferocious’ form), the temple stands in the middle of two concentric enclosures, built on three levels. It is entered through a gopura on the north side. On either side of the inner entrance are figures of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna, with a background of foliage. Among the other notable sculptures here are the carvings on the massive pillars that define the central space in the open hall; the deities, guardians and sages carved on to the piers a the unfinished Kalyana Mandapa; and the imposing monolithic seven-headed naga (serpent) sheltering a granite linga, to the southeast of the main shrine.

Paintings in vibrant vegetable and mineral colours cover the ceilings of the two adjoining mandapa (one open and the other walled in), the walls of the Ardha Mandapa and some subsidiary shrines. Gods and goddesses, groups of donors and worshippers, and scenes from myths and legends, bear witness to the superb pictorial art of the Vijayanagar empire. A gory legend connected to the Virabhadra Temple says that Virupanna misused state funds to build this shrine, and then forestalled royal punishment by blinding himself. The two dark reddish spots on the western wall of the inner enclosure are said to be the marks left by his eyes.

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