Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Veerabhadra Swamy Temple At Lepakshi


The village of Lepakshi is located at the south-western corner of Andhra Pradesh, at its border with Karnataka. The otherwise nondescript village is now well known for the beautiful temple of Veerabhadra Swamy and its monolithic Nandi (bull; Basava locally). The temple belongs to the Vijayanagara school of architecture. The construction of the temple is attributed to Virupanna Nayaka and Viranna who were officers of King Achyutaraya of Penukonda. The construction is dated to the first half of the 16th century.

Inside the Veerabhadra Swamy Temple

The Veerabhadra temple can be divided in to two sections - the outer enclave and the inner enclave. The inner enclave further has the main temple, the Nagalinga section and the western pillars.


The Outer Enclave

The temple complex has a double enclosure. The outer enclosure has a square plan with three gates - northern, eastern and western. The northern gate has a tower and is the main entry gate for the temple. The other two are closed. The northern gate of the outer enclosure opens to a gilded flagpost, followed by the northern entrance to the inner complex.

The entrance to the temple complex

Make way for the monkey king

The gilded flagpost

The outer complex has open halls on all four sides. The temple has been build on a rounded and unflattened stone and the walls follow the topography. Consequently the southern side is at an elevation while the western side is depressed. The halls feature the typical motifs of the Vijayanagara Cavalry on the pillars.

The sloping ground of the temple

The halls of the outer enclave

Apart from the northern entrance, the inner complex also has an entrance from the south and the west. The southern entrance is simple. The western entrance is guarded by a Hanuman temple on the outer side. There's also a footprint engraved in the stone next to the gate. There is also an inscription detailing the construction of the temple on the western side.

The Hanuman Temple

A footprint next to the temple

The inscription in Telugu


The Inner Enclave

One enters the inner enclave from the entrance to the north. This entrance directly leads to the outer hall (natyamandapa) of the main temple. The outer hall has an octagonal space in the centre, set by eight exquisitely carved pillars. These pillars feature life size forms of deities indulging in dance and/or music.

The entrance to the temple

The music

The dances

And the cavalry (on a griffin this time) - a staple of the Vijayanagara school

The outer pillars of this hall are comparatively modest. However, one pillar at the north-eastern side of the hall literally stands out - the floating pillar. Pass a string or a sheet of paper under the pillar and have fun verifying it. Seek the explanation locally - I'll not post the secret here.

The floating pillar of Lepakshi

While you are at it with the pillars, take some time to glance up as well. The ceiling of this hall features exquisite frescoes of the Vijayanagara style.

Frescoes - hunting scenes

Further in from the outer hall, is the inner hall (mukhamandapa), the main sanctum (garbhagriha) and the circumambulation (pradakshina) path . The inner hall itself has multiple shrines dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva (Papanatha), Parvati and Durga among others.


The Nagalinga Section

This sections refers to a series of shrines carved out of two rectangular monoliths to the south of the main temple. The eastern monolith features a beautiful depiction of the Nagalinga - a Shivling guarded by the open-hooded Naga (serpent). The hood faces the Nandi monolith at the edge of Lepakshi.

The Nagalinga shrine

The northern face of the monolith has a depiction of a king/priest and an elephant worshiping a Shivling. The western monolith has a larger-than-life depiction of Lord Ganesha.

The Ganesha idol


The Western Pillars Section

To the west of the Nagalinga section, one comes across an arrangement of highly ornate pillars which are most likely the ruins of another temple. This arrangement has a spire at the western side, while there's an open space like the outer hall of the main temple on the eastern side. The depictions are more formal in this section which makes me believe that the hall would have been used for meetings or debates. At the northern side of this section is a series of pillars depicting a sage (probably).

 The western pillar section

The central open space

The ornate pillars

An example of the art - three-in-one poses for this cow

The sages on the pillars


The Basavanna (Nandi) Temple

The Lepakshi Nandi sits by itself in a small, but maintained park at the eastern edge of the village. The Nandi is monolithic and well adorned. The Nandi faces west towards the Nagalinga sculpture adjacent to the main temple.

The Lepakshi Nandi

Across the road from this park, one can see a hillock with minor temples. Access to these temples is tricky and is best left to the local kids.

The small temple on top - hard to reach


Getting In And Around

The primary access for Lepakshi is through the town of Hindupur. Frequent buses connect the two places. Rickshaws are also available. Hindupur is well connected to Bangalore and Anantapur by local buses. Lepakshi can also be directly approached from Bangalore-Hyderabad highway by taking a detour at Kodikonda.

Lepakshi on the map

There's an APTDC Haritha complex between the Lepakshi Nandi and the bus stand which can be used for accommodation and food. There is also a paid toilet here.


© One Of The Road

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Exquisite Vijayanagara Temples Of Tadipatri


The Vijayanagara Empire flourished at Hampi and the legacy has made it a major site for the Vijayanagara school of architecture. However, in terms of the striking intricacy of the sculptures, Hampi may have been beaten by the temples at Tadipatri some 200km away. The temples here are almost contemporary to those at Hampi, but built by their Pemmasani Naidu feudatories.

The majestic gopuram of the Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple


Tadipatri Impressions

The town of Tadipatri is located on the southern bank of the Pennar river. The river here mostly resembles a dry, uneven depression throughout the year owing to a dam upstream. The area around Tadipatri is marked with dark depressions left behind by the quarries of Kadapa stone (black limestone). An amusing side-effect of the stone mines is that most of the shanties here are actually made of discarded slabs of these stones.

The town itself is quite busy and is a centre of industrial activity in a fast desertifying area. The temples bring in a handful of tourists and/or devotees. The temples are open through the day, except for the sanctum which closed around noon - a fact I only realized when I reached there at around that time of the day. This is typical of small town temples, especially ones which are in active worship. I should've realized that earlier. Anyway.


The Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple

The Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple is a Shiva temple located at the northern periphery of Tadipatri, right next to the dry bed of the Pennar. The temple is oriented in the north-south direction with one gopuram (temple tower) at either directions. The deity in itself is supposed to be of swayambhu (prophetic, self-originating) form and is fed by an underground stream (locally referred as a bugga). The main entrance to the temple is from the south. The temple has been constructed in the later half of the fifteenth century CE.

 The temple as seen from the north

The main temple in itself is built out of the local black limestone (kadapa stone), while the spire is mostly brickwork with a creamy-yellow plaster that seems like a later addition. The pillars of the outer hall (sabhamandapa) of the temple feature the usual suspects of the Vijayanagara school - the cavalry.

 The main temple

A close-up of the spire

The principle attraction of this temple are the twin temple towers with their dazzling and intricate sculptures. The two towers are predominantly made up of the black limestone. The outer facades of the southern tower features brick-work and masonry which appears like a fortification. The southern tower has a roof, while the one on the northern tower is absent. The passages inside the two towers are lined with sculptures in black stone, with a few coloumns each composed of red stone that gives it a unique visual effect. This is something I'm yet to see elsewhere in India.

Entering from the southern tower

 The southern tower from the inside

The left half of the southern tower from the inside

The right half of the southern tower from the inside

The left half of the northern tower from the inside

The right half of the northern tower from the inside

The composite passage of the northern tower ...
... note the absence of a roof

Outside temple walls, but inside the gated complex, one sees quite a few sculptures lying around. These are probably ruins from the secondary temples and buildings. A tall pillar (garudastambha) is also seen.

The garudastambha and some ruins


The Chintala Venkataramana Swamy Temple

This is larger of the two temples of Tadipatri and is located inside a sprawling complex in the heart of the city. The temple is oriented in the east-west direction and has one gopuram (tower) at the eastern end. The temple itself, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is sprawling. The overall plan sticks to the Vijayanagara school and is supposed to be very similar to the iconic Vittala Temple of Hampi.

The tower is seen from quite a distance

The main spire of the temple

After entering through the tower, one sees a gilded flagpost, set on a beautiful stone pedestal. Right behind this is a chariot shaped shrine which faces into the adjoining outer hall (sabhamandapa) of the main temple. This hall is supported on pillars bearing the iconic Vijayanagara cavalry. The outer walls of the main shrine is beautifully adorned, depicting scenes from the Indian mythos. The temple is surrounded by open halls that line the walls of the complex.

The gilded post as seen from the tower

The chariot temple

The outer hall of the temple


 The panels that adorn the walls

 The panels are revered too

The adjacent open halls are mostly for social events

The gated complex has a structure for supporting weighing-scales. There is a sparse lawn that is used by the locals for relaxation. There is the toilet at the western end. The toilet is clean.

The support for the scales


Getting In And Around

Tadipatri is one of the major towns in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh and enjoys good connectivity with the neighbouring cities of Anantapur, Kadapa, Jammalmadugu and Kurnool. Anantapur offers good connectivity to Bengaluru and Hyderabad. The caves of Belum are located on the way to Jammalamadugu.

Tadipatri on the map

The Chintala Venkataramana Swamy Temple is located at a 15 minutes walk from the bus station. The Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple is at a 10 minutes walk from the Chintala Venkataramana Swamy Temple. One may hire a rickshaw if one pleases.


© One Of The Road

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Pennar Gorge & Gandikota Fort


Tucked away in the remoteness of the Telugu-hinterland, lies a sight that has the potential to humble man before the glory and raw power of the natural order. The river Pennar (also Penna, Penneru), originating near the Nandi Hills in Karnataka, winds its way first north and then east towards the Bay of Bengal and carves out a gorge as it passes the Erramala hills of central Andhra Pradesh. The southern wall of the gorge was the site of the medieval fortress of Gandikota - literally a fort (kote) on a gorge (gandi).
The Gorge of the Pennar at Gandikota

Gandikota, today, is a remote place with spartan infrastructure and spotty connectivity. Nevertheless, this is a place which has to be visited, if not for the history, then only to be humbled by the power of nature to shape our lives.


The Gandikota Fort

The Gandkota fort originated as a simple fortification on the southern side of the gorge in the eleventh century, at a site identified for having excellent natural defences. The fort in its present state was upgraded by the Pemmasani Naidu feudatories of the Vijayanagara Empire (Hampi) during the fourteenth century. The fort passed through several dynasties and empires like the Golconda Sultans, Marathas, Tipu Sultan and eventually ending with the British who dismantled the armaments.

Entering the fort

The main gate of the fort 

The fort is almost squarish in structure with 101 bastions. The main entrance is on the eastern side. the eastern, western and southern walls are at a level for most of the part. The northern wall follows the topography of the southern wall of the gorge - from a high of almost 400 feet above the river to a low of about a 100 odd feet. This northern wall is a perfect place to see the gorge and the river. The Pennar here has water almost through the year owing to two dams - one upstream and one downstream from the gorge.

Watch towers next to the gate

The archway that leads to the inside of the fort

The fort jail

The fort has several structures of note which are covered separately.


The Charminar

It is said in Hyderabad that all roads lead to the Charminar. The same is technically correct for the Gandikota Charminar as well, since the only road from the fort gate passes next to the Charminar before branching off to toher sites. Also, let the name not fool you here - this Charminar is merely a single square structure, rather than one with four towers. The monument is also the site of the small settlement which has been inside Gandikota for generations now.

 The Charminar of Gandikota


Madhavraya Swami Gudi

The majestic gopuram (entrance tower) of the Madhavraya Swami Temple is visible far before one arrives at the actual fort walls. The temple is approached from a path south of the Charminar, that passes adjacent to a dilapidated tank.

The majestic Gopurum - with human for scale

The Gopuram - up close

The gatekeepers of the temple

The temple has a rectangular plan that begins at the outer wall which has the aforementioned tower on the eastern side. The main temple also faces east. The temple plan comprises of an outer hall followed by an inner hall and then the sanctum. The temple has a flat roof without a distinctive spire. The outer hall has the traditional Vijayanagar-style cavalry motif on the pillars. The inner hall has less ornate pillars, chiefly depicting various Gods and Goddesses. The sanctum is empty, except for bats. The site is a haven for the local langurs.

A troop of langurs having a good time

The Madhavaraya Swami Temple Complex

The outer hall of the temple - Sabhamandapa

The inner hall of the temple - Mukhamandapa


The Granary and Jumma Masjid
The Jumma Masjid and the Granary are located in a single complex west of the Charminar, next to a stepped tank labelled simply as the 'Big Tank'. The granary is supposed to have a vaulted roof, while the mosque is known for its intricacy. This complex was locked at the time of my visit, so I could not see how it actually looks form the inside.

The granary of the fort

the facade of the Jumma Masjid

The 'big' stepped tank


Ranganatha Alayam

This temple is located to the north of the mosque and granary complex on an elevated hillock of sorts. The inner structure has similar motifs to the Madhavaraya Swami Temple, but comparatively less ornate. The outer walls give a panoramic view of the entire fort.

The Ranganath Alayam

The insides of the complex

The outer hall - Sabhamandapa

The Pennar Viewpoint

This is the calling card for Gandikota - the Pennar Gorge. The path from Ranganatha Alayam continues northward to the gorge. The last part of the trail to the gorge involves hopping on the boulders that comprise the landscape. This is the highest point of the gorge - the greenish river flows silently below. Westward from this point, the wall slopes down to almost meet the river. There are bastions there and it is possible to descend all the way down.

Approaching the Pennar
The backwaters of the downstream dam can be seen in the background

The Pennar Gorge and the fort walls

Looking down where the walls almost meet the Pennar

 A herd of buffaloes crossing the Pennar (black trails)


Getting In and Around

The nearest town to Gandikota is Jammalmadugu, about 10kms away. The town has limited tourist infrastructure with a couple of lodges. APSRTC connects Jammalmadugu to Bengaluru and Hyderabad. There are three buses through the day that go to Gandikota, with the first bus leaving at 5:30am. Rickshaws are available as an alternative.

Gandikota on the map

APTDC has a resort of sorts next to the Gandikota fort. The resort itself is fashioned to look like a fort. Reservations are strictly online, with spot bookings not being entertained. They serve breakfast after 7am.


Signing Off

Gandkota is a rewarding place. The endless vista of the Erramala, punctuated by the green river below, with occasional cattle crossings paint a beautiful canvas - a canvas in which one may feel inconsequential at best, or even timid to realize what minuscule power one holds over the might of nature. It's a little off track, but surely worth a visit. 

Also, one may head to Belum caves and/or Tadipatri for some more beautiful but offbeat places.

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