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This Virabhadra Temple at Lepakshi was built in the mid-16th century by Viranna and Virupanna, Vijayanagara governors of Penukonda. It contains some of the finest sculpture of the period and has the earliest preserved cycle of mural paintings in the Vijayanagara style.

Carved out of a natural boulder to the west of the shrine, this seven-hooded Naga shelters a black-polished lingam cradled in its ribbed coils. A saptamatrika panel is placed below to the right.

Ganesa Shrine
This painted image of Ganesa has been carved into the side of a boulder. A separate mandapam with sculpted pillars and colonnettes, encloses the image.

Sculpted in low relief on a boulder-face next to the Ganesa shrine, these images depict the legend of Sri (spider), Kala (serpent-king) and Hasti (elephant) worshipping the linga.

Swing pavilion
This pavilion is to the north of the temple. Four tall pillars support a square roof surmounted by a circular vimanam. A Hanuman slab is placed inside.

Elephant Frieze
A recessed frieze on the moulded basement platform of the swing pavilion shows a procession of elephants.

Stone Palettes
These receptacles, carved directly on the floor, were used as palettes, lamps, or food vessels.

Kalyana Mandapa
This is the east entrance of the large, unfinished Kalyana Mandapa at the north-west of temple compound. Each of the twelve pillars along the entrance has an image of a rishi wearing a crown and jewels and holding up one hand in varadamudra.

Kalyana Mandapa: Kartikeya
Immediately inside the Kalyana Mandapa is an exquisite Karthikeya image sculpted on a wide pier. The diety is depicted with six heads and ten arms, and is framed by pilasters and a makara-torana canopy.

Kalyana Mandapa: Siva-Parvati
This wide pier showing the scene of Siva-Parvati's marriage, is one of the most elegantly sculpted pieces in the temple. Siva in Kalyanasundara-murti, holds Parvati's hand. On the left is Himavat, blessing the couple. The figures are covered by an arched canopy formed by a torana emanating from a kirti-mukha.

The peripheral columns of this mandapa are elaborate compositions. A yali with bulging eyes and elaborate scrollwork on its side rears over a large kneeling figure holding a dagger. Riding the yali is a diminutive mounted warrior who raises his sword. Elsewhere, piers have cut out colonnettes and are raised on bases carved as squatting yalis.

Rangamandapa: Bhringi
The central space of the mandapa has a series of massive piers, each magnificently carved on all three sides. This image is of Bhringi, three-legged, dance master of the gods. He wears elaborate ornaments, has a pigtail and holds a flower delicately in his left hand. He is framed by decorated pilasters on either side and a makara-torana above.

Rangamandapa: Chandra
This figure is sometimes identified as Chandra from the chakra motif on the basement slab. He is shown playing a drum and has an elaborate mukuta and flowing jata curls. The image is framed by a makara torana above and a pilaster with lotus stalk circles to the left.

Rangamandapa: Siva Kankalamurti
This sculpture, perhaps the most spectacular in the temple, is a classic depiction of Shiva as Kankala-murti. His feet are clad in wooden sandals, the right leg slightly bent forward in a gesture of movement. In one of his hands he holds the kankala-danda, placed horizontally on his shoulders. Another hand is in the kataka-mudra held near the mouth of a deer that rears up to it. Other hands hold a trisula and a damaru. Above his head is an elaborate makara-torana. His flowing jata spreads on either side of his mukuta. To his left is a bhuta-gana, carrying on his head a large bowl of rice. At the right edge of the pier is an image of a woman (probably Parvati) serving him rice with a ladle. The woman's dress is shown slipping down. Figures of gandharvas and rishis blessing Siva are above and to the right.

Ceiling Murals
The murals at Lepakshi are the most important specimens of Vijayanagara pictorial art and illustrate the high level of artistic achievement reached in Vijayanagara. The paintings, recently restored, are in vibrant red, green, and ochre colours. Black floral patterns border the scenes on either side. This panel shows the marriage of Siva and Parvati. The seated figures as well as the maids in attendance on Parvati each have distinct hairstyles, dresses, and facial types.

Mural: Patrons
This famous scene shows patrons and architects of the temple worshipping Siva and Parvati. Patrons are identified by the tall, conical and patterned brocade caps. Other sources identify this type of headgear with nobility or royalty.

Mural: Kiratarjuniya, Hunting Scene
Most panels illustrate legends from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Siva Purana. This animated scene narrates the hunting episode from the Kirata story. The boar is charging through the forest. A sage is shown fleeing together with antelopes, rabbit, and birds (above). On the right are hunters with bows and arrows.

Mural: Kiratarjuniya, Siva
This slightly damaged panel continues the Kirata story. The sages, still terrified, are shown reporting to Shiva (on the right).

Mural: Andhakasura
Siva slays andhakasura, while dieties and worshippers watch, worship, and appreciate in amazement. The floral borders are particularly elaborate and well-preserved on this panel.

Wide piers with beautiful sculpture also fill the centre of this inner hall. An aspect of Devi is depicted here. Carved almost in the round, the precision of her flowing jewelry, folds of her costume and the elaborate scrollwork on the tree that winds around her arm contrasts with the fullness of her head, hair, breasts, wide eyes, and aggressive posture.

Steps with elephant balustrades lead up to the passageway surrounding the ardhamandapa. At the corner is a colonnette cluster held up by squatting yalis while the triple moulding of the ardhamandapa basement is held up by swaying maidens.

Photos and Text © Amit Guha