We started from Bangalore at about 6 A.M and reached Lepakshi by 8 O’clock.Lepakshi is a small non-decrepit town in Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi  is one of the finest example of  artistry of craftsmen of that era.Grand, massive sculptures, delicate, intricate carvings on stone, ceiling adorned with murals depicting mythological tales…this temple has a lot to offer to leave us spellbound.

Standing below the high raised platform on which the huge splendid Shivlinga is carved, is a humbling experience.Three coils of Naga around Shivlinga led to its seven hooded magnificently carved head stretching over Shivalinga.Craning my neck as I tried to look at the topmost point of the entire sculpture, i had a sudden feeling as if the  canopy of those seven hoods is descending directly from the bright blue morning sky overhead. The Linga transformed into that mythical  pillar of light connecting the earth and the heaven, the  manifestation of limitless Shiva energy. Perhaps it is not just the grace, the magnificence of masterpiece carved by the great artists of yesteryear but all their commitment and devotion which to this day start resonating in our hearts once we stand there silently with our   heads bowed, imbibing the  sacred spirit.The open courtyard bathed in soft morning glow gave the entire scene a haloed touch. Shadows in the covered verandah walking along the courtyard appeared to be harboring many untold stories. Such are the moments when you feel at peace with yourself.

 

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Chiselled on the other side of the huge rock behind the Nagalinga is  Ganesha, calm, quiet and peaceful.I love Ganesha idol in this form – the big belly resting on the ground, the legs denoting the sitting posture and his small vahan mouse in front.  Various symbolical interpretations are available for His body parts and His Vahana but to me He radiates substance, faith, confidence and dignity, He always fills me with a kind of intrinsic joy, a kind of happiness you feel on being comfortable with your own being. And the tiny Vahana– more than anything else it’s our faith that make us traverse through the life.

 

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The Natya Mandapam of Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi is a sculpted ode to the artistry of carvers and chisellers of sixteenth century Southern India.Impressive sculptures of divine dancers, drummers and other musical instrument players in half-reliefs on the granite pillars are so intense and alive that you almost feel them in actions. The rhythm in shapes, palpable emotions, glorious manifestations impart the stones a dream like feel. Early morning sunlight tip toes the mandapam from one side and the shadows in the pavilion simmer, the dark corners get suffused with golden dust and the bygone era as if awakens…..

 

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This Natya Mandapam has about seventy pillars and one of these is an architecture wonder beyond comprehension.The hanging pillar– this pillar like all other pillars is attached to the ceiling but does not touch the floor below. Such heavy granite pillar…how can it hang ! Presently it stands a bit dislodged from it’s original position. It is said that during British times certain enthusiastic engineers tried to fathom the secret behind this marvel and in turn, the pillar suffered. However faith of people put it on divine pedestal. It is believed if you pass any cloth underneath it,the wish you sought will be fulfilled.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

 

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As we approached the gate of the enclosure inside which stands the cluster of Jageshwar group of temple, we could hear the Sholakas, mantras echoing in the premises. A family was conducting pooja in Mahamrityunjay temple. Mahamrityunjay temple is  the oldest and the biggest one in the group. Stately Devdars on the other side of the river gliding behind the temples stood silent and meditative. Dotted with many Nagara styles of temples of different sizes, the place enticed me to travel into the era long back. Why so many shrines were erected in such a small area? The temples are said to be erected between 8th to 18th century i. e. from Katyuri king’s time to Chand dynasty period. Did different kings built different temples to pay homage to God? Did they get it built for fulfillment of their wishes or to commemorate their victory in any battle? Did any of them got erected any of the temples as penance? These Devdars, the river, the mountains…are they witness of the those times? So many questions rushed through my mind but none of them lasted more than a second. They evaporated sooner than they were generated. Such was the magical impact of the tranquility spread all around that all thoughts and curiosity vanished and calmness spread within.
There are about 123 temples in the cluster and every shrine has a shivlinga inside it. Though the stone plaques in front of some temples displayed the names of Surya temple, Navgrah temple but these too looked like other temples. Some of the statues found here are now kept in the museum at Jageshwar. The museum has two galleries and some rare sculptures are displayed here. The temple of Navdurga and Pushtidevi were locked at the time we visited so could not see them from inside.

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Bal jageshwara/ Tarun Jageshwar temple in the premises is considered to be one of the 12 Jyotirlingas.

सौराष्ट्रे सोमनाथं च श्रीशैले मल्लिकार्जुनम् ।
उज्जयिन्यां महाकालमोकांरममलेश्वरम् ।
परल्यां वैद्यनाथं च डाकिन्यां भीमशंकरम् ।
सेतुबंधे तु रामेशं नागेशं दारूकावने ।
वाराणस्यां तु विश्वेशं त्रयंम्बकं गौतमीतटे ।
हिमालये तु केदारं घुश्मेशं च शिवालये ।
ऐतानि ज्योतिर्लिंगानि सायं प्रातः पठेन्नरः ।
सप्तजन्मकृतं पापं स्मरणेन विनश्यति.

In the above shloka mentioning all the jyotirlingas, the eigth one— Nagesham Darukavane is said to be referring to Nageshwar/ bal jageshwar at present day Jageshwar in Almora district of Uttarakhand. Darukavane means forest of devdar and the dense forest  of devdars around the temples justifies the explanation.
This temple faces west. Outside the entrance on either side are two well sculpted images of dwarpals Nandi and Skandi with all their arms and armaments.

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The Shivling in the sanctum sanctorum is swayambhoo and appears to be divided in two parts.  The larger part depicts Lord Shiva while the smaller one devi Parvati.  There are two Ashtdhatu statues of Chand kings Deepchand And Tripal Chand in standing posture behind the Shivlinga. There is a burning light[jyoti] in cupped hands of the statue of King Deepchand, reputed to be burning  incessantly from times immemorial.

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Mahamrityunjay temple is perhaps the only temple of Shiva called by this particular name. As is evident from the name devotees come here to perform the life saving pooja. This is east facing temple and the unique Linga here has an eye shaped opening. God here is worshiped as savior from death. Chanting of mantras and their reverberation leave a very powerful impact.
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Almost all the temples have carved stone gate with images of dwarpals on both sides. On the shikharas of temples various images of Gods, mainly Shiva with ganas are etched.

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The temple has an interesting legend attached to it. It is believed that Lord Shiva had come to this site for meditation. So when the women folk of the village came to know that  a young yogi with haloing aura  has come to meditate, they all gathered to catch a glimpse of him, making the men folk infuriated and to control the situation Shiva converted himself into a child and since then he is worshipped  here in his child avatar.
Many years ago Jageshwar used to be a pilgrim halt enroute to  famous Kailash Mansarovar yatra. It is also said that Adi Shankaracharya stayed here and worked towards restoration of the temples before moving towards Kedarnath.
Though normally in the month of march it is not very cold in the valley but this year weather showed different patterns of  mood. We were told that till a week ago the road to the temple was covered with snow.  Thunderous rain and hailstorm two days ago too contributed in  bringing the temperature considerably down. It was very early in the morning. The sand stone floor of temple premises was bitingly cold. The carpets spread to make pradikshna easier for devotees were drenched with the moisture, water literally oozing out.
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Logs burnt in open courtyard. One  pujari sat near it. Yellow, orange flames leapt and danced in air. Harmonious echo of chanting of prayers, blowing of conch, peeling of bells, murmuring of river Jat ganga transported me in a trance like state. Rising column of smoke as if invited to accompany it to the mystique horizons.The Devdars around the temples stood close giving ample shade to let the silky , tender blades of green grass flourish while few sunrays haltingly stepped in to kiss the glistening dew drops and droplets on leaves and grass.
If at all the moments could be frozen………………….
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All the pics by Sunder Iyer

The lone boat floating away in the mist, I feel your spirit within me. I can sense the tug, the steering as if encircling within your arm, you are trying to take me …..but I still sail directionless.

…and the boatman…the vast expanse of waters do not scare him, not he waits for a traveler for the company, he travels with these waters and the sky above without a destination. The far off banks do not beckon him. He simply sails towards nowhere, where he belongs. He is one with the limitless. He never wishes a bank or a harbour to anchor. The world there does not exist for him. Beyond the limits he sails, oblivious of everything. A journey within, towards you, to nowhere…far…far away.

I can listen to the call ‘beyond’ but know not how to head to be with it. Will you take me there…

(picture by- Sunder Iyer)