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Sri Veerabhadra Temple and Monolithic Bull (Nandi), Lepakshi (The Vijayanagara Sculpture and Painting Art Tradition)

Date of Submission: 17/02/2022
Criteria: (i)(ii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Andhra Pradesh, Anantapuramu District
Ref.: 6607

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1) N13 48 6.6 E77 36 33.9 - Sri Veerabhadra Temple
2) 13˚ 48ʹ 11.4 ʺ N and 77˚ 36ʹ 44.6 ʺ E - Monolithic Bull (Nandi)

Location and Context: Sri Veerabhadra temple, also known as Lepakshi Temple is located in Lepakshi Village, named after a main shrine dedicated to Veerabhadra (the fiery incarnation of Lord Shiva). From the inscriptions engraved on the prakara walls of the temple, the village is alternatively called as Lepaksha, Lepakshi and Lepakshipura. The literal meaning of the word is -Lepa + Akshi- an embalmed eye or a painted eye. Due to several stories signifying the meaning of the name of the village, it is difficult to understand its origin.

Historical Overview and Development: The significance of the place dates back to the Indian epic Ramayana. It is believed that the bird Jatayu, wounded by the king of Lanka, Ravana, fell here after a battle against the king who was carrying away Sita, the wife of Rama, the king of Ayodhya. When Rama reached the spot, he saw the bird and said compassionately to him, “Le Pakshi” — meaning “Arise, bird” in Telugu.

The discovery of Ashokan Rock Edicts at Yerragudi in same district as Lepakshi and other sites as Siddhapur, Jatinga Rameshwaram, and Brahmagiri in the adjacent districts indicates that this region was under Mauryan Rule in 3rd Century BCE. From them it came under Satavahans, Chutus, Gangas, Chalyukas of Badami and the Nolambas. The Nolambas were in possession of it till the 10th century CE. From the Nolambas, it passed to the Chalukyas of Kalyani and then to the Hoysalas who ruled till the first quarter of the 13th century CE. In 1346 CE, King Harihara constructed a fort at Penugondaas his second capital marking the start of the Vijayanagara rule over the region.

The development of the temple complex can be classified under three broad phases ranging from 1100 to 1800 CE based on its architectural advancements. The first phase falls between 1100-1350 CE, during which important architectural features such as pillars, pilasters, and niches developed, which contains features of Late Chola, Pandya, and Hoyasala stylesand of early Vijayanagara Period also.The direct evidence in the form of inscriptions does not provide any information about the early history of temple.

In the next period, major building activity took place from 1350 - 1600 CE representing the period of matured Vijayanagara architecture. During this period, the place was developed into a large complex by adding several shrines and mandapas and multi-pillared mandapas. During the Vijayanagara period, Lepakshi temple went through gradual development in the reign of king Achyutaraya (1529-42 CE) and bears witness to Vijayanagara period at an important stage of its evolution.

The last period falls in between 1600 to 1800 CE during which no significant structure has come except for some minor shrines.

Components of temple complex: The temple complex along with its concentric enclosure walls or prakarais situated on a low granite tortoise shaped hill known as Kurmasaila. The structures were built at three different levels or contours of the hill; each group was enclosed by three prakarasi.e inner, middle and the outer prakara built during three different phases. It is believed that there were seven enclosure walls similar to that of Hampi, capital of Vijayanagara, since the number is considered as sacred in Indian civilization.

The temple is built in trikutastyle, initially with two shrines - Veerabhadra and Papanaseswara sharing a common platform and a pillared maha-mandapa. The third shrine was added on west of the same platform, which together forms a part of inner prakara, dedicated to Raghunatha. A huge granite boulder has been incorporated within the enclosure wall. Natya-mandapa is attached to the Maha-mandapa, common to these three shrines. This is the most ornate structure of the temple. Its roof is painted with panels of murals depicting scenes from Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Pauranic legends. The second prakara encloses kalyana-mandapa, balipitha, vahana-mandapa and homamandapa. This enclosure covers almost the eighth times of the area covered by the innermost prakara and has two entrances, one on north and one on south.To the south of the main shrine within the inner prakara there is a huge monolithic sculpture of Ganesalinga worshipped by spider and an elephant in a small mandapa with two pillars known as GanesaMandapa.

The temple complex was further extended by construction of water cistern, Somavaramandapa, Yagamandapa, Uyalamandapa which is enclosed by the third prakara. This third enclosure covers two and a half times the area covered by the second prakara. The third prakara has three entrances, one on north, one at east and one at west.

Sculptures: Monolithic Bull (Nandi): The gigantic bull is a sculpture carved out of a huge granitic rock. This monolithic sculpture is a unique example of its kind. It faces west and is looking towards the mentioned Naga-linga located at Sri Veerabhadra temple. On the eastern face of a granite boulder in second enclosure,is a basaltic sivalinga canopied by a monolithic sculpture of seven hooded Naga.

Sculpture work with different themes from Hindu mythology, pauranic beliefs and traditions, and flora and fauna engraved on the different components of the temple such as pillars, ceiling of mandapas and naturally existing granite boulders contribute to the aesthetic value of the temple. Exquisite examples of monolithic sculptures like Naga-siva-linga, Ganesa and the massive stone engraved footprint (believed to be of Sita) represent the artistic brilliance of that time.

Paintings: With the support and help of Vijayanagara kings, Krishna Devaray and Achyutarya created notable development in the field of art in the empire which is distinctly visible in the paintings at Verrabhadra Temple. The technique used is known as Fresco-secco or painting in lime medium on plaster. The fresco paintings on the walls and ceilings of mandapas and pradakshinapada depict illustrations from Ramayana and Mahabharata, gods and legendary stories like Parvathi's marriage, Kiratarjuniyam, different manifestations of Siva, Draupadi Swayamvaram and Virupanna and his brothers worshipping Veerabhadra. After the downfall of Vijayanagara Empire, the paintings remained unattended for long period resulting in damage of the paintings.

Inscriptions: About 20 inscriptions are engraved on prakara walls of Sri Veerabhadra temple and majority of these belong to the reign of Achyutaraya Maharaya (1539-42 CE). These inscriptions throw light on the historical evolution of the temple complex and donations in each period. The inscriptions are grouped into three phases.

Water Cistern: It is situated at the western side of the prakara adjacent to Uyalamandapa. It is a deep pit excavated into natural rock in an oblong shape. Similar cistern is also available at Hampi.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Sri Veerabhadra temple stands as a model of art, architecture and culture of mid- Vijayanagara Period. The temple preserves important examples of Vijayanagara sculptures and paintings, and is a unique example of continuity of traditions, creative idea and knowledge of Chalukyas, Hoyasalas and Kakatiyas combined with local customs.

The temple bears witness to the only surviving fresco paintings of mid Vijayanagara Period. The fresco paintings like Kiratarjuniyam, Girija Kalyana, and Shiva-Parvati marriage illustrate various narratives from the pauranas and epics that contribute to the field of art and ethnology. The technique of Vijayanagara paintings formed a base for the art of fresco paintings continued by the successor and other kingdoms of South India.

Carved out of granite boulders, the monolithic sculptures like Naga-siva-lingaand monolithic bull (Nandi) together establishes the link to the living traditions and customs of the Vijayanagara Period and evolution of sculptural renderings in India. This contributed to active exchange of knowledge among artists of that time and region in general.

Criterion (i): Sri Veerabhadra temple houses the principle examples of Vijayanagara paintings. The figurative documentation of customs and traditions through pauranic stories and the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics in the sculptures and paintings are invaluable historical evidences and are of cultural significance. With the use of fresco-secco technique, the temple is a masterpiece of creative effort reflecting cultural practices of the time and place of its creation and stand as example for continuity of traditions. The representation of characters of each scene has a circular curvature corresponding to the center differentiating from the other scene. The emphasis on protruding second eye of the characters is of stylistic significance in the paintings of the temple.

The architectural and ornamental elements such as sculptures; pillars of natya- mandapas elaborately carved with the figures of musicians, gods and goddess, and dancers portray a remarkable concentration of skills of 16th Century artists and crafts workers of South India. The unique sculptures of the temple, carved out of granite boulder like Nandi (monolithic bull) and Naga-sivalingaare significant for the use of material and its scale. The property thus bears a witness to human artistic and creative endeavors.

Criterion (ii): Sri Veerabhadra temple exhibits the interchange of human values and socio-cultural traditions from 11th century Chalukyan Period to 15th century early Vijayanagara period. The influences of these periods are reflected in layout of the temple complex, ornamental elements and material selection. The mid-Vijayanagara period was a period of development in the scale of temple complex with addition of gopuras and large multi-pillared mandapas. The style of fresco-paintings of the temple in turn has set new standards of practice, which was later followed by the successors like the Nayakas and the other ruling dynasties in South India. The sculptors and artists of that period contributed to active exchange of knowledge among the artists of the time and region in general.

Criterion (vi): Sri Veerabhadra temple can be tangibly associated with the traditions and works of historical value which represents the political and social culture of Vijayanagara period.

The fresco paintings and the monolithic sculptures of the temple display the ingenuity and skill of South Indian artist in general. The paintings and sculptures represent pauranic narratives and stories from epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. This in particular conveys continuity of Indian tradition, cultural values and beliefs as carried from Chalukyas, Hoyasala and Kakatiyas in mid Vijayanagara style of art and architecture, later followed by successors like the Nayakas and other dynasties in South India.

The property demonstrates the knowledge and skills of Vijayanagara builders and stands as best example for continuity of evolved cultural traits and transformation through interchange of cultural values for many years of Indian art and cultural history.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: The form and design, use and function, and location and setting contribute to the authenticity of the property. These attributes convey original values as the temple is functioning continuously for its original purpose. The property retains its spirit of place and the setting continues to contribute to its values. Some physical damages, primarily in the fresco paintings can be seen due to negligence and lack of maintenance for long period.

Integrity: The essential attributes and features of the temple that relate to its Outstanding Universal Value have remained intact and display integrity in form and material. These include fresco paintings, monolithic sculptures and carved pillars which forms the figurative documentation of religious and local customs and traditions of Vijayanagara Period. As an important religious property of the region, the temple is experiencing tourist influx, lack of management of which can be a threat to the property.

Comparison with other similar properties

Establishment of the state of Vijayanagara in 14thcentury CE left a permanent impression of its existence in the fields of art, architecture, culture and literature. Sri Veerabhadra Temple and Monolithic Bull (Nandi) of the 16th century CE, is compared to similar properties that show immeasurable human achievement and reflect the influence of different periods on style of architecture, use of material, fresco paintings and sculptures. This comparison with similar properties includes Group of Monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka, India. Architecture of Veerabhadra Temple exhibits the historic development in building traditions in the region that has influences from multiple sources like the Vijayanagara Predecessor- Chalukyas in terms of spatial planning, built forms, and space functioning, and the contemporary Deccan Sultanates in terms of material and construction techniques. This is similar to temples at Pattadakal as different styles, and their philosophies, of architecture are visible at different temples in the same complex/group of temples.

Sri Veerabhadra Temple and Monolithic Bull (Nandi) is comparable to Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple, Telangana, India, which also represents a masterpiece of human creative genius. Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple’s sculptures of high artistic quality illustrate the customs and culture of Kakatiyas along with depicting tales from the Puranic epics that were relevant and celebrated during the era. Similar is the case of Sri Veerabhadra Temple, only distinction being the medium of illustration that has sculpture and fresco paintings both.

Sri Veerabhadra Temple is compared to the Virupaksha temple at Hampi which also houses fresco paintings. Interchange of cultural and artistic values within the same period can be tangibly experienced in the paintings of both sites. What differentiates the fresco paintings at Sri Veerabhadra Temple is the fresco-stucco technique used for the paintings, characterized by locally available earthen colors and representation of characters of each scene with a circular curvature corresponding to the center. 

Themonolithic sculptures at Sri Veerabhadra Temple like Naga-sivalinga, bull (Nandi) can be compared with Buddha sculpture protected by Naga-Muchalindaof ancient city of Gaya and Lakshmi-Narasimha monolithic bull at Hampi for its scale, unique craftsmanship and the use of material. The Vijayanagara artist proved their competency by carving sculptures on hard material like granite stone.