Tag Archives: Kulavi

The Legacy of Chitrasutra – Ten – Lepakshi

 [This is the Ninth article in the series.

This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on the   Art of Painting in Ancient India  .

The present article looks at the paintings on the ceilings of the Veerabhadra temple in Lepakshi (AP).They represent some of the best of Vijayanagara art. This temple is one of the earliest constructed not by the Kings but by two brothers who were philanthropic noblemen.

The textile and fashion designs depicted in the Lepakshi paintings have influenced handicrafts, sari designs etc.

In the next article we shall look at the Paintings at another specimen of Vijayanagara art. It is the not-so-well-known Jain temple at Jaina Kanchi.]

Continued from The Legacy of Chitrasutra –Sri Pampa Virupaksha temple, Hampi


2.1. Lepakshi , in Anantapur district, on the Andhra Pradesh – Karnataka border, near the Pennar River, is a group of temples built in the 16th century, on a single granite outcrop that is curved like the back of a tortoise.  And, the hill was aptly called Kurma-shila.

32.2. Lepakshi is an excellent display of the Vijayanagar School of architecture, sculpture and painting. It brings together magnificent sculptures carved with intricate designs; and a whole set of beautiful, narrative and innovative paintings on its ceilings. The temple is hailed as a delightful synthesis of architecture, sculpture and painting.

32.3. Lepakshi is regarded very important for its historical, archaeological and aesthetic value.  It houses some of the finest sculpture of the period; it has the earliest preserved cycle of mural paintings in the Vijayanagar style; and it also has inscriptions in old-Kannada dating back to many centuries. The Lepakshi temple is a source-material for the study of architecture, painting, iconography and the mythological presentations of the Vijayanagar period. It also offers a few lessons to the art historians and those interested in the preservation and restoration of traditional arts.

33. The Temple

33.1. The construction of the temples at Lepakshi is attributed to the initiative and enterprise of two brothers: Veeranna and Virupanna, noblemen and wealthy merchants of their time. It is said; Virupanna was the officer in charge of the state treasury of the local government with its seat in the Fort of Penukonda, administered by a governor appointed by Achyuta Deva Raya (1529-1547) the Vijayanagar King of   Tuluva dynasty.

33.2. Penukonda (meaning The Big Hill and mentioned as Ghana-giri in the inscriptions) was an important and an affluent province of the Vijayanagar Empire; and the rulers of Vijayanagar and Penukonda were also related by marriages. After the fall of Vijayanagar (1565), Penukonda served as its temporary capital providing a safe house to its vanquished rulers.

33.3. An ancient temple of Lord Veerabhadra – the ferocious and formidable aspect of Shiva- stood on the tortoise-hill (Kurma-shila). The Veerabhadra cult was quite popular during the Vijayanagar period and a number of temples were dedicated to that fearsome lord; the most prominent being the Uddane Veerabhadra, a larger than-life idol with four arms and armoured with sword, mace, axe, shield and bow ready to launch an attack on the enemy. Veerabhadra was the mascot, the war- cry and the inspiration of the armies and fighting forces of Vijayanagar. 

33.4. One of the brothers, Veeranna, was named after the warring deity. The brothers, perhaps, had a special affinity towards Lord Veerabhadra.

The brothers took upon themselves, as an act of devotion, to renovate and enlarge the ancient temple and to expand it into a temple complex. By around the year 1538, they did succeed in erecting exquisite temples of Veerabhadra, Shiva and Vishnu, between two asymmetrical enclosures, containing a central pavilion (mukha-mantapa), an intermediate hall (ardha-mantapa) and a pavilion for dance performances (ranga-mantapa).

34. Sculptures


34.1. The Lepakshi temple complex is a wonderful example of Vijayanagar architectural style. It is an exquisite shrine; rich with profusion of gopuras, vimanas, apsaras, half-relief carvings, sprawling structures with wide spaces and courtyards. The ranga-mantapa and the ardha-mantapa are adorned with splendid architecture. The sculptures here depict images of dancers, musicians; as also themes from puranas, like those of Anantha-shayana, Dattatreya, Bramha, Tumburu, Narada and Rambha etc.

34.2. A monolithic Naga-linga, a Shiva linga with a multi hooded Naga serpent over it; the huge and majestic looking Nandi Bull carved out of single granite; and an imposing Ganesha, are some of the other splendid architectural features.

34.3. Even with all that, the temple is incomplete. The sprawling kalyana-mantapa, meant as a sacred space for celebrating the wedding of Shiva with his beloved Girija, has splendid and richly carved massive pillars; but there is no roof over them. It looks like an unfinished saga in stone. The stories and legends that narrate how and why the builders’ dreams were aborted; and how the place acquired the name Lepakshi, abound. Yet, the unfinished kalyana-mantapa has about it a sort of haunted look.

35. The Paintings

35.1 The Lepakshi temple is also celebrated for its paintings; though some have vanished and the others are weathering with time. But, at one-time the paintings were covered under thick layer of soot. Thanks to the efforts of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a number of panels on the ceilings of the ranga-mantapa and the natya mantapa have been restored. Shri S. Subbaraman, who retired as Superintending Archaeological Chemist from the ASI says that he was thrilled when “A ten-handed, highly ornamented figure of Veerabhadra, 16 feet in length, all but invisible under the thick layer of soot, made a spectacular reappearance in all its details and bright colour”.

35.2. The ceiling of the natya-mantapa have eight panels depicting themes from mythology , such as the manifestations of Shiva- Shiva as Kiratha ( boar hunter), Dakshinamurthy and scenes from Shiva’s wedding with Girija; the scenes from Krishna’s childhood; and the legend of the compassionate King Manu-neethi-cholan who dispensed justice even to animals.

Girija kalyana theme

       Sages at the wedding

Women at the wedding

The Kiratha theme

35.3. The ardha-mantapa ceiling has bout fourteen panels again depicting the legends and manifestations of Shiva (Dakshinamurti, Chandesa Anugraha murthy, Bhikshatana, Harihara, Ardhanareeswara, Kalyanasundara, Tripurantaka, Nataraja, Gowriprasadaka, Lingodbhava, and Andaka- asuras-amhaara etc.)

35.4. In one corner, the brothers Viranna and Virupanna are shown worshipping Shiva and Parvathi in the company of other courtiers.

35.5. The paintings that have survived are some of the most outstanding murals in India. They are also the best among the Vijayanagara style of pictorial art.  The drawings are eloquent, natural and full of vitality. The sense of liveliness is enhanced by the depiction of the protruding eye, the angular features and by the peaked corners of clothes. The beauty of line and form; grace and movement too are delightful.

35.6. The narrative panels are framed and structured by bands and beams with textile patterns. They depict not merely the themes from the epics but also from the contemporary life, bringing to life a variety of costumes, textile patterns, jewellery, headgears etc..

35.7. The Lepakshi paintings have continued to influence generation of artists. It is practiced, even today, as a craft. The birds, beasts and foliage depicted in its paintings and sculptures have spawned a style that decorates the block-printed Indian textiles and rugs; popularly referred to as the Lepakshi motifs.

35.8. The paintings provide a glimpse of   the richness and colour of a cosmopolitan society; its styles and fashions. The costumes of men and women, colour and embroidered sarees, jewellery, hair styles , tall headwear (kulavi) etc. now  serve as a resource for the textile and fashion designers,  as they provide details of costumes etc of a distant past .

Men wearing Kulavis

[The conical –headgear of those times named Kulavi has an interesting sidelight. A lot has been written about Kulavis by the scholars in Indian history. For instance, there is a theory that the Pallavas who first established their kingdoms in the upper regions of the Krishna river during the third century and extended it up to Kanchipuram, further down south, by around fourth century  ; and ruled over large parts of south India till about ninth century , were immigrants from north.

It further puts forward the view: “the Pallavas of kañcipuram must have come originally from Persia, though the interval of time which must have elapsed since they left Persia must be several centuries. As the Persians are generally known to Indian poets under the name Parasika, the term Pahlavi or Pahlava or Pallava must denote the Arsacidan Parathions, as stated by Professor Weber”: venkayya, pp219–220

One of the arguments in support of that theory is the tall conical headgear worn by the early Pallava kings, which resembles the typical cylindrical Iranian head-dress.

Until the British took root (by 1857), the idiom of administration in India was Persian. The elite conversed and recited poetry in Persian; they dressed in Persian style; and the official language of the kings’ offices, courts etc. was Persian. A number of terms in present-day India’s revenue administration are derived from Persian.

The wealthy traders and   the officials of the king’s court during the vijayanagar times (16th century) too perhaps dressed in Persian style, as depicted in the Lepakshi murals.

Another interesting observation about the conical cap is that the most famous idol of Balaji (Sri Venkateshwara) atop  the  shrine at Tirumala – Tirupathi hills is adorned with an eighteen inch tall cylindrical crown . And, it is never taken out; the head-priest alone is authorized to change it and that too in strict privacy.

The crown of the Tirumala Balaji is unique; and no other ancient temple idol or a divinity in India has such a crown. It is said; the tall cylindrical crown is meant to cover the hair coiled into crown – shape (ushnisha –jata) atop the idols head. The tall crown, surely, was not chiselled into the stone image. It is not clearly known why or when or at what period the tall crown came to be regarded as an inseparable part of the idol. All these fuelled the debate on the nature of the Tirupathi idol.]

39. Fashion and Textile designs

39.1. Brigitte Khan Majlis, Cologne; has done a wonderful study of “Lepakshi: Architecture, Sculpture and Painting”. Please also see the paintings in Vijayanagar Empire by Rekha Pande; and, the Lepakshi Paintings.

39.2. Brigitte Khan Majlis says, “The costumes worn by the figures in the paintings demonstrate that distinct costume pieces and headgear were worn according to gender and status. The textiles show a wide spectrum of patterns. Some of them bear a close similarity to extant cotton textiles, produced along the Coromandel Coast for export to Indonesia in the 17th and 18th century”.

Further, while researching into the textile fashion designs depicted in the Lepakshi paintings, Brigitte Khan Majlis says she was overwhelmed by the abundantly decorated textiles gracing the figures of the narrative panels. And,  was impressed by their display a wealth of garments, jewellery and accessories of fashion. She remarks that the textile patterns in the pictures seem to be sufficiently detailed to take them as examples of real textiles; and connect them with possible textile techniques.

Please take a look at a few of her presentations.

39.3. The women’s upper body is bare except for jewellery or in one case a breast band worn by Parvathi. Sometimes the upper part of the fabric is draped in such a way, that it conceals the bosom. The lower end of the fabric is pleated and tucked in at the waist. Like this it fans out in a “fishtail” manner and in fact this appearance has given this kind of sari wrap its name.

Most of the sari fabrics appear to be white with stripes or chequers as ornamentation or a band of blossoms along the borders. Some of the material is very fine displaying the outlines of the legs.

39.4. Even today, the chequers and stripes are a choice ornamentation of saris and other textiles in South India.

39.5. Male attire: The paintings reveal quite accurately how the pleated part of dhoti was pulled between the legs and tucked in at the back. The dhotis are usually rather plain, white with stripes, tiny dots or of a chequered material.

 A second more ornate hip cloth was worn atop of the dhoti, encircling the hips at least twice, with the ends flowing gracefully in the air or one part tucked in under one arm in a big loop.

A third cloth could be wrapped diagonally across the upper body or around the neck.

A third cloth could be wrapped diagonally across the upper body or around the neck.

39.6. However there are some personages among the paintings which represent actual people of political status.

Retinue in Muslim fashion

[Please also see ‘ The Paintings of Vijayanagar Empire’ by Dr.Rekha Pande]



We shall look at another set of paintings of the Vijayanagar School:

 Jain temple at Jaina Kanchi


Sources and references

All pictures are from Internet


Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Art, Legacy of Chitrasutra


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