Lepakshi – Where the wrath of Shiva is worshipped

Dear Virabhadra

Today I visited your temple at Lepakshi yet again.

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Pic of the author 3 years back with the famed Monolithic Nandi (Bull) of Lepakshi

Almost 3 years back when I had come here last, must admit that time I was taking clicks or getting myself clicked to show to the world how adventurous am I – trying a long drive for the first time, going to remote corners like grand canyon of India at Gandikota, hitting random hilly roads to see the hidden fort of Penukonda(and failing in that), reaching Belum Caves – the second largest underground cave system in India. But this time , I am interested more in seeing your adventures

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To begin with, I have been curious about yours and Adiyogi(popularly known as Shiva)’s relationship. Were you his incarnation, his son (born of his hair) or his servant or may be as possible in our mythology, a bit of all? Confusion becomes more when Shiva is known in Ashta Veera forms – 8 forms in which he is known to give different beings or aspects in life like Brahma (Ego), Daksha , Kama(Desire), Yama(Death). I thought you were the one who killed Daksha when Shiva ordered you to destroy the Yagna (Sacrifice ritual) of Daksha (Sati’s father) when Sati(Shiva’s first wife) self-immolated herself when she could not hear any further the abuses Daksha was throwing upon Shiva. As I understand in Tamil literature, Shiva is known as Dakshantaka (Killer of Daksha) in one form – which is supposed to be you as per Puranic texts. Does that mean you are same as Shiva or at least his Avatara(incarnation)???

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Dakshanataka (Killer of Daksha) image as shown in the outside Mandapam f Ekambareshwar Temple, Kanchi

If I understand the sayings of the temple priest, he mentioned that you were available here in your self-manifested grace since many millenia just like the rest of country celebrated the divine before stone based temples culture came in this nation . Its only some 500 years back, certain feudal lord of Vijaynagar empire (in whose dream you came and gave direction on your location) bothered to construct a stylish temple on this holy hillock housing a good number of ancient deities.

Stucco of Jatayu the mythical vulture of Ramayana at Lepakshi

But why shall you be available here – at this place which is linked with Ramayana wrt death of Jatayu – the king of birds who fought hard to rescure Sita(Rama’s wife) from the clutches of Ravana (her abductor) and in process gave his life. As per Ramayana, this legend should have been somewhere between Nasik (in North Maharashtra)- where Sita was abducted and Hampi (in North Karnataka)- where Rama met Hanuman as Rama met the dying Jatayu in way between. This place is way too off route. So then is Ramayana connection totally irrelevant?

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A pedestrian route map showing path of Rama from Panchavati (from where Sita was kidnapped) to Hampi (where Rama met Vanara forces). He had met Jatayu in between

It is mentioned in Ramayana that Sati(Shiva’s first wife) in order to test Rama comes in the guise of Sita(Rama’s wife) when Rama was looking for Sita post her abduction by Ravana. Rama being the true faithful to his wife recognized that its not Sita and on top of that recognized as Sati herself. Sati had apparently lied about this episode to Shiva when she came back to Shiva on reporting the episode. This triggered a sort of detachment in Shiva’s mind for Sati and started withdrawing himself from their happily going married life. Sati could notice the changes but remained quite trying her best to restore the normalcy.

Couple of days later, when she hears about the grand Yagna her father Daksha who was one of the 10 Prajapatis (tribal leaders in the primeval social order of mankind) had arranged for and invited every major scholar of the country barring her husband – the very founder of Yoga, she felt this was unacceptable. True, Daksha never liked the mode of worship to Shiva who didn’t indulge in the householder life supported by Vedic sacrifies (a mode of religion, Daksha was deeply involved in) and preferred ascetic route, but a great scholarly union like this deserves the presence of the one who had triggered the spiritual quest in entire humanity through his path of Yoga.

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One of 10 Prajapatis in the temple’s unfinished Kalayana Mandapam

When she went there without invitation, she was greeted with abuses for her husband by Daksha. when she couldn’t hear anything bad about her husband, she preferred to self-immolate herself. Shiva was devastated. Not only the loss of her wife but the feeling of mentally abandoning her for a sly reason despite the love she had for him where she would rather kill herself instead of listening to any abuse about him, this was an unbearable pain!!!

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It is said that the Kalyana Mandapa (Marriage Hall) of the temple was going to be one of the best Kalyana Mandapa showcasing marriage of Shiva with Sati. But it remained unfinished. Today when one passes by, one can see a variety of lifelike gods and goddesses and sages and seers and divine beings, yet in a broken frame. Almost finished, but yet to be finished. Quite in line with Shiva and Sati’s marriage – perfectly loving partners but yet missing on that element which could make this marriage last forever.

And there you were created out of Shiva’s wrath or perhaps you were the Shiva the wrathful one himself. As per Tamil folk legends, you came along with Bhadrakali (the belevolent yet ferocious form of Goddess ) and 7 warriors – Munis as they call them, who assisted you in complete decimation of the Yagna. Every vedic god was dismantled and every sense of purity went down the drain. The gods invoked by the chants of Vedas proved to be of no match against the gods created by the power of Yoga. You found Daksha and cut off his head. The pride of the Vedic ‘elites’ was destroyed for good.

Ideally your biggest temple in the country should be at the place where this wrath happened. Normally claimed by Kankhala, Haridwar OR kattur, Kerala. But you are neither there. Rather you are at this off location in the country amidst these broken chain of mountain which look more like pile of rocks spread here and there. When I looks for the answer, I come across this cult of Veerashaiva who are all over Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and consider you as one of the primary diety, even though they aren’t exactly a big fan of image worship. So was this the place where you came after you were past your ‘angry young man’ phase?

Once worshipped in the open, now you are being worshipped in the stone cages built by the prosperous kings of the past. All over the pillars, one can see multiple images of Yogis, dancers and divine birds… Hold on, Birds!!! That rings some bell. The place is named as “Oh Bird!!!” What is the relationship between the birds and you. Umm, let me refresh some mythology basics.

After Narasimha had slain the demon Hiranyakashipu, he clung on to his dreadful form. The Devas were even more afraid of the Vishnu in this wrathful form than they were of the demon. You the fierce aspect of Shiva transformed into Sharabha, a part-lion and part-bird beast. That enraged the lion into transforming into Gandaberunda—with two heads, fearful rows of teeth, a black complexion and wide blazing wings—fought Shiva-Sharabha for eighteen days. As per Shaivites, Sharabheshwara won & ripped apart the Gandaberunda and turned back into you.

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Sharabheshwara killing Narasimha as shown in the Muneeshwaran Temple, Srilanka . This temple is dedicated to celebraying one of the Munis amongst 7 Muni warriors who helped Virbhadra

As per Vaishnavites, Gandabherunda ripped apart Sharabheshwara. This is the classic example of Shaiva & Vaishnav rivalry documented in any mythology recounted.

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Gandabherunda image in the Vibhishana Temple, Kelaniya, Srilanka

As I discussed this topic with the temple priest, he explained this fight in terms of ‘Anugraha’ (hugging posture)form. When Narasimha is in angry phase and about to destroy the world, Veerbahdra goes and hugs him. I was just reflecting how these ‘Anugraha’ scultures are specially so common in Narasimha temple at Ahobilam.

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Narasimha hugging a person (Hiranyakashyap/ Virabhadra???)

In our culture, it is believed that deep transmission of Yogic energies can happen from one person to another which can create profound impact. I can relate with people going into trance when Sadhguru comes in the vicinity and so many other similar stories of people likelwise getting into trance in presence of holy men. Could you have applied the bulk of your yogic energies to transform Ugra Narasimha (Angry one) into Yoga Narasimha (the meditative one)

It is interesting to note that Yoga Narasimha the meditative form of the Narasimha is worshipped in Kadiri which is just 82 km away from this place. It was interesting to note that contrary to the Shaiva-Vaishnav conflicts (often a heated debate specially in Tamil Nadu), your temple has got both Narasimha and Veerabhadra images depicted. So the wrath of Shiva himself becomes the calmer of the wrath of Vishnu. That’s quite a deep feeling to absorb.

The five centuries old temple celebrates Shiva in 14 forms including yourself in quite grand statues reminding of the similar detailed ornamented sculptures built in Pandyan temples of Madurai & Srivilliputtur.

It is interesting to note the plethora of Shaivite pantheons including Bhringi Rishi – the divine dance teacher, the Madanika – divine dancers and a host of musicians playing all instruments like Mridangam etc. The whole dance and music assembly reminds of the Tandava Strotam and imagine you dancing on that note post your destruction of Daksha’s Yagna.

On the pillars of Mandapam, there are these warriors seemingly with different weapons and at times without them as well. They keep reminding the story of Muniandi – the 7 Sage Warriors who accompanied you in this wrath.

As I depart, I take a look at the key icons of this place – the giant bull and the giant snake headed Linga. Taking away memories of grandeur with which you are remembered!!! Taking away the memories of the repenatance of Shiva on losing Sati, the anger which disrupted the Vedic cults for a while, and yet on calming down how you who are the wrath of Shiva calmed the Narsimha the wrath of Vishnu. A lot more questions than the answers, but perhaps that’s what I came here for. Till we meet next again!!!

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