Lepakshi is a site supposedly from the Ramayana. When Ravana kidnapped Sita (debatable) only Jatayu really impeded his path. Jatayu was a giant vulture and a demi-god. There’s a classic painting of Ravana slicing his wing off. He tried to stop Ravana but couldn’t and had only enough energy to lay there till Rama came and to say ‘they went thattaway.’ Lepakshi is my favorite spot in India so far, but I don’t think it’s the place where this bird fell.
For one thing, it’s about two hours out of Bangalore. Sita was kidnapped somewhere around Nasik (I think), which is about three hours out of Mumbai. Mumbai and Bangalore are days apart by train. It seems like Rama would chase Sita weeks from Nasik, find the still dying bird, then double back to around Anegundi (Hampi) to meet Hanuman. There is one competing site for Jatayu’s fall around Nasik, I’ll check that out.
Lepakshi’s main connection is that it means ‘Get up, bird’ (le pakshi), what Rama supposedly said to the creature. Beyond that, however, it is an amazing, serene and charming temple. So far it’s my favorite temple in India, though it has little to do with the Ramayana. Some relevant verses are:
Vainly wept the anguished Sita; vain Jatayu in his wrath,
Fought with beak and bloody talons to impede the Raksha’s path,
Pierced and bleeding fell the vulture; Ravan fled with Rama’s bride,
Where amidst the boundless ocean Lanka rose in towering pride!
This story is not, however, especially central to the life of the temple.
You can take the Bangalore bus to Puttaparthi and get out at the Kodakonda Checkpoint. From there you hire a trishaw for like Rs 300 or take the bus, about about 10 or 20 km in, I forget. It’s not that far, but it’s not really walkable. This can be a day trip, but I stayed the night in Puttaparthi, also to check out the Sai Baba scene. Not like it’s that close, Putta is like 70km away.
The trishaw way from the checkpoint is OK, though the guy will probably take literally 9 other people to make more money. On the way back it’s easy to catch a Bangalore bus from the checkpoint, but harder to choose the class. I ended up in a completely average one, no AC and a bit rickety.
This is kinda a pain, no accommodation and no direct transport. However, it was also a relief because I was the only backpacker there. The day was hot as Mercury but inside it was cool and I could just sit on the floor and look at the ceiling without anyone disturbing me. The trishaw driver was kinda following me around, but he introduced me to the temple priests and some charming old ladies that showed me stuff.
Inside there is a room where someone meditated for a long period of time, and the usual ceremonies going on, plus avatars of Shiva and Kali (that I remember). Ravana was a big Shiva devotee so I always try to pay my respects there. In the back of the temple there is a big Shiva lingam guarded by a seven-headed snake.
Inside there are ornate stone carvings of dancers and what’s left of beautiful mural work on the malls. My overall impression is of permanence and cool. The temple is beautiful and proportioned and both soothing and awesome to enter. The scene is also nice because it’s neither an abandoned temple nor a hyper-active one. There are plenty of local people going in or out, but it’s not a crush. There are basically no tourists.
It’s a peaceful place, cold stone that speaks deep and low. I met some lovely aunties visiting from Tamil Nadu who showed me around as they worshiped the different avatars and a room where someone had meditated for years. The priest gave me some oil for my head and a half coconut full of marigolds, which I treasured. As I left the temple into the dust and the gutters it was a reminder of what a embassy of peace that was. I am struck constantly by contradictions. How peace doesn’t exist without the turbulent road that leads to it.