TEMPLES IN KANCHEEPURAM
Kancheepuram popularly known as Kanchi had a chequered history. It was the capital of Thondaimandalam during the Chola period and was a seat of art, religion, education and trade. The Chola kings built several temples, encouraged performing arts and education and the people were successful in commerce. Their seaport at Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) was a flourishing entry port enabling trade with nations beyond the sea. The decline of the Chola dynasty brought Kancheepuram under the rule of Muslims, Vijeyanagara kings, Mahrattas, the French and finally the British. During the various invasions between the 14th and 17th century AD the city suffered a great deal in terms of lost treasures of art and sculpture. The foreign armies ransacked institutions, demolished buildings and desecrated temples. It suffered the most during Moslem rule when the city was wantonly destroyed and its cultural and religious activities suppressed.
The town of Kanchi can be divided into two sections, the Shiva Kanchi and the Vishnu Kanchi. There are many small temples and shrines scattered all over Kanchi among which the well known ones are
Ehambareswarar temple(dedicated to Lord Shiva)
Kailasanathar temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva)
Kamakshi Amman temple (dedicated to Goddess Parvathy)
Varadaraja Perumal temple (dedicated to Lord Vishnu)
Ulahalanda Perumal temple (dedicated to Lord Vishnu).
Kancheepuram is situated at a distance of about 77 km from Chennai on the Arakkonam – Chengalpattu section of the Southern Railway. It is easily accessible both by road and by rail.
This is one of the Panchabootha sthala where the Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of ‘Prithvi’ (earth) Lingam. The entrance tower rises to a height of about 170 feet and the area of the temple covers about 40 acres.
Goddess Parvathi in a playful mood closed the eyes of Lord Paramasivan. This created darkness in the whole universe. Every creature came to an abrupt stop as they could not see. Lord Shiva opened his third eye and gave light to the whole universe. To make her realise the folly of her action Lord Shiva renounced Goddess Parvathi. She then left her abode in ‘Kailash’ and came down to Kancheepuram. She was pining to be reunited with her Lord. In order to atone for her sin, she moulded a Sivalingam out of sand and installed it under a mango tree on the bank of River Kampa. She prayed to the Lord daily requesting that she be forgiven and taken back. Lord Shiva wanted to test her devotion and caused the river to swell. Parvathy fearing that her Sivalingam would be washed away clasped it to her bosom to protect it. Lord Shiva was pleased with her dedication and devotion and took her back to her rightful place.
There is a very old mango tree in the compound of the temple. This tree bears four different types of mango fruits on four different branches. These four different branches are believed to represent the four Vedic scriptures that form the basis of Hindu philosophy. The tree is venerated and worshipped by devotees visiting the temple. People who are longing for children or young women who want to find suitable husbands make offering to this tree in the belief that their wishes would be fulfilled.
The Sacred Mango tree
This temple is full of beautiful carvings and sculptures.
This temple was built by the Pallava kings. It is in a state of decay and is a protected monument. It has many carvings of Pallava art. It is situated about one and a half kilometres in a westerly direction from the centre of the town. The origin and the legend behind this temple are lost in antiquity. The temple still attracts large number of devotees.
KAMAKSHI AMMAN TEMPLE
The Goddess Sakthi is presented here as Kamakshi, one of the three famous forms. Others are Meenakshi in Madurai and Visalakshi in Kasi in North India. Sri Sankaracharya of ‘Kamakodi peedam’ established his seat in this temple and enshrined the Sri Chakra in front of the deity. Sri Chakra is a disc with vedic script inscribed on it.There are many other deities in this temple who can be seen along the corridors surrounding the main sanctum. The devotees gather here in large numbers on Tuesdays , Fridays and Sundays. The main festivals are Brahmotsavam in February and Navarathri in November. The temples in Vishnu Kanchi are dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The two most venerated temples are Varadaraja Perumal temple and Ulahalanda Perumal temple
VARADARAJA PERUMAL TEMPLE
Sri Varadaraja Perumal
This temple is situated at the top of a small hill. A flight of steps leads to the level of the sanctum.
Once Brahma was performing a ‘yaga’ on the banks of the river Vegavathi. Goddess Saraswathy who had a dispute with him earlier wanted to disrupt his ‘yaga’. So she caused the river Vegavathy to flood and wash away the sacrificial fire. Brahma prayed to Lord Vishnu to save his ‘yaga’. Lord Vishnu then came in the form of ‘Yathoktakari Perumal’ and laid himself across the river thus arresting the flow of the river until the ‘yaga’ was concluded. He then transformed himself as Lord Varatharaja Perumal to give blessing to those assembled. Brahma then prayed to him to remain in that place for ever so that his devotees could receive his blessing.
ULAHALANDA PERUMAL TEMPLE
This temple is one of the oldest temples in Kancheepuram. It is situated about half a kilometre from the centre of the town near Kamakshi Amman temple. The deity in this temple is depicted by a huge image of about 35 feet high. This represents the ‘Vamana Roopam’ which incarnation was taken to save the ‘Devas’ from the Demon king Mahabali.
Mahabali was an ardent devotee of Brahma and by his virtuous deeds and penance acquired powers with which he harassed the ‘Devas’. The ‘Devas’ then appealed to Vishnu for protection. Lord Vishnu, knowing that King Mahabali never refused alms begged of him, devised a scheme to humble him. Lord Vishnu took the form of a dwarfish Brahmin and went to King Bali and begged for land, an extent of three paces of his steps, so that he could sit there and meditate. King Bali thought this was a small request by a small man and acceded to his request. Now the dwarfish Brahmin transformed himself as ‘Vamana’ taking a mammoth form. Then he covered the three worlds with his two paces, and asked King Bali where he could measure his third pace. Bali could not find any other place but his head and showed it to ‘Vamana’. Lord Vishnu then put his feet on his head and pushed him to the netherworld but spared his life because of his virtues and penance and ordered him not to harass the Devas. It is this manifestation that is worshipped as Sri Ulahalanda Perumal.