It was Deepawali, the festival of lights in India. After a strenuous day in Mahabalipuram, i travelled over to a place where i underwent the most spiritual journey of mine ever. Kanchipuram was bustling with festive mood with kids lighting fireworks and men and women dressed in new attire. It was almost 9 AM by the time i reached the town. I immediately hired an auto rickshaw as i knew it would be painstaking to travel to all the planned places. I had a heavy breakfast and moved to my first destination the Kailasanathar Temple. It was quite hot that day i appreciated my decision of hiring a vehicle for travelling inside the town.
The Kailasanathar Temple is one of the oldest temples that we can see in this area, as we can see by the construction and the wear and tear that affected it. It reflects the freshness and simplicity of the early Dravidian style of temple architecture and was commissioned by the Pallava King Rajasimha and completed by his son Mahendra in the 8th century and is dedicated to Lord Siva. There are 58 small shrines situated round the main shrine. Fresco-style paintings adorn the inner walls of the shrines. Sandstone was used in the construction of this temple.
This is the only temple at Kanchipuram which is not cluttered with the more recent additions of the Cholas and Vijayanagara rulers. Fragments of the eighth century murals which once graced the alcoves are a visible reminder of how magnificent the temple must have looked when it was first built. It can also be described as the worthy successor of the rock temples at Mahabalipuram, which were also built by the Pallava rulers. The bases of the pillars in the temples at Mahabalipuram have seated lions while at Kanchipuram the confident grimacing lions stand on their hind legs, as if ready to pounce on anyone trying to harm the temple. There are a number of small shrines within this temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi (Lord Shiva’s consort) and their sons Ganesh and Murugan.
The first view of the temple is a series of smaller shrines and lion headed Yalis guarding them. There is a wall that encloses all of the complex and you find pillars on the wall at regular intervals. I walk in through the gopura. Inside you find eight shrines, two on the south side of the main gate and six on north side. All the shrines are complete temple in themselves, consisting of mukhamandapa, garbhgriha (sanctum sanctorum) & vimana. Each shrine has a shiva-linga inside. The mukha-mandapa is supported on the pillars, adorned with the sitting Yalis. There is a small shrine at the entrance gate. It is a later addition by Pallava king Mahendravarman, son of Rajasimha. As per an inscription on its stair, the name of the shrine is Mahendravarmeshvaragriham. This shrine has recently gone under renovation and repairs.
Let us talk about some of the most amazing sculptures inside.
There are many places where a warrior is shown on a lion which is on its hind legs ready to pounce. It is so remarkable that we can even see the smile of the warrior. Such a great art was prevalent that age that even facial expression was given more importance and each masterpiece is incomplete without them. Also, a statue of Lord Ganesha is found here which is said to be one of the oldest in South India. Even this has undergone much wear and tear and you can see the sandstone peeling off. The Archaeological Survey of India need to be commended for its excellent maintenance of the temple despite the age old sculptures. One of the most interesting and detailed panels is the Samudra Manthan in Cell 12. Vasuki, king of snakes, is coiled around Mandara mountain, which in turn is supported by Vishnu by his left hand. One thing of interest here is that Vishnu is shown in human form supporting mountain instead of his Kurma (tortoise) form. Devatas and Asuras are standing around. One horse is shown just sprung from the ocean, which may be Uchchaisrava Ashva, taken by Indra.
One more is the Narasimha in Cell 9. Narasimha shown here slaying demon Hiranyakshipu. There is a pillar in between the two figures, as according to a story, Narisimha came out of the pillar when Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar and asked Prahlada that can his god come out of the pillar. Presence of this sculpture is rather interesting as Shiva is the main deity here. Another is Kiratarjuniya, where Arjuna is shown preparing to fight with Lord Shiva, in disguise of a hunter, over the killing of a boar. When Arjuna saw that none of his weapon were able to reach to the hunter then he realized that this is Lord Shiva himself in disguise of a hunter. This is so detailed that even the boar is depicted behind Arjuna.
I then go inside the main shrine. The sanctum is spacious and there is a big, black Linga inside. One interesting this is that the sanctum is surrounded by a small corridor and one can actually go around for a pradakshina. There is a catch. The starting point to the corridor is blocked and one need to kneel on all fours and enter it. It would the same when to come out of it. I thought i would try it but abstained as i am a little overweight and was afraid of getting stuck. There were not too many visitors then and i had a nice darshan of the lord.
There are hundreds of sculptures in this temple complex and one may take more than a day to see each of them. Each sculpture has a story to tell there are many blogs one can refer to know each of them. However, my intension is just to introduce these places to others and not to be an authority of it. So i will not describe all. I would seriously recommend 2 days for visiting this temple complex if you are on research. Otherwise half an hour would be enough.
After spending almost an hour here, i move towards one of the most beautiful temples in Kanchipuram, the Ekambareshwara Temple.