Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Kapaleeswarar||Ambal / Thayar:||Karpagambal|
|Deity:||Siva||Historical name:||Tirumayilai, Kalapeechuram|
|Vriksham:||Punnai||Teertham:||Punnai Teertham, Kapali Teertham, Veda Teertham, Velli Teertham|
|Agamam:||Age (years):||Timing:||6 to 12 & 4 to 9||Parikaram:|
|Temple group:||Paadal Petra Sthalam (Tondai Nadu)||–|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Mylapore||District:||Chennai|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Chennai (6 km)||Tiruvallur (51 km)|
|Kanchipuram (82 km)||Vellore (155 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
The suburb of Mylapore in Chennai is perhaps best known for this temple for Siva as Kapaleeswarar, together with Parvati as Karpagambal.
Brahma was conceited that he too, like Lord Siva, had five heads. Once, he went to Kailasam to pay his respects to Lord Siva. Noticing his approach from a distance, Parvati assumed it was Her Lord Siva – with the five heads – and without looking at who it actually was, started washing the visitor’s feet, assuming it was Her husband. This added to Brahma’s pride and ego. But the all-knowing Siva realised this, and plucked Brahma’s fifth (upward facing) head. (This puranam is associated with several temples, including the Brahma Sira Kandeeswarar Siva temple in Kandiyur, the nearby Hara Saabha Vimochana Perumal temple, and the Uthamar Koil temple near Trichy.) Brahma came and worshipped at this temple as atonement, after which he was also restored with his powers of creation. The name of the moolavar here derives from Kapala (head or skull, ie representing Brahma’s fifth head).
Once, Lord Siva was giving upadesam to Parvati, on the panchakshara matram. However, a peacock came by, distracting Parvati. As a result, She was born on earth as a peahen. She, however, requested that such a birth be in Myilai. Siva allowed this, and She was born here, and ceaselessly worshipped Lord Siva at this temple. Pleased by this, Siva Himself came down here to bless Parvati and take her back to Kailasam.
Mylapore is an evolution of Myilai, which derives its name from Mayil (peacock) and the story of Parvati worshipping at this temple. The local saying is “Kailaye Myilai, Myilaiae Kailai”, that is to say, Kailasam is Myilai, and Myilai is as good as Kailasam, from a worship and prominence standpoint.
Mylapore (or Myilai) is also the avatara sthalam as well as the mukti sthalam of Vayilar Nayanar, one of the 63 Nayanmars in Saivism. The Nayanar is duly honoured in this temple by way of a shrine dedicated to him, in the temple’s Tevaram Mandapam.
Mylapore is also the birthplace of the Tamil saint and philosopher Tiruvalluvar.
Sivanesan Chettiar had a young daughter named Angam Poompavai, who died of snakebite. At that time, the Saivite bhakti saint Sambandar was touring this region on his pilgrimage. Knowing of this, Chettiar kept his daughter’s mortal remains, and pleaded with Sambandar when the saint came this way, to resurrect his daughter. Moved by the Chettiar’s love for his daughter and his pleas, Sambandar sang a pathigam on Siva as Kapaleeswarar, listing out the various beautiful festivals, and imploring the Lord on how the young girl could miss these, even at such a young age. Upon its conclusion, the girl was miraculously brought back to life. One of the first shrines in the temple from the eastern entrance is for Sambandar, and a vigraham of Poompavai is also enshrined here.
Interestingly, after the resurrection of Poompavai, Sivanesan Chettiar offered her hand in marriage to Sambandar. But the child saint refused, indicating that since he had caused her to be reborn, his position was to be likened to that of a father to her.
In addition to Sambandar’s pathigam here (making it a Paadal Petra Sthalam), this temple also features in one of Appar’s pathigams, but in passing reference, as Appar never visited here.
Sukracharya – the preceptor of the asuras – is said to have worshipped at this temple, but that is perhaps more relevant to the Velleeswarar temple located to the south of the Kapaleeswarar temple. Nonetheless, this story continues to be associated with this temple, and so the place is also called Sukrapuri.
A lesser-known Ramayanam connection to this temple is that Rama is said to have worshipped here on the way to Lanka.
Arunagirinathar has sung on Murugan at this temple, in his Tiruppugazh. This is also regarded as one of the places where Murugan received his Vel (spear) from Parvati, and for this reason, Murugan here is depicted as Singaravelar.
The fact that this temple was present when Sambandar visited, means that the temple existed in at least the 7th century if not earlier. Sambandar’s Poompavai Pathigam, and Arunagirinathar’s Tiruppugazh verse, clearly suggest that this temple was located by the seashore. It is believed that the original structural temple was a Pallava temple, built on the seashore (very close to where the Santhome Church is located today). The temple was later moved to its current location somewhere in the 16th century, and rebuilt entirely, by the Vijayanagara dynasty. The current location is also consistent with the agamic descriptions and requirements relating to relocation of a temple, which therefore suggest that the original location should also have been as estimated.
Interestingly, Mylapore is also referred to in the works of Ptolemy, the Roman mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, and geographer, who visited these parts in the second century CE. His writings talk of Maillarpha, a port settlement.
Unlike other temples, the layout here is a bit different. While the temple is west-facing (that is to say, the moolavar faces west), the main gopuram is the 120-foot tall eastern raja gopuram. The temple’s tank is outside the western entrance, which is marked by a much smaller gopuram. This gopuram is, in theory, the main entrance, as it is flanked by separate shrines for Karpaga Vinayakar and Murugan. However, most devotees enter the temple from the east.
As one does so, the first shrine is that of Narthana Vinayakar. Then as one proceeds in a clockwise direction, there is a shrine for Siva as Annamalaiyar. Unnamulai Amman faces south but due to the southern wall, the authorities have installed a mirror through which to view Amman. Further on, on the left is the Tevaram Mandapam, to the left of which are shrines for Sambandar and Vayilar Nayanar. On the right is the shrine for Murugan as Singaravelar, flanked by Valli and Deivanai.
Then on the western wall is a shrine for Arunagirinathar, followed by the dhwajasthambam and bali peetham, and then the main Nandi. To the left is the shrine for Sambandar with Poompavai in worship. On our right is the maha mandapam, housing the west-facing sanctum for Kapaleeswarar and the south-facing Amman shrine. As one comes further around the temple, on the right is the sthala vriksham (punnai maram) along with Siva as Punnaivananathar. Then on the north-east corner is the Sani shrine, and to the right, facing east, are shrines for Siva as Sundareswarar and Jagadeeswarar, and also the Navagraham shrine.
The temple is most famous for its 10-day Panguni Brahmotsavam festival, held annually in the Tamil month of Panguni (March-April). The festival has several fascinating elements, and is marked by two daily processions (once in the morning, and another in the night, which typically concludes around sunrise) by the ustsava murtis. The procession of the 63 Nayanmars (Arupathumoovar), Adhikara Nandi and Rishabha Vahanam (Velli Vidai Vahanam) are some of the key parts of this festival, which ends with the Tirukalyanam on the final day, depicting the marriage of Siva and Parvati. (See below for some videos from the 2023 Adhikara Nandi procession.)
Other information for your visit
Seven temples in the vicinity comprise the Mylapore Sapta Sthanam group of temples. They are:
Kapaleeswarar, Mylapore, Chennai
Karaneeswarar, Mylapore, Chennai
Teerthapaleeswarar, Triplicane, Chennai
Vaaleeswarar, Mylapore, Chennai
Velleeswarar, Mylapore, Chennai
Virupaksheeswarar, Mylapore, Chennai
Malleeswarar, Mylapore, Chennai
2023 Panguni Brahmotsavam – Rishabha Vahanam photos and videos