Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Kailasanathar||Ambal / Thayar:||–|
|Timing:||8.30 to 12 & 4 to 9||Parikaram:|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Pillaiyarpalayam||District:||Kanchipuram|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Kanchipuram (2 km)||Tiruvallur (51 km)|
|Vellore (76 km)||Chennai (84 km)|
Sthala puranam and temple information
Located on the banks of what used to be the Vegavati river, this is possibly the oldest structural temple in Kanchipuram, the oldest surviving Pallava structure, and a much-visited site by tourists more than devotees. The entire temple was constructed from scratch, and the moolavar murti was crafted to purpose (and not a swayambhu murti). While there is no sthala puranam as such for this temple, its history is linked to the Hrudayaleeswarar temple at Tirunindravur (see box below). That said, there is so much interesting about this temple, it is not possible to ignore its place in south Indian and Tamil heritage.
This temple was built in the late 7th and early 8th century, during the reign of Narasimhavarman II (also known as Rajasimha Pallava) who was a staunch devotee to Siva, and is regarded as the first structural temple in south India. As a result, this place also used to be called Rajasimha Pallaveswaram. The temple itself is built as a representation of Siva’s abode Kailasam, mounted on a chariot. Unlike most temples, this is a wholly Pallava temple, with no modifications by later dynasties.
Pusalar Nayanar wanted to build a temple for Siva, but was unable to do so due to a lack of funds. So he built a complete temple down to the very last detail, in his mind and heart, and wished Siva to be present at the opening of the “temple”. Around the same time, this (Rajasimha Pallaveswaram) temple was being built by Narasimhavarman, and the date of inauguration was the same as that of Pusalar Nayanar’s temple. It is believed that Siva appeared in the king’s dream and told him to defer the date, because he had to attend the inauguration at Tirunindravur, of a temple built by another devotee (the Nayanar). Wanting to find out who this supreme devotee was, who Siva placed higher in ranking, the king went to Tirunindravur on the appointed day, but could find no sign of a new temple. After much inquiry, he located the Nayanar, and was able to understand the latter’s devotion to Siva.
A word on Pallava architecture, compared to Chola. One of the main objectives of Pallava architecture seems to have been to make the observer understand the meaning of the sculpture / art. This explains the level of detailing in their work. Chola art, on the other hand, seems to be more about overwhelming the observer with their skill and deftness in portrayal of the subject, often including multiple concepts or a whole sequence of events in a smaller space.
The temple complex is quite unlike any other. The main entrance, while on the axial line of the garbhagriham, appears “off centre”, as it has one sub-shrine to the left and six others to the right – all being shrines for Siva Lingams. These shrines are said to have been built by Rangapataka, Rajasimha’s queen. Inside, are two temples. First there is a smaller shrine for Siva as Kailasanathar (known as Mahendra Pallaveswaram), built later by Mahendravarma Pallava, the son of Rajasimha. Behind that is the earlier Kailasanathar temple (called Rajasimha Pallaveswaram) built by Rajasimha.
The outer prakaram is filled with niches, sub-shrines and carvings, with astonishing architecture adorning every possible inch of space. These include shrines for each of the forms of Siva as a Samhara murti (except Kama dahanam, which we will come to shortly), and various Anugraha murtis. The front hall (mandapam) also has massive representations of Siva performing his Tandavams. There are also exquisite carvings from Siva lore such as Bhikshatanar, Kiratarjuneeyam, etc.
Each of the sub-shrines is constructed exactly like any other temple garbhagriham, with its own adishtanam, peetham, upa-peetham, mandapam, pillars, grivam, kapotam and shikharam. There are a total of 58 such sub-shrines. On the walls inside some of the sub-shrines are vegetable dye paintings as well, though many of these are currently in rather poor condition. The temple also includes sculptures and inscriptions from the Mattavilasa Prahasnam, a comedy play written by Rajasimha himself. Finally (if there can ever be a finally to this temple’s extensive workmanship), around the garbhagriham in anticlockwise direction, are the close-to-300-titles of Rajasimha.
The innermost prakaram belongs to the garbhagriham, around which is a sandhara or circumambulatory passage, having two entrances for jananam and maranam (birth and death) and representing the life cycle of birth, ageing, death and rebirth. This may also resonate with the combination of the Samhara and Anugraha murtis of Siva in the temple, since those represent death and blessing respectively.
The three asuras Tarakaksha, Kamalaksha and Vidyunmali created three almost-indestructible worlds, which Siva, in his Tripurantaka form, destroyed. For this, he took the assistance of Vishnu (in another form) and Narada, who converted the three asuras into non-believers. While this was required to vanquish them, it was also a stain on their character, and so they had to undergo several rebirths to wash off the sin. However, being celestials, they were advised by Siva to install a Siva Lingam, and go around it several times, with each entry being considered a death, and each exit a birth from the mother’s womb. This philosophy is what is embedded in the sandhara of this temple, and one can often see devotees crawling through the narrow passage.
As mentioned earlier, there are shrines for Siva as various Samhara murtis. These are conceptually aligned to the seven of the ashta-veerattanam temples, the only missing one being Kama Dahanam (burning of Kama, at Korukkai). One of the titles of Rajasimha was Atyanta-Kama (the one with endless desire, in his case for the arts), which is also inscribed on the temple wall. Including the Kama Dahana murti here could have implied a negative tone of Siva towards the king. This is regarded as the reason there is no Kama Dahana murti depiction at this temple.
The garbhagriham houses a 16-sided Siva Lingam, which is quite unique (though in most Pallava temples, one can see regular-polygonal rather than cylindrical Siva Lingams). Another hallmark of this (and some other Pallava temples), is the representation of their belief in the Somaskandar form of Siva, with Uma and Skanda (hence saha-uma-skanda), which can be found on the wall behind the Siva Lingam. This is true not just for the garbhagriham here, but also the niches, as well as the seven shrines at the entrance to the temple. The popularity of Murugan (Skanda) compared to Vinayakar, is stark in this temple, implying that Vinayakar worship had not yet taken root much, at the time this temple was built (one of the earliest references to Vinayakar worship in Tamilakam is Vatapi Ganapati, brought by Siruthondar Nayanar – once the army general of Narasimhavarma Pallava I – in the mid-6th century).
The temple walls also have several inscriptions attesting to aspects of history, the Pallavas, and Rajasimha’s adoration of Siva.
Built out of sandstone, this temple was constructed between 695 and 720 CE. Such is the splendour of this temple that when Raja Raja Chola visited here, he was so impressed by it that he called this temple Kachi Pettu Periya Tirukatrali (the massive stone temple of Kanchi). It is believed that this temple was one of his many inspirations for the Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar temple. When the Chalukyas under Vikramaditya II invaded Kanchi, they razed most of the city to the ground. However, it is said that the king was so impressed by this temple, that not only did he not have it demolished, but also expressed his appreciation for the temple in an inscription which is inside the temple. Furthermore, it is believed that several aspects of the Pattadakkal Virupaksha temple that he built, are inspired by this temple’s structure and layout.
This temple is associated with Aiyadigal Kadavarkon Nayanar, who was born in Kanchipuram, very close to this temple. Rajasimha himself was known as Kadavar Koman (being a royal originally from the Kadavar clan), and some sources suggest that he may have been the Nayanmar referred to as Kadavarkon Kazharsingar.
Other information for your visit
One should plan to set apart at least 1 to two hours for a cursory appreciation of the temple and its art and architecture. Several enthusiasts spend far more than that, often on multiple occasions.
Close to this temple is the Vishnu temple for Vaikunta Perumal, also known as Vaikunta Vinnagaram, also built in the time of Rajasimha. It too is a sandstone temple with spectacular architecture, frescoes and art.
Contact: 044 27442232