Situated at Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, Kanchi Kailasanthar temple is the oldest structure in the area, and is made in Dravidian architectural style. The temple was built around 685-705 AD by Rajasimha ruler of Pallava Dynasty and carries a great historical importance.
The Location of Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple
It lies on the banks of Vegavathy River, facing the east at the western limits of Kanchipuram. According to the Hindu faiths, the temple is one of the three “Kanchis”, the other two being Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi.
The History of Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple
Kailasanathar means “Lord of Cosmic Mountain”, and thus dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is built in the tradition of Smartha worship of Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya, Surya, Ganesha, Kartikeya, which has replaced Buddhism.
The temple is said to have been built during the Pallava dynasty in 685-705AD, who established the kingdom in Kanchipuram, which is considered to be one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. There was a time when the Pallavas were defeated by Chalukyas and had to give up Kanchipuram. But they won again and built many other such temples. Rajasimha Pallaveswaram was the one who built it, while his son, Mahendravarman III, finished the front façade and the gopuram. The temple stood out as an example for other temples in South India. The locals believe that the temple also acted as a sanctuary for rulers during the war; a secret tunnel to escape is still visible today.
Archaeological Survey of India is currently protecting and maintaining the Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple.
The Architecture of Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple
The temple draws some influence from other styles developed by Chola Dynasty and Vijayanagara Emperors, while still holding their core Pallava architecture in its original style. The entire temple is made of stone, but it is not like the rock-cut architecture built into hallowed caves or carved into rock outcrops like Mahabalipuram. On the left is the gopuram, while on the right is the temple complex. The foundations are made of granite, and it holds the temple, while the superstructure, which includes the carvings, are made of sandstone. When it was created, only the main sanctuary used to exist with pyramidal vimana and a detached mandapa.
The temple has garbagriha, antarala, mandapa, high compound wall, entrance gate, gopuram, making it complete in all aspects. The mandapa was made by interposing ardhamantapa. Mythical lion mounts surround the pillars, which adds to the Pallava style.
The layout is simple with a tower at the center and with the vimana above the main shrine, square in plan and rising up in a pyramidal shape. At the top is a small roof in the shape of a dome. The gopuram walls at the entrance are plastered, with eight small shrines and a gopura. The adrhamantapa joins the mandapa and sanctuary, acting as an intermediate hall. The temple within walls, is, however, rectangular.
In the sanctum sanctorum, there is a 16 sided Shivalinga, made out of black granite stone. There are other images of Nandi on the walls of the main shrines, along with many other gods and goddesses.
The southern wall depicts Shiva as Umamaeshavara, with Lingodbhava, which are again surrounded by Brahma and Vishnu, and flying Amaras on the lower level.
The western walls have sculptures of Shiva in his Sandhya Tandvamurti and Urdhava Tandvamurti forms, complete with images of ganas in dancing poses and other images of Brahma, Vishnu, Nandi, and Parvati.
On the northern walls, there is a composition of Tripurantaka flanked by three ganas, goddess Durga with three ganas, and goddesses Bhairavi, Kaushiki, and Jyestha.
Even the external aspects of the tower show images of Shiva in his Bhikshatana, Somaskanda, and Samhara-Tandava poses. The images of different gods flood the inner walls, this includes: Durga, Kartikeya, Bhavati, Tripurantaka, Garudarudha-Vishnu, Asura Samhara, Narasimha, Trivikrama, Shiva Tandava, Shiva severing the fifth head of Brahma, desecration of Yagna of Daksha, Brahma, Gangadhara, Urdhava tandava, Vishnu with Bhudevi and Sridevi, Lingodbhava, Bhikshatana, Ravana, Vali, Ardhanariswara, and many others. Among them, Ardhanariswara is noteworthy.
In the tower’s southern wall lies an image of Shiva in his Dakshinamurthy poster, while the western wall has image of Lingodbhava.
There are numerous shrines in all the external faces, all with three distinct features: sala (rectangular), kuta (Square) and panjara (apsidal) styles. The entrance walls are decorated by eight small shrines. Within the wall, there are 58 small shrines, mostly depicting the Somaskanada relief of Shiva and his consort Parvati in different dance forms.
The passage is in circumambulatory form along the compound wall. It has symbolic value. Anyone entering must crawl through the passage, with seven steps climbing towards the passage. This represents the stages of life. After the passage, one must exist via a pit, which symbolizes the death. Others believe that the circumambulatory form is also representing how a person is coming out of a mother’s womb while staying in the same line with Hindu belief of rebirth. Some even say that if one completes the circumambulatory passage, then one will attain moksha. However, every meaning is related with birth, life, death and rebirth.
Like most other Shiva temples, Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple.