The temple also houses Nilathingal Thundam Perumal temple, one of the 108 sacred Vishnu temples of India.
The temple complex covers 25 acres, and is one of the largest temple complexes in India. It houses four gateway towers known as Gopurams. The tallest is the southern tower, with 11 stories, making it one of the tallest temple towers in India.
The temple has numerous smaller shrines, with those of Ekambareswarar and Nilathingal Thundam Perumal being the most prominent.
The temple complex houses many halls; the most notable is the thousand-pillared hall built during the Vijayanagar period of south India.
The temple has six daily rituals at various times from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and twelve yearly festivals on its calendar. Panguni Uthiram festival celebrated for thirteen days during the Tamil month of Panguni (March – April) is the most prominent festival of the temple and the town.
The present masonry structure was built during the Chola dynasty in the 9th century, while later expansions are attributed to Vijayanagar rulers.
The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu. The temple is the largest and one of the most prominent tourist attractions in the city.
The Vijayanagar kings, during the 15th century also made lot of contributions to the temple.
The temple covers an area of over 23 acres (93,000 m2). Reaching a height of 59 m (194 ft), the temple’s Rajagopuram (the entrance tower to the temple) is one of the tallest in South India.
The bottom half of the gateway tower has the shrines of Vinayaka and Murugan on either sides. From the entrance, there are two halls namely Vahana Mandapam (vehicle hall) and Sarabesa Mandapam (also called Navaratri hall).
The Aayiram Kaal Mandapam, or the ‘Hallway with a thousand pillars’, which was built by the Vijayanagar Kings, is found on precinct after the gateway tower.
There is said to have been an underground holy river too in the remote past. The hall has pillars sculpted with intricate figures indicating various legends and Avataras of Lord Shiva.
The temple’s innermost precinct is decorated with an array of Shivalingams, one of which is a Sahasra Lingam with 1,008 Siva Lingams sculpted on it.
There is a separate shrine for Nataraja on the second precinct.
The Sthala-Vriksham or temple tree is believed to be a 3,500-year-old Mango tree whose branches are said to yield four different kinds of mangoes from its four branches.
Ancient saints associated with the temple :
Tirugnana Sambandar, a 7th-century Tamil Saivite poet, venerated Ekambareswarar in ten verses in Tevaram, compiled as the First Tirumurai. Saiva saints Appar and Sundarar, contemporaries of Sambandar, also venerated Ekambareswarar in 10 verses in Tevaram, compiled as the Fifth Tirumurai and Ninth Tirumurai respectively.
As the temple is revered in Tevaram, it is classified as Paadal Petra Sthalam, one of the 276 temples that find mention in the Tamil Saiva canon.
Manickavasagar, a 9th-century Tamil saint and poet too revered Ekambareswarar in his spiritual songs. Thus the temple is revered by all the four ancient renowned Saiva Nayanar saints of Tamil region.
Worships & Festivals :
The temple rituals are performed six times a day; Ushathkalam at 5:30 a.m., Kalasanthi at 8:00 a.m., Ucchikalam at 10:00 a.m., Sayarakshai at 6:00 p.m., Irandamkalam at 8:00 p.m. and Ardha Jamam at 10:00 p.m.
Each ritual comprises four steps: Abhishekam (sacred bath), Alankaram (decoration), Naivedyam (food offering) and Deepa Aradhanai (waving of lamps) for the pedestal of Ekambareswarar.
Since it is a Lingam made of sand mound, all the ablution is done only to the pedestal.
The worship is held amidst music with Nagaswaram (pipe instrument) and Tavil (percussion instrument), religious instructions in the Vedas read by priests and prostration by worshippers in front of the temple mast.
There are weekly rituals like Somavaram and Shukravaram, fortnightly rituals like Pradosham and monthly festivals like Amavasai (new moon day), Kruthigai on Krittika Nakshatram, Pournami (full moon day) and Chaturthi.
The temple celebrates dozens of festivals throughout the year. The most important of these is the Panguni (or Phalguni in Devanagari) Brahmotsavam that lasts ten days during the Tamil month of Panguni, between March and April,
The year concludes with the celebration of Kalyanotsavam (Marriage Festival), the festival that is the most popular of all the temple festivals in Kanchipuram.
On the concluding day of Kalyanotsavam (marriage festival) the marriage of Ekambareswarar is celebrated. During the day, many unmarried people get married irrespective of their caste along with the deity.
The event is witnessed by thousands of people every year.