The Kanchi Kailasanathar temple is the oldest structure in Kanchipuram. Located in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, it is a Hindu temple in the Dravidian architectural style. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is reknowned for its historical importance.
The temple was built from 685-705 AD by Narasimhavarman II, ruler of the Pallava Dynasty of south India. The low-slung sandstone compound contains a large number of carvings, including many half-animal deities which were popular during the early Pallava architectural period.
The structure contains 58 small shrines which are dedicated to various manifestations of Shiva. The temple is one of the most prominent tourist attractions of the city.
The temple is located on the banks of the Vegavathy River at the western limits of the town of Kanchipuram. It faces east. Its location, demarcated according to the religious faiths, is in one of three “Kanchis”; the Shiva Kanchi and the other two Kanchis are, Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi.
Kanjeevaram is 75 kilometres from the Metro city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu.
The Kailasanathar Temple (meaning:the ‘Lord of the Cosmic Mountain Kailasa), is built in the tradition of Smartha worship of Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya (Sun), Ganesha and Kartikeya, of Hinduism, a practice which replaced the then prevalent Buddhism.
Temple construction is credited to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram, also known as ‘Kanchi’ or ‘Shiva Vishnu Kanchi’ as their capital city, considered one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism.
In Kanchi, after the Pallavas expanded their territories to the north, west and south both within Tamil, Andhra and Kannada territories under Emperor Narasimhavarman I, they started expanding their capital city of Kanchipuram and built many temples of great magnificence. Among the two unique specimens of temple architecture of the period 640-730 AD are the Vaikunta Perumal temple and the Kailsahanathar Temple.
The temple was built during 685-705AD. It is the first structural temple built in South India by Narasimhavarman II , also known as Rajasimha Pallaveswaram. His son, Mahendravarman III, completed the front façade and the Gopuram (temple tower).
Prior temples were either built of wood or hewn into rock faces in caves or on boulders, as seen in Mahabalipuram.The Kailasanathar temple became the trend setter for other similar temples in South India. According to local beliefs, the temple was a safe sanctuary for the rulers of the kingdom during wars. A secret tunnel, built by the kings, was used as an escape route and is still visible in the temple. It is believed that Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 CE) visited the temple and drew inspiration from this temple to build the Brihadeeswara Temple of Tanjavur.
Currently, Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple is maintained by Archaeological Survey of India.
Inner court or the circumambulatory passage with 58 subshrines.
Typical design of pillar with multi-directional mythical lions.
Temple view :
The temple has retained the Pallava architecture in its original style with influence of the later styles developed by the Chola Dynasty and Vijayanagara Emperors. It is a stone built architecture unlike the rock cut architecture built into hallowed caves or carved into rock outcrops as in Mahabalipuram. The tall Gopuram (tower) is to the left and the temple complex is to the right. The temple’s foundations are made of granite, which could withstand the weight of the temple, while the superstructure, including the carvings, are all made of sandstone.
The temple complex is complete in all respects as it has Garbagriha (Sanctum Sanctorum), Antarala (inner enclosure), Mandapa, a high compound wall, and an entrance gate, the Gopuram.
Other features of the temple :
The outstanding feature of the temple are its sculptures.
Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri is the biggest festival held in the temple when thousand of devotees throng the temple in the evening hours to offer prayers to the main deity.