Kanchipuram – Art, History & Architecture (Part 3)

A talk by Dr. Chithra Madhavan on 17th January at Tattvaloka

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

vaikuNTa perumAL temple

This temple, currently being maintained by ASI, was built by Nandivarman 2nd, who was a vishNu Bhakta. It is one of the 108 divvya dEsams. Tirumangai Azhwar, who was a contemporary of Nandivarman 2nd, has sung on the deity here. The original name of this temple is paramEshwara vishNu graham, where Parameshwara happens to be Nandivarman’s name.

Like kailAsanAthar temple, this temple is also made of sandstone. The doorway to this temple has just a mottai gOpuram which belongs to Vijayanagara Architecture. The temple has 3 vertically-aligned sanctums. This temple, built around 8th century AD, happens to be the first temple to be built with vertically-aligned sanctums. Similar temples were later built in Uthiramerur, Thirukoshtiyur, Madurai, etc. There is a rear door with stairs for ascent & descent. The ground floor has the sanctum of vaikuNTa perumAL, the first floor has that of ranganAtha and the second floor has that of vishNu in a standing pose. There are no steps now for the second floor. The tAyAr of this temple is vaikuNTavati tAyAr.

There is a raised pillar verandah, with the pillars having sculptures of lions. The entire history of Pallava dynasty starting from Lord Vishnu, whom the Pallavas considered themselves to be the descendants of, till the period of King Nandivarma Pallavamalla, has been depicted in the sculptures on the walls. It includes their defeats too. Dr. Meenakshi, the archaeologist, has written a book after studying the sculptures and inscriptions here.

Some of the sculptures found on the back walls are that of:

  • A king, wearing a double-chested coat, seated during his coronation. (Their coronation was the only time when the kings wore a double-chested coat.)
  • Lord Vishnu with His devotee
  • varAha with His devotee
  • varAha mUrti rescuing Goddess Lakshmi
  • Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese, who came to Nalanda in 8 AD to study Buddhism. He is said to have lived in Kanchi for 3 yrs and learnt Buddhism there. Hiuen Tsang has written in his works that there were 100 monasteries in Kanchi and about 10,000 monks lived there!

Kanchi was such a great centre of Buddhism learning that Dharmapala, a Buddhist, went from Kanchi to Nalanda and became a vice-chancellor there.

EkAmranAtar temple

Having a 55 m high Vijayanagara gopura built by King Krishnadevaraya, this temple is the nucleus of Pallava period. nAyanArs including Appar and Gnanasambandar have sung in this temple.

According to the stala purANam of this temple, Parvati, on being separated from Shiva, was doing tapa under a mango tree with a Siva linga made of sand kept below it. When river Vegavati was about to wash away the linga, Parvati hugged the linga and stopped it from getting washed away. The marks of Parvati’s bangles and bracelets can be seen on the linga even today! Since the linga is made of sand, no abhishekam is performed for it.

Some of the photos which were shown are that of:

  • A beautiful door stopper
  • Pillared–manTapa. The pillars with pushpa-podigai/flower corbels in this manTapa are typical of Vijayanagar architecture.
  • Sacred mango tree which bears 4 different types of mangoes
  • Corridors with lots of sculptures
  • vAhanAs

Photos of some of the sculptures which were shown are:

  • Parvati doing tapa – This is found on a pillar
  • Manmada, having sugarcane bow, on Nandi (appears like Rama and Hanuman on first look)
  • Durga
  • Lion
  • Vishnu, having Shankachakra, playing drum.
  • Nandi with drum
  • Shiva in Urdhva tANdava
  • Shiva as gajasamhAra mUrti wearing a robe made of elephant hide
  • Some sculpture damaged during some renovation 🙁
  • Goddess Ganga & Yamuna with creepers going up from their hands. These are found on the side walls below the Vijayanagar gOpura. This type of sculptures, which is found in all Vijayanagar temples, symbolizes washing our feet in the holy water of Ganga and Yamuna before entering the temple besides signifying prosperity which is represented by water and temples.

kAmAkshi temple

Kanchi kAmAkshi amman temple is not an architectural marvel like others.

kumarakOttam murugan temple

It can be seen from an aerial view that kAmAkshi and EkAmranAtar temples and this temple of Muruga lie on straight line, with this temple in between Kamakshi and EkAmranAtar temples, thereby signifying sOmaskanda!

varadarAja perumAL temple

This is a west-facing temple. It has a small gOpura dating back to the Chola period in 1st Century AD. The gOpura having a 7 m base is 50 m high and is a 7-storeyed one. There is an inner gOpura as well. This temple has 5 prAkArAs. The 9-storeyed eastern gOpura, which is now closed, is a Vijayanagar one. It must have been mostly built by King Krishnadevaraya.

There is a Vijaynagar kalyANa manTapa having more than 500 sculptures! Some of the sculptures in the manTapa are:

  • A chain hanging made of single stone
  • Steps leading to the manTapa
  • Prancing horses with soldiers on top – This is a typical Vijayanagar sculpture.
  • A sword piercing out made of a single piece of granite.

(The source of granite to Kanchipuram was from a place called Pazhaiya Seevaram near Kanchi)

  • Vishnu sitting on snake Adisesha
  • Vishnu as varadarAja having abhayahasta, shankchakra, etc. – The legend goes that varadarAja came out of ashes burnt by Brahma.
  • Sculptures of all avatArs of Vishnu except Kalki and Buddha. It was only during Vijayangar period that the dasAvatArams of Vishnu, especially, matsya & kUrma, became well-known. Sculptures from rAmAvatAra include that of Dasharata with his 3 wives.
  • veera Anjaneya – It was only from Vijayanagar period that the veera Anjaneya form of hanumAn which signifies bravery started gaining prominence. Veera Anjaneya’s tail is above His head and He has a lotus on one hand. Vyasaraya, a Madhwa, had built around 732 temples for hanumAn during Krishnadevaraya’s reign. Nalattoor, which is near Thiruttani, has a veera Anjaneya too.
  • vENugOpAla
  • Tirukachinambi having a fan. He was a devotee of varadarAja and was associated only with this temple.

Some other photos which were shown:

  • The main platform in this temple is in the form of a tortoise.
  • The temple tank. Beneath the tank of this temple, there is a chamber where an idol of Adivaradar, the original varadarAja, is kept.
  • Shrine of dhanvantri
  • Sculptures of a boar (varAha) with dagger and sun and moon – the royal crest of Vijayanagar, is there near the shrine of tAyAr. You can see it if you go through the second gOpura and turn right.
  • 17th century Vijayanagar paintings on the inner walls of prAkArA surrounding main sanctum. These are now in bad condition.
  • Inscriptions – There are more than 300 inscriptions in Tamil as well as Sanskrit in granta script. The inscriptions have details about the names of the king, donations and dates among other things.
  • rata made of iluppai wood. It most probably belongs to Vijayanagar and it has all the incarnations of Vishnu including the dikpAlAs

pavazhavaNNa perumAL temple

This is one of the 108 divya desams. This temple has a tank in bad condition.

ulagaLanda perumAL temple

This is a pre-Pallava temple where the main idol is made of stucco and not stone. The main idol is more than 35 feet tall!

pANDavadoota perumAL temple

The main idol of this temple is more than 25 feet tall!

yatOktakAri perumAL temple

This is a pre-Pallava temple. The main perumAL idol here is in a reclining position but unlike how it is usually, the head of perumAL is on the other side. The legend goes that Tirumazhisai Azhwar’s student Kanikannan  who sang only on Lord Vishnu, refused to sing on the King when he was asked to. So the king banished him from his kingdom. Tirumazhisai Azhwar then asked perumAL to accompany him to meet the king. While coming back after meeting the king, perumAL turned to the other side while lying down again! The main idol has ashTabhuja.

jwaraharEshwarar temple

This is a Chola temple and has a round sanctum which is typically a Chola architectural style. The windows are made of one piece of stone.

A trivia: The Pallava king Mahendravarman converted back to Hindu from being a Jain by Appar.

vardhamAna mahAveera temple

This temple has been in worship at least from 7 AD since an inscription says that some Pallava king gave lands for Vardhamana Mahaveera. Inscriptions also say that many Jains were living there including their leader Vajranandi.

Chandraprabha temple

There are many paintings on Jain temples which are now being protected and maintained by ASI.

Points covered during the Q&A session at the end of the talk:

  • No information about Adi Shankara was found from epigraphy here. Not sure but there might be two sculptures
  • Buddhism later integrated to Hinduism since there was no active patronage by Kings.
  • Jainism exists on the outskirts of Kanchi even today
  • Only the toNDaimaNDalam Chola temples have gaja prshta/chaapa (fully-drawn bow) vimAnam.

15 thoughts on “Kanchipuram – Art, History & Architecture (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: Aparna’s Blog » Kanchipuram – Art, History & Architecture (Part 1)

  2. Adi

    Brilliant post . I don’t know if you have written about this, but almost all ( I was told) temples ( including Varadar) in Kanchipuram face towards the direction of Kamakshiamman temple, since it is the center of the Shakthi of the city. I also verified this in wikimapia. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Indian History Carnival - 17 | DesiPundit

  4. vj

    would be interested to know more about this

    “This is a pre-Pallava temple where the main idol is made of stucco and not stone. The main idol is more than 35 feet tall!”


  5. Raju

    I want detaile history of Vishnu sitting on snake Adisesha situated at kanchipuram. As i am born in purvabhadra nakshatasra and wish to perform pooja for good prosperity. I am not aware were it is situated and what timings i should reach. and how many days leave i should awail to complete this tour


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