The Hindu sect of Shaivism has ancient, deep roots in the South, especially Tamil Nadu, home to Siddha Shaivism since ancient times. Naturally, the beautiful temples reflect this glorious heritage.
Standing tall to the majesty of temple-building is the magnificient Ekambaranathar Temple at Kanchipuram, one of the holy cities of Hinduism, 75 km away from Chennai. Built in the 5th Century AD by the Pallava kings, and then rebuilt/ expanded by the subsequent dynasties of the South such as the Cholas ,Pandyas ,Vijayanagar dynasty, and then by Adi Shankaracharya, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the Pancha Bhootha Shtalas (temples associated with the five elements of Nature), of which Ekambaranathar consecrates the Earth (Prithvi) element.
According to a legend, it is believed that Goddess Parvathi, as a penance for disturbing Lord Shiva’s tapasya (meditation), worshipped Shiva in the form of a Prithvi Lingam (or a Lingam improvised out of sand), under a mango tree. Legend has it that the neighboring Vegavathi river overflowed and threatened to engulf the Shiva Lingam and that Parvathi or Kamakshi embraced the Lingam. Shiva, touched by the gesture materialized in person and married her. In this context he is referred to as Tazhuva kuzhainthaar (“He who melted in Her embrace”) in Tamil.
A lovely romantic tale that captures the essence of Shiva and Parvathi’s legendary love for each other !
The temple is spread over 23 acres, and the South or Raja Gopuram (gateway) of the temple is 11 stories (59 mtrs) in height , thus making it a very prominent feat of architecture.One stands back in awe and considers how this feat would have been achieved hundreds of years back!! Temple architecture in Tamil Nadu is an art and a science, and continues till the present day.
As in all temples of the South, the sanctum sanatorium is dedicated to one God, in this case Lord Shiva (Ekambaranathar) , whereas there are separate shrines for Ganesha (Vinayaka), Murugan (Kartikeya), Vishnu. Interestingly, there is no separate shrine for Parvathi, and it is believed that the nearby Kamakshi Amman temple is the “consort temple” for Ekambaranathar.
I had seen this temple in 1999, and this time around, I was on the way to Tiruvannamalai, itself home to another great Shiva temple, that of Annamalaiyar (Arunachala). I arrived at 1 pm and the temple was unfortunately closed (12:30 to 3:30 pm is usually the “sleeping time” for the Gods in this part of the country!) so I contented myself with photography of the available premises and a circumambulation of the temple clockwise from outside the main boundary, in obeisance to Lord Shiva, thus catching in additionally glimpses of life in this part of the country, where temples are truly micro cities. Mendicants, priests, devotees, tourists, families, lovey dovey couples, meticulous students studying- you see them all! It is a way of life for them and deeply symbolic of the role of religion and spirituality in their lives.
And in the end, it was worth it. Shiva is in the heart for me, and we never go back from him empty handed; it only depends on what we want, and how humbly. I would definitely plan to go back in the future.
PICS: Vignettes from in and around the temple- Life inside the temple premises, intricate, Ganesha temple and Hanuman temple on the periphery, old houses, sculptures, and yes, a signage for Hindi tution classes- so you may not face a real language issue! (hopefully 🙂 )
If you are in the vicinity of Chennai/ Kanchipuram/ Mahabalipuram, you can mark this temple as a “must see”. Whether its devotion, architecture or culture that interests you, Ekambaranathar will not disappoint you.
Do ensure that you don’t land at 12:30 pm, though !Bon voyage!!
Information about Kanchipuram:
Information about Ekambaranathar Temple:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekambareswarar_Temple (Wiki got the name wrong)
Chennai to Kanchi map ( you are sure to enjoy the drive and the scenery if you look what to look for )