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Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai Overview

Kapaleeshwarar temple is a holy shrine of Shiva in Mylapore, Chennai. Originally built by the mighty Pallavas, Portuguese explorers destroyed the temple and rebuilt it in around the 16th century once again by the Vijayanagar kings. A visit to this temple will be an experience enriched with a glimpse into Tamil religious culture and the lovely architectural combination of the two styles - Dravidian and Vijaynagari, complete with towering Gopurams. There is also a sacred tank on the western side.

As expected, the temple has quite a few legends about it, which are till date upheld by the authorities in the form of sculptures and inscriptions. In fact, to commemorate the myth of Goddess Parvati worshipping Shiva at this place as a fowl, there is a couple of peahen and peacock kept as a pet inside the temple premises. The regal temple also remembers the Tamil Shaivite saint poets Nayaars and has shrines for each one of them. All the 63 idols of the poets are paid due respect in the Brahmotsav festival that takes place every year somewhere between mid-March to mid-April.

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Legend of Kapaleeswarar Temple

The spot where the temple stands have numerous myths and legends told about it. One of the most popular ones is the penance of Shiva's consort Goddess Parvati. It is said that she turned into a peahen because of a curse and came down here to pray to the Lord to get back her form.

Another legend is related to the etymology of the temple's name. The word 'kapalam' means head and 'eeswara' means the Lord or Lord Shiva in this case. This name has its roots in the story of Lord Shiva and Brahma, where the two gods met at Kailash Mountain. Brahma did not show due respect to Shiva, and out of rage, Shiva removed one of his four heads and took away his power to create life. To please Shiva, Brahma came down to this place, established a Shivalinga and worshipped him.

History of Kapaleeswarar Temple

Like many other temples which date back to the old times, the origin of the Kapaleeswarar Temple cannot be stated with conviction. However, scholarly studies are of the statement that it was originally built in 7th century CE by the Pallavas who were ruling over south India at that point. The temple is mentioned in the Saiva canonical stories Tevaram written by the Shaivite saints Nayanars of the same century.

In those tales, the temple is said to have been situated along the seashore of Mylapore, but the current structure now stands a good 1-1.5 kilometre inland. This discrepancy gave birth to the idea that the original temple which was built by the Pallavas was actually near the coast. However, when the Portuguese landed here, they demolished the temple, and from the remains of the ruins of the ancient structure, the current one was constructed by the Vijayanagar kings. The Tuluva Dynasty rebuilt the Kapaleeswarar temple sometime in the 16th century.

Architecture of Kapaleeswarar Temple

The Kapaleeshwarar temple was originally built in authentic Dravidian style, but later Vijaynagari style was mixed with it when it was relocated. Inside the premises, there are some shrines, but the main temples belong to Kapaleeswarar form of Lord Shiva, represented by a Shivalinga and Goddess Parvati who is called Karpagambal here, meaning the Goddess of the Wish-Yielding Tree. The story of the legend of Parvati worshipping Shiva as a peahen is represented in a stone carving in a small shrine under a Punnai tree or Sthala Vriksha in the courtyard.

There are also inscriptions dating back to the 12th century inside the temple, thus proving right the fact that this temple was indeed formed with parts of the older one. It has two colossal gates with stucco figures all-over it, called Gopurams. These gates are typical to any south Indian temple. On the eastern side, the gate is 120 feet or 40 metres high and looms over the street where it stands. The western Gopuram is smaller in size, but it faces the sacred tank. Do not miss the pet peacock and peahen kept in a cage in the temple premise, as a tribute to the legend of Parvati worshipping her consort in the form of a peahen.

Kapaleeswarar Temple Festival

The biggest and most revered festival of the temple is the annual Brahmotsavam, which takes place in the Tamil month of Panguni. The nine-day long spring festival starts with flag hoisting or Dwajarohanam, then the chariot procession of the deities or the therotsavam, followed by Arupathimoovar on the eighth day, and finally concluded by Tirukkalyanam or the marriage between Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal.

The chariot procession involves the idols of Shiva and Parvati being adorned in new clothes and jewellery and are taken on a different vahana each day around the sacred tank near the western Gopuram. The most important event is Arupathimoovar on the eighth day. This day is a tribute to the 63 Nayanar saints, who dedicated their lives towards telling the stories of Lord Shiva and spreading them among the pass. On this day, idols of all the 63 saints follow the chariot of Lord Shiva and Parvati around the tank. If you visit the temple on this day, you will find a huge crowd in there, and many of them waiting their turn to touch the chariot and pull it for blessings.

How To Reach Kapaleeswarar Temple

Mylapore is one of the busiest areas of Chennai and is thus very well connected from all other areas of the city. You can take a bus or a train to Mylapore if you are comfortable with public transport. Otherwise, hire a cab or a car to take you to the location. The temple is only 6.4 km away from Chennai railway station. You can take a mode of transport from there as well.

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