Awe-inspiring Kailasanathar temple, Kanchipuram,TN - dedicated to God Shiva

Kanchi Kailasanathar temple, TN
Temples of India occupy  a unique place in the country. They are the torch-bearers of our culture and tradition. They are the sites of  our age-old arts, dance  and spiritual moorings. In the state of Tamil Nadu every place is doted with some kind of temple invariably an old one. According to a Tamil  adage: ''Do not ever live in a place where there is no temple''- (Kovil illatha ooril kudierrukka. vendam''). Tamil Nadu has the largest number of ancient Hindu temples dedicated  both to Shiva and Vishnu, besides Goddess who goes by different names like Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, etc.

The Kanchi Kailasanathar temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, has the distinction of being the oldest structure in Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu) which is close to  Chennai, just 75 miles. Built from 685-705 AD by  Rajasimha ruler of the Pallava Dynasty in  the  Dravidian temple architectural style, it is a popular temple. The name  Kailasanathar Temple  implies “Lord of the Kailash  Mountain”) and the credit goes  to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram (also known as “Kanchi” or “Shiva-Vishnu Kanchi”) as the capital city. Like Kumbakonam temple city, TN, this city is one of the sacred places for the Hindus. Pallavas, once they established their rule began to expand the city and started building many  artistically designed fine temples.  Maha Shivaratri is the major festival held in this  temple when thousand of devotees visit  the temple in the evening hours to offer prayers to the main deity.
Kanchi Kailasanathar temple, TN
Narasimhavarman II ( also known as Rajasimha Pallaveswara) built the earliest structure here. It was his son  Mahendravarman III completed the front part and the gopuram (tower).  Earlier temples were built using either  wood or wood hewn into rock faces in the caves.  It is said that this temple acted as a safe haven  for the rulers of the kingdom during wars or any other emergency. Underground  secret tunnel, built by the kings, was used as an escape route and is still visible  to day. Raja Raja Chola  985-1014 CE, on a visit to this temple, was very much impressed by the architecture,  unique design  and the beautiful stone sculptures.  It was this visit that gave him  inspiration and desire to build a big temple made of only hard stone and dedicate it to God Shiva as he happened to be a true devotee of God Shiva. Like the underground tunnel at the Kanchi temple, there is also a tunnel connecting the Big temple at Thanjavur  and outside. It used to be an escape route for the rulers in case of emergency. On the outer wall of this temple at Thanjavur, you can see provisions for mounting  big canons in case of war. 

The low lying  sandstone compound has a large number of beautiful carvings, including many half-animal deities which were popular during the early Dravidian architectural period. The complex has 58 small shrines, all dedicated to various forms of  God Shiva. These are set  into niches on the inner face of the high compound wall of the  Prakara path way.   Facing east, the temple is  on the banks of the Vegavathy River at the western limits of the Kanchipuram. The city has three parts and this temple is in Shiva Kanchi. The other parts being Vishnu  Kanchi and Jain Kanchi.  The other famous Hindu temples are  Ekambaranatha, Kachapeshwarar, Kamakshi Amman, Kumarakottam Temple, and Varadaraja Perumal.
Tradition followed here at this temple is based on Smartha worship: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya (Sun), Ganesha and Kartikeya (Subramaniam or Murugan have separate shrines. 
Kanchi Kailasanathar temple, TN
Tiru Parameswara Vinnagaram, which is also known as the Vaikunta Perumal temple and the Kailsahanathar Temple stand as true specimens of temple architecture of the period 640-730 AD. One can see the retention of Pallava architecture with influences of Dravidian and Vijayanagara styles. As in other temples, you find the same temple design. The temple complex has all parts - garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum), antarala (inner enclosure), mandapa (hall), a high compound wall, and an entrance gate, the gopuram.  The foundation is made of granite to bear the weight of towers- gopurams with many tiers. The Vimana above the main shrine has  a square plan and rises up as pyramid.  The mandapa was a detached one initially, later was made part of the main shrine by interposing an ardhamantapa (smaller hall). The ornate pillars of the mandapa  have the repetitive features of mythical lion mounts.

The main shrine has a 16 sided Shivalinga in black granite stone deified in the Srikovil/sanctum  and the pedestal, within the walls of the shrine, has many beautifully carved images, including sculpted Nandi (bull), supposedly guarding the main deity.

On  the south facing wall you can see the sculpture of Shiva as Umamaheshavara (Shiva with his consort Parvati), Lingodbhava (emergence of Shiva as fiery pillar - linga) surrounded by Brahma and Vishnu and flying amaras on the lower level. On the west facing hall  there are sculptures of Shiva in the form of Sandhya Tandavamurti and Urdhava Tandvamurti. The ensemble is complete with images of ganas in dancing poses and also with images of Brahma, Vishnu, Nandi and Parvati. On the north facing wall Shiva is  Tripurantaka flanked by three ganas, goddess Durga with three ganas, and goddesses Bhairavi, Kaushiki and Jyestha.  Aspects of Shiva - Bhikshatana, Somaskanda and in Samhara-Tandava (destructive dancing) pose adorn the exterior faces of the tower - vimana. 
Kailasanathar temple, Kanchi A sculpture in one of the niches of the 58
In the inner prathakshana path you can see a galaxy of various deities. Notable are  images of Durga, Kartikeya, Bhavati, Tripurantaka, Garudarudha-Vishnu, Asura Samhara (slaying of demons), Narasimha (Vishnu's avatar), Trivikrama (another Vishnu's avatar), Shiva Tandava (Shiva in a dancing pose), Shiva severing the fifth head of Brahma, desecration of Yagna of Daksha, Brahma and his wife, Gangadhara, Urdhava tandava, Vishnu flanked by Bhudevi and Sridevi, Lingodbhava, Bhikshatana, Ravana, and Vali offering prayers to Atmalinga Chandikeshvara. The image of Ardhanariswara sitting on a bull is exquisitely carved. 
 Kailasanathar temple, Kanchi. pillar with  mythical
Kailasanathar temple, Kanch.Sculpture of Goddess Durga. wikipedia
Doing prathakshanam (going round the temple clock-wise) is a must for the devotees visiting Hindu temples. At this temple, it has spiritual connotations and it is important to do it. Those who complete it, it is said, will be free from rebirth. Various stages in the Prathakshna path are akin to going through different stages in life. Here, the exit gate is called Birth gate (Pirappu Vaail). The entry point to the Prathakshna path is called Death Gate (Erraupu Vaail).  During completion of  Prathakshana (circumambulation) - crawling and coming out of the small passage  suggests your coming out of mother's womb, implying  Hindu's belief of rebirth.Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple is maintained by Archaeological Survey of India.

This temple is a phtograher's paradise. It is a big, historical Hindu temple worth visiting and you will not be disappointed.