A wonderful and unique specimen of South Indian architecture, the Kailashnath Temple is located in Kanchipuram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is one of the oldest historical temples here. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is built in Dravidian style.
History of Kailashnath Temple
The Kailashnath temple was built in the 8th century and belongs to the Pallava dynasty, a prosperous dynasty of South India. The carvings and sculptures made in this temple are also unique in themselves which reflect the rich and illustrious history of the South Indian Pallava dynasty.
While Mamallapuram was part of the Pallavas, Kanchipuram was their capital. A city with a skyline surrounded by gopurams. It is one of the holiest cities in the South. It is one of the Saptapuris, the only one of the seven holy shrines south of the Vindhyas, and is considered the ‘Kashi of the South. Starting with the Pallavas, most of the important dynasties-built temples here so that today Kanchipuram is known as the ‘Golden City of Temples’. The city is dedicated to both Shiva and Vishnu and the two localities here are named Shiva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi.
Mythological Story of Kailashnath Temple
The name of the city comes from two words ‘Ka’, Brahma, and ‘Aanchi’ to worship as it is said that Brahma worshiped Vishnu here. It all started when Saraswati asked her husband Brahma who was the greatest goddess, Lakshmi or She, and Brahma was not good enough to choose the latter. So once again, like Pushkar, Brahma faced the wrath of his wife, who refused to sit beside him during the Yagya ceremonies.
When Brahma decided to perform the Yagya alone at Kanchi, a furious Saraswati transformed herself into the fast-flowing Vegvati River and rushed to extinguish the fire of the Yagya. A helpless Brahma called Vishnu for help who lay down on the way to stop the flow of the river. But the war continued between the warring couple and Saraswati first sent the demons and then tried to set everything on fire and each time Vishnu had to come to the rescue. In gratitude, Brahma worshiped Vishnu at Kanchi.
Significance of Kailashnath Temple
Standing on the banks of the river Vegvati, Kanchi has always been a center of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu scholarship, attracting some great minds to its monasteries and ashrams. The famous commentator Dharmapala and saint Ramanujacharya lived here, Sri Chaitanya visited the city, and four Vaishnava Alvar saints were born near Kanchi. In addition, one of his monasteries, the Kanchi Kamakoti Peeth, now located in Kumbakonam, established here by the great philosopher-saint Shankaracharya. And like most temples, Kanchi is also an important commercial center. The famous Kanchipuram silk, once woven for the devadasis in temples, is now a major industry.
The oldest and most beautiful temple in Kanchipuram is the Kailasanatha Temple, which originally named the Rajasingheswara Temple. It built in the 7th century by the Pallava king Rajasimha, who also built the Coast temple at Mamallapuram. It built at the request of his queen and dedicated to Shiva as the Lord of Mount Kailash. Shiva’s home seen as a mountain where he surrounded by his family, other gods, celestial beings, and mythical animals. The temple is one of the finest examples of Pallava architecture. All the sculptural elements like massive lion pillars and deities seen here under the outer walls.
An interesting historical touch is the inscriptions listing the 250 royal titles of Rajasimha and the bas-relief panels running along the corridor that depict the main episodes of his life. They trace the history of the Pallavas to Vishnu himself and also show that the Pallava kings won in battle against their greatest enemies, the Chalukya kings of Vatapi. The story has an interesting postscript. Later, the Chalukya king Vikramaditya II invaded Kanchi and vowed to level every building in the city to avenge the destruction of his capital, Vatapi. But when they saw the Kailasanatha temple they succumbed to its majestic power, and “a mighty conqueror conquered from the building”.
The architecture of Kailashnath Temple
The deity in the sanctum sanctorum is a 16-faced, black stone lingam more than two meters high. Among the most beautiful sculptures are depictions of many divine personalities of Shiva. Shiva depicted as Dakshinamurthy, the merciful teacher, and Yogeshwar, the handsome young ascetic, as Gangadhar, holding a river in his hair, and as Kirat, battling Arjuna. There are 58 such depictions of many moods and forms of this charming god. There are remains of paintings on the inner walls and ceilings.
The temple housed within an enclosure, consisting of smaller shrines with domes against the inner wall. The pavilion was initially a separate hall but joined to the vimana by a gap added later. The aircraft has a four-tiered spire with a wagon-shaped roof over it.
All the elements typical of Dravidian temple architecture the pyramidal spire, and the monastery along the inner wall of the enclosure, the gopuram above the entrance, the carving of the main deity at the bottom on the outer wall of the vimana – seen here. Many of them like vimanas and gopurams would become more exaggerated and ornate with time. Wall of the enclosure, the gopuram towering over the entrance, and the carvings of the main deity in niches on the outer wall of the vimana – seen here. Many of them like the vimana and the gopuram would get more exaggerated and ornamental with time.
In Kailasanath the architects built the plinth in granite but the main structure in sandstone and soft stone gave them greater ease of carving. The temple completed by Rajasimha’s son Mahendravarman and he added a temple at the entrance, while some smaller temples near the entrance are gifts from the queens. Kailasanatha’s design and sculpture lack the luster and opulence of later temples but have a primitive charm in the rough carvings on its age-dark walls, the mighty lion, and the numerous images of Shiva. The clean lines of the vimana and the gopuram make this temple one of the most attractive in Kanchipuram.
Festival at Kailashnath Temple
The festival of Mahashivratri is celebrated with great pomp in the Kailashnath temple. Thousands of devotees and tourists visit the temple on this day every year to take part in this festival. On this day, a grand puja is organized in the temple in the evening.
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