Kämäkñé Temple, Kanchipuram
Period & Builders of Kanchi
The town of Kanchi was the capital of the ancient Pallavas. The golden city of Kanchipuram is one of the seven sacred places of India. Ancient Kanchi was an important place of pilgrimage for the Hindus as well as the Buddhists and the Jains. The city is sacred for both Çaivites and Vaiñëvites. Kanchi stood next to Varanasi as a centre of learning. The great poet Kalidasa described it as the best amongst cities Nagareñu Kanchi. The Tamil classics, Maëimekalai and Perumpanattu Padai vividly describe the city as it was 2000 years ago.
The city located on the banks of river Vegavati, was the capital of the early Cholas, and later of the Pallavas between 6th and 8th centuries. More than any dynasties, it was the Pallavas with which this place is best identified. If the Pallavas could be described as the builders of Kanchi’s temples, it was Vijayanagara Kings who restored them to their former glory, besides building new ones.
The Kanchi temples represent the first phase in the art of temple-building, which was followed and improved upon by the Cholas and the Vijayanagara monarchs.
The Kämäkñé Amman Temple at Kanchipuram is one of the three important Çakti Piöhams, the other two being Çré Ménäkñé of Madurai and Çré Viçäläkñé of Käçi. The Tamil saying Kanchi Kämäkñé, Madurai Ménäkñé and Käçi Viçäläkñé illustrates the importance of Çakti worship. Incidentally, Kämäkñé being the principal Goddess in Kanchipuram, the Çiva temples here have no separate sanctum for Çakti.
The Temple covers an area of about five acres, and the sanctum is crowned with gold-plated vimänam facing the Gäyatré Maëòapam. The beautiful image of Devé Kämäkñé is in a padmäsana posture in the sanctum, holding a bow of sugarcane and arrows of flowers, and is referred to as the Parabrahma Swarüpiëé, seated with Brahmä, Viñëu, and Rudra. She is also referred to as Räjaräjeswari, Mahä-Tripurasundari, and Lalitä Kämeçwari. A Çré Chakram has been installed in front of the image by Ädi Çaìkaräcärya and worship is offered to it.
The present structure was built in the 12th century by the Cholas. The layout of the Temple is rather complicated.
The outer prakäram houses several maëòapams including the hundred-pillared hall, the dhvajäroha-maëòapam etc. One enters the four-pillared hall, and then the inner prakäram, climbs a flight of steps, and reaches the sanctum enshrining Çré Kämäkñé. There is always a long queue to have darçan. Immediately surrounding the sanctum are small shrines to Ardhanäriçwara, Saundaryalakñmi, Kallar (who has been mentioned in the hymns of Tirumangaialwar) and Varähi. The sanctum enshrining Amman is surrounded by smaller shrines enshrining Baìgäru Kämäkñé, Mahä Saraswaté, Ädi Çaìkaräcärya and Sage Durväsä, a Devé Upäsaka.
Imposing views of the golden vimänam can be had from the outer prakäram, which is pierced with four entrances on all four sides. Images of Viñëu are seen near the temple tank.
It is believed that Kämäkñé was originally Ugra Swarüpiëé, and that Ädi Çaìkaräcärya upon establishing the Sri Chakra, personified her as the Çänta Swarüpiëé. It is believed that during the days of Ädi Çaìkara, the presence of the Ugra Swarüpiëé was felt outside the temple precincts, and that Çaìkaräcärya had requested her not to leave the temple complex. Symbolic of this, the utsava (festive) image of Kämäkñé, symbolically takes leave from Çaìkaräcärya, at his shrine in the inner prakäram, each time she is taken out in procession.
LegendLegend has it that Kämäkñé offered worship to a Çivaliìga made out of sand under a mango tree and gained Çiva’s hand in marriage.