Ekambareswarar Temple, Must See Kanchipuram Temple
Ekambareswarar Temple is the second temple I visited after the Kanchi Kamakshi temple. After all, you can not visit miss visiting the lord of the land even if the lady rules it. Ekambareswarar or Ekambaranathar temple is one of the biggest Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu, definitely one of the largest in Kanchipuram with one of the tallest Gopurams and a thousand pillar hall.
I first visited the Ekambreswarar temple in the morning. The auto driver dropped me near a pillared hall that was still closed. It must have been open in good old days but now it is enclosed in iron walls and opens during the day. I would later come and see the Hanuman pillar inside being worshipped like a temple. It made me wonder if this is how our ancestors worshipped all the images that we see engraved on the pillars or walls of our ancient temples.
Moving on I passed by another four pillared pavilion the base of which is now a shop that sells cool drinks. It makes a perfect front-drop for the tall southern gopuram of the Ekambareswarar Temple in Kancheepuram. I stopped to admire the Gopuram in pale yellow color.
The bottom 2 of the 11 stories of Gopuram are grey. 11 Kalash or filled pots in metal sit on top of the Gopuram – a symbol of prosperity and auspiciousness. Bang in the middle of this 57-meter tall Gopuram is an image of Parvati embracing the Shivalinga. This is the defining image of this temple. I see a modern diorama of the same image as I enter the temple through the Gopuram on my left. It is like the story introducing herself before you enter the temple.
Ekambareswarar Temple Kanchipuram
Once inside the temple premises, the temple reveals its layout. The best parts of the temple are still hidden inside its strong stone walls. I saw a tall corridor resting on beautifully carved stones in the shades of dark grey. The double pillars have figures of horses and other animals in motion as if they are the army waiting for the king’s command. The floor had Kolams or the floral patterns as if welcoming and leading you inside the temple.
I looked inside the temple and all I could see was an even longer corridor leading to the sanctum. The distance gave me an idea of how big the temple is.
In the middle stood a tall Dhwajastambha or the flagstaff on a beautifully carved stone base. Next to it is a Prasad shop and on the wall is a lovely image of Shiva that is decorated and worshipped. Across the corridor is a big tank as is common in all ancient temples across India.
At the far end of the corridor, in the straight line of the sanctum is a small Nandi Mandap with a Nandi in white inside looking at the Shiva.
The temple shikar stood tall like the Mount Kailash that it represents topped with 7 Kalash.
I entered the temple through its main door, and soon as I stepped in, I saw myself surrounded by long pillared corridors on either side. The mighty carved pillars created a kind of canopy. The giantness of my surroundings made me tiny, probably that was the intent of building big houses for Gods. You need to understand that you are but a speck in the universe.
At the corner of the next door is another lifesize depiction of the Parvati embracing the Shivalinga. Here she has her human form. A tree trunk wears a silver cover that again has the same scene engraved on it.
Ekambareswarar Temple Lingam
The main door leading to the sanctum is surrounded by metal lamps or Diyas. You can put oil in them and light them up. In the evening when all these are lit, the temple takes you back in time when it must have been lit only with oil lamps.
After crossing a few doors, I reached close to the sanctum. Here you can pay a nominal 5 Rs and be in a special queue or go around and join the normal queue. The queues are not really different, one queue up to the right of deity and the other to the left. Both the times I visited, there was not much difference in the lengths of the queue. Having said that, there may be a difference during the festival days or on Mondays.
The conical shaped Ekambreswara Temple lingam is big and behind it is an image of Shiva with Parvati & Karthik as Somaskanda. First time I went, I said my prayers and came out to see the temple in as much detail as possible. The second time I visited in the evening and attended the elaborate aarti and it was one of the best moments I had in Kanchipuram.
Pillared corridors around Ekambarnathar Temple
I came out of the sanctum to go around the temple and I walked through the huge corridors. The pillars on high platforms on both sides looked like brackets framing me and the other devotees.
Some of the pillars were punctuated with Palkis or palanquins that are used by temple when the deities are taken out for a round. These added color to the otherwise grey interiors, although the floor and the ceilings are painted. One such palanquin is in the form of Sheshnag.
On the left-hand side or the outer periphery of these corridors are the 1008 Shivalingas. One of these Shivalingas is made of 1008 smaller Shivalingas that look like they are pasted on the big one. There are murtis of the 63 Nayanmars or Tamil Shaivite poets dressed in white vestis.
All around the carvings on pillars was something that I could get lost in. At one place I saw bamboo roads hanging between two pillars. It looks the temple could be divided into small cubicles if need be by simply putting rods and curtains. Was that one of the purposes of such big pillared halls?
Other Temples in Ekambareswarar Temple Complex
Kali Amman Temple
This is a small temple that you see on your right as you start your parikrama or the circumambulation of the temple. The image of Kalli Amman with 8 arms has golden walls all around her. The peculiar feature of this image is the Ganga at the head of the Devi image.
Utsav Murti Temple
In one corner, I found a small temple with beautiful images of Uma Mahesh decked up in all finery surrounded by a huge halo. The priest was livingly doing their Shringar or decorating them. He told me that these are Utsab Murtis and they are the ones that go around in the palanquins I saw before on the festive days.
Ekambareswarar Temple Mango Tree
The corridors turn around and lead to a courtyard that houses the ancient Mango tree which is supposed to be at least 3500 years old. The four branches of the tree give 4 different varieties of Mangoes. People interpret this as a representation of the 4 Vedas. The tree is referred to as Sthala Vriksh.
There is a Shiva temple attached to the tree both of which are on a platform in the middle of the courtyard. I sat here for some time and wondered if this is the original place where Parvati worshipped Shiva.
Close to the Mango tree temple, a large stone had a Sri Yantra carved on it. The Kumkum and flowers on it told me that it is regularly worshipped. Next to it is a temple with a green door was closed and due to boards in Tamil, I could not make out whose temple is it.
This is a small temple in one corner with a 1008 Lingas made on a larger Linga. I so wanted to take a picture of this unique linga but the pujari shooed me away.
As you are heading back towards the entrance to the sanctum you see a room on the left. This houses one of the most beautiful Nataraja. This temple made me think of all those Natarajas that are sold across the world, that was once meant to be worshipped like this one.
Next to the Nataraja temple is another small temple with lovely Utsav murtis.
Towards the end of the Parikrama and very close to the sanctum is a small temple dedicated to Mahavishnu. It is one of the 108 Divya Desams of Vishnu. I stood in the queue and took blessings as the priest put the silver bell-shaped chhatri on my head.
As I mentioned in Kanchi Kamakshi post as well, there is a separate shrine for Parvati in any of the Shiva temples in Kanchi. She lives as Kamakshi – the presiding deity of Kanchipuram.
I came out of the temple, back to the corridor where I had started my exploration of Ekambareswarar temple. I suddenly realized how cool and dark it was inside the temple. After my eyes adjusted back to the light, I walked around, looked at the temple tank. I went around to see the other Gopurams that are not as tall as the one I came from but are no less in beauty.
Some painted pillars gave me a glimpse of how the art of sculpture and art of painting came together in ancient temples.
Legends of Ekambreswarar Temple
Ekambareswarar temple, a Shiva temple has a story of Shiva and Parvati associated with it. There are two main legends but both of them are about Parvati doing Sadhna to get Shiva.
The first legend says that during a banter between Shiva and Parvati, Shiva made Parvati ‘Kali’, which she did not appreciate. She sat on the banks of River Vegavathi that flows close to Kanchipuram and prayed to a Linga she created with river sand under a Mango tree. Shiva with an intent to test her spitfire on the tree. Parvati took help of Vishnu and he, in turn, used the moon on Shiva’s head to cool the heat generated. Shiva then asked Ganga to increase her flow and frighten Parvati. However, Parvati told Ganga that they are sisters and pacified her. Thus pleased, Shiva came down and the two merged here.
The second legend says that Parvati prayed to the linga made of sand on the banks of the Vegavati river under a mango tree. Shiva to test her devotion, increased the flow of the river in a way that Lingas would wash away. Parvati however, embraced the linga and saved it. Pleased, Shiva came down and the two got married. Their marriage is still celebrated in temples of Kanchipuram during the Phalgun month that roughly falls during Mar-Apr. In this story, Parvati is also referred to as Kamakshi.
So, now you know the story behind the image of Parvati embracing the Linga of Sand. The mango tree is also very important as it is the tree that gives this temple its name. Ekambar means one mango tree and Ekambarnath means the lord of one mango tree.
History of Ekambareswarar Temple
As per Indian beliefs, this temple has existed since ages. In the recorded history it goes back to 7th CE when an older temple existed here. The structure that we see today goes back to Pallava times in Kanchipuram. The temple also has contributions of later rulers like Cholas and Vijayanagara empire. You can see their impact on the architectural details of the temple.
Hallway with 1000 pillars was built during Vijayanagara times.
Temple spreads across 25 acres, it is more or less the same size as the largest Vishu Temple in Kanchipuram – Varadaraja Perumal Temple. However, the in terms of temple size Ekambareswarar Temple is far bigger.
All the four Shaivite saints Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar, and Manickavasagar have sung the glory of this temple.
Ekambareswarar Temple – A Panchabhoota Temple
There are 5 major Shiva Temples in Tamil Nadu and they represent 5 elements of nature – Earth, Fire, Sky, Water, and Air.
Ekambaranathar Temple in Kanchipuram represents the Earth element. In fact, this also compliments the fact that the linga here is made of earth. In fact, the Abhishek or the offering of water to the Shivalinga is done here by putting it on the Yoni or the pedestal. The linga is still made of earth and would melt away with water.
The linga at Ekambareswarar temple is also conical in shape, unlike the usual cylindrical shape.
The other Panchabhoota temples include:
Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram representing Sky
Jambukeswarar Temple in Thiruvanaikaval representing Water
Agni Lingam at Annamalaiar temple representing Fire
Vayu Lingam at Sri Kalahasti representing Air.
Together with Kanchi Kamakshi Temple and Kumar Kottam temple nearby, Ekambreswarar temple complete the image of Somskanda in Kanchipuram. What a brilliant example of how the aesthetics were planned in ancient India.
What I would remember about my visit to Ekambareswarar temple is its giant corridors that dwarf you and the divine Aarti that ports you to a different plane. It is when you come out and see the world around that you come back to this world.
Travel Tips for visiting Ekambareswarar Temple in Kanchipuram
Kanchipuram is about 70 km from Chennai. This temple is about 2 km from Kanchipuram Bus Stand and half km from railway station.
The temple is open from 6 AM to 12:30 PM and then around 4:30 PM to 8:30 PM
6 Aartis are done every day – Ushathkalam or early morning, Kalasanthi or morning, Ucchikalam or mid-morning, Sayarakshai in the evening, Irandamkalam at late evening and Ardha Jamam at night. Recommend you to attend at least one Aarti at the temple. I attended the evening 6 PM Arti and totally enjoyed it.
Most important festival of Ekambareswarar temple is Brahmotsav that happens for 13 days in Phalgun month, roughly Mar-Apr time.
There are no strict dress rules but wear something that covers you. I wore Punjabi suits and no one questioned me.
You need at least an hour to see the temple and if you want to explore it in detail, keep 2-3 hours, not including the Aarti time.
As this is an ASI temple, photography is allowed, except in the sanctum.
Most people speak Tamil only, but they all understand English and Hindi.