Grand Restoration

By Geetha Venkatraman in Friday Review – The Hindu


The consecration of Sri Kamakshi Temple, Kanchipuram, is set for February 9. Geetha Venkataramanan visits the ancient temple, which has undergone a major facelift.

‘Nagareshu Kanchi’ — City Unparalleled — the presence of many temples and the spiritual richness have earned Kanchipuram this credit. Special for both Saivites and Vaishnavites, the temple town is synonymous with Sri Kamakshi, whose shrine draws thousands of devotees. The ancient temple has undergone restoration on a massive scale and consecration has been set for February 9. The rituals connected to the event get under way today.

Established by Sri Adi Sankara, the pontiffs of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam are the hereditary caretakers of the temple. The temple witnessed consecration last in 1995. The mission this time was to do a thorough job, right from freeing the campus from clutter to carrying out repairs with an eye on aesthetics. The year-long work has paid dividends with the temple looking brighter, cleaner, greener and more spacious.

But it didn’t happen through the swish of a magic wand. Hundreds of people have worked relentlessly paying attention to the smallest detail to present a project that could be showcased as one of the best of its kind. From the chief sthapati to the worker lowest in the hierarchy, involvement has been cent per cent. A tour, guided by Srikaryam Sri Viswanatha Sastry, shows how the multi-crore work had devotees’ comfort and environment as pivot. Engineers and scholars in the field of archaeology, epigraphy and architecture were consulted in the execution of the mammoth project.

Grand Restoration

The Kamakshi temple is a unique case of history, legend, archaeology and architecture coming together. Excavation for the restoration yielded fresh evidence regarding the age of the temple. The historian’s interest might be the identity of the place where the present temple exists. Was it a Buddhist worship place, which became a Hindu temple? Did both co-exist, the one outlasting the other?

Prof. Sankaran Narayanan, Department of History, Sri Chandrasekharendra Viswamaha Vidyalaya, Kanchipuram, says that literary and historical evidence point to the fact that the temple is ancient dating back to the sixth century, the Chola, Pandya and Pallava rulers and later the Vijayanagara kings and Telugu rulers lending their unique touches. The sanctum sanctorum should have been renovated by the Pandyas in the 14th century, he says.

Evidences point to the presence of a Buddhist monastery. “Quite possibly both existed and one outlived the other,” he says. “The presence of a Divya Desam within the premises proclaims the Saiva-Vaishnva unity that prevailed in those days,” he adds. The abode of Sri Adivaraha Perumal (Kalvar) has been restored and another Vishnu shrine (Ninran-Irundan-Kidanthan) has been spruced up to facilitate easy flow of devotees

Inscriptions relating to Parantaka Chola, Raja Raja, Rajendra Chola II and Kulothunga III provide evidence for 1,200 years, 10th-12th centuries. Many Pallava vestiges in the form of tablets and balustrades with their signature lion motif are available too.

Appar and Sundarar refer to Kamakottam Kanchi in their Thevaram hymns while the seventh century Sangam poet Adiyarkunallar sings of Kachikotta Kamakshi. Thevaram and Periyapuranam also refer to Kachi Sastha. In the narration of Balarama’s tirthayatra, Bhagavatapurana speaks of Kamakotipuri Kanchi. The name of Sangam poetess Kamakanni could be the chaste Tamil version of Kamakshi. Perumbanatrupadai has it that an aerial view of Ooragam (Kanchipuram) reveals the lotus shape of the town. In such a formation, Mahavishnu takes the centre with a shrine for Sakti close to Him, explains Prof. Sankaran Narayanan.

The temple has a shrine for Sri Adi Sankara, who installed the Sri Chakra inside the sanctum sanctorum. The spruced up niche of the Acharya has a golden roof, now renewed. The sudai images of the guru parampara have been replaced with stone sculptures.

Spruced up : A sculpture inside the Sri Kamakshi temple. (Top) An overview of the temple complex with the tank in the foreground. Photos: K.V. Srinivasan

Spruced up : A sculpture inside the Sri Kamakshi temple. (Top) An overview of the temple complex with the tank in the foreground. Photos: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

The renovated temple tank, Panchaganga, looks beautiful with its reinforced banks and the majestic Neerazhi mantapam. The hereditary sthanikam talks of the days when his father would dive into the tank for a bath before entering the shrine for puja.

Raja Chandra Samana Kanti Vadana Nagadi Rajastuta

Mookanamabi Kurvati suraduni Nikasa Vagvaibhavam

Sri Kanchi Nagari Vihara Rasika Sokabahandrisatam

Eka Punyaparampara Pasupate Akaarani Rajate

(Verse 11)

Kaivalyataya Karunarasa Kingaraya

Kamakshi Kandalita Viprama Sankaraya

Alokanaya Tava Bhakta Sivankaraya

Mathar Namostu Paratantrita Sankaraya

(Verse 47)

These two verses are from Mookapanchasati, the 500-verse sloka, of which Paramacharya recommends at least 31 for recitation.

Mookan was a mute illiterate, who fervently prayed to Kamakshi for the power of speech. The Goddess responded by making him compose 500 verses in Her praise.

“This shrine draws unto it the power of any sanctum that you may be praying at and returns it manifold” – Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati said this of Kamakshi. Referred to as Mokshapuri and Muktistalam, even an accidental arrival at Kanchipuram is said to offer liberation to the soul. Of the five sacred places associated with the five elements of Nature, Kanchipuram is Pritvikshetram (Earth).

Legend has it that tortured by Bandakasura, the celestials on the advice of Lord Siva, prayed to Sri Mahatripurasundari. She emerged from Bilahasa, annihilated the demon and went into the Biladwara to emerge as the resplendent Rajarajeswari. Sri Lalitha Mahatripurasundari is hailed as Kamakshi, sporting the cane bow, flower, the rope (paasa) and the ankusa. She is in meditation (Yoga Nishtai), seated in Padmasana.

The Biladwara, opening, and Gayatri Mantapam, where it is located are therefore most sacred. Kanchipuram, in this context, is Akasa Kshetram, as mentioned in ‘Sowbhagya Chintamani,’ a work of sage Durvasa, who is enshrined in the temple.

Known as Kamaraja Peetam, Kanchi is considered the waist of the Universe. Sri Kamakshi is the presiding deity for the entire town, so much so that the processions of all temples go round her abode. She is the personification of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Her shrine is situated in such a way that the devotee can never show his back to Her. And the Siva temples here do not have a separate shrine for Ambal.

Paramacharya often said that the Goddesses in the entire South up to Thanjavur, are actually Kamakshi although local lore may refer to them by different names. The temple, he said was a rare instance of Sakti and Sri Chakra enshrined exclusively.

Halls of worship

All the mantapams — Gayatri, Sukravara, Vasantha, Aippasi Pooram, Dwajarohanam, Tirthavari, Navaratri (Dasara), Kanu and Deepavali — where the utsava deity is brought during various festivals wear a new look.

Also known as

The other names of Kanchipuram include: Satyavrata Kshetram, Bhaskara Kshetram, Harihara Kshetram, Satya Kshetram, Sripuram, Kailasam and Vaikkuntam.

It has as its boundaries Swamipushkarani (Tirumala) in the North, Pinakini in the South, Bay of Bengal in the East and Virinjipuram in the West.

Three-generation span

Swaminatha Sthapati considers it a blessing to have been given the opportunity to do the Tiruppani. He is the third generation architect to be associated with the Kamakshi temple. “My grandfather Subbaiah Sthapati renovated the Vasantha Mantapam and he built the shrine where the Chandramouliswara puja is conducted daily,” he says.

LEGACY: Subbaiah Sthapati and Swaminatha Sthapati.
Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

LEGACY: Subbaiah Sthapati and Swaminatha Sthapati. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

Sri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati’s brief to the Sthapati was terse but clear: “Don’t hurry. Tradition should be preserved and take absolute care.” So every nuance was attended to and there was no pressure. “It has been a huge learning curve for me,” exults the architect, who along with his father executed the work on the monumental golden temple in Vellore. An experience that stood him in good stead while working on the golden roof of Sri Kamakshi and Adi Sankara.

The Sthapati singles out as challenge the Sudai Karuchakkarai padimam and Sila Soolam techniques adopted while restoring the Perumal Moolavar image. “A skill of high order is required for this and it was first time for me,” he adds.

Working on the sculptures on the East gopuram, not touched since 1975, and sculpting the 80 Guruparampara images on the pillar of the Q-Mantapam are other aspects he mentions in particular.


All the four Rajagopurams have been refurbished.

The golden vimanam of Sri Kamakshi and Adi Sankara have been refurbished and strengthened.

A golden palanquin has been made for the utsavar.

The silver chariot, an offering of Mahaswami, has been repaired and polished.

Marble and tiles have been removed to be replaced with traditional black granite.

The prakaram has been made fit for the smooth run of the golden chariot.

The temple kitchen has been expanded, an exclusive area created for naivedyam preparations.

Devotees (yaatrikas) will have access to water and food through the day.

The premises is self-sufficient in power supply generating electricity from solar panels and biogas plants.

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