Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple - Architecture
Kanchi Kailasanathar temple was built in 7th century AD by a Pallava king named Rajasimha known as Narasimhavarman II. This Kanchi Kailasanathar temple is famous for its magnificent Vimana, the gopuram over the Sanctum Sanctorum. It speaks volumes of architectural beauty that flourished in the reign of Pallava King. Kailasanatha temple is the biggest sandstone temple in the world according to K.T. Narasimhan, Superintending Archaeologist at Archeological Survey of India.
It is originally called as Rajasimha Pallavesvara Graham. One of the earliest instances of Calligraphy is found here. Over 240 titles of the king displayed in Nagari and Pallava Grantha scripts, meticulously engraved on the temple. It holds one of the earliest sculptures of Jyeshta Lakshmi (Moodevi) and Vaali.
Supposed to be built on the lines of Mount Kailasha, the abode of Shiva, the temple hosts an outer wall in form of "Rathas" which results in creation of a passage for the devotees also known as "Sandharaprasada". There is ample proof that many parts of the temple structure were once covered in Natural vegetable Colours. At present only fragment of the same exists if one pays close attention to the structures.
The main deity of the temple is Lord Shiva referred as Kailasanathar in this temple. It is a large Shiv linga idol with 16 stripes, which is a rare form. This is one of the few temples in Kanchipuram, which was purely a contribution of Pallava kings and which didn't have any additions by other kings such as Cholas and Vijayanagara kings.
The temple has retained the Pallava architecture in its original stylized form with influence of the later styles developed by the Chola Dynasty and Vijayanagara Emperors. The foundation of the temple is laid on granite stones while the superstructure is carved out of sandstone. The pradakshinam path around the sanctum is made in such a manner that it requires visitors to climb up and down a flight of seven stairs and to crawl through narrow ways.
A huge kneeling Nandi stands in the front facing the temple and a look at it clearly indicates it must have been painted in gorgeous colours once. There is a curious tunnel around the sanctum sanctorum which has a very narrow opening at the entrance and a larger one at the exit.
It is of stone built architecture unlike the rock cut architecture built into hallowed caves or carved into rock outcrops as in Mahabalipuram. The tall gopuram (tower) is to the left and the temple complex is to the right. The temple's foundations are made of granite, which could withstand the weight of the temple, while the super structures including the carvings are all made of sandstone. Initially, only the main sanctuary existed with pyramidal vimana and a detached mandapa (main hall).
The temple complex is complete in all respects as it has garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum), antarala (inner enclosure), mandapa, a high compound wall, and an entrance gate, the gopuram. The mandapa, which was initially detached, was made part of the main shrine by interposing an ardhamandapa (smaller hall). The pillars of the mandapa have the repetitive features of mythical lion mounts.
The structure has a simple layout with a tower or shikara at the center of the complex. The shikara of the temple, above the main shrine (sanctum sanctorum), is square in plan and rises up in a curvilinear style or pyramidal shape. The tower has many levels rising proportionately. At the top of this tower, there is a small roof in the shape of a dome. The pillar elements with mythical animal shapes (lions on the base) are extra features in Pallava style. At the entrance, the gopuram walls are plastered. Its entrance wall has eight small shrines and a gopura, precursor to the main gopura. At some later stage, the mandapa and the sanctuary were joined by an intermediate hall called the ardhamandapa, which is reported to have marred the beauty of the temple to some extent. The temple is enclosed within walls in a rectangular layout.
The main shrine has a 16 sided Shivalinga in black granite stone deified in the sanctum sanctorum. Within the walls of the main shrine there is padabhanda adhisthana (main pedestal) with very elegantly carved images of gods with a sculpted Nandi, a little distance away giving guard to the deity. On each face of the outer walls of the main shrine there are many carvings of gods and goddesses. In the south facing wall the sculpture depicts Shiva as Umamaheshavara with Varaha (incarnation of Vishnu as a boar) raising the linga, flanked by Brahma and Vishnu and flying amaras at the lower level.
The west facing hall has sculptures of Shiva in the form of Sandhya Tandavamurti and Urdhava Tandavamurti and the ensemble is completed with images of ganas in dancing poses and also with images of Brahma, Vishnu, Nandi and Parvathi. The carving of Shiva on the north facing wall is a composition of Tripurantaka flanked by three ganas, goddess Durga with three ganas, & Bhairavi, Kaushiki & Jyestha. The exterior faces of the vimana (tower) have images of Bhikshatana, Somaskanda and Shiva in Samhara-Tandava (destructive dancing) pose.
In the inner walls of the prakara (circumambulatory passage) there is galaxy of images of Durga, Skanda, Bhavati, Tripurantaka, Garudarudha - Vishnu, Asura Samhara (slaying of demons), Narasimha Vishnu (Vishnu in the incarnation of lion faced man), Trivikrama, 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 & Sridevi, Lingodhbava (emergence of linga), Bhikshatana, Ravana, and Vali offering prayers to Atmalinga Chandikesvara. Vimana's south facing wall has very elegant image of Shiva in a sitting posture of peace and quietude known as Dakshinamurti, and its west wall has Shiva in the form of Lingodhbava.
The tower has multiple shrines embodied on all its external faces which have the appearance of miniature shrines. These shrines have three features, the sala (rectangular), kuta (square) and panjara (apsidal) styles. Eight small shrines also decorate the entrance wall. The 58 small shrines are built into the niches of the compound wall that encloses the main shrine; they depict Somaskanda reliefs of Shiva and his consort Parvathi in many dance forms.
The Multi Tiered Temple is a treat to watch with huge panels depicting the life of Royals and their Subjects in Huge Panels which is very much similar to the Panels found in Angkor Vat (Cambodia) thus showing the relation between Pallavas and Khmer Dynasty who share similar kind of ancestry.
The outstanding feature of sculptures is the profusion of depiction of the erect lions projecting out in several directions. There are two sculptures of Shiva here which are seen holding the Veena (musical string instrument) in the hand. There is a lot of difference between the Veena found in the said sculptures and the present day Veena. There are also beautiful sculptures of Mathahvialasa Prakshanam. The temple also has the earliest stone inscription records of the twenty eight Saivagamas (Shaiva saints) in which the Pallava King Rajasimhavarman states his faith in Shaivism. The murals on the inner walls are well preserved.
There are inscriptions in Pallava Grantha on temple walls and including the various titles of Narasimhavarman II proving that the temple was built during his reign. Though the construction of the Kailasanathar Temple was started by Rajasimha Pallava, it was his son Mahendra Varma Pallava who completed the construction. A unique example of Dravidian style of architecture this temple is seen mostly in sandstone.
The Inscriptions left by Chalukyan King Vikramaditya II on the temple Pillar stands as testimony for the same. This particular inscription describes how the invading Chalukyan king was overwhelmed by the Grandeur of the Structure and returned all the "booty”. With this he avenged his earlier humiliation by the Pallavas and engraved one of the oldest existing Kannada inscriptions.
Also he took famous sculptors from Kanchi and built a similar structure in his capital Pattadakal. It is amazing to note that the Chalukyan king saw the real value or wealth in art rather than the booty which speaks volumes about the skills of Pallavan Craftsmen.
Fragments of 8th century’s mural art are still a vivid reminder of the temple’s architecture. The walls and the Vimanam of this temple are filled with great art works in form of paintings and sculptures. One of the most beautiful temples in Kanchipuram this temple is regarded more as an architectural wonder rather than as a holy place. Currently the temple is well maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The temple is adorned with many interesting sculptures of Lord Shiva in 64 postures which presents a picture of different aspects in mythology. The fresco paintings are beautifully embellished in the inner walls of the shrine. It is not mere walls that fringe the corridor. Small shrine-like cells have been constructed along the entire length of both sides and filled with the various exploits of Lord Shiva not found anywhere else.
Its other unique feature is the 58 devakulikas or mini-shrines that run round the main temple. They had frescoes that portrayed scenes from the Sivalila and sculptures of Uma Mahesvara, Parvati, Ganapati and Kartikeya, among others. The temple is unique in its architecture and is viewed more as an architectural wonder than as holy place.
Shiva Lilarnavam, Sambu Nadaname and such other literatures have exquisitely described the dances of Lord Shiva. Come straight to this temple and walk around the corridor and see the dance of Shiva in sculptures. The cells on the periphery are small while on the inner wall they are big with big wonderful images. It is learnt the Shiva Lingam has flat stripes inside the temple which is a specialty of this Lingam.
The Lord Shiva here is Kailasanathar. His consort here is Kanakavalli Thayar. The specialty in the Avudaiyar (Avudaiyar is the base of the Shiva Lingam) is having inscriptions on Avudaiyar. It is the only temple with inscriptions on the avudaiyar itself. The base of the maha mandapam has a 3 line inscription throughout. At certain places they have been painted red recently to enable easy reading of the inscriptions.
The ardha mandapam has some exquisite bronzes - Shiva Parvathi with Somaskanda with a small Nataraja idol, Standing Vinayaka, Ambal etc. The Maha Mandapam has 3 shrines of 3 Vinayakas - Kubera Vinayaka, Vijaya Vinayaka & Siva Sakthi Vinayaka. The mandapam that housed Navagraha was visibly very old and almost dilapidated with roots of creepers all over them.
Circumambulatory Passage:A circumambulatory passage, with a symbolic meaning is situated along the compound wall. In order to make the circumambulation, there is a narrow entry passage which devotees must crawl through. Seven steps must be climbed in order to reach the passage.
Passing through the narrow passage is indicative of passage through life. After the circumambulation, the exit is through a pit or another narrow passage symbolic of death. It is believed that making the circumambulation round the various deities would usher the same blessings as visiting paradise.