Thiru Parameswara Vinnagaram (Vaikunta Perumal Temple), Kanchipuram – Temple Architecture
This temple is regarded as a grand specimen of Pallava architecture. It has a three layered Ashtanga Vimanam. The lowermost level enshrines the seated image of Vishnu, while the ones above enshrine Vishnu in reclining and standing postures respectively. The images in the upper levels are not worshipped. (This is similar to the arrangement in the Koodalazhagar temple at Madurai).
This temple was constructed by Nandi Varma Pallavan II (717-779 CE) and it covers an area of about 3 acres. This is an ancient Pallava temple; the monolithic pillars in the inner prakaram are noteworthy.
As per Dr. Hultzh, Parameswara Vinnagaram was constructed by the Pallava King Nandivarman II in 690 CE, while other scholars place it in the late 8th century. Pallavamallan was a worshipper of Vishnu and a great patron of learning. He renovated old temples and built several new ones.
Among the latter was the Parameswara Vinnagaram or the Vaikunta Perumal temple at Kanchipuram which contains inscribed panels of sculpture portraying the events leading up to the accession of Pallavamalla to the throne. The great Vaishnava saint Thirumangai Alvar was his contemporary.
This temple has three vertically aligned sanctum-sanctorum (garbhagrihas) situated one on top of the other. The ground floor sanctum contains a figure of Vishnu in a seated posture, the one on the first floor preserves the recumbent image of Lord Vishnu and on the topmost floor, is a standing form of this deity. There are circumambulatory passages (pradakshina Patha) in all the three sanctums. Two flights of steps leading from the ground floor to the first storey are also available in the temple. One of them is for ascending and the other is for descending. These were constructed in such a way that they are not visible from the outside. Sadly, for whatever reason, these days public is allowed only on the ground floor.
The sculptures of various incarnations of Lord Vishnu can be seen in this temple. Unfortunately most of them are now damaged and disintegrated but still they exhibit remarkable workmanship and showcase the matchless skill of the Pallava sculptor. The external cloisters with their lion pillars are predecessors of the grand thousand pillared halls of later temples.
The temple also contains a series of historical sculptures on the inner walls of the verandah running around the four sides of this temple. Unique to this temple are several historical sculptures which cannot be found in any other temples of India. They depict the history of the entire Pallava dynasty up to the reign of Nandivarman Pallavamalla, the builder of this temple.
Three sanctuaries host the image of Vishnu in different postures - seated (ground floor), lying (first floor; accessible to devotees only on Ekadashi days) and standing (second floor; inaccessible to devotees). The logical and complex plan of the temple provided a prototype for the much larger shrines to be constructed all over Tamil Nadu.
Lord Vaikunda Perumal-Paramapada Nathar graces the devotees in standing, sitting and reclining form from under the Ashtanga-Mukunda Vimana. Sanctum Sanctorum and the first prakara-corridor are of Kudavarai type built with sand rock. The temple is called Mummada Koil. Mother blesses the devotees from a shrine facing east in the front Mandapam. Divine serpent Adisesha is under a two joint trees in the prakara. The temple has beautiful old sculptures around the prakaram depicting the different stages of Parameswara’s life right from his childhood.
An interesting feature of the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple is the ingenuous designing of the two flights of steps leading from the ground floor to the first floor for ascending and descending. They are constructed in such a way that they are not visible from the outside. Another unique feature of this temple is that the walls are carved to show war scenes between the Pallavas and Chalukyas. One panel describes the history of the temple in 8th century CE script.
The many inscriptions of the Pallava dynasty in the Vaikunta Perumal Temple have helped historians of South India to write about the events of ancient Pallava history and to fix the chronology of the dynasty. The sand stone structure’s architecture is a fine example of the Dravidian period and an improvement on that of the shore temple at Mahabalipuram which was built during the 7th century.
Secret Underground Tunnel:
Legend has it that there was a secret underground tunnel laid out from this temple all the way to Mahabalipuram, on the eastern sea shore, as well as to Parameswara Pallava’s court. When Britisher’s got a scent of this, they came here to trace this. Coming together as one, the devotees of this temple are said to have built out steps across the tunnel to the temple Sannidhi, thus turning away the Britishers.
The Moolavar here is Vaikuntha Nathan or Paramapada Naathan in a seated posture facing west, and Thaayaar here is Vaikuntha Valli in a separate shrine.
First Tier: Paramapadha Nathan in sitting posture west facing
Second Tier: Lord Ranganatha can be seen in the 2nd tier
Third Tier: Paramapadanathan is said to reside in Tier 3
Thaayar: Vaikunta Valli
Mukuntha Vimaanam (Ashtaanga Vimana style).
· Airammadha Theertham.
· Virajaa Theertham.
Thirumangaialwar - 1128 – 1137 (Total 10 Paasurams (Periya Thirumozhi))
The Vaikuntha Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram is a living temple, where people still go to worship. The temple is presently under the care of the Archeological Survey of India.