Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu
The city of Kanchipuram is one of Hinduism’s seven sacred cities. It bears this distinction for several reasons. One of these is because of its location as an important event in the legends of Shiva and Parvati. According to tradition, it was here that Shiva tested Parvati’s faithfulness, and where he eventually married her. The Ekambarathabar Temple, one of the tallest in India, commemorates these events. Also on the site of the temple is one of the sacred objects associated with the Shiva.
The Ekambarathabar Temple is one of South India’s great pilgrimage destinations. Its history traces back to one of the great legends of Hinduism. As the story goes, at some time in the primordial past, the goddess Parvati had need to do penance, and did so here in Kanchipuram under a mango tree. In order to test her steadfastness and faithfulness, Shiva attempted to distract her efforts several times.
Despite being threatened with burning and drowning, Parvati maintained her vigil, thereby passing Shiva’s tests. This led ultimately to their marriage. The event was later commemorated by a temple, one of the largest in India at the time. An early temple here can be traced as far back as the 6th century AD.
Over time, the temple became one of the most sacred Hindu places in Southern India. Another part of the legend indicates that one of the twelve sacred objects of Shiva wound up here, and it has remained here to the present day. Also here is what is believed to be the original mango tree, or one of its descendents. Between these two important artifacts, the temple became an incredibly popular pilgrimage site.
Over the centuries, the Ekambarathar Temple has grown in size and adornment. Many wealthy men contributed to its improvements, especially in the years leading up to and during the British colonial rule. It was one of the first truly major temples to be visited by European explorers, impressing them and inspiring stories in the west of the stories of exotic Asia. Today it is accounted the most important temple in one of Hinduism’s seven most sacred cities.
The Ekambarathar Temple is one of the largest and most magnificent in Southern India. Most of the current structure dates from the 15th century. Its definitve feature hands down is its immense, carved, white-marble tower. This tower climbs to nearly two hundred feet in height and was one of the tallest buildings in Asia at the time of its completion. It is still one of the tallest Hindu temples in India today.
The temple interior is a magnificent treasure trove of wall carvings and statues. Although the temple commemorates the faithfulness of Parvati and her marriage to Shiva, interestingly there is no shrine to her here (nevertheless pilgrims who come here often revere her). The temple’s two greatest treasures are the relic of Shiva and what is left of a mango tree, believed to be thousands of years old, both items being tied to the events mentioned above.
The Ekambarathar Temple is located on the norther side of Kanchipuram, approximately fifty miles southwest of Chennai. It is open daily from 6:00-8:00pm (closed noon-4:00pm). There is no cost of admission. Web: www.tamilnadutourism.org (official tourism website of Tamil Nadu province).
Kanchipuram’s other major religious shrine is the Kailasanatha Temple honoring Vishnu. Other temples to Vishnu include the Vaikunta Perumal Temple and the Varadharaja Perumal Temple. Other major temples in the city include the Kamakshi Amman Temple honoring the goddess Kamakshi, and the Kumarakottam Temple dedicated to Murugan.