Sithananda Swamigal – A Siddha of Pondicherry

I went to Sithananda Swamigal’s Jeeva Samadhi, in Pondicherry on November 22nd and again on November 27th, 2020. This is an interesting place for spiritual seekers where Sithananda Swamigal, a Siddhar and a self-realized soul predicted his own death and was buried (Jeeva Samadhi) on May 28th,1837.

Sithananda Swamigal temple, Pondicherry – Southern Rajagopuram and Entrance

The temple is a wonderful place for meditation. There is a meditation hall inside the temple. People have reported good effects and experiences after meditating in this hall.

The most attractive thing you would notice in the temple is the presence of more than a hundred and eight statues of various Siddhars, Nayanmars (63 saints who were devoted to Lord Shiva), Mystics and Poets (scroll down to see the pictures from the temple). There are a few for Ramakrishna Paramahamsa too, who is my favorite. 

This temple and the surroundings is the place where Tamil poet Bharathiyar composed his famous ‘Kuyil Pattu (the song of the Cuckoo)” poem.

I have been praying to the Almighty for the past two weeks since my first visit, to give me the clarity, energy and guidance to write about him and the temple. I want to give as much information as possible about the life of Sithananda Swamigal, what he was known for and the details about the temple, to my readers. I offer my prayers to Lord Vinayaga on this day of SankataHara Chaturthi as I begin my work about him.

To my knowledge, Sithananda Swamigal’s spiritual teachings are not available in print form but his life and his presence was a teaching in itself to seekers. He was also known to the public as a healer, as many found their illness to disappear after getting his blessings.

Birth and Early life of Sithananda Swamigal

Sithananda Swamigal was born in Vandipalayam near Cuddalore of present Tamil Nadu. As he grew up as a young boy, he regularly worshipped Lord Shiva at the famous Padaleeswarar Temple in Thirupathiripuliyur. He used to pluck flowers and make garlands for Periya Nayagi amman, the Goddess in the temple.  He was also taking care of certain chores in the temple.

One day there was a heavy rain and a huge flood around the temple. People who were in charge of temple work and activities were wondering how to go inside; they were worried about not being able to perform everyday worship and chores in the temple.

Sithananda swamigal, who was a little boy then, also came there holding a garland for the Goddess. He jumped in the water without a second thought, swam and reached the sanctum of the temple. His love and devotion for the Almighty was too strong to worry about anything else.

As he finished worship, the flood and the rain increased and the boy couldn’t come out. He completely surrendered himself at the feet of the Lord. According to the legend, he had a vision of the Lord who granted him the liberation from the cycle of birth and death. He must have gone through a tremendous spiritual experience that day which changed his life forever.

Sithananda Swamigal

(There is another variant of the legend, according to which Sithananda swamigal couldn’t go inside the temple with his garland because the temple door was locked by the priest. So, Sithananda swamigal left a note near the door to the Lord to come out and take the garland. When the priest opened the door the next day, the Linga inside was wearing the garland brought by the young Sithananda Swamigal.)

Meeting with Muthukumaraswamy Pillai from Pondicherry

As the years went by, Sithananda Swamigal was known to more people as a healer. Many came to him to get their illnesses cured; many invited him to their place. He was getting known in the towns nearby.

At the same time, a rich man called Muthukumaraswamy Pillai lived in Muthialpet near Pondicherry. His wife Annammal was suffering from an illness in her stomach which was getting worse with no cure available. This made Muthukumaraswamy very depressed; he and his brother went to meet Sithananda Swamigal. It is said that Sithananda Swamigal immediately asked him, “How was the journey from Pondicherry?”.  Muthukumaraswamy was taken aback, as Swami was able to know where he was coming from, without anyone telling him. Seeing the misery that he was going through, Sithananda Swamigal agreed to come with him to Muthialpet to heal his wife.

Pondicherry is known for its presence of various saints, sadhus, mystics and siddhars during different times in the past. Because of the city’s association with wisdom and spiritual enlightenment, it is known as Jnanabumi (the land of enlightenment or wisdom). Sithananda Swamigal’s arrival to Pondicherry increased its spiritual importance.

Immediately after the arrival of Sithananda Swamigal, Annammal, the wife of Muthukumaraswamy, was completely cured. She had no traces of the previous illness and she no longer went through the pain she was going through. This surprised people as the whole area was familiar with the health issue she was facing.

On the request of Muthukumaraswamy and Annammal, Sithananda Swamigal agreed to stay in their house. From that day, people began to visit Sithananda Swamigal to get rid of their health issues and to get his blessings. Sometimes Sithananda Swamigal visited families on request. He became known as a healer. 

More Miracles of  Sithananda Swamigal

Residents of Muthialpet like Muthaiah Mudaliyar and Sokkalinga Mudaliyar were ardent devotees of Sithananda Swamigal. Once, Muthaiah Mudaliyar’s pregnant wife was going through severe labor pain; helpless Muthaiah Mudaliyar ran to see the guruji. Sithananda Swamigal understood what was going on through his siddhis and told him, “Don’t worry, your son is born now. Go home and see him! Name him ‘Anandan’!’. Happy Muthaiah Mudaliyar ran home to see both the mom and the newborn son; he named the boy ‘Anandan’ as per the instructions of the Swamigal.

As per another interesting anecdote, once Sithananda Swamigal was returning after visiting a devotee in Kuyavarpalayam, Pondicherry. There was a liquor shop on the way. A drunkard having a drink there said to Sithananda Swamigal, “Why don’t you have a drink? You can talk a lot of spiritual stuff once this goes inside”. Swamiji ignored him and continued walking. But the drunkard kept insisting him to have a drink. Swamiji then agreed and started drinking the liquor, emptying a huge barrel. While Sithananda Swamigal looked normal, the drunkard actually got high because of the huge volume of liquor drunk by Sithananda Swamigal. His pulse rate began to go down.

The shopkeeper fell at swamiji’s feet, asking for forgiveness. Swamiji started to walk at this point. Seeing what happened to the drunkard, the shopkeeper sent information to his family. Before his family and relatives came there, the drunkard’s situation got worse. They carried the drunkard to Sithananda Swamigal and his wife fell at his feet, begging him to heal her husband; Swamiji healed him and restored his condition. Then he made the drunkard promise that he wouldn’t drink again, before sending the couple home.. 

One day, Muthukumaraswamy took Sithananda Swamigal to his farm in Muthialpet. While they were taking a walk inside, Sithananda Swamigal started looking at a place inside the farm for a long time. Then he revealed a secret. He said to Muthukumaraswamy, showing his own body, that it was going to stay there. He said it thrice. He was implying that he was going to be buried there.

Then he showed another place to Muthukumaraswamy and said that his wife Annammal was going to be buried there. Muthukumaraswamy  was shocked to hear all this. As years went by everything indeed happened according to Sithananda Swamigal’s predictions. 

Sithananda Swamigal was fond of little kids. He used to play with them a lot. There is a village called Mailam near Tindivanam which is famous for its Murugan temple and the festivals conducted there. According to the anecdotes, Sithananda Swamigal had the power to show the festival in Mailam to the children while being in Pondicherry; Once the children fell asleep, everyone would have a vision of what was happening in Mailam temple.

Sithananda Swamigal’s final years and Jeeva Samadhi

During his final years, Sithananda Swamigal lost much of his body consciousness; he wouldn’t eat or drink for months unless someone compelled him to eat something. Instead of using a plate, he used to use a flat stone from Muthaiah Mudaliyar’s house to eat. That stone was believed to have certain healing properties. Pregnant ladies who went and sat on that stone reported that they didn’t experience labour pain during delivery.

There was a potter who always used to visit Sithananda swamigal when guruji was teaching. He had been inviting Sithananda Swamigal to his home to have a meal. He also made a statue of Sithananda swamigal in clay. Once Swamiji agreed to come and visit him in the house and have a meal.  He ate very well that day after a long time. Then the potter showed him the statue he had made. Sithananda swamigal looked at him for a long time and said, “This body is a shell made of skin; and this statue is a shell made of clay. The statue will son take the place of the body”.

Ten days before the Jeevasamadhi day of Sithananda Swamigal, he told Muthukumaraswamy that his Prarabdha Karma was going to be over on May 28th that year (1837). He asked him to let everyone know about this. He said that he would go deep into meditation and his life in the body would end; then he could be buried in a cross legged position, which is known as Jeeva samadhi. 

According to another legend, it is said that Sithananda Swamigal came to the present temple  where his tomb is built, on the day before he attained Jeeva Samadhi. Devotees expressed their concern about a muni, a disembodied being which was bothering people there, as it was a secluded spot by then. They were worried that they might not be able to visit his tomb regularly because of the fear. Sithananda Swamigal started staring at the sky in silence for a while; then a huge branch from a tree broke and fell down. Then Sithananda Swamigal told them, “the muni is gone now; so you don’t have to worry anymore!”. 

On May 28th, 1837, Sithananda swamigal came to Muthukumaraswamy’s house. He closed his eyes for the last time and sat in a cross-legged position (Padmasana) in front of the devotees. They conducted Puja for his body before conducting the burial. 

Siddhars are not cremated but buried; there is a detailed procedure for Jeeva Samadhi, which has been written by Siddhar Tirumular, the author of Thirumanthiram.  According to him, the exact procedure should be followed so that it is beneficial to everyone.

There is an anecdote about another miracle which is said to have occured while Sithananda Swamigal’s body was carried for burial; he came to life for a moment just to tell people that the instructions for Jeeva Samadhi were not correctly followed; He gave proper instructions and went to samadhi again, never coming back to life. His body was then taken to Muthukumaraswamy’s garden in Karuvadikuppam, Pondicherry and he was buried in the same place that was mentioned by him earlier.  A Linga was constructed over his tomb, which is the main shrine of the current Sithananda Swamigal Devasthanam (Temple) in Pondicherry.

Pondicherry was under French rule at that time. So, they had to get the permission of the French government to build a temple over it. Once the permission was granted, the temple was built.

Poet Bharathiyar’s Association with the temple

Bharathiyar, the famous Tamil poet, used to visit this temple often when he was staying in Pondicherry between 1908 – 1918. This place was full of trees and cuckoos. During his visits here,  Bharathiyar wrote his famous “Kuyil Pattu” and many other poems including Kannan Pattu, Panchali sabatham, Kani Nilam vendum, Manakula Vinayagar thuthi and Desa Muthu Mariamma song. 

 In Kuyil Pattu, Bharathiyar describes the grove nearby as the place full of mango trees where hunters came to hunt birds. He called the well in this temple as ‘Jnanakeni, the well of wisdom.

Bharathiyar has also sung a song on the temple and mentioned the temple in one of his essays. So, there is a big statue of Bharathiyar near the Southern entrance; the song he wrote on Sithananda Swamy temple is carved near the main shrine which has the Linga.

Structure of the temple

The temple has two three-tiered Raja Gopurams, one facing the West and the other facing the South. Entry is possible both ways. There is a pond in the temple and a lot of trees and shrubs are present, making it an excellent spot for sitting in silence or meditation. The Western entrance is right on the East Coast Road between Chennai and Pondicherry. Southern Entrance is in the beginning of the Karuvadikuppam main road that goes towards Muthialpet.

Once you enter the temple through the southern entrance, you will find a Pipal tree on the left, along with the statues of nagar.

If you go straight, you will first reach the shrine of Sundara Vinayagar. 

Right after the shrine, there is a shrine for Guru Dakshinamurthy. There is a lot of importance for Dakshinamurthy here and Thursdays are special days in the temple.

Then there is a separate shrine for Ayyappan on the left, which looks beautiful like a mini-temple on its own. The Ayyappa statue seated above 18 steps is very beautiful.

Then you reach the Western gopuram entrance and there is a Pipal tree and Neem tree on the left  in the corner with the statues of nagar.

As you proceed further by taking right in the pradakshina path, there is a hall of annadhanam on the left. You see a huge bell on the top on the right. The temple was made in France and it has the precise sculpture of Sithananda swamigal; all the images of Sithananda swamigal are drawn by using the image on this bell as the model.

Right in front of you, there is the entrance to the shrine of Linga and the samadhi of Sithananda Swamigal. There is a beautiful sculpture of Nataraja on the top at the entrance. 

There is a statue of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in the shrine for the Linga, along with many other sculptures. 

The tomb of Muthukumaraswamy has been placed near the Linga on its right side, where the present day temple of Sundara Vinayagar stands. His wife Annammal’s tomb is behind the tomb of Swamiji and his brother Somasundaram’s samadhi is to the left. This was all according to the instructions of Swamiji himself.

After you have the darshan, you can reach the open space besides the pond.

There is a meditation hall nearby. A statue of a Sithananda Swamigal is placed in the front and a picture of the guruji is at the back of the hall. The statue of Saraswathi at the entrance looks very beautiful. 

There are stone benches near the pond. There is a statue of guruji at the centre of the pond. This is a great place if you want to spend time in silence. 

Here are the pictures near the pond and more pictures from the temple:

You can reach this temple while travelling on the ECR road from Pondicherry to Chennai. It is 5 Kms from Pondicherry Bus stand. If you go by bus, get off at the ‘Shivaji Statue’ stop. The temple is right there in the corner in the side of the road, near this signal. Guru puja, Maha Shivaratri and 108 Sankabishekam during the Tamil month of Karthikai are celebrated in this temple in a grant manner. Pujas on Thursdays are very special and attract a lot of crowd.

Let me end with a Tamil Venpa poem I wrote about Sithananda Swamigal today (4th Dec, 2o20):

தத்துவமே தானாகித் தன்னை உணர்ந்தறிந்து

முத்தி அடைந்த முனிவராம் – சித்தராம் 

சித்தானந் தர்பாதம் போற்றி வணங்கினேன்

தித்திக்கும் வாழ்க்கை இனி. 

(Meaning: “I praised and bowed down to the feet of Sithananda Swamigal, who was the essence of wisdom himself, a sage and a siddhar who realized himself and attained Mukti; my life will be sweet from now on”.)

My Kanchipuram Travelogue – The Story of Visiting 25 Temples and Kanchi Kudil

Kanchipuram is a city in northern Tamil Nadu, which is known popularly as temple city. It is known for its silk sarees, temples and history. People have attributed a lot of holiness to this place and treat it as the Kashi of the south. It has also been an education and spiritual centre, and considered as a powerful place for spiritual practices. It is considered as one of the saptapuris, the  seven sacred centres in India.

I was wanting to visit this city for a long time and my wish was fulfilled last week. I was there on 9th and 10th of November 2020. I went there on Monday morning (9th) from Kadapakkam (Edaikazhinadu), stayed there for the night after visiting some temples during the day, continued the temple visits the next day and returned in the afternoon. It was an amazing experience; I felt home in the city of Kanchipuram and I want to share that experience with the readers.

From the start of this year, my interest has been in exploring temples and their histories. I have already written two blog posts regarding some temples that sparked my interest in Pappankulam of the present Tenkasi district, Tamil Nadu and Edaikazhinadu of Chengalpattu district. 

Kanchipuram is different; it is a city of temples and has way more than hundred temples. You can find a temple pretty much in every nook and corner of the city. In my limited time I could only explore a few of them. On the day before the journey,  I prepared a list of temples I should visit and marked them in Google maps. It included the important temples which are Kamakshi amman temple, Ekambareswarar temple, Kumarakottam temple, Kailasanatha nathar temple, Vaikunta perumal temple and Varadaraja perumal temple. 

The Morning session on Nov 9, 2020

At about 5: 45 AM in the morning, I took a bus that goes from Pondicherry to Chennai through ECR road and got off at Kalpakkam after more than an hour. Took a bus to Chengalpet from there. Having reached Chengalpet, took a bus to Kanchipuram. I reached Kanchipuram at about 9:30 AM.

I was very excited on reaching there and was pretty eager to visit Kamakshi amman temple first. I have always been devoted to the form of Kamakshi. Kamakshi is the ultimate reality personified as a meditating young woman. Paintings and pictures of Kamakshi amman is something that I have always been emotionally connected to.  So, I had a feeling of a son going home to see his mother.

Sangupani Vinayagar temple

I knew from the maps that Kamakshi amman temple is very close to the bus stand. So, once I got off, I started walking towards the temple but saw Sangupani Vinayagar temple on the way. It is indeed a tradition to worship Vinayagar (Ganesh) before anything. So I went inside and had a darshan. 

Temples of Vinayagar are abundant in Tamil Nadu and there is one almost in every street in Kanchipuram. But I did find out later that this particular temple is actually the most famous and important Vinayagar temple in Kanchipuram. He is called as Sangupani vinayagar because he holds Sangu (conch) in his hand.

Ulagalantha Perumal temple

This temple is also on the way to Kamakshi amman temple from the bus stand. When I was walking, I thought I had found Kamakshi amman temple but it was this temple that I actually saw. As I went closer, it became obvious that I am heading towards a perumal temple (Vishnu temple). Google maps indicated to me that it is the famous Ulagalantha Perumal temple in Kanchipuram.

Perumal temples also have an emotional connection. Whenever I went to my grandmother’s house in Thachanallur, Tirunelveli during childhood, I spent most of my mornings in Varam tharum Perumal temple there. I used to explore the Prakaram (outer part around the sanctum) , spending my time looking at the trees there. So prakarams of Perumal temples always attract me. I also enjoy the Tulsi and Teertham which is not offered these days in most of the temples.  

Anyway, I felt like I was called by my maternal uncle for inquiry while I was on the way to meet my mother. So I went inside, had darshan and spent some time before visiting Kamakshi amman temple. This temple is connected to Vamana avatar of Vishnu. It is one of the 108 divyadesams connected to Vishnu; but it houses four divyadesams on its own. (Divyadesams are the 108 temples which are mentioned in the poems sung by Tamil Alvars.)

Kamakshi amman temple:

My favorite temple is very close to Ulagalantha Perumal temple. After a few seconds of walking, I could see the main gopuram (temple tower) of Kamakshi amman temple. I had my breakfast very close to the temple.

Among all those temples I visited in Kanchipuram, this was the only temple which was very strict in following the guidelines for Corona prevention. Wearing a mask was absolutely compulsory and it was checked at the entrance. People were only allowed after applying hand sanitizers. Circles were drawn on the way to darshan to ensure social distancing and it was also monitored by the staff to ensure that people follow it. But because of Corona restrictions, devotees were not allowed to circumambulate. Photography was also strictly prohibited; so I just took a photo of the gopuram.

Kamakshi Amman temple, Kanchipuram

The temple is a very important temple for Goddess worship in Tamil Nadu, along with Meenakshi amman temple in Madurai. It is one of the shakti peethas. Shakti peethas are 51 sites of Goddess worship situated in various places of Indian subcontinent. As per the legend, 51 body parts of Sati fell on these 51 sites after her self-immolation. This particular Shakti Peetha where Kamakshi resides is associated with Sati’s navel. 

There are shrines for Durvasa and Adhi Shankara in this temple. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see them due to covid restrictions. Anyway, I want to say a few things on these shrines.

A Shrine for Durvasa

There is a shrine for Sage Durvasa here. He is known for his short temper in Indian legends. He was the one who consecrated the Bhu-Prastara Sri chakra (diagrammatic representation of the deity)  in front of the main deity.  He is considered as one among the three chief devotees or upasakas of the deity who form the upasaka traya – the triad of devotees consisting of Manmatha, Lopamudra and Durvasa. As per the legend, Durvasa was born and a dumb and deaf because of the curse of Goddess Sarasvati and was graced by Kamakshi amman. I have already written about Durvasa in my post regarding Pappankulam Thiruvenkadar temple.

The temple is associated with Sri Vidya tradition, a tantric tradition of spiritual practice towards spiritual enlightenment. I found the following interesting anecdote in the website of Kamakoti Mandali, a close-knit group of upasakas (https://www.kamakotimandali.com/):

A certain lady from Trichy once described a wonderful experience. She was initiated into Srividya by her father-in-law at an early age and she visited Sri Kamalambika Devasthanam frequently. Her Guru passed away while she was still young and she knew nothing but the mula mantra given to her by her Guru. She practiced the same sincerely for years and longed for further guidance. A few years ago, while she was reciting Sri Lalita Sahasranama in the Sannidhi of Kamalambika, an old man with surprisingly sharp features appeared before her and instructed her to have darshan of Srividya Parameshwari at Kanchi, where she would get nyasa etc for her mantra. After she reached Kanchi and had darshan of Amba, she was surprised to see the same old man in the Sannidhi of Amba. The old man pointed to another gentleman and the lady rushed to fall at the feet of this gentleman. Surprised, the gentleman asked her who she was and she narrated the entire story and pointed to the old gentleman who still stood in Amba’s Sannidhanam. The gentleman was Sri Yagnanarayana Shastri, a great Srividya Upasaka from Mysore, and as myself and shastrigal watched in awe, the old man lifted his hands in blessing and disappeared. Later, when we were going round the mantapa and bowed in front of Durvasa’s Sannidhi, the very same face appeared in the Vigraha. Sri Yagnanarayana Shastrigal attained Siddhi in Bangalore in 2003 but Smt. Meenakshi Ammal, now his disciple, visits Kanchi every year and is blessed with the darshan of the great Guru without fail.”

A Shrine for Adhi Shankara

My interest to learn Sanskrit was inspired a lot by my wish to read the Bhagavad Gita commentary of Shankara in the original language. One of the 6 schools that I studied in (Jayendra Golden Jubilee School, Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli) is also associated with Shankara, and  particularly with the monastery that Shankara founded in Kanchipuram. 

Adhi Shankara is also believed to have installed Sri Chakra in this temple. He is also believed to have spent the last minutes of his life in Kanchipuram.

Once I came out of the temple, I bought a picture that has three deities together: Samayapuram Mariamman, Madurai Meenakshi and Kamakshi Amman. Then,  I bought two books from a small shop called ‘Dheivigam” which had some rare collection of Tamil books. Most of the books there had only one copy each; the shopkeeper said that they are not sold in bookshops. Only a few copies for interested readers are made and they are ordered directly from the publisher (similar to Tamil translation of Bhutanatha Gita for which I have written a commentary on this blog).

The next day, November 10, was Aippasi Pooram according to Tamil calendar and it is the actual birthday of Kamakshi amman. It is called ‘ambal Aavir bhavitha dhinam’ which means ‘the day ambal (Goddess) appeared’.  But I knew this only after leaving Kanchipuram.

Kumarakottam temple

Then I went to Kumarakottam temple. It is just a short walk from Kamakshi amman temple and is situated in the main road.

Kumarakottam temple, Kanchipuram

Kumarakottam is a temple for Lord Murugan, situated close to Kamakshi temple. It is also  in between Kamakshi temple and Ekambareswarar temple, where the former is for Parvati (Kamakshi), the Goddess and the latter is for Shiva, the mythological husband of Parvati. Spiritually the couple represent Prakriti and Purusha respectively, as I have often discussed in my blogs. Murugan has also been discussed in my blog posts and he is considered as the son of Shiva and Parvati.

Me at Kumarakottam temple, in front of Kandhapurana Arangetra Mantapam

Lord Murugan is in the form of Brahma Shastha, the divine teacher of Brahman or the absolute reality. Kandha Puranam, the Tamil version of the famous Skanda Purana, was composed in this temple by Kachiappa Sivachariyar, a Tamil poet who worked as a priest in this temple.

I read the complete abridged text version of Kandha puranam when I was about nine years old. It is the  legend about Lord Murugan. It was composed in a hall in this temple which still exists as ‘Kandhapurana Arangetra Mantapam’. The priests in the temple now are the actual descendants of the poet. 

Arunagirinathar, a famous saint and a devotee of Murugan has sung hymns on this temple. Pamban swamigal has also visited the temple. After having darshan, I took some photographs and sat on the steps of ‘Kandhapurana Arangetra Mantapam’. 

Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham (monastery)

I left Kumarakottam temple and walked on the same road to visit Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham situated in the corner. It is a monastery established by Adi Shankara. 

Visitors are allowed to visit the brindavan inside the mutt. Just like Kamakshi amman temple, wearing a mask and applying hand sanitizer were compulsory. Samadhis of Chandrashekarendra Saraswati swamigal and Jayendra Saraswati swamigal are inside the Brindavan.  After spending some quiet time inside, I came outside to visit Ekambareswarar temple.

Ekambareswarar temple

Ekambareswarar temple is very close to the monastery. The tower of this temple is very tall and hence the presence of the temple is known from a long distance. 

Ekambareswarar temple, Kanchipuram

Once I entered, I was greeted by the wording ‘anbe sivam’ (Love is God) written on the top of a hall. It is one of my favorite sayings and is a part of Thirumular’s Thirumanthiram.

The gopuram was very beautiful to look at; it is an abode of a lot of parrots too, which were making a huge noise around the temple. The pleasantness of the breeze, the sound of the parrots, the beauty of the temple towers, the shade of the trees outside and everything else about that temple took me to a different world.

It was already about noon and the temple door was soon going to be closed for the afternoon. So, I had to hurry up to make sure that I cover everything in the temple that is worth seeing. 

The temple is one of the 5 panchabhuta sthalas dedicated to Lord Shiva. Each of them represent one of the five prime elements. This temple was for the element of earth (‘Prithvi’ in Sanskrit). It covers about 25 acres and has four temple towers; the southern tower is the tallest and is about 58.5 metres (192 feet tall). 

There is an old mango tree inside the temple; the board says that it is about 3500 years old. It is the sthala vriksha (sacred, monumental tree) of the temple. The place around the tree is an ideal location to sit in silence or take photographs. Once I came out, I bought two books: one was about temples of Kanchipuram and another one was about temples of Tamil Nadu in general.

Near the mango tree, Ekambareswarar temple, Kanchipuram

Finding accomodation

It was lunch time. All the temples will be closed until about 4 or 5 pm in the evening. So I went in search of accommodation for the night. I was looking for something very simple and of low cost, preferably under Rs.800. All I needed was a place to sleep, use the toilet, charge my phone  and take a bath. I thought of finding something very close to the Ekambareswarar temple. One auto-driver took me to a lodge close to the temple but it was full . He then asked me to find something close to the bus stand but he also warned that I wasn’t going to find anything for a low price that I was expecting. 

So I finished lunch and took an auto to the bus stand. When I talked to the auto-driver this time, he also said the same thing that the first one said; but then he stopped at a small hotel and said that the manager may give a discount. I went in and told the manager that I was a single person wanting to visit temples and was looking for some place to stay. He was kind enough to give me a room for a discounted price that I could afford. It was Hari residency, which is very close to the Kumarakottam temple. There are just three or four shops between the temple and the hotel. Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is also on the same road, just in the corner which is a few steps away.

The room was pretty comfortable. I had a wonderful stay there. That afternoon I took some rest in the room and also went through the booklet about the temples in Kanchipuram. Then I took a bath and planned to go to Varadharaja perumal temple.

In my room, Hari’s residency, Kanchipuram

The temples I visited so far are pretty close to each other. But this one that I was going to visit was in little Kanchipuram, a suburb which is about 3 kilometres south east to the bus stand. The area is also known as ‘Vishnu Kanchi’ because of the presence of a high number of Vishnu temples.

I went and had a coffee in the coffee shop right next to Kumarakottam temple. From the shopkeeper, I came to know that I have to take a share auto (Rs.20) to reach the temple which is the last destination in the south for any trip in share auto within the city. 

The Afternoon Session on Nov 9, 2020

Varadharaja Perumal Temple

Varadharaja Perumal Temple was just another extraordinary beauty. I got that familiar ‘perumal temple feeling’; the temple was indeed the best choice for an evening visit.  

Main gopuram, Varadaraja Perumal temple, Kanchipuram
Athi Varadar tank, Inside Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram

This temple is also one among the 108 divya desams. The temple is famous for the form of Vishnu known as ‘Atthi Varadar’; the idol is made of the Atthi or the fig tree. It is stored in an underground chamber inside the temple tank and taken out only once in every 40 years. Once it is taken out, it is kept for worship for 48 days. Last time this happened in 2019.

Inside a temple, there is a room upstairs where two lizards are depicted on the roof; a larger one in gold and a little one in silver. As per the legend, two disciples of sage Gautama were cursed to become these lizards. You have to pay Rs.2 to see the lizards; devotees believe that their sins will be washed away after seeing them.

When I came out, it was extremely beautiful to watch the sunset as the sun was coming down behind the temple tower.  The architecture is amazing and sculptures are beautiful, which is common for most of the temples in Kanchipuram. 

I visited two more Perumal (Vishnu) temples on the way back; they are situated opposite to each other: Yathothkari Perumal Temple and Ashtabhuja Perumal temple.

Yathothkari Perumal Temple: 

I asked in a coffee shop near Varadharaja perumal temple, who told me about these two temples. Once I got down I crossed the road and went first to this Yathokthakari Perumal Temple. 

This temple also is one of the 108 divya desams. In Tamil, the form of perumal is called ‘Sonnavannam Seitha Perumal’, roughly translated as the deity of Perumal who did what he said. With the little Sanskrit I know, I could recognize that the compound word is made of three words:  yatha – ukta-kari. Yatha means ‘how or what way”; ukta -means ‘that which is said’; ‘kari’ means ‘the doer”. Poigai Azhwar, one of the Tamil poet saints or alwars, was born in this temple.

Sonna Vannam Seitha Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram

There was almost nobody inside except the priest and a couple of others. Once I finished the darshan, the sun had set and it was dark. I crossed the road and went to Ashtabhuja Perumal temple which was on the other side.

Ashtabhuja Perumal temple

This temple is again another one among the 108 divyadesams. Ashtabhuja means ‘with eight arms’. Vishnu here appears with eight arms.

This temple is associated with a legend of Brahma doing a penance towards Vishnu. As per another legend, an elephant called Gajendra used to worship the deity here everyday using the lotus from the temple tank. Once a crocodile in the tank caught its leg. Elephant prayed to Vishnu for help; Vishnu killed the crocodile with his discus. This incident is known as gajendra moksham.

I took another share auto and asked the driver to drop me at Kachabeswarar temple, a Shiva temple very close to the hotel I was staying at. It is in the same street where this temple is in the southern end and the monastery of Adhi Shankara is in the northern end. 

Kachabeswarar temple

‘Kachchapa’ in Sanskrit means ‘Tortoise’. The temple got this name because according to the legend, Vishnu worshipped Shiva by taking the form of a tortoise.

 I could see a lot of students studying with their books in many corners inside, as the campus of the temple was very spacious. Since it was about 7 pm in the evening, there were more people. If you need a spacious place to spend your evening in a peaceful manner, you can go to this temple. If you are a student and need a good place to study for your exams, then this is an awesome place. It was obvious as there was someone sitting with a textbook near every shrine.

Kachabeswarar temple, Kanchipuram

I still had time left for the day. I heard that Kailasanathar temple would have closed by 5 pm in the evening. So I decided to walk to Vaikunta perumal temple, which is near the bus stand.  While I was walking, I saw a small temple named Chitragupta temple on the left side of the road; so I went in. 

Chitragupta temple

Chitragupta is a mythical person who keeps the account of our good and bad deeds; he is the assistant of Yama, the God of death. You don’t usually see a Chitragupta temple in India; that’s very unusual. I didn’t know he was worshipped in temples until I went here. Then I found that there is one more temple for him in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh. 

Chitragupta temple, Kanchipuram

Chitragupta is associated with Ketu, the ninth graha in Indian astrology. So people who have issues in their birth chart related to Ketu visit this temple. 

Vaikunta Perumal temple

I reached this temple when it was about to be closed. This is also one among the 108 divya desams. The temple is also called as ‘Thiru Parameswara Vinnagaram’. It is famous for its architecture and the sculptures.

Vaikunta Perumal temple, Kanchipuram

The temple has three vertically aligned sanctum sanctorums but the public are allowed to visit only the one at the ground floor. It was dark when I went there and that wasn’t really the best time to go there. I didn’t take much pictures as it was dark but you can find a lot of beautiful pictures of this temple on the internet. 

There is an Ayyappan temple opposite to this temple. I went there too and had a darshan. Then I started walking towards my room. I had dinner on the way and had a very good sleep.

The Morning session on Nov 10, 2020

I got up at about 5 am in the morning and took a bath, as I was planning to have darshan in any temple as early as possible. Once I walk out of the room, Shankara mutt is on the right side and Kachabeswarar temple is on the left, both are at the two ends of the same street. Taking left from Kachabeswarar temple goes to the bus stand and Vaikunta perumal temple, whereas taking right goes to Kailasanathar temple. I was planning to take right and explore the area, to see what other temples are there. 

I had a coffee and started walking on the road towards Kailasanathar temple. I went into the streets to see what other temples were there; none of them were open. I reached Kailasanathar temple only to find out that it would open at 9 AM. There was a lot of time until that.

A Shiva temple very close to Kailasanathar temple is Anekadhangavadeswarar Temple. It was on the way, just before I reached Kailasanathar temple. I decided to go there, and visit other temples as well until this one opened.

Anekadhangavadeswarar Temple

Anekadhangavadeswarar Temple is one of the Paadal Petra Thalams (temples that are revered in the verses of Saiva Nayanars in the 6th-9th century CE).  As per the legend, the Linga in the temple was established by Vinayagar or Ganesh, the son of Lord Shiva. The temple was also worshipped by Kubera, the king of wealth.

Anekadhangavadeswarar Temple, Kanchipuram
A Tamil hymn by Sundaramurthy Nayanar on this temple.

When I went there, the gate was open but the main shrine was closed. There was nobody inside. The place was kind of a secluded spot. While I was circumambulating the temple, the priest came and opened the door. I had a chat with him for a few minutes. Then I started walking back to explore the area near Ekambareswarar temple. 

There is a corner where two roads meet, close to Brahmakumaris Rajayoga meditation centre. I had some idlis for breakfast in  a kaiyendhi bhavan (a roadside shop where you usually stand and eat) there. 

Chandaveli (or Santhaveli) amman temple

This is a temple located in a busy street and it is a bit close to another famous perumal temple called Pandava Dhootha temple. This is a family deity for many people and has a lot of village guardian deities inside.

Chandaveli (or Santhaveli) amman temple, Kanchipuram

As per the legend, Kamakshi amman set up guardian deities in eight directions when she was doing the penance, so that no one would disturb her. This deity is one among the eight deities; she was originally called Chandraveli amman. She got this name because the temple is close to Chandra Pushkarini theertham.

There is a cow shed inside with a lot of cows. Then there are various statues including the ones for Madurai Veeran, Nagar, Mariamman etc. People worship this Goddess to get relieved from various diseases.

Draupathi Amman temple

I started walking towards the north after coming out of Chandaveli amman temple. I went in search of nearby temples and ended up in Panjupettai big street, which goes towards the street north to the Ekambareswarar temple. Draupathi Amman temple is a small temple in Panjupettai big street.

Draupathi Amman temple, Kanchipuram

Draupadi or Draupathi is the wife of Pandavas in Mahabharata. She is also believed to be an incarnation of Mariamman. She is a family deity for many communities.There was no one here. Spent a few minutes here.

Gangai amman temple

Gangai Amman temple, Kanchipuram

This temple is in Panjupettai big street, very close to a famous Shiva temple called Ona Kantheeswarar Temple. It is a very small temple where river Ganges is worshipped as the Goddess. I went inside and had a darshan before going to the Shiva temple right next to it.

Ona Kantheeswarar Temple

This is also one of the padal petra sthalams. The temple is located in an elevated structure. So you have to climb a few steps to enter. 

Ona Kantheeswarar Temple, Kanchipuram
A Tamil hymn by Sundaramurthy Nayanar on this temple.

The temple has three different shrines of Shiva with names Oneswarar, Kantheswarar and Jalandareswarar. These three lingas are believed to be self-manifested (swayambhu moorthy). As per the legend, three asuras (demons) worshipped the three lingas. 

Chevandheswarar Temple

Chevandheswarar Temple is the next temple I went to, which is also a Shiva temple. I had to continue walking in the Panjupettai big street and take left at the end to reach this temple. This is behind Ekambareswarar temple.

People visit this temple to eliminate Chevvai Dosham or Mars Dosha . A Dosha is a term used in Indian astrology to mean the unfavourable position of a planet in a person’s birth chart. Since it was Tuesday, there was a huge crowd in the temple. As per the legend, Vayu, the lord of winds, worshipped Shiva here using Chrysanthemum flowers.

Chevandheswarar Temple, Kanchipuran

Once I finished darshan here, I walked back to enter a street that runs along the back side and then the left side (Eastern) of Ekambareshwar temple. The temple compound wall is very tall and the gopuram looks very beautiful from the streets around the temple.

Arasu Katha Amman temple

I found this Arasu Katha Amman temple as I walked in the road which runs right opposite to the gopuram of Ekambareswarar temple. The name of this street is Ekambaranathar sannidhi street. Just like Chandaveli amman, Arasu Katha amman was also one of the deities guarding the penance of Kamakshi amman, as per the legend; in fact, she was the leader of this guardian gang. Usually, the forms of mother Goddess Parvati or Amman is seen with a lion as the vehicle; but this Goddess has elephant as the vehicle, which is very unique.

Arasu Katha Amman temple, Kanchipuram

The Amman is also called as sampathkariswari. Sampath means wealth and kari means elephant. The Amman got this name because she bestows wealth while riding on the elephant. ‘Arasu’ means kingdom and ‘katha’ means the one who saved; she got the name ‘Arasu katha Amman’ because she was the custodian to Chola kingdom.

Meikandeeswarar temple

Once I finished darshan in Arasu Katha Amman temple, I went to the street right next to it to visit Meikandeeswarar temple. This temple is a part of ‘Thondai Mandala Atheenam”, a Shaivite monastery established in the 14th century.

Meikandeeswarar temple, Kanchipuram

There was no one inside. I just saw the beautiful linga.  After having darshan, I walked out and found ‘Renugambal temple’ in the corner of the same street.

Renugambal temple

Renuka is a Goddess who is also called Yellamma or Yellai Amman.  It was probably because of the merger of two different traditions. Renuka was the wife of sage Jamadagni and was known for her chastity. I visited the temple and sat inside for a few minutes in silence. Then I went back to the previous street to visit two more temples there.

Renugambal temple, Kanchipuram

Thanthondreeswarar temple

I saw this Thanthondreeswarar temple in  Ekambaranathar sannidhi street. Unfortunately the temple was closed. There is a big statue of Shiva on the top, at the entrance.

Thanthondreeswarar temple, Kanchipuram

At the entrance, it was written that Shiva in this temple was worshipped by sage Upamanyu. I kept walking towards the north, facing Ekambareswarar temple tower, to reach Jurahareswarar temple which was just a few metres away.

Jurahareswarar temple

Jurahareswarar temple is another beautiful Shiva temple with wonderful architecture, in a peaceful location. People worship in this temple to get cure from fever; the name Jurahareswarar literally means the one who takes away the fever or diseases which happen along with a rise in body temperature. As per the legend, Devas worshipped here to get recovery from fever.

Jurahareswarar temple, Kanchipuram

I sat there for a few minutes admiring the beauty of the temples and the trees around. The occasional sounds of birds and the coolness of the shade added an additional flavour to the experience.

Pandava Thoothar temple

Once you leave Jurahareswarar temple, you have to take the next left which is right after the temple and walk another few metres to reach Pandava Dhootha temple (or Pandava Thoothar temple). This is again one of the 108 divya desams dedicated to Vishnu. 

I had been trying to visit this temple since the morning; I went there twice (once at 6:30 AM and then again at 7:30 AM)  but it was closed. My third attempt was successful. 

Pandava Thoothar temple, Kanchipuram

The temple is associated with Krishna of Mahabharata, who is one of the avatars of Vishnu. His statue inside the garbhagriha is about 25 feet tall and he is in sitting form. Krishna Janmashtami or the birthday of Krishna is a very important festival in this temple. 

Swami Arulala Perumal Emperumanar, also called Yagnamurthy came to this temple and had a debate with Sri Ramanuja; he was defeated and became the disciple of Ramanuja. So, the birthday of Swami Arulala Perumal Emperumanar (Bharani of Karthigai month) is also celebrated in this temple.

The time was about 10 AM as I was about to leave from there; my next destination was Kailasanathar temple, the long awaited one, which was supposed to open after 9 AM. The temple is a bit away from all the other temples that I visited that morning; it is in the western limits of Kanchipuram city, on the bank of Vegavathy river.

Kailasanathar temple

Kailasanathar temple is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram. This is also one of the most important temples in Kanchipuram.  It is a beautiful temple with wonderful stone carvings. 

The temple has about 58 small shrines of various forms of Shiva. The place where it is situated is one of the three kanchis (short form for Kanchipuram) called Shiva Kanchi; the other two are Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi. There is a secret tunnel inside the temple used by kings to escape when their safety was threatened.

The temple was built during Pallava’s period (640-730 AD) along with Vaikunta Perumal temple. You will get a different feel and experience in this temple. There is a grassland before the temple and a couple of stone benches are there to sit. You can sit and enjoy the view. I spent a long time there, admiring the beauty and taking pictures. The photos I took here will speak more than these words; so check them out.

The time has crossed 11 AM. I have to check out the hotel by noon. To walk back to the hotel, I have to walk on the straight road until Kachabeswarar temple and then take left from there. I began to walk slowly, having one last look at both sides of the  road and checking if there was anything else to visit on the way.

Kanchi Kudil

This is not a temple; this is something interesting I saw on the way. Kanchi Kudil is an ancestral property which has been turned into a tourist place. The board caught my eye.

I went inside and met a lady who was sitting in the reception. She said that there is a ticket to enter, which costs Rs.10. I bought the ticket and went inside. The lady gave me an introduction about the place.

How did the house of a joint family in Kanchipuram that survived on agriculture about 100 years before look like? Kanchi Kudil takes you back on time. This house is about 100 years old; they have preserved the furniture, utensils, clothing, equipment and more of those days.  The house reminded me of some ancestral houses I have seen in Tirunelveli district when I was young.

Airavateswarar Temple

Airavateswarar Temple is right opposite to Kachabeswarar temple; there might be a natural tendency to ignore the temple since it looks so small and simple in front of the large Kachabeswarar temple with a high temple tower.  Also, the temple has a small entrance and one has to look twice to recognize the presence of a temple there.

It is one of the oldest temples, built during Pallava’s time. Since this temple is on the way back to the hotel, I went inside and had a darshan.

The Final Hour

The time is up. I went near Kamakshi amman temple, for two reasons. If the temple was open I could go there once more; if the Deivigam book store was open I could browse for more interesting books.

But the bookstore was closed; a single door in the Kamakshi amman temple was closed, indicating that they were just waiting for the devotees who were already inside to come out. Anyway, it was Aippasi Pooram day as I mentioned in this post, which I came to know only after leaving Kanchipuram. 

I went back to the room, put my phone on the charger and took a rest for some time. Then I  packed my things and told the manager that I was checking out; I had already made the payment the first day. 

The owner called me near and asked me how the stay was. I told him it was very good and I thanked him for the discount. I also asked for his card. I left a positive review with 5-star ratings in Google Maps.

I walked to Kanchipuram bus stand and had lunch in a restaurant inside. I got a bus directly to Kalpakkam, from which I could take a bus to Kadapakkam. I reached my residence in Kadapakkam in the evening.

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