Monday, 28 December 2009

Pallava Architecture : Kailasanatha Temple - Kanchipuram

Kailasanatha Temple - The Sandstone Wonder

Beautiful Mini Rathas at Kailasantha Temple in Kanchi
Kanchipuram known as the city of 1000 Temples. Praised as a Model City by Kalidasa i.e. "Nagareshu Kanchi", holds great treasures in terms of art and architecture.

Shiva in an Unique Form of Bikshu 
(Notice the Hair Style and  Detailed Attention given to the Sandals)

A Close Up

Situated in the secluded western corner of the city, this great work of art is given a miss by many mainly due to lack of information. But still one will be amazed to see the crowd of foreigners overwhelming the locals at many occasions.

Shiva Killing Demon Form Ignorance
(Realistic Expression of Anger and Fear)

Built in late 7th Century by Pallava King Narsimhavarman II commonly known as Rajasimha who being an ardent Shiva Devotee was also a great lover of art, Rajasimha named the Main deity , a Shiva linga as Rajasimhesvara. The temple is simply a poetry in stone and a grandeur outwitted only by Structures at Mahabalipuram, built by the same king. The temple was his way of quenching his Spiritual and Artistic thirst at the same time The temple Structure holds around 300 titles of Rajasimha and that too in different scripts.. a grand feat for any king.

Monkey-King Bali Praying and Ravana trying to Ambush(In Vain)
(Notice how Ravana is portrayed in the depiction)

A Close-up of Bali praying to the Shiva
(In South we have temples where Shiva is termed as Valeeswara. 
Believed to be places where Bali have prayed to lord Shiva)

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 temple sports a courtyard with Nandi in a Mandap supported by four pillars. While entering it to the temple we are faced with a smaller Shiva shrine built by successor of Rajasimha, Mahendravarman II.

The Majestic Goddess riding her Lion...

BoldNote the Expressions ...A Grin on Face

Built of sandstone with Stone base, the temple stands testimonial to the prowess of Pallava Architects and Sculptors. The first thing that will hit you while entering this temple is the "Cell" like Structures (58 in all) forming the outer wall with perfect symmetry and spacing providing a mesmerizing viewing.

Ravana Bearing Mt Kailash on his Head
(Notice How Ravana is shown to be buried in ground due to weight of Mountain
his chest belt is in motion as if he is trying hard.
At the same you can notice a grin on the face of Shiva and Parvati above)

Looking Closely we see another Somaskanda (Family) Figure
(Notice the Smile)

Remember our old Drawing classes where we were told to have margin around the pictures, now implement the same on stone and we get Cells as a Margin to work inside. Another aspect which is quite prevalent is the numerous Bulbous pillars with Lions in a alert position at the base and Nandi the Bull being placed at various locations, this shows Pallava's great interest with the Lion figures and Nandi the Bull as it was their Royal Emblem. Rajasimha calls himself as Rishabhalanchana (Having Bull as Emblem)

One of Many Somaskanda Panels

The Concept of Somaskanda (i.e. Sa Uma Skanda - Shiva With Uma and Skanda in Middle), was prevalent among Pallavas and the love for the same can be seen all around in the form of Panels inside the Niches. This can be also taken as a proof that concept of Ganesha was not widespread during Early years of Pallava era which is mirrored in their Architecture also.

Lord Shiva the Cosmic Dancer
(This Pose is also called Swastika Mudra as it forms a Swastik...
What an imagination)

The evolution of Dravidian Architecture can be gauged by this fine work of art.The Gopuram (Entrance) is smaller than Vimana (Main tower of the Shrine) which was reversed during and after Chola era. Pallava sculptors were inclined in helping viewers understand their work rather than overwhelming the viewers which is signature of Chola Architecture.

A Unique Depiction of Ardhanareeshwara
Half Shiva Half Parvati at Kailsanatha temple
 (Lots of discussion/Arguments on this. Pls See the Comments)
(Notice the change in Earings and Hand Bands. The Shiva side is having Snake around it )

The Giving Factor is Different rings on an each ear

Large Spaces around the Stone work stands as a strong differentiators with respect to later style of architecture like Cholas and Hoysalas who believed in even filling the smallest of spaces.

Beautiful Gaja Lakshmi

That is why Late Mr. Alexander Rea (Officer of Erstwhile Southern ASI)
has rightly pointed out in his landmark book Pallava Architecture that as far as disciplined way of working goes there is no competition to Pallavas in Dravidian Architecture.

One of the Oldest Ganesha/Vinayaka Idol in South
(Pallavas Actually introduced the Concept of Ganesha to South)

Lot of similarities can be noted between the Murals and Idols of the shrine with that of Ajanta and Ellora. A shrine called Kailasantha also exists in Ajanta and Ellora. The detailed study done by Alexander Rea during British era stands as the single-most authority on this temple till date is regarded as the main reference. It is amazing to know that not a single publication by an Indian writer exists even after so many years of independence.

A Rare Depiction of Trimurti (Hindu Trinity) at Kailasanatha Temple
This temple had seen many wars and even at those times the victorious opposing camp were full of praise about the temple and spared the destruction. That is how future generations like us were fortunate enough to see this marvel.

Lord Dakshinamurthy in an unique and never before Looks
Even after the decline of the Pallavas , the structure continued to inspire many noteworthy among them was the great ruler of Chola Empire, Raja Raja Chola who visited this temple and named it as "kachipettu periya thirukatrali" (Big Stone Temple of Kachipettu). The temple acted as his inspiration for building the Great Big Temple at Thanjavur and also named the Shiva Linga as Rajarajeswaram on the lines of Rajasimha.The grandeur and size of Big Temple at Thanjavur was to compete with all the aspects of Kailasanatha temple.

The Chola Era Inscriptions

The Inscriptions left by Chalukyan King Vikramaditya II on the temple Pillar stands as testimony for the same. This particular inscription describe 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 inscription.

Shiva Taking a head of Brahma in Anger

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.

Lion Rider with a Smile on Face

A Close Up of the Calmness
Moving inside to the main shrine, we are welcomed with the view of huge Shiva linga with a narrow passage around it, which makes this shrine peculiar is the Circumambulation (Pradikshana) . It is in shape of a tunnel believed to mirror a path taken by a child on the way to his birth from mothers Womb. While going through the Circumambulation, one gets nostalgic just on the thought that many kings and super personalities would have gone through the same ... Simply Magical isn't it. The 10 feet high linga itself is made up of different Cubical Granite Sticks which reflects in the outer edges being flat instead of being cylindrical.

The place was home to many beautiful Frescoes, some of which were lost due to tide of time but many were lost in the name of restoration. Many years ago, the structure was blindly covered in white plaster coating to avoid weathering which in turn destroyed lot of beautiful paintings.

Lost Murals

Zoomed In

At present Proper "Scientific" Restoration of Structure is in progress with help of Archaeological deptt and this has enabled partial restoration of few Murals but still many have been lost for good.

(Above) Lord Shiva Flanked by Lord Vishnu to his Left

One of the many names of King Rajasimha as 
Shri Unatharama in Beautiful Pallava Grantha Lipi 
One of the Lion Pillars
(Lion was the favourties of Pallava Dynasty)

It was my wish to share few of the droplets of info from the ocean that this shrine has to offer for the lover of arts. I hope that I have generated a little bit of curiosity for you all to visit this work of art in person. This temple is under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who are doing a good job of preserving this priceless gem. I personally recommend that you hire a Guide from ASI when you visit this place, it is really worth it.

The Legendary Duel between Shiva and Arjuna

Note the Calmness on Arjuna's Face
(Long Crown Signifies Royalty)

Note:Also try to visit the Vaikunta Perumal Temple in the City which depicts a completely different facets of Pallava Architecture and their advancements.

Harihara (Half Shiva and Half Vishnu)
(Axe in Right Hand and Conch in Left Hand)

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.

Vishnu In Human form (Not Tortoise) holding Mountain in a scene from Samudramanthan

I Will Try to shed some light on the same in my future posts.

How to Reach:
Kanchipuram is about 75 Km from Chennai and is the nearest airport from Kanchipuram. Local Trains for Kanchipuram is also available from Chennai,.It is also well connected from Chengalpattu, Thirupathi, and Bangalore. Once in Kancheepuram, You can make use of Local transportation like autos and taxis.

Legend Associated:
There is a fascinating legend associated with this temple, It is said that when the date consecration of the Temple was just a day away, the joyous and pompous King Rajasimha had a dream where Lord Shiva appeared and expressed his inability to be present during consecration of the temple as he will be attending an another consecration on the same day of another ardent devotee, Poosalar. Rajasimha was asked to have the consecration on another day.

Narasimha Taking hold of Hiranyakashapu

Ganesha in Playful Mood with his Ganas
(Ganesh Means Lord of Shiv Ganas)

After he came out of the dream, He immediately ordered for culmination of the proceedings and started his search for the person named Poosalar. He was informed that Poosalar lived in a place called Thirunindravoor.

Vishnu's Trivikrama Pose

When King personally arrived at Thirunindravoor and went about enquiring about Poosalar, he was mystified to know that Poosalar lived in Poverty and didnt even had a proper place to live.
On the question of a new temple , Villages were totally unaware on any sort of new temple coming up in the vicinity.

Shiva in Peaceful Mood

Even though Puzzled , Rajasimha having complete faith in Lord Shiva's words sought meeting Poosalar in person and was taken to him who was meditating under a tree. After King informed Poosalar of reason behind his presence, Poosalar face was brimming with happiness.

What Poosalar told next surprised everybody in vicinity particular King. He informed that the he was indeed building a temple for the Lord but that temple was in his heart and that he had planned to consecrate the lord in the temple on the day when King Rajasimha had planned. Infact Poosalar was building step by step a grand temple in his heart and Mind.

Listening to Poosalar , the king realized his mistake of being egoistic. Lord had enlightened him on the power of pure devotion which is devoid of any grandeur or riches. Rajasimha took the task of building exact replica of temple that Poosalar had in his mind and gave the name 'Hrudhayaleeswarar' ( One Who lives in Heart) to deity.

This act of pure devotion had placed Poosalar and Rajasimha among the Sixty four Nayanmars (Ardent Shiva Devotes in the Periyapuranam)

Then what are you waiting for ? Go On ..Take a dive in the Ocean of Art and Enjoy the Poetry in Stone !!

As always request you to share your views !!!

A Special Note of Thanks :
I would like to thank my Good Friend Vijay ( for his Continous Support and Motivation.



mM said...

very informative and interesting pictures...

Lakshmi said...

lovely post, went there a while ago

Vijay said...

hi swami,

The dance pose of shiva is called Alidhanrita


Saurabh Saxena said...

Hi Swami, The pic just above the 'How to reach' is not Gangadhara, but it depicts the scene of Samudra manthan. You can see here Vishnu supporting the montain, in human form but not in form of a tortoise. He is shown carrying a sankha. Serpent Vasuki is shown at the base. Dhanvantri with ambrosia vessel is shown coming out of the ocean as well. What do you think on this?

Swami said...

Thanks You Very Much Saurabh ...

Yes you are correct it is Vishnu in Human Form.

Corrected ! :)

Arvind Venkatraman said...

Hi Swami,
Happen to chance upon this post. Good one.
Just a small correction. The image you had called out as Ardhanareeswara is actually Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy. It is typical for shiva in any form to have different ear rings in the two ears. One is Pathra Kundala and other is makara kundala. Pathra kundala is really a gold leaf or palm leaf coiled, with it continuous effort to uncoil, it actually increases the size of the hole and the ear lobe. Makara kundala is a kundala in shape of mythical beast which resembles partly a crocodile.

Thanks and Regards

vj said...

hi swami,

I am going to use ur excellent shot of the kirata arjuna sparring pose in a post. But have doubts on the identification

"Note the Calmness on Shiva's Face "

the kirata form of shiva is quite unique ( as it is the only form where he shown dark skinned) - plus iconographically he must have a channavira ( cross belts) and his hair should be tied up like a bun and not the standard jata makuta or krita. So going as per this, the one you identify is arjuna ( though it doesnt quite tie up with the timing of him being in vanaparva dressed in all this finery). But comparing the two forms, i must say Shiva as a hunter should not be shown more beautiful than arjuna - so i would take the identification as shiva without the crown and arjuna with the crown



karl said...

Good work. I have been looking for some information on this temple and I find yours very useful - covering facts!! Highly appreciate.

Would like to read more on those paintings too. Would be great if you can add more on that too.

And my appreciations for not adding the epic stories as history - which is what most do.

Swami said...

Thanks for your Comments Karl...

You can find more interesting information on My Good Friend VJ's Creation.

The link is

injamaven said...

I just had time to look carefully at your photos of Kailas. They're excellent and show clearly all detail. Thanks for posting them. One of my 3 or 4 favorite temples!!

injamaven said...

I don't think the Vinadhara is an Ardhanareshwara. There's no fem breast.
The round thing is the gourd of the instrument.
About mismatched earrings, that's typical of all correctly depicted Shiva heads. Vinadhara is male.

Swami said...

Thanks for your Comments Kathie...

The point you raised is bit debatable..

Even Mr Gift Siromoney in his analysis mention this particular work of art as Ardhanareeshwara

Raghu said...

Thank you for the very interesting blog. I am interested in photography. Kanchi is in my list of places to visit. I would like to have your advice on what would be the best time to have a leisurely visit to patiently take photographs, whether any permission is required, and how much time would one require to capture at least as much as you have done.

Raghu said...

Forgot to add, how much do the ASI guide charge? Is it fixed, or does one have to negotiate?

injamaven said...

That Trimurthi you show has really puzzled me. Brahma & Shiva seem to be restraining Vishnu from doing something, Brahma even has a warning finger pose. Do you know what they're keeping Him from doing?

dreamliving said...

thanks for sharing your info!!!!

Hindu Temple Architecture said...

Dear Sri.Swami,
Very nice photographs. Thank you.
with regards,
KP Umapathy Acharya

anand krishna said...

Excellent post with superb photos.

VarahaMihira Gopu said...

Lovely photographs. Very nice page on this temple, as can be gauged by the rasikas and experts who have commented on it.

The calligraphic title of RajaSimha that you have shown is "Shri UnnataRaamaH" श्री उन्नतरामः