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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Myalpore Kapaleeshwar temple, Chennai

The Mylai Kapaleeshwarar Thirukoil, commonly known as the Kapaleeshwar koil is one of the very ancient temples of India. This landmark temple situated near the shores of the sea in Mylapore, Chennai, is thronged by thousands of devotees daily. The primary deities worshipped here are Lord Kapaleeshwarar and goddess Karpagambal.

Legend has it that the Kapaleeshwar Koil was first built in 7th century CE by the Pallava rulers, but was later destroyed by the Portuguese. The temple that stands today in all its glory, is the one that was rebuilt by Vijayanagar rulers around 400 years ago, not far away from its original location. People settled around the temple over the years and the area has come to be known as Mylapore, derived from the word Mylai, which means ‘Peacock’ in Tamil. The story goes that Lord Shiva removed one of Brahma’s heads or ‘kapalams’ for being disrespectful. Lord Brahma, out of remorse, came here and installed a ‘Siva Lingam’ to please Lord Shiva and hence the name ‘Kapaleeshwarar’. Another popular belief is that Goddess Karpagambal came here to worship Lord Shiva, for curing a curse that had transformed her into a peacock.

The specialty of the temple lies in its Dravidian-style of architecture. It consists of two entrances or gopurams-a Rajagopuram(Royal entrance) on the east and a gopuram on the west, the eastern gopuram being higher. Both the gopurams are beautifully adorned with exquisite stone carvings and sculptures. The temple boasts of mandapams and an enormous sacred water tank. This temple tank, abound with fishes, offers a serene view that has a soothing effect, especially during sunrise. Other than the shrines of Lord Kapaleeshwar and goddess Karpagambal, the temple houses the shrines of Nardana
Vinayaka(dancing Ganesha), Navagraha, Annamalai, Subramanya(Lord Muruga) and others.

The Kapaleeshwar temple buzzes with activity round the year. Daily pujas are offered and special pujas are carried out on Amavasai, Shashti, Ashtami, Pournami, Karthigai, Ekadashi and during Shivaratri. Pujas are also performed bimonthly on Pradosham days. Festivals are celebrated in the temple with great splendour. Panguni Thiruvizha, the 9-day long annual festival of the Kapaleeshwar temple is the most significant. The whole temple comes alive with celebrations during this occasion.

Adhikara Nandi,Velli Rishaba Vahanam, Therottam(chariot festival) and the Arupathu Moovar Thiruvizha are the important events that mark the 9-day long celebrations. Procession of the ‘panchmurthis’ is taken out in all these events. The chariot festival features Lord Kapaleeshwarar sitting on a chariot gripping a golden bow and an arrow, with Goddess Karpagambal seated beside. The devotees chant the Lord’s name, while mustering all their strength to pull the chariot. Arupathu Moovar Thiruvizha is the most important procession where the 63 idols of saints(who gained salvation by worshipping Lord Shiva) follow the idol of Lord Kapleeshwarar. The Panguni festival ends with ‘Thirukalyanam’- the divine marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Shivaratri is another time of the year when devotees come to worship in large numbers. Offerings to be made to the deity and puja items for archanai purpose can be bought from the numerous shops outside the temple. Marriages and tirumurai concerts are also held regularly in the thirukoil.

The Kapaleeshwar temple is unique in its own way and is a must-visit for young and old alike.

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