The city of Chennai is well known for its cuisine, culture, oppressive climate and above all temples. Located in the southern part of Chennai called Mylapore, in the hub of culture, aesthetics and heritage is the monumental Kapaleeshwarar temple. Known for its towering Gopurams, vast open spaces and a variety of shrines, it is one of the most sacred Shiva temples in the city.
Built in the 7th century, the Kapaleeshwarar temple is built in Dravidian architecture by the Pallava kings. However it is believed that the temple was originally located in the Santhome Basilica but was destroyed by the Portuguese when they came to India. The temple however was rebuilt in Mylapore by the Vijayanagara kings.
The temple is most prominently known for its many legends. The most famous ones being, Brahma the creator visited Shiva in Mount Kailash. He didn’t respect Shiva because of which Shiva plucked Brahma’s head. In order to appease Shiva, Brahma came here and installed a Shiva Lingam. Parvathy (Shiva’s wife) had closed Shiva’s eyes due to which the world was consumed in darkness. In a fit of rage, Shiva transformed Parvathy into a peahen and she came to this temple and worshipped him in this form. (It’s also interesting to note that Mylapore, the locality in which this temple is located in derives its name from this very incident. Myil means peacock/peahen in Tamil which is the local language.)
This temple is in fact the only temple which lets the 63 Nayanmars (Followers of Shiva) outside the temple. A festival called the Arupathimoovar is celebrated to honor these followers. On this particular day, they are hosted upon a palanquin ornate with flowers and garlands and taken around along with the idols of Shiva and Parvathy who are in the form of Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal.
Also here is the sacred Punnai tree which is believed to have medicinal properties that can cure almost anything. It also the wish-granting tree as devotees flock towards the tree and write their wishes on bits of papers and tie them up the branches. This tree is also the residing spot of Parvathy as she is worshipped in the form of Karpagambal which translates to Goddess of the wish-yielding tree.
To say this trip was enlightening would be an understatement. We went by the local MTC bus which has very nominal rates. Being a resident of Chennai for several years I had never really learnt quite as much about this glorious temple and I have to say that this particular visit did open my eyes and the experience was absolutely enriching. Not only did I have the chance to interact with the priests in this temple but I also had the opportunity to truly learn something with a sense of purpose and open-mindedness. To sum up my wonderful experience in a line I would say that this was truly was a delve into sanctity.