Kapaleeshwarar Temple — Madras Week Heritage Walk
Sahapedia had organized a heritage walk as part of Madras Week, to the famous Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore. Conducted by a friendly host Mr S Jayakumar, who is a Carnatic musician trained at Kalakshetra and an independent researcher on the cultural history of South India.
The walk started early in the morning around 7 AM from the East Gopuram entrance to the temple. In many of the Hindu Temples, the presiding deity faces the East side, here the Lord Kapaleeshwarar, faces West Direction and his consort Goddess Karpagambal faces the South.
The temple dates back to 7th Century A.D. when it was believed to be constructed by then ruling Pallavas on the seashore area near present-day Santhome. There are inscription recordings of the same which can be found in the museum inside Santhome Church, Chennai. From there due to encroachments of the sea, the temple was moved (along with salvaged bricks and pillars) to the present day location and the masonry structure was built during the Vijayanagar rulers around 1491–1570 CE.
Thirugnanasambandar’s (around 7th Century A.D.) 6th song in Poompavaipathikam and Arunagirinathar’s (15th Century A.D.) 697th song in Thirumylai Thirupugazh, have made references Wikipedia to the Kapaleeswarar temple being located by a seashore.
The temple’s name “Kapaleeshwarar” (கபாலீசுவரர்) means one (Easwaran) who is holding the skull of Lord Brahma after he had lied of seeing the head of Lord Siva when Lord Vishnu had told the truth he can’t see the feet. Lord Siva in the form of Kapaleshwar plucked one of the heads of Lord Brahma as a punishment. Consort Goddess Karpagambal (கற்பகாம்பாள்) had taken the form of Peahen, penanced to Lord Siva who took her as his wife, that’s the area was called Mylaipuri (Peacock town), which later became present-day Mylapore (மயிலாப்பூர், சென்னை).
The most famous festival of the temple is the Arupathimoovar festival, named after the sixty-three Nayanmars who have attained salvation. All sixty-three Nayanmar (as Bronze idols) follow the Kapaleeshwarar idol on this procession.
The other festival is one where Lord Singaravelar goes off to the forest for a picnic, the day is for Vana Bhojanam, which literally means eating in a forest. Today there is no forest nearby, only a garden in RK Mutt Road earmarked for this purpose. Lord Kapali in olden days used to go for their own picnic — KVB Thottam (Kapali Vana Bhajana Thottam).
The Annual car festival in the temple offers the first blessings to the fishermen community in a mark of the tradition of they helping the Lord when the temple used to near their houses in the Sea Shore.
The temple tank near the west entrance was built around the 18th Century when then ruling Nawab donated the land for the same. As a mark of that generosity, even today the Muslims of the area take a holy dip in the tank during their Moharram festival.
There is a sannidhi (chamber) dedicated to depicting the story of a miracle performed by Sambandar — A daughter of Sivanesa Chettiar, Angam Poompavai (அங்கம்பூம்பாவை) lost her life due to snake bite, was later resurrected here by the powers of Thirugnanasambandar.
After the temple tour, Mr Jayakumar showed us the house where the legendary Mylapore Gowri Amma, Kalakshetra Rukmini Devi’s first Guru lived. She was the last bastion of the Devadasis attached to the Kapaleeshwara Temple, Mylapore, Madras. The dilapidated house is just opposite to present day Bharati Mess, Ponambalam Vadhiyar Street, Mylapore.
I had lived in Chennai all my life, I had come to this temple many times, yet in the walk today, I learned so much that I didn’t know before. Thanks to the organizers for a good walk and a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.
Originally published at Venkatarangan’s blog.