January 9, 2010

The Temple built by a Dubhashi - Ekambareswarar Temple, Chennai

Chennai or Madras, whatever you call it, is one of the earliest settlements of Britishers in India. Do you know about this temple which is indirectly associated with the British? 

The British, in their initial days, used the service of middlemen, who could speak the local language and English. They were called as Dubhashis. The senior most Dubhasis were rewarded with the title of "Chief Merchant of the East India Company".

When a person Betha Venkatadri by name, became the Chief Merchant of the East India Company, two people were assigned to serve him. One among them was Alangatha Pillai. He became very popular later and the British considered him as the best Dubhashi. He also became the Chief Merchant of the East India Company after Betha Venkatadri.

The Corporation of Madras is the second oldest municipal body in the world after London. It was set up in 1688 CE and Pillai along with two other Indians became part of 12 members team. 

The Britishers could not pronounce most of the Indian names. They had spoiled the names of many villages and towns. Few examples - Triplicane, Trivandrum, Egmore, etc. Similarly they called Pillai as Alingall Pillai in their records. 

Alangatha Pillai made lot of money through his service to the British. He was probably religious. He used his wealth to build a huge temple for Lord Shiva called as Ekambareswarar. He became Dubhashi in 1680s (the exact year is not known) and died probably in 1689 CE. Hence, this temple must have been built sometime in 1680s CE. It was built in Mint Street, which was called as Washer's street in those days. 

The temple of Ekambareswarar was very popular in Madras those days. It was referred as Allingal's Pagoda in a map that belongs to the period of early 1700s. 

Today? Although, this temple is being visited by hundreds of people from Park Town and George Town areas, it remains unknown to the rest of the city. It is indeed sad.

Temple Layout

Ekambareswarar temple is east facing and has a tower, which was built in the recent past. The sanctum enshrines a very small Shiv Linga. The utsav idol of Kamakshi is found along with Linga in the sanctum. 

Adjacent to the sanctum, Kamakshi Amman is enshrined in a separate south facing shrine. The Goddess looks extremely attractive and the devotees would get a divine feeling in her shrine for sure. 

The flag staff, bali peetha and Nandi mandap are found facing towards the sanctum in the outer corridor. There is a separate flag staff and bali peetha facing the shrine of Kamakshi. Simha (lion) is her vaahan.

Near the flag staff, there are multiple shrines that include Dwara Ganapati with his two consorts, Kartikeya with his two consorts, Nataraj-Shivakami (utsav), Somaskanda (utsav), Bhikshatana (utsav), 63 Nayanmars (utsav) and various other Utsava deities. 

Some of the idols that are found in the inner prakara include:

  • Hanuman
  • Nalvar
  • Ganesh with two consorts
  • Sundarar with his two wives
  • 63 Nayanmars
  • Bhairav
  • Surya
  • Chandra

The inner prakara has the following sub-shrines:
  • Vishnu Durga, Karumari, Naga, Subramanya, Ganesh, Bhairav and Chandikeshwara in a single shrine
  • Adi Shankara
  • Ganesh
  • Subramanya-Valli-Devasena
  • Vrudhagireeswarar Shiv Linga
  • Vadaraneswarar Shiv Linga
  • Kasi Vishwanathar Shiv Linga - this is one of the biggest Shiv Lings found in and around Chennai; the idols of Ganesh and Subramanya are also found in this shrine
  • Arunachaleswarar Shiv Linga
  • Chidambareswarar Shiv Linga
  • Kalatheeswarar Shiv Linga
  • Jambukeswarar Shiv Linga
  • Vishalakshi
  • Annapoorni
  • Chandikeshwarar
  • Chandikeshwari

It should be noted that all the five Pancha Bhoota Shiv Lingas are found in the prakara. 

Ganesha, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga are found as the Koshta idols around the sanctum. 

Navagraha in this temple is believed to be very powerful and hence it is popular among the devotees.

The outer prakara is spacious. The shrine of Vanni Ganapati is located here. The idols of Vallalar and Chandikeshwarar are situated near this sub-shrine.

Next to the shrine of Ganesha, the holy tank and the sub-shrine of Vaveshwar Shiv Linga under a holy tree are found.

A holy Pipal tree with the idol of five headed Ganesh with Subramanya under five hooded serpent on the back side is very unique.

The sub-shrines of Bhairav and Hanuman are also located in the outer prakara region. 

In the inner walls of the tower, Adhikara Nandi and Veerabhadra are found in the niches.

Near the tower, there is another sacred Pipal tree, which is probably as old as the temple. The idols of Shiv Linga, Vishnu, Uma, Ganesh, Surya and Mari Amman are all found under this holy tree. 

A big Ganeshji is found in a separate shrine opposite to the temple.

Happy travelling. 

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