May 9, 2010

The legend of Kamakshi Amman Temple, Kanchipuram, India

Kanchipuram, one of the seven sacred cities of India, is also called as 'the city of thousand temples'. Even though there are not thousand temples found today, there are about 250 temples found in and around Kanchipuram city. Most of those temples are either very popular or very ancient. Out of all those temples, Kamakshi Amman temple is the most popular one. I want to cover Kamakshi Amman temple in detail. As it is not possible to cover all the information of Kamakshi Amman temple in one blog post, I am covering only the legends related to Kamakshi Amman temple in this post. I will write a separate post on the temple architecture and layout.

Kamakshi Amman temple, which is located about 0.5 km from Kanchipuram bus stand and Kanchipuram railway station, is the center of attraction for Kanchipuram city. Whoever comes to Kanchipuram on pilgrimage would not generally miss to visit this holy temple of Kamakshi Amman. The south Indians consider Kamakshi Amman as one of the three important forms of Mother Goddess- Madurai Meenakshi, Kanchi Kamakshi and Kasi Vishalakshi.

In ancient times, similar to other Shakti temples in India, there used to be animal and human sacrifices in this temple also. Adi Shankara, the great reformer of Hinduism religion changed that practice by installing Sri Chakra in this temple, and made the goddess represent peace. There is also another version of the story that it was sage Durvasa who pacified the goddess Kamakshi. You can find the idol of sage Durvasa as well as a separate shrine for Adi Shankara in this temple.

The word "Kamakshi" has the meaning like this. “Ka” means Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Education), “Ma” means Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth), “Akshi” means eye. The name as a whole refers to the Goddess who resides in Kanchipuram with Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi as her both eyes.

As per the legend, the goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva, closed his eyes from behind playfully. Immediately the entire universe was covered in darkness. The goddess Parvati got a curse due to this and had to get birth on earth as Kamakshi. Goddess Kamakshi was praying under a mango tree with a Shiva lingam made of sand to marry Lord Shiva. At that moment, Lord Shiva incarnated as Kamba river with high tides to test Kamakshi. Kamakshi grasped the idol closely with her two hands and prevented it from getting eroded in the tides. She also performed Pooja by sitting in a needle tip surrounded by “Panchakagni” (surrounded by 5 fires) to free herself from the interest of livelihood. Lord Shiva became happy, gestured before her and married her. When the goddess was performing penance, her fury was felt well beyond the Champaka grove affecting the villagers outside. The saint Durvasa requested her to become peaceful.

According to another legend, an Asura named Bhandakasur was troubling the Devas. Devas came to Kanchipuram and took the form of parrots. They were living in Champaka tree and were praying to Kamakshi Amman. Kamakshi killed the Asura and saved the devas.

Once the goddess Lakshmi was given curse by Lord Vishnu to incarnate as Arupa form (deformed). Lakshmi came here and worshipped Kamakshi and regained her original form. The Santana Stambha inside the Gayatri Mandapa of this temple is associated with the king Dashrath, the father of Lord Ram. He came to this temple and prayed to Kamakshi Amman for the grant of a boon to beget sons. In the olden days, there was a king named Akasha Bhoopati, who didn't have child. He came here and prayed Kamakshi Amman. Kamakshi's son Lord Ganesha incarnated as the son (Thundir Maharaja) of the king. You can find the idol of Thundir Maharaja in this temple.

The current temple structure is believed to have been built by the Cholas during the 14th century CE, even though the site is believed to be thousands of years old. This is one of the 51 Shakti Peeths (51 famous shrines of Shakti). When Sati (the wife of Lord Shiva) sacrificed her life, her body was split and the pieces fell in 51 places which became Shakti peeths. In Kanchipuram, it is believed that the skeleton of goddess fell. There are also other versions which say that the back part or ornament covering stomach (ottiyanam in Tamil) fell in Kanchipuram.

You can find a shrine for Swarna Kamakshi (golden Kamakshi) without the idol in this temple. During he Muslim rule, there was a riot in Kanchipuram. Due to this, the golden idol was shifted to a temple in Tanjore.

I will visit you all in my next post on the temple layout and structure. Till then...

Happy travelling.

Site Name: Kamakshi Amman Temple
1) One of the three most important Shakti temples in India
2) One of the 51 Shakti Peeths
3) The most famous temple of Kanchipuram, the city of thousand temples
Location: Kanchipuram, 75 kms from Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, India
Nearest Railway Station: Kanchipuram
Nearest Airport: Chennai (around 75 kms)
How to reach: Easily reachable by road and train
Hotel: A lot of luxury hotels and budget hotels are available
Restaurants: There are a lot of good restaurants in the city

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