June 12, 2010

Iravasthanam - Kanchipuram

Pilgrims, heritage enthusiasts, those who love Indian culture, those who are interested in South Indian history and even those who enjoy visiting the architectural and sculptural marvels, all of them visit this holy city called Kanchipuram in large numbers. But, most of them visit only few selected and popular temples in this city of thousand temples. There are much more ancient temples in and around the city which remain unknown or lesser known. Iravasthanam is one such unexplored temple; it is an architectural marvel and a treat for our eyes.

Pachai Vannar and Pal Vannar temples can be considered as the twin Vishnu temples. Similarly, this temple called Iravasthanam and the nearby Piravasthanam can be considered as the twin Shiva temples of Kanchi.

The temple is located in Kammala Street near Pachai Vanna Perumal temple. It is one of the eight Pallava temples of the temple that still exist. There is no stone inscription found. However, based on the architectural style, the scholars have categorized this temple as the one built during the later years of Rajasimha Pallava (8th century CE).


As per the legend, the sages did severe penance towards Lord Shiva requesting to grant immortality. Shiva appeared to them and advised them to visit Kanchi. They came to this particular site and continued their penance to ultimately achieve their goal. Hence, this site is called as Iravasthanam and the deity is named as Iravadeeswarar or Mrityunjeswarar. The word "Irava" in Tamil refers to immortality.

It is also believed that the sage Markandeya originally installed this Shiv Linga. Sweta, a Brahmin, attained immortality after worshiping Shiva in this site; the tank is named after him. The grandson of the sage Salankaya attained the post of Shiv Gana after praying to Shiva in this temple.


The east facing temple has two towers at the eastern and western entrance. Both these towers belong to later period and not to the original times.

Main Shrine

The east facing sanctum enshrines Shiv Linga, who is named as Iravadeeswarar or Mrityunjeshwar. The panel of Somaskanda is found on the wall inside the sanctum. The vimana above the sanctum is two tier Nagara vimana. Nandi with his head turned towards his right direction under a small beautiful mandap and bali peetha are found facing towards the sanctum. The mukha mandap and the mandap on the southern side are all later additions. Only the sanctum and the ardha mandap are the works of Pallavas.

The wall around the sanctum as well as the vimana have very beautiful sculptures.

Sculptures on the southern wall

The southern side wall has the sculptures of Ganesh and Dakshinamurti. The sculpture of Ganesh has the figures of few Bhuta Ganas on his left side. Also a Dwarapala is found. However, there is no Dwarapala or Bhuta Ganas on the other side. The torana above Ganesh has Sukhasana Murti. The figures of Bhuta Ganas are not very clear.

To the true right side of Ganesh, Dakshinamurti is found. His right arm is broken and his face is also damaged. As otherwise, this is a very beautiful sculpture. He is surrounded by four lions as well as six sages. As per Sri. Sivaramamurti, the famous epigraphist, one of the sages, who holds Eka danda, could be Adi Shankaracharya. Within the niche of Dakshinamurti, few other figures and antelopes are also found, but they are not very clearly visible. The extreme right and left side of Dakshinamurti have two Dwarapalas. Two sculptures of Ganesh are found above these two Dwarapalas, and above Dakshinamurti, there is a torana with Sukhasana Murti.

Sculptures on the western wall

In the middle of the western wall, Shiva in Vrschika Karnam is found. To his true right side, there is Bhikshatana Murti and to his true left side, there is Gaja Samhara Murti. Both these figures have Uma as well. The extreme left and right sides have Dwarapalas. The torana above Vrschika Karana Murti has Sukhasana Murti. Above the Dwarapalas, the sculptures of Ganesh are found.

Sculptures on the northern wall

In the middle of the northern wall, Jalandhara Samhar Murti is found. To his true right side, there is Gangadhara and to his true left side, there is Kala Samhara Murti. A small figure of a boy hugging Shiva Linga representing Markandeya or Sweta is also found in the niche of Kala Samhara Murti. The extreme left and right sides have Dwarapalas. The torana above Jalandhara Samhara Murti has Sukhasana Murti. Above the Dwarapalas, the sculptures of Ganesh are found.

To the right side of all the above mentioned sculptures, there is a beautiful representation of Durga. She hold discus and conch in her upper arms and has lion as her vaahana. To her true right side, there is a Dwarapalika holding bow. Few Bhuta Ganas are found to her left side. A Dwarapala is found on the right side of Dwarapalika. There is Sukhasana Murti in the torana above her.

Other Sculptures

The four corners of the sanctum walls have the standing horned lions (Vyala).

The Griva portion of the vimana has the sculptures of Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, Vishnu and Brahma.

The miniature figures of Bhuta Ganas are found on top of the walls. Also, the karna kootham has sculptures. It is said that this is one of the earliest temples to have karna kootham images.

Happy travelling.

P.S. Thanks to Kanchipuram Dr. Sankara Narayanan, a great scholar. I have used some information shared by him in this blog post.

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