The Ekambareswarar Temple is one of the most important places to visit for devotees of Lord Shiva. It is one of the Panchabhoota Sthalas. This ancient temple is in the temple town of Kanchipuram that is also famous for its silk sarees.
This temple dates back to 600 AD. Ancient Tamil Sangam literature such as Manimegalai and Perumpanarupatai dating to 300 BCE mention this temple. Inscriptions dating back to 1532 CE mention gifts to the temple. There are records of the Vijayanagara kings making gifts to the temple in the 15th century.
The legend of the temple states that Parvati Devi was cursed to become dark like Kali. She did penance under a mango tree by the Vegavathi river. Lord Shiva sent fire on her to test her. Parvati Devi prayed to Lord Vishnu, her brother to save her. He took the moon from the head of Lord Shiva and shone it on her to cool her down. Lord Shiva sent the Ganges to disturb Parvati Devi. She told Ganga that they were sisters and hence she should not disturb her. Parvati Devi then made a Lingam out of the sand to unite with the Lord. The mango tree that is in the temple is the same ancient mango tree that Devi did penance under. The Deity is Ekambareshwarar which means Lord of the mango tree.
Another version of the story states that Parvati Devi was worshipping the sand Lingam under a mango tree. The Vegavathi river flooded and threatened to engulf the Lingam. Parvathi Devi then embraced the Lingam and Shiva appeared and married her. This is why he is Tazhuva Kuzhainthaar or the one who melted in her embrace.
The Nayanar Saint
One of the 63 Nayanar saints was Tirukuripputhonda Nayanar who was a washerman near the temple. He washed all the clothes of the Saivites. Once the Lord appeared before him as an aged Brahmin and requested that he wash his clothes before dusk. Lord Shiva made it appear to be evening. The distraught washerman banged his head on a rock. Lord Shiva appeared before him in his true form as a result of his devotion.
The Pancha Bhootha Sthalas are Shiva temples of the five elements of earth, fire, water, air and ether. The Ekambareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram an earth or Prithivi element. The other Pancha Bootha Sthalas are the Appu Lingam (water) at Jambukeswarar Temple, Akaya Lingam (ether) at Thillai Nataraja Temple, Agni Lingam (fire) at Annamalaiyar/ Arunachaleshwara Temple and Vayu Lingam (air) at Srikalahasti Temple.
The Lord Ekambareswarar or Ekambaranathar is worshipped in this temple as a Prithvi Lingam. The temple is also significant for worshippers of Lord Vishnu. The Nilathingal Thundam Perumal temple is in this temple complex. It is a Divya Desam, one of the 108 temples revered in the Nalayira Divya Prabhandam. There is also a small Ganesha temple and a temple pond within the complex
The Lord is worshipped as a Lingam and an image within the temple. One of the Lingams in the temple is a Sahashra Lingam which has 1008 Lingams scarved on it. There is no separate temple for Parvathi Devi. Local legend states that the Kamakshi Amman Temple, Kanchipuram is the consort of the Lord. There is a plaque that depicts Shiva and Parvathi as Tazhuva Kuzhainthaar and Parvathi as Elavar Kuzhali behind the Lingam. The Nilathingal Thundam Perumal temple depicts Lord Vishnu as Vamana Murthy. The temple has a granite image of the 63 Nayanmars in the temple. There was a sacred underground river at the site, now lost. The mango tree in the temple is over 3500 years old and yields four different varieties of mangoes on its branches. The temple also has a Nataraja shrine.
The temple is in a 25 acre complex with four gateway towers or Gopurams. The Southern tower is the tallest with 11 stories. It is 58.5216 metres / 192 ft high. The original structure was built by the Pallavas. The Cholas later demolished and reconstructed it. There are also many halls in the temple. The thousand-pillared hall was built during the Vijayanagar period. The 10th-century saint Adi Shankara got the temple renovated and remodelled.
Festivals And Rituals
The temple celebrates twelve festivals and the main festival is the Pangunai Uthiram festival in the month of Panguni (March-April). Since the Lingam is made of sand/clay, Abishekams are not poured directly on the Lingam.
Travel And Accommodation
Kanchipuram is easy to access by rail or road from Chennai. The temple is within walking distance of the railway station. The town of Kanchipuram is world-famous for its silk sarees.