Kanchi Kamakshi temple is at the heart of Kanchipuram – in every possible sense. The city surrounds the temple. Even the Gods like Shiva and Vishnu surround her temple and extend outwards from this temple that is fondly called Kamakshi Amman Temple.
On one side of the temple is Shiva Kanchi or big Kanchi where many Shiva temples are located along with a few Vishnu temples. On the other side is Vishnu Kanchi or small Kanchi where some of the big Vishnu temples and many Shiva temples too are located.
As per beliefs, the Kanchi Kamakshi temple has existed since time immemorial. In the documented past, Adi Shankaracharya set up the Sri Chakra at this temple, and depending on when you agree to place him in history, the dates could vary from 5th BCE to 8th CE. Archaeologically, the temple is about 1600 years old going back to the days when the Pallava dynasty ruled this region and Kanchipuram used to be their capital.
No matter who you believe in, at Kanchi, Kamakshi is the reigning goddess.
Legend of Kanchi Kamakshi Temple
Kamakshi comes from the conjunction of three words – Ka, Ma & Aksh. Ka means Saraswati, Ma means Lakshmi and Aksh means eyes. She whose eyes are Lakshmi & Saraswati.
Kamakshi Temple at Kanchi is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas in the country, a very important Shakti Peeth. This is where the Nabhi or the Navel of the Goddess Sati had fallen when Shiva was taking around her body. It is also believed to be the Nabhisthan or the center of the earth or at least the eastern hemisphere.
Read More – 50 Cities in India Named After Devi
It is believed that after the Devi took birth to kill the Asur Bhandasur, she took the Kanya Swarup and sat in this temple. The idol is supposed to be Swayambhu which means it was not created but it appeared. She is believed to be in the temple in three Swarupas – Sthula, Sukshama, and Shunya.
The story goes that Kamakshi Amma prayed while standing on one foot on a needlepoint to get married to Shiva. Her wish came true and they were married in the month of Phalgun in the Uttara Nakshatra. There used to be an image of Kamakshi in Gold in a standing pose as she prayed called Bangaru Kamakshi. It was shifted to Thanjavur when an attack on the temple was expected. The image is still in Thanjavur.
Rishi Durvasa prayed here after he was cursed. Once he overcame the curse by worshipping Kamakshi, he installed the Sri Chakra here. He also wrote down Saubhagya Chintamani Kalpa also called Durvasa Samhita. In this text, he laid down the detailed Vidhi, or the way to worship Kamakshi. Even today the worship is done exactly as he has written in his text Saubhagya Chintamani.
Priests of 7 Gotras can worship at Kanchi Kamakshi temple. However, only two gotras worship here, and the rest worship at Kamakshi temple in Thanjavur. Priests here are called Shastri’s.
Another story tells us that Devi was in her Raudra Rup or angry form here. The sanctum used to be very hot with the heat of her anger. It was Adi Shankara who pacified her and since then she is in her Karuna or peaceful form. Adi Shankara wrote Saundra Lahiri in this temple.
It is believed that Dashratha – the father of Sri Ram and a king of Suryavanshi Ikshvaku Vansh from Ayodhya performed ‘Putra Kamechha Yagna’ here i.e a Yagna to get sons. He did get his four sons in a short time. Since then it is believed that childless couples can get children if they pray here. Devi Kamakshi is the Kuldevi of Ikshvashu Clan. This story is mentioned in Markandeya Purana.
Mook Panchshati is a poem written in 500 verses by a Mook or a dumb person when he was blessed with the voice in this temple.
Kamakshi Idol in Kamakshi Amman Temple
The main sanctum at the temple is called Gayatri Mandapa. It has Kamakshi Amman sitting in the yogic pose of Padmasana. Her seat or Aasan is Panch Brahmasan. She has four arms. In her lower hands are a Sugarcane and a bunch of five flowers. In her upper hands have her weapons Pasha and Ankush. There is a parrot near her but it is hardly visible to the visitors. She is always well adorned in bright beautiful Saris with all the Shringara.
In the sanctum or the Garbhagriha, there is a silver-covered pillar which a hole in it representing the navel. It is believed to bless people with children. Even king Dashratha of Ayodhya prayed here to get children.
In front of the idol is the Yoni-shaped carving, inside which is the Sri Chakra. It is the Sri Chakra that is worshipped here. Devi, as per all scriptures, sits on top Bindu of the Sri Chakra. There are 8 Vagdevis present around the Sri Chakra. It is difficult to see the Sri Chakra as it is always covered with layers of fresh lotus flowers in pink colors. Sri Chakra is carved in stone. Saundrya Lahiri – a very popular work on Devi by Adi Shankara was written here.
It is believed that the four walls of the sanctum represent four Vedas, while the 24 pillars of Gayatri Mandap represent the 24 letters of Gayatri Chhand.
Read More – Biography of Adi Shankara
On the left side of the main idol are Varahi and Arup Lakshmi. Inside the sanctum where you are allowed only for special Pujas, you are given Kumkum, which you offer to Arup Lakshmi and take some with you as prasad. I was fortunate to get some bangles along with the Kumkum.
On the right of Kamakshi’s idol is an image of Vishnu & Swarup Lakshmi. The door leading to the main sanctum is called Bilvadwar.
Festivals of Kamakshi Temple
The marriage of Shiva and Kamakshi is celebrated in the month of Phalgun, which would fall in Feb/Mar. It is believed that people who want to get married should attend this festival. Goddess is taken for a boat ride on this day. Another temple that lends help in getting married is Rukmini Temple in Dwarka.
Both the Chaitra and Sharda Navratri are celebrated here just like all Devi Temples across India.
Every Purnima or full moon day, special celebrations take place.
Annual Brahmotsava is celebrated in the month of Magh that falls in Jan/Feb. The goddess is taken out around every morning and evening during this time. On the 4th day of the festival, Kamakshi Amma rides a golden lion and on the 9th day, she rides on a silver chariot. And on the 10th and the final day of the festival which is also a full moon day, the Goddess and all her devotees take a dip in the temple tank.
On the first day of Chaitra month (end of March) every year, Kamakshi Amman rides on her gold chariot. This ride also happens first of every Indian calendar month, on Fridays, they coincide with Full Moon or No moon. I hope to see this Rath Yatra of Kanchi Kamakshi sometime in my life.
The Rath Yatras of all other temples in Kanchipuram go around the Kamakshi temple as she is the prime Goddess.
My visit to Kanchi Kamakshi Temple
As soon as I reached Kanchipuram, after checking in and leaving my luggage at the hotel, I headed to Kamakshi Temple. There was a long queue, that I joined without a question. As the queue moved slowly, I looked at the sculptures on the pillars, the tall shining Dhwajastambha in the compound, and of course the lovely Kanjivaram Saris worn by women all around me. Slowly the queue entered the temple. It still skirted around the temple wall. It took some time for me to have the first darshan of Kamakshi Amma.
Kamakshi Amma was wearing a Kumkum Red Sari and that image will stay with me forever. I had my darshan and then sat there to chant Lalita Sahasranama. After spending a good 40 minutes in front of the sanctum, I walked around the temple. The first minor shrine I saw was the one that houses the Utsav Murtis of the temple. The resplendent idol of Kanchi Kamakshi is flanked by idols of Saraswati and Lakshmi. They shine in their bright Saris amidst stone structures.
Saraswati & Lakshmi
Surrounding the main shrine are smaller shrines. One of them is dedicated to Dharamshasta or Ayyapa Swami who is here with his two wives Poorna and Pushkala. Just outside Bilva’s door is a small temple dedicated to Annapoorna Devi who holds a full pot in one hand and a ladle in another. Devotees say ‘Bhiksham Dehi’ so that the mother always keeps their plates full. Remember Annapurna is the Adhishtatri or the prime goddess of Kashi.
Read More – Shakti or Devi Temples of Haridwar
Saraswati with her eight arms is present as Mantrini or a minister of Kamakshi Amman. She is also called Matangi or Rajshyamala and those looking for knowledge pray to her. A temple is dedicated to Adi Shankaracharya. It has names of eight saints written on top – Narayan, Brahmo, Vasishth, Shakti, Parashar, Vyas, Shuka, Gaudpa & Govind Bhagwat. Temple of Durvasa Muni is there.
I was walking around admiring the temple, taking in all the sights and sounds and most importantly the vibrations of the temple that has been worshipped for ages. Suddenly someone pointed upwards and asked me to look up. What I saw was stunning! On top of the main sanctum is the gopuram in gold. It shimmers. You can get a glimpse of it from outside near the temple tank, but the best view is from inside the temple when you see it closely in all its opulence. Behind the main sanctum, there is a glass ceiling and from here you get the best view of this golden gopuram of the temple. Do not miss admiring it when you visit the temple.
After spending time in the warmth of Kamakshi Amma, I came out and observed the temple from the outside. Four tall Gopuras stand in all four directions. A tall Dhwajastambh stands in front of the main gate. A temple tank called Panchganga stands behind the temple. At night the Golden Gopura shines and shimmers as it reflects in the waters of the Panchganga tank.
Vishnu Temple, Ashtadurga Temple, and Mandapas
Around the Panchganga tank, there is a Vishnu temple and an Ashtadurga temple.
There are many big and small mandapas around the main temple. I could visualize the social life of Kanchipuram in these open pavilions with carved stone pillars. And later discover these Mandapas across the city, especially close to all the big temples. I think there are 8 pavilions in all at the temple complex.
It was night and I stepped out of the temple promising myself to come back again before I leave Kanchipuram. I did return back on the morning of my last day in Kanchipuram. I again chanted the Lalita Sahasranama, offered Kukum to Arupa Lakshmi, and thanked Kamakshi Amman for blessing my visit to Kanchipuram in so many ways.
Till a few years back Kamakshi Temple in Kanchi used to have elephants that can be seen in some old videos of the temple.
Temples around Kanchi Kamakshi Temple
Adi Shankaracharya had established 6 paths within Hinduism for people to follow. These were for the followers of Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Ganesha, Kartikeya, and Surya. As per the book I received at the temple, there are 6 temples dedicated to these six deities just outside the Kamakshi temple. I could find 5 of these temples.
The Kaushikeshwara temple is dedicated to Shiva, which is, in fact, the oldest stone temple in Kanchipuram. It is a small but beautiful temple.
Adi Kamakshi Temple
Adi Kamakshi Temple is for Shakti worshippers. It is again a small temple.
Kumarakottam is dedicated to Karthikeyan. This is one of the bigger temples around. It is a lovely temple with an idol of Karthikeyan in a standing position. The temple is placed in such a way between Kamakshi Temple and Ekambarnath Shiva Temple that it forms the formation of Somskanda.
Sankupani Ganapati Temple
Sankupani Ganapati Temple is a small temple.
Ulgananda Perumal Temple
The Ulgananda Perumal Temple is the Vishnu temple close by. Vishnu is present here as Trivikrama with one leg stretched out. The idol is giant and similar images can be seen in some of the Vishnu temples in Kanchipuram.
I could not find a Surya temple as mentioned in the book but I could find a Mahakal temple, which is a Shiva temple where Rahu and Ketu are present too.
If you walk around visiting these temples, you would be circumambulating the Kanchi Kamakshi Temple. I must tell you there is a lot of construction around the temple and this is not an easy circumambulation. If you do not speak Tamil, you may have to struggle a bit, not because people do not help, but because every name is pronounced a little differently, so the accents come in the way of helping.
- Temple timings are 5:30 AM-12:30 PM and then 4:00–8:30 PM. On Fridays, it is open till 9:30 PM and on Purnima or full moon day till 10:30 PM.
- I visited the temple twice, once in the morning around 8:00 AM and found no queue, and once in the evening around 4:30 PM and had to stand in queue for almost an hour.
- Dress appropriately. You need to leave your shoes outside before entering the main gate.
- Keep at least 45 minutes to go around the temple.
- Photography is allowed outside the temple premises within the four Gopurams. Inside, there is strictly No Photography.