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Temples in Kanchipuram (Vishnu Kanchi)

Kanchipuram is an ancient and celebrated city. It was considered as one of the seven mukti kshetras of this country. It was a place where flourished many religions—Saivism, Vaishnavism, Jainism and Buddhism. It was a centre of Sakti and Skanda cults. The Ghatika (University) of Kanchi produced great scholars.

Mayurasarman of the Kadamba dynasty came here to study the Vedas. Kanchi sent out renowned scholars to Nalanda University and also to other famous foreign universities of Asia. Besides Jaina Kanchi on the western bank of the Veghavad river, Kanchi proper consists of two parts—Vishnu Kanchi (the little Kanchi) and Siva (the big) Kanchi.

Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple

Of the many temples in this large city, there are three in Vishnu Kanchi—the Tiruvekha (or Yadyotkari) described in the Pattuppattu, Perumbanarruppadai, one of die Ten Idylls of the Sangam age, the Ashtabhujam and the (later known as the Varadaraja Perumal or Hastigiri) temple, sung by Bhutattalvar, one of the three earliest Alvars, of the early Christian era. In later Vaishnavite literature (about the 11th century a.d.) Attiyur becomes changed into Hastigiri (the elephant hill), in connotation of Gajendra, the devotee gaining his salvation by the Lord’s grace. Hence the name of the deity is Varadaraja (or Arulala) Perumal. Perhaps the deity’s name of Attiyurar stems from the tradition that the original deity was made of the Udumbara (Atti) wood. An inscription at Nagarjunakonda mentions the consecration of the Ashtabhujasvamin (Vishnu) made of the Udumbara wood. It may be added that in the sacred tank called the Ananta Saras, there is, in addition to the MTrali-mandapa in its centre, a four-pillared mandapa with a vimana. Perhaps it is here that the original but mutilated adi-atti Varada image is housed and preserved with due adoration.

The first prakara is on the Hastigiri hill. It houses th the antarala, and the two co-axial walled mandapas. The garbhagriha is a square cella housing the mula bhera of Varadaraja Perumal—a standing figure. It has a dvitala vimana of the sala type, called the punyakoti vimana. The garbhagriha and the two mandapas in front have architectural features of the Middle Chola period (11th century). At the western foot of the sanctum is the Narasimha (Togic form) shrine, conceived in the form of a cave. The inner faces of the walls of this shrine are covered with inscriptions; the earliest of these is one of the period of Rajadhiraja I dated in his 32nd year (= a.d. 1050; ARE 519 of 1919). This is also the earliest inscription of this temple. The inscription calls the presiding deity of the temple only by the name of Tiruvattiyur Alvar.

The expansion of the temple campus and further developments took place during the reign of Kulottunga I and his son Vikrama Chola. The second and third prakaras and the kitchen bearing an inscription of the Chola General and Minister, Naralokaviran, are to be assigned to this age. An inscription of the third year of Kulottunga I (= a.d. 1073) is found on the basement of the entrance to the second prakara. Inscriptions of the 30th, 31st and 36th years of the same ruler on the third prakara wall refer to the construction of the lofty stone-built prakara wall (madil) for the temple. Mention has already been made of the kitchen of the temple having been built by the Chola general and administrator Naralokaviran.

It was also at this time that the expansion of the temple areas of many of the temples in Chola desa and adjoining mandalams took place, as in Chidambaram, Sirkali, Tiruvarur, Tiruvanaikka (val) and Srirangam. This was an age of temple cities and rapid expansion of the campus with additional walls of enclosure.

Among the subshrines and mandapas built in this temple campus during the Later Chola period may be mentioned:

  1. Karimanikkap-Perumal (a.d. 1129—11th year of shrine Vikrama Chola)
  2. Anantalvar shrine (a.d. 1212)
  3. Abhisheka mandapa (a.d. 1236)
  4. Perun-devit-tayar (first half of the shrine 13th century a.d.).

There are eighteen inscriptions of Kulottunga III (covering the regnal years from the third to the 37th), twentyone inscriptions of his successor Rajaraja III (from his seventh year to his 31st year) and some of Rajendra III.

With the weakening of central authority after the end of Kulottunga Ill’s rule, the Chola hold over Kanchi slackened considerably. In fact even in the last days of Kulottunga III, the Pottappi Chola chief took possession of the city of Kanchi and the Chola king had to lead an expedition to retake it (a.d. 1196). During the last days of the Cholas, this city became the cock-pit of contending powers among which the more powerful were the Hoysalas, the meteoric Kopperunjingan, the Later Pallava chief, the Telugu Cholas from the Nellore region and the Pandyas who were rising as a new power. A complicating political element was added to this confusion by a lightning foray by the Muslim rulers from Delhi which resulted in an utter collapse of government. The situation was remedied by the emergence of the Vijayanagar empire that restored peace and order in this region and under their long spell of peaceful governance, this temple received great patronage. It was during this period that the later additions, like the huge eastern gopuram, the Kalyana mandapam, and the Tulabhara and the Unjal mandapas were raised. It was the brightest period in the history of this temple city as well as of this temple.

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