Varadaraja Vaikuntha Perumal, Kanchipuram

pavilion at the Varadaraja (Vaikuntha) Perumal Kanchipuram by Arun Shanbhag
(click image for larger version)

After immersing ourselves in Shaiva philosophy at the Kapaleeshwara Temple in Chennai, we journeyed for darshan to the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram. This temple was commissioned by the Pallava King Nandivarman II and built circa 770 ce. Then Kanchipuram was the capital city of the Pallava dynasty and at the cross-roads of the North – South trade within India. Through their port city at Mammalapuram, trade and Indian civilization were spread across the bay into Thailand, Cambuja (Cambodia), Shrivijaya (Malaysia, Sumatra and Java) and present day Vietnam. The thriving Kanchipuram was also a seat of Sanskrit literature and Buddhist, Jaina, Vaishnava and Shaiva philosophies.

The Varadaraja (aka Venkatanatha or Vaikuntha) Perumal is a stunningly magnificent temple, where a resplendent Vishnu, seated on a throne, holds court. The pic above is of the courtyard inside the main gopuram and leading towards the inner courtyard. On the right, you spy my mother leading M to the shade.

In the background, note the multi-pillared kalyana mandapa – a hall for weddings. You also notice a group of Ayyapa devotees clad in black, making their way towards the inner courtyard. We visited Kanchipuram in early Decemeber, which coincided with the annual pilgrimage made by Ayyapa devotees as they journey towards Sabarimala in Kerala. It was heartening to see tens of thousands of these devotees during our yatra. Encountering these devotees, by their penance and sacrifice, sanctified our own pilgrimage.

Working our way towards the inner courtyard, in the pic below, notice a smaller mandapa used during festivals to sport the divine murti in a swing. Following this mandapa (someone please suggest a name) is the deepa sthamba (light post), a balli piTha (sacrificial stone), the brass coated garuda sthamba (eagle’s perch) and finally the inner gopuram. In addition to artwork in niches of the gopuram, the garuda sthampa identifies this as a Vishnu temple – the eagle is Vishnu’s vahana – ride. Shiva temples will instead pay tribute to a Nandi (bull) out front.
At the Varadaraja (Vaikuntha) Perumal Kanchipuram by Arun Shanbhag

Devotees throng through a doorway. Notice the Lakshmi on the lintel, showering her grace on all who pass through; a common feature in all temples and many homes.
GajaLakshmi on the lintel of the doorway at the Varadaraja (Vaikuntha) Perumal Kanchipuram by Arun Shanbhag

After darshan, we walked around the garbha griha (womb chamber housing the murti) along this narrow pradakshina paatha – a corridor created by the outer wall of the sanctum and the inner courtyard. The sanctum is artistically sculpted and later decorated with various deities in relief on metal sheeting.
At the Varadaraja (Vaikuntha) Perumal Kanchipuram by Arun Shanbhag

Uniquely, the temple has three storeys with other Vishnu murtis in stacked sancta. This arrangement of sancta also attests to the antiquity of this temple. In the early history of temple architecture, artisans (along with their royal patrons) experimented with this concept. I was fortunate to see another example of a two-storey, Chalukyan Vishnu temple in Aihole, Karnataka.

While murti pujas are no longer performed in the sancta above, a throng of Alvars – Vaishnava saints – are frozen in devotion across from the upper sancta.
Alvars or Vaishnava saints at the Varadaraja (Vaikuntha) Perumal Kanchipuram by Arun Shanbhag
(click image for larger version)

In one of the upper chambers is a giant golden lizard. Makeshift ladders permit devotees to touch the lizard. Devotees believe that touching the lizard in this sanctified chamber absolves us of the sin of previously hurting lizards; it also protects us from future harm by lizards. Here’s my father reaching for the lizard.
Lizard at the Varadaraja (Vaikuntha) Perumal Kanchipuram by Arun Shanbhag

Other posts from Tamil Nādu tirth yatra:

Other tirth yatras I was fortunate to go on:

42 thoughts on “Varadaraja Vaikuntha Perumal, Kanchipuram

Add yours

  1. hi!!
    this article is absolutely fine….thank you for presenting such articles on the web related to indian culture…

    can you clarify me with why ther is lizard in a perumal temple only at kancheepuram? is there any story behind so ??

    wil be glad if answered so…..

    1. Hi Jyothi:
      Not exactly sure, but there is a legend of a prince from Ayodhya and his wife who were turned to lizards; on praying at this temple they regained their human form; I think it is likely they were afflicted with some skin ailments which made their skin coarse and lizard like. Of course, now everyone wants to touch the lizards.

      Thank you for reading and best wishes,

  2. The Perumal here is found along with 8 hands and each of them holding 8 different weapons and the 8 weapons are called as “Divya Aayudha Aazhwargal”. The Perumal gave His prathyaksham (seva) for Gajendran, the elephant.

  3. Hello Arun and ALL,

    These pics you have enjoyed and celebrated are great pieces of ‘ VARADARAJAPERUMAL TEMPLE’ not ‘VAIKUNTANATHA PERUMAL’. Kanhi is my birth town and every one incl. bhakthas, philosophers, sculptors, architecturers, literary poets have created this wonderful temple town.

    Lord Varadaraja looks magnificent in sanctum. All go and enjoy….

  4. Hi….
    i’m an architecture student and doing a research on the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple……
    This page helped a lot…it gave me a rare first hand xperience(considering the fact i’ve never been there)..Thnx;)
    Can u suggest me some website where i can get a more detailed analysis of d temple…..

    1. Hi Utsav:
      Best Wishes in your architectural studies and I feel satisfied that this writing could help you in your research.
      We had a fabulous visit to the temple and many of the surrounding temples. A superb place.

      I’d recommend that you make an attempt to visit the temple.

      Unfortunately, when i was research for this temple I did not find any good information; a few touristy sites parroted the same generic info. Sad. I have cited several books at the end of the post, perhaps those will be of help to you.

      Good luck!

  5. Lakshmi:

    The lizard is in one of the upper floors! And a big line!
    But it was interesting to see the local beliefs and participate in them.

    My parents enjoyed it! more like hands-on-participation in a temple!

    Chidambaram was FANTASTIC !!!!!
    and we loved rameshwaram too! you have to get doused with the waters from 22 wells.
    much, much fun! 🙂

  6. Now I’ve got to see that lizard – fascinating. We last went to Chidambaram, Rameshwaram is next on list.

    Tell me something, how do you click photos inside? Mahabs I can understand but then here!!!

  7. Very nice posts on the temples, I will have to come back and read in detail the other ones. I love the perspective and the angle of the first snap and the way u have shot it. Looks very nice..

  8. Such wonderful pics. Love them.

    PS tonight I am reviewing the next edition of HT which is about to go to press and online version about to be released. It is also going to be a magnificent issue.

    Arun says:
    Jennifer – this is so great to hear! Can’t wait!
    … and thanks for browsing.

  9. Arun

    Thanks for an yet another fabulous post.
    I think it was Bharavi who wrote about Kanchi

    “……Pushpashu Jathi
    Prusheshu Vishnu
    Narishu Rambha
    Nagareshu Kanchi…….”

    Apparently those lines made Pulikesi the second fall in love with Kanchi and made him invade the pallava kingdom. Later Narsimha Varma Pallva fought back Pulikesi in Vathapi destroying the Chalukyas Or so goes the plot of the historic, timelsess novel written by one of the greatest tamil writer Kalki.

    The Ekambareswara temple, Kanchi Mutt and several other well known temples in and around Kanchi clearly tells us the role Kanchi has played in nurturing the very core of hinduism.


    Arun says:
    Thank you Viji for sharing that beautiful couplet!
    did not know of this background of why Pulikesi first invaded Kanchi.

    I had read about NarasimhaVarma defeating the Chalukyas. They actually brought back temple artisans and employed them to build even more fabulous temples. The temples at Mammalapuram which were built soon after this conquest thus share important Chalukya features. Very very interesting!

  10. Hi Saroj –
    During these travels we visited three (!) Murugan temples and I have to say – I feel the tug! 🙂

    O, what beautiful temples and wonderful bhaktas! I hope to see all of the famous six!

    Heh, Murugan is like the south indian Krishna – so there you go!

    and you are right, the architecture is similar – but the feeling in all these is divine! Hope you get a chance to visit the TN temples; they stand head and shoulders over the rest.

    O, I want to visit Sabarimala :-))

  11. Ahh, Sabarimala, my family (at least on my mother’s side) used to be very big Ayyappa devotees, which I think is the case with 90 something percent of Nair families in Kerala. Now most of them are Shirdi Sai Baba devotees. My father’s side is mostly Muruga bhaktas, and somewhere in all of that, I became a huge Krishna devotee. So things go…

    There’s something very familiar about this temple, and I can’t quite place it, though I think it’s fair to say that the architecture and features of the temple are shared by many in South India. At some point I do hope to visit more temples in Tamil Nadu, especially in and around Chennai (I’ve never really been on that side of Tamil Nadu before!).

    Fantastic post as always, and very informational.

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