Kānchi Kāmākshi

pics from Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Kamakshi Ambal by Arun Shanbhag
Kanchi is verily the City of Temples. Poems composed in the 2nd century ce refer to a shrine dedicated to the love goddess (Kamakshi – eyes of love). The current Kamakshi temple (Sri Kanchi Kamakshi Peetham Sri Kamakshi Ambal) was built by the Pallavas in the 8th century.

Replicating the original shrine, Adi Shankaracharya installed the Shri Chakra Yantra in front of a beautiful Lalita Kamakshi seated in padmasana – lotus pose. Puja and archana (offering) are made not to the murti, but to the yantra in front – how cool is that!

(image courtesy Kanchi Kamakoti; see also a beautifully illustrated recounting of the life of Adi Shankaracharya.)

We got to the temple just before it closes for the mid-day break. After dharma darshan from the mahamandapa, we started to perform pradakshina before leaving the temple. At a side entrance, we noticed a (less than fierce looking) guard let an elderly couple into the inner chamber. I grabbed my father and knowing the traditions here, quickly removed my shirt and pressed into the doorway. As the puzzled guard started to protest, I pressed money into his hands, showed him our janvae – sacred thread, and briskly walked into the dark cave like interior. Working our way towards the front, we met a priest who lead us to be seated directly in front of the Shri Yantra.

Imagine sitting on granite floors, where millennia ago great saints like Shankaracharya sat in meditation; a cave like darkness engulfing you; all eyes are directed to the stunningly beautiful Kamakshi. In the gentle light of oil lamps, her eyes and jewels flicker smilingly, flirting with you, beckoning to her grace. Head bowed, I yielded.

Chanting mantras, the priest offered flowers and kumkum to the yantra. He gave my mother and M flowers. Then plucked garlands from atop the yantra and placed it around my father’s and my neck. Oh, what an indescribable feeling! Like I had been patted by the divine!

In such instances when I am in the presence of the divine, my worries melt away, forgotten, ceasing to exist, scrubbed by one darshan, and my heart lightens in relief. At these times, my brain freezes too and I am unable to even mouth a prayer (I who have written a prayer book). In lieu, I have started to simply ask:

You are the All Knowing!
All perceiving!
I don’t have to ask for anything.
Guide me simply to do your bidding!

This moment here in your grace,
This feeling of overwhelming joy,
Keep it etched Firmly in my memory
For all time!

We performed a namaskar and my eyes glued to the devi, reluctantly moved away. We were all overcome by this unexpected darshan and offered dakshina to the priest. As we walked out, the guard held out the money I had given him. I pointed back to him and the junior priests around – indicating the offering was for them all.

On a inner gopura, I noticed this motif below. Can anyone tell me what deity this is?
Based on the readers comments below, it appears to be Bhairava.
pics from Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Kamakshi Ambal by Arun Shanbhag

A view of the main gopuras
pics from Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Kamakshi Ambal by Arun Shanbhag

At this stall, I purchased a shri chakra yantra, which now sits on our home shrine.
pics from Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Sri Kamakshi Ambal by Arun Shanbhag


Other posts from Tamil Nādu Tirth Yatra:


Other tirth yatras I was fortunate to go on:

45 thoughts on “Kānchi Kāmākshi

Add yours

  1. Hi Chitra:
    Thank you for your kind words.
    It takes a while to compose and write – but its a labor of love.

    readers like you are the encouragement I need to continue writing.
    🙂

  2. Kumudha – Glad you enjoyed this writeup.
    Truly, South India is a treasure trove of temples – particularly Tamil Nadu.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    🙂

  3. Hi Sia:
    you are good with these things too :-))
    Yes, I remembered that Dattatreya had multiple heads;

    But glad that Pratik and Ganga were able to confirm; If you have a few seconds, see the link on Ganga’s comment; its an identical image. Amazing.

    And yes, we were all blessed to get fantastic darshan;

    O, we went to Madurai and stayed there for three days – fabulous temple. You gotta go!

    and thanks for stopping by.
    🙂

  4. it is indeed bhairava. i thought it couldn’t be dattatreya as i remember him havng 4 heads and his vahana being a cow.(haven’t checked, I might be wrong as this was the picture i remember from dattatreya temple somewhere in dharwad)…
    wonderful post again arun. u r really lucky to get devi’s darshana from such close proximity. i haven’t been to meenakshi temple yet but planning to do sometime in future.

  5. Arun – how lovely to have received such grace from Kamakshi, I love that image of being patted by her. 🙂

  6. Hi Jennifer:
    Thank you for the perfect link! Exactly what I was looking for.
    And yes! It is Bhairav.

    Initially I did not want to believe it as Bhairav is not depicted on Devi Temples.

    THis must have been another attempt at incorporating Devi into the Shaiva sphere. 🙂

    Great Site!
    🙂

  7. Hi Pratik:
    I think I know who you mean; I have seen both Bhairav and Dakshina-murti in niches on the South side of the Vimana.

    Those are usually in Shiva temples. On Devi (Shakti) temples usually Dakshina murti or Bhairav are not depicted. And both of these are depicted as stern or fierce. This one appears child-like and the attendant dog. That has me flummoxed.

    As Saroj above mentioned, it might be Dattatreya.

    Right now I am trying to find another similar image, or reading about Kamakshi temple and see if they’d provide any clues.

    And yes, it was your TN trip that had me all inspired to do our own.

    Many thanks.
    🙂

    Addendum:
    Pratik: It is Bhairava! See the link below. 🙂

  8. I think the deity shown above is Bhairava form of Shiva. He acts as a dwarpala for temples and protects the south direction. Did this motif happen to be on the south side?

  9. Hi Saroj –
    i am not familiar with that Dikshitar’s poem. Is it something I could undertand (sanskrit or english?) Why don’t you share it on your blog?

    You may be right about Dattatreya;
    The childish figure looked like Murugan’s, but he’s vahana is a peacock, not a dog;

    Then I thought of Yama, who is always accompanied by a dog; but this one has a youthful appearance – so couldn’t be yama;
    and it is also unusual to have yama gracing a temple.

    Yes, datta did have an accompanying dog and now that I read about him, he is strongly associated with Devi/shakti worship.

    So you may be right!
    :-))
    Jeez, saroj!
    *bows*

  10. I am reminded of a song I sang for a puja at Cornell once, which I think is relevant to this post since it is about Kamakshi. It’s Muttuswami Dikshitar’s “Kancadalayadakshi.”

    Regarding the deity on the bottom (and this is completely a shot in the dark so forgive me), my guess is Dattatreya, only because there is a dog in the background and He is simply clad. As far as I understand, he was an ascetic, and an incarnation of the Trinity.

    Again, it’s totally a guess. hehe

  11. Thank you Jennifer –
    *bows* that was truly an awesome experience right at the beginning of our tirth yatra!
    The rest of it was equally sensational – particularly our darshan of other devis.
    Namaskar.

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