Kapaleeshwarar Temple

Coordinates: 13°02′01″N 80°16′12″E / 13.0337°N 80.2699°E / 13.0337; 80.2699
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Kapaleeshwarar Temple
DeityKapaleeshwarar (Shiva), Karpagambal (Parvati)
StateTamil Nadu
Country India
Kapaleeshwarar Temple is located in Chennai
Kapaleeshwarar Temple
Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Geographic coordinates13°02′01″N 80°16′12″E / 13.0337°N 80.2699°E / 13.0337; 80.2699[1]
TypeDravidian architecture
Elevation54 m (177 ft)

The Kapaleeshwarar Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Shiva located in Mylapore, Chennai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The temple was built around the 7th century CE and is an example of Dravidian architecture.[1][2]

According to the Puranas, Parvati worshipped her husband Shiva in the form of a peahen (mayil in Tamil), giving the vernacular name Mylai (Mayilāi) to the area that developed around the temple.[3] Shiva is worshiped as Kapaleeshwarar, and is represented by the lingam. Parvati is worshipped as Karpagambal (goddess of the wish-yielding tree). The presiding deity is revered in the 7th-century Tamil Shaiva canonical work, the Tevaram, written by Tamil saint poets known as the Nayanars and classified as one of the Paadal Petra Sthalam.

The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal being the most prominent. The temple complex houses many halls. The temple has six daily rituals at various times from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and four yearly festivals on its calendar. The Aṟupatimūvar festival celebrated during the Tamil month of Panguni as part of the brahmotsava is the most prominent festival in the temple.

The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu.[4]


Image of Karpagambal and Kapaleeshwarar

The temple's name is derived from the words kapala (head) and Ishvara, an epithet of Shiva. According to the Puranas, during the meeting of the deities Brahma and Shiva at top of Mount Kailash, Brahma failed to show the due respect to Shiva. Due to this, Shiva plucked off one of the five heads (kapala) of Brahma. In an act of penance, Brahma came down to the site of Mylapore and installed a lingam to please Shiva.[5] This place is known as Sukra Puri, Veda Puri, among many other names including "Kailaye Mayilai" and "Mayilaye Kayilai" (lit.'Mylapore is Kailash'). According to regional legend, Shiva's consort Parvati (Karpagambal), due to a curse became a pea-hen and did penance here to get back her original form. Her son Murugan received the spear (vel) for the destruction of a demon from Parvati here. Brahma had worshipped here to get rid of his ego and get back his power to create. The four Vedas have worshipped here. Shukra worshipped Shiva here and got back his lost eye. Rama has worshipped here and won the war against the demon-king Ravana. The daughter of Sivanesa Chettiar Angam Poompavai, who died due to snake bite, was resurrected here by the powers of the Nayanar saint Sambandar.[2] Vayilar, another Nayanar saint, attained salvation here. Mylapore is also the birth place of Thiruvalluvar who wrote the Thirukkural.[6]


Facade of the temple
The temple festival in c. 1940

The temple is generally thought to be built in the 7th century CE by the ruling Pallavas.[7] This view is based on references to the temple in the hymns of the Nayanar saints. However, the Nayanar Sambandar and the saint Arunagirinathar make clear reference to the Kapaleeshwarar temple being located by a seashore.[8] There are inscriptions dating back to 12th century inside the temple.[9] The temple's 120 ft gopuram[9] (gateway tower) was built during 1906 with stucco figures adorning it.[2][7] The temple is maintained and administered by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.[10]

The Temple[edit]

Bulls depicted in the decorated gopuram of the Kapaleeshwarar Temple.
Kapaleeshwarar Temple. Chennai. 2010
Pilgrims taking offerings to festival from Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Chennai. 2010

The Kapaleeshwarar temple is of typical Dravidian architectural style, with the gopuram overpowering the street on which the temple sits. This temple is also a testimonial for the vishwakarmas sthapathis. There are two entrances to the temple marked by the gopuram on either side. The east gopuram is about 40 m high, while the smaller western gopuram faces the sacred tank.[11]

The vahanas ("vehicles") at the temple include the bull, adhikaranandi, elephant, bandicoot, peacock, goat and parrot, while a golden chariot is a recent addition. Statues of the presiding divine couple are seated on a vahana or chariot which is brought in a procession around the temple while the temple band plays music. Devotees gather around the vahanas and consider it a privilege to pull / lift the deities on the vahana. There is also a peacock and a peahen caged inside the temple, to symbolize the tradition that Karpagambal had come in the form of peahen to plead to Kapaleeshwarar.

Sapta Sthana Shiva temples[edit]

This temple is one of the Sapta Sthana Shiva temples in Mylapore area. (one of the seven sacred Shiva temples in Mylapore).[12] They are:

  1. Karaneeswarar Temple
  2. Tirttapaleeswarar Temple
  3. Velleeswarar Temple
  4. Virupakshiswarar Temple
  5. Valeeswarar Temple
  6. Malleeswarar Temple
  7. Kapaleeshwarar Temple

In addition to these "Sapta Sthana Shiva sthalas", the Ekambareshwarar–Valluvar temple in the neighbourhood is traditionally considered the indispensable eighth.[13]

The tank[edit]

The theppakulam or the temple tank lies to the west of the temple. Known as the Kapaleeshwarar Tank or the Mylapore Tank, it is one of the oldest and well-maintained theppakulams in the city, measuring about 190 m in length and 143 m in breadth.[14] The tank has a storage capacity of 119,000 cubic metre and has water all through the year.[14] The 16-pillared, granite-roofed structure, known as the mandapam at the centre of this tank is known for its significance during the three-day annual float festival, when idols of Kapaleeshwarar and other deities are taken around the tank to the chanting of Vedic hymns.[14]

In 2014, 56.5 million was allotted to build a 2,150-meter-long pavement around the tank.[14]

Religious practises[edit]

The temple priests perform the puja (rituals) on a daily basis and during festivals. Like other Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu, the priests belong to the Shaiva community. The temple rituals are performed six times a day; Ushathkalam at 6:00 a.m., Kalasanthi at 9:00 a.m., Uchikalam at 1:00 p.m., Sayarakshai at 5:00 p.m., Irandamkalam at 7:00 p.m. and Ardha Jamam at 9:00 p.m. There is a separate calendar for the Rahu Abhishekam (sacred ablution): it is performed twice in a day at 11:30 a.m and 5:30 p.m. and additionally twice at various times in the day. Each ritual comprises four steps: abhisheka (sacred bath), alangaram (decoration), neivethanam (food offering) and deepa aradanai (waving of lamps) for both Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal. The worship is held amidst music with nadasvaram (pipe instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument), religious instructions in the Vedas (sacred text) read by priests and prostration by worshippers in front of the temple mast. There are weekly rituals like somavaram and sukravaram, fortnightly rituals like pradosham and monthly festivals like amavasai (new moon day), kiruthigai, pournami (full moon day) and sathurthi.[8][15] During Friday worship, Karpagambal is decorated with a kasu mala, a garland made of gold coins.


Murtis of Karpagambal and Kapaleeshwarar
Devotees praying at KapaleeshwararTemple, Chennai. 2010

During the Tamil month of Panguni, the traditional Brahmotsavam (annual festival) takes place when the entire neighborhood comes alive with a mela (carnival)-like atmosphere. Since this month corresponds to the mid-March to mid-April duration, the Kapaleeshwarar temple celebrates the nine day-long as Panguni Peruvila (Spring festival).[16] The festival starts with dhvajarohanam (flag hoisting), includes the terotsavam, (festival of chariot), Arupathimoovar festival and concludes with the Tirukkalyanam (Marriage of Kapaleeshwararand Karpagambal). In Brahmotsavam, the idols of Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal are decorated with clothes and jewels, are mounted on a vahana, and then taken around the temple and its water tank in a pradakshinam (a clockwise path when seen from above). This is repeated with different vahanas over the next nine days. The more important of the individual pradakshinams are the Athigara Nandhi on the third day, the Rishaba Vahanam on the midnight of the fifth day, the ther (about 13 meters in height and pulled by people) on the seventh morning, and the Aṟupatimūvar festival on the eighth day.[17]

The Arupathimoovar festival is the most important procession.[7] It is named after the sixty-three Nayanar saints. All sixty-three Nayanar idols follow the Kapaleeshwarar idol on this procession. During the car festival, Kapaleeshwarar is depicted holding a bow while seated on a throne, with Karpagambal alongside.[18] Brahma is depicted as driving the ther. The chariot is decorated with flowers and statues; there are huge gatherings of devotees to pull the ther. The car festival of 1968 is documented in the documentary film Phantom India by Louis Malle.[citation needed]

Religious work and saints[edit]

View of the temple tank at dawn.
Inner prakaram (corridor) of the temple.
The main tower at the temple.

There is a reference to the temple in Sangam literature of the 1st to 5th centuries and the earliest post-Sangam mention is found in the 6th century Tamil literature. The temple and the deity were immortalized in Tamil poetry in the works of Tevaram by poet saint belonging to the 7th century – Thirugnana Sambanthar has composed the 6th Poompavai pathigam in praise of the temple.[8] Arunagirinathar, a 15th-century poet, sings praise of the temple in Tirumayilai Tirupugal. The 12th-century poet Gunaveera Pandithar sings about Neminathan under Theerthangar neminathar pugazh.[19] Tirumayilai Prabanthangal is a compilation of four works on the temple and the deity.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Silas 2007, p. 114
  2. ^ a b c Kamath 2002, pp.28-31
  3. ^ Hurd 2010, p. 36
  4. ^ Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959
  5. ^ V., Meena (1974). Temples in South India (1st ed.). Kanniyakumari: Harikumar Arts. p. 46.
  6. ^ "Kapaleeshwarar Temple". Lankapradeepa. 22 August 2021. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  7. ^ a b c V. 2006, p. 13
  8. ^ a b c "Sri Kapaleeswarar temple". Dinamalar. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  9. ^ a b de Bruyn 2010, p. 320
  10. ^ "Administration details". Mylapore, Chennai: Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple. Archived from the original on 21 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  11. ^ "About the Temple". Mylapore, Chennai: Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple. Archived from the original on 17 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  12. ^ ஆரூர்.சுந்தரசேகர், பெருமைமிக்க மயிலாப்பூரில் சப்த சிவஸ்தலங்கள்!! விகடகவி, 16 மே 2020
  13. ^ Muthukumaran, M. (6 November 2019). "மயிலாப்பூர் திருவள்ளுவர் கோயிலில் என்ன நடக்கிறது? - ஸ்பாட் விசிட் #Video". Vikatan.com. Vikatan. Retrieved 10 January 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d "Take a stroll along Kapali tank". The Deccan Chronicle. Chennai: Deccan Chronicle. 21 November 2014. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  15. ^ "Pooja details". Mylapore, Chennai: Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  16. ^ Bhargava 2006, p. 451
  17. ^ "Festival details". Mylapore, Chennai: Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple. Archived from the original on 21 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  18. ^ Hurd 2010, p. 43
  19. ^ a b Narasiah 2008, pp. 220-223


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