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Karnataka and South India - 06 Ekambareswarar Temple



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Ekambaranathar Temple (Tamil: ஏகாம்பரநாதர் கோயில்) or Ekambareswarar Temple is dedicated to Shiva, and located in Kanchipuram in the state of Tamil Nadu. The temple is located in the northern part of the town. The temple gopuram  is 59m tall, which is one of the tallest gopurams in India.  It is one of the five major Shiva temples or Pancha Bhoota Stalam (Sanskrit: पन्च भूत स्थल) representing the Elements – in this case the element  EARTH. Pancha indicates five, Bhoota means Elements and Stala means place.

The other four temples in this category are Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara (WATER), Chidambaram Natarajar (AETHER), Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (FIRE) and Kalahasti Nathar/ Srikalahasti Temple (AIR). It is one of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams, where all of the four most revered Nayanars (Saivite Saints) have sung the glories of this temple. The temple is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in the city.



Second century AD Tamil poetry speaks of the Kama kottam, and the Kumara kottam  - currently the Kamakashi Amman temple and the Subramanya temple.  But the first temple was pulled down and rebuilt by the later Chola Kings. The present vast temple is still one of the most ancient in India having been in existence since at least 600 AD. The temples were further modified in the 10th-century at the request of Adi Shankara/Sankara. The Vijayanagar kings, during the 15th century, also made significant changes to the temple.

In all this temple renovation and change, there is a question mark over whether the changes remained true to the original intent and symbolism.  [The current colour coding of the temples is certainly not correct symbolically if this a temple dedicated to EARTH]. 

During British rule, Vallal Pachiyappa Mudaliar used to go regularly from Chennai to Kanchipuram to worship in this temple, and he spent significant amounts of money on ‘temple renovation’.  He even immortalised himself in stone by having a statue of himself on horse-back in a temple pillar. The Archaeological Survey of India report of 1905–06 indicates further widespread ‘renovation activities’ being carried out in the temple by Nattukottai Chettiar.


Temple pyramid

The temple covers an area of over 23 acres (93,000 m2), and has 5 prakarams (or courtyards). Reaching a height of 59 meters, the temple's Raja gopuram is one of the tallest in South India. One notable feature of the temple is the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam, or the "hallway with a thousand pillars", which was built by the Vijayanagar Kings.  A very long tunnel indeed!

The lingams

The temple's inner walls are decorated with an array of 1,008 Siva lingams.  The sanctum sanctorum contains the lingam along with the image of Shiva.  There is no separate shrine for Parvati within the complex as with other Shiva temples in Kanchipuram.

Step well

The temple also has a step well or temple tank - Kampai Tirtha, the symbolism of step wells can be found by following the link.   Although the tank is lovely, it is clear that with this feature some of the symbolism has been lost.  The tank is just a water feature, without the very subtle symbolism found in some of the other step wells that have not been so extensively altered.

The fourth courtyard contains a small Ganesha temple and a pond.

Sacred tree

The sthala-virutcham or temple tree is a 3,500-year-old mango tree whose branches are said to yield ‘four different types of mangoes’ from its four branches.


The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Activities and commonsteps



Creating a sacred geography