Kamakshi & Kamakoti Peetha

Introduction

Shakti Peethas are places where a limb or an ornament of Sati had fallen. These places are the famous centers of Shakti worship. In fact Shakti Peethas are places where adoration of the goddess as Shakti of Siva is carried out.

Kamakshi or Kamakoti is a very famous Shakti Peetha where the bones of Sati had fallen. Since then it became a Shakti worshipping place. It is also a famous Hindu temple known as the Kamakoti Peetha due to the epithet of the Goddess Kamakshi as ‘Kamakoti’.

Location of the Temple

The temple is located in the historic city of Kanchipuram, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu. There are two Kanchipuram cities which are marked by the cults followed in those places. One is known as Vishnu Kanchi and the other is Shiva Kanchi. Both the towns are close to each other. Kamakshi temple is located in Shiva Kanchi. The famous Kailasa temple which is built by Pallava rulers is at Vishnu Kanchi.

Legend of the Temple

Once, unknowingly Parvati closed the eyes of Shiva in private. The three eyes of Shiva symbolize Soma, Surya and Agni. As a result there was complete darkness on the earth and the entire world stopped. Shiva ordered Parvati to, “Go to earth and practice penance as a punishment for this act”. Parvati came to earth upon the order of her husband and practiced penance at Kanchi. There she is reputed to have made a Shivalingam of sand every day and worshipped it.

Later Shiva planned to test Parvati and created a flood on the Kampa River where Parvati was staying. Parvati who had just finished the worship of Shivalinga made out of sand saw the flood waters reaching her and the Shivalinga. She thought, ‘till next day I should protect this Shivalinga’. Hence she hugged the linga and sat there reciting the name of Shiva all along. Finally Shiva came there and took her back to Kailasa as she was free from the sin. It is said that the Shivalinga which Parvati worshipped, is still worshipped at this place.

Another variation of the above story is that Shiva cursed Parvati to be transformed into an ugly maiden but that she would be redeemed by the mercy of Vishnu. In atonement, Parvati observed a penance for Vishnu. As a result he gave Parvati her lost beauty and also beautiful eyes. So she became famous by the name Kamakshi, meaning the one who has beautiful eyes and Shiva stayed with her in the form of Ekambara.’

Another legend says, when Mahishasuramardana was waging a war against Devi, two demons from south India namely, Kamasura and Minasura helped him. The Devi defeated them after which she lifted them and threw them away. They fell at two different places in south India and died. Before their death they requested the Devi that the places where their bodies fall should be remembered by all. Hence, two different goddesses namely Kamakshi and Minakshi were installed in the memory of these demons.

Kamakshi is the form of Rudra Shakti hence she used to roam the city at nights in the Karala form (dangerous form). Seeing that dangerous form many people died. Her mere shadow caused people to lose consciousness.

When Shankaracharya came to know of this he started a mighty sacrifice and composed the Karuna Stotra for the goddess. At the end of the sacrifice Shankaracharya asked Kamakshi for a boon. He prayed to the Devi ‘without my permission you should not come out of the temple and roam in the city.’ Kamakshi said Tathastu and it is believed that the above mentioned incidents stopped.

Role of Shiva in the Kamakshi Peetha

Shiva is known here by the name of Ekambara in the form of Bhairava which is associated with all peethas. Shiva stayed here in the form of Ekambara with Goddess Kamakshi. The temple of Ekambara was built during the time of Pallavas.

This temple is very famous as a site of Shaivite worship. Five Shivalingas representing the five great elements are located in south India. Among these, the Shivalinga attributed to earth or Prithvi element is located in Kanchi. It is also famous as a Thevara sthala or that which is praised in the Shaivite Hymn Thevaaram. Shiva is worshipped here as the Prithvi Linga or that made of sand worshipped by Parvati. Even to this day devotees do not pour water on the Shivalinga for Abhisheka as it is believed that ‘it is made of sand by Parvati’. Only fragrant things are applied to the Shivalinga.

Temple Architecture

The original Kamakshi Devi Temple is known as Adi Peeteswari or the Adi Peeta Parameswari. This temple is adjacent to the Kumarakottam. Nearby is the present temple dedicated to Goddess Kamakshi. This temple is built over a vast land. The temple is designed in the unique south Indian temple style. It has a magnificent spire or Gopura. The golden Gopura is 188 feet high and is richly ornamented with Haras & Kutas (rows of shrines).

The extension of the temple is 1200 X 800 feet. It also has one hundred pillars on which the entire templerests. The temple is the best preserved example of the Vijayanagara temple style. Within the temple complex there are the temples of Annapurna and Sharada.

The temple was most probably built by the Pallava kings, whose capital was Kanchipuram. Like other south Indian temples, Kamakshi temple also has three temple elephants.

Idol of the deity

The main deity, Kamakshi, is seated in Padmasana, a Yogic posture signifying peace and prosperity, instead of the traditional standing pose. The goddess holds a sugarcane bow and bunch of flowers in the lower two of her arms and has a pasha (lasso), an ankusha (goad) in her upper two arms. There is also a parrot perched near the flower bunch. Kamakshi is identified as the form of Tripura Sundari. The Goddess is also known as Kamakoti and hence Peetha is known as Kamakotipitha.

Exactly in front of the deity a Shree Chakra installed by Adi Shankaracharya can be seen. It is believed that he noticed the glory of the goddess diminishing slowly and hence installed this Shree Chakra at this very spot and the goddess regained her glory.

Benefits of visiting Kamakshi Peetha

The temple is located in the city of Kanchi. A visit to the temple is considered as very auspicious. Following verse is recited to highlight the importance of this place as,

रहस्यं सम्प्रवयामि लोपामुद्रापते श्रुणु ।

नेत्रद्वयं महेशस्य काशी काञ्ची पुरीद्वयम् ॥

Rahasyam sampravayami lopamudrapate shrunu |

Netradwayam maheshasya kasha kanchi puridwayam ||

Kashi and Kanchi are believed as two eyes of Lord Shiva and this secret is narrated by the Lord himself to Sage Agastya.

Worship of Kamakshi

Chetti group of people are devoteees of this goddess. Nambudri Brahmans have the right of worship in the temple.

Four worships are offered each day to Goddess Kamakshi. All the Fridays are considered as sacred and the is taken out on a procession within the temple premises every Friday evening on a Silver Chariot.

This place was the center of Tantric worship but lost its importance due to the effort of Adi Shankaracharya for reestablishment of the Vedic religion. He started the Vedic worshiping pattern of goddess Kamakshi by establishing the Shree Chakra in the temple.

Festivals celebrated in the Temple

The annual festival falls in the season of spring i.e. in the Tamil month of Masi, which runs from mid-March to mid-April according to Gregorian calendar. During this time the chariot festival which is known as Ther and lake festival which is known as Theppam are held. Other festivals which are celebrated in the temple include Navaratri, Aadi and Aippasi Pooram, Sankara Jayanthi and Vasanta Utsavam.

Shree Chakra

Right in front of the idol of the deity, the Shree Chakra carved on a stone can be seen. It is six inches in height and four feet in diameter. The nyasa of Ashtalakshmi; Adya, Vidya, Santana, Saubhagya, Dhana, Veerya and Vijaya are depicted on the chakra.

Role of Shree Shankaracharya in the establishment of the temple

The temple is popularly associated with Shankaracharya, one of the greatest Hindu gurus. Adi Shankaracharya was a famous scholar and saint of Vedic philosophy. He is known for his Adwaitavada philosophy. One of the Darmapeethas is located in the city of Kanchi. It is said that the Acharya planned the city of Kanchi according to the shape of Shree Chakra in such a way that Kamakshi temple would be established at the center of Shree Chakra.

Other related information

Food is served to all devotees in the afternoon as annadanam at the Annadana Hall run by Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Sankara Matam.

There is a belief that this temple has the information about sixty four Yoginis in the form of manuscript. But it is not known in the scholarly world.