Kapaleeshwarar Temple

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Cows depicted in the decorated gopuram of the Kapaleeshwarar Temple.

Kapaleeshwarar Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to lord Shiva located in Mylapore, Chennai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The form of Shiva's consort Parvati worshipped at this temple is called Karpagambal is from Tamil ("Goddess of the Wish-Yielding Tree"). The temple is the most ancient one that has been built around the 7th century CE in Dravidian architecture.

Quotes[edit]

  • O Lord of Mylapore temple, situated on the shores of the sea with raging waves....
    • (One century before the arrival of the Portuguese, Arunagirinathar writes...) Arunagirinathar , quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010. Arunagirinathar, who came to Mylapore in 1456, in his Tirumayilai Tiruppugazh.
  • The Lord of Kapaleeswaram sat watching the people of Mylapore – a place full of flowering coconut palms – taking ceremonial bath in the sea on the full moon day of the month of Masai.
    • Jnanasambandar. Tirujnanasambandar, in the 6th Poompavai Padikam Thevaram. quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010. The great Shaivite saint of sixth century AD, Tirujnanasambandar, sings in the 6th Poompavai Padikam Thevaram.
  • “On their festival days the Hindus would bring their images [to Mylapore beach] accompanied by large crowds and great rejoicing and would, as they approached the door of the church, lower them three times to the ground as a mark of reverence to it, a practice which had been followed from time immemorial.”
    • Gaspar Correa, Lendas da India, quoted by George Mark Moraes in A History of Christianity in India, , quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010. Ishwar Sharan adds: “The practice had indeed been followed from time immemorial, in the first Shiva temple where it originated, whose place on the beach was now usurped by the Portuguese church. The practice was to take the festival image around the temple and lower them three times to the ground, at the sanctum door before the muladeva. The Hindus were continuing the ritual in the second temple, and by taking the festival images to the church on the beach were reverencing the ancient mulasthana – even if Christians and Gaspar Correa vainly thought otherwise.“
  • The Kapaleeshvara temple complex is another important temple, devoted to Shiva. .... Legend has it that Parvati, Shiva’s wife, once incarnated as a peahen and worshiped Lord Shiva here to obtain deliverance. Actually the story is that Shiva was once imparting knowledge to Parvati, but she became distracted by a beautiful peacock and was not listening to her husband. Thus, Shiva cursed her to become a peahen to experience that life, but told her by worshiping him in the form of a Shiva lingam under a Punnai tree, he would again join her. After years of searching, the peahen finally found such a lingam in this area known as Mylapore.
    • Stephen Knapp, Spiritual India Handbook (2014)
  • “The first Portuguese historians say ... that St. Thomas built his ‘house’, meaning his church, on the site where a Jogi had his temple.” ... “Fragmentary Tamil inscription of eight lines on a stone found at the cathedral, northwest end of the veranda, on the top line of the granite foundations of walls projecting from the veranda into the garden. “When I visited Mylapore last February, 1924, the stone was still lying near the place of the find. It ought to go to the Bishop’s Museum and receive an appropriate number. “According to the Assistant Archaeological Superintendent of Epigraphs, Madras, this inscription is a fragment in Tamil and it seems to register a tax-free gift for burning at night a lamp before the image of Kuttaduvar (Nataraja) in the temple of Suramudaiyar. Palaeographically this inscription may be assigned to the 11th century A.D. “A later communication from the Government Epigraphist for India, Fernhill, Nilgiris, says that Mr. Venkoba Rao, the Assistant Archaeological Superintendent for Epigraphy, Madras, pronounces the inscription belongs to Vikrama Chola’s time (12th century) and that the gift was to the Hindu god Nataraja, whose shrine is always to be seen in a Siva temple. “The stone was not found at its original site, as is shown by its fragmentary condition, the parts above and below, as well as right and left, being wanting. All we can gather is that the foundations in which the stone was inserted are of a date later than the inscription. To argue, as was done at the time of discovery in the Madras Mail, that, if the stone was dug up from any depth, it would indicate an original Saiva temple, on the ruins of which the Portuguese church of modern St. Thomas was erected, is to show a lamentable ignorance of what Marco Polo and even earlier writers have written about St. Thomas.”
    • Fr. H. Hosten, in Antiquities from San Thome and Mylapore, , quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010.
  • "Ptolemy the Greek geographer has referred to Mylapore in his books as 'Maillarpha', a well known seaport town with a flourishing trade. Saint Thiruvalluvar, the celebrated author of Thirukkural, the world famous ethical treatise, lived in Mylapore nearly 2000 years ago. The Shaivite saints of the 7th century, Saint Sambandar and Saint Appar, have sung about this shrine in their hymns. St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus, is reported to have visited Mylapore in the 2nd century (sic) AD. Mylapore fell into the hands of the Portuguese in 1566, when the temple suffered demolition. The present temple was rebuilt about 300 years ago. There are some fragmentary inscriptions from the old temple, still found in the present shrine and in St. Thomas Cathedral."
    • From the memorial plaque on the Kapaleeswara Temple, Mylapore, Chennai, quoted in San Thome Cathedral Cover-up Uncovered – G. P. Srinivasan
  • “Mylapore fell into the hands of the Portuguese in 1566, when the temple suffered demolition. The present temple was rebuilt around three hundred years ago. There are some fragmentary inscriptions from the old temple still found in the St. Thomas Cathedral.” M. Arunachalam also says, “Later, devout Hindus built the present temple of Mylapore at a different site, a few furlongs west, out of whatever they could salvage from the ruins of the old temple. A number of carved temple stones can still be seen on the compound wall of the church.”
    • N. Murugesa Mudaliar, in Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple Mylapore, quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010.
  • “Mylapore, which is a part of Madras city, is an ancient town. Sri Tiruvalluvar, the author of the famous Kural known as Tamil Vedham, who lived in the first century AD, lived his entire life at Mylapore. Saints Sambandar and Appar have composed songs mentioning the God of Mylapore as Shri Kapaleeswara. It was a prosperous town when the English built the Fort St. George in 1593. But the present temple does not contain any feature of the Dravidian style of architecture. The carvings in the pillars are poor specimens compared with those in some of the ancient temples. When there was an erosion of the sea about the close of the last century, there was a landslip on the San Thome beach. It revealed carved stone pillars and broken stones of mandapam found only in Hindu temples. It is a historical fact that the Portuguese, who visited India in the 16th century, had one of their earliest settlements at San Thome, Mylapore. In those days they were very cruel and had iconoclastic tendencies. They razed some Hindu temples to the ground. It is probable that the other Mylapore temple referred to in the Thevaram hymns was built on the seashore and that it was destroyed by the Portuguese about the beginning of the 16th century.”
    • P.K. Nambiar, in Census of India 1961, Vol. IX, Part XI, , quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010.
  • A careful study of the monuments and lithic records in Madras reveals a great destruction caused by the Portuguese to Hindu temples in the sixteenth century A.D. The most important temple of Kapaleeswara lost its ancient building during the Portuguese devastation and was originally located near the Santhome cathedral… A few Chola records found in the Santhome cathedral and bishop’s house refer to Kapaleeswara temple and Poompavai. A Chola record in fragment found on the east wall of the Santhome cathedral refers to the image of Lord Nataraja of the Kapaleeswara temple. The temple was moved to the present location in the sixteenth century and was probably built by one Mallappa… A fragmentary inscription, twelfth century Chola record, in the Santhome church region refers to a Jain temple dedicated to Neminathaswami.
    • About the Kapaleeswara temple history and controversy of Mylapore, Chennai. Dr. R. Nagaswamy, Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu and Director of the Indian Institute of Culture in Madras. ‘Testimony to Religious Ethos’, The Hindu 30 April 1990. Quoted from Goel, S. R. (2016). History of Hindu-Christian encounters, AD 304 to 1996. Chapter 21 [1]
    • Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu Government, and present Director of the Indian Institute of Culture, Madras, in “Testimony of Religious Ethos”, published in The Hindu, Madras, on 30 April 1990
  • V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, quoted in Tiru Mayil Kapaleecharam Kumbhabisheka Malar 1982, believed that the great Shiva temple covered the area now occupied by the palace of the Roman Catholic bishop of Madras. This estate, on the south side of San Thome Cathedral, still contains scattered temple ruins and includes a museum. 50 V. Balambal, in Journal of Indian History 1986, Vol. LXIV, Parts 1-3, writes, “According to certain Dutch sources quoted by A. Gelletti, the old town of Mylapore was demolished in 1674 by the order of the King of Golconda and was in ruins. This hypothesis is questioned as some epigraphs 51 specify that the old shore Temple of Kapaleeswara was demolished in the 16th century by the Portuguese and some of the ruins including a broken Vinayaka image are still seen scattered within the demesne of the Mylapore bishop’s palace. It is also said that the remnants of the temple, its pillars, etc., were found immersed in the sea sixty years ago.”
    • V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010.
  • A. Ekambaranath and C.K. Sivaprakasham, in Jain Inscriptions in Tamil Nadu, following the Jesuit Fr. H. Hosten, describe a stone in the eastern side of the church which records in twelfth century Tamil characters a gift made to Neminathaswami by Palantipara(yan). They remark, “The existence of a Jain temple dedicated to Neminatha at Mylapore (of which San Thome is a part) is not only known from this record, but also from the Mackenzie Manuscripts, recording the transfer of a Neminatha image from Mylapore to Chittamur, probably to protect it from destruction. Some Jain images are said to have been buried by the side of the nunnery at San Thome.”
    • A. Ekambaranath and C.K. Sivaprakasham, quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010.
  • M. Arunachalam, in an article in Christianity in India: A Critical Study, is more direct when he writes, “The Kapaleeswara Temple at Mylapore, Madras, is a standing example of Christian desecration. The great temple of Shiva at Mylapore was situated not in its present site, but at the site of the present San Thome Church even up to the end of the 16th century. It was demolished by the Portuguese vandals and their missionaries of that period, who erected their church on the site where the Hindu temple originally stood. “Rama Raya, the Vijayanagar ruler, to save the Hindu temples, waged a war on the Portuguese in Mylapore and Goa simultaneously. The Portuguese were defeated and he took a tribute from them for their vandalism. But, when the Vijayanagar rule fell at the Battle of Talikota (1565) before the Mohammedans, the Portuguese continued their demolition work.” Rama Raya came to Mylapore in 1559, and R.S. Whiteway, in The Rise of Portuguese Power in India, observes that “when San Thome was held to ransom for the intolerant acts of some Jesuits and Franciscans, the Raja of Vijayanagar kept such faith with the Portuguese that, as one of them says, such humanity and justice are not to be found among Christians.”
    • M. Arunachalam, R.S. Whiteway,, quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010.
  • Santhome Cathedral and Bishop House stand on the site of the original Kapaleeswara Temple which was destroyed in 1566 by the Portuguese. This site is the highest point on the Mylapore beach and is naturally protected from sea surges, Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former director of the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, has written: “The most important Kapaleeswara Temple lost all its ancient building during the Portuguese devastation and was originally located by the Santhome Cathedral. A few Chola records found in the Santhome Cathedral and Bishop’s House refer to Kapaleeswara Temple and Poompavai. A Chola record in fragment found on the east wall of the Santhome Cathedral refer to the image of Lord Nataraja of the Kapaleeswara Temple.” And, “A 12th century Chola record in the Santhome Cathedral region, refers to a Jain temple dedicated to Neminathaswami.”
    • Nagaswamy, quoted in The New Indian Express Makes A Tsunami by Ishwar Sharan in The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Fourth edition. 2019
  • The best evidence for a Shiva temple on the Mylapore beach is offered by the Tamil saints. Iyadigal Kadavarkon, the sixth century Shaivite prince of Kanchipuram, Jnanasambandar and Arunagirinathar, the sixth and fifteenth century Shaivite poets, consistently mention in their hymns that the Kapaleeswara Temple was on the seashore. Both saints show in these verses that the Lord was on the seashore, and Jnanasambandar marks that He was watching His devotees in the sea – that He must have been facing east. This is not the case today. The seventeenth century Vijayanagar temple is built inland and the Lord faces west, with the all – important flag pole and image of Nandi in the western courtyard before Him. This arrangement indicates that the present temple is a second temple, as the Agama Shastra does not permit a temple that has been moved from its original site and rebuilt to face in the same direction as its predecessor. Neither Jnanasambandar nor Arunagirinathar had reason to sing of the Lord by the sea if He was not there. Their testimony is impeccable and by itself destroys the argument for a seashore tomb of St. Thomas.
    • Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (2010)
  • Poompavai was the daughter of a wealthy sixth century Mylapore merchant called Siva Nesan Chettiar. He wanted to give her in marriage to the saint Jnanasambandar, but she died from snakebite before meeting him, when picking flowers for the Lord in the garden. Her father cremated her and kept the bones and ashes in a pot. When Jnanasambandar visited Mylapore, the Chettiar kept Poompavai’s ashes in front of him and narrated the story of her death. Jnanasambandar responded by singing eleven songs in praise of Lord Kapaleeswara, lamenting the death of the girl at the end of each song. When he had finished, the pot of ashes burst and a twelve-year-old girl stepped forth. Jnanasambandar then declined to marry her, saying that she was his “daughter”. Poompavai has her own shrine within the precincts of the Kapaleeswara Temple.
    • Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (2010)
  • The destruction of the seashore Temple of Kapaleeswara is said to have taken place in 1561. The new temple at its present present site, about one km to the west, was built by pious Hindu votaries about three hundred years ago, i.e., about two hundred and fifty years after its destruction. When the Santhome Church was repaired in the beginning of the current century, many stones with edicts were found there. Among them one mentions Poompavai, the girl whom Tirujnanasambandar is said to have miraculously revived from her ashes kept in an urn.
    • The Legend Of A Slain Saint To Stain Hinduism – Swami Tapasyananda quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (2010)
  • What emerges from this story is that the Syrian Christians were worshipping in a Hindu temple, which they called a church, at least up to 1322 when Friar Oderic visited Mylapore. Henry Yule, in Cathay and the Way Thither, referring to Friar Oderic’s description of the church, declares, “This is clearly a Hindu temple.”
    • Sir Henry Yule, quoted in Ishwar Sharan. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. Third edition. 2010.

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