Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple, Tirumylai (Mylapore)

Sri Kapali temple main tower on the east

It is said, Kailai is Mylai and Mylai is Kailai’ for it is here the well known temple of Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal is situated at the heart of Mylapore in South Chennai. This temple is a prominent land mark of this place with its imposing seven tier tower of some 40 m high and a large tank and the circumscribing four mada streets. Mylapore can be approached from any part of the city by road or rail and the nearest Rapid Transport Station is Tirumylai.

This temple is believed to have been constructed in the 7th century by Pallavas near the seashore and later was relocated at the present place some three hundred years back. It was consecrated by the four prominent nayanmars, Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagar.

There are two interesting stories about this temple.

Sri Karpagambal in peacock-hen form worshiping Lord Siva

The first story is about the goddess Karpagamabal herself. Once, when Lord Siva was explaining the meaning of the mantra, Om Nama Sivaya in Kailash, the goddess Parvathi devi was inattentive and was watching a flock of peacocks dancing near by. The Lord disturbed by her attitude, ordered her to be born as a peacock-hen in the world but later on, suggested the redemption measure to undo the curse by performing a penance. The goddess selected a spot under a Punnai tree to perform a penance in the form of a peacock-hen. Pleased by her devotion, the lord joined her later after her long penance.

There is a small shrine in the temple near the Punnai tree wherein the images of Lord Siva in the form of a Lingam and goddess Parvathi as peacock worshiping him are here. Also, the story of the penance of Devi Parvathi is beautifully depicted by colorful images on the temple tower.

The second story is about a Saivaite Nayanar, Tirugnanasambandar. Once, Sambandar who was on a pilgrimage to the various Siva temples, visited Mylapore on his way. Prior to his visit, a young girl called Arum Poompavai, the daughter of a trader, Sivanesa chettiar, died of a poisonous snake bite. The chettiar, a stanch devotee of Lord Siva, was hopefully waiting for the arrival of Sambandar to Mylapore to revive his dead daughter. The Nayanar coming to know of the untimely death of the girl, prayed to the Lord and  invoked her from the ashes preserved in a pot, by singing a verse, asking her why she had gone away without seeing the festivals of Sri Kapaleeswarar?

This famous verse of Sambandar is this:

மட்டிட்ட புன்னை அம்கானல் மடமயிலைக்
கட்டிட்டங் கொண்டான் கபாலீச்சரம் அமர்ந்தான்
ஒட்டிட்ட பண்பின் உருத்திரபல்கணத்தார்க்கு
அட்டிட்டல் காணாதே போதியோ பூம்பாவாய் சம்பந்தர்

It is said, at the end of this verse, the girl rose from the ashes like getting up from sleep. There is a shrine within the temple near the Dwajasthambam for Tirugnana Sambandar and Angampoompavai.

The other shrines in the temple

The temple was constructed in the typical Dravidian architectural style. The main tower is on the East with a large three way mandapam on the street ahead. Soon after entering the tower, is Narthana Vinayakar in dancing posture.

There are separate shrines for Annamalai and Unnamulai amman, Subramaniar with his consorts Valli and Deivayanai, On the West is another entrance with a small tower and facing this is the Dwajastambam, Balipeetam and Nandhi.

There are two separate spacious sanctums for Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal with a common mandapam. Sri Kapaleeswarar is facing the West and is surrounded by 63 Nayanmars, Durgai, Kaalabhairavar, Sun god, Dakshana murthy, Vinayakar and other deities. The beautiful image of Devi Karpagamabal in standing posture is facing the South and awe inspiring. Kapaleeswarar is in Lingam form, a form known to represent both the form and formlessness of the all pervasive and omnipresent God.

On the Northern side is the Sthala Viruksham, the Punnai tree. Under it is the small shrine of Karpagamabal in peacock-hen form worshiping Lord Siva.

On the North Eastern corner is a separate shrine for Saneeeswara bhagawan and then there are Navagrahams on a common platform in a separate shrine.

A long Navarathri mandapam is there on the Southern side of the temple for cultural activities and other temple related functions which are held on special days.

Special features

On one of the pillars of the Navarathri mandapam (at the South West corner) is seen an image of Sri Narasimhar, a celebrated avathar of Lord Vishnu. It is a rare sight to see the Narasimha avathar on a pillar, as it is said, he seems to have emerged from a pillar to the call of his devotee Prahaladha, to establish the presence of the all pervasive God in each and every matter right from a speck to a pillar.

On another pillar at the mandpam before Kapali, Karpagambal sanctums is seen Sri Hanuman, Sri Rama with a bow and arrow, Sri Lakshmana with a bow and arrow and Sri Sita, separately on the four sides of the pillar. Hanuman’s image is always seen smeared with butter and decorated with flowers by the devotees and it is a common sight to see them going round this pillar most of the times.

Within the temple at the North Western corner, one can have a ‘Gopura darshanam’, a view of the main tower and the towers on the sanctums of Kapalieswarar and Karpagamabal with the Dwajastambam.

The temple tank, Kapali teertham is situated on the Western side of the temple and both the temple and the tank are surrounded by the four busy mada streets.

Goddess Sri Karpagambal, who is known to bestow all the virtues and blessed things in life, is aptly named after the heavenly Karpagam tree here! As per the scriptures, once she came hurriedly to the call of a hungry crying child, whose father had gone to the temple leaving her at the steps of the tank. Later, the child who drank the divine milk grew up to become the saint Tirugnanasambandar, a celebrated Nayanar. This scene of ‘divine feeding’ is celebrated every year during the procession of the deities on the Adigara nandhi seva day at the Southern side mandapam of the tank.

Eastern and Northern sides of Kapali temple Tower

As we go round the precincts of this spacious temple with various small shrines and towers with beautiful icons depicting the stories in the scriptures, we get inspired and feel like visiting this temple quite often.

CSG Raju


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