Sri Sankara and Kancheepuram

In the Kamakshi Amman temple, there is a separate shrine for Adi Sankara who installed the image of Devi Kamakshi with due scriptural sanction and authority. He attained samadhi in Kanchi itself. This fact has been well attested by Hultsch's collection of manuscripts(19th century). Therein the line of preceptors belonging to the Bharati tradition on the banks of Tungabhadra is recorded.

Sri Sankara's images are found in good number in temples in Tiruvotriyur, Mangadu, Poonamalee, Pappanchatiram and Kadambar Koil. In the Varadarajaswami temple, Vaikunthaperumal koil and Kumarakottam in Kanchipuram itself his images are found.

In the Varadarajaswami temple (see figure 1) in the four-pillared hall on the banks of the Ananta Pushkarini tank the image has a danda (the holy stick), the vessel to carry water(kamandalam), Rudrakshamala on the head.

The second image in the same temple(figure 2) shows Sankara standing in all humility by the side of Sri Vyasa who is seated in teaching posture.

The third figure found in the tower of the Vaikuntha perumal temple represents Sankara as a yogi doing penance on one leg. One hand points to the heart in the sign of chinmudra and the other is lifted above the head. The noteworthy feature of this image is that royal insignia like choury, along with the utensils, flower-basket and the book rest symbolising a recluse together with a sivalingam (Chandramouleeswara) lighted by a lamp are also seen. A similar representation is also seen in Mayana mandapam in the Ekambareswara temple (see figure 4). The fourth figure is seated in the padmasana with folded hands. This is found in a pillar in the Kumarakottam in Kancheepuram.

In the Vaidyanathaswami temple at Poonamallee, in the Narasimha temple in sevilimedu and in the Punyakotisiva temple, the other figures (see 5,6 and 7 in the pictures) are found.

Again in the Sivalingamedu, Kachapeswara temple at Kanchi, Kadambar Koil, Ekambareswarar Koil, Kamakshi Koil, Bangaru Kamakshi sannidhi in the temple of Kamakshi, Pappan Chattiram where Sankara's four chief disciples are sculptured in a panel at the seat(see figures 8,9,10 and 12) - in all these, the representation of Sankara is as a teacher expounding the philosophy of Advaita.

In the Ekambareswarar temple at Kanchi, Sankara is shown as performing Tapas in the Sirasasaana. In this temple and in the Kamakshi temple a significant representation of Goddess Mother is as in deep penance, standing on one leg, the other being folded up to the hip and the right arm raised touching the crown of the head. This sculpture resembles closely the figure of Sankara absorbed in penance in the same posture. The identity of the Mother and Sankara is obviously sought to be conveyed by this sculpture.

Danda (the sacred staff) is peculiar only to the Sannyasis. Then how is it that Kamakshi is shown as having it during her penance, except to show that Kamakshi is the same as Acharya Sankara?

Tenambakkam Sivamasthanam in Kanchipuram has a panel of Sankara worshipping the Lord Somaskanda. In Thiruvotriyur a figure of Sankara in the seated posture of a preceptor has been discovered. All these instances are evidences of the close relationship of Kanchi with Sankara Bhagavatpada.

The most important source of the history of Kanchi is the collection of manuscripts and copper plates by Mackenzie and Sri Gopinath Rao. These records show that the Kanchi Sankara Matham has had a math at Vishnu Kanchi also since 9 centuries ago. Many copper plates are in the possession of the Kanchi Sri Matham to support and substantiate this fact.

This branch Matham is still seen to the west of the Varadaraja swami temple. Sri Vijayaganda Gopala Deva(1111 A.D.) a Telugu Chola King has made a gift of land to the Sankara Matham and has recorded the event in copper plate where it is stated that Sankara Matham was to the west of the Varadaraja swami (Sri Hastisailanatha) temple.

Besides the emperors of Vijayanagara (for example Krishna Devaraya, 1528 A.D.), the Sultan of Golkonda have made munificent gifts to the Sri Matham.

Round about 1686 A.D. the Peetadhipati of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham was invited to Thanjavur by its king Pratapa Simhan. As it was a time of war, Bangaru Kamakshi was taken by the Acharya to Thanjavur and the Goddess was installed in a shrine built for the purpose. Also, a Sankara Math was established on the banks of the Kaveri river near Kumbakonam.

In the Kumbeswaraswami temple at Kumbakonam, there is a shrine for Lord Somaskanda. There are inscriptions to prove that it was built by Sri Mahadevendra Saraswati, the 63rd pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. (in 1800 A.D.)

The East India Company issued an order dated 18th April 1792 for all the arrangements to be made for the pilgrimage of the then Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

All the above evidences establish beyond any doubt that Kanchi Kamakoti Matham was founded by Sri Adi Sankara and was held in high esteem by the emperors of old and government of recent times.

(Courtesy - Ananda Vikatan - Deepavali Malar)