KANAKAVALLI JOURNAL

Set In Stone - The Temples of Kanchipuram : Vaikuntha Perumal

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The Vaikuntha Perumal temple in Kanchipuram was constructed during the Pallava era, and is known for its historical sculptures that have inscriptions of significant events from the era. Dr Chithra Madhavan elucidates...

The Vaikuntha Perumal temple, situated in the heart of Kanchipuram, is an 8th century shrine of the Pallava times. Constructed during the reign of Nandivarman Pallavamalla, this sandstone temple is of utmost importance in many ways. It is one of the 108 important Vishnu temples which have been praised in the Tamil hymns of the Azhvars or the Vaishnavite saints. Architecturally, it marks a significant departure from the previous temples as it has been constructed in not just one, but in three levels with three vertically aligned sanctums, which bespeaks superior architectural skills. Of utmost interest is the raised pillared veranda, with the trademark Pallava lion motif, seen on all four sides of the ground floor sanctum. The inner walls of this veranda have numerous historical sculptures depicting various events from the reigns of different monarchs from the Pallava dynasty, right from the very beginning including the reign of Nandivarman Pallavamalla in whose time the construction of this temple took place.


The sculptures in the section of the reign of Nandivarman also have accompanying inscriptions explaining the events depicted in the sculptures. It is clear from these panels and the epigraphs that this king, originally named Parameshwaravarman, was brought to Kanchipuram, of his own will, at the tender age of twelve to become the emperor as the previous ruler had died. This boy-king was a distant relative of the Pallavas of Kanchipuram and ruled for a long period of 65 years! There are other sculptures of the various forms of Vishnu that showcase the work of the great sculptors of the Pallava era.
The writer, a recipient of two postdoctoral fellowships, is the author of seven books and several research papers.
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