A 22-year-old dream comes true

A monument to the Sage of Kanchi

The grand monument built in stone in memory of Kanchi Kamakoti seer Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi at Orikkai village near Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu.

An enthralling all-stone monument at Orikkai, four km from Kancheepuram, in memory of the late 68th pontiff of the ‘Kanchi Kamakoti Math’, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, embodies a unique cultural fusion of ancient temple architecture, philosophy and spirituality.

The ‘Mani Mandapam’, paying homage to the late Acharya, revered by countless devotees across the country and abroad as the ‘Sage of Kanchi’, consecrated recently by the math’s present Sankaracharyas, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi and Sri Vijayendra Saraswathi, is a 22-year-old dream come true.

If ennobling cultural waves reappear in a 1000-year cycle, then this all-granite marvel, blending sculpture and temple-building art, is a fitting tribute to the ‘eternal relevance’ of the life and teachings of  ‘Mahaswami or Periyavaal’, as the seer was affectionately called, certainly qualifies for one.

“Nearly 1000 years after King Raja Raja Chola had built the Brihadeeshwara (big) Temple in Thanjavur, a massive structure in that spirit has been raised now strictly in accordance with our ancient Shilpa Shaastra,” says S M Ganapathy Sthapathi, the temple’s chief architect.

Driving down the Chennai-Bangalore highway, as one turns into the temple town, Orikkai is a mere 9 km away from that spot. Legend has it that the place was known in Tamil as ‘Oru Iravu Irikkai’ - literally, a place of overnight stay, by none other than Lord Vishnu with two of his most ardent devotees, Thirumazhsai Alwar and Kanikannan. This sanctified place later became ‘Orikkai’ on the Uthiramerur road, where silk looms rustle nearby.

Now on the northern banks of the Palar river in the heart of an ancient civilisation hub of ‘Thondaimandalam’ in North Tamil Nadu, this sublime monument to the ‘Kanchi Seer’ manifests serenity and bliss, stoking the thirst for self-enquiry to pilgrims in search of India’s spiritual traditions.

This site was also apt as Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi used to spend considerable time in Orikkai. The place shot into fame more so after he had anointed Sri Jayendra Saraswathi as his successor, with both ‘Guru’ and ‘Sishya’ performing their first ‘Chaturmasya Vrata’ in 1955 there.  

The project, an inspirational initiative by a retired railway employee V Venkatraman Iyer, one of the devout disciples of the 68th seer, has been a sheer labour of love for thousands of the Kanchi Math’s devotees.  

The ‘Sri Sri Sri Mahalakshmi Mathrubhutheswarar (SSSMM) Trust was formed by a group of eminent citizens to translate Iyer’s vision into reality, and since then it has been a long and arduous journey to take forward this task with the help of voluntary contributions. “We left the Mani Mandapam to come up on its own, as a miracle driven by divine destiny would unfold,” said the self-effacing K R Athmanathan, steering the project construction.

Classical music genius M S Subbulakshmi and her late husband T Sadasviam, had contributed Rs 30 lakh from her music concerts and royalties from cassette sales, while an Indian lady doctor from Houston, USA, liberally donated $ 20,000, just to mention a few of them. 

Combining the ‘glorious’ sculptural traditions of Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava monarchs of yore, the ‘Mani Mandapam’ has a 100-foot tall ‘Vimana’ with a 100-pillared hall in front of the sanctum sanctorum. A statue of the ‘Mahaswami’ along with his ‘padukas (sandals) forms it core.

 The gold-plated chariot brought for consecration of the monument.The famous Kailashanatha Temple of the Pallava period in Kancheepuram has a 60-foot high ‘vimana’ in sandstone. “But this one is not only taller than that but made of full granite stone,” Ganapathy Sthapathy told Deccan Herald. No cement and steel were used in the construction and only some lime was used, he said.

“We took a lot of time and went about the construction with great diligence, strictly as per the Shilpa Shaastras,” said Ganapathy Sthapathy. The structure is not raised on any concrete or pile foundation.

“It just simply stands on sand, with stones arranged as per Shaastras,” he said. A splendid stone panel on its eastern face traces the lineage of the ‘Advaita’ tradition including Govinda Bhagavat Pada and Adi Shankara.

With elegant figures carved on the pillars - even the chains have been stone chiseled-- the granite stones for the shrine were sourced from three places. They include Sitthamur and Pattamallikuppam near Kancheepuram, besides Hesaraghatta in Karnataka from where all the white granite was got.

Enriching the South’s ‘spiritual geography’, this temple was planned to co-terminate with the Acharya’s birth centenary in 1994. Hence, the ‘Vimana’ is 100-foot tall, explained the Sthapathy. Land acquisition itself took some time, but meanwhile the Seer attained ‘siddhi’ on Jan 8, 1994.

After several twists and turns, the Rs 20-crore temple was at last completed and consecrated on January 28, 2011. Some more peripheral works including a compound wall etched with stone panels from the Seer’s life and musical pillars are yet to be finished, Ganapathy Sthapathy said.

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