Chennai is gifted with 700 temples in and around the city. All of them belong to different time periods like some of them are old, some built during the colonial periods and some are modern.
Kapaleeswarar Temple is situated in Mylapore, which is one of the oldest towns of Tamil Nadu. The original Kapaleeswarar temple was built by rulers of Pallava Dynasty. But it might have been corroded by the sea or destroyed by the Portuguese who settled here in 1522. It is said that Saint Thirugnana Sambandar and Appar visited that temple. The present temple is said to be an exact replica of the old Pallavan temple, which was built about 300 years ago. There is a 120 feet Gopuram (Portal tower), which was built in 1906. The stucco figures decorated in the Gopuram, which speak of Puranic legends. The temple has a big tank. Vayilar Nayanar, one of the 63 Nayanmars, was born here and a separate shrine exists for Him. The outer yard of the temple has some bronze images of the 63 Saivaite saints. The 'Arubathu Moovar' festival is the most famous festival, which attracts lakhs of people in this temple. According to a popular legend of this place, it is believed that the spouse of Shiva, Parvati worshipped Shiva in the form of a Peacock (Mayil) hence the place is called Mylapore. As per another legend, it is said that one of the Saivaite saints, Thirugnana Sambandar performed a miracle by giving life to a girl named Poombavai whose ashes were kept in a pot.
Parthasarathi Temple was built by the Pallavas in the mid-eighth century. There is a tank in this temple, which contains beautiful lilies. Therefore, this place is called 'Thiru' meaning beautiful. Parthasarathy means the chariot driver of Partha or Arjuna and it denotes Lord Krishna. The image in the sanctum sanctorum of the Parthasarathy temple is scratched with arrow wounds. It is said to be the testimony of the sculptor to the sincerity of the chariot driver of the Mahabharatha war. One of the 12 Alwars (Vaishnavaite saints) Thirumangai Alwar of the 8th Century had sung hymns on this shrine. The Chola, Pandya and Vijayanagar kings have made various donations and grants to this temple.
Temples of George Town
The temples of George Town were built after the new European settlement came into being. Some of these temples are the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple and Chenna Malleeswarar temple in Flower Bazaar, Kalahasteeswarar temple in Coral Merchant Street, Mallikeswarar temple in Lingi Chetty Street, Chintadri Pillaiyar Koil in Muthialpet, Kachchalleeswarar temple in Armenian Street, Krishnaswami temple in Muthialpet, the Kandasami Koil in Rattan Bazaar and the Kalikamba Kameswarar Temple in Thambu Chetty Street. It is said that in the last temple, Maratha Emperor Shivaji once worshipped Goddess Kalikamba.
Vadapalani Andavar Temple
Vadapalani Andavar temple is located in Kodambakkam, the Hollywood of Chennai. Lord Muruga is the presiding deity in this temple. It is considered a very important shrine and it has similarity with the shrine at Palani. During the Krithigai and Sashti days, the devotees carry various types of Kavadis to pay their offerings.
Shiva-Vishnu Temple is situated in the Thyagaraya Nagar area. There are separate shrines for both Siva and Vishnu here. The devotees visit here during the evening everyday. There is another temple called Kasi Viswanatha temple in Kuppiar Street, W.Mambalam, which belongs to the 17th century. It was called 'Mahabilva Kshetra', when it was built.
This temple is situated at Saidapet, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are also some other temples like the Mundaka (Lotus) Kanni (Eyed) Amman temple at Mylapore are the most famous Mariamman temple where animal sacrifice was performed before it was banned. The Mariamman is said to be a very powerful deity, who can fulfil the just desires of the devotees. Kamaleswar Temple is another old temple of the colonial period. It is located in Pudupet near Harris Road.
Tirutthani Murugan Temple
Tirutthani Murugan Temple is the temple of Lord Muruga and is about 80 km from Chennai. One can reach the temple either by train or by bus. It is said that Lord Muruga cooled his fury here after killing Demon Surapadman. The shrine stands on a basaltic hill. One can reach there either by a flight of steps or by vehicle through a road. Lakhs of pilgrims climb the steps chanting Bhajans on the New Year day. This temple is said to have Pallava origin.
Thiru Alangadu Temple
Thiru Alangadu Temple is a unique Shiva temple in Chennai. This temple is situated 37 miles west of Chennai. The Nataraja bronze idol of the temple can be seen with the rare dancing pose called 'Oorthuva Thandava' lifting his leg upwards. An image of dancing Kali also can be seen here. It is the place where Karaikkal Ammaiyar, one of the 63 Saivaite saints attained Mukthi. Her image is a unique piece of art exposing the features of an old lady, bones protruding, shrivelled bosom and sunken eyes.
In this temple, there is a shrine for Alarmelmanga Thayar, the consort of Lord Vishnu and Govindaraja temple. Again, 13 kms up the hill Tirumala, is the famous shrine of Sri Venkateswara popularly known as Balaji. In Tamil, this is called "Vengadam". One has to cross seven hills to reach the temple. Pucca road is available, besides many pilgrims prefer to climb the seven hills on the steps. Tirupathi temple has the largest revenue everyday touching several lakhs of rupees. Tirupathi laddu and vada - the prasadam of this lord are sold to public.
Navagraha Temples of Chennai
There are at least nine temples at the outskirts of Chennai dedicated to the Navagrahams. They are locally known as Navagraha Sthalams of Thondai Mandalam. Similar to Kumbakonam, the ancient and medieval rulers built temples for all 9 planets in the then Thondai Mandalam. The temples have the architectural excellence as these temples were built mostly in Chola times. The main deities of all these temples of nine planets are dedicated to Lord Shiva with different names. Some of the Navagraha temples in Chennai are Agastheeswaram at Kolapakkam , Somanatheeswarar at Somamangalam, Vaitheeswaran at Poonamalee, Neelakanteshwarar at Gerugambakkam, Ramanadeshwarar at Porur, Velleswarar at Mangadu, Thirumeyneeswarar at Kovur, Thirunageshwaram at Kundrathur and Agastheeswaram at Pozhichalur. All these temples are dedicated to the nine planets in Hindu astronomy.
Temples of Chennai shows the sculptural excellence of ancient India. The sculptural brilliance of Pallava, Chola, Vijaynagara and Pandiyas showed the vividly the lifestyle, divinity and political history of ancient and early medieval eras.