There's legend behind this temple as well. Folklore has it that Lord Shiva pinched off one of the heads of Brahma so as to nip his pride. (He’s four-headed, remember... the Lord of creation…) In penance, Lord Brahma built a Shiva Lingam, known as Kapaleeshwarar, at this spot.
The quaint courtyard of the Kapaleeshwar Temple houses a small shrine of Goddess Parvathi in the form of a peacock, worshipping her consort Lord Shiva. Images of 63 Saivaite saints – the saints who worship Lord Shiva - called the Nayanmars adorn the outer courtyard. Each made in stone. But it's the gopurams atop the various gates that are alive with sculptures, painted in happy, bright colours. A roit of happy colours, I must say.
The temple has other shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha, Lord Muruga and smaller shrines dedicated to other forms of Shiva - Annamalaiar, Sundareswarar and Jagatheswarar. The stone works are a marvel, detailed and intricate. You'll wonder how many patient hours have gone into the making of these sheer masterpices... Look at these two examples below.
Now here's a tidbit that might amuse you. Did you know that Mylapore has existed for thousands of years long before Madras came into being? I was surprised, because there is no beach near about Mylapore. Didn't Madras come to form as a little fishing village somewhere near Parrys? Or did I get my history wrong? Nevermind. Mylapore is still a treat.
There's something else. Apparently, the original 8th century Shiva temple was built by the Pallavas on the shores of Chennai. But it was destroyed by the Portuguese and was re-built as a church 300 years later. Guess which church? The Santhome Church! Now I'm not sure of this. Like I have already said elsewhere, I'm no historian.
Oh, and did you know that a shrine at the Kapaleeshwar temple with an image of a peahen (a female peacock, if you will…), is where Mylapore derives its name from? Mylapore is also called Maylai or Tirumaylai. That had me confused when I first came here to Chennai, about when the so called flying train used to ply only between Beach and Mylapore stations. When the train stopped at Mylapore, which is where I had to get off, I stayed on because the name board at the station read Tirumaylai!
Confusing, I know. But don't miss the Kapaleeshwar temple when you are in Chennai next. Right near the temple is this restaurant, Saravana Bhavan, where you must pop in after, for some divine vegetarian food. And some ice cream, if you haven’t yet tasted guava or jackfruit flavours.
But that's before you feed the fishes at the temple tank.