This is all the more poignant in the context of one of the legends associated with the temple. According to folklore, it is believed that Parvati worshipped Shiva in the form of a Prithivi Linga, made of sand, under a mango tree. One day, Vegavati River overflowed and threatened to engulf the Shiva Linga. To avoid it being swept away Parvati embraced the Linga. Touched by the gesture, Shiva appeared in person and married her. Hence he is also referred to as Tazhuva kuzhainthaar ("He who melted in her embrace") in Tamil. Hardly would Shiva have envisioned the kind of embrace that is strangling these beautiful pillars!
The neglect is not just confined to the pillars. More than fifteen years ago, the Skanda idol that is part of an exquisite Chola era Somaskanda bronze idol dating back to the tenth century went missing. The Somaskanda bronzes are a renowned icon in South India – it consists of Skanda as a child, flanked by his parents Shiva and Parvathi. The Ekambareswarar temple too once had such a magnificent Chola bronze. A replacement was quietly kept in its place and devotees have since then been worshipping it, no questions asked.
Twenty five years after the loss of the Skanda icon, the temple priests along with the executive officer submitted a proposal to create a new Somaskanda bronze idol, as the original metal idol had deteriorated to the point where it could no longer be taken out in procession. The chief sthapati (architect) of the temple inspected the original idol and determined that it was composed principally, about 75 per cent in his estimate, of gold. Permission was obtained to re-cast the idol but the quantity of metals to be used differed from the original. The idol, whose total weight was 50kg, was to contain metals in the ratio of 80 per cent copper, 12 per cent brass, 2 per cent tin, 1 per cent silver and only 5 per cent gold. Posters were put up to collect gold for the new idol. The new idol was readied and consecrated. However, some devotees grew suspicious and questioned as to what was the real content of the idol. Further enquiries and investigation revealed that there was no gold in the newly made idol in spite of the temple authorities collecting more than 5kg of gold for it. The mystery of the missing gold still remains unsolved!
It is tragic that temples which are not merely places of worship but depositories of rich architectural and aesthetic heritage have been systematically plundered, pillaged and defaced over time.
This is not a comfortable narrative.
But I hope that the beauty of these pillars that have stood the ravages of time and years of neglect assuage your discomfort…
Have a look at them at: photos.app.goo.gl/BbDPtuosNb5HRYP6A
And feel free to post your comments here and not in Google Photos!