The name Mylapore is derived from the legend that the Goddess Uma worshiped Siva in the form of a peacock (or Mayil in Tamil). We can see a representation of this legend on stone in a small Shrine under a Punnai tree (Sthala Vriksha) in the Courtyard of the temple.
Mylapore`s Ancient Past
Ptolemy, the Creek Geographer (A.D. 90-168) has referred to Mylapore in his books as & lsquo Millarpha,. It was apparently a well-known sea port town with a flourishing trade. It must have also been a place of culture, as Saint, Tiruvalluvar the celebrated author of Thirukural, the World-famous ethical treatise, lived in Mylapore nearly 2,000 years ago.
The Saivite Saints of the 7th Century, Saint Sambandar and Saint Appar, have sung about the Shrine in their hymns. Mylapore fell into the hands of the Portuguese in A.D.1566, when the temple suffered demolition. The presence temple was rebuilt 300 years ago. There are some fragmentary inscriptions from the old temple, still found in the present Shrine and in St. Thomas Cathedral. One enters the hall then, where Arulmigu Karpagambal is enshrined. In front of the Goddess, outside, is a Stone sculpture of a Lion, the mount of the Goddess. (Just as Nandi or the Bull is for Lord).
History of Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Karpagambal Temple
The Kapaleeswarar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was built around the Seventh Century. The temple stands as a unique example of Dravidian architectural style with its elaborate and intricately carved gopurams, Mandapams and a tank.
The temple tank is in the west side, surrounded by four broad streets. The inscriptions in the premises of the temple date back to 1250 AD. It is believed that the temple was built by the ruling Pallava Dynasty around 8th century AD, but may have been destroyed by the Portuguese and rebuilt by the Vijayanagar Kings of the Tuluva dynasty (1491-1570 CE). Thalamai, research scholar from Greece visited this place 2000 years ago. He had mentioned the name of this place as malliarpa as this was the habitat of beautiful Peacocks. The peacock uttered sounds like ‘ldquo Arpu’ in Tamil and the place came to be known as Mayil (peacock). It was called Mayil arpu which later colloquially became Mylapore.
Goddess Parvathi is worshiped in the temple and has been incarnated as Goddess Karpagambal or the Goddess of the Wish-Yielding Tree. Goddess Uma Performed penance here taking the form of a peacock. This is the 24th Shiva temple in Thondai Nadu region praised in Thevaram hymns. Great Saivite Saints, Thirugnana Sambandar, Thirunavukarasar, and Sundarar have sung the glory of Lord Kapaleeswarar in their hymns.
According to ancient legends and history, this temple is associated with many divine incidents that reflect how the name Mylai came to existence. All the highlight the significance and effectiveness of uttering the words Om Nama Shivaya. Once, Goddess Uma desired to know the complete interpretation of the five letter mantra Na Ma Shivaya and the splendor of the sacred ash (Vibuthi). Goddess Uma persuaded Shiva to touch teach her. Shiva consented and commenced teaching. However Goddess Uma was distracted by a beautiful peacock and her attention wandered. Siva was infuriated and cursed her to go to sacred Thondai Nadu and perform penance. Goddess Uma worshiped the Shivalinga under the punnai Tree in the temple vicinity. Moved by Goddess Uma utmost devotion, Lord appeared before Her and released Her from the curse and fondly called her Karpagavalli. Goddess Uma requested Lord Shiva to name the place Mylapore and stay back with her to bestow blessings on all the devotes. Accordingly, Mylai became the abode of Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal.
There is another legend associated with Mylai being called Kapaleeswaram. Lord Brahama thought that he was as great and equal to Lord Shiva as he too had five heads. Shiva known for his spontaneous reaction decided to teach Brahma a lesson and cut down his ego. Shiva nipped one head and held the skull in his hand. Kapala in Sanskrit means skull. Therefore Lord Shiva was praised as Kapaleeswarar and the place of worship is called Kapaleeswaram.