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The Village Where a 2500-Year-Old Tradition Happens Everyday

By Mar. 8, 2014
Puja being performed at The Sri Sankara Matha in Kalavai, Puja being performed at The Sri Sankara Matha in Kalavai,

Kalavai is a well-known modern village in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. It is famous for its Sri Sankara Matha (Hindu monastery, also called a mutt) and for its long-time religious leader, the Mahaswamigal of Kanchi (1984–1994), also known as “the sage of Kanchi.” Visitors throng this village to receive a darshan (vision or blessing of the deity) from the Sankarachariyar (the head of the matha), who performs the rituals of Dhanurmasa pooja and Trikala pooja.


Kalavai is located in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu, India, 45 km from Kanchipuram. The nearest towns are Tiruvallur (6.6 km), Kadambathur (11.7 km), and Tiruvelangadu (14.4 km). Nearby villages include Allikuzhi, Ammambakkam, Melpulam, Thaangal, Vembi, Pennagar, Kuppidichatham, Mambakkam, Ananderi, Ariyathur, Valapandal, Chennasamudthiram, Nallur, Paneer Thangal, Mel Netthapakkam, Kalavaiputhur, Agaram, Allalacherry, Kootroad, Mulluvadi, Keerambadi, Attarambakkam, and Chittrambakkam.

In the Kalavai area, the female population slightly outnumbers the male population. The literacy rate of Kalavai is 68%, which is higher than the national literary rate of 59.5%.


Banks located near Kalavai are Indian Bank in Poondi and Medur, Indian Overseas Bank in Illupur, and State Bank of India in Padi.

Some of the colleges located near Kalavai are Indira College of Nursing, Indira Institute of Engineering and Technology, and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit. Two government higher secondary schools, one each for boys and girls, have also been built to provide for the education of the residents of Kalavais.

Temples in Kalavai date back to the latter half of the 10th century CE, built during the times of the Chola Emperor Raja Raja Chola, his great grandson Adhi Rajendra Chola, and Kulottunga. Recent renovations were begun in 2009.


The monastery, Sri Sankara Matha, is the main landmark of Kalavai. The matha runs a home for the aged and also for people with physical disabilities. Sri Sankara Matha is popular for performing the 2,500-year-old traditional trikala (three times a day) pooja for Chandramouliswara (Lord Shiva). Sri Jayendra Saraswathi and Sankara Vijayendra Saraswathi are the present Sankarachariyars of Sri Sankara Matha who perform this ritual. The performance of the pooja is continued even when the Sankaratchariyars are on away from the matha. When on tour, they carry the idol of Chandramousliswara with them and perform the poojas on time, wherever they are.

Of historical interest are the samadhis (graves) of the 66th and 67th Sankarachariyars.

The Angalamman temple situated in Kalavai is famous all over India. The statue of Lord Venkateshwara in the Venkat temple resembles the statue present in the Thirumala Thirupati Devasthanam of Andhra Pradesh.

The Kamalakanni Amman temple, dedicated to one of the incarnations of Goddess Parvathi, consort of Shiva, is also famous throughout Tamil Nadu.

A 6-foot-tall statue of Shiva Nataraja (“Lord of Dance”) resembles the one in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. The statue in Kalavai was made of panchaloha (five metals) – an alloy of gold, silver, copper, iron, and lead. A special feature of the statue is if a drop of water is placed on the head of the image, it will fall straight down to its legs.


Shri Adhi Sankarachariya was the first Shankara. He made remarkable reinterpretations of Hindu scriptures, especially the Vedas and the Upanishads. He had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism during a time known for chaos, superstition, and bigotry. He spread the dogmas of Advaita Vedanta, an influential school of philosophy, throughout India. The basis of Advaita Vedanta is to reiterate the truth of the reality of one’s essential divine trait and to reject one’s thoughts of being a finite human being with a name and form subject to earthly changes. Sankara stressed the reality of God and he did not comment on the phenomenal world or the multiplicity of gods in the scriptures. His philosophies were based on three levels of reality – Paramarthika Satta (Brahman), Vyavaharika Satta (empirical world of beings and non-beings) and Pratibhashika Satta (reality).

Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati VII was born as Swaminatha, the son of Sitarama Sastri. The saint, a native of Udayambakkam, attained mukti (salvation) at Kalavai in the year 1907 on the day of Krishna Ashtami in the month of Magha.

Sri Mahadevendra Saraswati V was born as Lakshmi Narasimha to parents Narasimha Sastri and Lakshmi. He occupied the Sri Kanchi Kaamakoti Peetam (monastery) for only seven days, and he attained mukti at Kalavai on the day of Sukla Prathama in the month of Phalguna.

The 68th Pontiff, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal (born as Sri Swaminathan) was born in the Villupuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu on May 20, 1894. He was taken to Kalavai in his 13th year to pursue his studies. He was ordained as the 68th Acharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Matha and was affectionately called “Mahaswamigal” and “Walking God.” He attained mukti at Kancheepuram on January 8, 1994, in his centenary year.

Getting There:

The nearest bus stops to Kalavai are Sembakkam Village Bus Stand, Moonjurpattu Bus Stand Tank, Ariyur Bus Stand Junction, Kaveripakkam Bus Stand, Valapandal Bus Stop, Periyar Nagar Bus Stop, Aarani Old Bus Stand, Aarani New Bus Stand, Cheyyar Metro Bus Stand and Walajapet (27 km).

The nearby airports are Chennai airport (44 km), Tirupathi airport (66 km), Bengaluru airport (263 km), and Salem airport (284 km).

Nearby railway stations are Trivellore Railway Station (12 km), Egattur Halt Railway Station, Kadambattur Railway Station, Walaja Road Railway Station and Sevvapet Road Railway Station.


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