Saturday 25 June 2022

Kancheepuram – Home to finest silk and temples in south India

The sobriquet temple town is apt for Kancheepuram. Look up on the maps, and you will find numerous temples. The other prominent place will be silk saree shops. The temples in the town echo the saga of the history carried on its shoulders. Filtering the temples to visit is a taxing assignment, especially when you don’t bring much time with you. We had one evening and the morning to cover the places. The best way to cover a good number of temples in short time is to hire an autorickshaw. They navigate narrow alleys expertly, and the other modes of transport give way to them out of fear! Hold on tight for the ride.

The most famous temple next to Kanchi Kamakshi amma has to be Varadaraja Perumal Temple, also known as Devarajaswami Temple. It is in this temple complex the huge wooden idol of Vishnu is brought up from the temple pond (by draining the water in the pond) every 40 years. The last one was in 2019.  The next spectacle is not until 2059! A modest 5 rupees is charged to carry a camera to the temple complex. It was pitiful how people (with smartphones costing thousands of rupees) haggle for this meager fee. The beautifully carved pillars of the 1000-pillar hall are exquisite, though a mere 96 of the original remain. The stunningly detailed carving of the columns tells you many stories of mythological importance. Built during the reign of Vijayanagar empire, the monument is enormous.


A spectacular marriage hall with numerous carved pillars commemorates the wedding of Vishnu and Lakshmi. According to folklore, this temple is said to cure lizard-related illnesses. Thanks to the legends and tradition, serpentine queues to get a glimpse of silver and gold-plated reptiles are found on one side of the temple complex. This temple is believed to be one of the Divya Desams. Divya Desams are the temples that were visited by Alvars – the poet-saints of south India and located in Vishnu Kanchi - home to many famous Vishnu temples. 

Kamakshi (she whose eyes awaken desire) is the main deity of the imposing Kamakshi Amman Koil. The goddess is also known by the names - Lalita, Shodashi and Maha Tripura Sundari. The temple is dedicated to Parvati in her guise as Kamakshi. The marriage hall boasts ornate pillars, and the main shrine is topped with a golden vimana (legendary flying chariot). Inside the sanctum, the main deity is depicted sitting in the lotus position (Padmasana). The temple is built by Pallava dynasty and Kancheepuram was their capital. The pond behind the temple complex is soothing to be around. It is spectacular to view the temple in the late evening glow, when it is lit up and the lights reflect in the pond. The light evening breeze enhanced the ambience.


The most impressive and oldest temple in Kancheepuram, with intricate stone carvings – Kailasanathar Temple, is not crowded like the other two temples mentioned above. Built by the Pallava King Rajasimha in the 7th century, this temple is dedicated to Shiva. The largest lingam in town and the third largest in Asia is housed in the sanctum. The sand stone edifice is a treasure trove of ornate carvings. The inner walls in the courtyard are renowned for one of the early and best examples of Hindu mural art in Tamil Nadu. The temple complex has a soothing effect, and the outside area has benches and well-maintained lawn. Important to the regional history, temple walls have numerous inscriptions carved in ancient scripts. 


Covering a whopping 12 hectares, Sri Ekambarnathar Temple is the largest temple complex in the town, dominated by the 59-metre-high Gopuram. Sculpted by gifted artisans during the Vijayanagara empire, the carvings are as old as 1509. Of the five elemental temples dedicated to Lord Shiva – this is the shrine of Earth. The name of the temple is said to be derived from the old mango tree housed in the temple complex, with four branches depicting four Vedas. Eka Amra Nathar – Lord of the Mango Tree. Legend says Kamakshi worshipped Shiva in the form of linga (made of sand), which is worshipped in the sanctum even today.


Built shortly after the Kailasanathar temple, another architecturally marvellous Vaikunta Perumal temple is nearly 1200 years old. Representing the architectural evolution of 1000-pillared temples - are the lion-carved pillars in the cloister. The carvings on the walls and pillars are intricate and spell-binding. The friendly priest inside the sanctum offered us prasadam. The temple was peaceful, with no crowd to relish the incredible architecture. The temple is also known as Tiru Parameswara Vinnagaram and is one of the Divya Desams.