Kanchipuram is a very old town and is well known for its temples. The town is believed to be one of the holiest places and is one of the Sapta Puris of Hinduism. Kanchipuram was ruled by the Pallava rulers followed by the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Vijayanagara empire. The town has some major shrines dedicated to the three sects of Hinduism. While the Kamakshi Amman temple is one of the 51 shakti peeths, out of 108 major shrines of Lord Vishnu, 14 are situated in Kanchipuram itself. Owing to its spiritual and mythological stature, the temple city of Kanchipuram is visited by devotees throughout the year and is a major tourist destination in Tamil Nadu.
We had a family reunion at Chennai and the plan was to visit Tirupati Devasthanam, Pondicherry and a short trip to the old town of Mamallapuram. As you would expect in family trips, our plans were put in disarray and everything got jumbled. Visit to Kanchipuram was out of the itinerary and was only planned after the original plan of Pondicherry fell through. After a full day trip of Tirupati, we were hardly left with any appetite for visiting temples again. However, after a lot of deliberation, we decided that a trip to Kanchipuram was the only recourse to save our day. Travel arrangements were hastily made and we started for Kanchipuram by 7:30 AM. We were oblivious of the fact that all temples in Kanchipuram close at 12:30 PM only to reopen at sunset. Had we known that, we could have started a bit earlier.
It takes about 1.5 hours to reach Kanchipuram from Chennai. On reaching Kanchipuram, we had breakfast at the Saravana Bhavan, a vegetarian restaurant popular for its authentic south Indian cuisines. After that, we went temple hopping starting with the Varadaraja Perumal temple.
Varadaraja Perumal Temple:
The first temple we visited was the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Vishnu. This hilltop temple is also known as Hastagiri (Hast-elephant, Giri-hill). The shrine is among the 108 Divyadesams where the alwars had sung praises of Lord Vishnu. It is believed that after Lord Brahma created the universe, he wanted Lord Vishnu to come down to earth. So he performed the Aswameda Yagyna and Sri Varadaraja and his consort, Mata Lakshmi appeared from the flames. The deity is swayamvyakta (self-manifested) and not installed by any divine or human being. There is a hundred pillar mantapa in front of the main temple. Here one can see chainring like stone carvings, all believed to have been carved from a single rock.
Perumal Temple has a vast temple premise with numerous small shrines within it. The path to the main deity is long and winding. One needs to climb steep steps to reach the sanctum of Varadharajaswami. The presiding deity is the four armed Lord Vishnu in standing posture. It is made of black granite stone and is discernible with padma and chakra in the upper arms. The temple also has a wooden idol of Sri Varadarajaswamy preserved within a silver box and kept immersed in a pond within the temple premises. The water is pumped out once in 40 years and devotees have darshan of the wooden idol. The next pumping is scheduled in 2019.
The other major attraction of the temple are the motifs of a golden lizard, a silver lizard, the sun and the moon all etched onto the roof of a chamber. It is believed that on touching these motifs, one will be absolved of all the sins. This place is unique and is of particular interest to the visitors.
Kamakshi Amman Temple:
Next, we went to the Kamakshi Amman Temple. This temple is dedicated to Kamakshi Amman, a form of Mata Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. The Goddess is the ruler of Kanchi. Although there are numerous ancient Shiva temples in Kanchipuram, peculiarly Kamakshi Amman temple is the only temple in the town dedicated to Goddess Parvati. The temple finds mention in the ancient Hindu scriptures and is of utmost spiritual importance. There is a beautiful legend of Shiv-Parvati associated with this temple.
When Adi Sankaracharya visited Kanchipuram he felt the ferociousness of the goddess and to pacify her he sung eulogies of the goddess known as “Soundarya Lahari”. He established a Sri Chakra in front of the idol to keep her cool and pacified. This Sri Chakra is visible to the devotees. Adi Sankaracharya also established the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam at Kanchipuram.
Typical to Dravidian architecture, the temple also has 4 entrance gates or gopurams in the 4 sides. The temple is beautifully constructed and looks relatively new compared to the other temples in Kanchipuram. There are long queues of devotees, especially on the weekends. The temple has a gilded top with beautiful inscriptions and scroll work on them.
Unfortunately, given the 12:30 PM deadline, we were really short on time and had to choose between having darshan of the goddess by standing in the long queues or visit the Ekambareshwar temple. We choose the later. The fact that Jayendra Saraswathi, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi peeth, had passed away a couple a days earlier and there was a huge crowd of his followers in the city further affected our chances. Hopefully, someday I will go again and have darshan of Mata Kamakshi.
Ekambareshwar temple is an ancient Shiva temple and is one of the Panch Bhoota Sthal shrines of Lord Shiva. Here Lord Shiva is worshiped in form of Prithvi Lingam (Lingam of Earth). The legends mention that at this place, Mata Parvati made a shivalinga of sand under a mango tree and worshiped Lord Shiva. This can also be seen in the temple where Mata Parvati is depicted worshiping the shivalingam under a mango tree. A placard in front of the mango tree mentions it to be 3500 years old.
Ekambareshwar temple is marked with high rising goupurams and a pillared hall in front of the sanctum sanctorum. The temple is constructed by successive generations of the Cholas, Pandyas and later the rulers of Vijayanagara. King Krishnadevaraya is among the prime contributors in the construction of this temple and the 172 feet rajagopuram was constructed during his regime.
In the left, there are mini lingams and idols of the 63 Nayanmars. There is a shrine of Lord Vishnu (worshiped here as Nilatingal Tundattam).
This temple was not crowded as the last two and we had a quick darshan. By the time we clicked few pictures and came out, it was past 12:30 PM which meant that all temples in the town were closed for the afternoon. We still had some time so after having lunch we explored a few saree shops. Kanchipuram is world famous for its typical Kanjivaram sarees and is known for its high quality of silk.
A day which started with chaos and haste culminated with a tranquil experience. I wish we had more time to spend in the temples and understand the history and legends associated with these ancient temples. We returned to Chennai and directly alighted at the Meenambakkam International airport. A couple of hours later we boarded our flights back to Bhubaneswar. It was so refreshing to have some time off with family. Back to the college and madness…
Hope you liked this post. Please share your feedback in the comments section below. Next month I will be going on a long summer internship to Ahmedabad, Gujarat and will try to bring you some fascinating travel tales from the vibrant state. Till then Keep Travelling and Spread Love…