The Beautiful City of Kanchipuram

One of the ‘seven sacred cities of India’,  Kanchipuram, also known as Kanchi, is regarded as the golden city of a thousand  temples.  Being the only city sacred to  both Shaivites (Shiva worshippers) and Vaishnavas (devotees of Vishnu), it  continues to dazzle the visitors with its transcendental temples with their  sculptures and architectural beauty.

Kanchipuram  city in Tamil Nadu is different from any other in South India because of the  large number of Gopurams (temple spires) which soar into the skyline.  The city is also famous for the vast number  of looms which spin out priceless Kanchipuram silk and gold sarees, counted  among the finest textiles of India.  Both  the temples and silk have Kanchipuram on the tourism map of India, counting it  as one of the points of the golden triangle comprising Chennai, Kanchi and  Mahabalipuram for tourism in the state of Tamil Nadu.

The  era of lofty towers, glorious Mandapams and the many pillared halls in Kanchi  was initiated by the great king Krishna Deva Raya of the golden age of the  Hindu empire of Vijayanagar. The oldest of the temples in Kanchi, built of  reddish sandstone, is the Kailasanath temple in western Shiva Kanchi.  It has inlays of sculptures depicting the  legends of Shiva, figures of a smiling Parvati, motifs of Nandi or the sacred  bull of Shiva and yalis or gargoyles and lions.   Particularly noteworthy is the wall which surrounds the rectangular  sanctuary of the temple.  It has a row of  58 small shrines in the area, each one as beautiful as the other with a Nandi  seated in front of the Shiva linga.   Another feature of this temple is that the outer walls have shrines with  Gopurams at every corner and at the centre of each wall.  Each shrine is topped with a dome.  East of the main temple is a columned  Mandapam and further east is the great temple.

About  two kilometres south east from the Kailasanath temple is the second oldest  temple in Kanchi, the Vaikunta Perumal temple.   It is particularly renowned for its typical Vimana, the tower over the  sanctum which rises in three diminishing tiers with a figure of Vishnu in each  in a standing, sitting and sleeping positions. 

Almost  diagonally across is the Kamakshiamman temple.   It is dedicated to Parvati, ‘the goddess with the eyes of love’.  The shrine is crowned by a guilded  Vimana.  Its four Gopurams are different  in elevation and decoration.  But the  shrine’s columned Mandapam is richly carved.   Friezes along the base and beautifully adorned pillars, plasters and  brackets make it the best visual feature of the temple.  Another striking feature is the intricately  sculpted wooden temple chariot parked on the street outside the temple.

If one  enters Kanchi from Chennai, it is the Ekambareshwara temple which draws the  visitor’s eye first.  The tallest and  most impressive in South India, rising to a height of 58 metres, it stands on a  two storey base in eight diminishing storeys and is crowned with richly  ornamented vaulted roofs.  On this Rajagopuram  (royal spire) are carved several figures of the emperor and his consorts.  The outstanding feature of the temple is its  1000-pillared hall which is very impressive with intricate carvings on the  pillars.

Also  present at the opposite end of the town is Vishnu Kanchi, which houses the most  important shrine of Vishnu, called here by the name Varadarajaswami.  Constructed on the Hastigiri hills, it is  believed that this temple commemorates the yagnya or ritual sacrifice performed  by Brahma to seek Vishnu’s presence.   Huge in size, the idol stands tall in the sanctum, well adorned with  jewellery.  In his four hands, Vishnu  holds the symbols he is associated with - i.e. conch, the Sudarshan wheel, the  mace and the lotus.  The conch is a call  to listen to one’s inner voice.  The  wheel is the symbol of the destruction of all evil.  The mace is to awaken those who are lost in  the darkness of ignorance and the lotus is for peace within and without. 

Entrance  to the temple is through the eastern and western Gopurams of the temple.  What also catches the attention of the  visitor is the 100 pillared Mandapam by the west Gopuram.  Each pillar here is marvellously hewn and  enriched with warriors, horsemen, swans and other traditional temple  motifs.  But the most splendid creation  here are the ornamental chains of inter-connected rings sculpted from one rock.

Last  but surely not the least, is the Jain Kanchi in Tiruparuthi Kundaram, lying  south west of Kanchi.  Once a Buddhist  and Jain centre, today this complex has only the Vardhamana temple. In front of  the two shrines which constitute the temple is a long, pillared Mandapam whose  ceiling is rich with gorgeous paintings of the lives of Jain Tirthankaras as  well as the life of Krishna. 

Moreover,  in spite of the number of temples and Gopurams and tanks, more people visit  Kanchi to seek blessings of the Acharyas of the Kamakoti Mutt and the Kanchi  Sankaracharya who resides in this city.   Beyond the physical beauty of this temple city, Kanchi is a city of  everlasting faith and a destination for those who search the wisdom of past  ages and the spiritual enlightenment offered by those who created the wonderful  shrines.

The  nearest city for visitors to Kanchi is Chennai, the distance being only 70  kilometres.

The author was Editor of Femina for 25 years. Vimla Patil is among  India's senior most Journalists-Media persons. She excels in writing lifestyle  pieces, women's concerns, travelogues, celebrity interviews, art-culture pieces  about India. Visit her site

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